God is Watching

This sermon was preached at Ashland Presbyterian Church in Hunt Valley, Maryland on August 20, 2017. You may find the audio file on the church sermons page.

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Psalm 139:7-12

7 Where can I go from your spirit?
Or where can I flee from your presence?
8 If I ascend to heaven, you are there;
if I make my bed in Sheol, you are there.
9 If I take the wings of the morning
and settle at the farthest limits of the sea,
10 even there your hand shall lead me,
and your right hand shall hold me fast.
11 If I say, “Surely the darkness shall cover me,
and the light around me become night,”
12 even the darkness is not dark to you;
the night is as bright as the day,
for darkness is as light to you.

There is nowhere we can go to escape God’s sight.

This is one of the most comforting and terrifying sentences of my life. God is always with me, God lives and dwells among us, God is now here. I hold to these statements in the deepest darkest moments of life.

Moments when I felt my life was in danger, moments I was in pain, moments I thought nothing could every get better. God is now here, I am never, you are never, we are never alone.

Jesus is sent to earth and is named Emmanuel, literally God with us. We are the Beloved’s and the Beloved’s is ours. And not only does scripture tell us that there is no where we can go to hide from God, there is also no earthly thing, nothing in all of creation to separate us from the love of God.

“38 For I am convinced” Paul says, “that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

You are fully know, unconditionally loved, and partnered with the one who adores you. Is there anything better news than that?

And then there are the other times… The times in which I wish I could escape God’s sight.

A colleague reminded me that while this Psalm’s references to “hand” (vss. 5, 10) can be comforting and serve as a guide, they can also weigh heavily. “Being so close to God is as burdensome as it is beautiful.”

The Psalmist admits, one cannot flee (vs. 7) from the one for whom darkness does not overwhelm (vs. 11). Why would we flee from something beautiful? For me the thought that God lurks and works even in dark places might be burdensome.[i

When there is no where I could go, in all of creation or even inside myself that I can hide from God it means I am fully known. It means each thought, each sin, each terrible flash of judgment is known to God

God doesn’t just see the thoughtful, put together, ordered life I present to the world, my perfect selfie taken from just the right angle with just the right amount of smile. God also sees the me I attempt to hide from the world. The messy, chaotic, even hateful self that exists.

Last week I watched as white supremacist marched through the streets with torches and were threatening to burn down a church where clergy were holding worship.

The clergy had concluded a non-violent activist training event and were praying. The mob surrounded them, reports and tweets that said, “we are not safe.” When the police tried to get them to their cars through the back door a few were taken and beaten, these young white men with torches were protesting the removal of a monument of Robert E. Lee, violent and hateful from the beginning

They were Nazi’s, they were KKK, they were white supremacist.

They no longer felt the need to wear hoods, as they felt that their government would protect them, because their government, the president’s top advisers was one of them.

This is the moment where I say, God sees you. God sees every hateful moment of your sin, God sees your heart and weeps, and is angered.

It is one of those moments where I wished I believed in a vengeful God. The one my southern Baptist pastors used to talk about. I wished I believed that God would forced them to answer for their crimes as a harsh Ruler, a judge and that when their day comes they would be sentenced to burn in the flames of hell.

And there it is. Right there.

That’s my sin.

Because there is nowhere I can hide from God, but sometimes, occasionally, I wish I could.

Truth is we all want peace but in the face of conflict we want to fight. We sat here last November and talked about our awkward Thanksgiving tables and all the people that said, “how much damage can a president do?”

Some of us here marched in the streets in January and proclaimed slogans of love not hate.

But friends, when I saw White supremacist marching in the streets without hoods, I had hate in my heart in a way that made me want to fight, to throw stones, to turn into some shadow of darkness vigilante and end this now. My sin is, I wanted them to hurt. And this time it was easy, who doesn’t want to fight literal nazi’s and bring them down?

The truth is, I want to spew messages of hate right back at them. I want to use violence on them just as they used on an innocent crowd, I want them and their way of life gone.

But God is watching.

Thank goodness, God is watching.

Praise Jesus there is nowhere I can hide from God.

