Misc. Wednesday: Love Your Enemies

Placeholder ImageThis past Sunday’s Scripture text was about loving your enemies, about turning your cheek and to not retaliate with vengeance, from Matthew 5.

And once again Jesus goes there: “But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven…” (Matthew 5: 44-45a)

I love Jesus. He’s so bold. (And I often wonder what some of our government officials would say if Jesus confronted them with the Gospel message.)

Anywho…Since what our children do in Sunday School is the same text that’s the main Scripture reading, I talked to the children about loving your enemies during the children’s moment, a sort of precursor intro to what they would do upstairs.

I cut a heart out of some red paper, held it up and asked the children what they think of when they see a heart: “Love,” they said. I asked who do they love: “Mom, Dad, Grandma, Grandpa, teachers, your pastors, friends, etc…” Then I asked if they have ever dealt with a bully or someone who isn’t so nice. “Yes,” they said. And I asked if they loved that person. I got a lot of darting of eyes, no one really wanting to fess up.

I went on to explain that God and Jesus ask us to love everyone, which can be hard. It’s easy to love our parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, friends, people at church. But the person who isn’t nice to us or others, that can be a bit harder to like, let alone love. It’s hard and sometimes really difficult to do but that’s what Jesus’ teaches us to do – Love our enemies, love those people who wrong us, who aren’t so nice, who have hurt us. It might not happen overnight or right away but the point is to try and love our enemies as we love others too.

And then I sent them away to Sunday School.

And worship continued.

And then worship was over.

As I stood in the back, ready to greet people, a gentlemen came over and proceeded to tell me this:

“I’m not angry or upset or anything but I don’t agree with what you said to the children this morning. I’m a science and math guy and what you told them hasn’t worked for 5,000 years and I don’t think it will work.”

Me: Ok (smiling nicely and nodding my head)

“If you have a different answer, I’d be happy to hear it but I just don’t believe in that because it hasn’t worked for 5,000 years. Again, not upset or angry or anything, I just don’t agree because it hasn’t worked.”

Me: Ok, thank you for sharing.

My head: Grrr…And what the fork?

I went about the rest of my Sunday as normal and thought about his remarks. It hasn’t bugged me, ok, perhaps it has but not to the point of annoyance or anything.

After much thought, this is what I’ve come up with:

First, did you listen to the sermon? I wasn’t the only one preaching about loving your enemy that morning. In fact, my colleague did a nice job at explaining this.

Second, what part of “love your neighbor” don’t you understand? It’s Jesus’ main message. And neighbor could mean your enemy too. Jesus doesn’t define “neighbor.” If you heard my sermon from last week you’d know that Jesus calls us into relationship with everyone, which means this whole loving others thing isn’t limited to only neighbors and enemies. It’s the whole human planet.

Third, ok, so maybe loving your enemy hasn’t worked. But shouldn’t we Christians at least try? Shouldn’t we be the ones to spread God’s message of love and peace to the best of our abilities? And yes, you’re right, it’s possible that the world Jesus was envisioning will never be a reality but I’d much rather fight for that and live a life in which I love everyone than not trying. Plus, I’d rather plant a seed of hope in our chaotic, messy, violent world.

Fourthly, well obviously it upset you because you’ve told me twice that it hasn’t upset you. Plus, you wouldn’t be standing here telling me this if it didn’t upset you.

Fifthly, ok, so…how do you interpret the Gospel message? How does math and science coincide with your faith? Because I think they fit nicely together.

Sixthly, what part of “love your neighbor as yourself” do you not understand?

As I thought about this over the last few days, I kept thinking of the Facebook meme that was going around awhile back. The picture has Jesus teaching his disciples and he says, “Love your enemies.” A disciple asks, “But what if they are Muslim.” Jesus: “Ok, I’m going to start over. Let me know where I lost you.” No idea who came up with that but so good! You can substitute Muslim for person to betrayed or person who lied or bullies or etc… In the end Jesus is going to still say, “Ok, I’m going to start over. Let me know where I lost you.”

At this point, I’m not going to seek this person out to talk to him about this. They made their opinion known and I’m leaving it at that. Maybe one day he and I will talk.

But it pains me to hear someone say this, especially in our world today. I mean, we’re Christians, called to live the life Christ laid out for us as best as we are able. We’re also human, which means we’re messy and not perfect. So loving our neighbors/enemies can be tricky at times. I find it hard to like someone who bullies people and yet I’m called to love them. There have been people in my own life who have harmed me in some way. Forgiveness doesn’t come easy. However, I love them to the best of my ability because that’s what God says I should do, that’s what my faith teaches me. It may be an on-the-surface sort of love, you know, fake smiles and such but I’m trying, right?

