On Being a Lily of the Field

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water-lilies-bud-pond-green-99548.jpegI’ve always been the type of person who worries excessively.  This has always been part of my personality from the time I was a small child, and making drastic changes to such an embedded character trait takes time.

I go about my daily business worrying about how well I accomplish things and if I will have all the resources I need for the future.  I worry about the well-being of those I love and what will happen in the future to all of us.  I worry about small things and large things alike.

So when I read a text like Matthew 6:25-34, I want to laugh.  “God, you’re trying to tell me that I shouldn’t worry.  Easier said than done.  Releasing the worry won’t be happening here!”

And then I am faced once again with surgery.  I’ve tried everything I can to avoid surgery, but I must undergo the procedure once again.  For a while, I worried about having to endure this operation once more and did what I could do to avoid it, but there was little I could do.  I need to have it.

I will be on the surgical table in the very near future, so worry clouds my mind.  There is nothing that I can do once I lie down to have surgery except pray, believing that God knows what I will need and care for me in ways that will strengthen my well-being.

During the procedure, I know that I will be like a lily of the field—unable to care for myself in that period of time.  I will be enduring a period in which I am just “being” instead of “doing.”  My dependence will be on God and those working with God to bring about my health.

Most of us do not want to be like lilies of the field.  We want control, and we want solutions right now.  But now and again, life happens, and our time to be like flowers in a field arrives. We come and go with the winds.  We allow the rains to wash upon us.  Neither we can control.  And God wants us to embrace this time so that we can find our well-being again soon.

So I ask for God to take care of me while I am like a lily.  I ask God to heal me so that I can work hard once healing happens.  And like Reinhold Niebuhr’s Serenity Prayer, I ask God to help me always figure out what I can control and what I need to give to God.

This post will be in St. Paul UCC’s March 2017 messenger.

Waiting to Heal

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teddy-teddy-bear-association-ill-42230The endometriosis has returned.  At least it’s what I think right now.

Next week, I have my third surgery for this disease.  Now, most of the time I’m fine.  And I’m the type of person who works diligently through my pain a it doesn’t stop me from being a productive person.  But eventually I get to the point that I need to have a procedure as the pain reaches a distracting level.

Have I mentioned how much I hate pain – how I would rather endure surgery than experience daily agony?

I’ve written about my experiences with this illness here, here and here.  Of course, I’m always doing what I can do educate others about the illness.  It is believed that ten percent of people with female reproductive parts have endometriosis – and this includes some transgender men.  Many women are told that pain with periods is normal, so women will go years before they are diagnosed.  People like Lena Dunham, Susan Sarandon, and Whoopi Goldberg have had the disease.  It is also believed Hillary Rodham Clinton and Marilyn Monroe suffered with it as well.  While doctors try various pills and medications to treat the illness, it often feels like there are few good treatments besides surgery.  The other treatments I’ve tried were spoiled by the side effects.

While most of my energy is dedicated to work and healing, little time has gone to writing. Which is why I’m giving what I can tonight to my craft and calling as a writer.  In the next few days I hope to write more here about my experiences with endometriosis in the pulpit and as a woman.

I’m very fortunate that I’ve gone years between each of my surgeries – unlike many women.  My hope is that in a few weeks I will be back to my normal self – blooming with energy and gaining momentum to become active again.  This is what happened after the first two surgeries, and I pray that it will happen this third time.  All I want is to feel human once again, to savor the joys of life with friends and find myself outside under the sun instead of on the couch and in bed during free time.

Netflix is nice, but there is so much streaming one wants to experience because there is an entire world to see, hear, and taste.

Not OUR Day

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dr-kingAs a white person, I feel it’s necessary to reflect upon my relationship with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day, his legacy, and who I am in my racial privilege.

When it comes down to it, fellow white sisters and brothers, this isn’t our story to reframe, not our struggle to claim, and this isn’t our day.  And it is seriously easy to allow ourselves to slide the slippery-slope and make this day all about us.

