Once There Was A Girl….

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So, the rumors are true – this girl is getting ordained!  It seems like a pretty simple sentence but behind it is a lifetime or two of wading through what it means to be a woman of faith, intellect, spirit and questioning.  And it’s at once a hard and good story.   But for now I think its just good to acknowledge that I have found myself amongst some of the clearest, most loving, down-to-earth-real-people Christians and have found my home.   I have found myself amongst women and men who see no issue with being thoughtful, considered, reasoned, informed, passionate about the state of our theology and our world.   These are people who at the same time are deeply prayerful, trusting, seeking, receptive, responsive and open to the Everywhere Presence of God and the proclamation of a good news Kingdom.   I am in a place where being a woman is in no way a liability or an indulgence.   I am in a place where Jesus is pointed to with wonder.   I am home.   This is a home that has good bones and I have been wandering slowly into it, spreading out my stuff, wondering how to best let this little corner of it reflect the reconciling spirit of Christ that dwells within me and within all of us in this community.    Again, that’s a sentence that doesn’t quite portray the depth and challenge those words hold.  But I am here.

 

ANYHOO,  This is a good news story and an unexpected one. A year ago I did not have a CLUE that this was on the horizon.   My mom had just passed away and I was deeply hurting, although there was also present a sense of “enough of this” and I was starting to pray about how I might start teaching and leading more intentionally.  And then the way the opportunity opened up had some pain , some conflict, present in it’s circumstances.   That’s not lost on me – this enterprise of “church” is deeply grooved with our brokenness as much as it is deeply held by God’s faithfulness.

 

So, for those who aren’t familiar,  the CRC takes its theology very seriously (a good thing, really, believe me).  And so they take the examinations of their pastors very seriously.   I was examined on a stage by dozens of men and a few women, and asked questions that I sometimes had the answers to but also sometimes I couldn’t get my own self across to my knowledge and wisdom in that excruciating  moment.  It was hard, humiliating and had all the potential in the world to sow a deep rift of distrust of myself and of others.  But in that, and through the affirmation of a whole slew of mentors in this church,  I realized that even there, even in an examination to determine if I was truly called to this life, church and calling, it wasn’t about me and my abilities to wow anyone, or to prove myself.  It was about He who calls us, me,  into being.     And so even there, God made his “letting go” path, the actual calling we are all called to, known in a deeply visceral and ultimately redemptive way.    Again, it’s a long story….a good one I think though.  And again, this is not lost on me.

 

So this Sunday, November 26 I will officially be ordained in my church, The Road Church.  We will meet in our little chapel, bringing our bagels with us.  People I know well and some I hardly know will be there.  We will sing some songs and someone will talk for a bit about this way of Jesus.  There will be words and prayers.   There will be coffee and I will go home and celebrate with wine.    And it will be a good, normal day.

I have no idea what this means in some ways.  I still am a bit in the “well, huh!” phase of this.  But I do know this–that it is God who works within us to will and to do according to his good purpose – not to create a world of people afraid of other people, not to create a world of us and them, not to create a world where we are afraid of beauty, fun, needs, difference, or people who challenge our understandings of the way we think things are but to create a world in which HIS WAY of life, that which was intended from the beginning and carried out into completion is OUR WAY.  The way of love, mercy, justice, humility,  reconciliation, redemption.  It is the way of being seen and being known.  It is the way of sacrifice and covenant and is a whole earth life long.  It is the way of wholeness and shalom – of the flourishing of all of creation, not just some of us.   It is the way of INCARNATION—the way of Him who let go of all power to enter into real life with real love.  Not one inch of this creation is not loved, known, brought in close.

 

More than a couple people have mentioned to me “You seem happier this year.”  And I think that’s because I get to talk about and even practice these things that have been building in me for years –  And when I talk I get to point to Jesus who is “bringing unity to all things in heaven and earth.”  (Ephesians 1:10) and hopefully draw people up to the table with love and care and mercy and good laughter–and it will be my kids causing the ruckus in the corner.   I am full and I am happy and I am busy and scattered and unsure too.  I am, as they say, #allthefeels

But… to Him who is able to do immeasurably more than anything I could ever ask for or imagine, I am looking.  And so here I am getting ordained to minister and pastor and teach and lead and mostly follow, follow, follow – God help me.

And now that they have me, they won’t get rid of me.

