Wednesday, December 30, 2009

On the Verge of New

God of the dawn, God of the springtime,
today I need the good news that "new" isn't an annual opportunity
but a daily gift
a blessing given even before I threw back the covers this morning.

Save me from the belief (vanity, really) that I am somehow stuck
within myself
within habits
within circumstances
that can only be changed with the annual turning of a calendar page.

Even now I hear you laughing, "My daughter, that's hardly the case!
I am newness.
I am life.
I am resurrection.
No moment, no routine, no relationship is beyond my power."

God of the hibernating seed, God of the growing child,
bless me with the joy and flexibility to live into the gift
of new,
to celebrate
and to have the courage to be on the verge with you.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Light of Lights

Light of lights, shine on us!

neon lights, headlights
streetlights

red lights
, green lights

Light of lights, shine on us!

sun lights, star lights
moonlights

comet lights
, twilights

Light of lights, shine on us!

television lights, computer lights
alarm clock lights

fluorescent lights
, lamp lights

Light of lights, shine on us!

Christmas lights, firework lights
strobe lights

radio tower lights
, search lights

Light of lights, shine on us!

Light of lights, hallelujah!

Sunday, December 20, 2009

LOVE

I love you, O LORD my God,
God of my mother and father,
hope of my ancestors,
promise of my children;
for you have not let me go---
you watered the most unlikely flower
in the midst of a vast desert;
you created a path through the wilderness
after the road reached its end;
and, in your wildly fierce and holy love,
you do not leave me to complacency but
you call me through the refiner's fire
toward growth & wholeness
in compassion
in faith
in fellowship.
Stay with me, O Love Incarnate,
drawing me ever closer to sister & brother,
ever closer to you,
for these days are not my own
and this heart was not formed from dust
to love itself.
All the days of my life,
you will be my only praise
and I will sing of your steadfast love
in loud chorus with all creation!

Sunday, December 13, 2009

JOY

Advent: the season of preparation
(and anxious detail and obligation),
which leads me to pray: I need release.
I need freedom and unburdening,
like eagle's wings.
O God,
as you skip across the heavens
on your way toward
birth,
lighten my slow steps
and strip the heavy lead from my heart
so that I can
REJOICE,
oh! just sweetly rejoice.
I know, crucified Emmanuel, that
carefree bliss and fullness of joy
are not the same:
surely there was joy in your Word-Made-Flesh lifetime,
but there was nothing carefree about cramming all that
divinity
into a body.
So when my earth-bound joy cannot dance
(because this ego forgets that carefree is not the point),
may HOLY JOY save me
by grace,
by the God of gods
who is not finished
and is not encumbered;
and my song will be lifted up
even if my feet are not:
"Glory to God in the highest.
Glory and joy!"

Sunday, December 6, 2009

PEACE

"Peace, peace,"
we pray.
"Peace, as best we can."
A wish and a confession,
all in one prayer:
That you will bring about
a wholeness
beyond our imagining;
That you will forgive us
for not believing
that peace is possible.

O Prince of Peace,
O Restless Spirit,
O Holy Silence,
we pray that you will
lead us
in a pursuit of peace
that leaves no stone unturned.
Not in ourselves.
Not in our world.
And definitely not
where justice is concerned.

May peace--
wholeness, serenity,
community, shalom--
keep us grounded
in you
in this moment
even as we wrestle
with our past(s)
in hope of a more peaceful
future.
Amen.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

HOPE

Still Coming God,
we long for a glimmer
a hint
that you are almost here
and our work is
almost done.
We pray
"Make it better"
through the dark nights
and are met
with
silence.
We are troubled to consider
that you are still
teaching us
a lesson:
to believe
what we cannot
see.
Like a woman in labor,
we pray for
easy birthing pains
and
speedy delivery.
But you have already labored
to the point
of death;
we are impatient.
May HOPE be
your Advent gift to us,
not our
indulgent lament
to you,
Still Coming God.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Dog Stories: Sermon Illustrations (sans sermon)

Walking my dog MoMo this morning offered a few moments of quiet before a busy day. The air was chilly and calm. I could hear birds calling and singing from amidst the branches of bare trees. The sky was a clear baby blue, with traces of red & pink lining a few scattered clouds as the sun rose.

I realized as I looked around me that this beautiful autumn morning...could just as easily be a beautiful spring morning. Without leaves on the trees to identify the season, there was almost no way of knowing whether it was a day in the midst of a season of dying...or a day in the midst of a season of rebirth.

Where in your life & in your world do you feel yourself worrying that a season of death may be approaching? Could it be that a season of new life is dawning instead?

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

How's The God Business?

Recently an acquaintance who knows that I'm a minister asked a casual question (or was it?) that caught me entirely off guard: "How's the God business?"

I looked at her for a moment, then chuckled and said, "It's good." At the time I was in the midst of drafting resources for a marriage equality workshop...definitely good work, in my 'umble opinion.

Still, I'm not satisfied with my answer. Is it good, on a big picture level? And is "good" reflective of the work that needs to be done, the work that is getting done, the people (ministers and laity) who are doing God's work, the state of the church, the state of spirituality, the state of world religions...? Or does "good" give witness--more appropriately--to God and God's faithfulness?

All interesting questions, I suppose, but in truth "It's good" was a knee-jerk answer on my part that day. Other responses that I've brainstormed since then: "It's busy." "It's challenging." "It's lively." "It's enlivening." "It sure is somethin'!"

But I think that I would have liked to respond (had I thought of it at the time) by saying: "It's ongoing." A very Kingdom of God answer.

The God business is ongoing. It has started...and it is not yet finished. It's here...but still far off. Full of Kingdom of God glimpses and Spirit-filled moments...equally full of death-dealing divisions and Spirit-less routines. And the God business will be ongoing until the Kingdom of God has fully arrived.

...sounds like an early Advent prayer!

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Death Penalty

A moment of silence
for the killing of a man
who killed a man.
. . .
. . .
. . .
To be clear,
ten deaths was too many.
To be clear,
this one death is also too many.
. . .
. . .
. . .
A moment of silence, please,
to reflect on our collective consent to
execution, and a system of vengeance.
. . .
. . .
. . .
Death multiplied by death
does not equal justice, or civility, or freedom.
Zero times zero just equals zero
at great expense to us all.
. . .
. . .
. . .
A moment of silence, if you please.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Wilderness

Through the wilderness from Egypt to Canaan
we wander in circles.
Every day is something new...
and every day looks exactly the same.

"Haven't we been here before?"
"No, look: we've never seen that flowering bush."
"Perhaps, but the sting of its thorn feels familiar."

Traversing wilderness in community is a blessing;
the laughter of children, the warmth of fires for cooking--
all suggest normalcy,
masking the desolation and loneliness.

"How long, O God, will we be unsettled?
How long until we can plant crops with roots
and dig into the earth for a permanent well?"

Moses admonishes that the wilderness is necessary;
we cannot reach our destination
except by this way.
So we keep on keeping on:

"Come, mother. Come, child. Walk a little further."
"Please just let me rest awhile."
"Hold my hand: look, there is the cloud of God.
We are not alone."

