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Archive for November, 2011

Just a Girl

“Don’t you think I know exactly where I stand?” – No Doubt, “Just a Girl”

This past week has been one of the most affirming and un-affirming week to my womanhood.

It started the Thursdayy before Thanksgiving when I went to see a movie with my sister and a bunch of her friends in Cleveland.  My sister works for an LCMS parish as a music director, even though her personal theology is more aligned to the ELCA.  That night was my first night back in town, and I had literally driven straight from my school in Chicago to the theater.  There were some women I hadn’t met who were my sisters colleagues.  My sister asked if I would refrain from mentioning I was in seminary to some of the women because she didn’t want word to get to her boss that her sister was going to be a pastor.

I have to admit, I was a bit hurt, but allowed a numbness to set in so I could try to see the situation objectively.  My sister is not asking me to deny my calling because she is uncomfortable with it, but she is asking me to deny my calling because she is uncomfortable standing up for what she believes in to an authority figure.  My faith story and her faith story are intimately entwined, and as a church leader I have to respect that her faith story is not mine to tell.  I told her that out of respect to her wishes I wouldn’t go out of my way to mention it, but that if I was asked, I was not going to hide this blessing.  I feel privileged to be called to serve God’s church in this way,and I am not ashamed of becoming a pastor.  A part of that privilege, though, is knowing when to be the ripple of water caused by throwing a stone in to the pond or to be the ripple of water because we are the stick in the middle of a current.

A few days later I went to my home-church and led a morning devotion.  Afterwards, a octegenarian member came up to me and told me that he doesn’t “believe in girl pastors.”  Knowing he comes not only from a Catholic background but from several generations away from me, I again allowed myself to go numb and not give a snarky comment.  I thanked him for trusting me enough to share his philosophy, even though I disagreed.  Later that evening after I preached a Thanksgiving sermon he came up again, this time saying, “It’s really too bad you’re just a girl. If you were a man you would make a great pastor.”

Throughout the course of the whole week, my four-year-old niece kept asking me where my husband was.  She couldn’t quite figure out why I didn’t have a husband, and I realized I’m the only adult in my niece’s world who isn’t married.  Every-time she asked I replied, “I don’t have a husband.  A woman doesn’t need to get married, but can choose to if she finds a guy whose good enough.  I haven’t found anyone good enough, and that’s okay.”

In some ways it is really great to be the strong, independent woman.  I’m proud of the fact that I have the mental and spiritual fortitude to not only remain single in a world that would have us pair off, but also to listen to God’s call in a male dominated profession.

But there are times when I can’t help but be frustrated that I’m just a girl.  I had a revelation tonight that I completely misread a situation with a man – that I totally saw layers that weren’t there and failed to notice that the layers that are there only stretch in one direction.  I realized that I was merely entertainment, the missing female link in the midst of this mans world, a link that has been held together by other women at different points in his life.

Yuck.  My chest feels heavy, and I am frustrated that I was silly enough to think just like a girl.  Unfortunately I do not just speak for my own integrity.  As a woman in ministry, I have to pick and choose when I can express my feelings and when I shouldn’t, the times I’m supposed to buck against the grain and the times I’m supposed to go to with the flow.  My actions are important to help re-define the negative images of womanhood – that we are overly emotional, that we need a husband to take care of us, that we can’t handle pressure.  My example needs to show the truth of womanhood means that being “just a girl” tells the world that I am strong, logical, and self-reliant.

So right now, when I see that there is still a part of me that wants prince charming to come in on his white horse and tell me that he chooses me over all others, that I am so different and unique from all others that breathing my name brings him infinite joy – when I see that part of me I can’t help be a little disgusted.  As a Christian, as a child of God, I know within my mind and know in my faith that my prince charming did not ride in on a horse but died on a cross.  But darn it if I don’t still want the horse anyways.

I am proud of myself for being strong in emotional situations, for not living into the negative and unjust stereotypes that surround the image of being “just a girl.”  But I ache with great remorse in recognizing that every time I cross the street, I look for that horse, for the person I can come home to who will wrap me in his arms and tell me how proud he is that I am woman in ministry.

