(Un)Carnation

This blog post is in collaboration with the UncoSynchro blog, a writing collaborative effort from ‪#‎Unco14‬‬‬, focusing on subversive themes of faith and life. The theme for December is (Un)Carnation.

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“Does the Innkeeper’s wife have naturally curly red hair?” Freida from Charlie Brown Christmas Special

I’ve hated my body since I was old enough to know I could. It started with my hair. I have natural curly red hair. It was constantly touched, praised, and adored by adults. On the other hand, my mother and sister had straight hair, as straight as straight could be, and oily. My mother (bless her heart) would brush my hair with a wire brush. Do you know what wire brushes do to dry, frizzy, naturally curly red hair? Yeah… it was not pretty.

In an effort to combat the frizz I would cut my hair short. Guess what? Made it worse…

I had freckles and my skin burnt in the sun. I was a little pudgy as a kid. I didn’t loose my baby fat in my pre-teen years like the other girls. I did, however, develop like an actress from Baywatch. This also was not helpful. I still remember being grabbed in the hallways and classrooms in Junior High, my teachers thought this was insignificant taking a “boys will be boys” attitude. It as then however, as much as I hated it, I learned my body could be powerful, that it had power. If people “liked” my body, they would “like” me.

So I used it, I learned to use my body for attention. This is not an uncommon thing for teenage young women, feeling powerless in so many aspects of life that discovering your body has power, especially the ability to manipulate and control horney teenage boys. It made me feel powerful, and powerless all at the same time. I detested myself.

I have spent the last 20 years trying making peace with my body. I remember sitting in therapy after my daughter was born trying to make peace with the havoc pregnancy, childbirth, and the subsequent infection had on my body. “I didn’t expect this at all,” I said, “I had so many body issues before pregnancy I didn’t think it could get worse” I was wrong. I loathed my body after having 2 children in a way I didn’t think was possible. Really, I HATED it before, but after carrying 2 children. Nope. Couldn’t stand it, which translated into not being able to stand myself.

Do you know what it’s like to not look at yourself in a mirror for years? Not be able to look at yourself? Self-hatred that deep?

Sometimes I could force myself to look and I would stare into my eyes, I would try, try to believe myself a child of God, to understand myself as fearfully and wonderfully made. This seemed impossible. “You are a beloved child of God” I would try to convince myself. “BULLSHIT” my mind would scream. “You are fat and ugly and awkward! You are unloveable, I don’t know how anyone stands to look at you.”

Welcome to my inner voice.

In my late 20’s my doctors discovered a genetic disorder where my body stored fat and processed food differently than “normal”. The hormones in my stomach literally told my brain I was starving, like hadn’t eaten in weeks starving. So my body would store fat. After my kids were born medical science advanced and I actually had a few options. I chose the least invasive and so far it seems to be working. But it doesn’t erase the years of mental angst, the internal hate I’ve had for my body my whole life. Now I say to myself (and out loud for that matter now that I’m single) I look alright with clothes on, but you don’t want to see what’s under here…

Trust me, it’s not pretty.

I am still working to make peace with my body, age and gravity are not helping me in this department… Yet, my body keeps me alive, it’s the only one I’ve got, without it, I am but dust. I have asked God the majority of my life what the purpose of this body was. I saw my body as against me, and in a lot of ways it was. No matter what I did, it did something else. As I get older this struggle will continue. I already have the beginnings of arthritis, other aliments are coming. (side note: I can actually hear the Wicked Witch from the West in my head say “I’ll get you my pretty”, because sometimes I’m hilarious)

On Christmas Eve we sing “Silent Night” and hold candles thinking of a perfect looking holy family. When really, there are screams of pain of childbirth, a dirty barn floor, blood, fluid, terrified parents and a baby who have just been through the trauma of childbirth fill the air.

All is calm, all is bright?? NO, not in a million years.

God incarnate came into this world the way we all do, through the pain of childbirth, he experienced the pain of the body, he was dependent on his mother for food, he depended on others for care, he had constraints of the body just like everyone else. He had to eat, drink, and rest. His parents and grandparents had to teach him not to put his hand in the fire or play with knives. That the body was fragile and resilient all at the same time, that it should be honored and cared for.

Without the body Jesus could not have been God incarnate. And in all honesty this is vital to my faith. God walked the earth in the ways I do, to understand me better, in order to love me better. I actually do believe this. He got blisters on his feet and didn’t want to get out of bed somedays because it was just too hard. But then he fasted and prayed, then he did what we all do, he allowed his body to carry his Spirit, he allowed this great gift to be used for the glory of God.

As I think about how many years I have spent rejecting my body I also think about how Jesus embraced his. How the root of sin (according to doctrine) came in the form of shame of the body (Genesis 3). How Elizabeth felt the joy of first kicks when John recognized Jesus in utero, and the overcoming of sin and death came in form of the death and then resurrection of the body.

This is my faith. My tradition. The body and blood is shared in communal meal. It is sacred and is to be honored. As is mine, as it is a gift from God.