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Praying To What I Don't Understand

O Holiness, O Mystery,
For just a moment, I attempt to wrestle
on the shores of how much I don't know.
For just a moment, I leave on the river banks
my personified god with hands and heart and breath
In order to recognize that You---
You that is It, that is Everything, that is Beyond---
are not the tame-able god that I worship.

O Wild Imagination,
O Divine Contradiction,
You just might be both
Rock and Earthquake,
Calculated Orbit and Chaos Theory,
Devastation and Birth,
Yes and No,
Stunning in power and Helpless in love.

Injure the stable hip of my faith
so that I cannot walk without remembering
how much I don't know.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Not Just The Light

I celebrate God who is the Light
the Dayspring
the Radiance
the Lamp unto my feet

Yet I will not neglect to celebrate God who is also the Darkness
the Midnight
the Shadow
the Hidden woven through all life

God the Darkness is my creed today
the Subversive
the Unexpected
the Unknown to my quest for certainty

God in the shadows
inviting me beyond the false normative
God of the shadows
thriving in the glimpse of untangible reality

Like a climbing moonflower vine
rooted to bloom when all else is asleep
God trumpets with beauty and creativity
in the Darkness

Just to make me really look for the Divine

Thursday, October 22, 2009

"I Will Not Slow Down The Witness"

I hope that you have already seen and read the article that follows, that it is circulating far and wide for Christians--indeed, for all people--to affirm and to uphold in our religious bodies and in the public sphere. Here is Bishop John Shelby Spong's recent essay, linked through another blog that reprinted the essay with permission. Spong begins without apology: "I have made a decison. I will no longer debate the issue of homosexuality in the church with anyone."

A Manifesto! The Time Has Come!

And let all of God's people say "AMEN!"

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Dog Stories: Sermon Illustrations (sans sermon)

Now that the leaves are falling in earnest, MoMo occasionally snarls and jumps and snaps to catch an autumn leaf that crosses in front of him on the breeze. It's quite a sight to watch MoMo snag a leaf between his teeth with instinctive aggression, smack his jaws to test the taste and chew-ability of this mysterious morsel, and then let it drop to the ground quickly when he realizes that the leaf doesn't suit his palate.

When do you find yourself grabbing for something that you want, without really pausing to assess the "nutritional value" (spiritual, emotional, physical) of that item?

Or, to look at the illustration from another direction: how often do you lash out impulsively when something or someone crosses your path, perceiving a threat without (again) pausing to see what or who is really in front of you?

Monday, October 12, 2009

A Morning Prayer

Take care of us today, O God.

Take care of my family, as our paths part and merge.
Take care of friends I miss, though they feel so close.
Take care of children around the earth, who step cautiously into this new day.
We are all growing up in the same world.

Take care of us today, O God.

Take care of the people on that airplane; keep them safe.
Take care of those kids, starting another week of school.
Take care of the rushing stream of commuters, who know the daily grind.
May they each find a moment to breathe in peace.

Take care of us today, O God.

Take care of the homeless, stressed for food and shelter.
Take care of sick babies, surrounded by tubes and machines.
Take care of the aging, separated from loved ones into corporate "homes."
Too often we forget those who need us most.

Take care of us today, O God.

Take care of us like you take care of the bird:
Lifted in instinctive faith by invisible air currents,
Sharply defined against the landscape by the rising sun;
You would know if even this one little bird--out of millions--fell.

Take care of us today, O God.

Take care of us like you take care of the tree:
Peaked with color in autumn after the fullness of summer,
Statuesque and asleep while snow falls around it;
You give the tree rebirth with the dawning of each spring.

Take care of us today, O God.

Take care of us because we are not birds or trees:
We struggle for the confident faith of the bird in flight;
We dread the discomfort of rebirth in our springtimes;
We worry that we are too complex to be cared for simply.

So take care of us today, O God.

Take care of us, in Jesus' name.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

KKK in Eden

An open letter to the resident on Euclid Drive with cone-shaped ghost figurines in the front lawn:

Dear Sir or Madam,

Please reconsider the ghost decorations on your lawn. With their cone frames draped in white cloth, I could've sworn as I drove by your home that the KKK was standing proudly in your yard, and my heart dropped into my stomach. Although I realized within split seconds that these white-hooded cones were figurines, not real humans, nevertheless I had to pull an abrupt U-turn to view the figurines more closely and try to convince myself that they were intended to look like ghosts.

The wrong kind of ghosts, in my opinion.

My seven- and ten-year-old children had a necessary but difficult history lesson because of your Halloween decor. I don't have the grace within me to thank you for prompting that conversation. With racialized slurs, white fear, and overt racism featuring so prominently into our public discourse these days, your lawn ornaments--whether intentionally or not--hint strongly of a gruesome violence that we must always be resisting; a violence that we Whites must never forget and for which we must always be accountable.

Your "ghosts" certainly struck fear into my heart, just in time for Halloween.

Please take them down.

Sincerely,
A concerned passerby

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Dog Stories: Sermon Illustrations (sans sermon)

We have a dog, MoMo, a fully grown (all of 17 pounds) miniature pinscher adopted from the Humane League. MoMo has a pleasant demeanor--except when he's not in the mood--and I like him best at night when he curls up next to me on the couch while I watch tv.

Having a pet (like having kids) lends itself to experiencing an abundance of everyday moments that could be great sermon illustrations: little truths and observations that have great parallels to the life of faith...if only I would bother to develop them in a sermon.

Instead, I'm putting them in blog form. "Dog Stories" are open for your own interpretation and spiritual reflection!

>>>>>

MoMo wears a harness around his chest when we walk, with the leash clipped onto the harness at his shoulder blades. When MoMo lunges forward against the harness--inevitably at the sight of a squirrel--I can feel, amazingly, through the harness and pulsating along the taut leash, his pounding heartbeat in the palm of my hand.

How do you understand and sense the Spirit's presence with you, so close that She can feel your heartbeat?

Are you aware of and careful with your connection to all people, to all sisters and brothers? Aware of their heartbeats? Careful with the ways that you may pull or strain others?

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Breathing Through A Reed

i've been breathing through a reed
underwater
without realizing it
too cautious in my surroundings
to trust breathing deeply
too tired of treading water
to thrust upwards for a view
of the sky
i've been trusting GOD's presence in the water
to keep me afloat
and it is good
but GOD is also beyond the water
i yearn for that glimpse
that new perspective
on life
and the holy
for a vision of air
beyond my submerged reed

Monday, September 28, 2009

P.S. to "Beloved"

A preacher's sermons are inevitably informed by experience---her own experiences, the experiences of congregants or others she knows, as well as communal/global experiences. So it is no surprise that my sermon on 9/27 had "Beloved" as its undertone. The scripture texts are Esther (excerpts of chapters 1 - 5) and Mark 9:38-41.

BEAUTY IN THE EYE OF THE BEHOLDER

Sides are being taken everywhere we turn. Divisions and opposing positions are being constantly outlined over politics, religion, nationality, class, war, global warming, race, taxes, access to health...you name it. Lines of division are played out in almost every environment--work, school, neighborhoods and nations, churches--as they have been for decades and even centuries. Everywhere we turn. Although the lines aren't new, the intensity of anger surrounding these divisions between people seems to have increased in volume recently.