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Conflict

Another excerpt from Jean Vanier

 

“Communities need tensions if they are to grow and deepen.  Tensions come from conflicts within each person–conflicts born out of a refusal of personal and community growth, conflicts between individual egoisms, conflicts arising from a diminishing gratuite (giving freely generously of oneself), from a clash of temperaments, and from individual psychological difficulties.  These are natural tensions.  Anguish is the normal reaction to being brought up against our own limitations and darkness, to the discovery of our own deep wound.  Tension is the normal reaction to responsibilities we find hard because they make us feel insecure. We all weep and grieve inwardly at the successive deaths of our own interests.  It is normal for us to rebel, to be frightened and feel tense when we are faced with difficult people who are not yet free from their own fears and aggression.  It is normal that our own reserves of gratuite run low from time to time, because we are tired or are going through personal tensions or sufferings.  There are a thousand reasons for tension.

And each of them brings the whole community, as well as each individual member of it, face to face with its own poverty, inability to cope, weariness, aggression, and depression.  These can be important times if we realize that the treasure of the community is in danger. When everything is going well, when the community feels it is living successfully, its members tend to let their energies dissipate, and to listen less carefully to each other.

Tensions bring people back to the reality of their helplessness, obliging them to spend more time in prayer an dialogue, working patiently to overcome the crisis and refind lost unity, and making them understand that the community is more than just a human reality, that it also needs the spirit of God if it is to live and deepen.  Tensions often mark the necessary step toward a greater unity as well, by revealing flaws which demand re-evaluation, reorganization, and a greater humility.  Sometimes the brutal explosion of one tension simply reveals another which is latent.  It is only when tensions come to a head like a boil that we can try to treat the infection at its roots. I am told there is a Chinese word for “crisis” which means “opportunity and danger.”  Every tension, every crisis can become a source of new life if we approach it wisely, or it can bring death and division.”

 

 

Idealism

Here is another of our community readings, this one from Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Life Together.  It was originally published in 1939, in Germany, in the midst of the fever rise of Nazism and the Christian Community’s deep lack of response to the manufactured divide of human against human running through their nation.  He’s got a few things to say to a group of people called by love to embody love….

“Innumerable times a whole Christian community has broken down because it had spring from a wish dream. The serious Christian, set down for the first time in a Christian community, is likely to bring with him a very definite idea of what Christian life together should be and to try to realize it.  But God’s grace speedily shatters such dreams. Just as surely as God desires to lead us to a knowledge of genuine Christian fellowship, so surely must we be overwhelmed by a great disillusionment with others, with Christians in general, and, if we are fortunate, with ourselves.”

“By sheer grace, God will not permit us to live even for a brief period in a dream world.  He does not abandon us to those rapturous experiences and lofty moods that come over us like a dream…Only that fellowship which faces such disillusionment, with all its unhappy and ugly aspects, begins to be what it should be in God’s sight, begins to grasp in faith the promise that is given to it.  The sooner this shock of disillusionment comes to an individual and to a community the better for both.  A community which cannot bear and cannot survive such a crisis, which insists on keeping its illusion when it should be shattered, permanently loses in that moment the promise of Christian community.  Sooner or later it will collapse. Every human wish dream that is injected into the Christian community is a hindrance to genuine community and must be banished if genuine community is to survive.  He who loves his dream of community more than the Christian community itself becomes a destroyer of the latter, even though his personal intentions may be ever so honest and earnest and sacrificial.”

“God hates visionary dreaming: it makes the dreamer proud and pretentious.  The man who fashions a visionary ideal of community demands that it be realized by God, by others, and by himself.  He enters the community of Christians with demands, sets up his own law, and judges the brethren and God himself accordingly.  He stands adamant, a living reproach to all others in the circle of brethren.  He acts as if he is the creator of the Christian community, as if his dream binds people together.  When things do not go his way, he calls the effort a failure.  When his ideal picture is destroyed, he sees the community going to pot.  So he becomes, first an accuser of his brethren, than an accuser of God, and finally the despairing accuser of himself.”

“Because God has already laid the only foundation of our fellowship, because God has bound us together in one body with other Christians in Jesus Christ, long before we entered into common life with them, we entered into common life not as demanders but as thankful recipients.  We thank God for what he has done for us.  We thank God for giving us brethren who live by his call, by his forgiveness and his promise.  We do not complain of what God does not give us; we rather thank God for what he does give us daily.  And is not what has been given us enough: brothers (and sisters) who will go on living with us through brokenness and need under the blessing of his grace?  Is  the divine gift of Christian fellowship anything less than this, any day, even the most difficult and distressing day?  Even when sin and misunderstanding burden the communal life, is not the hurtful brother still a brother, with whom I, too, stand under the Word of Christ? Will not his sin be a constant occasion for me to give thanks that both of us may live in the forgiving love of God in Jesus Christ?  Thus the very hour of disillusionment with my brother becomes incomparably salutary, because it so thoroughly teaches me that neither of us can ever live by our own words and deeds, but only by the one Word and Deed which really binds us together–the forgiveness in Jesus.  When the morning mists of dreams vanish, then dawns the bright day of *actual* Christian fellowship.”