The path God has laid out for us is a difficult one. The path God has laid out for us is one of painfully slow, incremental changes, because the path God has laid out for us is peace. You got yourselves into this mess, and you have to do the work to get yourselves out.

God is watching.

Over the last week we have relived articles and conversations about the past. About the civil war that ended 152 years ago, conversations that compare modern day America to Nazi Germany and quoting great and inspiring civil rights activists from the 1960’s. And yes, let us learn from our history, but it’s time for us as a society to admit that we cannot hide our sins from God anymore. The sins of yesterday, are still the sins of today.

We can no longer talk about race issues as if they were something in the past. We can no longer look at white supremacy and over 200 registered groups of well armed, self-trained militia carrying assault rifles in the streets and call them fringe groups. They are here, we are a society that helped create them and God sees our sin, it’s about time we did too.

We are asking where God is in all this, and God is asking us where we are? We cannot pretend and say God is nowhere to be found in this, for God is now here. In and among us. Working through us to choose peace, to link arms and sing “This little light of mine.”

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God is in the hard work of leaving sin and hatred in our hearts and not fighting fire with fire. It’s not that being angry itself is wrong, we should be outraged, it’s what we do with it. God is using us, we who are fearfully and wonderfully made, to work all things for good.

Rene is not here this week, he is on a much needed vacation. When he is here Rene blesses us with his faith and leads us in the prayers of the people. He is heartfelt and sincere.

Rene starts the prayers proclaiming that God is good, all the time. And each time we discuss a tragedy he reminds us of what? God works all things for good.

What that looks like, I don’t always know. But I know it happens one person, one relationship at a time.

Diana Butler Bass, a church historian and speaker was in Charlottesville yesterday. Her daughter is a student at the University of Virginia and she gave this update on her FB wall:
When in Charlottesville, we went to the memorials for Heather Heyer. On the street where the car attacked the marchers, there exists an eerie holiness, a sacred sense born of sacrifice and suffering.

We walked mostly in silence. A pilgrimage to the pain of our own time.

At the top of the street, on the downtown mall, a preacher — one of those evangelistic sorts — was proclaiming the Gospel of Mark through a bullhorn, trying to convert passersby.

As we approached, he was nearing the book’s end, reading from chapter 14:

“She has done what she could to anoint My body in advance of My burial. And truly I tell you, wherever the gospel is preached in all the world, what she has done will also be told in memory of her.”

And so, the Spirit moves. An unintended grace. In memory of her.

There is nowhere we can go that is not in God’s sight. And thank goodness. With God watching I am given the strength to meet violence with peace, to whisper words of love, which speak louder than hate.

God is now here, working all things for good. May it be so…

 

[i] https://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=2329

You Will Know, When You Know

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At my first church I moved only a few hours from my Aunt and Uncle whom I didn’t really know. My parents were the older siblings in their families and had children young, my sister and I are almost a decade older than our cousins. My aunt, then having small children watched as I officiate Easter Worship and interacted with my congregation. I was 25 years old. I had been married for 2 years and she could not fathom how “grown up” I was.

“You have a very adult job” she told me. I really wasn’t sure if it was a compliment or a criticism (in my head I heard “you’re playing with fire, you cannot handle this”). I did have a very grown up job, and I was (and still am) good at it. Sure, there are times when my “youth” equates to poor judgement, but as I get older, it’s simply moments of poor judgement, guess what? Who has two thumbs and is human? This chick.

But it is scary for all of us. How do we know we are saying or doing the “right” thing? Sometimes I have to impart wisdom in life or death situations and it’s scary. Yet, I can say this with confidence, I’m a smart girl, I actually do have a lot of wisdom to impart (through the grace of God), despite the fact that I am only 36 years old. So… here’s some tidbits.

When you’re mad at God, it means that you love God with your whole heart, mind, and soul. Scenario: I am a chaplain in a hospital. A family is trying to care for their mother who is dying, it will be hours, not days. She is cursing God, she is in pain, she is grieving for her life. The family (a more conservative type of Christian) is sincerely worried that she will die and “not be right with God” and therefore go to hell. They believe this despite a lifetime of Christian service and faith. I sat with them, I talked through it with them, and then I asked them a question. When is the last time you were angry at someone, I mean really angry? Was it with someone you knew casually? Or was it someone you loved?