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This sermon was preached at Divinity Lutheran Church of Parma Heights, OH, based on the passage Luke 17:11-19

What a blessing it is to be here tonight with my Divinity family!  It’s hard to believe that just a year ago tonight I stood at this very pulpit and preached my first sermon.  I’ll never forget how much my knees buckled and my palms were so sweaty – wait, a second.  Things don’t seem to be much different!

Even with having almost one full semester of seminary under my belt, I wasn’t quite sure how to decide what we should share with one another tonight.  Today is Thanksgiving Eve, so at first I was thinking of sharing a litany of things I’m thankful to be experiencing as a Seminarian.

For example, I’m glad I go to the cool seminary – the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago.  I feel pretty confident at calling LSTC the cool school because, unlike some seminaries, my school was the only ELCA seminary brave enough to represent the Lutheran tradition in the midst of a snowstorm at an ecumenical flag football tournament held at Gettysburg.  Some of you may remember a few months back when Pastor Doug went down to Columbus and played at the Trinity alumni/current student scrimmage.  Well, the students Pastor Doug played against apparently couldn’t handle a little snow.  Before the tournament even started snow began to fall, and all of the other ELCA seminaries took one look at the dusting on the field and left town.  Coming from Chicago, LSTC isn’t afraid of a little snow.  We reclaimed the trophy from the Episcopalians – the Book of Concord – rightfully returning it to its home at a Lutheran seminary.

And to answer the question I’m sure some of you are asking, I went as a cheerleader – not a player.  I just can’t do shoes with spikes.

Another thing about my seminary that I’m thankful for is an extra-curricular, faith growing seminar series called Christian Life Community.  Every week, my classmates and I gather together and learn new ways to grow as a community using scripture based activities, ending each session with a free soup supper.  For a student on a budget, it helps when extra-circulars offer free food!

One week we tried a practice called lectio devina.  We divided into small groups and read and re-read aloud a passage from the Bible, reflecting on how we heard God speaking to us through the text.  Ironically, on lectio devina night, we read the same exact passage from Luke that we just shared with each other moments ago. During our discussion, a common theme kept popping up – where are the other nine?

But before we ask any questions, it would help if we first gave this passage a little context.  JesuDs is heading to Jerusalem and gets stopped on by a group of lepers.

We should keep in mind that this conversation went against all social norms.  Lepers were the bottom of their societal barrel, and there is very little in our modern context compares to their situation.  Not only were these people sick, but their illness was such a threat to others that they were forced out of their communities.  Add to it the fact that it was their priest who told them to leave.  Imagine how we would feel if we became ill and our pastor was the one who told us we needed to leave our homes and live in the middle of nowhere.  It would be devastating to know that we are so sick that even our pastor couldn’t even find a place for us.  We would have to make friends with whomever we could – other lepers – even if those lepers shared very different beliefs from us and could be seen as our enemies.

That’s the group of people who approach Jesus – Samaritans and Galileans lepers – people who are very different from one another but were forced to live together because they were not allowed to live with anyone else.

These ostracized people somehow find the strength and courage to approach Jesus, begging him to cure them.  He tells them yes, if they if they go to the priests they will be healed.

This step of going to the priest would have been vital in order for the lepers to go home.  Without the priest giving them the clear to return to society, their healing would have been socially irrelevant.  They still wouldn’t be welcome until the priest officially said it was okay.  I again invite you to put yourself in the vulnerability of their situation.  Imagine if after leaving an ICU ward you needed to get Pastor Doug’s clearance before you could be discharged, see your family, or even talk to someone from a different hospital floor.  You would do it because you would want to go home, but the process all the same would be frustrating.

As they are traveling to the priests to get the blessing to go home, one man notices that he’s healed.  This is the point in the story where things get a little dicey, and my lectio devina group started to ask a bunch of questions.

When, exactly, did the healing take place?  As soon as they asked Jesus for help?  On the road to the priests?  Once they got to the temple?

Why does the Samaritan return, and why is it this man?  Is it because he was a Samaritan, the biggest outsider amongst a group of outsiders, and Luke is trying to make some sort of point that the person who is least expected to give thanks is the one who does?

