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Archive for August, 2011

Tonight I am sleeping in a bed that is not my own, at a house I will probably never return to again.

Tomorrow morning I’m attending an important retreat with my candidacy committee in Bellville, Ohio.  This retreat is a little over five hours away from my Chicago home, and almost two hours away from my parents place in Cleveland.  In the scope of my reality and the people I know – it is in the middle of no where.

So, to save me from having to drive forever before a jam-packed day, this extremely kind family has opened up their home to me and offered me a room for the night.  I had never met them before, and as far as I know, they don’t really know anyone I know.  It just so happens that the hostess is a seminary student at Trinity and heard through the grapevine that I was traveling a long distance to get here.  Being a student while having a daughter who is a college student, she offered me a place to stay.

This is a very odd experience.

Let me be clear – this is not a manger/stable ro0m-and-board situation.  I was served a delicious meal, participated in lovely conversation, and am sleeping in a bedroom nicer than one I have ever owned myself.  My hostess even provided me with little soaps and lotions, like you would see at a hotel.  And, as I write this, a beautiful tomcat named William is curled up at my side.

It is an odd experience because I feel like I am seeing a side to the world that I have never known.  These people truly want nothing from me but to provide me with a good night’s rest so I can participate in a retreat that will help me grow and evolve as an individual.  Somewhere deep inside, I knew that hospitality could be like this, but I think there was always a part of me which doubted the sincerity of it, and doubted further still the possibility of it.

The only time I have ever come close to feeling this welcome was when I was in Atlanta for the Academy of Preachers camp.  One night we attended a bible study at Greater Travelers Rest Baptist Church.  Much like tonight, I had my reservations.  I had never been to a mega-church before, and worried I wouldn’t belong.  The sheer size of the worship space was astounding.  My mind was blown walking into an area that had easily over 100 people and a praise band – just for bible study!  We started the night off in song, and in the midst of one song, all of the visitors were asked to remain standing while the members sat down.  The music leader said, “See the people standing?  These people need to be welcomed!”  As music played, every single member in that bible study walked around, shook my hand and told me how glad they were to have me worshiping with them.

I had never experienced anything remotely close to that moment until tonight.  I was truly treated like one of the family, and I have no doubt that tomorrow will embrace me with more kindness from these tender people.

It feels so good to be welcomed into the house of our God, whether that house is an ocean-side parish, a crystal mega-church, or the humble bedroom housing a purring cat.

I am so grateful for this evening, to experience Christ’s message in this way.  Even when I don’t always know who is going to be opening the door, I know it is Christ’s essence that will welcome me in.

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“I hear your voice inside me. I see your face everywhere.” – Pat Benatar, “We Belong”

Last night I made the six-hour trip back from Chicago to Cleveland.

I literally just moved to the windy city two weeks ago today, but I am needed back this Saturday to attend a synod candidacy retreat, which basically means I will have an information meeting with the people overseeing my education process.  It was interesting to spend six hours in the car by myself.  A person get’s to be pretty comfortable with her iPod when it’s the only source of entertainment breaking up the monotony that is the farmlands of Indiana. 

I was reminded of my drive to Chicago with my mother when we channel surfed the radio instead of turning up the iPod. Despite the fact that some stations claim, “we play anything,” there is almost no routine from state to state, broadcast to broadcast.  One song in particular kept making the rotation, Pat Beatar’s “We Belong”.

About the fifth time around, I started singing along to the song as I was hearing it;  “We belong to the light, we belong to the Father.  We belong to the sounds of the words we’ve both fallen under. Whatever we deny or embrace, the words are for better.  We belong, we belong, we belong together.”

Here’s the thing: those aren’t the words.  The real words are “thunder” instead of “Father,” and “for worse are for better”  instead of “the words are for better.”  For years, probably my entire life, I’ve misheard those words.  My mom corrected me, which is great if I ever decide to take this to the thrill of a karaoke night, but deep down, I still like my version better.

There is something really comforting in knowing that we belong to the light of our Creator, and that in that light, we belong to one another.  It is a comfort to know that despite our ecumenical perspectives, despite our age or our race, we can listen to the word of God and be moved.  Furthermore, we belong to one another as a result of that moving.