There are places for us to be and work for us to do today that relate to the legacy of Dr. King.  It is a day for us to learn.  This is a day for us to listen to the stories of friends of color, to read about the life of Dr. King, to hear his sermons and speeches once again, to pick up books that focus on white privilege and the struggles that black Americans endure.  This is a day for us to walk next to our friends of color and listen to what they are saying.

This is the time for us to recall how we fell short in the past year in our stands for racial justice.

This is the time for us to find courage that we need for the upcoming months and years to stand for justice and the well-being of our neighbors.  This is a day for us to set aside to recommit ourselves to justice issues.

Yes, Dr. King stood up for a myriad of justice issues – including peace during the Vietnam War and economic justice for all.  And as Dr. King said “Justice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere,” all injustices are interconnected and hurt so many more people than who we first notice.

But this day is not for us to whitewash Dr. King – to forget what he stood for and how he was willing to put everything out there for racial justice.  Today is not the day to do to Dr. King what we have done to Jesus: to make both men hyper-meek in their approach to justice.  Yes, they loved peace and non-violence, but they were willing to go to the grave for their fight for justice.  They were edgy, and both men would not be revered by the majority of our society if they lived in our country today.

May we continue to grow in our privilege awareness.  May we stop falling asleep to our privilege like the disciples in the garden with Jesus.  May we find ways to speak of the authentic Dr. King.  May we listen… and listen more.  May we find ways to become aware of all of our privileges – whether they relate to race, sexual orientation, religion, or other privileges.  May we continue to love radically like Dr. King and Jesus… and may we embrace their courage when the time comes for us to need it.

 

Death’s Frequent Visits and the Spirit Which Remains

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carrie_fisher_2013_cropped_retouched“2016 has been a terrible year,” I’ve heard repeatedly since January.  First, it was David Bowie, quickly followed by Alan Rickman.  Over the year shocking and unexpected announcements were made about the deaths of Prince, Mohammad Ali and Gene Wilder.

We can’t forget the many people who had smaller roles in our seventies/eighties pop culture: George Gaines from Punky Brewster and Police Academy, George Kennedy from The Naked Gun movies, James Noble from Benson, Ron Glass and Abe Vigoda from Barney Miller, and the Pat Harrington from One Day at a Time.  Creators like Garry Marshall who gave us Happy Days and Pretty Woman aren’t here anymore. Even music got a little quieter when Maurice White from Earth, Wind and Fire as well as Glen Frey from The Eagles died.

And then this month happened.

Our beloved 80’s dad Alan Thicke tragically and suddenly passed due to a malfunctioning aorta.  Then came Carrie Fisher’s heart attack on an airplane.  They said she was stable… so she should be ok, right?  Before we heard any more on her condition, George Michael died on Christmas Day.  Two days later, Fisher died.

For my fellow Generation X-ers, our entire childhood is fading fast before us.  Two thousand sixteen reminded us of this.

george_michael_02_bisThe Grim Reaper’s frequent visits happen occasionally.  In my personal life, I remember the uncomfortable year of 1994.  First, my grandma died of metastatic breast cancer.  Then my grandfather had a massive stroke.  Finally, my grandfather’s brother died from a sudden heart attack in the doctor’s office.  My soul felt a bit worn by the end of the year – especially after a breakup of a long term relationship in October.

Grief is the greatest experience I remember from that year.  It’s amazing how so much grief will cloud one specific year of your life.

alan_rickman_after_seminar_28329As a pastor, I see how death comes in waves.  There are times when we have three funerals in one week.  Or there are times when our congregations seem like they’ve lost so many people in one year.  All Saint’s Sunday is filled with names of our recently deceased read aloud.  I’ve seen this happen in two specific years of my ministry so far: 2010 and 2015.

These are people who we knew and with whom we spoke and with whom I worked.  This still makes me why we experience so much grief when a celebrity dies.