Did the other nine not care that they were healed?  Were they not grateful?  What is wrong with the integrity of the nine that they didn’t go back to Jesus and give thanks?  Did go to the temple first to get their blessing, and then try to return to Jesus only discover that he had moved on?  Where are the nine?

The more my group explored this text, the more and more we got wrapped up in the nine.  Our discussion became less about Jesus healing and more about trying to put these ambiguous nine into a box.  Keep in mind, the group discussing this passage are a bunch of people who are training to be pastors, so we ended up reading a leadership theme into every inch of this text.

In our zeal of our pondering, the discussion became less and less about what God was actually saying to us and became more and more about us being the “right” ones, the ones who could teach the nine a thing or two about gratitude.  The story became all about us instead of about God.

Afterwards, I started to think that my group epically failed lectio devina night.  I don’t think the point of reading a passage over and over again was so we would make God’s story all about us.

I was reflecting on this when I received a call from my friend, Justin.  He had been rushed to the hospital in the middle of the night for appendicitis, and was to be having an appendectomy immediately.  A fellow seminary student, his parents wouldn’t make it into Chicago until the next day.  I spent twelve hours at the hospital, waiting with him as he went into surgery, while he was being operated on, and when he woke up.  When he was under, I sat in the ICU waiting room.  There were two other groups of people in that waiting room with me – a family of about five people, and another woman all by herself.

There is nothing quite like being an intimate stranger with someone, sharing a powerful moment or period of time with a person whom we will never meet again.  The woman who was by herself clearly must have appreciated the sacredness of our situation, and began sharing her story with me.

As we sat there together for several hours, she told me she was waiting for her boyfriend who was having a blood transfusion.  She was very excited about the transfusion because five months ago he had had a double lung replacement as a result of cystic fibrosis.  The fact that he could be in the hospital having the blood transfusion was testament that the transplant had taken, and now they could begin healing the rest of his body.

As she took me on the journey of this transplant – the agony of waiting for the lungs, the grief she and her boyfriend shared in knowing that the only reason why he lives is because another died, the fearful excitement of the next steps to recovery – she also took me on the journey of her faith.

She shared how angry she had been at God for her boyfriend being so ill.  She shared her furry that because of some insane health insurance reasons he had better coverage as a single person then he would have if they had been married, and the depression she had in having to wait until he was healthy before they could get married.  She talked about how as “merely a girlfriend and not a wife”, she was forced to sit in waiting rooms instead of by his side while his body took in new blood and underwent tests.

She shared that in the midst of being alone as a non-married partner, she recognized that she wasn’t entirely alone because God was with her.  She said that it was with the ring of the phone telling them that the lungs were available that she really began to comprehend what unconditional love was.  She voiced that she knew unconditional love existed because only a love that strong would give such a miraculous gift.  She recognized that a gift that generous could only be given because of a love that is not of this world.

That night, I bore witness to the good news of Jesus Christ in the words of a broken woman.  As the night unfolded, her testimony gave proof that God will continue to reach into the depths of loneliness of this world to connect with us when no one else can or will.  This woman was left outside the walls of the waiting room just as the lepers were left outside the gates of the city, praying that Christ would come and heal the wounds that so often turned others away.

When we look at the Luke text, it is our inclination is to wonder about the nine, and ponder about the open-ended questions that impale this text.  We want to know about the future of the nine, whether they ever really get it together and give thanks.  I’m sure the woman at the hospital had many questions about things that she did not know regarding her own future.  But instead of getting lost in the open-ended questions, instead of reading layers into the situation that were not clearly there, she chose to give praise.  She lived the example of the Samaritan.

Preparing for tonight, I decided to try using one of my new-found seminary skills – looking at this passage in the original Greek.  Wouldn’t you know, it actually does make a difference.

The words of our ancestors are never more valuable than when we look at the crux of the Samaritan’s actions.  Our most commonly used translation tells us in verse 16 that the Samaritan “prostrated himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him.”  While that is a beautiful translation, we really miss the meat and potatoes of what the original text shares.  That same line in Greek reads, “and he fell upon his face at the feet of his God, and he praised him.”