“Christian brotherhood is not an ideal which we must realize; it is rather a reality created by God in Christ in which we may participate.  The more clearly we learn to recognize that the ground and strength and promise of all our fellowship is in Jesus Christ alone, the more serenely shall we think of our fellowship and pray and hope for it.”

(This excerpt, like a lot of these community readings, was taken from a compilation of writings on community Called to Community: The Life Jesus Wants for His People, edited by Charles E. Moore.  You can find it at www.plough.com )

A Visible Reality

 

“A truth, a doctrine, or a religion needs no space for itself.  They are disembodied entities. They are heard, learned, and apprehended, and that is all.  But, the incarnate Son of God needs not only ears or hearts, but living people who will follow him.  That is why he called his disciples into a literal, bodily following, and thus made his fellowship with them a visible reality.”                                                      Dietrich Bonhoeffer

“The daily practice of incarnation–of being in the body with full confidence that God speaks the language of the flesh–is to discover a pedagogy that is as old as the gospels.  Why else did Jesus spend his last night on earth teaching his disciples to wash feet and share supper?  With all the conceptual truths in the universe at his disposal, he did not give them something to think about together when he was gone.  Instead, he gave them concrete things to do–specific ways of being together in their bodies–that would go on teaching them what they needed to know when he was no longer around to teach them himself.

After he was gone, they would still have God’s Word, but that Word had some new flesh. The disciples were going to need something warm and near that they could bump into on  a regular basis, something so real that they would not be able to intellectualize it and so essentially untidy that there was no way they could ever gain control over it.  So Jesus gave them things they could get their hands on, things that would require them to get close enough to touch one another. In the case of the meal, he gave them things they could smell and taste and swallow and share. In the case of the feet, he gave them things to wash that were attached to real human beings, so that they could not bend over them without being drawn into one another’s lives.”                          Barbara Brown Taylor

“Now you are the body of Christ and each one of you is a part of it.”  Romans 12:27

“Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love.  Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.  There is one body.” Ephesians 4:2-4

Community – The Vision and the Call

Its been a fair while since I’ve posted on the blog.  Things have come up!  Unexpectedly, I’ve been preaching more.  So much has come up inside of me because of this process but mostly its been an eye-opening to see the astonishing amount of energy and focus that such a thing requires.  And I’ve loved it.

Here are links to two sermons on Ephesians if anyone is interested.

Ephesians: The Vision Imagined

Ephesians: Living a Life Worthy of the Call

 

Dwelling within these Ephesians words, for me, has everything to do with what we do at church.   As we’ve asked questions on the nature of church within my own community, these words held open a door into a transforming way to enter community for me.  If they hold a door open for you as well, bonus!

This little church I’ve found a home in is changing.  As things tend to do.  Leadership changes, name changes, identity changes rock communities and it takes a lot of maturity and letting go and listening to others to weather them.  And it takes a choice to start to see community for what it is and what it is not.  It is a group of humans, trying to live together.  It is not a product for consumers to pay for.  It is imperfect, because humans are imperfect.  It is a visible expression of the presence of Jesus. It is diverse because the WHOLE of  WHO God is is diverse.  It is not a group of friends and people who all think the same (although it can have elements of that within it, of course) but if that is what you are aiming for, you will never grow into something whole.  Something nice maybe–for the people who fit–but not whole.  It is hard work to build cohesion through difference.  Especially in a culture that idolizes ideology and “the latest, best idea!!!” over a recognition of each other’s messy, changing humanity.   It will require a whole lot of listening and a whole lot of putting your own voice aside for awhile to let another’s come through.   That’s painful sometimes.  It takes a lot of time.