I’ve only been on a seminary campus a few days, but I am surprised at how many of my fellow students feel a sense of frustration with their calling.  They are frustrated about the hoops, about the lack of boundaries of predecessors, and most definitely about the money.  For a long time they have felt as if they are carrying the light of Christ alone.  Despite their frustrations, these students are finding great relief in recognizing we are all in the same boat – we are all battling obstacles that make it challenging to believe that our calling is natural light and not artificially induced.

I am further surprised to realize what a sense of freedom it is to talk about this path with one another.  I can’t help but wonder what it must be like for the people who recognize a calling for Christ, but whose roles do not require the blessing that is a seminary experience?  We do belong to one another, but how many of us feel that sense of belonging outside of our school or church doors?

Why is it easier to deny than embrace that the words are for better, that the words are forever, and that by sharing that gift we can truly feel the benefit that through God, we do belong together?

In a few days, I will make the long journey back to my new home.  I will feel alone but bask in the safety of knowing I’m not alone.  And when the radio roulette plays my dear friend Pat, I will remember that we belong to the light, we belong to our Creator.  We belong to the sound of the words we’ve all fallen under.  Whatever we deny or embrace, the words are for better.

For through Christ, we belong together.

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In the same way the Spirit also comes to help us, weak as we are. For we do not know how we ought to pray; the Spirit himself pleads with God for us in groans that words cannot express. – Romans 8:26, Good News Translation

Two days in a row I have walked over two miles.

This may not seem like a huge thing to some people, but for me it’s a pretty big deal.   You see, in addition to being a person who is living with lupus, I am pretty lazy.  I hate to exercise.  Hate it.  I don’t like sweating, I don’t like that my body aches the next day, and I really don’t like to the footwear.  Add to it that I do enjoy food, and have a built-in excuse of a chronic condition to help me avoid playing sports or riding a bike, and you can see why exercise is not always my friend.

I consider over five miles in two days a pretty big victory for myself.

I am going to school to (hopefully) one day become a pastor for the ELCA.  I know that spiritual wellness has a physical component, and that to truly be in a good place to serve God’s reigndom I need to be in a bodily place of health.  But, despite having that knowledge, abusing and misusing my body with food and sloth-like behavior is my first resort when I am feeling a bit blue.

For years I have had friends who valued exercise and kept themselves in peak physical condition.  Some provided me with safe spaces to talk about my mental struggles about physical struggles, and others did not.  It took a long time for me to realize there was more to overcoming this then talking about it: action was required. Not just the action of moving my body, but the action of moving my mind towards wanting to move my body.

This past spring my dear friend Erika helped me start to break down my hesitation.  It is interesting.  She is a person of science and earthly awareness and yet despite not being a person who would not qualify herself as a Christian, has shown Christ to me in more ways than I can ever begin to imagine.  She heard the groaning of my soul under the groaning of my words, and helped me realize the pleasure of experiencing my environment by being a part of it. That is the hidden joy to exercise – experiencing the beauty of the world and the intricate miracle of our bodies by being active beings inside of it.  Erika gave me that gift, which helped me to begin eating healthy and start shedding some pounds.

Now I am here, in the Hyde Park neighborhood on the Soutside of Chicago, and I live less than a mile away from Lake Michigan.  I am also living in a community with two other women my age who are not afraid to gasp at the beauty of the skyline, or chuckle at the sweet dog on the leash chasing after the squirrel.  They get why exercise is a multi-sensual experience, both to the eye and to the heart.

They also don’t judge the fact that I am not in good shape to start this new venture.  I am with ladies who make it safe to ask, “what are good work out clothes?” and understand my issues with tennis shoes and ugly socks.  The weakness of my idiosyncrasies are appreciated and valued.  Instead of being my excuse to curl up on the couch, these quirks are invited to tag along for some fun in the sun.

It’s funny – when I prayed about my move to seminary, when I asked God to provide me with a network of friends who would support me – exercise buddies were not on my list.  What a lovely surprise to learn they were exactly what I needed.

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Digging a New Place

“When weakness turns my ego on, dig me out from whatever is covering the better part of me.” – Incubus, “Dig”

A few days ago I moved into my seminary apartment at the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago.  I was very fortunate that I had my mom come up from Cleveland and stay with me for a few days to help me clean and make a zillion trips to target, but she left yesterday morning.

My life has suddenly become very real, very quickly. 

