Holy Week Contradictions

Image

 

Reposted from A Palm Sunday Sermon given at the Montgomery New Church 4/1/2012

I heard an interview with Archbishop Desmond Tutu recently.  In it he talked about the ongoing deep work that is needed as South Africa moves from Apartheid and three centuries of oppression and domination of people with white skin over people with black skin. Krista Tippet, the interviewer, posed the conversation of how one would know whether the work Bishop Tutu had been doing had “achieved” it’s goals and what “recovery” looked like for the people of South Africa.  Archbishop Tutu responded with this story: I recommend listening to the interview. The story is from: 22:52-25:21

TRANSCRIPT: “I think that we have very gravely underestimated the damage that apartheid inflicted on all of us. You know, the damage to our psyches, the damage that has made —I mean, it shocked me. I went to Nigeria when I was working for the World Council of Churches, and I was due to fly to Jos. And so I go to Lagos airport and I get onto the plane and the two pilots in the cockpit are both black. And whee, I just grew inches. You know, it was fantastic because we had been told that blacks can’t do this. And we have a smooth takeoff and then we hit the mother and father of turbulence. I mean, it was quite awful, scary. Do you know, I can’t believe it but the first thought that came to my mind was, “Hey, there’s no white men in that cockpit. Are those blacks going to be able to make it?” And well of course, they obviously made it — here I am. But the thing is, I had not known that I was damaged to the extent of thinking that somehow actually what those white people who had kept drumming into us in South Africa about our being inferior, about our being incapable, it had lodged somewhere in me.”

This story stopped me in my tracks and brought home the deep contradictions that each one of us hold in our beings, in our words, in our history, in our actions, thoughts and feelings. Here is a man who has dedicated his life and his work to breaking down oppression, bringing justice and raising up the worth of all people.  A man who himself has rich black skin and a heritage of the people’s that he is dedicated to opening up a way for, even this man wrestles with the contradictions inside himself when the very thing he’s fighting against bubbles up in his own being.

Contradiction.

Here’s another example: The next day the huge crowd that had arrived for the Feast heard that Jesus was entering Jerusalem. They broke off palm branches and went out to meet him. And they cheered: Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in God’s name! Yes! The King of Israel!” (John 12:14).

In the same city, just a few days later, the same Jesus Christ was raised up in question in front of crowds of people.  The story goes something like this:
“Pilate called together the chief priests, the rulers and the people, and said to them, “You brought me this man as one who was inciting the people to rebellion. I have examined him in your presence and have found no basis for your charges against him. Neither has Herod, for he sent him back to us; as you can see, he has done nothing to deserve death.  Therefore, I will punish him and then release him.”

But the whole crowd shouted, “Away with this man! Release Barabbas to us!”(Barabbas had been thrown into prison for an insurrection in the city, and for murder.)

Wanting to release Jesus, Pilate appealed to them again. But they kept shouting, “Crucify him! Crucify him!”

For the third time he spoke to them: “Why? What crime has this man committed? I have found in him no grounds for the death penalty. Therefore I will have him punished and then release him.”

But with loud shouts they insistently demanded that he be crucified, and their shouts prevailed.  So Pilate decided to grant their demand. He released the man who had been thrown into prison for insurrection and murder, the one they asked for, and surrendered Jesus to their will (Luke 23:13-24).

It’s uncomfortable to place ourselves in this story, particularly if we are part of the crowd on both days.  But are we not part the crowd? Is there not a place inside each of us that sings praises and asks for God to save us one day and then calls for crucifixion a few days later? Have we not stood in the shoes of Bishop Tutu? Seeing inside ourselves the very things that we have been working to change in the world around us? We are filled with these contradictions between how we want to live and how we speak and act and think and feel.

Through these weeks of Lent, as part of my practice, I have been striving to name these contradictions, these tensions inside. It is uncomfortable work and makes me squirm to realize how much like these crowds I am.   How I can cry out to God, “save me” when life is feeling difficult and I think God could remove the challenges, and then soon after deny my need for God or even reject God’s presence in the people around me.  I have noticed disconnects between my words and my actions, between my ideals and my reactions.

There is something disturbing to consciously name these contradictions. There is something liberating and freeing in naming these contradictions.  To name that we carry selfishness and arrogance within us as we strive to do good and follow God and to admit that we are sinner and saint, villain and hero, benevolent and selfish and throughout it all—loved by God.

What’s this? Loved by God? Even when we speak critical words? Even when we are arrogant and vindictive? Even when we go against what we know we are called to?  And here is the gospel, the good news, and the power of the Lord in our Holy Week Contradictions.

Let’s go back over the stories…we’ve noted the contradictions between the crowds that cheers on Palm Sunday and to the ones that deny him and call for crucifixion just a few days later. We’ve noted the way we operate in these contradictions in our own lives and how we are continually in flux in our thoughts and actions.  Where is the Lord in all this? Jesus Christ, that of God, God Incarnate, gospel message to us, an example of how God acts in the world. How does Jesus respond throughout these stories in the gospel? Jesus consistently meets them where they are. With love and compassion. With truth and accountability. With forgiveness and reconciliation.

Even to the point on the cross where Jesus calls out, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34). Can you imagine being called to that level of forgiveness and compassionate response? Can you imagine being embraced by that level of understanding for the contradictions we hold in ourselves and being gently held and encouraged to continue to show up, to observe and name the contradictions, to keep inviting the Lord into our lives and move us in ways of reconciliation and wholeness?

What does this look like? How do we do this? I believe each one of you have wisdom to bring to this conversation and I look forward to hearing your responses. To frame our conversation I’d like to offer us two doorways for receiving and connecting with God’s work in each of us.

Mystical theologian Emmanuel Swedenborg writes, “If we believed that—as is truly the case—everything good and true comes from the Lord and everything evil and false comes from hell, then we would not claim the goodness as our own and make it self-serving or claim the evil as our own and make ourselves guilty of it” (Divine Providence #320).

There is such freedom from suffering and guilt and freedom from arrogance and pride when we integrate this concept into our lives. We can integrate this teaching by holding and returning to an awareness of our thoughts, our words and our actions.  And as we live this teaching, we let go of the strength of the thoughts and habits that have been ingrained and plague us, or as Bishop Tutu said, the things that have become “lodged” in us. The misshapen ideas of who we are and our need to beat ourselves up or clamber to be better than others. We can spend more time dwelling in the land of wholeness and peace where we know that we are a vessel and that we want to surrender and have the Lord be the one who is forming that vessel.

And the second doorway that I want to suggest is to develop a practice of asking the question: “Where is the Lord in this?”   We asked this question of our gospel readings this morning and found the Lord being the constant presence of love and strength, healing and forgiveness, reconciliation, persistence, and hope.