It is easy to be misled in our new translation the level of gratitude that is happening here.  This moment is not your average-Joe level of thanks.  You don’t just fall upon your face for a minor pleasantry.  This level of thanksgiving is heart wrenching, earth shaking, soul bearing gratitude.

“And he fell upon his face at the feet of his God, and praised him.”

That is not, “I’m glad to see friends over the holidays” thanks.  That is “my son made it through an emergency appendectomy” thanks.  That is not “Grandma’s pie was yummy” thanks.  That is “my church gave me a food basket and now I can feed my children” thanks.  That is not “let me write a thank-you note for the nice birthday present” thanks.  That is “my boyfriend has new lungs and will live” thanks.

We give thanks all the time.  We often gently lower ourselves in gratitude before God, and rightly so.  But when was the last time we were so moved that we fell upon our faces in thanksgiving to the bounty in our lives?  When was the last we showed thanks where it could be described as a worthy offering of praise at the foot of our God?  When is the last time we were present when either we or someone else was so overcome with gratitude to be at the point of falling upon faith?

That is the level of gratitude I witnessed in the ICU waiting room that night.  This brave, unexpected woman did not shrink away from showing the power of Christ’s healing touch to a complete stranger.  She was not sharing that story for my benefit.  She wasn’t even entirely sharing that story for her benefit.  She was sharing that story because like the Samaritan, she felt she had no choice but to fall upon herself to give praise God.

Perhaps the reason why we are so easily lulled into the mystery of the nine is because it is far easier to ponder then to recognize that we are constantly at the foot of God, in a position to be giving praise.  We think about the vulnerability the lepers experience hoping to get the clear from their priest, but it means so much more to recognize our own vulnerability.  Deep down, in the depths of our soul, we are filled with knowledge that our life is filled with blessings that should bring us to our knees and upon our faces every day.  We are uncomfortable with that kind of vulnerability, because further deep within ourselves we know that we are unworthy of the grace of forgiveness and the blessings that fill us with more wellness then any blood transfusion could ever hope to accomplish.

But Christ, our Sovereign and our Strength, he knows this.  He knows that we are uncomfortable falling upon our faces, praising with a gratitude that makes us feel so vulnerable.  This is why he tells the Samaritan, and us, to get up and go – that our faith has made us well.  Our wellness does not come from prostration, from lectio devinas, through testimonies to strangers in ICU waiting rooms.  Our wellness comes from living out our faith.

This Thanksgiving, let us not ponder the nine, but instead ponder moments in our life that are worthy of being called to our knees and upon our faces.  Let us not shy away from giving more than your average-Joe level of praise.  And if we are not quite ready to be that vulnerable, it’s okay.  Christ will still remain with us, and our faith will make us well.

Amen.

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A Many Blundered Thing

“When you showed me myself, you know, I became someone else.” – Joseph Arthur, In the Sun.

Pride is a many blundered thing.

I’ve been in Cleveland for the past few days on a holiday break from seminary.  I was driving to University Circle, which is the arts district, and I noticed that my usual route had been blocked off by construction.  Normally I wouldn’t have batted my eye, but this is bridge is different, and this construction work is different – I helped make it happen.

When I was working for the UCC parish in Tremont, I was one of the professionals commissioned by the city of Cleveland to represent the interest of the businesses that were to be impacted by this construction.  I worked for a church who was extremely active in their immediate community, and that parish became the location that all the Tremont-centered construction meetings took place.  I spent at least six months working directly with the construction company, the mayor’s office, and the local councilman.  I’m proud that I was asked to be part of a project that will keep a bridge from collapsing and harming hundreds of people, and I’m further humbled that my role at the church put me in a position to really make a difference in a way I had never expected.  Driving past those detour signs, knowing that a part of my work continues after I left town, is pretty amazing.

But as I detoured, I saw something that was even more amazing.  I had served on a focus group for the Cleveland Rape Crisis Center, helping to develop their new billboards for the 24-hour rape hotline.  I had gotten a letter saying that the signs were going up, and had even seen one before I left, but today my heart was blown open with pride.  On the drive back and forth from University Circle, I saw at least ten signs on billboards, bus stop terminals, and bus sides promoting the hotline.