Whate’er My God Ordains is Right

umm…. okay! Being an ordained pastor I have always found this hymn humorous. If you don’t know it, you can be subjected to it here. I really, really resisted singing it at my ordination service as a joke. Then, the organist, chose it as a prelude, I cracked up during the majority of it.

Sunday I was sitting in Gates Presbyterian Church in Rochester, NY. I had the honor and the privilege of preaching at my former intern, Katie Jasa’s ordination (Katie has been a guest blog on PulpitShenanigans, some of your favorite prayer station posts were hers). As the weeks lead up to the day of the service I got more and more nervous. The weight of the responsibility was high. Out of all the people, all the friends, other mentors, other pastors in her life, she asked me. I was feeling the pressure.

The service was beautiful. There was ritual of our tradition, there were the beautiful ordination questions, the sermon wasn’t half bad (if I say so myself), although the pastor got choked up a few times… the music was beautiful, I wept during The Summons, which is not surprising. Katie’s parents gave a beautiful charge to her.

Then, before the end of the service, Katie officiated communion for the first time. She emailed me a week or two ago and asked if I wanted to help with communion, I told her it was up to her. When the bulletin information came through my name was listed. I didn’t think much more of it, I was focused on the sermon. But as we walked to the table I realized that there were not just 3 of us at the table, but 3 women. Three “young” women were standing at the table to officiate, three women sharing in the invitation, the prayer, and the words of institution.

I barely made it through, Katie was crying through the words, I was crying- the prayer was beautiful, communion is almost always moving, it is even more moving when watching someone you’ve fostered into this moment serve for the first time. I also thought of all the women who fought to serve at the table, all the women who struggled to stand here. But it was also more than that. There were 3 women at the table. 3 women. I heard the Easter Story in my head:

When the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices so that they might go to anoint Jesus’ body.  -Mark 16:1

3 womenThese words were echoing in my mind. Three women went to anoint the the body of Christ. Three women stood at the table to share the body of Christ. I stood in awe. I stood in awe of Katie as she struggled to make it through the words, it was so emotional, it was so beautiful. I stood in awe of the symbolism. I stood in awe of God. I stood astonished of the fact that once again I had found a moment of my life rooted in scripture.

The body of Christ, broken for you. The cup of Christ, the new covenant. And three women stood to honor and preside over the body. I don’t know if Katie did that on purpose or not, I don’t know if these words from Mark rang in her head as she wanted two other women with her. But it doesn’t matter, God was in that moment. God was present in all ways, the Holy Spirit was upon us all. I will forever be grateful for that moment.

For that moment, and all the moments I can actually stop to notice, that indeed God ordained that moment. And Whate’er God ordains is right.

Can I get a Witness?

This sermon was preached on July 28, 2013 at Ashland Presbyterian Church, Hunt Valley, Maryland. I admit, I get lost when I write a sermon in narrative form (I usually preach from an outline). Actually that’s not true, I write a narrative or an outline and then I ignore them completely. So I tried to record it but somehow didn’t get it… So I’m posting the narrative because it was an important sermon in the life of our church and community, an opportunity to BE the Body of Christ in the world.

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Daniel 6:1-28

We don’t know much about the book of Daniel in all honesty.

We lift up Daniel and the Lion’s Den as something we teach our children, mainly. The bad King through Daniel in the Lion’s Den, Daniel prayed, and God saved Daniel.

Sound about right? Okay then, thank you…

Now, if we’re really good, we might know a little more about Daniel, that three chapters ago he and three friends refused to bow down to King Nebuchadnezzar and were sentenced to deal by fiery furnace.

Daniel, got a stay of execution, but his friends- Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were not so lucky.

They were thrown into the furnace but were not consumed and as the king watched he saw 4 figures and the God of Israel is credited at saving them.

Daniel is found in our Bible in the section of the Old Testament called prophetic literature, but the style of the book of Daniel is actually what’s called “apocalyptic”. Think the book of revelation.

The stories take place during the Babylonian Captivity, although now scholars agree it was actually written in the 2nd century BCE (200 years before Christ).

And if you’re REALLY you might have remembering hearing chapter 7 with the vision of the great beasts, which comes up in lectionary every 3 years but no one ever reads it because it’s weird.

So let’s talk a little about what’s going on, the Book of Daniel is split into two parts, the first (ch. 1-6) is a narrative, story of Daniel, his friends, and relationships with the Kings.

The second (chapter 7-12) are a series of 4 visions Daniel has about Babylonian captivity.

The story begins with a brief reference to king Nebuchadnezzar robbing the Jerusalem temple and carrying its treasures back to Babylon.

It goes on to describe how some young members of the Judean nobility, including Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, are inducted into the king’s service.

The book teaches the Jews in captivity of a foreign king, that it is possible to remain faithful to the God of Israel all the while serving an earthly king that is not sympathetic to your faith.

Which brings us to the story of the Lion’s Den.

Daniel has climbed the ranks in the Babylonian Empire; in fact he is now the third most powerful person in government position. He and the king have a good relationship, Daniel has proven himself not just politically to the king but also personally.