And we can ask this question as we navigate our inner and outer lives.

Where is the Lord in a heated interaction?
In the deep breath we take?
In the flash of insight opening us up to a third way?

Where is the Lord in the contradictions of grief and loss?
In the comfort from a friend?
When we reach out to grasp at something in our places of great darkness?

Where is the Lord when we are convicted with a way that we are living in arrogance and pride?
In the challenge to be changed?
In the gentle spirit that we can be held in as we change?
Is it the humility of seeing ourselves in others?

As we walk into this Holy Week…let us notice the tensions and the contradictions, in the gospel story and in ourselves. And let us explore these two doorways. To remember that all good comes from God and all evil comes from hell. And to ask the question, “where is the Lord in this?” Drawing on God’s presence to be in us and through us and guide us. And loving us when we shout out “Hosanna” and loving and when we cry  “Crucify him”.

The Compost Heap and the Church

Presented at Gathering Leaves (a symposium for women from all branches of the Swedenborgian Tradition)
September 14th 2013, Fryeburg Maine

2013-08-24 22.59.22

I have come to believe that a compost heap is beautiful. Decaying leaves. Crumbled eggshells. And yes, even that slime oozing off a banana peal. I love a good compost heap. I cannot say that I’ve grown to love the odor—that sharp, putrid smell that reminds us of death as part of the life cycle. But I do love a good compost heap, and I do believe that it is beautiful.

I believe dry leaves are beautiful. Dry leaves hold a set of unique colors. Looking out the window over the Saco River today, we see that the leaves are beginning to turn. And in the next month, thousands of tourists will come to New England. And what will all these people flock here to see? Dying leaves! Millions of beautifully shaped colored flags proclaiming in unison the changing of the season and the decay of their little corner of the nature-scape.2013-08-24 23.00.07

This sense of cycles is evoked by the Gathering Leaves 2013 theme, “Changing Colors, Changing Lives.” As are the seasons of nature, so are the seasons of our lives, of our communities, and of our churches. I believe that the cycles and the seasons—like any spiritual principle—do not just apply to their literal manifestations. These cycles in the natural world correspond, or mirror a spiritual process, something that is going on internally. Emanuel Swedenborg talks about the idea of the microcosm and the macrocosm, and that any one principle is true on various levels, leading me to believe that not only do the season and life cycles show up inside an individual, but also in collections of individuals. What we know about death and life, birth and resurrection, in a human setting, can also be true within a community, within humanity as a whole, within nature, and in the church.

And so within this context of seasons and change, I’d like to consider the following questions: What are the spiritual principles of a compost heap? And how does that apply to the church? What does it mean to be part of an organization that is moving through decomposition, fertilization, and new growth? 


2013-08-24 23.00.24

Intergenerational Conversation
This morning at Gathering Leaves we have an opportunity to engage intergenerational conversations around the future of our church. My experience is that it takes effort and is often uncomfortable to talk about the church between generations. I walk in many circles, and I often end up in conversations about church with various generations. I’ve noticed that particularly from the generation that’s most prominently represented here—those over fifty-five—I hear these types of questions: “What’s happening to the church?” and “What’s the future of the church?” And I hear the questions, some tinged with expectations or disappointment, “Where are the young people? Why aren’t they taking over?” Or the laments of, “What are we doing wrong?” “Why didn’t this work? I raised my kids in the church and now they’re not interested.” This is a tender and often difficult subject, and it can be very personal for all of us. I hear and honor these questions.

I want to reframe the questions. I believe there’s great power in how we frame our questions, and I’d like to suggest other options. For example, what about these questions: “What might church look like for different generations?” “What is feeding the spiritual lives of the young people of today?” And the question that is driving my call to ministry, and the reason I’m here today: “What does it mean to be faithful today? What does it look like to be ‘church’ in this generation?”

2013-08-24 23.00.36


Change
This word “change” is not a comfortable word. And it often makes for uncomfortable conversations. But, maybe being comfortable is not the point of spiritual life or church or being human. Maybe the church really isn’t about what our needs are and having our needs met. Being the church is about following the movement of God and community. Being the church is about being a collective embodiment of the two great commandments—loving God and loving the neighbor.

When Christ was on earth, he certainly didn’t preach comfort or stability, feeling good or that it’s about what we want. That was not Christ’s message, though I often want it to be. But that’s not the message the Lord taught or demonstrated with on earth or that we read about in scripture. Christ preached that we should sell all we have and give to the poor and follow him. Jesus’ call is to take up our mats and walk, to lay down our nets and follow.

It’s so tempting, especially perhaps as Swedenborgians, with our ideas of the internal sense of the Word, to spiritualize these phrases and to push them away into intellectual concepts to keep ourselves comfortable. But I have come to believe that these are direct teachings—God’s call on our lives. I don’t know what it means in your life to sell all you have and give to the poor. But there’s something in there about sacrificing our own comfort and stability to be part of following God and a community. Following the Lord probably doesn’t look like physically putting down fishing nets for most of us, but it might involve letting go of that which has been core to our daily existence, and trusting and following and being changed. Taking up our mats, these things we’ve learned and know, and actively engaging in the work of our lives of faith even when it’s not comfortable or how we’ve always known life to be.

2013-08-24 21.27.53
It’s God then, who seems to be all about change—process, transformation, death, life, letting go, and rebirth. And it’s God who says, “I’ll be with you through it.
” Isn’t that the beauty of the incarnation? God coming to earth in human form, taking on this life process of being born, living, struggling, having joy, being in community, teaching, serving, dying, and then being resurrected, glorified, and coming again. Is this not the call to us individually, this call to the repentance of spirit, to transformation, to death and rebirth, to change? And if this the call to us individually, is not this the call to us as a church?

I think it’s easier to be present to the process of change by looking at the life cycle of an individual. I’ve heard some beautiful stories this weekend about aging gracefully, as people shared about having the courage to let go in a different way in these stages of life. There is a deep wisdom that the generations in their second half of life hold about aging, and that wisdom is needed in this conversation. If I’m standing here speaking as a “voice for the next generation of the church,” it’s important for me to honor and say clearly: this is not about wanting everything to change, getting rid of the old, and swooping in with the new. No, the message is: we need to have some dialog between generations. Because the church is changing, and I believe we all need to be presentto each other and the conversation.

2013-08-24 23.07.00

Giant Rummage Sale
I’d like to zoom out for a moment, and think about not just our local churches or denominations, or even the churches in our neighborhood, but to look at the greater swaths of movement in this cycle. Phyllis Tickle, a scholar of religious history, wrote a book called The Great Emergence. In it she offers a theory that in the sweep of Christian history, every five hundred years there is a giant rummage sale, where things are thrown up in the air and questioned, and then it settles back down and the church is changed in the process.