We’ve never really knew them – we think to ourselves.  But their contribution to the soundtracks and movies of our lives leads us to consider them a close part of who we are and our life experiences.  Remember the middle school sleepovers and singing Prince songs at 1a.m…. or how many times we watched Alan Rickman in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves during the summer of 1991 – – right after graduating high school.  Or how many Star Wars movies with Carrie Fisher did we see on the big screen.  The first I watched at the theaters was Episode VI: Return of the Jedi.  Leia is the one who rescues her beloved and then strangles her captor after she is enslaved.  Fisher brought to life one of the strongest females on screen – transforming from a strong-willed princess to a general in charge of the continuing rebellion.

prince_at_coachella_001They are part of our stories, and we are forever grateful for their existence and contributions.  We are grateful for their vulnerability in art.

Which reminds me of the lines in the play Our Town.  After the main female protagonist Emily dies from childbirth, she yearns to experience life once again.  She experiences a semi-ordinary day in her life – giving her the realization that she really didn’t experience life while she ways living it.  Emily says to the state manager narrator of the story: “Does anyone ever realize life while they live it… every, every minute?  The Stage Manager replies “No.  Saints and poets maybe… they do some.”

David.  Alan. Gene. Maurice. Prince. Alan. George. Carrie.  You felt all of  the feelings.  Your experience of emotions influenced your craft in generous and ingenious ways.  You were the saints and poets that were mentioned by the Stage Manager in Our Town.  You experienced the range of emotions – even to the point when it affected your health and well-being.  And you are gone today.  But your experiences remain with you forever on that side of heaven where all of you abide.  Fortunately, your gifts remain with us forever.

Thank you for your gifts, your risks, your authenticity.  Thank you for being you.

Death cannot take you fully away from us because your lasting contributions are still here. This is what everyday resurrection is about.  2016 did not win.

*****

(I missed many other artists and leaders who passed this year as well and who contributed so much.  For a full list of notable people who died in 2016, see this article.)

 

Cranky Christmas: The Return of the “Bah Humbugs”

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pexels-photo-249209Much like living with a high pitch noise that won’t go away, I feel as if I am experiencing this Advent/Christmas season with a humming irritation swirling inside of me more than I’ve experienced in other years.

Maybe it’s due to the amount of work I wish I could do but haven’t gotten done.  Maybe it’s due to the things I haven’t gotten accomplished – like Christmas cards (for the billionth year in a row) and how many more extracurricular tasks have to complete before December 25.  Maybe it’s due to all of the failures of this past year or what isn’t going right in my life – according to the world’s expectations.  Maybe it’s due to my endometriosis flaring up a bit (not enough to stop me from getting things accomplished but enough to make me slightly grouchier than the norm).  Maybe it’s due to disastrous political and heartbreaking world events of the past few months.

Now, I won’t describe this as melancholy, because I wouldn’t categorize this as sadness or depression.  Sure, there are moments of sorrow due to the shortened days and lack of peace in our world.  But my Blue Christmas is not a traditional lament.  Rather, I’m irritated.  And this lingering frustration will not subside no matter how many episodes of Modern Family and Parks and Recreation I watch, how many times I view Love Actually or how many peanut butter and chocolate candies I eat.

And all I want to say… or scream…is BAH HUMBUG!

My annoyance at the circumstances of 2016 has placed a filter for the joy of the season.  It’s drowned hope.  It’s robbed my soul of peace, and loving one’s neighbor tends to suffer as a result of my irritations.

And while the presence of the Christ is in my midst, there is a veil between my eyes and Christ’s presence.

So I’m praying that when the Christ candle is lit on Saturday evening, it will be the light I need to see hope, peace, joy, and love that’s been a bit absent in recent weeks.  I pray that it will soothe my soul throughout these shallow-filled days.  I pray that I will not allow this light that is coming into our world to diminish and that it continues to remain strong as time gives birth to 2017.

 

 

Advent Prayer Day 12: A Prayer for the Tired Pastors

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tiredGod from whom all energy flows,
Our bodies crawl from dawn to dusk
From one visit to another,
From one meeting to the next,
From one worship service to the following one,
From one duty until our list is complete.