The last time we were truly mad is not over the guy who cut us off on the interstate.  The truth is, we only are truly angry at the people we love most. Our partner, our children, our parents, our friends, ourselves. When your mother is cursing God, it’s because she loves God, if she didn’t she wouldn’t care.

I know it hurts, but that’s how you know it is love. Scenario: I had trouble getting pregnant and high risk pregnancies, so much so that I became friends with the ultrasound tech. For over a year I saw this woman bi-monthly, weekly, and then bi-weekly. Each time we would talk for about a half hour. When I went back for baby #2, she had just returned from maternity leave with her first. “I’m scared all the time, and I cry, constantly, at everything, does this ever end?” Yes, sometimes, no- no it does not. Yes, the hormones subside and you will cry less, but this feeling of dread, fear, and hurt? This feeling that you no longer have full control of your heart? No. She looked at me with massive amounts of dread.

It’s the consequence of experiencing real love. Any relationship involves risk, it’s the nature of relationship, but putting yourself out there in the most vulnerable ways possible and allowing yourself to experience real love, well, there is always a fear of losing. I have said this with new parents, with people grieving for someone who died, and to people at the end of marriages. When the pain is so devastating, so raw, so real – that’s when you know it is real love.

You will know when it’s time. Scenario: A woman sits before me in kidney failure, she is tired of dialysis, she is exhausting her children and she hates it, she has been talked to about hospice over a dozen times. “What do I do?” she asks me. Of course I can’t answer that, so I say to her what I have said a hundred times in the past.

When it comes to life and death, you’ll know. And when you know, you know, until then, you’re not ready. When it comes to life and death – of a person, of a marriage, of any relationship – if you don’t know (no matter how hard and painful it is) then you’re not ready. Because when it comes to a death, you and the ones you leave behind have to know, beyond a doubt, in the midst of their grief that they did everything possible and that you are sure or they simply will not be able to live with themselves. I have seen it time and time again, the moment where the wrestling ends and every fiber of their being knows what to do. 

All these scenarios happened within the first 5 years of my ministry. They are words of wisdom I have repeated time and time again. They are not “new” and I did not “think of them” they were gifts of the spirit. Moments in which I got to be the incarnation of Sophia (God’s wisdom). Yesterday I was reminded of them again and I wanted to share. Love to you all.

I Got This

Shortly after I became a mother someone very close to me in my life thought they could parent my children better than I could, it wasn’t anything personal against me, (took be a long time to figure that out) it’s just that she thought she was the best at mothering, ever.

I would get so upset, she would change the rules for my young children, rules and schedules that worked for my family and my household. I’m not talking about a visit to grandma’s where cookies before dinner were okay, I mean implementing strict household rules in my household. I mean sitting at my dinner table while I answer a question to my daughter and having myself interrupted for her to give her instruction to my daughter.

I would sit in my therapist’s office and cry in anger.

I realized, with my therapist help, that she thought there was not enough discipline in my household, so she was going to fill the role. And who disciplines? The parents, or the leaders. So with the help of my therapist I learned a phrase. One to “keep in my back pocket.” I let the little stuff go, but when I needed to I would pull it out. “I got this.” I would hold my hand up calmly and methodically and say, “I got this, thank you though.”

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It has proved helpful in so many ways.

Years ago when I was working on my pastoral identity (an ongoing process) I painted a picture for my spiritual director of how I worked as a leader. (this BTW is not a perfect analogy)

I come along when the church is in a rut. There’s a leadership (non violent) fox hole (or bunker) with no one or very few people in it and a lot of people standing starring in. I come in and fill it. Sometimes with dirt (things that don’t need to be replaced) or dig out space (for new things) as I have the gifts and the ability to do almost everything in the church bunker. It took a while in my first call learn that I couldn’t do that for very long, without it being soul crushing. So I started pulling people in with me, supporting them and teaching them to take over roles, not just anyone, but the people called, using their gifts. When the bunker was full or someone got tired or toxic we learned to replace or shift them and have a steady stream of people in and out, moving around, and eventually I am no longer needed and am lifted out, off to find a new bunker.