Tickle posits that the last time this happened was the Protestant Reformation. There was upheaval against the Catholic church of the time, reformers such as Luther and Calvin wrote and preached, and radical break-off groups formed, such as the Quakers and the Methodists, Anabaptists, and a bit later, the Swedenborgians. That was the last giant rummage sale. These rummage sales don’t happen overnight, they stretch over decades. She suggests that we’re in another one of these giant rummage sales in Christendom as a whole. This idea resonates with me within a Swedenborgian framework, and the concept of the Second Coming moving into the world. Maybe what we’re seeing is the actualization of a New Christianity, alive and working in the world. When I look at what’s going on in Christendom as a whole, around the world, something is happening. Something is changing.

2013-08-24 22.36.52

And we’re all in the same boat. From each of our denominations we have story after story about declining membership and churches closing.  So something is changing around us. The way we’ve always done church is not how church is happening. Something is dying, and beginning to decompose.

2013-08-24 23.07.00Decomposition

It seems in general that we’re more comfortable with changing seasons than we are with change in our own individual lives. We are more comfortable with the leaves dying while displaying their vibrant tones than we are with facing our own mortality, or the mortality of those we love. And then when we move from our own mortality, or the mortality of those we love, to the death of our churches, it brings up another collection of responses. The idea that our churches may be dying stirs up emotions and reactions for all of us, and I believe it’s important to recognize and name that.

I’ve spent much of my career in outreach and evangelization, and I was often the person who would come into a congregation or denominational setting and say, “There’s hope! Try this, try that!” And I do believe there is a place for that. There are positive things that are happening and there are good places to put our attention. I have come to believe that in order to be healthy organisms, we also need to be able to see and name the places that are dying and where things need to end. It gets confusing when the cycles of life and death are going on in our churches and our denominations at the same time. Within a community, it’s not always clear what part of the life of the church is on hospice and what is coming to life.

2013-08-24 23.03.16

Church Hospice
Being aware of what is going on in our churches and having the courage to name it is a call to all of us. When a hospice chaplain walks into a room with a family, often the job to be done is to name the thing that no one is going to say, which usually is, “Your loved one is dying.” This is a hard and painful job, but I find that often this honesty is the greatest gift you can give. To name what everyone in the room is thinking and feeling—and not saying.

And so I invite us—collectively—to be hospice chaplains for each other, and to acknowledge and say, “There are things in our church that are dying.” Aspects of our churches are changing—whether it be it a congregation, a way of doing things, or an idea we’ve held onto. We are called to acknowledge that some of our congregations have died or are going to die in this season, in this giant rummage sale that we are going through. We can be honest by acknowledging that this movement and change is held within the Divine cycle of life.

I believe that one of our callings in this time of change is to be hospice chaplains. A good hospice chaplain is present with the cycle of death, not rushing it and not prolonging it.  Sometimes the loving thing to do is to come in and say, “Let’s celebrate and then let go.” To be able to say together, “ You know what, we’ve always done our worship service this way, and we know it’s time to change.” It doesn’t need to be an abrupt cutting it off, and it also doesn’t need to be drawn out on life-support. We could say, “For 100 years we have said that same litany, with those same words. Let’s celebrate that… and then let it go and see what is waiting to be created anew.” This gets harder when it’s our congregations and our buildings—these places and communities we love. I know some of you have been through this, where you’ve had to let go and say goodbye. Let’s be good hospice chaplains together. Let’s celebrate, let’s look at the legacy, let’s claim the memorial, and then let it die.

I believe we need to be open to the possibility that our denominations hold this process of death as well. I do not know what next season is going to look like. I’m not predicting whether our denominations are going to disappear or not. But what I do know is that something is changing in them, and that there are ways of being, systems, concepts, and cultures, within all our denominations that need to die. How can we be present to that? How can we differentiate between the new growth that is alive and from the Lord and the things that we’re clinging onto, trying to survive?

2013-08-24 23.06.03

How can we accept that death is part of the cycle, and remember that death is not a failure? When our elders die, do we criticize them on their deathbed, telling them how they should have lived longer? No, we celebrate their lives, and then lay their bodies in the ground to decompose and go back to be part of the dust from which we all come. Could we not treat our churches, our worship services, or dwindling programs with such dignity and respect? Could we celebrate the years of legacy, the people, the pastors, the buildings, the events, the marriages, the deaths, the service to the community, the heritage of worship? Grieve the loss of something we love, celebrate life well lived, and accept that our churches have a life cycle. Death is not a failure. Death is a part of life.

2013-09-04 15.20.20Fertilization
The second concept of the compost heap is fertilization. Fertilizer, no matter how we cut it, is rarely pretty. It doesn’t smell good. Fertilizer is not what you take and put in a beautiful crystal vase or gorgeous pottery bowl in the middle of the table—you want those fresh flowers or tomatoes there. But fertilizer is incredibly important, and can be something we intentionally cultivate with our dying leaves.

2013-08-24 22.36.52

Leaves can just fall where they do; our churches and programs and ways of being can just slowly fade away. Or we can ask, “How can we purposefully use this thing that is dying to be the nutrients for what is going to grow?” This is the fertilizer. This is what I believe that we all can be called to, to purposefully put the leaves on the compost heap to decompose into useful fertilizer. And we can stop and remember that fertilizer is what we’re all growing out of. We are all here, being the branches of our denominations and our spiritual heritage because of the people who have put fertilizer on in the past.

2013-09-04 15.21.50

Legacy
Personally I can stand in this room and I can think about my ancestors. I think about my great-grandparents, Anita and Louis Dole who were part of the founding of this camp, my great-grandma who wrote the Dole Notes, a rich resource in Swedenborgian Bible study. Bill and Louise Woofenden, pillars in the church and this camp. My maternal grandparents Dave and Shirley Gladish dedicated their lives to Swedenborgian scholarship and translation. Shirley Gladish, my last living grandparent, who’s still doing working on the New Century edition for the Swedenborg Foundation in her late eighties. And I’m humbled, truly humbled by this legacy and how my ancestors gave their lives to the church, and were that active fertilizer that we are growing out of.
picstitch

When we talk about this compost heap, it’s not about throwing out the old. It’s not about how the younger generation wants to come in and change everything and blow off the older generation. That’s not the point. The point is: we are each fertilizer for the next generation, so how do we do this purposefully? Rather than throwing out the old in the trash, can we let it be recycled, composted, and become the nutrients for the next generation?