God and Jesus know that being human is tough. And that doing some of the things Jesus teaches us can be downright difficult and painful. However, I think that if all we’re able to do is try, Jesus would be happy. And isn’t that faith? To try and understand, to try and live out the Gospel message to the best of our abilities?

Perhaps loving our neighbor/enemy is more about planting a seed of love. Perhaps if we try to show others God’s love, they’ll know God’s love. And perhaps that will lead to something greater.

Perhaps not but…

Shouldn’t we at least try?

 

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Sabbath Monday: Love Thy Neighbor

0206171649-1.jpgOk, so I’ve been really absent in the blog-sphere. Life has gotten in the way. And writer’s block.

Ah, well…Moving on…

Valentine’s Day is tomorrow. Though I sent some pretty adorable valentines to my nephews and nieces, I’ve also been thinking about what Jesus said about loving your neighbor. It’s an idea that has been missed lately, which is sad really.

Yesterday I ascended the steps to the pulpit and preached on a difficult Scripture: Part of the Sermon on the Mount from Matthew 5 (verses 21-37), where Jesus expounds on divorce, adultery, anger and murder, and taking oaths. Bleh.

BUT…I made it work.

The Sermon on the Mount is all about calling the disciples out, making them think about what it means to follow him and God, what it means to be called a disciple, a bearer of God’s kingdom or KIN-dom.

And because I’m not going to retype a whole sermon, here’s part of what I said.

And yes, I did go there.

Portion of a Sermon by Rev. Amanda. Preached on February 12, 2017:

“Jesus was the counter-cultural guy. He taught a new way of interpreting the law and what it means to be a disciple and what it means to be in relationship to God and to one another. Jesus stood up to a society that brought fear and hate, war, oppression and more. Jesus made it alright to welcome the stranger, to welcome the other – whomever they may be. Jesus broke down humanness and looked beyond race and gender.

Because at the heart of life is humanity and relationship. That’s Jesus’ point. He told us “to love one another as I have loved you.” He taught us that relationships should not be taken lightly. And we’re not talking only the relationships we are in with family and friends, or our UPS deliverer.

What Jesus is teaching and what God wants for us as bearers of God’s KIN-dom is a mutuality and respect, to honor our neighbors, the strangers, the down-trodden, those who are not like us, as ourselves. Plus, how we conduct ourselves in life reflects onto others. How we show forth God’s love connects us to the rest of humanity. It’s a domino effect because at the heart of all this humanness is a connection to each other – strangers, friends, any person we encounter. Karoline Lewis says, “Nothing we do as disciples, as believers, is an autonomous action” (commentary, workingpreacher.org). Meaning, nothing we do in our day-to-day lives is done on its own. Our actions effect everyone around us.

It takes one person to ruin an image in a heartbeat. It takes one person to instill fear. It takes one action to change history.

So we build walls – any sort of walls – to keep people out, and the effects are felt globally. Love is lost.

I’ve been a fan of the X-men comic book series for years. The X-men comics present this idea that humanity has evolved to have other DNA genes that create mutations, allowing for special “powers” to heal or read thoughts or control metal or walk through walls. So if you’re Professor X and you can read minds, you are forever stamped a mutant. The X-men is fiction and fantasy and yet the same time so incredibly real as basic humanness is revealed and this idea about welcoming the other.

The other night I caught the latest X-men movie on TV. The bad guy (because there’s always a bad guy in the comics) is creating a robot to take out the mutants. Like many of the X-men movies or comics, mutants are not equal; they are not, well human. And so the government does some extreme vetting in way of allowing this guy to create such robots because mutants are seen as dangerous.

Anyhow, my epiphany moment came when I realized that though this was all fiction was that – that’s today. Instead of mutants it’s immigrants or refugees. Instead of mutants it’s Muslims and gays, transgender people. Instead of mutants it’s women or African Americans who are still standing up for equality. They are all deemed dangerous because they don’t fit into a certain box of what it means to be human.

I hope there’s not some guy in a lab creating a robot to take out any one who is deemed a threat or different in the eyes of those in power. Then again, maybe guns and other weapons are the same thing. I mean, it’s happened once before right? Gas chambers, work camps and furnaces that murdered thousands of humans from a single religion, all because they were condemned different by one person, all because they didn’t fit into some ideal box of what it means to be human. Or one person opening fire inside a nightclub because the people inside were not equal as humans.

At the end of the X-men movie, one of the mutants is given a choice – be angry and murder the bad guy or be the better person, walk away and fight for equality in other ways. With the world watching, she walked away.