The most important thing for your ego as a leader, admit that all those people that came to replace you, may not do it better than you, but it’s better that they are doing it.

Do you get that? Because it’s kind of beautiful when it works. John 14:12 says that once he is gone, we will do all the things that Jesus has done, and more.

We are not Jesus, but we are better together. This is proven over and over in every leadership book. If I do it all myself (for longer than a short period of time), then when I get out of the bunker, there is still a void. And voids, my friends, is where destruction happens.

There is a catch or two- 1) you MUST be called to THIS bunker at THIS time, it’s the Esther moment. The other problem with this is that sometimes someone or a group of people jump in the bunker and say, “it’s time for you to get out now.” This person/group are the ones who want to be the ones to fill the void, they think there’s glory in it, or just simply don’t understand the process.

When creating a healthy system from a leadership void you almost have to overstay your welcome in the bunker. At my last church I overstayed by about 2 years. I needed to for family reasons and it gave them a sense of security in a rough time. I used to think this was a bad thing for all of us, but now I realize that it was the best thing.

Things aren’t perfect there and some may even be mad at me for “abandoning” them, but I needed to leave the bunker so they could see what they were made of, they knew how to run that church and they hired a pastor who did the things they needed him to do, and ONLY the things they need him for. In other words they said, “We got this!”

If I left earlier then the confidence wouldn’t have been there. God is pretty wise sometimes…

However, my heart breaks for the moments of mutiny. I have been working with several young pastors who really relate to this analogy, and I’ve been there. Either they seal a lid on you leaving you stranded and alone, or they force you out without understanding that important last step, “overstaying”. Because overstaying is where you pretending to be holding on to the seat, but really, they’re riding the bike all on their own without training wheels.

It’s about confidence. Without the last step of perceived overstaying, they never gain the confidence ride freely, to look back and say, “I got this, thanks though.” As you wave them into their future.

(Wo)man in the Mirror

In 1987 Michael Jackson released “Man in the Mirror” a single that in many ways, was a riff on Gandhi’s “Be the change you wish to see in the world.”

At about 7/8 years old I did not know Gandhi’s quote, but I did know Michael. And I took this song very seriously. I wanted to change, I was desperate for it. If I could change all of my problems would be solved. I lived in a world where, true or not, the perception was that everything was my fault. If I could only change my ways, all would be right in the (my) world

What do you do to change? The southern baptist girl asked: You pray.

When I first learned to pray I prayed in a child-like way. I prayed as a way of stalling before bedtime. Every friend, family member, dog or cat I could think of. I once prayed for all the animals in the zoo.

One day, as a teenager, my youth leader was talking about prayer. He asked us, “when’s the last time you prayed for yourself?”

I had never prayed for myself. Not really.

I had prayed for things, but not for myself. I prayed for a bike, to be smart, to be thin, but never “for” myself. Never thanking God for the person that is me (Baptists would NEVER have done that). But this progressive mystical Presbyterian youth leader challenged us to go home, stare at ourselves in the mirror, look directly into our eyes and say:

“I am a beloved child of God, with me, God is well pleased.”

I went home and looked in the mirror, put my face as close to it as possible and stared in my eyes… for about 1 second. Then I quickly left the bathroom. Each day I would try again. Crying. Until it was a regular practice. Then one day it stopped again.

So years later I went back to it. And I stopped again.

Today I read a prayer today that reminded me of this practice. It’s found in the book “The Way of Simplicity: The Cistercian Tradition” by Esther De Waal:

The bodily appearance of the Lord was changed as he prayed

and thereby he wished to bring home to your mind the power of prayer,

because prayer

makes you different in your inmost being and meditation

changes you into a new self

and renews you.

‘With our unveiled faces reflecting like mirrors the brightness of the Lord’ says Paul,

‘we are turned into the image which we reflect’,

that is, we are transformed

into the very image we gaze upon.

I stopped because I started seeing someone else’s image of me more important than my own or, most importantly than God’s.

Why should staring at God’s creation be so difficult?