Much of the anger and angst over these lines is due not just to the existence of the lines, but to the value that is assigned to people according to the lines: the assumptions that we make (individually and as a society) about who is good, who is trustworthy, who is beautiful, who is acceptable...and who is not good, who is not to be trusted, who is not beautiful, who is not acceptable.

Worth, or the assessment of beauty, is in the eye of the beholder as we stare at each other across the lines.

Lest we think that these lines are merely theoretical or that we can ignore the lines as we please: think for a minute about someone you know (or maybe yourself) who has been hurt, who has been limited, who has been put down because (s)he is on the side of a line that is less valued. Think about the person you know who is financially strained to the point of breaking by the costs of medical care, and the lines being drawn by politicians over health care are no longer theoretical. Think about the same-gender couples you know who share a strong and supportive relationship, and suddenly the lines being drawn by churches over sexuality are no longer theoretical. Think about the African American child you know who is told by a classmate that her curly hair isn't beautiful, and the lines being drawn between neighbors and nations over race are no longer theoretical. Think about someone you know and love who has been told, in one way or another, "You are different, so you are not as good" or "You're different, so I like you less."

The lines that divide us are not just theories: they are tangible and painful experiences. Each line that is used to identify who is beautiful and who is not, who is more good and who is less good--every line is personal. And, equally important, every line, every marker of division, is a critical matter for faith. As people of faith, we have an immediate, urgent decision to make--not just once, but every day in every moment, in every encounter: will we be people who draw lines of division or people who cross those lines? Will we look across a line and see our fear of the unfamiliar, or will we look across a line and see a beautiful image of God?

Beauty in the eye of the beholder.

Our scripture readings leave no question as to how we should answer these questions, as we are pointed toward two people who crossed lines of social division in bold ways:

Start with Esther, a beautiful virgin who is chosen out of many beautiful young women to be King Ahasuerus' latest queen. Physical beauty, however, does not equal political power for Esther, who has no authority to cross lines of gender in the king's court. And Mordecai, Esther's adoptive father, has forewarned her not to cross lines of religion and ethnicity in the palace, so no one knows that she is Jewish. Esther lives within all of these societal lines, valued for her beauty but otherwise devalued as a woman and a closeted Jew; she toes every line around her...

...until the lines become personal. Until Haman gets mad at Mordecai and decides to take it out on all Jews. Until the image of God in her people--beautiful to her eyes and to Mordecai's eyes--is hated in the eyes of Haman, who makes the Jews his target for malice and violence. At that point, in that moment, Esther becomes a line-crosser. She steps across lines of gender and lines of authority to approach the king directly with her appeal. She crosses lines of religion and ethnicity to challenge the king's vision and presumptions about the value of her people. Esther crosses lines when Haman is intent on drawing lines. "For such a time as this."

Beauty in the eye of the beholder.

If we're unconvinced that crossing lines is a matter of faith, or that it's a priority of living out our faith, we only have to look at Jesus and his ministry to understand that breaking down lines of division is integral to the work of the Kingdom of God! Jesus crossed social lines at every turn: touching and healing and teaching and feeding people across strict divisions of ethnicity, physical ability, class, emotional and mental state, gender, health status, political affiliation.

In our Gospel reading today, Jesus even goes so far in his line-crossing as to affirm (ready for it?) the ministry of someone who is not part of his own group of disciples. Consider how radical that would be today, if churches affirmed one another's ministries, if we trespassed denominational lines to see the beauty in our diversity of ministries! Jesus told his disciples, "Regardless of the affiliation of this other miracle worker, he is doing God's work just as we are. There is goodness in his work. There is no less value in the cup of water that he shares with someone who is thirsty than the cup of water that you share."

Beauty in the eye of the beholder.

It is a matter of faith to witness to the beauty we see, the beauty that God sees, against the prevailing noise of bad news and divisions. The church is long overdue in making the lines of separation personal, in prioritizing the work of following Jesus across these lines. When we each know so many stories of how these lines cause injury, when the news itself is increasingly divisive, we cannot keep silent or pretend that we have said and done enough to affirm the beauty and inherent worth of all people. Across lines of ethnicity and race. Across lines of creed and lines of gender. Across lines of ability and health and power and sexuality and finances. Having the courage to see and to celebrate the beautiful image of God, regardless of and in resistance to the loud shouting and bitter anger that seek to maintain strict divisions between us. Seeing and celebrating and standing up for beauty in all manners of diversity. Crossing lines of division--not because we are such brilliant and bold visionaries--but because God has the brilliance of vision to behold us and call us beautiful. God is the ultimate beholder who compels us to see the beauty of the image of God in all people. God is the ultimate beholder who sees us and loves us and challenges us to cross lines for the Kingdom of God.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Beloved

This morning, my daughter pranced out the door on her way to another day of second grade. She was pleased as peach with her self-selected outfit, her dark curly hair (inherited from her Kenyan father, kept "down" with a headband today), and the academic activities ahead (she loves school).

This afternoon, my daughter returned home and reported that she had had a "kinda bad" day: several kids in her predominantly white elementary school felt the liberty to tell my biracial daughter that her hair "looked like Frankenstein" and was "freaky." Another young student suggested that she should "do something about" her hair.

A few years ago when my son was in kindergarten, a classmate commented that he looked "bald" when he came to school with a fresh haircut. To this day, my son--now a fifth grader--has strong opinions about the length of his hair when he sits in the barber's chair (it cannot be too short).

I'm debating a letter to the editor in the local newspaper, reminding parents that the ways in which they voice their opinions at home about politics, people, and the state of the world directly impacts the kind of crap that their kids dump on my kids. Whaddyu think, too strong?

Anyway. For tonight's reading time before bed, I am printing out the following excerpt of Toni Morrison's Beloved (a beautiful but troubling book) for my kids to read: that wonderful sermon by Baby Suggs in the middle of a forest clearing. Perhaps someday the affirmation of bodies of color will no longer need to be a covert act of resistance but a common celebration of humanity.

"We flesh; flesh that weeps, laughs; flesh that dances on bare feet in grass. Love it. Love it hard. Yonder they do not love your flesh. They despise it. They don't love your eyes... No more do they love the skin on your back... And O my people they do not love your hands... Love your hands! Love them. Raise them up and kiss them. Touch others with them, pat them together, stroke them on your face 'cause they don't love that either. You got to love it, you!"

"This is flesh I'm talking about here. Flesh that needs to be loved. Feet that need to rest and to dance; backs that need support; shoulders that need arms, strong arms I'm telling you... And the beat and beating heart, love that too. More than eyes or feet. More than lungs that have yet to draw free air. More than your life-holding womb and your life-giving private parts, hear me now, love your heart. For this is the prize."

(Morrison, Toni. Beloved. New York: Plume Books, 1988. 88-89.)