Luckily for me, seminary is an extremely loving and supportive environment.  My fellow students and their spouses helped me unload the truck.  Thanks to connections through Facebook I not only have friends, but also had the best meal with four charming and enlightened gentlemen who helped to remind me that I was, in fact, home.

But this  morning when I woke up (who am I kidding?  At noon, when I woke up) I started to feel a bit overwhelmed with the road before me.

Do I have what it takes to truly be a healthy representative of God’s reigndom to the world?  Will I put others before my self, put my physical health over my love for late night television, and my fiscal responsibility above a desire to have the most fabulous shoe closet?  Will I find a healthy balance between work and school, and will I continue to exercise so I can truly treat my body as a temple?  Most importantly, will I be able to set the part of me aside who gets defensive when I’m unsure of myself, and not let my ego override God’s vision for my life?

I know that some of these choices will be easier to do than others, and that some of my past habits will fade more quickly then ones sitting on the mental shelf beside the rest.

Before I left the last parish I served, Pilgrim UCC of Tremont, one of my parishioners gave me a sign that reads, “Trust God, you are exactly where you need to be.”  That sign is sitting in my living room, and I doubt she’ll ever know how much I cherish its words.

When I first started my discernment, I kept playing the song “Dig” by Incubus.  While I think it’s intended for friends or lovers, for me it reminds me that I am never alone because God has loved and blessed me, continually forgives me, and not only places me where I need to be but stands beside me with all of the tools and resources I could possible need.

My life has become very real, but in that reality the better part of me is becoming uncovered.  It is exactly where I need to be.

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The following sermon was preached at Divinity Lutheran Church of Parma Heights on May 8, 2011 based on the passage Luke 24:13-35.

My nephew Alex turned one-year old yesterday.  If you have heard any of my previous sermons, you may by now realize that I love being an aunt.  Without a doubt, it is the greatest role I play, and I am forever grateful to have an active relationship with my nephew Alex and his three-year-old sister, Phoebe.  There is no job I hold with more value than being a strong, loving role model to these amazing children, and their presence in my life has opened me up to a part of my heart that I never knew existed.

Even though I have a very supportive extended family, I never really had the relationship with my aunts that some of my friends had; the type of relationship where I could call them up to talk about boy-troubles or drive to their house when I needed a break from my parents.  I always thought it would be cool if my aunts could be my designated “BFF” – best friends forever.  Once my sister Tricia started having kids, I vowed to be that balance of fun and safety as an aunt, and so far think I’m on the right track.

So you can imagine my frustration when for the first nine-months of Alex’s life, I thought he hated me.  See, Alex is really, really good at expressing himself, which, in infant language, involved a lot of crying.  Alex also isn’t a fan of non-routine transition and would be startled if I suddenly appeared when he wasn’t expecting me.  It seemed that every time I walked into the house after work he would burst into tears.  When he would finally calm down, he would watch me cautiously, his little lip quivering every time I shifted on the couch, or heaven forbid, sneezed too loudly.

I’ll admit it was really hard for me to not take it personally that I was the one person in Alex’s life who could guarantee the waterworks.  It seemed like Alex couldn’t quite get a peg on who I was and what I was about.  After a few months, it began to dawn on me that perhaps the reason why he would get upset was less about me but more that he was disappointed I wasn’t my sister, Tricia.  I guess the timber of our voices are similar or something because Alex would get all jazzed when he heard my voice from another room, but then when he saw me and realized I was, in fact, Aunt Tina and not Mommy, he would feel confused and start to cry.

Once we figured out that the onslaught of tears was a result of miss-recognition, I was able to adjust my behavior to help him see me for who I am, instead of some terrible Mommy-imposter.  I stated walking into the house without speaking, sitting in the room where he could look at me before I verbally said hello or called his name.  Seeing my face before hearing my voice seemed to do the trick, and now days we are the best of friends.  Alex now smiles at the sound of my voice, laughs and giggles when I sing him songs, and nothing warms my heart more than looking through a window and seeing him wave at me.

In today’s lesson, Luke shares with us another story of miss-recognition.  Two friends are walking down the road on Easter day, talking with each other about Jesus’ crucifixion.  All of the sudden they come across a stranger.  Similarly to Alex, they presumed that they knew who it was they were talking to.  In their case, the assumed that since Christ was dead, they were speaking to anyone else besides Christ.  It never occurred to them that the person in front of them was Jesus, and as such, they didn’t allow room in their minds of the possibility for it to be him.