It has gotten so bad that I avoid mirrors all together. The demon creeps back, “How can anyone be friends with you? have a conversation with you? Look at you? I mean… LOOK at you, you’re disgusting” The demons are mean.

But it’s time.

Tonight I will close the bathroom door and stare into the mirror. Even if it’s for one second. I would never allow anyone to teach my children (God’s beautiful creation) this way, why would I allow myself? It has to stop.

I will look into the woman in the mirror and I will tell her who she really is. Once she believes it, she can start changing her ways to act like it.

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Why Couldn’t We?

There’s a story in the scriptures that haunts me. (okay, more than one) but this one I return to time and time again. Here is an excerpt:

 A man in the crowd answered, “Teacher, I brought you my son, who is possessed by a spirit that has robbed him of speech. Whenever it seizes him, it throws him to the ground. He foams at the mouth, gnashes his teeth and becomes rigid. I asked your disciples to drive out the spirit, but they could not.”

“You deaf and mute spirit,” he said, “I command you, come out of him and never enter him again.”

The spirit shrieked, convulsed him violently and came out. The boy looked so much like a corpse that many said, “He’s dead.” But Jesus took him by the hand and lifted him to his feet, and he stood up.

After Jesus had gone indoors, his disciples asked him privately, “Why couldn’t we drive it out?”

He replied, “This kind can come out only by prayer.”

Mark 9:14-29 haunts my dreams. I am possessed by a demon, one since childhood. It’s fear. I have spent countless therapy sessions and spiritual direction session trying to overcome this fear. I have spent years, decades, attempting to drive it out.

Fear can manifest itself in many, many ways. Too many to count. We have individual fears and communal fears. Our parents use fear in positive and negative ways to teach us lessons. Our teachers use fear to motivate us. Politicians use fear to manipulate us. We turn our fear on each other and act out in ways that hurt ourselves and others.

Then we rationalize it, say it’s to keep us safe. We say it’s for our own good, protecting us from harm.

I have attempted every way possible to drive out this demon over the years but have always fallen short.

As a minister I believe in the grace and mercy of God, of second chances (or third, fourth, well an infinite number) but as a human being who has for so long been possessed by fear it seem impossible to drive out.

I return to Mark 9 over and over again and am haunted by this exchange.

There are so many angles to this story I could preach on it for years, but where I lie today is at the disciples feet.

“Why couldn’t we drive it out?” They ask.

This is an all too familiar question. Why can’t I just make this go away. Why can’t we just stop acting out of fear, or better yet having fear at all? How do I stop this demon from controlling my life, where’s my magic wand, where’s my ability to drive this out for myself?

Jesus’ answer is one of the most frightening things I have ever heard. “This kind can come out only by prayer.”

It knocks the wind out of me. I ward off a panic attack. It’s the most frightening thing I’ve ever heard.

Why can’t we? Why can’t I do it? Why can’t I drive out the demon of fear in me that rears its ugly head when things should be left alone? Why can’t it’s demon twin anxiety leave me the hell alone? Why can’t we as a society recognize when it takes possession of us and we fling them into the abyss before we fall to the ground foaming at the mouth?

Jesus’ answer? Because this kind can come out only by prayer.

Do you know how terrifying that is? Fear is fed by our ego, our need to be in control, our need to be superior, and honestly for me, the insecurity that comes with being human and having relationship with other broken people.

Sometimes the motivation to not exercise the demon is masked in the rationalization of protecting ourselves. Just today there is fighting using fear as “protection” in our country over guns, Muslims, refugees, and immigrants. We have a war on women, a war on drugs, and must proclaim on a regular basis that #blacklivesmatter because equality is still a figment of our imagination. The amount of oppression we dawn as “protection” is just a way of feeding that demon of fear.

So why can’t we? Why can’t I?

“This kind can come out only by prayer” Jesus says. Love conquers all. I have to learn to trust myself before I can trust my neighbor. I have to first learn to trust God before I can trust myself.

I am ready to turn this demon over to God. I am ready to give it up in my personal life. I am ready to stop hurting myself and those that I love by pretending to protect when really I am hurting.

I suspect there will be regression and I ask for forgiveness in advance, but there it is, Jesus, I can’t do it alone, will you help me? Will you help my unbelief?