This cannot be said for the rest of the royalty of the Babylonians.

The other princes and persons in power to not look favorably on Daniel’s success, him being a foreigner and all.

So they scheme together and make a plan to get the king to declare a month of celebration and prayer to him, the king.

Now in polytheistic cultures, royalty and kings were considered god-like, so as the people prayed to multiple gods, this month of prayer devoted to the king would make it illegal to pray to any other God.

Including the God of Israel.

Daniel is aware of the decree, and was probably there when the king signed it into law. He is not ignorant, he knows exactly what this means.

Yet, Daniel does what a faithful follower does. He goes home, opens his window that faces toward Jerusalem and prays.

What’s interesting to me about this is that Daniel doesn’t go ingot the streets and protest, knowing for sure he would probably be killed. Daniel, as far as we know, doesn’t try to stop the law. He simply follows in his routine, following God’s will.

A trap has been set of course and those that wanted Daniel caught now have their proof. They run and tell the king that someone has broken his law and they should be punished.

“Absolutely, says the king, throw them in the lion’s den”

“Great, they say, because it’s Daniel”

This week we had a profound experience in the life of the church. For the last 6 months we have been praying for Rob, his recovery, and what might happen in court regarding his future and jail time.

Finally on Tuesday we would have our answer (and in case you are wondering, yes, I do have Rob’s permission to talk about this, although he asked permission not to be present).

Several of us (about 20) gathered at the District Court House in Towson to show our support and to show a judge that Rob had a strong community. What happened was amazing.

The king was ready to throw whoever had broken the law into jail, or honestly a fate worse than jail, the lion’s Den, certain death, and a slow and painful one at that. Until he found out it was Daniel.

The text tells us that the king spent the rest of the day trying to get Daniel acquitted because they were friends, he was a good man. The king didn’t want to hurt someone as good and faithful as Daniel.

Knowing Daniel, his story, seeing his humanity made all the difference to the king.

As we filed into the courtroom on Tuesday the judge was in recess. It was a small room and we filled the seats. I was standing off to the side with the Rob’s lawyer. And I started to pray.

I prayed that the judge’s heart would be softened. I prayed for love to surround Rob. I prayed for the spirit to move in this place.

When the judge entered everyone came forward and where I was standing I realized that the judge could not look at Rob without looking at me.

Now, those of you who were there were there were commenting because not only was Rob in a tie (Katie walked right by him) but I was in my collar! Which of course never happens.

I was very aware of my feelings at the moment and the prayers continued. The judge felt cold, harsh, as if decision had already been made. Or maybe that’s what I was simply anticipating.

The king was unsuccessful in trying to get a stay of execution for Daniel and the time came for him to enter the Lion’s Den. The king’s only words were “May the king you so faithfully serve deliver you!”

This was indeed the king’s prayer.

Daniel was thrown into a cage with a starved lion and left for dead.

The next morning the king reappears and tentatively called out for Daniel. And he answers. The text tells us the Lord had sent angels causing the lion’s mouth to close so he would be unharmed.

Something amazing happened on Tuesday in that courtroom. The proceedings lasted about a half hour, and it was a pray without ceasing moment. The judge was moved by the presence of community, we humanized Rob for the judge.

As the proceedings went on not only did the mood in the room lighten, but we could feel the spirit moving, grace and mercy were abundant.

There is no doubt that the judge was impressed and moved by the community and our being there made all the difference. The judge decided no jail time was necessary.

In the end when Rob thanked the judge he said, “thank your pastor, and these people.”

Now there is no doubt in our part in all this, but saying ‘we’ saved Rob is like thanking the lion for Daniel’s life. No, it was the will and the call of God that we responded to.

We responded in love, love which scripture tells us, all love- is from God.

All that was needed was a chance to witness to that love.

Daniel did it through prayer, discernment, and life. The king does it through advocacy, and even when he couldn’t change the other’s minds, he believes and is respectful of Daniel’s God. Even to the point of undoing an unjust law.

Through the Spirit, King Darius decrees:

“For he is the living God

and he endures forever;

his kingdom will not be destroyed,

his dominion will never end.

27 He rescues and he saves;

he performs signs and wonders

in the heavens and on the earth.

He has rescued Daniel

from the power of the lions.”

God is moving in this place, in the lives of others, and we pray to follow that spirit wherever she may go. We responded this week by witnessing the love of God in a courtroom, and it was a beautiful and profound experience for us all.

So how will we continue this week?

God delivers us from a fate worse than death, God delivers us from the mouth of the lion, and the cages- real or imaginary- this world puts us in. We cannot save each other, only God can do that.

We can stand up and be the love of Christ in the world for each other, we can witness to the world that God is love, that every one of us has a story, that God created us unique and we deserve the respect to have our stories heard.

So, where and to whom is God calling us next? It is not us who brings salvation, but the one, true and living God. And for that, we are truly thankful. Yet how and for whom will God call us to witness to next?

For Daniel it was to a king, for us it was to a judge, where else might the spirit lead? Friends, the possibilities are endless.

May it be so for you and for me… And all God’s people said, Amen.