Jesus approaches the men and asks them what they are talking about.  Even still they don’t comprehend what is happening, and say to him:  “Are you the only stranger in Jerusalem who does not know the things that have taken place there in these days?[i]

They proceed to tell Jesus that their Lord had died and was laid in a tomb, and that a few women reported that the tomb was empty.  As a result of this news, they were looking for him themselves.

Recognizing that these men are so wrapped up in what it is they expect to see and that, as a result, they are unable to notice what is right in front of them, Jesus decides to change their focus by sharing communion with them.  As soon as they enter into the sacred space of love and safety, their eyes open and the world regains its focus.  Now they can see that it is indeed Christ before them, and go forth to hare the good news.

What I love about this story of the men on the road is that we can easily see ourselves in any of these rolls.  I can relate to the frustration that Christ must feel that these men are so wrapped up in their despair that they are unable to recognize the positive moment that is before them.  That is exactly how I felt each time Alex would begin to cry when he was upset I wasn’t his mom.  I couldn’t get him to recognize that even though she wasn’t there he was still in a safe and loving place.   I think we also can relate to the idea of searching for something that is right in front of us.   I have been known to frantically tear apart my purse looking for my keys that are safely nestled within my hand.

But what I think speaks volumes about this story is that Jesus understands that sometimes, to be received in the best way, we need to adjust ourselves.  The responsibility of understanding doesn’t lie with the understand-er.  It lies with the person who is doing the reaching.  I had to adjust my behavior for Alex to see me for who I am, much like Jesus adjusted how he connected to the men on the road.  He adjusts from sharing conversation to sharing the sacrament, and it was through that adjustment that the men’s eyes opened and they could recognize the Lord before them.

The question becomes how do we take this example of the men on the road and use it as a workable guideline in our modern lives?  Chances are high that we will not see Jesus walking down the street next time we are sitting on a park bench, but that doesn’t mean that God is not a literal presence in our lives.  The struggle is that it can be easy to miss those moments because of our own expectations.  There are times when we overlook or miss-recognize a moment where we could be the eye opening presence to those around us.

Working in a church that has a strong outreach ministry, there have been more times than I would like to admit when I have seen Christ’s message miss-recognized.  That particular parish runs a financial assistance program and there have been many times when a client was referred to the staff by one of our members. Almost inevitably with those cases I get a phone call or email from the referrer who says, “We really need to help this person – they’re a good person” or “these are the type of people this program is here to help.”  There is an implication that the person they are referring should move up on the assistance checklist because they are somehow more deserving of help.

It saddens me to think that even in a Christian institution whose entire mission is to promote the word of God that there is still an idea that some people are more “worthy” of help than others.  To me, that idea is a blanket distortion to what we celebrate every Sunday.  I want you to think back to whether you have ever heard the following phrases:

  • These are the type of members we want to join.
  • How do we attract more young-professionals?
  • Can you believe that visitor is drinking coffee in the sanctuary?
  • I don’t see them contributing to the offering plate.
  • What’s the point of becoming more active when it’s the same families who make all the decisions anyways?

The men on the road to Emmaus had good intentions – they wanted to know what happened to Christ.  They didn’t set out to blatantly ignore Jesus; they just got so consumed with their goal of finding out what happened they didn’t allow themselves the possibility to think outside the box.

I believe the intentions of the statements I mentioned are a bit like the intentions of the men on the road.   The idea is good – reach out to people who can support our ministry.  There is no malice intended, just an overly focused viewpoint on how to help the church.  Unfortunately, the desire to accomplish this goal can sometimes take precedence over the reason we are united to begin with.

We are in a great position today to be like Luke’s travelers and reframe our thinking.  Today is Mother’s Day, and there are few social roles in our world that open our eyes like that of a kindhearted mother.  There is no question that the idea of having an earthly presence who loves you without condition is something that helps us to be brave enough to think outside the box.  What makes an amazing mother an amazing mother is that they give us the support to take some risks while providing the safety to return home and re-group when things don’t quite go as expected.

We celebrate the idea of Mother’s Day because there is something remarkably unique to the nurturing love of someone who can adjust to our needs without being asked.  We call it “mother’s intuition” but I think anyone, man or woman, mother or father, a person with children or a person without, can have that intuition by allowing themselves to be in touch with the nurturing aspect of the Holy Spirit.

