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Archive for August, 2013

Mystery in a Flag

I have never been one who is a fan of flags in worship.

My entire life, my father has taught me to be proud of my American nationality.  While there is no question that there is still an astounding amount of work to do to fully embody equality in this nation, I am proud to be a US Citizen.  I value that I am able both as a woman of faith and citizen of our nation free to spend my life working toward equality for all of our brothers and sisters, regardless of sexual orientation, skin color, or birth heritage.  

But I don’t like flags in worshipFlag_Casket

Worship is a time for us to look past our national identity and remember that God not only loves America, but every other nation and every group of people.  All people are welcomed in God’s house.  All people are welcome to receive the gift of grace found through Jesus Christ that is freely given – no matter where we were born, where we have been, or what stamp is in our passport.  Worship is about remembering how the whole world and all of creation is untied in Christ.  It has been my experience that flags in worship spaces rarely point to the unity of creation, but more often divisively point to a specific group of people. 

So imagine my surprise that at my first military funeral this afternoon I was evocatively moved by the folding and distribution of the flag. 

I think part of the power was seeing for the first time the flag used in a spiritual way to help bring unity.  The funeral flag united a family that was grieving to a broader connection of our nation and its history.  With the three shots of the rifle, I was provocatively reminded of the unity found in the Trinity.  With each fold of the flag into the perfect triangle, drawing two soldiers physically together with every bend, I was again reminded of the unity of the Trinity.  When the officer knelt before the grieving family and stoically stated, “On behalf of the President of the United States as the Commander in Chief of the United States Military, please accept this flag as a sign of our thankfulness to your family’s service to our country and all it protects,” I was reminded of the eternal protection we find in the cross and how it equips us to strive for justice and peace throughout the earth. 

I don’t think I’ll ever like seeing flags in worship, but I am grateful today at the graveside I for the first time saw God in our flag.  I once again am humbled in the truth that no matter where our life’s journeys take us, God is forever with us, empowering us, equipping us, and sheltering us with a grace beyond our understanding. 

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LadyOfSnows_2One of the challenging things about moving to a new location is the struggle to establish a new stomping ground for everyday things.  This past weekend, my struggles centered on finding a bank.  I knew my bank didn’t have any Missouri branches, but since St. Louis is literally the border of the state, I thought for sure it would be no trouble to find a branch of my bank on the other side of the river in Illinois.  Especially since Siri kept telling me there were 12 branches in a 14 mile radius or less from my home.

I spent the most of my morning driving from one fictitious bank location to another, finding myself frustrated that I didn’t consider finding a bank would be an all day possibility when I threw on a T-shirt and left the house without putting make up on.  After I drove to yet the third fake-bank location, I felt the little patience I have for these tasks slipping quickly away from me.  That’s when I saw it – a gigantic sign that said “National Shrine to Our Lady of the Snows.”

LadyOfSnows_1aAs a candidate for ordination in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, I’m not as up to date with saints and icons that other traditions hold dear.  I was pretty impressed with myself that I remembered that Our Lady usually refers to Mary the mother of Jesus.  Since I began seminary, however, I have started to fall in love a bit with the idea of icons – people and images that evoke a strong message about a journey of faith or a spiritual discipline.  In a moment where my secular world of GPS and ATM’s seemed to be failing me, I turned my car off-the-beaten path into the compound of the shrine.

It never ceases to amaze me that God’s Holy Spirit finds us just when we need her the most.  As I climbed out of my car, it must have been obvious that I was on unfamiliar grounds, because a woman got up from a kneeler at the outdoor altar and walked over to me.  She explained to me that the shrine compound contained many images of Mary.  When I asked how she discovered this place, she told me that she was “not religious” but, much like myself, felt drawn here when driving past one day.  She shared that once she began walking around she realized the shrine compound was a holy place, and regularly found herself coming back at the joyous and sorrowful times of her life.

Together we wLadyOfSnows3aalked around a portion of the compound.  She showed me various icons of Mary, directing me to countless miles of walking paths and meditative gardens throughout the compound.  She showed me the Seven Stations of the Cross, telling me what she experienced when looking upon the crucifixion of Christ.  Through her soft-spoken explanations, I saw a side to our Triune God that I had not yet seen, her words speaking to me as boldly as a well crafted sermon.

It has been a long time since a person has witnessed their faith to me in such a way, and it was humbling in ways I cannot begin to put into words.  In a week where the ELCA has elected our first female Presiding-Bishop, I have been overcome with the progress and empowerment we have made for women leaders and their public positions.  But there, on that compound, I was hearing the truth of Christ through a woman who never went to seminary, shared she rarely went to church, and probably never studied theology for any extended period of time if at all.  In some ways, she reminded me of the woman that shrine represented – Mary, the mother of Jesus, a regular girl whose humble and unexpected journey of faith brought forth the transformation of the world forever.  Our God works through leaders big and small, educated or not, who are disciples either by their publicly accountable held positions or who witness to a stranger in front of an icon of Mary.

I’m grateful I was sent on a fictitious scavenger hunt for a bank that day.  It led me to a truth I needed to experience from an unexpected witness.

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