Both my Woofenden grandparents died recently. They had faded out of active life in the church over the last number of years, with their bodies and minds began to slow down. But their commitment and faith to the Swedenborgian was still central to the ethos of their home.

When I went to visit over the last few years, the way that Grandpa would connect with people was through showing us things around the house and telling the stories. We talked a lot about the paintings on the wall, the little squeaky things that made bird sounds, and inevitably, he’d show me the most recent book from the Swedenborg Foundation. And then he would show me with great pride, the bookstand that the Swedenborg Foundation had given him to honor his work with them. Grandma, even when she was struggling to fully communicate, would still have her Greek New Testament out, which she had read her whole life. And every day, at lunch or dinner, depending on the schedule, Grandpa and Grandma would read a chapter from the Bible, slowly working their way from Genesis to Revelation, and back again. They were faithful to their spiritual tradition in their generation.

What does it look like to be faithful in my generation? I am called to be faithful to God and to walk in the Swedenborgian heritage in my generation. And I, and my generation, know that we cannot do it alone. We are able to be the church for our generation, because of the fertilization that has been, is, and will be done by the generations that have come before us.

2013-09-04 15.29.07

Building or Gardening
Built on” is often the metaphor we hear when we talk about generational shifts. Or “stand on the shoulders of.” I appreciate these sentiments. I hold a deep regard for those who have been living the life of faith, and leading and sustaining and innovating the church for each generation. And I know I would not be standing here without that.

However, I’d like to offer the idea of fertilizer as an alternative metaphor. “Building” quickly becomes a linear or hierarchical metaphor. And it is very bound by form. This generation bought the land and built a small chapel, the next generation built on that by adding a larger sanctuary and fellowship hall, the next the parking lot, playground, and a new roof on the original chapel. Now it’s up to my generation to build on that by getting the new carpet and wiring the fellowship hall with technology—and don’t forget that the playground equipment needs to be updated. Being the church takes on the feeling of another thing on the to-do list or an uninvited expectation.

Intergenerational Support
Things have changed in how each generation relates to church, and with this change, we have an opportunity to re-imagine the metaphors. Involvement in church is not the assumption that it was 50 years ago. As someone who is called to be a leader in the church, I can speak for some and share that it is hard to be a faith leader in this era. Gone are the days of community respect, assured job security, and predictable employment. In this era, we are charged with re-imagining church, and ministering to a generation that holds no assumption around the need to be part of church. This work is not easy, and we need each generation to play their part.

We need the coming generations to be proactively trained, equipped, and empowered, and our organizations to consciously make space for new voices. We need our systems to be courageous around change, and cultivate creative and present conversation among all of us. To give voice to the legacy that has been written, and to honor the way that compost can be given for the next generation of leaders. To take the time to ask the generations above and below, “What does it look like to purposefully fertilize?” How can we make organizational choices, financial choices, building choices, cultural choices, in a way that makes fertile rich soil for the next generations and for new life to grow?

2013-08-24 22.34.13New Life
Decomposition and fertilization lead us to the third message of the compost heap: new life. If we learn anything from what the Lord shows us in nature, in the Word, in our own lives, it’s that things work in cycles, and there is new life. We see God is a God of resurrection, cycles, rebirth, and new life.

Friends and sisters, something is trying to be born. The Divine Parent, the Divine Womb, is rich. Use whatever words resonate with you—a new era, a new consciousness, the New Jerusalem descending to earth—something is active and present and urging to be born. The signs of the giant rummage sale are the contractions. Something is pressing to be born, and we don’t know what it is or how it will come. But we can be called to be midwives to it. New shoots and plants are pressing their way through the dirt and make their way into the light. We can notice and we can be present to the hope and the pain, the mess and the beauty, and then we can celebrate the new life.

2013-08-24 21.27.53Look for the Pumpkins
I believe by staying present to the contractions and expansions, being a non-anxious presence in times of change, and keeping our eyes out and celebrating the new birth when we see is a call for all of us. We can actively be on the look out for where the church is being reimagined and born in the world?

We might be tempted to say, “That doesn’t look like church to me. I don’t even recognize that as church. That’s not what I’m used to church looking like.” It’s easy to miss or dismiss these new expressions of life. Maybe because we’re so focused on a nice neat row of lettuce, because that is what we’ve always done—plant lettuce. But, look up and there’s a pumpkin growing out of the compost heap!

Where are these new expressions of church happening in our churches, our congregations, our world? How can recognize and re-imagine what it means to be church?

Because here’s the thing to remember about the compost heap—what comes out of the compost heap is rarely the plant we expect. You can take the fertilizer and spread it around your nice rows of lettuce, and it can help. We continue to maintain the things that are working in our churches and that serve the world.  But when we open our eyes for the new signs of life that are being born as church is re-imagined we see new life. These are the gifts of the compost heap. Not the things that we planted in straight rows, but it’s that pumpkin! And it’s the biggest pumpkin in your entire garden, because it emerged from the fertilizer that came before, and grew in its freedom, and creative new life on the back corner by the shed.

2013-09-01 13.37.26

Re-imagining Church
Last Friday I was at my internship, at Saint Gregory of Nyssa Episcopal Church in San Francisco. I go on Sundays for worship and it’s beautiful and creative, then on Friday’s I go to be part of the worship that is the Food Pantry, because on Fridays there’s a different congregation there. There’s a different way that church is done.

By noon a long line of people are standing outside the doors of a steep San Francisco street. They walk in the front doors of the sanctuary, and around the communion table, where they find piles of rice, fresh celery, bread, watermelons, and strawberries. Four hundred families, who are hungry, come in and they take communion. And people are worshiping. And passing around piles of carrots. And loaves of bread. And looking each other in the eyes and seeing the face of God.

This is church. To be able to love each person who walks in the door. Many of them I can barely communicate with, because I have yet to learn Mandarin, Chinese, Russian, and only know a little Spanish. But I can greet everyone with a smile and say, “Welcome, I’m glad you’re here” and when they walk out the door, “Have a good day, see you next week.” The Food Pantry one of those pumpkins from the compost heap, it is church.

photo
God is on the Move
I don’t know what the church looks like in this next season.  My suspicion is that it is going to look many, many different ways. It is going to be creative and the variety is going to be wide. I don’t know what the models are going to be, but what I do know is that it’s not going to look how it looked for my great-grandparents or my grandparents, or even my parents, or even how I thought it would look. Something is moving and shifting in the world. The church is changing.

I believe God is on the move. God is hovering over the face of the waters, continuing to create and move and breathe into all that is. And this is not our creation. This is God’s creation that we are privileged to participate in.