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Words For Those Who Provide Care

Attend to me, O God, even as I attend to others today.
See how I am worn down
and stretched thin;
Yet I cannot quit caring,
I cannot simply step out of this role
as a care provider.
It's amazing: somehow,
even when I fall flat with fatigue
I find you in this,
in this business and these days
of watching over and worrying about
and letting my heart be broken
for another.
Be gentle with me that I might be gentle;
Ease my pain so that I have the strength to comfort;
Be near to me
as I remain present for others.
By Jesus' grace.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Gender, etc.

(fair warning: feminist diatribe ahead)


A pastor from a nearby congregation recently stopped by my church office, unplanned, unannounced, to introduce himself and talk "shop." Our church administrative assistant showed him upstairs to my office, and I stood to introduce myself: "Good morning, I'm Rachel." The visiting pastor, an older white male, noticeably did a double-take. "You're the pastor here?" No kidding. All of my feminism alarms started blaring. Aloud: "Yes, I am. Come in to my office. Please, have a seat."

We live in a world of binary partitions: On and off. Strong an
d weak. Black and white. Up and down. Left and right. Right and wrong. Bad and good. Self and other. Broken and whole. Male and female. Computers use a binary code, zero and one. Thank goodness that Noah (of biblical ark fame) taught us to count in twos!

Usually one of the two is endowed with a value of superiority. "She's really on today" implies that someone is performing her tasks well, far better than being off. White beauty is valued over Black beauty, and light complexion is more favored than dark (the notable exception being whites' obsession with tanning, an enigma in itself). We are self-focused to the point of othering without even noticing that we have done so. Good behavior is rewarded over bad---and not just criminal bad, but any "bad" that c
ontradicts or questions or challenges. And, no surprise here, male is valued over female.

Anything that doesn't fit into a neat duality is seen as problematic (because it cannot be "properly" assessed with a value). Consider the story of Caster Semenya, the 18-year-old South African woman and runner who has been setting records with her speed. How can she run so fast, how can she be so good? Critics suspected that she must secretly be a male, and they demanded an examination of her sexual organs. More than a strip search: a gynecological exam. It's problematic at every angle: the assumption that a woman cannot be a strong athlete without testosterone; the insistence that she "spread 'em" to satisfy critics; and the inevitable debate (if indeed the leaked results are true that Semenya is biologically a hermaphrodite) over whether she may continue to compete in women's track and whether Semenya will be "allowed" to name her own gender identity in life and in sports now that it has been splashed all over the news.

Another debate that challenges our binary assumptions (though it's been moved temporarily to the back burner while racism and fear undermine the debate over health care reform): gay marriage. Many who protest the legalization of same-gender-loving marriages insist that "marriage = man + woman," that is, marriage is defined by the gender binary. Not by love, not by commitment, but by the dichotomy of sex. And by gender roles. Detractors of gay marriage cannot imagine "husband" without "wife." Who will be the gentle nurturer? Who will be the strong bread-win
ner? Gender roles are binary, too, inside and outside of marriage...

...which brings me back to the pastor sitting across from me in my office, recovering from his surprise at the discovery of a "break" in the gender roles (in the Church of all places, that sanctuary of strict gender roles).
While he proceeded to tell me why he was visiting and what he was hoping to learn from his informal survey of area churches, I talked myself down from feminist indignation so that I could genuinely engage in the conversation. Being defensive was certainly an option in that moment...but so was going on the offensive. You know that phrase, "wise as a serpent, gentle as a dove"? Professionally, I spend a lot of time doing "dove," but I'm no stranger to "serpent." If this neighborly pastor was surprised to meet a female solo pastor, what else might surprise him? The possibilities were endless for a "teachable moment"!

Our polite conversation continued, and into my office walked Surprise #2 for my ministerial colleague: tall, lean, bubbling with energy, dark-skinned from her Kenyan father and from the summer's sun, curly hair unfettered and natural: my 7-year-old daughter. My 10-year-old son entered shortly after his sister. As I excused myself to talk with my kids, I watched my visitor out of the corner of my eye as he "did the math" in his mind. It's a familiar look to those of us with interracial families, and you can almost see the sequence of questions behind the eyes:
Oh!
Are they her children? Hm.

Do they look like her? Kinda.
But if she gave birth to them, then that means... OH!
When we're out with an African or African American friend, it's not unusual for someone to assume that my kids are part of that friend's biological family. Gentle as a dove, Rachel, gentle as a dove.

My kids returned to the Sunday School room where they'd been playing, and I decided that it was time to pull out Surprise #3. We'd been talking about churches: what works and what doesn't work, comparing programs, etc. But so far nothing had been said abou
t the formation (or continued shaping) of a church's overall identity.

"There are many ways in which Grace is like other Protestant congregations," I said in response to one of his questions. "But in this conservative region, what sets us apart isn't our programs; it's our overall identity as a socially and theologically progressive congregation."
"Really? What do you mean by 'progressive'?"
"Well, for example, we fully welcome LGBT persons in the life of the church. We have a lot of non-traditional families who find a home here. We rarely use male pronouns for God in worship, and sometimes we use female pronouns. We have members who talk about Jesus as Lord-and-Savior, and members who talk about Jesus as a prophetic but fully human teacher."
"Oh." (quick note-taking)

"Mm-hm."
"So, your church welcomes people who...maybe...don't feel comfortable in other churches?" (raised eyebrows)
"Yes we do, and that inclusive welcome is the identifying character underlying our worship, our programs, our small groups, etc."

Female pastor. Non-white kids. LGBT-affirming congregation. Non-traditional households and unfamiliar liturgies. Female pronouns for God. Teachable moments all over! It was all very civil, mind you, a totally polite conversation between two colleagues. Me, seeing how many surprises I could throw; him,
taking notes and nodding. We drew our chitchat to a close, and he asked one last question: "I see that you're not wearing a ring. Are you married?"

(Cue my daughter's voice in my mind, saying Oh no you DI-NT!)

My feminism flares went up again: he might as well have asked about my weight and age. Really, in what social setting are you supposed to ask a woman these things? We were back to square one, and I was debating my dove-serpent responses all over again. Polite honesty or polite decline? Dove-like professional refusal or serpent-like professional rebuttal? And tell me why you're still in my office, chatting like you take me seriously when I know that your denomination limits women's opportunities for fully ordained ministry?!

I have women colleagues, dear friends, who cannot get a call to ordained ministry. Correction: they already have a call to ordained ministry--God's call--
but they can't find a church willing to affirm it. Why? Because collectively we have binary vision. Because our binaries are value-laden, and poorly so. Because we still insist on strict gender roles: in church leadership, in relationships, in skills and in sports...and (apparently) in polite conversation.

So: in good, obedient, gentle female, dove-like fashion, I'll keep enjoying the opportunity to be a sly serpent whenever a "teachable moment" presents itself!

Damn the binaries, full speed ahead!

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Inverting Psalm 35

I am my own worst enemy;
save me, o God.
Chase down the voice that mocks and belittles
in my mind.
Like a pack of wild dogs on the hunt,
track down that sly fox of critical self-doubt
until it is flushed from its hiding place in my soul.
In other words:
hunt me down, o God.
Take aim equally at my pride and my self-effacement.
When frustration and discouragement set a trap against
my well-being,
let the trap be sprung against them instead.
When self-care evades me like a thief in the night,
release your angels in hot pursuit of the culprit
and bring me peace.
How long will you wait, o God,
to deliver this battle into my hand?
Rescue me,
and I will proclaim your goodness, saying
"The LORD is my salvation and my wholeness,
my grace and my peace of mind."