(It’s never complete.)

We know our help comes from you.
And our strength and courage are bestowed upon us by you.
Yet, our stamina wavers
And we wonder where you are.

Grant that our tired bodies
And even-more-exhausted souls
Find their refreshment in sleep, in recreation,  and in times of fellowship.

May we learn to prioritize what is needed
And let us find the grace we need when certain tasks remain incomplete.

May our spouses and partners and parents and children understand our frenzy.
May our friends continue to invite us to parties even thou we’ve turned them down four times before.

May our bodies remain strong,
May the flus and infections stay far away,
May additional unforeseen tasks that may pop up wait until January,
And may we see the Christ around us even when our eyes are focused elsewhere.

Amen.

America’s Lot Moment

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sodoma_-_aldegrever

I wrote this only a few days after the election.  This is how I felt – not only at the time – but continue to feel as I process what happened in our country.  This is how I feel every time I hear of another hate crime committed. 

 

I am a woman of privilege.  While I have some awareness of my racial, citizenship, and sexual orientation privilege, I am also still waking up to my privilege.  The results of the election came as a shock, and part of this shock is due to my privilege-related naiveté. 

This was written with much respect to all people who have been assaulted in any shape or form, not making light of assault, and also knowing that a piece of us felt violated on Election Day because the results affirmed the complacency with abuse.  Abuse has happened in many forms, and the Bible reflects that abuse as well.  Please be aware that this could be a TRIGGER WARNING for many people.

*****

“Look, I have two daughters who have not known a man: let me bring them out to you, and do to them as you please.” (Genesis 19:8)

I imagine most people feel disgust after reading this text and are shocked to know this is actually in our sacred Scripture.  Angels, in the form of two strangers, visit Lot in Sodom.  When the community heard about the visitors, they bang on Lot’s door and order him to send them outside so that they can know them intimately – – or, basically, rape the two men.

Lot refuses to accept their demands.  Instead, he offers them another option.  Here are my two virgin daughters.  Know the two of them intimately instead of our visitors.

Unfortunately, Lot’s daughters would not be enjoying the intimacy that comes when two people mutually give themselves to one another.  This would be a violent gang rape of two young women.  Based on the fury of this crowd, there is even a possibility the rape would have led to the death of one or both of the young women as we see in the similar story of Judges 19.

What appears in Genesis 19 does not seem like a story about Lot’s hospitality or creative problem solving. By offering his daughters, Lot still affirms the violent actions of a group of men. He does not give a second thought to sacrifice his daughters in the attempts to placate the Sodom community and to protect the rights of the privileged.

Up until a week ago, whenever I read this text, I could not fully imagine what the two daughters must feel.  How could someone who says they love you be fine with throwing you away with such haste? How could the one to whom you looked for protection be willing to throw you to the wolves knowing that you would be violently attacked?

And then the election of 2016 happened. Just like Lot’s problem-solving proposal, it felt like many Americans have offered up the lives of people of color, the bodies of women, the equality of LGBT people, the religious freedom of Muslims, the well-being of immigrants, and the dignity of people who are disabled.  In the process of trying to solve foreign and domestic issues, our neighbors chose to overlook love of neighbor and turn their heads so that racism, sexism, xenophobia and bigotry could grow stronger.

While some believe that the election results will eventually lead to positive results in our country, within the first week we saw the number of hate crimes grow.  Pictures of hateful words spray painted alongside of buildings and videos of students chanting slurs continue to become the new normal in 2016 America.

Couldn’t Lot have offered a more humane solution? Couldn’t we, as Americans and Christians be more compassionate and considerable in the way we solve our problems?

Some of our neighbors wonder why we still “can’t get over” the election results and its aftermath. Like Lot offering to throw his children to strangers in order to solve a problem, many people across our country feel like their neighbors were willing to toss them aside in an effort to build a country that could be to their satisfaction once again.