As disciples, Jesus calls us to stand up against hate and fear. He calls us to be the better person and fight for what’s good and right in the world, to love those whom society has deemed different. Basic humanness goes beyond skin color, sexual orientation, or what religion we practice. Because the other side of this humanness, the dark side of being human is hate, it’s fear, and it’s shunning those people who at the heart of it all share the same human nature that we all do.

So what kind of relationship and connectedness as disciples are we going to show the world? Are we going to allow hate and fear to take over or will we stand up for justice and equality? Will we break down walls and barriers, welcome the other and stranger as God and Jesus taught us to do? Or will bigotry, racism, anger, lack of understanding and hospitality take over? Frankly, I’m not sure that’s a world I want to live in.

I’m not sure I can live in a world where my Indian and Afghanistan neighbors divert their eyes at me in the hallway because I’m a white American. I’m not sure I can live in a world that doesn’t allow for justice and equality of my African American neighbors. Or a world that doesn’t allow women to speak their mind. Or a world where children are raised to live in fear of violence with lack of food or clean or water, no place to go because the world has turned its back on their war-torn country. I’m not sure I can live in a world where my LGBTQ friends are shunned and told they are ill and not welcome. I’m not sure I can live in a world filled with so much hate.

That’s not the gospel message, that’s not what Jesus was teaching. Having fear and hate in our hearts is not what it means to be bearers of God’s kingdom or KIN-dom, to be disciples. That’s not the message of our loving, creating God. That’s not what it means to be in relationship with one another.

Maya Angelou said, “Hate, it has caused a lot of problems in the world, but has not solved one yet.” Amen sister.

At the heart of it, will love prevail? Amen.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Friday Thoughts: Dark Places

Therefore we have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life.
~ Romans 6: 4

cropped-alternate-sidebar1.jpgDeath sucks. There, I said it.

Death hurts and it’s messy and ugly and painful, so utterly painful. Death isn’t supposed to be easy.

As a pastor, I have sat at too many bedsides with grieving families as their loved one entered new life. I have led memorial services and funerals, co-leading with my colleague and also flying solo.  I’ve stood at caskets and said prayers of comfort and hugged and even cried as I reminded everyone about God’s love and promise of new life.

As a pastor, I’m supposed to be the one with the words of comfort. I’m supposed to be the face of God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit, the voice of faith. It’s never easy to tell someone their loved one is in a better place, in a new life with God. To remind the grieving that death isn’t the end, but the beginning to something even better. I’m called in to be a presence of God in the darkest of moments. It’s truly a blessing and also one I struggle with.

Then, there’s me as a person (because pastors are in fact human). I have lost grandparents and friends over the years. Each time sinking me into a dark place. As strong as I am as a pastor for others, I find little comfort from fellow clergy who tell me the same words I say to people during those times of loss. I find little comfort in people who tell me they are there for me or ask if I need anything. I find little comfort in people reminding me about new life in Christ, even though I know that’s what I believe. Bleh.

You know what I need in those moments? Those moments I’m grieving? To be alone. To grieve on my own. To yell and be angry at God because even though I know what Scripture tells me, even though I know my loved one is going to a better place, I want them here. And if you can’t let me be alone to grieve on my own, then find a bottle of rum and help me drink.

Kidding.

Sort of.

My faith tells me one thing. My theology tells me the same thing.

My heart tells me otherwise.

I think the hardest part about death is knowing that person is no longer with us here. Yes, they are going to a new life. Yes, that place is grand. Call it heaven or whatever, it will be spectacular. But it’s the losing of the human, physical form that’s the hardest for us the living. All that’s left for us is memories. Though, let’s be honest, what we really want is to sit and have coffee with that person, to laugh with them, to hear their voice and be with the person we miss.

One day we will be reunited with those who have gone on to new life. I have no idea what the afterlife will be like – fluffy clouds or a projection of what life was like on earth. No clue. Until that day, all I or any of us can do is grieve and move on, cherishing the moments on earth we do have and celebrate knowing that one day we will enter a new life.

It sucks to lose someone we love, to know they will never be physically here with us again.

Whatever our faith tells us, whatever our head or our hearts tells us, death is a part of life. And it hurts.

But…

God is with us in those darkest of moments when it feels as if we can’t go on living, when the pain of losing someone we love hurts so much. God reminds us that there is new life.

And that’s about the only comfort  I can handle in those dark moments.

God, be with us in the darkest of human moments. Help us to grieve and allow us to grieve in what is fitting for us. Allow us to yell and scream, cry and sink into despair. But also be with us, lifting us and reminding us that death isn’t the end – it’s the beginning. It may be difficult for us to hear, but constantly remind us that death’s sting is but a moment. New life in Christ, in You, remains forever. Amen.