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Murder in the First

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Warning Religious Political Rant coming in 3…2…1 *steps onto soapbox*

Here’s my problem. I don’t give a shit if the Pope met with Kim Davis. I don’t care about her or her bigotry, I really haven’t given her much of a thought since she stepped down, I don’t read the articles. I grew up in Kentucky, she is far from alone in her thoughts, she is far from alone in thinking she is above the laws of this country or the laws of ethics (which I believe are also the laws of God.) She is not alone in believing that God justifies her hate. In so many ways I am a progressive pastor and all the hardship that comes with ministry because of people like Kim Davis.

There is another way. My life’s call is to preach the gospel: God is love.

As a minister we have a responsibility to show that God is not a God of hate and judgement in the ways WE determine. I use the Pope here as an example because the Pope is the head of the largest group of Christians in the world, and according to their beliefs his word is the word of God, and therefore, his actions.

As a protestant I do not believe this, however, in the protestant world there is no equivalent, so like it or not, when the Pope speaks and acts in the world, he is representing my faith.

So here’s my problem: I don’t give a shit about the Pope and Kim Davis, I think his advisers were stupid to schedule that meeting, but I really don’t care. I do give a shit that he was in the US while the state of Georgia was in the last days of decision over executing a woman and only make a statement about it, while meeting with a woman (Kim Davis) who’s faith is the definition of hypocrisy.

Instead of a statement about Kelly Gissendaner, why did the pope not attend the execution? Why does this pope- who almost 75% Protestants love, who we share video after video of him stopping to bless the sick, who we share quote after quote about loving the poor, not take the precious moments to speak with a woman moments away from death? Not simply to say it’s wrong for the state to kill people but to show the priority that people are important? Life is sacred.

This week the State of Georgia committed First Degree Murder. They willfully and premeditated a taking of another human being’s life, a creature of God. As they strapped her to a table and shoved needles into her arm. As they did she apologized, she sang Amazing Grace, then they injected her with a series of deadly poisons to stop her heart, until her body was limp and void of life.

Shame on us, all of us. I pray that God is as gracious as I preach, I pray that God is as forgiving as I claim. Shame on us. May God have mercy on our souls.

*steps off soapbox*

Fine Print: These rantings are the opinion of myself, and myself alone, they do not represent Ashland Presbyterian Church or the Presbyterian Church USA or any board that I serve on or represent at any given time. Or at least my lawyer tells me to say that. PS- I don’t have a lawyer. 

Undertow

From a very young age I learned to swim. It was important in my family. For my father, it was rivers and white water. Some of my first memories are of camping trips where my father, aunts, and uncles would whitewater raft and canoe.

For my mother’s side it was much more practical, the pool was our babysitter all summer. Swim team and lifeguards our parents. We rode our bikes a mile to the country club for 8am practice and wouldn’t return home until dinner. Occasionally my step-father would wave from the golf course once or twice a week.

Swim team taught me to swim, but dad’s lessons in the water taught me to survive. My dad has a degree in engineering and thinks like an engineer. I am not. However, I have a visual mind and learn by imagination. His ability to describe things for me were imperative for my learning. Over the years he taught me the ins and out’s of football, the strategy of the game through a board game we played together and then pointing things out during countless Sunday afternoon games. He taught me how to drive a manual transmission (which I still prefer and drive to this day) by describing what happens when you push the gas and release the clutch, I could feel the metal collide too fast and stall, or I could hear and feel the right pressure and speed and they came together and off I went.

Teaching me about water worked the same way. I think, in many ways, water was one of the first things I learned to respect. It was glorious, I was drawn to it at every turn, but it was also dangerous (read: compelling). Dad taught me about eddies and where to steer the boat. If I fell out I was to turn feet first as to not hit my head on a rock, wait for the rapids to end and swim to the side. And above all, never, EVER put yourself between the water and an object. Undertow was not to be messed with.

Water will find a way out, you may not.

It didn’t take long for this respect for water to turn to worship. It connected me to the earth, it flowed, constantly moving. I loved that you could never touch the same water twice in a stream or river or ocean. Water cleansed and was a symbol of life. This only strengthened the deeper my faith became. There are still two ways to get me to experience God almost immediately: Music and moving water.