Knowing that many of us have been treated like Lot’s daughters has left us aching, worrying, and wondering what will happen next.

It feels like we must live under a new normal. We must live with the normality of women being physically assaulted.  We must live with a renewed interest in a type of “law and order” which will elevate the mass incarceration of our brothers and sisters of color.  We must know that families will be torn apart based on who was born in this country and who was born elsewhere.  We must know that Muslims fear for their lives as the country waits to see if a registry is forced upon them.   We must know that marriages of our gay, lesbian, and bisexual sisters and brothers are in jeopardy.

We may be Lot’s daughters in twenty-first century America, but we refuse to be thrown to the men of Sodom without a struggle.

Lot’s daughters found agency… and all who have been marginalized will find their power.

*****

Photo credit: Heinrich Aldegrever (1502-1561), Lot impedisce la violenza contro gli angeli, (1555).

 

A Prayer for Broken Relationships During the Holidays

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wood-light-fashion-peopleGod of all links, all vines, all connections-
In this season of festivities and meals,
As we stand deep in memories and nostalgia,
We come to you with our hearts raw from friction.

Moms and daughters.  Sons and fathers.
Siblings, aunts, uncles
Choose to stay away from one another.
The pain is too great to be in the same room.
Words weigh heavily on our souls
When past sins and current life circumstances are discussed.

They don’t understand us.  We don’t understand them.
And so we stay away.
At tables sit empty seats and cold plates
Because someone has to be right
Or because their voice and votes resemble hate.

We pray that they can accept us for who we are,
For the challenges we have,
For the choices we have made.
May they step into our shoes.  And, when possible, may we embrace them with grace.

We pray that the shadows of the night can melt away as we look to the dawn.

Through the radical acceptance of Christ, may we open tables that have been closed,
Add seats that have been taken away,
And may the food multiply as our meal-sharing grows.

Amen.

Not an Anomaly: Progressive Christians in Your Midst

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hideFor many years, I was led to believe that there was only one way of being Christian.  This way would focus on specific issues like abortion, who is allowed to get married, who isn’t allowed to have sex, and who will be granted eternity in heaven.

As time went on, I realized I never really identified with this flavor of Christianity.  It was too bitter: condemning anyone who didn’t fit into their moral code.  It reflected a sour that first appears as sweet.  People invited you to their church which held certain strong perspectives – some bragging about being baptized or born again.  All wanting you to join and change the way you are living.

Very little of the greatest commandment was discussed in these churches.  Sure, there was a lot of implicit “love God” as they spoke of their devotion to Jesus.  But loving neighbor was the null.  It was hidden from their theology. In some cases, it had been discretely removed from the church altogether.  Needless to say, hypocrisy was a dominant force in turning me away from the Church during my twenties.

For me, I needed to worship in a place who would accept my views – even if people didn’t have the same perspectives.  I needed a church which valued my individuality and, at the same time, encouraged us to be in covenant with one another even in our differences.

Hypocrisy and negativity may have challenged me to switch churches and even denominations in my early 30’s.  I could no longer fit my square self into the round hole my church had become.  While shame raged within me, I walked away from the congregation – moving towards something new.  For me, that was being part of the United Church of Christ.

Yet as part of my call to ministry, I knew I had to talk louder than the voices of condemnation and hypocrisy and present another side: one of grace and love.  For many years now, I feel called to present Christianity in even more unconventional and heretical ways.  I believe this is to witness to a more loving and more grace-filled faith.

A few days before the US General Election of 2016, I became a member of a (not so) secret online society called Pantsuit Nation.  Some of the threads presented in the group include wrestle with their progressive Christian faith.  They feel like they are an island as progressive Christians.  They wonder if they can reconcile themselves and their political perspectives while still having a relationship with God.

My answer: Yes, we can.  We can be liberal in our views of politics and faith.  And God still has a place for us here on earth and here in heaven.  There is a community of faith somewhere for you, and through this community, you will be able to realize that you are not alone in your faith journey.