 

Sabbath Monday: Voice Matters

img_20161108_144802.jpgI found an article by Seth Millstein, who wrote an excellent article for Bustle.com called, What To Tell People Who Say You Have To Accept Donald Trump’s Presidency Now. (click the italics for the link)

Read it. It’s good.

The article got me thinking…

Much of what I’ve been feeling was summed up in that article. Much of what has been going through my head was neatly explained in those few words by Millstein.

And because I believe I have a voice, here’s my take:

The minute I turned 18 I registered to vote, not out of a sense of obligation but a sense of pride.

I wanted my voice heard.

I wanted to make sure that my vote counted and that the person I felt was right for the job got elected. I voted with a conscience, allowing my faith and my heart to guide me in the voting booth.

The same is true now.

This last election was hard on everyone. Mom and I yelled at the TV a few times during debates. I still have a hard time stomaching some Facebook posts from He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named supporters.

However, I honestly had a hard time voting for Hillary, for a whole bunch of reasons (not email-gate). I also had a hard time voting for Bernie in the prelims, just so you know. I didn’t feel any of the candidates were worthy to be called POTUS. Though I couldn’t vote for bigotry. I couldn’t vote for a child, who can’t handle criticism. I couldn’t vote for hate and fear and ugliness. Call me crazy, but I couldn’t.

On Election night, I wept and not because my candidate lost. I wept because the whole country lost. I wept for my sisters across this country, for African Americans and Muslims and my LGBTQ friends. I wept because fear and hate and backwards thinking took over.

Fast forward to January, 2017. The 45th president has been inaugurated. And I accept this.

I accept that a new regime sits on Capital Hill and in the White House. But that doesn’t mean I’m alright with it. That doesn’t mean I accept their agendas.

This is why my sisters and brothers marched in Washington DC and Chicago and all over the world on Saturday. Because none of us are okay with this, though we accept the new president. He’s just not my president. And as Millstein and others have reminded us: our country is a democracy, so I can voice this.

I can voice that bigotry is not alright. I can voice that lying is not cool (alternative facts? really?). I can voice that women have the right to their own bodies. I can voice that a cabinet filled with men seeking their own agendas is not acceptable. I can voice that a woman who doesn’t understand education shouldn’t be sitting as head of the Department of Education. I can voice that banning Muslims is unacceptable. I can voice that fear and hate cause more problems than good. I can voice that putting up a wall is deplorable and down right uncalled for. I can voice that repealing a healthcare act before coming up with something better, therefore causing millions to suffer, is not okay. I can voice that the LGBTQ community doesn’t need conversion therapy, but rather love.

I can voice.

I have a voice.

My voice is powerful. Your voice is powerful. And we should use it.

I couldn’t march on Saturday with the thousands of women and men in Chicago. I wanted to but I couldn’t.

I wanted to march because my voice matters.

Again, I’ve accepted the fact that the new president is in office and lives in the White House. But that doesn’t mean I accept his agenda. That doesn’t mean I’m okay with his policies that send us backward, instead of forward. That doesn’t mean I’m okay with allowing other men to control my body. That doesn’t mean I’m okay with building walls and bigotry and hate and racism.

That doesn’t mean…Ugh…I can feel my soapbox getting a work out…

You get my point.

As a clergy woman, I’m careful with what I say and do politically. Though there are times, like now, that I need my voice heard. And I’ll be careful as to how that plays out. But I’m also a citizen and I will never be alright with the new POTUS or his VP. As long as evil is control, I will continue to voice and stand up for what I believe is right. I will buy Kellogg’s cereal at full price because they stood up against hate. I will make it known that all immigrants, Muslims, African Americans and more are welcome and loved. I will make sure that my sisters and brothers in the LGBTQ family are loved and safe. I will stand in the pulpit and preach a message of love, welcoming, good, and an end to hate.

I will Accept and Resist.

To all who think I should get over it and accept the state of things: Duh! I have.

So go ahead, call me names. I don’t care. Sticks and stones, baby.

But don’t tell me to get over it because I lost the election. Don’t tell me to be quiet or to stop marching or stop using my voice. And don’t call me a snowflake. I’m from Chicago. I know what snowflakes do.

Use your voice to talk to me, not at me.

Because for the next 4 years, I will use my voice to end hate and fear, to stand up for equality and against division.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Misc. Wednesday: Embrace, Part 2

0102172301.jpgOk, so my feeble attempt at embracing blogging in 2017 has completely failed. Go me.

However, if there is one thing I have learned (and there are many) since beginning my One Little Word project is that you don’t always have to be “on” or perfect or whatever. Creativity comes in shifts. So does time. And sometimes one simply needs to embrace not accomplishing something for the sake of self-care or whatever.