Church is an ongoing discovery, ongoing treasure. Growth is not measurable by numbers in church but in the movement towards health and wholeness of its parts.  Health and wholeness of individuals, of relationships, of persons and a mysteriously present God.  And it requires each person to contribute.  When we strip away the bells and whistles, church community, for it to represent the Person of Christ and for it to feed its own sheep, must require each of us contribute.  Leadership does not sustain community – it stewards it, but if there is someone waiting for community to be given to them, they will not experience it.  Community always is sustained from an inner movement from in to out, not something from outside shaping in.  We have bought a lie that we go to church to be given to.  We go to church because we ARE.  We ARE, by God capturing our hearts, a person who lives out a piece of God’s body in this world.  We go to church to bring who we are.  BEING is the essential truth of church as BEING is the essential truth about a God who says things like “I AM.”

And there will be times for rest, receiving and times for action and contributing.  Like in a family there are times when members of that family are to be cared for, provided for, fed – but they do not exist to be fed by others and others don’t exist to feed them.  They all exist to BE and to contribute their BEING.   There are times for self care, and boundaries are necessary to any body.  But the goal is always the WHOLE BEING, not the triumph of one part at the expense of the others.

There will not be church where there are programs for consuming and customers for appeasing.  It might bring numbers, and I’d even say that it WILL bring numbers, but it will not bring church.  It will not bloom into the living presence of the living Christ.

Community has way more to do with HOW than with WHAT.  HOW do we do life together as opposed to WHAT we stand for as a group is what will bring transformation to groups, transformation that might actually stand up for something in the end, something like a whole humanity.

And not every community is the end for every person.  There are times to move on, times to stay.  Usually depending on where one is in their own cycle of healing and maturing, which is good and necessary and unavoidable.

Community is at once way smaller than we thought, way more ordinary than we thought and also way huger than we can imagine with a truth to it that will blow our minds with its pervasiveness, its comprehensiveness, its wholeness and witness to the work of God in the reconciling of this earth.    It is at once all that even while it is simply eating together and constantly adding more chairs to the table.

 

This little church.  A gift in the laundry pile of real life.  A bunch of normal people with normal issues that are at once life-altering and tedious.  There is nothing magical about a church community.  But in so much as there is an intersection of our deepest, transcendent, best hopes with real, dirty, actual life, there is a power.  A power that comes as a gift into that intentional space.  A power given to us to know love and keep after it even when it defies measuring.   A treasure in jars of clay indeed.  We’ve been sitting with words around community in this summer season and will continue to do so.

If you want to join in examining, contemplating, sitting with community, you are so welcome.  I will post quotes on community for reflection over the summer, ideas and experiences that challenge me and make me move.  And hopefully you have a real live place and real live people that you can put these words into action within.    And if you are looking, you are always, ALWAYS welcome on The Road.

 

 

The Table

 – – I have been obsessively thinking about hospitality lately, which is part of the reason why I chose to focus on it for our women’s retreat.  It started when a whole bunch of families started to bring me food to help with the crazy hardness of mom’s illness — my good friends but also almost complete strangers.  It completely blew me away at how these people made room for us, using their family’s time and their family’s money to help steady us in this slippery time.  It got me thinking and praying about how deep hospitality actually goes.  And I’ve been challenged by it.  So challenged by what it means to actually make room for others, especially other’s not at all like me, in my own heart.   So here are some thoughts on that.  I might be posting a few random things about hospitality as well.  The essay starts with a long scripture passage, I know its not chippy enough to be a quick read.  But its important to why this has grabbed my own heart so much.–

 

“In the following directives I have no praise for you, for your meetings do more harm than good.  In the first place, I hear that when you come together as a church, there are divisions among you, and to some extent I believe it.  No doubt there have to be differences among you to show which of you have God’s approval.  So then, when you come together, it is not the Lord’s Supper you eat,  for when you are eating, some of you go ahead with your own private suppers. As a result, one person remains hungry and another gets drunk.  Don’t you have homes to eat and drink in? Or do you despise the church of God by humiliating those who have nothing? What shall I say to you? Shall I praise you? Certainly not in this matter!

 For I received from the Lord what I also passed on to you: The Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, took bread,  and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, “This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me.”  In the same way, after supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me.”  For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.

 So then, whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the Lord.  Everyone ought to examine themselves before they eat of the bread and drink from the cup.  For those who eat and drink without discerning the body of Christ eat and drink judgment on themselves.  That is why many among you are weak and sick, and a number of you have fallen asleep.  But if we were more discerning with regard to ourselves, we would not come under such judgment.  Nevertheless, when we are judged in this way by the Lord, we are being disciplined so that we will not be finally condemned with the world.