It was “mother’s intuition” that Jesus had on the road to Emmaus when he broke bread with the men.  Only someone who is truly nurturing, loving and supportive could set aside their need to be recognized and find a sacred way to connect with another person.  It was through the kindness of that intuition which allowed the men the freedom to open their hearts, minds, and eyes and see that Christ was before them.

We associate a special bond with our mothers because when someone is a loving mother they allow their hearts to be open and let the Holy Spirit speak through them.  The mothers that we celebrate this morning are women who at some point made a choice to truly love another person unconditionally, and that sort of love involves patience and perseverance.  That sort of love is what makes baptism the gift of salvation and communion a sacred meal.

I know that there are some people who are with us today who have never known that sort of love from a woman raising them, or perhaps did but that woman is no longer with them.  But what is so special about this holiday is that really we are celebrating any person who chooses to take God’s example of unconditional love and live it on a daily basis.  This means that any of us, mother, father, sister, brother, widow, barren, healthy, ill, old or young can become a mothering role model ourselves.  All that is needed is to be like the two men on the road and open ourselves up to experiencing Christ in a new way.

It is through this “mother’s intuition, ” this acceptance of the Holy Spirit working through our hearts and minds, that we can go forth and take traditional statements of worthiness and transform them to a new level.  Our good intentions for strengthening our community can now have a renewed strength:

  • These are the type of members we want to join – people who love the Lord
  • How do we attract more young-professionals and non-professionals to our church, and how do we integrate them into our community?
  • I wonder if that visitor who is drinking coffee in the sanctuary knows that he is invited to coffee hour before or after the service.  I will invite him.
  • I don’t see them contributing to the offering plate but it’s nice to see them in worship this morning.  I’ll have to say hello.
  • The same families are making all the decisions in church – I will prayerfully consider being more active so they can have some more support.

The greatest gift my nephew has given me in his first short year was teaching me that if I want someone to see me the way I truly am, I need to follow Christ’s example.  I need to be flexible enough to adjust my behavior and not lose my sense of mission in the midst of my good intentions.  We all have the ability to be like Jesus on the road, embracing our “mother’s intuition,” connecting to people just as they are, where they are.  Whether they are people on the road or in the cradle, we are God’s voice to the world that unconditional love and acceptance is always around us.

Happy Mother’s Day.

Amen.

[i] Luke 24:18b

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The following sermon was preached at the Academy of Preachers preaching camp on August 4, 2011 in Atlanta, GA.  The sermon is based on the passage Matthew 7: 9 – 11.

Wow.  Here we are at our last morning of preaching camp.  We made it!  It’s odd to think that in just a few hours I will be back in Cleveland.  While I have enjoyed our time together, I must confess that I am really looking forward to seeing my niece and nephew.  To be honest, I can’t believe I’ve written three consecutive sermons without mentioning one of them.  I swear I must talk about them on the pulpit almost as often as I talk about Jesus.

I may have shared this with some of you already, but my first day here in Atlanta I received a voicemail from my sister, Tricia.  Apparently my three-year old niece, Phoebe, had needed a tissue and asked my sister to get it for her.  Tricia told Phoebe, “You’re a big girl; you can go upstairs and grab it yourself.”

Apparently Phoebe looked right at her and said, “I would really love a tissue, Mommy.  If I get it I will still love that tissue, but if you get it for me it would be like God’s unconditional love.”

How is it that at three years old, Phoebe is already trying to figure how to manipulate God’s love to get what she wants?  Seriously, with her mom working in a church and my becoming a pastor, I’m starting to wonder what the women in my family are actually teaching these kids, but there you have it.

In all seriousness, hearing this Phoebe story had me thinking a bit about a familiar passage of Matthew 7.  Christ asks us to think seriously about what we are willing to provide to our children, and then use that model as a guideline for how we provide for those around us.  I am not fortunate to have any children of my own at the moment, but even just being an aunt has shown me that when you love a child completely, it is hard not to give them everything they could ask for.  I myself am a bit of a Daddy’s girl, and will miss that connection quite a bit when and if I struggle with car problems up in Chicago.

I love Christ’s reminder that we are children of God, and as such will be provided for with love that passes anything we could possibly experience with our parents, or towards our children on earth.