In fact, this lesson is exactly what I needed to hear and embrace, though it’s only the first lesson learned. And we’re only 18 days in to the new year.

Who needs therapy when you’ve got OLW?

But back up and refresh…

In my last post I talked about my One Little Word project for 2017. Since then I’ve done some preliminary work on my first entry into my book, though up until yesterday, nothing permanent. I’ve had my word stuck in the back of head. There have been times where I’ve been all, “This is totally a moment of embrace!” And there have been times of, “What the fork? Really? Embrace my butt.” I’m sad to say I’ve had more of those moments than the first one, especially lately with embracing for impact at losing a loved one.

Before I get any further: Quick vocab lesson: Embrace (the noun) means: “a close encircling with the arms and pressure to the chest, especially as a sign of affection (like a hug)” or “grip, encirclement” or “acceptance.” I chose the noun define, even though embrace is actually more of a verb. I like that’s so flexible in its definition.

Basically embrace means to enfold and enclose. It’s all touchy, feely and I don’t do touchy, feely. Plus, it means acceptance, such as embracing a new project.

You know, I feel as if God is trying to tell me something.

Part of this OLW journey is self-reflection, which goes with that touchy, feely stuff. I put off working on my OLW book, which I realized yesterday that it wasn’t because I didn’t know what I wanted to write or didn’t have the time. It was because I was afraid. I was afraid to put into words things I needed to hear, like embracing not being perfect or embracing the fear. All of which went into my reflections, permanently on my page in black and white finally.

So, lesson 2 learned – I need to accept and embrace that this isn’t going to be an easy scrapbook, journal project.

Part of this process is finding a quote to go with my word. I’ve searched many quotes via Pinterest and found ones that were deeply profound and philosophical. I’ve found ones that simple read, “Embrace the chaos.” Or my personal favorite, “Embrace the suck.”

Yet, the one I keep coming back to is one from author Elizabeth Gilbert:

“Embrace the glorious mess that you are.”

And because that’s not enough, God wanted to also get the message across to me another way: in worship at an African-American United Church of Christ church on the south side of Chicago, where the pastor reminded us that we are fearfully and wonderfully made. God created us all in God’s image – black, white, gay, trans, straight, purple, whatever – we are fearfully made.

Ok, so there was more to the message because it was MLK Sunday but to hear my African American colleague belt out that I am in fact, fearfully made by God, well, damn.

I am fearfully made by God. You are fearfully made by God. In God’s image, whatever that image may be. It’s messy and complicated and fun and challenging. It’s meant to shake us and cause us to tremor. There’s fear and joy and this idea that sometimes all we can do is embrace who we are and find a sense of wholeness for what fits us best, knowing full well it’s not going to be perfect.

Embracing this idea of becoming my best self, whatever that may be, is difficult.

So, lesson 3 learned. Again, it’s only January 18!

I’m sure I’ll learn more over coming weeks. I’ll find more about embracing myself and those things I need to overcome, or perhaps hug tightly. But I love that my word has taken me to places I wouldn’t have thought of, places that have existed in plain sight but ones I missed.

Seriously, if God isn’t trying to tell me something, then there’s a problem.

If you chose a word to focus on this year, I hope it’s embracing you. I hope it’s shaking you and challenging you and making you see things in new ways. Though I hope that it is also occurring with a lot of grace and love, because let’s face it – we are our own worst critics. Take care knowing you’re not alone in the struggle. The path to wholeness and peace is often met on rocky ground. But those bumps do eventually lead to wholeness and peace, so there is a silver lining.

 

 

Sabbath Monday: Embrace, Part 1

0102172301.jpgI’ve been reflecting back on the last few weeks, wondering if hope, peace, joy and love will actually continue and not get boxed up with all the Christmas decorations or put to the curb with all the wrapping paper garbage. I’ve witnessed moments that have brought me hope and joy, moments of peace and lots of love.

Now usually this is the time of year to reflect back. I had all these intentions of finally writing down my thoughts on love and Christmas and New Year and spending time with family and yada, yada, yada. And yet, I wonder if all the busyness of the season, plus my coughing fits, were an act of fate, that instead of focusing on the past I’m meant to focus on embracing the new.

And so, I’m holding onto my reflections of the last few weeks, the things I meant to blog about during my week vacation. In its place, I’m embracing a new project head on…

I love to scrapbook and put memories from trips and events in order. It’s no surprise that a friend got me tuned into Ali Edwards. She’s a photographer, memory keeper, scrapbooker and blogger. Ali also holds online classes and does various projects, all geared towards capturing the moments in our lives. I instantly fell in love with her style, photos and the way she approaches being creative. (FYI, you can find Ali’s blog and such here: http://aliedwards.com/ or find her on Facebook and social media.)