So then, my brothers and sisters, when you gather to eat, you should all eat together. Anyone who is hungry should eat something at home, so that when you meet together it may not result in judgment.

And when I come I will give further directions.”

 

 

This is the passage of 1 Corinthians that we often read at communion in our church. Starting at “For I received from the Lord….”   But when you put those few verses in front of it, the whole tone changes. This section on the Lord’s Supper becomes more urgent, more insistent. Paul is angry. He is sarcastic in this passage. He is frustrated.

In those first few decades after Jesus of Nazareth was crucified and then rose from the dead, the people who knew him were completely blown apart – and they told everyone about it. They started meeting together, followers of The Way. And they would meet in someone’s house, they would eat, maybe sing, maybe someone would talk or they would read a letter from an apostle that had come through town awhile back. They would pray. And they would eat together. This was church.  This happened usually in a wealthy person’s home, for they would have had the room, the space in the courtyard to fit people in.

Paul is writing because he has heard that when this church in Corinth meets at this one wealthy person’s home, the wealthy person and his friends eat first. They eat separately and then they open it up afterwards for the rest of the faithful, without providing food for them, and without welcoming those others to eat with them. And THIS IS EXACTLY THE OPPOSITE of what coming together as the church was to be about. And it made Paul furious. Because it flew directly in the face of everything he was teaching about Jesus the Christ, it flew in the face of everything Paul knew about Jesus the Christ.

At the root of this anger is a betrayal of the core of our faith.

 

What I’m talking about is Hospitality. Yes, hospitality. Its funny what images pop into my head when I say hospitality. I think of “The Ladies,” I think of committees, I think of orange tupperware being set out on the potluck table. I think of friends who love to give dinner parties. I think of baby showers and tea at grandma’s house. I don’t think of strong and subversive and revolutionary Christianity. Honestly, I don’t even think of hospitality as being the core of what we do in churches. Its acknowledged as being important for building community at best but if we are honest, is thought about as women’s stuff and mostly peripheral to preaching and worship, to ideas and feel good experiences.

 

What the early church experienced and what was so profoundly attractive to people back then was this deep hospitality. In book after book about the early church, it is acknowledged that it was the quality of the hospitality of the believers that was responsible for the movement growing-not just preaching, not just getting people to mentally assent to something new.   How people were welcomed to this table enabled a transformation that went so deep, they would die for it.  How people were welcomed to this table was a physical correlation to what God did for them – a deep, honest, unafraid, free welcome.  

 

Wealthy merchants, their wives, and their friends would be at the table – hosting, maybe providing for the meal. Maybe some craftsmen, maybe a now-out-of-work religious leader or two. There were more than likely fishermen, farmers, shepherds who wanted to meet. There were elderly people – there were young people. There were men and there were women. There were widows. There were Jews, circumcised and ritually clean their whole lives – and then there were Gentiles – eating, drinking, not washing hands all willy-nilly. There were free people, rich people and then there were lowly people, abused people, even slaves at this table. Just think of how completely astounding this would have been for them. Just think of all the boundaries that were completely crossed as this small group of people started to meet because they had been caught by Jesus.   Each one of them somehow knew that welcome of Jesus to their tired hearts and were so taken by it, they were willing to cross every cultural boundary that had brought them safety and meaning to be with these others who also had been so transformed.

 

Anyone was welcome at this table, to eat with all the others. And the reason this was the new, very counter-cultural, revolutionary norm, was because of how Jesus was when he lived. They did this because of how Jesus welcomed others during his life. His life and ministry incarnated something of God. It incarnated something that God so desperately wanted them to know – His love for each individual, each lovely heart and mind. Jesus welcomed – sinner, Samaritan, woman, slave, teacher, wealthy, diseased. He welcomed in a completely subversive and shocking and free way. He was gentle and he was challenging but he always saw them for who they were. And he provided bread for them. And wine. And he told them that the bread and wine were for them. The broken bread, the poured out wine were for their bodies but also for their hearts. And he told them to eat and drink together so that they remembered this. And he said that whenever they ate and drank and remembered his welcome, they were proclaiming a bit of the reign of God. They were enacting something of the reality of what its like when God is in charge of his people, when God is at the table. And in that reality, we are all brought back to God, and we are all brought back to each other.

 

THIS is why Paul was so adamant. “You have not understood the body of Christ! You have not understood what we are doing here! You are eating and drinking judgement on yourselves when you do not open yourselves up to all of God’s people – all of God’s body.”