2013-08-24 21.27.39I don’t believe this new life is born of strategic plans, or any one of our specific ideas of what our denomination’s next steps are, though these can be helpful at times in our processes of preparation. I believe this new life is of, from, and will be birthed by the Holy One. We are called to be midwives and hospice chaplains and gardeners.

We are called to be that non-anxious presence in the midst of decomposition to celebrate lives well lived and grieve change and loss.

We are called to honor our ancestors, to notice and name the way their lives and work fertilized all we are today. We are called to be fertilizer, to consciously make choices and changes based on what is pressing to be born.

And we are called to witness new life. Not new life that we quickly fabricate within our desire to survive. But new life that comes from God—and grows out of what has been. New life that arises after we’ve been broken down, our dreams have died, we’ve let go, we’ve released our holds, we’ve sat—quiet and still—through the cold of winter awaiting the new life of spring.

2013-08-24 21.37.34


O Holy One,
Who stirs over the face of the waters,
Who created at the beginning, the garden,
Who gives us this vision of a heavenly city,
With a garden in the middle of it. 

May we, each individually and collectively,
be present,
with the journey of compost. 

May we be present with the decomposition,
to grieve,
to celebrate,
to let go. 

May we be courageous and active to being fertilizer for the next generations.
May we be purposeful and bold,
making choices not out of survival or comfort,
but from our love for all that is good and true.

And may we be curious, engaged, and on the lookout for new growth.
May we be delightfully surprised, and touched to the core of our heart,
When we see how you, O Holy One, are birthing Your New Church. 

We see a garden ahead of us,
The garden of the New Jerusalem,
with the river that flows through the city,
giving truth and quenching thirst,
to all who seek it.

The trees with leaves that heal the nations.
We see twelve gates,
welcoming all to enter and
come and take the water of life freely.

This garden,
where there is no temple,
where God is the center of the city.
And in this garden,
I do believe,
there probably is a
Compost Heap.
2013-06-09 14.18.18

Wrestling Vulnerability

Jacob-Wrestles-with-God

Sermon for Richmond Church of the Brethren
Richmond, Indiana

January 12th, 2013
Genesis 32:22-32
Audio:


I will love the light for it shows me the way,
yet I will endure the darkness because it shows me the stars.

–Og Mandino

Og Mandino’s words echo with me as I ponder our text for today. I wonder if Jacob would have had the self-reflection to speak these words the night he stood by the ford of Jabbok after wrestling all night? I wonder how he framed the feelings that churned inside him as he prepared to face his estranged brother, the brother that he had so much to apologize for; the brother who he feared would meet him with retaliation and violence?

Oh Jacob the “grabber,” or the “supplanter” the one who had tried to seize his twin brother Esau and pull him back into the womb as they were being born so that he could be the first-born and all that would offer him. Teen-age Jacob, who having failed at his pre-birth acquisition of inheritance and power, tricks his twin by taking advantage of him as he returned famished at the end of a long day, by offering the immediacy of a meal in exchange for Esau’s claim on the family inheritance. A trade which Esau later responded to with the vow to kill Jacob, which understandably sent Jacob fleeing far away to his Uncle Laban’s home, where he met his wife, Rebecca, and lived and grew his family for many years far away from his brother and from the retribution that seemed inevitable.

It is at this moment in time that we pick up the text this morning. Jacob is now returning to his family land and preparing to meet this brother that he had wronged so many years ago.

I picture Jacob, sitting surrounded by scrubby grass, on a rocky shore, near the edge of the Jabbok River. He has sent his family across ahead of him, where they are camped safely on the other side. But he hung back, and as the night fell he was left alone on the side of the river. I see him—a thick garment wrapped around his shoulders, his knees pulled up by body, head in his hands, wondering what the next day would bring. Not knowing what the future holds, fearing for his life, the life of his family, and the world he knew. What faced him that night with the dark sky encasing him, as he looked straight into the fear or guilt, shame, and utter vulnerability.

Wrestling in the Dark

The extreme cold this past week has brought vulnerability in front of us. As the polar vortex swept through the country, we know that many struggled, and the already vulnerable become even more so. In this community, many of us were extremely blessed to have warm houses, woodstoves, electric blankets, and heating vents to cuddle up next to. Even with a warm house, there’s a tension and tentativeness I’ve heard expressed by many this week as we’ve navigated the cold. I heard tell of the exhaustion after a normally “easy drive,” taking hours longer on icy roads, the stories of broken pipes and flooded floors, the care for keeping children, aging parents, pets, and ourselves protected from temperatures where any period of exposure would bring frostbite. I have watched, and participated, in the “icy sidewalk shuffle,” as we do everything in our power not to come crashing down onto the ground. We are reminded how we are not in control, we don’t know what is going to happen next—we are vulnerable.

Brene Brown, a researcher-storyteller whose TED Talk on Vulnerability captured many addresses this topic head-on. Because she believes, from her extensive research, that vulnerability is a key ingredient in people who are whole-hearted, who experience themselves as worthy, loved, and belonging—people who are alive and awake and whole. The whole-hearted, she says, are the ones who are willing to walk into the vulnerability, to be with the feelings, to have the courage to wrestle in the dark, rather than numbing the feelings when they arise.

She offers the idea that we cannot selectively numb emotion. We can’t numb our grief, our shame, our fear, or our vulnerability and still expect to be able to feel joy and delight, purpose, meaning, and happiness. The path to whole-heartedness, to living a authentic life is not to numb the pain and feelings with whatever our favorite coping mechanism is, it’s not to explain them away with a false grasping for certainty, it’s not to turn and go the other way and avoid the struggle. Instead, this is a call to enter into an honest conversation with our vulnerability, to be willing to walk knowingly into the dark and wrestle until daybreak.

Demand a Blessing

“Jacob was left alone; and a man wrestled with him until daybreak. When the man saw that he did not prevail against Jacob, he struck him on the hip socket; and Jacob’s hip was put out of joint as he wrestled with him. Then he said, “Let me go, for the day is breaking.” But Jacob said, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.” So he said to him, “What is your name?” And he said, “Jacob.” Then the man said, “You shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with God and with humans, and have prevailed. Then Jacob asked him, “Please, tell me your name.” But he said, “Why is it that you ask my name?” And there he blessed him. So Jacob called the place Peniel, (the face of God) saying, “For I have seen God face to face, and yet my life is preserved” (Genesis 32:23-32)

Can you picture this all-night wrestling match? The physicality of legs and arms, the ebb and flow as one person rises and leans into control, the other trapped, until that twist, and move, and flip, and coming out on top again. The anguish and struggle, the desire to give up and lie, exhausted on the ground, and the determination and strength to keep going.