Thursday, August 27, 2009

On Psalm 121

I lift up my eyes to the hills
in search of perspective.
Too often I forget to really see the hills, and the sky.

I lift my eyes from the road and the traffic before me
glancing out the car window for another view of scenery.
Is that building new? When did the trees start changing colors?

I lift my eyes from the computer screen--
this hypnotic rectangle--to clear my vision.
There are people to see, there is laughter to share.

My help and my hope come from the LORD
who shifts my perspective, who captures my imagination,
who rescues me daily by grabbing my attention.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Our Little Lives (Howard Thurman)

"Our little lives, our big problems---these we place upon Thy altar!
The quietness in Thy Temple of Silence again and again rebuffs us:
For some there is no discipline to hold them steady in the waiting
And the minds reject the noiseless invasion of Thy Spirit.
For some there is no will to offer what is central in the thoughts---
The confusion is so manifest, there is no starting place to take hold.
For some the evils of the world tear down all concentrations
And scatter the focus of the high resolves.
War and the threat of war has covered us with heavy shadows,
Making the days big with forebodings---
The nights crowded with frenzied dreams and restless churnings.
We do not know how to do what we know to do.
We do not know how to be what we know to be.
Our little lives, our big problems---these we place upon Thy altar!
Brood over our spirits, Our Father,
Blow upon whatever dream Thou hast for us
That there may glow once again upon our hearths
The light from Thy altar.
Pour out upon us whatever our spirits need of shock, of lift,
of release
That we may find strength for these days---
Courage and hope for tomorrow.
In confidence we rest in Thy sustaining grace
Which makes possible triumph in defeat, gain in loss, and
love in hate.
We rejoice this day to say:
Our little lives, our big problems---these we place upon Thy altar!"

Thurman, Howard. Meditations of the Heart. Boston: Beacon Press, 1953. Pages 83-84.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

At Night Most Of All

At night most of all, we need to know that we are not alone.

Tonight my daughter tiptoed downstairs, teddy bear held tightly under her chin, and she silently climbed onto the couch where I was sitting in order to lay her head in my lap and fall asleep. It had been a long day, and I know that she had a case of post-vacation exhaustion. To top it off, a mild scolding from her mother (truly it was mild) led to a cascade of tears over bedtime loneliness, sibling unfairness, and a plague of insecurities.

At night most of all, we need to know that we are not alone.

I used to do the same thing as a child: I would keep myself awake past bedtime with imagined nightmares, listening to the (real) sounds of mice skittering through the walls. When I reached my limit of fear, I would sneak down the stairs, pausing on the last step to stare into the darkness for possible monsters or mice, and then I would run across the kitchen floor, through the dining and living rooms, and into my parents' bedroom for the reassurance that someone was awake (i.e., I woke my mother) and keeping watch over me.

At night most of all, we need to know that we are not alone.

At night most of all, against the nightmares of our minds (real and imagined), we crave the protection of a loving touch. In the loneliness of midnight, we cry for a caring presence. When insecurities loom large and the weight of the world presses in, we seek the reassurance of a watchful mother. At night most of all--whether the day has gone very badly or very well--we need one last reminder of comfort and grace before we can rest.

At night most of all, we need to know that we are not alone.

Sometimes our nights are actually terrors in broad daylight: Poverty that knocks at the door, violence that breathes down the neck, distrust that shadows every move, monsters of war between countries and persons. Some days are endless nights, with no glimmer of dawn in sight. Into one such nightmare, a child was born--late at night in fact--so that we would know we are not alone. It wasn't a birth story meant to be told only at Christmastime: it was a story meant to be told every night at bedtime, in every place where the terrors gather in force, for every hour when the nightmares spill over into the day, through every season of war and lies and power politics, and to every child (of any age) who cannot sleep. It is a story that promises:

At night most of all, you are not alone.

Neither am I.

Thank God.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Peace Like A River

Prince of Peace,
your peace is like a river:

flowing
bubbling
tumbling
spilling into life with a rush
pouring with happiness and busyness and richness and fullness
welling up over rocks and hard places
leaping
bounding
dashing
rushing over waterfalls
laughing
delighting in movement and quickness
splashing at your feet with joy and thanks.

Prince of Peace,
your peace is like a river:

cool
quiet
still
scattering rays of sunlight
reflecting weeping willows and delicate dragonflies and lyrics of life
swirling gently into deep pools
waving
rippling
slowing
pausing along the bank
murmuring
calming the turmoil
whispering thoughts of your love.

Prince of Peace,
your peace is like a river.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

A Hymn

For the beauty of the earth
For the pure joy of his smile
For the brilliance of the sunset

For the odd grace of the white egret

Lord of all, to Thee I raise
This a hymn of grateful praise**

For the uplifted face of the flower
For the caring presence of a friend
For the satisfaction of great love
For a bold beacon in the night


Lord of all, to Thee I raise
This a hymn of grateful praise

For the beginning--and the end--of a day's work
For the invigoration of thoughtful conversation
For the light easiness of her laughter
For the peaceful quiet of prayer

Lord of all, to Thee I raise
This a hymn of grateful praise

**Original hymn text by Folliott S. Pierpoint (1864)

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Lament to the Savior

There is a disconnect--a chasm, it seems--
between the brilliant expanse of the sun-glittered ocean
stretching out to meet the blue sky
and the reckless, shocking abuse of authority
that ends a child's party with Tasers.



The abundant violets and pinks arrayed in the beauty of a hydrangea
are apparently worlds away
from the overwhelming scarcity of a woman
who can barely survive hour to hour,

let alone day to day.


It has been too long, dear Savior.
Your people cannot wait for the sweet by and by
to bring eternal satisfaction from hunger
or final justice from oppression.

God With Us, you are needed.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Psalm 27 (A Preacher's Psalm)

I stand to claim the Rock beneath my feet,
the Foundation of my life.
Sing in triumph, o my soul.
Shout out: "How great is my God!"

The Rock is my confidence and my conviction,
the very boldness in my step.
Dance with joy, my soul, to your core.
Lift a hand to the Spirit's power.

Through my weakness and fear, the Rock is my comfort;
When my own strength fails, the Foundation is firm.
O my tongue, preach that God is good.
Prophesy that the love of God never fails.

Even in the midnights of life's trials,
My Rock shines through like the noonday sun.
Rise up, my soul, to live this day.
Proclaim the good news until you are hoarse:
"The Living Rock shall not be moved."

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Psalm 122:1 (part two)

I was glad when they said to me:
"Let us go into the house of the LORD;
Let us go home."

Imagine a place where you can worship God in your bare feet--not because the dress code is so casual but because you are so comfortable, so at home.