I saw how God’s vision for my life is now integrating into the network of this community in a way I had never imagined.  If I had to choose which means more to me, which I am more proud of, the answer is easy – the Crisis Center signs.

There is no doubt that the impact of a safe bridge that hundreds of people drive on multiple times a day will unquestionably protect more people.  But public safety is a safety that we all expect, while physical safety is one that we often forget is not available to all.

I became acquainted with the Crisis Center as a result of my own brokenness and further integrated into it because I worked in a place where brokenness surrounded the people I was trying to serve.  I came to that center needing guidance on how to help others and how to help myself, both as a person and as a minister.  The Crisis Center helped me find my voice, and equipped me with skills to be a healthy witness to someone who is uncovering their voice.  I believe in their service to the community.  I now live in a city where funding (but not intentions!) restricts the ability to provide the broad depth of resources to women that the Cleveland Rape Crisis Center can.  This knowledge that many cities would love to do more but can’t because of resources makes me appreciate their service all the more.  I appreciate the donors who give money, the taxes that are paid, and the hundreds of volunteers who staff the phones, run meeting groups, send out mailings, and sit on focus groups to help remind women in Cleveland that being assaulted does not strip them of their voice.  Cleveland is lucky to be able to support a center within the limits of just one city, where most states are lucky if they can even provide one per county.

What is most miraculous to me about the ministry of organizations like these is how they name brokenness.  Such organizations only exist because there is horror and despair in our world.  Despite being born as the result of a vile monster named rape or assault, they bring a beauty and serenity to the world that is unparalleled.

Organizations like these organically travel the love of God even when they don’t directly intend to.

They also unknowingly serve as a reminder that we are never alone – God is with us in the horror, weeping tears with us in our anguish.  God did not forsake us when we met the monster, and God is most certainly with us when we learn to reclaim our voice from the monster who tried and failed to take it from us.  I feel safe in saying “fail” because we can never really lose something that is the core of our essence.  Our self-respect and our dignity are some of the few things that are always ours.  While they may become dirty or discolored because of the impacts of our world, it doesn’t make them any less ours.  We are always the victor merely because we survived.  In the strength of surviving we held onto the core essence of ourselves, and when the healing begins, we can start to remember that we did not hold on alone.  God has proudly been holding on too because God is proud of us for just being able to be.

And when we are in those moments when we just can’t fathom that God was with us the dark, when it is cathartic to believe the fallacy that we have always been alone in our despair, we have the ability to turn into the loving embrace of God inside organizations like the Crisis Center.  Their embrace will help us heal our brokenness and reclaim the wholeness of our voice.

Pride is a many blundered thing, often centered in the unexpected brokenness of our survival.  How beautiful that we can share this brokenness with others, transforming it into a light that can heal the world.

If you would like more information about the Cleveland Rape Crisis Center, please visit their site at www.clevelandrapecrisis.org, or call the 24-hour hotline at 216-619-6192.

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Catch and Release Love

“You know exactly how I was made, bit by bit, how I was sculpted from nothing into something.”- Psalm 139:16, the Message.

Despite my best efforts, I cannot get my nephew to like me.

Alex is 18 months old, and almost from the first time I met him, when he looks at me he bursts into tears.  Maybe it is the fact that my voice sounds too much like my sisters, maybe it is the fact that when I usually see him my sister is leaving to go to work or something.  Whatever the reason, my presence makes him uneasy.  There were a few months before I moved to seminary where we seemed to have an understanding of sorts – he wouldn’t cry every time he saw me, and would even at times let me hold him if my sister, her husband, or my parents were in the room.  But at my sister’s birthday part tonight, Alex would have nothing to do with me.  This time it was worse than just crying – he would actually run to any other adult and hide from me.  Watching my nephew run to the arms of my sister’s friends to avoid looking at me was a hard pill to swallow.

I know one day this phase will pass and Alex and I will be the best of friends, but in the mean time, this sucks.  I’ve thought about it long and hard, and truly, no other word works than suckiness.