It is no coincidence that these words of Paul in Corinthians are nestled before a long discussion of the body of Christ – about giftings and the importance of every person to the whole (chapter 12).; and from there He talks about love. (chapter 13). You find something similar in Romans 12. Paul is thinking deeply about how each person is vital and valid and needed in the whole body, about how the diversity of this world is the unity of Christ’s very body. We have exhortations to know each person’s worth and exhortations to share and welcome each other BECAUSE of how Christ loved and welcomed us.

 

It is not too much to say that this, hospitality, is key.

 

What happens to you when you are welcomed, YOU, actually you are welcomed. Not a version of yourself you have to cultivate to fit in, or a version you have to edit to not be ostracized. But YOU.

 

Welcoming an Other, any other–a colleague, a stranger, a child, a parent, a refugee, an orphan, a widow, anyone in need, a boss, that person next to you at church – welcoming The Other can transform. Transform them, and transform us.

Jean Vanier, who built communities of unlike people, abled and disabled who lived life together, has thought a lot about what happens when we truly practice deep hospitality.

“My experience has shown that when we welcome people from this world of anguish, brokenness and depression, and when they gradually discover that they are wanted and loved as they are and that they have a place, then we witness a real transformation – I would even say a “resurrection.” Their tense, angry, fearful, depressed body gradually becomes relaxed, peaceful and trusting. This shows through the expression on the face and through all their flesh. As they discover a sense of belonging, that they are a part of a family, then the will to live begins to emerge.….

…To be in communion with someone means to be with someone and to discover that we actually belong together. Communion means accepting people just as they are, with all their limits and inner pain, but also with their gifts and their beauty and they capacity to grow: to see the beauty inside of all the pain. ”  from From Brokenness to Community

 

Hospitality is not only about feeding people. Or caring for physical needs. Those things are a part of how hospitality is expressed but hospitality is, at its core, a heart attitude – towards others, but also towards ourselves and also towards God. Hospitality is making room in ourselves for others. It is also about making room for our own flawed selves. It is also about making room for the Living, Consuming and Very Good God. Hospitality is the free welcome of others without agenda, without caveats on who they are and how well they are going to take what you are giving them. It is the quality of hospitality that allows the transformation that Vanier is talking about, for giving people dignity and the space to make different choices, for providing people space and dignity to know themselves loved by God. And it is about trusting that God sees and knows that person just as much as he sees and knows you.

HOW we view people and welcome them face to face, even in our deep hearts, is foundational before we figure out what to do for them.

 

Deep Hospitality is for The Others. For those different than us. For those poorer than us, for those sicker than us. For those richer than us, for those smarter than us. It is for those meaner than us and for people a lot nicer than us. For those who would be grateful to us for making room in our lives for them, and for those who might not. Deep Hospitality is not for the deserving only – it is for the stranger, it is for orphan,  it is for the refugee, it is for the widow, it is for the prisoner, it is for the sick. It is for the healthy, it is for the well-adjusted, it is for the person who is always worried, it is for the person who is always complaining, it is for the person who likes to be in charge, it is the person who never says a word, it is for the person who spends too much on clothing, it is for the person who couldn’t if they wanted to. It is bodily provision, bodily care and it is also soul care, soul space for healing, for rest, for encouragement. It is for us all, because we all are each other’s. Hospitality is core to our faith.

 

 

This hits home for me in a very real way. My (and many others’) beloved church merged with another church (also much beloved by their folk). Churches merging is almost unheard of in our culture, where we like to split up and start our own thing obsessively.   (although, please know that there are times to leave a church…woah….whole other topic).

 

Its been such an eye-opening process. Into how and why we do church. Into what is important to church and to our church. And into how deeply we find our identities in our chosen group. And if I’m honest, how deeply we find our identities and importance in how important we are to our chosen group.

 

It’s been up and down for everybody in terms of how we feel about the merger. Sometimes we are excited for the possibilities. And sometimes we are terrified of losing what we love. On both sides, we are starting to trust the new people with ourselves. But there are also hesitations when we come across someone we don’t understand, someone we don’t get. This is present in every church. There are people we don’t understand and don’t get and who don’t get us no matter where we are. I think because it is new people (new to both original communities) that we feel the difference acutely. And there is fear for what we might lose, how things might change and of who we will be if we are not how we have always been.

When fear of The Other is at its height, I am starting to see that what I am actually scared of is that the certainty about who God is to me and who I am in this world, will be taken from me.   I am afraid that my very self will be lost in the shuffle of all the other people, all the other needs. I see this in our small, beautiful church of people and I see it in the world all around us. We are afraid of what will be taken from us, we are afraid of being hurt or cast aside, when we welcome people, when we make room in our hearts for others, especially those different from us, especially when we don’t know how these new people will make things change.