After a few years I started to test the waters (see what I did there…). I sank my canoe on a class 4 rapid and laughed, I recovered the boat, it made for a good story. I started kaiaking which was easier to control and wasn’t putting other people in danger when I decided to “see what this thing could do”.

Looking back I was young and carless with my life, and there were many reasons for this, but then one day I was leading a youth group on a lazy Sunday afternoon down a river. I gave the youth group a healthy lecture on water and not to get out of the boat, etc. As we paddled along there were people partying, having a great time on the shores. I rolled my eyes, these people had no business being on a river, even one as tame as this. This is what lake canoeing was for (you can only imagine what I thought about lake canoeing!)

As my young companion and I floated lazily I noticed two couples off to the side, one had gotten their canoe stuck behind a tree, all it needed was a push, but they were doing it all wrong. All I had to do was canoe over, hop out of the boat for a second and give it a push. I made my way over, slipped off the side of my boat and there it was…

I was pulled straight under.

Stupid. Seriously. Stupid. I had broken the #1 rule, I put my body between the flowing river and an object. My life didn’t flash before my eyes, but death was inevitable and I knew it immediately.

But I was lucky. Us humans, are built for survival. It’s in our DNA. As I went down my hands flew up and I grabbed a branch, hoisted myself up and quickly hopped over the log, putting my body downstream from the tree. The people I was helping had no idea what just happened. I have their boat a push, we exchanged pleasantries, a couple of youth group kids clapped thinking I was a badass. I got back in the boat like nothing had happened.

I had forgotten to respect the water.

To respect the water is to respect life. There are many reasons why water in scripture is the symbol of life and therefore a symbol of God. For years after that incident I feared the water. Not a pool or a lake, but moving water, life giving water. I walked into an ocean one day and felt the pull under the wave and panicked. I knew I had a choice. I could stay and face the fear, learn from my carelessness or forever be sidelined from one of my most beloved joys.

This week as I swim in the ocean I happily collapse under the waves, I let my body float, and be carried, and cleansed. I respect the water, but I also know my part in her dance. I am not the type to be led beside still waters, but crashing, moving, flowing water restores my soul, and for that, I am deeply grateful.

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Love and Life

St. Louis, MO Chicago Sun Times

Ferguson, MO, protests for Michael Brown
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I’m supposed to be writing a paper, one more paper for my class and I’m free, but I’m stuck thinking about love and life, and if I don’t get it out my paper will never get done. Oh, inspiration and the Holy Spirit. My last post was about overcoming shame, depression, suicide, and choosing love and life.

I have had multiple conversations lately where I have talked about God choosing us, God choosing love, and life being a virtue. By the way, everyone should stop reading this post and go read Derrick Weston’s post on this subject RIGHT NOW! With Israel/Palestine, Iraq, Ferguson, suicide and depression all in this last few weeks the importance of talking about life and loving seems invaluable. 

All of this got me thinking. I believe I equate love and life when it comes to theology. Derrick talks about hearing a sermon where faith, hope and love abide, but the greatest of these is love (1Corinthians 13) but that the greatest of these is actually life. Yes, but what’s the difference? Here’s how that chapter begins:

If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give away all my possessions, and if I hand over my body so that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing. 1 Corinthians 13:1-3

As a pastor I love and hate this text, as we equate it to human love, and we should strive for this in humanity, maybe that’s part of our problem, we see this kind of love as unattainable, and it is if perfection becomes the goal, but it is attainable in the ways that our broken humanness will allow.

We could have everything, but have not love, we are nothing. 

Love, in my mind, could be replaced with life, love could also be replaced with God. God is love, 1 John says over and over again, pounding it into my brain. God is love. All love comes from God. Again, replace that word with life.

The word for Spirit is also the sound of breath, I cannot say it more beautifully than Rob Bell does in one of his Nooma videos. We come to life when we can say the name of God and we die when we can not longer say the name of God.

There is no conclusion to this, just pondering. God is love, God is life. To live is love and to have this love/life is to be of God. 