It is such a beautiful message that I return to it quite a bit.  In that returning I’m starting to wonder if this sense of safety is all of which Christ speaks.  Is a snake, fish and love really the end of the message?

I struggled a bit with this text last night, and so I followed David Telfort’s example and asked, “Text, what more would you like to share with me?”  I was a little unsure if this would work, but as it turned out God did speak to me through the text.  God told me there was more to this message, and invited me to think about the questions that are asked but not spoken.

It is no accident that Jesus uses the imagery of a serpent as an alternative option to fish, or a stone as the alternative to bread.  Thinking back to Phoebe, I realized that when we are in the safety of love, we don’t hesitate to slither manipulative words and gestures into conversations in hopes of persuading another to our bidding.  When we are in the safety of love, our hearts are not always soft but can act hardened in ways to ensure that we get what is that we want.

Who among us hasn’t applied guilt upon someone else to resolve one of our problems or make a situation a little easier?  Sometimes this guilt is useful, like when a mom counts to three when trying to get a child to put on their shoes.  Guilt, sometimes, provides an easy solution.

But the easy way is not always God’s way.  What works for sneakers doesn’t necessarily work for salvation.  While Christ reminds us in this text that God will answer our questions and provide for us with unconditional love, he is also telling us to give pause to what we ask of other people.  We should further be asked to explore the implications of that asking.

How many actions are asked without words?  It doesn’t take a Jedi mind trick to pull a fast one on someone we meet, and we aren’t the first people to use unspoken suggestions to accomplish our goals.  These sorts of situations pave the stony pathways of the Old Testament, and are as much a part of our Christian culture as it is a part of our secular one.  We see this especially in first and second Kings.

After becoming king, Ahob decided that his next, big political venture was to purchase a bunch of land.  Soon the king and Jezebel, his wife, had bought out the surrounding area, with the exception of one vineyard.  Ahob went to the owner, Naboth, and asked him if he would be willing to sell.  Naboth told Ahob that this vineyard was his ancestral birth right, and out of respect, he declined the offer.

Ahob felt desperate for this property, so he said offered Naboth more money and a different piece of property for this family to rebuild the vineyard.  Ahob was rejected and dejectedly returned home to his wife and threw himself into bed.  At dinner he barely touched his food and could hardly look Jezebel in the eye.

She could only take his pouting for so long until she asked him what was wrong.  When Ahob told her that Naboth wouldn’t sell, Jezebel asked him, “Are you not king?  Snap yourself out of this mood, I’ll get it taken care of.”

So Jezebel took Ahob’s stationary, wrote an official looking letter prompting a mock trial, and stamped the letter with Ahob’s seal.  Ultimately, this action resulted in the execution of Naboth.

Naboth died over a piece of property, and when we look back to this story, we are repulsed by her selfish actions, and our hearts turn to stone against her.  This woman was no saint, known for her promiscuity, vanity, and false idolatry.  It is no stretch of our minds to slither our thoughts towards labeling her with the hatred we would bestow on a murderer.

But, looking through the lens of our new understanding of Matthew, we should ask ourselves why the love to hate doesn’t transcend up the serpent to Ahob.

Frustrated at his lack of success in acquiring Nathom’s property, Ahob opted to manipulate Jezebel into action instead of doing anything about it himself.  He knew she had a quick temper and was prone to extreme reactions.  Jezebel was not a person who would tolerate the irritation of whining or the idea that her husband would rather mope in bed then engage her in conversation at the dinner table.  Add to it her insatiable desire for prestige, and his passivity was like a stone skipping across the pond, rippling her actions to murder.

It was Ahob’s knowledge of Jezebel’s extreme reactions that were able to set that ripple into motion.  It was when his heart opted for the stone of a quick fix instead of the time it takes to knead the bread of a fair acquisition when a political annoyance turned into a life ending event.

When as Christians do we opt for the quick fix, or set the ripple of evil into motion? Is it when we fail to practice what we preach, or when we ask for tithes that we ourselves don’t meet?  As we interact with our environment, are we asking directly for what we need, or do we instead slither guilt into the conversation to prompt an action before the question?  Do we promote pet ministries for our interests, or try to devote our time in the parish to what the collective body needs?

We all have the ability in us to manipulate the ones we love – whether we are Daddy’s girls, the only boy in family of women, or a cherished leader of a congregation.  It is at the moments that we are tempted when we should remember that God doesn’t meet our request for spiritual nourishment with boulders of abandonment.