To be at home...in church. It's not about shoes or bare feet, of course, nor whether you dress up or dress down for worship. It's about every sense--mind, body, spirit--receiving the consistent message when you enter that space: "Here you are safe. Here you are loved. Here you are supported to figure out, to reassemble, to revive your best and most whole self. Here you are home." A message gathered through the touch of your naked toes (should you choose to go barefoot!) on the carpet; from the smell of freshly broken bread on the table; in the familiar sight of candles standing tall and bright, right there where they always are; by the sound of voices greeting you; and (lest we forget) through the taste of fish fry after worship or red jello with pineapples or no-crust-white-bread-triangle finger sandwiches arranged in circles and piled high.

Mind, body, spirit, all receiving the good news: You are home, be at peace. Let your body rest here as it cannot rest out in the wilderness. Let your mind spark and rekindle with ideas and inspirations after a week of mind-numbing routines, mind-battering stresses. Let your spirit soak up living water. Reconnect yourself in all of your parts...live in wholeness. Let the tears run if you are sad. Let the chuckle burst into full laughter if you are joyful. Let your passion find direction and fellowship for the journey. You are safe to be your whole self here in this home, here in God's house.

Just imagine: feeling home-happy when you step into the house of the LORD!

Monday, July 20, 2009

Psalm 122:1 (part one)

Wooden floorboards, knotted and worn.
Curl-up places. Blankets.
Windows bright,
Like the souls of those
In whose homes I can rest,
Secure. These are my sanctuaries.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Bedtime Prayer

Now I lay me down to sleep,
I pray the Lord my fears to keep.
I ask my God: these burdens, take;
And while I sleep, new dreams to make.
Be my peace and be my breath;
In every fiber, let me rest.
Chase the doubts that haunt my night,
Bring mercies new in morning light.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Prayer at the Crossroads

I sit at the crossroads and wait,
expectantly at first:
A messenger is coming! The eyes of my soul watch for it:
A messenger is coming, bearing a word of guidance
for this decision at the intersection.
Is that the one, there in the distance?
No, no, not yet.
I pace while I wait, then look, startled:
the paths extending away from this crossroads
are multiplying.
Again I scan for a sign, a beacon, any hint of direction.
How long must I wait, O God of ways and wonders?
Who is coming with map in hand
to set my feet on a right path?
I watch.
I stare into the distance.
I throw a pebble of a prayer into the air:
perhaps it will fall toward one road or another
and I will know where to begin.
Let your messenger's feet be swift, O God,
do not delay in sending your word!
Cause a post to be planted by the side of the road
and cover it with signs...
Stir a proud tiger lily to dance in the breeze
and bend toward your path for me...
Loosen the tongue of a friend
with encouragement and wisdom...
But do not leave me here without a message,
without a direction,
without a vision.
Burst open a spring of hope,
even here in the middle of the crossroads;
overflow for me
with the good news that there is still a vision for the appointed time.

(Habakkuk 1:3)

Friday, July 3, 2009

Why I Go To Church Camp

I grew up in rural Pennsylvania: exploring cornfield rows, climbing trees, and running barefoot whenever possible. I wore high heels and dresses only when the occasion required it (namely, Sunday morning church or Halloween).

It seems helpful to start with this tidbit of personal history, because many people who know me today have no idea that I know how to "dress down" (or at least, they've never seen it in person): ripped jeans, t-shirt, muddy shoes, hands rough from building campfires.

As a professional adult, I love my high heels (love them!), but once a year I put them away in favor of old sneakers, and I spend seven days leading young people through the joys of outdoor, overnight, send-you-home-with-a-suitcase-full-of-rank-clothes, church camp! This week marks my 14th year at Hartman Center, the much-beloved UCC outdoor ministry facility where I began my church camping career at the age of ten, and my 20th summer overall participating in outdoor ministry programs.

Here's why I continue to return to church camp as an adult:

- to watch kids discover that you can learn something about the nature of God by hiking a mountain;

- to get caught in the pouring rain and not care;

- to see another side of church life;

- to marvel at the ferns and rhododendron, the mist at dawn and the stars at night;

- to remember how to play: to stain my hands with tie-dye, launch water balloons from a slingshot, and sing ridiculous songs like "Stirring the Purple Stew";

- to teach another generation to observe "Here is God" in the created world and in all people;

- to be quiet;

- to affirm the goodness and worth of every child;

- to be startled and scared every year by the same seven-foot-tall tree stump that becomes a standing bear each evening at dusk;

- to soak up God's joy in a different kind of sanctuary;

- to remember that
God is like the wind, wrapping around us and hugging us...
like an ant, strong enough to carry us...
like water, cooling and refreshing us...
like a tree, shading us from intense heat...
like the sun, brightening our lives.
[These phrases developed in conversation with my campers this week.]

Take the time to experience God beyond your church building through an outdoor ministry program near you. Can I recommend Hartman Center (www.hartmancenter.com) and Camp Mount Luther (www.campmountluther.org)?

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

In the spirit of Song of Songs

I love you, o my God,
my joy and my daily delight.
You awaken my senses at every turn--
in caress and the whisper of sweet nothings,
with beauty and warm embrace.
How good it feels to be wrapped in your love;
like the sweetness of a moment,
I do not savor it enough!
Let me be as a lover to you:
blissfully aware of every minute
every intimacy,
grateful for the tenderness
and strength of affection,
pleased to call myself yours
and you mine.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Parables

The mystery of God at work in the world is like a kid in elementary school, who is assigned to be the captain of a kickball team during gym class. The boy must build a winning kickball team by selecting his classmates, choosing in turns with the other team's captain. For his first pick, the boy chooses the least coordinated kid in class, the one whose shoelaces are always untied and whose legs look too scrawny. From there, the boy continues to select the least popular, the least attractive, the least athletic kids to be the players on his kickball team.

We would do well to open our eyes.

The movement of the Spirit is like a grocery store that is filled with people even though its shelves are bare. The people who shop at this particular store bring groceries with them to the store: bags full of fresh produce and cereal boxes, gallons of milk, boxes of spaghetti, and so much more. They fill shopping carts with their bags of food as they enter the store, and then they push their overflowing carts through the aisles of the grocery store, looking for other shoppers whose carts aren't as full or perhaps are empty, and they give their fresh groceries away. No money is exchanged here; those who have plenty come to share and those who are in need come to glean and be fed.

We would do well to open our hearts.

Does a mustard seed, the smallest of all seeds, not become one of the greatest of all shrubs, stretching out branches to provide shelter and shade for many birds? And if the seed had remained tightly sealed in a seed packet--unopened, unplanted--how many birds could it have sheltered? How many nests could it have covered with shade? Does a business owner, when she earns her first dollar from a customer, hurry to hide that dollar under a mattress? Or does she frame the dollar and display it proudly in her store?

We would do well to open our ears.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Still

Still
trying.
Still
breathing.
Still
unclenching.
Still
striving
to be
still.
To hold
still.
To practice
still(ness).
To live into
still(ness).
Still.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

The Mother's Tenderness

I have been caught in my Mother's tenderness.
She sees my stress and soothes my forehead.
She knows my turmoil and hugs me close.
She hears my broken prayers and murmurs her love.

Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow
of death
of pain
of angst
of brokenness
of disappointment
of fear
and anger
and "why me?"
and self-pity
and bitterness
and loss
and yearning
my Mother is with me.