Beginning in January every year, Ali does a project called One Little Word or OLW for short (not to be confused with OWL). Basically OLW works like this:

  • You pick a word to focus on throughout the year.
  • You purchase the materials you think you might need (if you want).
  • Sign up for Ali’s online class where she provides pointers and tips, access to a bunch of materials and more.
  • Take photos and begin to journal, capturing where you’ve seen your word in your life.
  • Finally, assemble your One Little Word each month with assistance from Ali’s prompts.

I’m signed up and ready to go. Materials are here and I have my first assignment: Pick a word.

Do you have any idea how difficult picking a word to focus on for an entire year actually is? I started a list: peace, joy, happiness, love, thrive, focus, breathe, encounter, explore, and the list goes on.

Finally, it hit me – Embrace. That’s my word.

I sat up late at night when I should have been sleeping and wrote out one of those diagrams – Embrace in the middle with lines protruding from the word circle. Then more words surrounding it: Embrace – family, love, joy, contentment, God, peace, and I kept going. I think I have close to 20 or more sub-words. Now I’m even more excited to begin my One Little Word project in 2017.

Since I started thinking about Ali’s January prompt and spent way to much time on Pinterest searching my word, I’ve found that embrace is changing focus. And I love it. I’m working on reflecting and it’s taking me to other places. Don’t worry, Readers, you’ll be hearing more.

This new year, I encourage you to take a word and make it your own, even if you’re not a scrapbooker or into journaling or photographer. Simply take a word and focus on it for the entire year. What word might you focus on and embrace, allowing yourself to find the unexpected in your life?

If you do choose word, make it known. Put it on a post-it note and tape it to a mirror, allowing you to look at it every day. Or perhaps as a family, you come up with one word together and create a poster for the refrigerator, every night discussing where the word popped up that day. Or you simply keep the word in your heart. Or maybe you do something creative with it. It doesn’t matter because it’s your word.

Whatever new year practice you decide on, I hope it rocks and allows you experience something you’ve never experienced before.

 

Sabbath Monday: Part 2 – Love

cropped-alternate-sidebar1.jpgSometimes my Associate Pastor articles for the monthly church newsletter are really good, sometimes. This one from January 2016 is one of them.

As we make our final approach to Christmas and reflect on the ways God loves us and in return we love God and each other, I bring you thoughts I had last year as we headed into a new year. The sentiments of loving someone who might be different hasn’t changed, though I feel our society needs to be reminded of that more now than ever. Plus, thoughts on God’s love for us – no matter who we are or how we look – doesn’t change…EVER. Remember that – God loves you for being wonderful you. 

From the January 2016 church newsletter (with some edits):

My sister often recommends books to me by simply handing it to me and saying, “Here, read. You’ll like this.” And so she handed me a book in November and said the same thing and added, “You’ll cry cuz I cried in the last half of the book.” Thanks Sis.

The book she handed me is entitled Wonder by RJ Palacio. It is a young adult book about a ten year old boy who is facially impaired, as I think his sister put it. Auggie wasn’t born with a “normal” face and after years of being home-schooled, he is finally going to middle school.

The book is told from various perspectives – his sister, friends, and Auggie himself.  I’ve cried a lot while reading it. It’s a heartwarming story about being different, how people perceive and judge others, bullying, love, empathy, sympathy, friendship, family, and so much more.

I think in a time when there seems to be so much judgment going around in our world, a book like Wonder speaks volumes, so much so I feel adults need to read it more than youth. Youth and children understand things so much differently and can often look past the otherness of someone. Sadly, youth and children don’t rule our world, not yet anyway.

I feel sad that 2016 is started out with so much hate and fear. The bullies that tormented Auggie in the book were poking fun out of fear for someone who was different from them, who might not chew his food a properly or whose eyes hang a bit too low. So too because a few people do something horrific, a whole group gets labeled and shunned out of fear and hate.

God created us to be different. God wanted us to be different and that includes those who worship differently than us, who have darker skin or who love someone of their own gender.

There’s a great quote from the movie Saved that goes, “So everything that doesn’t fit into some stupid idea of what you think God wants you just try to hide or fix or get rid of? It’s just all too much to live up to. No one fits in one hundred percent of the time. Why would God make us all so different if he wanted us to be the same?” Funny enough – the quote came from a pregnant Mary in the movie.

My prayer for this year (and every year) is that the Auggie’s of the world don’t feel left out, shunned, bullied or are told they are not welcome. That Jesus’ teaching of “Love thy neighbor” isn’t something that is preached from the pulpit and left hanging in the air after the congregation has left. My prayer is that our world gets out of this fear and hate mode and that love may once again be felt. My prayer is that the Auggie’s of the world have friends, family and strangers who will stick up for them and show them how special they are.