 

And ALL OF THIS takes me back to the beginning of my thoughts today. When I think about what we are doing at church, how we have chosen to come together and to welcome one another, but now are having to actually work this out in real time, I am reminded about those early days of Christianity. Of how they had to work out what happened when people not like them were welcomed in. And they worked it out around the table.   I think about how afraid they must have been. How afraid to welcome someone who could not care less about dietary rules when their own whole identity and meaning and existential reason was based on how well they followed those rules. Can you imagine what it would be like to be eating, really eating, really sharing with (and not just providing for) someone completely not like yourself back then? I’m imagining someone like a Vice-president of a energy company eating beside a 19 year old mom, with her baby in a high chair beside her, both having found meaning and hope in this one man who welcomed them, loved them in their entirety.

 

Maybe this is why Jesus liked to eat so much. He was always eating. And he was always eating with Others, with those not like himself, with those not normally welcome at such a table. It’s telling that it was this habit of His – of welcoming and eating with not-usually-welcome people and telling them things like “God loves you, you are forgiven” that is THE tension in the gospel. It’s telling that it’s this incredible welcome that gets Him hated and then killed. It’s telling that He was recognized after the resurrection, in multiple stories, only when He picked up some food, took a bite and passed it along. I think of those first disciples who must have then realized that the last supper they had with Him before all the trauma and awfulness of his death meant something huge, it meant something essential. And so they started eating together, remembering broken bread and free flowing wine. They remembered broken body and poured out blood. And they remembered how they themselves were welcomed into His heart. And they were compelled to do this together, to do this for everyone. And in the eating, and in the welcome, something new started to take shape. As they remembered Christ, they remembered who they were. They were God’s and they ALL were each other’s. And they now were the church, the very Body of Christ.

 

So for us in our little church, we will keep eating together. We will keep welcoming each other, even when we are afraid. And we will see Christ in those potlucks and salads in orange Tupperware as well as the bits of bread and juice passed around, touching each one of our hands.

 

 

Imagine going to a house, standing at the door, waiting for someone to open it for you. You are waiting, you know your faults. You know your insecurities. You know those areas where you are absolutely unable to get it right.  You know where your crumple zones are. You know your thoughts. You know how tangly your yarn-heart really is. And you are tired. And then the door opens and instead of having to hide those parts, instead of having to play up the parts you can get right, you can just stand there.   Your host opens the door and sees you. Sees what you really truly want. Sees a beautiful and broken thing, existing in its createdness as an altar to the good God. You are welcomed in, without makeup, in ill-fitting clothes. You are seen for everything that you are. And you are welcomed. And then you are given bread. And wine. And your ache starts to go away and your despair starts to dissipate. And you start to look around and see the others at the table, all being welcomed by this host. And you are scared – you don’t know them. You don’t know if they will take away from you, from everything you have carved out in this world. You don’t know if they will hurt you, make you dirty, make you feel afraid. But your host is looking at them too. THIS is the gospel. THIS is the good news. And there is nothing you really can do – other than take that bread, and eat it. Take that wine and drink it. And then pass it around, keeping an ear out for the next knock on the door.

 

 

Do Not Be Afraid, little church.

If you happen to come across this blog at this point, you will find yourselves in the midst of a lot of prayer.  I am writing a prayer for Church, for communities, for families, every day in Lent.  As I’ve been doing this for about a week, I am finding they are much more intense, and are coming from a much more vulnerable space than I anticipated. I am finding that praying for The Church is praying for myself, is praying myself.

I pray out of fear sometimes.  I pray because I am afraid that the home I love will implode, like I’ve seen over and over before.  Implode because we cannot handle holding each other as we reach out from vastly different places of understanding who God is in our own lives.  Implode because the theology that grounds us all is not solidly and firstly rooted in love but in our own glory of being and doing something important.    Implode because of the tyrannical nature of certainty and our desire for it.  Those are fears.  From my own experience and from watching what happens in other places.  They come from remembering that exquisite pain that happens when our hearts and identities are involved in this seemingly messy business of being with God together.

