Love’s perfection

Love’s perfection
by Terry L. Chapman
A reflection on Matthew 5
“Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”Grace seems too good to be true
In the hearts of those
Whose God is too small
Whose love demands perfection
Whose acceptance has some other
Source than God’s own endless compassion

The one whose experience of life
Tells a different soiled story that
Cannot be reconciled with divine
Demands for perfection wanders
Lonely and confused in unfreedom
Lost on the wide path of autonomy

Sit for a while, you are in good company
Let your anxious grasping to be
Something else, someone else, somewhere else
Be quiet and still- watch as now, just now
The gate that opens to the narrow path in
the center of your being swings as if

Moved by a gentle breeze
Even breath flowing from
The very heart of God
Carrying upon its fragrant currents
A love song that awakens

What had slipped into deep sleep

Thanks to MINemergent for popping this in my inbox this morning.

Messy.

Today I’m working on finishing up my fellowship project and reading through all the material that I’ve been preparing to get uploaded. This quote just about jumped off the page as I read it. This basically summarizes my experience this summer. Couldn’t say it better myself, so I won’t try.

“We realize that no one is going to come along and hand us truth, justice. We get that only in comics and in the movies, not in the real world. The real world is a messy, complicated place, where there are many hard questions, no easy answers, and lots of work to do. But inside of all of us there is the capacity to live up to the potential given to us as human beings created in God’s image. . . . We can make the world a better place. Bring the dream of redemption a little closer.”

-Rabbi Robert Levine, There Is No Messiah and You Are It

Sermon: Breaking Bread (revisited and updated)

This sermon was preached at Arlington Church of the Brethren this morning to a lovely congregation that I’ve had the pleasure to get to know a bit this summer. Thanks to Rev. Nancy Fitzgerald for the invitation.

Audio: Sermon Arlington Church of the Brethren 7_24_11

Note: the sounds system went out right before the service, so projecting to the back of a large sanctuary was needed. I apologize that that means that on the recording it sounds like I’m practically shouting at times. But the people in the back of the church said they could hear… 🙂

God Loves Us and Wants Us to Be Happy

This morning as I lay in bed, still in that deep quiet from a good night’s sleep, I got a message. It’s a message that I’ve certainly heard before, spoken myself many times, and even believed it applies to me on occasion. This morning I felt it. I felt it into the core of my being and for a good few minuets I basked in the reality of it. God loves me and wants me to be happy.

Earlier this week I was on the phone with a friend and colleague and we were talking about this very thing. We were batting around our dreams and struggles, recognizing where we’re getting caught and naming the reality of acting out of a desire for approval and being “good enough” in others eyes. His voice choked up as he spoke, “The Lord loves us. Each one of us. He loves you, just as you are, Anna Woofenden, just because He loves you and He IS LOVE.” My well programmed tapes began to play, “yes, but only if I work enough, am kind enough, do enough spiritual growth, be like…” My friend continued, “The Lord loves you and wants you to be happy.”

Why is it so hard to really believe that? I come from a tradition that has beautiful teaching and theology on God being a loving God. How many times have I examined and looked at how one’s theology of God has profound impact on how we view ourselves and the world around us? Just the other day I posted this quote from my faith tradition to Twitter, “First of all it must be known who the God of heaven is, since upon that all the other things depend” (Emanuel Swedenborg). And I really believe this.

I believe it just as much as I believe that my dear friend that was having a “major failure” evening last week is so very and completely lovable. But as many different ways as I could chat, call, text and email my expressions of love and my absolute surety that the Lord adores her just the way she is, at the end of the day it’s between each of us and our God to work these things out.

This certainly isn’t the first time I’m going through the Divine wrestling match about my self-worth, abilities and worthiness to be loved. And I know it won’t be the last. I’m coming to know this as part of the journey, a journey that is spiraling generally forward (I pray!), sometimes sliding back, and often revisiting areas with extra muck in the corners or places that are stuck. No, I don’t think I’m over questioning whether I’m worthy, good-enough or love-able. But for three minutes this morning I really knew, experienced and basked in the Truth that God loves me and wants me to be happy. Thanks God. You’re a good One.

Rare Day

I was reminded recently of this poem by my late grandfather about my little sister who was around 5 at the time. It’s been reminding me to appreciate the little things the last few days.

Rare Day
By Dave Gladish

What’s easily so rare as a day in June
is a day in May, when
a five-year-old decides to lend
her grandma and her grandpa,
as a forty-fifth-wedding-annive​rsary gift,
a love-worn rag doll for a whole month,
just to enjoy.