This all-night wrestling partner later referenced as an “angel” by Hosea (12:4), and a “man” according to many Hebrew translators, or a “water demon” according to ancient tradition stuck with Jacob through the night, and Jacob would not let go until he demanded a blessing. Whatever the being Jacob encountered that dark night, he experience that he had, “seen the face of God and lived” (32:20).

In this deep night of wrestling, we can imagine that Jacob comes face to face with himself, his God, and his own vulnerabilities. The possible consequences of his past choices are looming in front of him, and he is unsure what is next and whether he will survive it. In all that he brings to the tangled match—all the questions, the fear, the shame—he does not give in. He continues to grapple, to be present with the fight, to feel the feelings, to be in the vulnerability. And, then he demands a blessing. He will not leave this wrestling match until he has found the blessing, and has claimed the conversion that comes out of confronting and working with our deepest vulnerabilities.

A number of years ago, I spent an extended period of time dealing with a life threatening and life-altering illness. It was certainly a season that I could compare to this dark night on the Jabbok River bank. It was a time of profound vulnerability, unknowing, and fear of what might be coming next. At some point early on, I remember saying out loud, “If I have to go through this, I damn well better come out stronger, wiser, more loving, and more compassionate on the other side.” The struggle and grappling didn’t magically dissipate; there was no escape from the all- consuming vulnerability of body, mind, and spirit. But there was a determination, an intention, and a reason to keep going through the struggle. And so I wrestled and I demanded a blessing. That journey was too painful and difficult to waste and not come out on the other side transformed.

Now I do not believe that God ever gives us struggles or challenges as a test, a punishment, or to teach us a lesson. This is not the God I know. The God I know walks with us through struggles, changes, transformations—a God that accompanies us. Emanuel Swedenborg, an 18th century Christian Mystic of my spiritual heritages writes: “Nothing, not the least thing shall occur that some good cannot come out of it.” I have often found encouragement and challenge in that notion. It’s not that good will necessarily come out of our challenges and hard times, but that it can come out of it. The God of wisdom and transformation is always drawing us towards goodness and love, walking with us through the challenges and struggles. But how we emerge? This depends on how we wrestle, how we engage, and if we demand a blessing. When we can, in the midst of our darkest nights, name a good that God is drawing us to, and put our stake in the ground that we will come out the other side renamed and changed forever.

We can demand a blessing when our communities, our families, our churches are going through transition and challenge. Because these seasons of questioning, change, and struggle seem to be an inevitable part of the individual and collective experience of being human, transition, and the vulnerability that comes with it, being an integral part of the life and movement of community. As you—my Richmond Church of the Brethren friends—know so well right now.

The process of transformation is not easy, and embracing vulnerability and change—I would posit—is often more difficult in our collected communities than it is in our individual lives. These times when everything is stirred up and we’re offered the opportunities to look at our past, present, and future with new eyes. In so many denominations and churches we find story after story about the change in the church. The way we’ve always done church is not how church is happening. We are walking through the night of wrestling and vulnerability when we see budgets decreasing, upcoming generations not expressing interest in church the way it’s been done, and congregations across the country closing at a rapid rate. It can leave us wondering what is next for us and bring up whatever our individual and collective coping mechanisms and numbing techniques are. We grasp harder at how it’s always been. We go into hyper-gear to raise the funds, find the volunteers, overcome the challenge. Anything we can do to avoid entering into the water, engaging the night of vulnerable wrestling. Until we land exhausted on the riverbank and name the gift of entering the vulnerability, the transformation that can come from the wrestling.

Renamed

When we face ourselves, our present reality, our vulnerability, our collective transformations, it is often uncomfortable. And it often makes for uncomfortable conversations. But, maybe being comfortable is not the point of spiritual life or church or being human. Maybe the church really isn’t about what our needs are and having our needs met. Being the church is about following the movement of God and community. Being the church is about being a gathered embodiment of the two great commandments—loving God and loving the neighbor. The church is about collectively being willing to tussle with what it means to be faithful to God and to our community in this season. The church is about being willing to be together, in the beauty and joy, and in the vulnerability and wrestling.

Go Out With a Limp

When we face these seasons in life with the demand to become, “stronger, wiser, more loving, and more compassionate” on the other side, we are forever changed. We are not the same person we were before the illness, the loss, the change, the struggle. When we face the changes in our churches, communities, and denominations with the God of change and transformation, the belief in death and rebirth on our lips, then we are not the same churches and communities that we always have been. We are transformed and re-imagined, changed and reborn. And we can imagine, as our it was with Jacob, being re-named as Israel, the one who prevails with God, moving forward in the morning light to meet his brother who would be awaiting him, awaiting him, as it turns out with an embrace, forgiveness and reconciliation.

Friends, we stand on the edge of the Jabbok River, looking out towards the unknown that will greet us in the morning. The call is in front of us, to live in the way of Jacob, with the willingness and courage to wrestle all night, to persevere through the vulnerability, to demand a blessing, receiving our new name and identity, and walk forward into the journey forever changed. Knowing that the God who met our ancestors face-to-face, the God of Rachel and Leah and Jacob, the God of Israel, is the God who walks with us into the dark, and the God who shows us the stars. And that we walk forward together with community, naming God’s work with, pointing out to each other the stars that guide us forward into the hope and transformation, sharing the conversations of curiosity, honesty, and reconciliation, and celebrating together the strength, creativity, and vitality that comes after the night of wrestling, with the morning dawn.

As we continue our sermon together:

Where do you see yourself in this story?
Where do you see this community in this story?
What resonates in you with Jacob’s night of wrestling? What blessing will you demand?

May we walk forward into the dark of the starry night, to wrestle, demand a blessing, to be changed and renamed, when in dawn we will again walk forward, but this time with a sacred limp. 

God Pitched Her Tent Among Us

tent Sermon for Saint Gregory of Nyssa Episcopal Church
San Francisco, California
December 29, 2013

Text: John 1:1-18

Audio:


Last weekend my siblings and I flew and drove in from all over the country, to gather on Guemes Island in Washington State, at our childhood home. We gathered to surround our mother as she said goodbye to her home of 30+ years, the home which my parents built, the gardens she’s worked, the field that housed various cows, pigs, and even a few goats over the years, the property where all seven of us, her children, were raised.

 “Momentous,” is the word a friend used to expressed this move. Momentous to be saying goodbye to the place and space that has held so much for my mother for so long and has been what she has known as stable, something to count on, the place to come home to for over 30 years.

I, on the other hand, have lived in six different states and 13 homes since I left this childhood homestead and my statistics are more in line with the transient population we find here in the Bay Area.  Many of us in this room can identify with the pause and faraway look when someone asks us, “Where’s home?” and we try to decide which way to answer that question today.  “Home” being a concept that can be a little shaky.