There are so many of us online, in faith communities and in your neighborhoods.  You are not alone in your perspectives.  And your perspective matters.

Now is the time for us, progressive Christian friends, to speak aloud of what it means to be a progressive person of faith.  Now is the time for us to talk of our struggles to find churches that align with our way of thinking.  Now is the time for us to speak of our justice work, how being pro-choice does not mean you are pro-abortion, how all marital statuses should be respected and how marriage equality does reflect the love of Christ.  Now is the time for us to speak to how our faith leads us to affirm black lives matter, women’s bodies matter, Muslim religious freedom matters, the dignity of people who are disabled matters, the equality of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer people matters, immigrants well-being matters.

When we are able to affirm the lives and livelihoods of our sisters and brothers who may find themselves in the margins, people are able to see the Christ in our midst with more clarity.

People are looking for us and our churches.  Are we brave enough to shout the good news of God’s love and acceptance to all people, even in the face of hate?

 

 

Faithful Badassery

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faithful-badasseryAccording to Google, the word “badass” is defined as “a tough, uncompromising, or intimidating person” and “a formidably impressive person.”

I have avoided using the word as it hints at some vulgarity.  When you are a leader in the community and church, you look to separate yourself from bad words as to keep a clean image in the eyes of others.

And yet, that’s not exactly what Jesus did…

From experience I can tell you that being a good girl goes only so far.  While being a good girl most of the time is fine, only being a good girl results in people walking all over you and God’s call going mostly unanswered.

Being a good girl keeps a person in two dimension mode, forgetting that adventures are beyond her comfort zone, and that God is sometimes drawing us to those new places.

As time goes on in life and we experience how the world really works.  Life and its brokenness begin to bang up our good girl souls.  The good girl begins to be replaced with something a bit more edgy.  Unfortunately, this loss of innocence happens with all of us.  What we are called to realize is that our scars and screams actually work to God’s and our benefit. You know when the remnants of the good girl need to shine and when the good girl needs to have a seat while the faithful badass takes her place.

The faithful badass is powered by the Holy Spirit.  Just like the lyrics to Pink’s song “Raise Your Glass” we must “raise our glass when we are wrong in all the right ways.”  We stand with the faithful badasses in every age as they walked with God.  We see the faithful badass in the Bible when Vashti says no to Ahasuerus, when Esther stands up for the Jewish people, and when Ruth decides to stay with her mother-in-law in her deepest grief.  We see this faithful badassery when Hagar does everything she can to survive with her son Ishmael, when Tamar fools Judah into giving her offspring, when the daughters of Zelophehad fight for their inheritance, and when Jephthah’s daughter negotiates time to fully live before her slaughter.  And we see many faithful badasses in the women who have lived since the life of Jesus – from Thecla who refused to get married and, instead, evangelized the good news to Joan of Arc who managed to lead in ways young women were not allowed to lead during her time.

Faithful badassery comes from our savior Jesus the Christ when he healed on the Sabbath, ate with the undesirables and turned the tables over when people were unjustly marketing goods in the Temple.

This faithful badassery has been woven throughout all spaces and times.  When I see caregivers spending each pellet of energy ensuring their loved ones are well, I see this faithful badassery.  When I see people of color or women marching because they do not feel that others believe their lives or bodies matter, I see faithful badassery.  When I see men and women speaking out against fraud or sexual assault, risking their own reputation in the use of their voices, I see faithful badassery.

All faithful badassery comes directly from the Holy Spirit.  Without this Spirit of God, we could not exit our comfort zones, risk the death of our bodies or souls, or radically care for one another.

As a leader in the Christian faith, I believe we should claim faithful badassery as part of who we are because it absolutely was a part of who Jesus was and who the Christ is that resides with us today.  It was a part of the lives of God’s children throughout history and it will be a part of the faithful until the end of time.

So when we place our feet on the ground each morning, will we ask ourselves “How will I be a faithful badass today?”