She brushes my hair and holds my hand and kisses my cheek.
Surely mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, for
I am caught in my Mother's tenderness.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Praying through Micah 4:1-5

In the days to come,
will you stretch out your hand and inspire your people,
Spirit of the Living God?
Will you raise up prophets with tongues of fire
to denounce the crimes of war and of hatred,
to protest the lukewarm tolerance of discrimination?
(And will those prophets be us?)
Spirit of the Living God,
will you shake us from our slumbers
with visions of the work that is needed,
the sweat and labor that are necessary
to turn swords into plowshares
(guns, too, and maybe hummers)?
And after the plows have turned the soil,
will you give us courage to melt the metal again,
this time into bells:
huge, loud, clanging bells that we will ring unceasingly
until the harvest of justice is reaped.
Will you, Spirit of the Living God,
in the days to come?

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Luke 12:22-31

The honeysuckle flowers are blooming
and I am reminded (again)
that life's surprising joys,
its cycles of hibernation and renewal,
are not dependent on my successes or failures.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

What Are Your Six Words?

Recently I bought a new book (oh how I love books!) entitled, Not Quite What I Was Planning: Six-Word Memoirs by Writers Famous and Obscure, edited by Larry Smith and Rachel Fershleiser (Harper 2008, 2nd edition). The concept of the book is simple: Can you convey your life story using only six words? The challenge was given to people from many walks of life, women and men, old and young, famous and not-so-famous, and the results were collected in Not Quite What I Was Planning. Here are two examples from the book: "Found true love. Married someone else." and "Painful nerd kid, happy nerd adult." Simple. Powerful.

What would you say or write about yourself if this challenge came to you? Would you look backward and encapsulate your past in those six words? Would you reflect on your life today, the people you love, the significant challenges, the emotion of the moment? Or would you press forward, looking to the future and using your six allotted words to outline your hopes and dreams?

The above paragraphs are an excerpt of my letter in Grace UCC's most recent Shalom newsletter. But now I want to take the letter in a different direction and see if we can share our own six-word memoirs here! Here's mine, and--because I know it sounds heretical--I'll explain below:

SINGLE MOM
PASTOR
BUSIER THAN JESUS

Lol. "Busier than Jesus" comes from an actual conversation in Sunday school a few weeks ago. I was teaching the kids' class, and my two children were the only ones in attendance. Trying to give background to the gospel story, I talked about how Jesus would sneak out early in the morning to pray and find some quiet, after spending his days swamped by the crowds. Somewhere in the midst of our discussion, my son remarked (tongue-in-cheek) that my work as a pastor makes me busier than Jesus. :-) From the mouths of babes...

So, what's your six-word memoir?
It's a risk, I realize, to be candid in front of others, even online, even in only six words. Not to mention, it's a challenge to write a six-word memoir! Take some time, think about it, jot down some ideas. Anyone willing to post a comment and share her/his memoir?

Friday, April 24, 2009

Praise for Green

Praise God, on this spring morning, for the spectrum of greens!

Praise for the emerald green of ivy climbing the dark tree bark!

Praise for the gray green, almost blue, of onion grass sprouting tall!

Praise for the sunlit lime green of new leaves budding on tall oaks!

Praise for the whimsical green of an iris just before the flower buds!

Praise for the two-faced green of the grass blades: luminous green of growth facing into the sun and rippling ocean green facing away!

Praise for the summer green of bamboo stalks catching rays from their vase on my windowsill!

Praise for the lush green of grass underfoot in the early morning, soaked with dew!

Praise God for the glorious array of vibrant greens!

Friday, April 17, 2009

Sisterhood

People are fond of asking "Where is God?" when life becomes difficult.*** Or we look out across the oceans (always away from ourselves) at war and disease and poverty, and we ponder how to find a loving God in the midst of such chaos. I believe, if you really want to find God, then find a woman who is crying and God will be there. Even better, stand with her as a sister or brother and take the risk of God showing up in you, too. (For a brilliant, moving song on the universality of women's cries, listen to Sweet Honey in the Rock singing "The Women Gather" on their cd of the same title: "The women gather, crying tears that fill a million oceans...")

I pray for my sisters in Afghanistan
who are standing together against rape and patriarchy,
raising their voices despite the risk.
The skies over Kabul are not so different
from the skies over Washington, DC.

I pray for my sisters in Somalia
who are watching their boys carry guns
in desperation for a piece of the world's wealth.
The waves that rush to the shoreline are not so different
from the waves that crash onto Florida's coast.

I pray for my sisters in Darfur
who are barely surviving in refugee camps
terrorized with their children by hunger and violence.
The effort to silence their cries is not so different
from the deaf ears turned toward Oscar Grant's daughter.

I pray for my sisters in China
who are giving up daughters for want of sons
and losing the chance to raise new women.
The rainfall in Beijing is not so different
from the rainfall in Seattle.

I pray for my sisters in Brazil,
in India, Tonga, and Minneapolis,
in Malawi and France and Puerto Rico.
The God to whom we raise our cries is not so different
from the God who walks with us and promises deliverance.

***(4/25/09) I keep thinking about my choice of the verb, "fond." I don't feel the need to change the word, however, I do want to admit that it's glib and provocative...on purpose. "Fond" implies an affection or a sense of fun, neither of which is typically associated with the question of theodicy ("How can we say that God is good when there is so much evidence of evil?" or, in its simplified form, "Where is God?"). I vacillate between viewing theodicy as an indulgent question and understanding it as a relevant question. As a relevant question, theodicy seeks to hold onto faith in a compassionate God and strives to recognize and respond to evil as an act of that faith. As an indulgent question, theodicy is debated from a position of comfort and privilege; it's a theoretical exercise, and evil is an external problem that happens far away from "us" (whoever "us" may be). For me, using the verb "fond" implicitly critiques our debate of theodicy as an intellectual exercise.

Whether theodicy is relevant or indulgent, at the end of the day, I think it's the wrong question. I believe that the better question is, "How is God already acting/How is God calling me to act to affirm Life in defiance of Death?" The problem with theodicy, as I see it, is that it is a stationary question...it's a talking point that doesn't (in itself) compel any activity. In the face of evil, we desperately need to be active; I'd rather see us committing our energy to upsetting evil than expending our breath in endless debate.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Easter Sunday

And so Lent comes to its end,
Easter marks the completion,
and I pray, o most holy God,
for what is, in fact, a beginning:
life new and renewing
the impossible to be believed
joy that cannot be quenched
and always,
everywhere I look
every place I turn,
your endless love and grace.
Amen and amen.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Lent 40 (Holy Saturday)

Today I wait, at a loss,
Because everything I thought I knew
Everything I hoped for
Has died.

Today I have no prayers
Because what if it is God who took it all away?
I could not bear it,
So I do not ask.

Today there is nothing to do
But sit in silence. And breathe. And stare
At the rock face of the tomb
And wonder about endings.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Lent 39 (Good Friday)

In these days full of shadows and crosses,
O God who reigns over both death and life,
be close to those for whom Good Friday
is not a ceremony
but a daily reality...