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God. And God came and dwelt among us… God came and made a home among us.  What is this Word that makes itself at home? The Word, the Logos, is a Greek term that is a struggle to even begin to capture in the English language.  It can refer to any part of communication, or the total act of communication…the speaking, the proclaiming, or the connecting conversation between. We can read this as wisdom showing up to communicate and be present with us, God’s self-revelation to humanity. 

The Logos was God and God came and made His home among us. Or a translation that has caught my imagination, God came and pitched Her tent with us, beside us, among us.  In this poetic telling of the gospel story that starts off the Book of John, God established a residence that moves, that is transient, that accompanies, that’s every changing.  Invoking the way of God with the ancient mothers and fathers, who wandered in the wilderness, following signs and pillars of cloud and fire, setting up the Tabernacle wherever they made camp. God Incarnate followed in this ancient tradition and came and pitched a tent among us, born through a woman who was far from home, away from all she knew as stable and known. And this God, is audaciously indiscriminant about who She pitches her tent beside, who She loves, reminding us in the very location of Christ’s birth, in a shed, behind the inn, with the animals, visited by shepherds.

As the season of advent is still lingering in the smell of Christmas trees, and the twinkling lights, the audacious message of incarnation is fresh in our minds. God showing up on earth in fleshy, ordinary, extraordinary form, as a baby. An infant. God didn’t show up fully-grown, clothed in armor, or sleek and strong with black-belt karate moves. God came to this earth and slipped into the skin of baby Jesus. And this incarnate God did not come and built a palace, or a mansion, not even a humble cabin to spend all his days. Just as Incarnate God does not come to establish surety in a religious club, or create exclusive spaces where certain people can access Divinity. God came in the intimacy of a breath between a mother and infant, in the vulnerable nature of flesh and straw, in the immediate presence of Emmanuel, God with us.

Because that’s the thing about Incarnate Divinity: It’s not just in one sacred place, and it doesn’t just show up at Christmas as we call out, “O Come, O Come Emmanuel.”  Incarnate Divinity is in the flesh and bones of the world. Dwelling with us. Accompanying us. Moving with us. Incarnate Divinity in the Bread and Wine, in the compassionate acts in unexpected places, in the intimate safety between two who know each other’s hearts, in the ache of loss when we remember those we love and miss. Incarnate Divinity, is what accompanies us through each movement of our days and lives, it is this Audacious Love, the Word made flesh, the Wisdom-in-person.  The Gospel of John takes the Christmas story right down to its essence. God. Light. Love. Coming and being with us, among us, in the flesh and breath of the human story.

And this God who incarnated love through flesh of a baby boy two thousand years ago, is the God who pitches Her tent with us. Who walks through each day with us. The God who moves homes with us and promises that there is a world beyond the life we’ve come to know.

On Sunday afternoon we packed a few cars worth of boxes and headed over to the bright little apartment that my Mom will be moving into in a few weeks. We oohed and ahhed at the nice big windows, the cozy kitchen, and the wooded view out the back window. As we unloaded boxes we gave our suggestions as Mom mentally rearranged the furniture that was yet to be moved in.

And as we pictured how it could be, she began to relax and feel the possibilities that this could be home and that her children could gather here, and be family. That life and traditions, love and connection can carry on beyond space and time and be present in this new place.

She got teary as she said, “So you all will come here and visit and we can continue our family traditions here?” We all assured her yes and then one of my sisters in an inspired moment, recognized that the layout of the little apartment mimicked the circular track of our childhood home where we had spent hours running around with various games. She took off with a grin and quickly a stream of grown adults were running in a big circle, squealing and laughing like the toddlers and six and eight and ten year olds we used to be. 

After the crowd had piled down the stairs, my mother grabbed my hand and asked, “Will you pray?”  We prayed and blessed that home as a place where family gathers, where love and connection is felt, where traditions are enacted and new memories made. We named God’s presence, incarnate in that home as we stood at the top of the stairs. I felt the brush of the Spirit. I could almost hear the click of bamboo tent polls being assembled and feel the brush of a silk tarp on my cheek.  God moving in. Dwelling with us. Setting up Her tent.

2013-12-29 09.47.00

Vulnerability

photo“I’m just so grateful, because to feel this vulnerable means I’m alive.” -Brené Brown


The day before Thanksgiving the right side of my body and a sidewalk had an abrupt and violent encounter.
My shoulder burst into searing pain, I tried to stand, felt the world close in, sat down again on the sidewalk, and felt the vulnerability of pain.

A few weeks later I sit on the rug in my bedroom and feel the muscles around my upper arm and back twinge as I use careful motions as my pen moves across the page.

“It feels vulnerable” is how I described my shoulder when the doc and then the acupuncturist moved it around to access the damage. Painful, tender, and vulnerable.

Vulnerability is a word that has been present in my life of late. It’s vulnerable to move yet again to a new place, with new people, start from scratch building relationships and community. Vulnerable to be staring the end of graduate school in the face and knowing that student loans end in May, and salary, health insurance, housing, and all those other necessary things are not yet a known quantity on the other side. Vulnerability of yet again taking large life steps as a single person, with the freedom, and the deep loneliness of moving through these decisions on my own. Vulnerability around my family of origin as final steps of my parents recent divorce are approaching. And vulnerability that over the last few months I have said out loud in a variety of settings, “I am going to plant a church.” Without knowing exactly where, when, or how, I keep saying out loud this call and vision that God is growing within me and around me. Speaking something into being that I have yet to know is possible. It’s audacious. It’s vulnerable.

Mary, Mary the mother of Jesus comes into my meditation as I walk up the hill. Great with Child, traveling away from home, prepared to birth the Son of God, carrying the one who she knew was destined to turn the world upside down. And yet, here she was, in Bethlehem, far from her family and community, and without even a room at the in. I wonder if she wished that she were back home in her own bed, with her mother and sisters nearby. I wonder if she would have said she felt vulnerable.

I go home and pull up the Ted Talk on Vulnerability. Damn your deep, wise, hits-too-close-to-home, wisdom Brene Brown. She winds up her talk with with these words:

“Let ourselves be seen…deeply seen, vulnerability seen. To love with our whole hearts, knowing that there is no guarantee. Practicing gratitude and joy in the moments of terror… I’m so grateful—to feel this vulnerable means I am alive.”

To feel this vulnerable means I am alive. The crisp air at the top of the mountain had a similar effect.