To All the Auggie’s and others of the this world: God loves you for who you are. So stand tall, do not fear, and know you are not alone.

Sabbath Monday: Part 1 – Reflections on Joy

img_0599Being a pastor comes with a lot of joy and grief. But this time of year things get busy and I’m left too tired to do much of anything beyond binge watch TV.

So…

Like I’ve been doing each week this Advent, last week I focused on finding Joy.

The People I Met: The concierge at the hospital was friendly and even high-fived me. I forget why. I was there to visit someone (also a joy). The check out woman at Target with whom I had a nice short conversation with. The woman who was calling out for help at the stop light for directions. I rolled down my window and I’m hoping I gave her the right path. There were lots of various people this last week that allowed joy to seep into my life.

Church Activities: Saturday I was at the zoo with the youth, who yes, ditched me. I mean, I wouldn’t want to hang with the pastor if I was a teenager. However, I got to experience the zoo differently. Usually I’m there with family, tugging my niece along to the next animal. This time, I looked around at the Christmas lights, said “hello” to the polar bears and baby gorilla. I took a few pictures too.

Sunday was a whirlwind. I was late-ish for church, had to do a few things before service, folks came late when I asked them to come early. Sigh…And the service was different as the choirs led a Christmas cantata. Out of my element of not sitting up in the chancel and doing a different order of service, I forgot a few things. Sigh…BUT the cantata was beautiful and it was a joy to see and hear music that morning.

And the children’s service is coming along. The children will rock it again this year!

Books: I finished a book challenge: 24 books in 12 months, with prompts like ‘read a book on feminism’ and ‘read a book published in the decade you were born’. I read some really interesting books this year, as well as some duds. And this doesn’t include my monthly book club and the many other books I read. I also got the list for the 2017 challenge and it’s much harder than last year’s, though I cannot wait to begin! Joy in some daily self-care time.

A Word: A friend got me interested in a scrapbooking project through Ali Edwards. Ali is a scrapbooker, blogger, and photographer. I love her stuff. Her 2017 One Little Word project is out there and my kit is on it’s way. I’m all signed up to scrapbook, journal and focus on one word – Embrace – this year. I’m super excited and I’m full of joy over it.

Friends & Family: I’ve been emailing back and forth with my sister and our friend, who’s coming in from L.A. this week. The friend and I will drive up to see my sister later this week but all last week plans were being made about lunch and dinner and more. I haven’t see my friend in over a year and I don’t remember the last time my sister saw her. Plus, it’s a day with my nephew and niece, which, I mean – how is that not joy?!?

There you have it…Joy from last week.

This week is Love.

 

 

 

Misc. Wednesday: Joy

img_0599Many of the Advent readings point to tales of angels appearing to ordinary people.

Proclamations from John the Baptist about the coming Messiah while he baptized and ate locusts. Angels proclaiming the good news to Mary and Elizabeth and in a dream to Joseph. Isaiah and other prophets foretold the good news about the anticipation of Emmanuel – God with us – coming.

It all seems so out there, like one of those dooms day preachers, standing on soap boxes and yelling, “The End is near!” The Bible points to outrageous stories of proclamations.

The Bible verses we read during Advent also provide a sense of comfort full of Hope, Peace, Joy and Love.

Sunday in church we lit the Joy candle.

This is the joy that’s full of hope and peace and, though the Advent candle isn’t there yet, love.

It’s the kind of joy Mary sang about when she proclaimed her happiness at carrying God’s son, about becoming a mother. It’s the kind of joy that is in our hearts and takes up space in our living rooms. It’s the sort of joy that came to Joseph when the angels came to him and told him to not leave Mary. It’s the joy the shepherds and magi witnessed when they followed the star.

Joy is a wonderful thing. It’s outrageous and off-putting. It’s fun and comforting. It’s completely out there, at least in terms of our Advent stories.

It’s sad to think that our world is lacking in joy. Fighting, violence, road rage, fear, check-out lane rage. Joy seems to be missed.

I’m trying hard to find the joy amidst the anniversary of Sandy Hook and the tragic events occurring in Aleppo. And yet…joy is there. It might not out in the open but perhaps when a child, full of ash and soot looks up and realizes he/she is alive, maybe that’s the joy. I don’t know…God doesn’t create hurt and violence. God weeps with us. God wants there to be joy. Sigh…

Back to Joy…

Justin Timberlake’s song, Can’t Stop the Feeling, has been all over the radio, even on satellite. The lyrics remind me of joy, with words such as: “I got this feeling inside my bones, It goes electric, wavey when I turn it on”

Shouldn’t joy be electric?