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Lent 38 (Maundy Thursday)

In the frosty chill of morning,
Have mercy on me, Son of the Living God.

In the waning evening light,
Have mercy on me, Son of the Living God.

In the nakedness of solitude,
Have mercy on me, Son of the Living God.

In the squall of daily decisions,
Have mercy on me, Son of the Living God.

In my regrets, in my triumphs,
Have mercy on me, Son of the Living God.

Sitting at your feast table amidst friends,
Have mercy on me, Son of the Living God.

Watching, waiting, at the foot of your cross,
Have mercy on me, Son of the Living God.

Miserere.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Lent 37

Be creativity when I am stagnant,
o God of the red-breasted robin and bright daffodil.

Be insight and direction when I spin my wheels,
o Jesus in whose dusty way I strive to travel.

Be laughter when I take myself too seriously,
o Spirit dancing in my daughter's ballet shoes.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Lent 36

"Testimony"

How good you are, my Jesus, and how glad I am
that you have not left me alone,
that even from my first breath you have walked with me.

In those days when my mother and father were young and uncertain,
you were their rock and source of strength.
In my childhood, at a time when I was carefree in pigtails,
you were the spirit of joy and adventure
propelling me to the highest branches of the tree,
to explore the clearest pool in the mountain stream.

In my youth, you stood me tall in my goody two-shoes
and you protected me when I kicked them off.
As a not-yet-adult, you sent guides to shape my path;
unrelenting you called "Come further up and further in."*
And when adulthood burst upon me with the pain of childbirth,
Jesus you were the wellspring of grace, strength and creativity.

I look across my years and say to my soul,
"Who else is like your God who has brought you this far?"
At every step and turn, Jesus, you are constant and yet surprising,
always saying:
"Come find me here.
"Now come, grow in this place.
"Walk with me down this new road.
"Learn from me and seek my face."

You have not let me go nor have you let me stand still.
Amazing, Jesus, to retrace my steps,
to recount your goodness!
"I come to the end, I am still with you."

*P.S. Thank you, God, for the imaginative parables of Narnia!

More good news

Let's pray that this is the beginning of justice "rolling down like water"...

Vermont legislature overturns governor's veto:
http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/04/07/AR2009040701663.html?hpid=topnews

DC recognizes gay marriages of other states:
http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/04/07/AR2009040702200.html?hpid=topnews

Monday, April 6, 2009

Lent 35

What a life you have given us, God,
and who in the world can be expected to navigate it all?!
Should I laugh or should I cry when I take in
the clouds and the sun battling to set the day's mood?
the summer and winter toying with us through spring?
the reporter making a trite quip at the end of a gloomy newscast?
the boggling disparity as a Hummer thunders past a pedestrian?
the pain of choosing to care?
the reality of violence among family members,
among those who are supposed to love one another?
the pressure placed on the youngest among us to compete?
the strain on all of us to be self-sufficient,
to not need and not ask?
Tell me, God, should I laugh or cry?
Jesus cried, at least once.
I think that I would cry more often than Jesus
but laughter is a cheerier mechanism to cope
with what I see
what I hear
what I feel
what I fear.
I don't know what you think of all the ceremony
we've given to this week called "Holy,"
but at the very least it gives us an outlet
for processing
suspense
doubt
death
hope
anger
complexity
and, hopefully, agreeing with you at the end of it all
that life is the most important thing,
worth laughing at and worth crying over.
Worth fighting for.
There's no navigating life without being scarred,
but there's grace for living with the scars.
There's grace.
There's grace.
My God, thank you for grace.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Palm Sunday

Hosanna! All praise to God!

I'm glad to be in your presence this day, beautiful God:
to be breathing in the warm spring air
walking, relaxed, through new grass
and knowing that you are in this day
regardless of sunlight or storm
in spite of
and in the midst of
palms and crosses, life and death alike.
Today is your day
to be praised.
Today is your day
to draw us into living
more intentionally
more carefully
more praise-ing-ly
(and God, since you made language,
I trust that you understand made-up words).
Today I am glad to be with you
to be called yours.
Keep my feet on the ground
and my voice full of song,
God of glory.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Lent 34

Be still and know that I am God.

o my God, i pray for the perspective to bear in mind that i am not God; that no amount of planning, no amount of caffeine, no amount of pride can set me in your place; that yours is the wisdom and the bearing that i need most of all.

Be still and know that I am.

o my God, i ask for the calm and the trust to know that your breath is the source of my life; for the faith and the confidence to know that there is a living God though the mountains should fall and the earth tremble, though rivers of tears should flood seas of heartache.

Be still and know.

o my God, i struggle with the weight of all that i don't know, with the worries of all that remains unseen; grant me the quiet peacefulness of lilies waving in the wind, clothed beyond the beauty of Solomon himself; bless me with the joyful focus of a sparrow going about its work simply because another day has dawned.

Be still.

o my God, i am not still but restless, pressing through each day as though it all depends on me; be the voice in silence just as you once whispered to Elijah on Mount Horeb and call me to task for lacking faith...until i let go of the busy noise that i have created.

Be.

o my God, let me be fully what you have created me to be: a reflection of you in words and in silence, in work and in stillness, in community and in solitude; let me be, to your glory.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Lent 33

Rescue us, mighty Deliverer,
from our callousness to the world around us,
from our blind eye turned away from your world,
your people,
your pain.

Save us from dispassionate ears listening (without hearing) to news
of state-sponsored violence and vilification of those who resist,
of calculated numbers that represent
real people in despair,
real people hungry.

Deliver us now before Holy Week comes and we miss the drama
of politics and power beating down love and healing,
money winning over compassion, and finally:
torture sanctioned,
even against God.

Good News

This article just in from the BBC: "Iowa upholds gay marriage rights"
http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/americas/7981893.stm

What remarkable news! My mind goes to Jesus saying, "Where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them" (Matthew 18:20). Often we affirm Jesus' presence among us in worship or other church events. Is it too much of a stretch to overlay this scripture on the "gathering" of two or three states that recognize marriage rights for same-gender-loving couples? Where two or three have gathered---Connecticut, Massachusetts, and now (though not yet implemented) Iowa---the presence of God's justice is known.

We pray for more to gather.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Lent 32

o God, grant me clarity of thought,
deep joy in breathing,
generosity of heart,
bravery in truth,
strength for perseverance in faith,
and an endless spirit of prayer.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Lent 31

With a deep breath and humility,
i bring my confessions to you, most gracious God:

How often i sit pretty on the promise of God's blessings
and disregard the unequivocal reprimand of Jesus' woes!

Woe to me when i petition God for luxuries
beyond daily bread.

Woe to me when i sacrifice care
for comfort.

Woe to me when i do not use my voice
for justice among neighbors and peace between enemies.

Woe to me when i provoke another's anger
and neglect to ask forgiveness from my brother.

Woe to me when i anticipate God's deliverance for the oppressed
and do not place take responsibility for my place among the oppressors.

Woe to me for my resentment
of life's strains and stresses.

Woe to me when i value order
over grace.

Woe to me for setting prestige and rapport
on pedestals toward which i strive.

Woe to me for believing that it is about me at all;
woe to me and glory to God, the source of all blessings.