What the Dalai Lama Said to Me

Woke up in time to miss my train and arrive on the West Lawn of the Capitol in time to ease into the group of people who just got our piece of lawn before they close the area.  I settle in on my bright batik sarong, Rebecca and Kate next door on a white beach towel. We share snacks and sunscreen and look over the multiple thousands of people who have pushed through the crowded streets to come together to hear from, and be in the presence of, one of the great teachers and humans on earth—His Holiness the Dalai Lama.

 The Dalai Lama is in Washington DC for 10 days, teaching and leading in an event for world peace (http://www.kalachakra2011.com/). This morning is the big public, and free, event and the city has turned out for it.  People who look to be from many walks of life, young and old, multi-cultured and diverse, all gather together in the sweltering sun, sweating with the hope of peace.  The event starts and dancers and musicians begin, an ethereal sound spreads out over the area, reverberating tranquility and invites our focus to the stage.

I’ve had a number of people ask me in the last 24 hours, “So, how was it? What was it like to see the Dalai Lama? Did it change you?”  I’ve searched for words to answer, specific sound bites to share, and keep coming up short. I can’t say “It was the most profound and amazing 2 hours I’ve ever spent!” or “He was so charismatic that I clung onto every word.” And yet, that was what was so profound. His humble, deeply wise presence could be felt, even up on the top corner of the lawn, hiding in the bit of shade under my umbrella. I didn’t hear every word, some lost in the air and accent, some peacefully washing over as I pondered the sentence before. Each word was obviously gently and carefully chosen, but none demanding me to cling to them.  I heard every laugh. That I know. His laugh gurgled out with the innocence of a toddler, in-filled with the depth of the wise elder that he is. He laughed at himself and laughed at human nature, embodying the joy and lightness that he was speaking of.

“But Anna, you must have heard something of his message, his words, that stuck with you that you can share.” I’ll try to capture a few gems into words to share.

The first gem comes from Nelson Mandela, who gave a video address introduction. President Mandela spoke of his respect for the Dalai Lama and for the leader he’s been for a more peaceful world. Then he addressed the crowed, “It’s your turn”. He went on to remind us that something he and the Dalai Lama share in common is that they are “retired men”, they have lived their life of public service, incredibly sacrifice and world-changing leadership. He offered the image of he and the Dalai Lama sitting on his front porch sipping rooibos tea and watching the grandchildren play.  “It’s your turn to work for peace” he challenged us.

This charge caught my attention, and quickly brought a flood of internal dialog. “Yeah, right, us the next Mandela?”  “How could any of us sitting on our beach towels, downing the bottles of water being handed out by orange shirted volunteers, every come close to the work that these two great humans have done?”  That’s when the Dalai Lama entered the stage. We all stood in reverence, he stood in greeting and then told us that his favorite way to speak is not a speaker to a crowed, but person to person, in a conversation, so he would be sitting in a comfy chair. Besides, “It’s hot and the chair is in the shade”. He sat and began to talk.

He talked about how world peace comes through inner peace. He talked about how every human craves for inner peace and seeks it in many ways. And he reminded us of our shared humanity and that every person is part of the global solution to peace. He challenged us to look inside and think about how we are seeking peace in our own heads, in our internal dialog. He asked how we are treating the people who we share a home with, our spouses, children, parents, our co-workers, the people we meet on the street.  It is in these interactions that the ripple will start and move outward, meeting other peaceful currents and sweep the nations with a tsunami of compassion and peaceful living.

No one is exempt from being part of the global solution and no moment is apart from the opportunity of peace.  It’s our turn. Our turn to live in the way of peace and justice, radical compassion and relentless dedication and devotion as our elders have done.

And His Holiness didn’t let any one path off the hook, or offer the “right” way. He spoke eloquently about the variety of religious (and non) paths, the many tools that can lead to a life of compassion. He spoke of the importance of growing an intelligent mind and a warm heart. He spoke of teaching compassion in all contexts, sacred and secular and how embodied compassion is the way of religious life. He reminded me of one of the Swedenborgian teachings I hold dear, “All religion is of life and the life of religion is to do good”. It is the life we live from what we believe that matters. Regardless of our life circumstances, religious holdings, or stages of life, we have a part to play.  He broke down any walls of excuses or “not me” and with his raw humanity and humility called us to a higher place of compassion, justice and peace.