Christ tells us that we are but a beloved, cherished, and exalted child.  In that reminder we should never question if God will manipulate us like marble pawns on a chess board, even when we manipulate the people we meet.

God gives us the freedom to act without the fear of the other shoe dropping like a ton of cement upon our souls.  In celebration of that freedom we should act like divine filled parents to our children, and any person who was a child of another parent.

For we are all someone’s child – Gods – and we are unconditionally loved.

Amen.

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“Can you feel the tension in the air, assuring you once again I’m there?” – “Tension”, Nural

This week, thanks to the unimaginable generosity of the Fund for Theological Education, I am in Atlanta, GA, at a preaching camp hosted by the Academy of Preachers.

I am two days into a five-week camp, and my mind has been kneaded and sculpted so much in these short hours that I feel my brain must resemble a beloved can of Play-dough.  The kneading is a result of love and affection, and it is with the endless possibility of my new intellectual “toys” that I have begun to discover something I can hardly believe I didn’t notice before.

There is no escaping tension.

Entering a group of ecumenical preachers for the second time in a few short months, I thought for sure that I would be struck by the boundaries that separate one Christian denomination from another.  While the differences and traditions are ranging far beyond anything I could have imagined, I find that the humbling yet exhilarating truth of Christ  far outweighs any doctrinal styles that we may have.

I am further encouraged to know that the stumbling blocks of my ministry also translate across denominational lines.  Tonight I had the great privilege of hearing my camp coach preach.  Rev. Mark Jefferson shared that despite having a Master of Divinity and working on a doctoral degree in Homeltics, he struggles with understanding the full magnitude of his call.  He further grapples with how to explain the professional components of his call to the world.

Rev. Jefferson’s words truly resonated with me.  He mentioned that  in today’s world of doctors, lawyers, and business professionals, there is a social sense of weakness when trying to articulate the mystical, inexplicable components of being called to preach.

I was reminded of when I first began my discernment and I realized what it truly would mean to “carry the cross of Christ.”  I had a friend for several years who appeared to have a rather one-centered upbringing in her family in regards to building relationships with the church.  I knew that her experience had been extremely negative, and for the first few years of our relationship, we danced around each other when topics of faith arose.  She knew I was a person of faith, but since my beliefs lived solely in my heart and not a church, there was no need for us to focus our conversations on it.  As my work life transitioned from libraries to churches and as my calling became such a bright force that I had to share it, I noticed that our conversations became increasingly more disjointed.

Soon we not only danced around the issues of faith, but appeared to be on completely different dance floors.  One night, I mentioned that I missed her, and was greeted with the response, “If you want to see me, you need to bring down the church talk.”   The tone of that sentence created such a tension in my heart that I soon walked away.  This friend, angered that I had crossed the difference and addressed our separation, wrote me a letter in which she closed, “it as if you looked at the successful careers of your friends and settled on the first thing that wouldn’t tell you no.”

Those words carry the key of my strength today.  While they cause a part of my soul to ache, I will not throw that letter away.  That tension, that horrible realization of what it means to truly carry the cross of Christ, is something that I return to.  I especially return when I worry about my ability to be a good minister, to connect to people through my preaching, and fear losing my humility in the prospect of personal goals.

I am intentional about remembering those painful words and the grief of that relationship because they ground me in knowing that I did not settle by choosing a life of ministry, but rather have been lifted up in spirit and given the gift of seeing my true self.  In truth, it was a struggle to find my life’s place.  Before recognizing God’s recognition of me, I was lost and haunted.  I was less than my true self, less than my God-centered self.  Once I finally found my place, I became a transformed being.  But that change was not an easy cop-out, an escape from the expectation of hard work or challenging intellect.

Rev. Jefferson gave me a gift tonight for affirming that the cross we carry in ministry can be a hard one to bear.  That gift of his message continued to grow, as preacher after preacher shared similar stories of discovery and past lives.  We are all filled with the tension of trying to explain to the world why we know the inexplicable is the purpose of our careers.  Like our denominations, the variations were plentiful, but gospel which reigned true speaks of a righteous tension that is beautifully exhilarating.

This week continues to show me that this is God’s tension.  It is the energy of bravery and self discovery, preaching to us in the sanctity of our souls, strengthening us to preach loud enough to reach others dancing on another floor.

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