Alex has no idea how much I love him.  There is nothing I would love more than to hug him, snuggle with him, have him sit on my lap as I read him a story.  I’ve loved this kid more than I ever thought possible even before he was born.  My sister struggled quite a bit at the end of her pregnancy, and for the last few weeks was on bed rest.  She had extremely high blood pressure, and there were many days when I sat with her in the pregnancy ward triage, watching monitors beep and blink, hoping that we wouldn’t have to make the decision between her health or his.  I loved him more and more through each beep, each test, each hour of waiting for him to finish being sculpted within my sisters womb.  I prayed and fretted waiting for him to be born safely, and a piece of my heart bruised when I was unable to be there at the hospital when he was because I was in a hospital across town dealing with a lupus procedure.  My love for Alex has only grown since then.  While I understand that he needs to trust me in his own way, the waiting can be really trying.

I can’t help but notice this to-and-fro with Alex is very similar to the catch-and-release game we play with God’s unconditional love.  God loves us more than we can ever imagine, in ways that we’ll  never really know or understand.  God waited for us to exit our mothers womb and be welcomed into this world, and bruises each time that we push away opportunities to be enveloped by his love.  Perhaps when we turn away from God it isn’t as obvious as Alex hiding behind another person’s legs, but I believe the cut is equally as deep.

But just as there will never be a time when I will stop reaching out to Alex, there will never be a time when God will stop reaching out to us.  We can run and hide, we can cry, we can turn our backs and wrap our arms around the false senses of safety that tempt us throughout our existence – but God will still remain, unconditionally and forever.

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I never thought I would be this happy to be on the low-end of the normal scale.

For the past four years, I have been going through premature ovarian failure.  To put it bluntly – menopause.  This was discovered shortly after I learned that I have endomitriosis.  Being a lupus patient, when the endometrial cysts appear my body gets confused and the cysts  become infected and damage the surrounding nerves, more often than not resulting in surgery.  I have been unable to treat the endomitirosis because the medication available accelerates the ovarian failure.  In truth, I have not wanted to put the final nail in the coffin of my future to become a mother naturally, and I have been holding out on the hope of a miracle.

Two weeks ago I had yet another surgery on this same issue.  My doctor ran some tests to see what the status of my ovaries were, and miracle of all miracles, I received word today that my ovaries are no longer in failure.  Somehow – be it the medication working, the weight loss, being surrounded by hoards of females in seminary, who knows what – my ovaries are no longer dormant and have some sort of activity.  According to my doctor, I still have a “long way to go, but it is safe to say you are at the low-end of the normal scale.”  Now that my ovaries are no longer failing, there is a small possibility that we may be able to treat the endomitriosis, which will hopefully mean fewer surgeries.

My mind is reeling.  Within the context of a ten minute phone call, my entire life changed.  I went from only having a .5% chance of ever conceiving to a 60% chance.  I went from knowing that I will probably have one or two surgeries a year for this cyst issue, to being able to seek treatment that may keep them from ever happening again.

The irony is that this news reaches me one day shy of the tenth anniversary of the most monumental day of my entire life.  November 15, 2001 my whole world changed, as I lost the most important person I have ever known.  Losing that person not only plagued me, but that of my best friend, who in his grief began using cocaine.  I lost two people on the death of that most precious life, and for the past ten years I have carried the weight of this day like a heavy plague upon my soul.  Ten years is a long time to shoulder weight in this way, and I am finally in a place where I am ready to transfer that pain to a set of shoulders who will never weary – Gods.

It is hard to let ourselves be truly loved.  It is so much easier to fall for a person who will keep us at arm’s length, who always has a reason for why they cannot trust and why they cannot love.  We choose to love people who keep us afar because deep down we know that they will not call us out when we keep them afar.  I know I have carried similar excuses to avoid true intimacy.  I carried excuses because it is far simpler to explain why we can’t trust another earthly person then to acknowledge that we don’t always trust God.  But my trust now is finally fully in God, in the salvation of Christ, and in the knowledge that there is nothing that will keep God at arms lengths from me aside from myself.

I don’t think it’s a coincidence that this news about a new beginning reaches me on the eve of a new chapter in my life.  For ten years, I have carried my loss by myself, and it is time for a new way of thinking.  There is hope in the middle of this reeling confusion.  I will always miss the person who is not with me, the person who helped me recognize that I needed to love myself in order to care for others, the person who taught me what it means to live in the glory of unconditional love.