I can’t remember the last words he said. I do remember his smile though, kind and wide on the big monitor and moving with the bright red of his robe that I see getting up from the chair on the stage. Still shining as he walks down through the crowed and the music begins to play.  We begin to pack up our things and roll our blankets. A quiet is over the crowed. If we can all be peaceful together for 2 hours, in 90+ weather in the middle of the charged swirl of the Capitol City of the United States…maybe peace can continue to seep into our world.

The Slippery Slope

The core of this piece was written late Saturday night of the Wild Goose Festival, sitting under the stars at the campsite, reaching to comprehend and process my day by texting a dear friend and colleague. 


The warning has come in many forms over the years: watch out for the slippery slope.  If we dare to question what we’ve been taught, we cannot predict what could follow, what unearthly pit is around the corner. If we dare to question, before we know it we could be…well…something and surely hell and hand-baskets are involved.  Don’t raise those questions, don’t voice any doubts, you don’t know where it may lead.  I had been warned.

I didn’t listen.  I’ve had conversations with people whose views differ from mine.  I’ve gone to worship services that have stretched me beyond my comfort zone.  I’ve traveled to other cultures.  I’ve read those “edgy” theological books. I’ve spoken and ministered and led, even when eye brows were raised.  I’ve entered into conversations where I am challenged and uncomfortable.  And in January I left the church organization I love and had called home for many years, as a “radical”, looking to pursue ordination as a woman.  I’ve dared to open up the Bible without being preemptively sure of what it might have to say to me.  I’ve become friends with fellow seminarians who are seeking to serve God wholeheartedly who also happen to be lesbian, transgendered and gay.  I’ve begun to question the cultural assumptions that had defined my theological reality and am finding the Bible to be alive with humanity and contradiction and the gospels to be downright manifestos of radical living.  I continue to question the theology and church culture, as I understood it, while boldly stumbling along, pursuing God and spiritual community.

You open any of these doors, and before you know it, you’re led down a road where you’re speaking up for the marginalized, selling your possessions to give to the poor, and surrendering your life to something greater than yourself. It’s a slippery slope. If you open yourself up to revelation being alive and moving, letting it be more than a moral code or a patriarchal history lesson, then you slide.  You slide and find that you’re surrounded by revelation.  Poems, stories, myths, the writing and lives of Gandhi and Dr. King, Maya Angelou and Rumi, and the mountains, the people, silence, and yes, even the Scriptures are speaking to you.  All overflowing with the Breath of the Spirit and infused with Divine Voice.  Each offers pathways connecting the human and the Divine, enlivening and disturbing, moving you to action, bathing you in peaceful Love.

It’s a slippery slope, letting go of the lines that divide, seeing people different from yourself as human.  Let the walls that make me an “us” and they a “them” crumble, and there is a world of humanity to love.  No longer can you ignore the vulnerability, the humanity, the absolute sinner and saint in all of us.  No longer can you push others aside or arbitrarily categorize them.   Confronted by the humanity around us, we confront the humanity within us and expose our collective brokenness.  We come face to face with the things we are capable of, for ill or good.  We lose the ability to hide behind our self-righteousness or be cozy in our carefully constructed boxes of absolutism and superiority.

And then we might start caring. We might start exposing ourselves to the people in the world around us.  We might start seeing needs.  We might start owning and feeling the pain of the human family as our own story, a story that we are drawn into, that we now want to participate in.  It’s risky, this slippery slope of seeing humans as human. It’s transformative, God being Divine.

Entertaining the idea that God is untamable, uncontainable and immersed in all we know, might just lead us to respond. To ask what Jesus taught and at least play with the possibility, maybe for the first time, that we’re actually called to follow these teachings, is a daring and radical notion.  Maybe Jesus had something right when he told us to love our enemies and to pray for those who persecute us. Maybe there’s something to this command to take care of the widows and orphans. Maybe Jesus wasn’t being metaphorical when he told us to feed, clothe and heal our human family.

Maybe, just maybe, this whole Jesus on earth thing, this spark of Divinity walking among us, is something to pay attention to.  Maybe model our lives after.  And maybe when we go back to the gospels we might find that most of what Jesus was interested in were the marginalized, the poor, those that need healing, and those broken parts of each of us. We could find that this radical Messiah came to speak and live out an alternative to ruling over others, to consuming, to living only for ourselves. We may begin to entertain the notion that there’s something more to live for. We could start to hear the gentle breeze whispering in our ears that there’s a force of Creative Love calling.  Calling us to act.  Moving us to live in harmony.  Drawing us to follow this Radical Christ. And that, that my friend is damned uncomfortable. Watch out for the slippery slope.