I looked up “Do not be afraid” verses this weekend.  Do not be afraid, I am with you.  Over and over, that was the message.  In all sorts of circumstances–building temples, conquering armies, delivering very, very unpopular messages, taking leadership.  I think of Mary, of course, opening her door, opening her heart to the very God of very Gods, and being given, “Do not be afraid, you have found favour – I think you’re really great.”   I think of another Mary, at the tomb.  Every thing they expected, everything they hoped for, everything they thought God was going to be doing for them, with them, in their community had vanished in a horrible few days of anger, violence, power, control.  And there she was, in the ruins, walking among the dead and what she hears is “Do not be afraid. You don’t have to be afraid, what you are looking for is still here, still among the living.”

So I am praying, along with many others at my church.  For each other, for our pastors and our leaders, for our building, for our landlords, for our finances, for our families, for our city. For all the decisions we face that could be so ideologically charged.  For our differences.  For HOW we do this together, not always just the WHAT we do together.

And we all will pray too, for Your voice, to say to each one of us, like you said to Mary – “Do not be afraid, I am still here.  Do you see me?  Good, go get everyone and lets be together.  I will come to you. I will always come.  Wait for me, Look for me, Look at me.  I am All of yours and you are all mine.”

Today’s scripture reading is from Psalm 27 and it is our prayer today.

We will remain confident of this:  we will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living.    Wait for the Lord, little family.  Be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord.

 

 

Open Eyes 2016

I have had a few conversations about church lately. I actually have many conversations about church often but a few hard ones lately….ones that deal with why we do church and why we get it so weird and wrong sometimes. Conversations about how so much of our church body’s history has been one so marked by fear and power and not love and humility. Conversations that struggle with how to be a body of people together in the hard situations that church, that community, sometimes gives rise to.

 

And now it is Lent. A time for opening our eyes, seeing the dust and distraction and acknowledging our very real inability to get it right. It has traditionally been a time for self-denial and reflection hence the “giving up” that is talked about. But its not deprivation for deprivation’s sake. It is for the purposes of seeing clearly and knowing, as we know how to breathe, that love that shaped the world and our lives. It is a time of humility, of realness.   Not denying our brokenness, not avoiding our fault-lines, not denying the shadow that definitely resides within us, but looking at it and ultimately holding it out before God.   It is turning towards a road of transformation and transformative community. It is creating a space within ourselves for the presence of the self-emptying and infinitely hospitable Christ. This is Lent. Christians traditionally have fasted something.  Maybe to help us remember ? To help us know humility? To let go of our own control before we receive Easter?

For me, this year, I want to fast in such a way that my eyes will be opened. Opened to the place where God is. And this is not because I am a super special and holy person that I ask this. Cause that I am not. It is precisely because I am looking around at so much violence and hurt and despair. And I see it in my own heart. And So I also am driven to look for the good, to look for where love is actually connecting us, to look for where God is alive and growing in our world He loves so much. To know God in here, in my own heart and out there, in the world we all share.  And then to “DO” from that space.

 

For Lent I will give up checking facebook like an addict, furtively looking around to see if my kids are watching. I will give up checking news sites and obsessing over the bad news until I am no longer a functioning adult. These are probably just things I should just generally work into my life……

But mostly, this Lent, I will ask God for eyes to see Him. And I will pray. Specifically, I want to, and am driven to, pray for Church. For my church.  And for THE church; for this community and collection of strange and obnoxious and beautiful and kind humans. I want to pray every day for how we can do this BEING together. And pray for God to be with us. Because I do not know what else to pray. Because I sense that it is in this that I will see where God is. In the very messy interactions is where that redemption is to be. I pray for eyes to see you God. I am going to write a prayer out every day. I might look for prayers, I might write my own. If you are praying for your community too, feel free to share it with me and I’ll include that too. I have my own church community in mind, but also my family community and school community and all the other communities that I, and we, find ourselves within.

 

Pope Francis asked this year for people to not just give up something, like sugar or coffee, that does not actually effect their soul and more importantly, does nothing to help other people. This year he asked for people to give up indifference for Lent. How crazy is that?  A Christian leader calling us to look and see each other in all the beauty that God has made each of us and act accordingly. I pray for my eyes to be opened to my brothers and sisters and to the active work of love and life and God in those eyes. I need hope and I need peace and I feel like that’s where it might be found.

 

And for today, the first day in Lent, Ash Wednesday, where we remember that we are in fact dust, I will pray this:

 

Father, draw us together, to you. Speak to each person in this, my community, in the way that you know exactly how to speak to them, in that deep place of rest and remembrance. With your specific word of love to each of us, draw us towards you, together. Open all of our eyes to see where you are.