I needed a miracle this week, and I have been given one on the low-end of the normal scale.  It is time to be bold in my love, and proudly remember the greatest miracle I have ever known, even after ten long years.

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On November 9, 1938 Jewish homes and businesses were attacked in Nazi Germany.  51 years later to the very day, the Berlin Wall fell.

Today at chapel, LSTC remembered the travesty of Kristallnacht, and honored the survivors and their loved ones in a commemorative worship service.  I was only able to attend the service for a short while as a result of a work commitment, and it was hard to leave a service recognizing the impact of such a fateful day.  Clearly my colleagues felt the same way, and as we opened our meeting one of our team members, Kurt, pointed out to us all that Kristallnacht and the Berlin wall are intimately connected by the impact of this powerful day in history.

It is poetic that a day of peace and restoration would occur on the same day of such horrible travesty.  It is humbling that these two parallels relate to the turmoil with descendents of the same community.  It is with God’s grace that a day of horror could also host a day of healing.

It is important for as Christians to acknowledge that many terrible crimes against humanity have happened under the misuse of God’s name.  There is no excuse for distorting the message of Christ, salvation, and redemption in such a way that its mere presence could evoke fear and trepidation for others.  We need to remember where people have not only failed to do God’s work, but have worked against God’s covenant for the sake of their own agenda.  We need to remember and honor such moments because those choices all too easily could have been ours.  Living in the safety of a majority status within a country such as the United States, it is hard for me to fathom how anyone could have lived through such an experience as Kristallnacht.  I similarly cannot fathom what it would be like to have been in Berlin in 1989, having access for the first time to a part of the world that I had been oppressed from experiencing.

We must not forget the brokenness of humanity, the fragile balance of what it means to live in the same world with one another.  The balance between oppression and freedom is perhaps a finer line then we’d like to acknowledge, and it in a hope of awareness of that line that we have remembrances like today.

But the Wall did come down on the Kristallnacht.  It took a long time, 51 long years, for that day to share a memory of celebration alongside its memory of pain.  Even in the midst of those years, God stirred within the people, helping them to take one step further from oppression and closer towards acceptance.

Today, as I remember the brokenness of humanity, as I morn on behalf of the Jewish community for the oppression they have experienced by people who claimed to carry the cross of Christ, I remember that God tears down the walls of separating us from the divine bit by bit, one brick at a time.

The following is a declaration for peace, written by a teenager by the name of Gabriele S. Chase:

Not in my name will you wage war on people I do not know, on men, women and children.  Not in my name will you label our country a victim, and turn it into an aggressor.  Not in my name will you drain my future by creating deficits and financial aid for the rich.  Not in my name will you steal my children’s inheritance by drilling and killing and exploiting.  Not in my name will you use my money to kill.  Not in my name will you take my flag, my symbol, and soil it with blood.  Not in my name will you justify violence with arrogance and oil.  Not in my name will you claim holy sanction to kill God’s children.  Not in God’s name, nor in mine.

Chase’s declaration is from “Daybook for New Voices: a Calendar of Reflections and Prayers by and for Youth”, edited by Maren C. Tirabassi and Maria I. Tirabassi, Pilgrim Press, 2004

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Heresy or Fear

“I’m known for taking what I think I deserve, and you’re over due.” – Cobra Starship, You Make Me Feel.

There are moments when I think I’m surrounded by heretics.

As Lutherans, we talk about grace.  It’s our theological bread and butter (or should I be saying bread and wine?).  We believe that by God’s magnificent, incomprehensible grace, Christ came to live among earth, died for our sins, and rose again three days later.  In that resurrection, we too were born into a new life.  By the miracle of baptism we are fortunate to die when we are still alive, resurrected into a state of continual grace and mercy without ever losing a breath.  We believe in God’s law, but we don’t believe in works righteousness.  We are loved and forgiven and valued just because.  There is no reason for which we could ever really understand, and it defies every aspect of human logic.  But logic doesn’t matter here because grace reigns supreme.  God loved us enough to die on our behalf so that we never have to.  It is the best bread and butter in the whole universe.