As does Advent. Divinity incarnated through deep vulnerability. God didn’t show up fully-grown, clothed in armor, or sleek and strong with black-belt karate moves. God came to this earth and slipped into the skin of baby Jesus. Carried by a mother who as young and vulnerable herself. Traveling far from home, no place to lay her head, let alone give birth to the Son of God. And it is this tale of vulnerability that ushers in the Divine presence in human form. It is this Christ, this anointed one, who says “come and follow me.” The One who embodied vulnerability as the gateway to life.

It’s scary writing this blog post. I don’t like being vulnerable. Especially in public. And yet this is part of being alive. Being human. Being created by the Divine.

And so I write. And share. And remember. And pray. And I keep rubbing Arnica in my shoulder, honoring this world of flesh and divinity, strength in vulnerability.

A gift of physical pain can be the reminder of vulnerability. And a gift of vulnerability is being open to others and alive to life. May it be.

Prayer for the Church and the Compost Heap

2013-08-24 23.07.00
O Holy One,
Who stirs over the face of the waters,
Who created at the beginning, the garden,
Who gives us this vision of a heavenly city,
With a garden in the middle of it. 

May we, each individually and collectively,
be present,
with the journey of compost. 

May we be present with the decomposition,
to grieve,
to celebrate,
to let go. 

May we be courageous and active to being fertilizer for the next generations.
May we be purposeful and bold,
making choices not out of survival or comfort,
but from our love for all that is good and true.

And may we be curious, engaged, and on the lookout for new growth.
May we be delightfully surprised, and touched to the core of our heart,
When we see how you, O Holy One, are birthing Your New Church. 

We see a garden ahead of us,
The garden of the New Jerusalem,
with the river that flows through the city,
giving truth and quenching thirst,
to all who seek it.

The trees with leaves that heal the nations.
We see twelve gates,
welcoming all to enter and
come and take the water of life freely.

This garden,
where there is no temple,
where God is the center of the city.
And in this garden,
I do believe,
there probably is a
Compost Heap.
2013-06-09 14.18.18
Read The Compost Heap and the Church

The Compost Heap and the Church: New Life (Part Five)

Presented at Gathering Leaves 
September 14th 2013, Fryeburg Maine

2013-08-24 22.34.13New Life
Decomposition and fertilization lead us to the third message of the compost heap: new life. If we learn anything from what the Lord shows us in nature, in the Word, in our own lives, it’s that things work in cycles, and there is new life. We see God is a God of resurrection, cycles, rebirth, and new life.

Friends and sisters, something is trying to be born. The Divine Parent, the Divine Womb, is rich. Use whatever words resonate with you—a new era, a new consciousness, the New Jerusalem descending to earth—something is active and present and urging to be born. The signs of the giant rummage sale are the contractions. Something is pressing to be born, and we don’t know what it is or how it will come. But we can be called to be midwives to it. New shoots and plants are pressing their way through the dirt and make their way into the light. We can notice and we can be present to the hope and the pain, the mess and the beauty, and then we can celebrate the new life.

2013-08-24 21.27.53Look for the Pumpkins
I believe by staying present to the contractions and expansions, being a non-anxious presence in times of change, and keeping our eyes out and celebrating the new birth when we see is a call for all of us. We can actively be on the look out for where the church is being reimagined and born in the world?

We might be tempted to say, “That doesn’t look like church to me. I don’t even recognize that as church. That’s not what I’m used to church looking like.” It’s easy to miss or dismiss these new expressions of life. Maybe because we’re so focused on a nice neat row of lettuce, because that is what we’ve always done—plant lettuce. But, look up and there’s a pumpkin growing out of the compost heap!

Where are these new expressions of church happening in our churches, our congregations, our world? How can recognize and re-imagine what it means to be church?

Because here’s the thing to remember about the compost heap—what comes out of the compost heap is rarely the plant we expect. You can take the fertilizer and spread it around your nice rows of lettuce, and it can help. We continue to maintain the things that are working in our churches and that serve the world.  But when we open our eyes for the new signs of life that are being born as church is re-imagined we see new life. These are the gifts of the compost heap. Not the things that we planted in straight rows, but it’s that pumpkin! And it’s the biggest pumpkin in your entire garden, because it emerged from the fertilizer that came before, and grew in its freedom, and creative new life on the back corner by the shed.

2013-09-01 13.37.26

Re-imagining Church
Last Friday I was at my internship, at Saint Gregory of Nyssa Episcopal Church in San Francisco. I go on Sundays for worship and it’s beautiful and creative, then on Friday’s I go to be part of the worship that is the Food Pantry, because on Fridays there’s a different congregation there. There’s a different way that church is done.

By noon a long line of people are standing outside the doors of a steep San Francisco street. They walk in the front doors of the sanctuary, and around the communion table, where they find piles of rice, fresh celery, bread, watermelons, and strawberries. Four hundred families, who are hungry, come in and they take communion. And people are worshiping. And passing around piles of carrots. And loaves of bread. And looking each other in the eyes and seeing the face of God.

This is church. To be able to love each person who walks in the door. Many of them I can barely communicate with, because I have yet to learn Mandarin, Chinese, Russian, and only know a little Spanish. But I can greet everyone with a smile and say, “Welcome, I’m glad you’re here” and when they walk out the door, “Have a good day, see you next week.” The Food Pantry one of those pumpkins from the compost heap, it is church.

photo
God is on the Move
I don’t know what the church looks like in this next season.  My suspicion is that it is going to look many, many different ways. It is going to be creative and the variety is going to be wide. I don’t know what the models are going to be, but what I do know is that it’s not going to look how it looked for my great-grandparents or my grandparents, or even my parents, or even how I thought it would look. Something is moving and shifting in the world. The church is changing.

I believe God is on the move. God is hovering over the face of the waters, continuing to create and move and breathe into all that is. And this is not our creation. This is God’s creation that we are privileged to participate in.

2013-08-24 21.27.39I don’t believe this new life is born of strategic plans, or any one of our specific ideas of what our denomination’s next steps are, though these can be helpful at times in our processes of preparation. I believe this new life is of, from, and will be birthed by the Holy One. We are called to be midwives and hospice chaplains and gardeners.

We are called to be that non-anxious presence in the midst of decomposition to celebrate lives well lived and grieve change and loss.

We are called to honor our ancestors, to notice and name the way their lives and work fertilized all we are today. We are called to be fertilizer, to consciously make choices and changes based on what is pressing to be born.

And we are called to witness new life. Not new life that we quickly fabricate within our desire to survive. But new life that comes from God—and grows out of what has been. New life that arises after we’ve been broken down, our dreams have died, we’ve let go, we’ve released our holds, we’ve sat—quiet and still—through the cold of winter awaiting the new life of spring.

2013-08-24 21.37.34

 

You can find this entire article published in the recent edition of The Messenger.