Kick Me When I’m Down

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Yesterday I was working on the bulletin, as I do on Monday mornings, and of course, I decided life wasn’t hard enough so I was going to change the scripture, liturgy, and hymns I had previously picked.  Because of course. As I searched for a better text for my theme I read this verse from 2 Corinthians.

But God said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. -2 Corinthians 12:9

I stared at this text for a while, contemplated using it, and then got really angry. I mean ridiculously angry.  I texted with some friends about what this could mean. I mean, I know what it means, “I must decrease so Christ can increase” it means that those of us in positions of power should get out of the way for God, for God alone has true power. It means a loss of ego, of self, of worldly pride and power. It means being knocked on our asses the way Paul was.

But yesterday, it felt like God was kicking me while I was down. Forcing me to stay down. Like me lying on the floor in the fetal position, arms protecting my face, begging for it to stop.

It’s been a hard few weeks.  I am adjusting to a custody schedule where I only see my children 7 of every 14 days. We are “nesting” until my husband’s apartment is ready and I am tired of living out of a suitcase. I am working with a lawyer to write a separation agreement, dividing debt, making budgets in which I adjust to a new way of life and a new financial reality.

Money wise I’ve been here before. For many years of our marriage we were on one income. 5 years one of us was in graduate school, there were at least 2 years thanks to the economic recession that my husband was out of a job and I made less than $30,000 a year. I made it work, we had more than enough, we provided for our children, I will do it again, I am just tired and don’t want to.

Which is where the kicking feeling came into play.

I like my God as a good God, one that does not kick me when I’m down. One that lays on the bathroom floor with me while I cry uncontrollably, one that weeps with me and loves me through the pain and darkness.

I appreciate that God can give me a swift kick in the ass every once in a while or a smack upside the head, that’s fine, that correcting. But does God kick me when I’m down? Has God done this before and I blamed myself or others?

 Maybe it’s a little of both, maybe I’m missing the whole point. But it’s a thought worth exploring.

God is Doing a New Thing

fontThis week I had the privilege of leading chapel with my DMin class, as we planned we chose this text from Isaiah:

Do not remember the former things, or consider the things of old. I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert. The wild animals will honor me, the jackals and the ostriches; for I give water in the wilderness, rivers in the desert, to give drink to my chosen people, the people whom I formed for myself so that they might declare my praise. ~Isaiah 43:18-21

Some of you may already know, although it has not been publicly announced on this blog or social media that my husband and I are separated. It is a fairly new reality, as the official separation started July 2 when I left for this trip. When I return home my home life will be completely different. Monday we will meet with a family therapist and deal with the realty of telling our children. We have yet to tell them given that they were without a parent for almost 2 weeks.

As anyone who has ever gone through separation and divorce knows this is not a simple admission. And for those of you who haven’t, I cannot tell you how heartbreaking it is. As a child of divorce I understand all too well that children are resilient, yet I also understand that this will forever change my children and the life I dreamed for them.

I have a great community, friends, and the support of family, both blood relation and not. I have a wonderful therapist and a church who supports and comforts me. However, this is a difficult, vulnerable, and very raw time in my life. Everything has changed, and over the next year of this separation and impending divorce everything will continue to change.

Isaiah’s message is that God is going a new thing. For me, a new thing is definitely happening, I don’t know if God is doing it or not, but it is happening. However, my faith tells me that God is always doing, reforming, “working” on me. But what is provocative about this text is – notice where the new thing is… it’s in the wilderness and the desert. It’s in a difficult place. We like to lift up a “new thing” as if it is the salvation from the old thing, but there’s a part of me that really liked that old thing. I was comfortable there. I liked being married, I liked my family, no it wasn’t perfect, but I was happy and wanted it to work.

Maybe this “new thing” is for the best, although I admit, I can’t quite perceive that yet, or maybe I just need to believe that. But right now I am tired and thirsty in the desert. Right now I am cold and lost in the wilderness.

God will make a path, and God will make the waters come, Isaiah says. Because sin and death does not have the last word, because I will not sit in this darkness forever, because I believe in a God of resurrection, a God of a new thing, even when I cannot yet perceive it.

Come quickly, Lord Jesus, and guide my way. Amen.