This entry was part of the Synchroblog on the Wild Goose Festival. Check out some of the others.

A Prayer of Paradox

This prayer was offered by Kathy Pomroy at the Bread for the Word Gathering a few weeks ago. It spoke to me of the paradox we find ourselves in as we make our attempts to serve God and other people, live in the world around us, be present in the moment and welcoming a new day of God’s reign on earth.  

You are welcome here.

Whether you have come across oceans, borders, state lines or simply across town, you are welcome here; you are welcome in this house.

We call God by many names, differing by faith and language, but we are joined in a common desire to see a world free of hunger and hurt.
Let us pray together to bless this time and food.

Loving God,
We find ourselves in a strange place –

We are surrounded by beautiful chandeliers, comfortable chairs, a banquet of food before us, but we are here to talk and act on hunger.  God, this is a strange place,

In a rich nation and world, millions and millions and millions of children are hungry and parents struggle to feed their families.  God, this is a strange place.

In a country with wealth beyond reason, many of our nation’s decision-makers are seeking to balance budgets on the backs of the poorest people.  God, this is a strange place

God, our God, where are you?  Where are you, God, in this strange place?

But God, you do not leave us alone in this place, in this world.  You take many forms, but those with eyes to see and ears to hear, we do see you.

We see you as parent – when food is prepared for us and our basic needs are met.
We see you as parent, O God.

We see you as teacher – when you bring all of us together from across the world to learn from experts and one another about hunger and nutrition.
We see you as teacher, O God.

We see you as love – when someone shares a kind word with us or helps us with things big and small.
We see you as love, O God.

We see you as power – when you send us forth to speak truth to power on Capitol Hill or back in our home countries or in our neighborhoods and home towns.
We see you as power, O God.

So God in this strange – yet beautiful – time and place,
Help us to know that this is your time and place.
Help us to know that this is our time and place.
Help each one of us to know and to be love and care, to know and to be teacher and learner.
Help each one of us to be your hands, your feet, your eyes and your mouth

As together we build this world, your world, our world – a world free of hunger.

Amen

 

Definition

I’ve been asked to define myself, a number of times today. Who are you? What’s your story? Where are you from? What is your faith heritage? What will you do with your one wild and precious life? (Thank you Mary Oliver).

I’m sitting in DuPont Circle. Humanity everywhere. (Humidity everywhere). People, literally, circling around me. Each person with a story. How would they define themselves? By profession? Race? Gender? Family Role? Citizenship or hobby? Do we find our definitions by who we are or who we are not? Does it even cross my mind to define myself as a white American when they surround me? I bet it’s different for the woman of Iranian heritage, striving to raise her children as American citizens, still connected to their Iranian roots.

Who am I? I long to distill it simply, to land on something pithy like, “I am a child of God.” As the words mentally leave my lips, I see them colliding into an expanse of landmines. Who’s God? Which God? Is your God better than my God? Does your being a child of your God change how you’re going to relate to be? And so on. And aren’t we all God’s children? But which God?

This afternoon as nine of us, eight Beatitudes Society Fellows and a mentor, sat together for our first session, the following question was posed: What is your response to the term “progressive Christianity”? We wrestled; wanting to connect with some of it, distance ourselves from other parts. What to claim, what to reject? Wanting to be new and innovative and different, and yet, still drawn to the connection to our heritages, our history.

We played with naming progressive Christianity as a term in response to, and in opposition of, extremist, fundamentalist, conservative Christianity. A definition to tell what one isn’t, not necessary what one is.  One spoke a self-definition of being one who works to live the gospel and follow Jesus. Still riddled with baggage and potential assumptions, those words, but the humble, sincere tone in which they were spoken preached to me.

What if “a follower of Jesus Christ” meant being someone who is kind and loving, respectful and selfless? What if being a Christian, (let alone a “progressive” one) brought the assumptions of ultimate respect and honoring of each person on their paths of life and a movement of good and love in the world? What if when I said, “a child of God” I could look into the eyes of the one I’m speaking with and mutually connect knowing that we’re humbly standing in front of another human expression of the Divine love?
Quick! Define yourself.  Me? I say: “Namaste”*.

*In Sikh scripture Namaste, Namastung or Namastvung is referenced as salutation to the Primal being, the One God.The salutation is followed by an attribute respecting a quality of the creator of all religions, Akal. “The spirit in me respects the spirit in you,” “the divinity in me bows to the divinity in you,” and others, are relatively modern interpretations, based on literal translations of the Sanskrit root of namaste.