And later the verses:

“I got that sunshine in my pocket
Got that good soul in my feet
I feel that hot blood in my body when it drops, ooh
I can’t take my eyes up off it, moving so phenomenally
Room on lock the way we rock it, so don’t stop…

I can’t stop the feeling
So just dance, dance, dance”

Granted, it’s a pop song. It’s a song that reminds us to take the positive and “just dance, dance, dance.” Enjoy life, enjoy the good.

For me, that’s joy. Because…

Shouldn’t joy be sunshine and ‘good soul in our feet’ and a feeling that completely shakes us and makes us want to ‘dance, dance, dance’?

Joy should be earth shattering, just as Mary and Joseph experienced. Joy should make us dance. Joy should make us want to get up every morning and praise God. Joy should make us want to spread that feeling to others and dance like Fred Astaire on some side alley in the city.

Even when we’re in pain and hurting, joy is there. Hidden and locked up, but surrounding us all, particularly this time of year. It may be difficult to find and grasp but joy is there. You can’t tell me that Mary didn’t think, “What am I going to do? I can’t have a baby! Think of the scandal!” And Joseph almost left her! Scandal!

Ok, that’s nothing compared to the pain many of us feel. However, on the flip side both parents-to-be experienced Joy. Because that’s God’s promise to us. And isn’t that something to dance to?

May God’s joy surround you all, even through the lowest of lows and highest of highs and wherever you may be in life.

 

Saturday 5: Peace

Placeholder ImageThis week’s Advent word: Peace.

It’s the kind of Peace Isaiah spoke about in chapter 11:

“A shoot shall come out from the stock of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots…The wolf shall live with the lamb…and a little child shall lead them.” (Isaiah 11: 1-10, selected verses)

I’ve thought about the word Peace all week. Where have I witnessed God’s Peace in this crazy, chaotic, fearful world? Where have I experienced Gods’ Peace or Peace in general this week?

Trust me, it’s been difficult to find. But it’s there, perhaps not in ways I ever expected.

Number 1: Songs In The Car – I drive a lot. To and from my parents, to and from work, to the store. Though I’ve been listening to Christmas music at home, in my car I’m a satellite radio surfer. This week peace came in being alone, singing and head-banging in my car and using my steering wheel as a drum kit (like Father, like Daughter). I bounced along to ABBA, sang that Saturday night is alright for fighting with Sir Elton and head-banged to Metallica, as well as many other pop and rock tunes. Music gives me peace, and it’s a great stress reliever.

Number 2: Quiet – I baked cookies this week. I cleaned with Christmas carols on Pandora. I enjoyed the quiet as I read at night and even as I curled up almost falling asleep. With my tree and windows lit up, my apartment, even with a few songs on the stereo, is a place of peace. It’s one of my sacred spaces and it was wonderful to have some quiet.

Number 3: First Major Snowfall – Technically it was last weekend. And I drove in it. I went and saw Santa in it. I slipped and skidded in my car and on my own 2 feet. And I’m sure tomorrow when I step outside for my full day of church, I’m sure I’ll do the same all over again. I don’t like snow. However, it’s pretty. It’s tranquil and peaceful; it’s Mother Nature and God’s Creation. It’s fluffy and white and a pain but it’s peaceful and makes the dark night seem a bit brighter as the snow reflects.

Number 4: Feeding Others – Friday night I was at Feed My Starving Children with the church youth for a holiday packing event. It was like 300 volunteers in the convention center in town and we packed almost 800 packets of food. Awesome, right? Sure. I enjoy doing those events and as my back breaks from leaning over the table, I’m reminded how fortunate to have food. However, I wasn’t looking forward to it at all, for various reasons. Yet, as I sang along to the jams they had playing, I found peace at knowing a child will be given a chance to live and to be nourished, not only by the food but also by God’s love.

Then this morning I stood in the cold to help the youth load cars of food for those in need of food this holiday. Another one of those, I don’t want to get up and stand in the cold. But oh so humbling and full of peace. There’s peace when helping others.

Number 5: Holiday Traditions – Which ranges from seeing Santa and seeing my niece tell him what she wants for Christmas, to pizza and a holiday movie while the snow falls outside. Can it get anymore peaceful than that?

I wish my moments of peace were more of the lion laying with the lamb, no more violence and all of us are happy and content. Sadly, that’s not the case. Even so, those moments of peace humbled me and allowed me to distress, even for 20 minutes.

It’s the little things in life, right?

I keep Isaiah’s words close because perhaps one day they will be more than words on a page and will actually be alive, in more than the sense of retelling the birth of Jesus story. Perhaps one day peace will be realized here and in heaven.

Where have you experienced Peace this week?