So why then can’t we just let ourselves feel good?

I am always astounded at how much we beat ourselves and each other up.   Believe me, I recognize that I am a pot and I am pointing out my fellow kettle.  I can’ t understand God’s love for me, and there are times when I would much rather remember my endless list of faults instead of relaxing in the knowledge that those faults are not nearly such a big deal to God as they are to me.  I wake up each day striving to follow God’s law in my life and I believe that God is happy if I keep on striving, even when I fail.  When I fail and confess, God forgives me and let’s me start fresh.  I don’t even have to wait until the next day, or until I make some sort of penance.  The sun is always rising on my future, and past is always settling behind me, no matter how many times I want to look back and see my mistakes settle back down the horizon line.

I also understand that this is a personal struggle to set aside our heresy and just live in the present of the good news. I am labeling heresy the moments when we try to explain why grace won’t apply to us:  “Well, I can’t tell people about my scholarship because that would not be humble and I may lose it.”  “I’m sick because I did something to upset God.”  “Why, God, have you forsaken me and left me alone to battle this addiction by myself?”  If we truly believe our Lutheran ideal that God loves us, forgives us unconditionally, and grants us the power of free choice and will, then such comments can only be classified as one of two things, heresy or fear.

We fear that the grace of God which passes all of our human understanding won’t apply to us because we just can’t wrap our heads around the fact that such a love exists.  It’s beyond our understanding for a reason – it is not of this world.  Of course we have moments of doubt and feel self-conscious.  We know what a gift forgiveness is because we know how badly we’ve sinned.  We know the weight of what God sets aside to keep our futures rising above us.  It can be overwhelming to know that as bad as we may sometimes be, as broken and fragmented we are, God shoulders the negative parts of our humanity without a second thought.  Fear is normal and I would argue healthy because it allows us to remember and recognize what a blessing this grace thing really is.

What is heresy is trying for force that fear on someone else.  As baptized children of God, we are all commissioned, each and every one of us, to spread the gospel of Christ’s salvation to everyone who has ears to hear.  Granted, not everyone who has ears has ears to hear, but that is another thought for another day.  Heresy comes in when we deny people the experience to reveal in the gifts of grace that are present in their lives.

For example, there are many of our brothers and sisters who live in a state of oppression.  They may be of a minority race, gender, or sexual orientation.  It is our duty as Christians to help level out the playing fields, so to speak, so that everyone can have access to the same things all the time without judgement or oppression.  But there are some baptized children of God who fail to see that not everyone is who is in a minority group is living in a state of oppression, and do not provide a space for that story to be heard.  Where is there room in our community for the gay man who is accepted by his family and church to share how blessed he feels to have both in his life?  Where is there room for the multiracial family to celebrate the success of their union together in a community who has always supported them?  Why do we not equally provide platforms for happy stories to be shared as we advocate for those who do not have happy stories?  Why do we only want to talk about what’s wrong?

In a recent pastoral care class we were asked to compete a genogram, outlining our family tree and connecting people with squiggly lines and dark boxes to show the level of dysfunction we had.  I remember filling mine out feeling overwhelmed by the color on my page, and was surprised that a friend was overwhelmed because her page was clear.  She voiced that she was sad that no one would want to hear about her family because her story was “boring.”  She felt that there would be no one who would listen to her celebration of a family history being away from trauma, illness, and oppression.

It is vital for us as a Christian community to work towards a reconciled world.  Everyone should feel so secure in God’s love for them that they can set their fear aside and bask in the glory of Christ’s resurrection in their own life.  But no one will learn how to feel secure if we don’t also share the good news that we see around us.  We are living in a state of continual gospel, of continual good news.  It is heresy to deny the opportunities to celebrate that gospel when it is presented to us.  We will only be able to show God’s trans-formative love in the world if we are brave enough to point out and celebrate examples of that love.

As Lutherans, as Christians, as children of God, we are given an opportunity to show the world how to celebrate, because in community we live a spectrum of lives that are filled with countless reasons for celebration.  May we find the courage to feel freed by grace more often than we feel fear and share that good news.

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