Wednesday, March 27, 2013

spring break 2013, using a word I rarely do


The plan was to spend 2.5 days in Cincinnati volunteering with the Freestore/Foodbank and Gabriel's Place, socializing and sleeping in the evening at the Edge House, then trek to the Good Earth Farm in Athens for the remainder. The plan worked and became so much more.

Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday nights, our small band was joined by 3-5 other students who weren't able to work with us during the day but who were still in town. We cooked together, painted together, and played board games together (oh, the boardgames we played...). But knowing those activities doesn't tell even half the story. In the crucible of spending 24/7 together, our conversations over paint and coffee turned towards discernment, vocation, difficult friendships, and the presence/absence of God. We laughed about the absurd and hugged about the heartbreaking. The paintings we worked on are imbued with our prayerful conversation.

Wednesday morning a handful of us left Cincinnati for the farm, bringing the others with us in spirit and still others via text. Pulling into the driveway of Good Earth, we released breaths we didn't know we were holding and dove into intentional community life. We processed honey from the comb, helped with feeding and milking, planted seeds, baked pies, filled earth bags for the chapel, and mucked out the pig stall. We talked more of discernment, of simplicity, of our struggles with addiction and sin.

Saturday, we worked more on the chapel with our friends from the Floral House. The day ended with lunch and Eucharist under the trees. Our connection to one another has never been stronger and it is the Holy Spirit who gave us this unexpected and, yes, epic week.

Monday, March 25, 2013

sermon on John 12:1-8

"Getting it Right, Getting it Wrong"

Once upon a time, this guy Jesus raised his friend Lazarus from the dead.
It wasn’t something you saw every day, kind of stuck in your memory.
And later on, this guy Jesus went back to his friends’ house,
the home of Lazarus, and his sisters Mary and Martha, for dinner.
Martha cooked and served the dinner like she always did
and Lazarus sat at the table and ate with him which he’d always done.
And which just underscored the point that not only was he alive again,
but he was Really Alive, eating and spilling the condiments
and everything.

And then Mary did an odd thing, which was what she always did
—she had bought a beautiful jar of what amounts to Chanel #5
or maybe some amazing perfume that’s so rare and hip
that none of us have ever heard of it.
Back then, it was Spikenard.
Mary sat at Jesus’ feet where she was used to sitting
to listen to his wisdom and his jokes.
She sat at his feet and she opened this jar of Spikenard
and poured it all out on Jesus’ feet to clean and scent them
and then she wiped away the excess oil with her hair.
What a bizarre and intimate and tender and extravagant gesture.
What could it mean?

And it seems Judas was there—
Judas Iscariot who would betray Jesus,
Judas who the Gospel writer cannot help but comment on
every time he comes onscreen—
Judas says “wait, that Nard cost a lot of money, shouldn’t we have sold it
and given the money to the local soup kitchen or something?”

And I the reader think,
“yeah, Judas, right on!
Jesus is all about the marginalized and poor and all. You got it, brother!”

John, the gospel writer says,
“well, actually, Judas the Very Very Evil had hoped to skim off the top
of the group’s money which he kept account of,
so, really, he’s not being so generous or wise after all.”

And I the reader think,
“seriously, John? Matthew, Mark, and Luke didn’t say that.
Are you letting the fact that you know the ending of Judas’ story
color your understanding of the past?
Was Judas really so bad as to need parenthetical reminders
of his evilness after every single appearance?
Couldn’t he have had some good in his heart?”

Meanwhile, the story has continued with Jesus replying to Judas saying,
“Dude, leave her alone.
Mary bought that perfume with her own money
because she is the only one who gets what I’ve been laying down.
She gets that I’m going to die soon for all y’all
and she wants to honor that death appropriately.
Judas, brother, the poor are always here, but I’m about to die.
Focus on this.”

And I the reader think,
“the poor are always with us, true. But what?
We’re supposed to be okay with that state of affairs?
Particularly now in the 21st century
—what are we supposed to do with Jesus’ statement—
since we don’t, in fact, have Jesus with us
in the same way that Lazarus and Mary and Martha and Judas did.”

[pause for reflection]

I think it’s fair to say that I struggled with this text this week. A lot.
Maybe you know what I mean.
It would seem that Judas got it right in this story
in ways that Peter never did.
Maybe I’m unhealthily obsessed with Judas Iscariot—
I find John’s parenthetical commentary not just excessive
but verging on the ridiculous.
Read further in the Passion story to see what I mean—
when it comes to the actual betrayal, Judas seems to be simply a puppet,
a slave of destiny who MUST betray Jesus.
He is a black-hat villain, baddy-bad-bad.
Scripture says Satan entered into him and he ran out to do his evil deed.

But at the beginning of the story,
he was called to be a disciple just like the rest of them.
Judas was in the circle, intimate with Peter and John and James and Jesus
and because he was close to them,
he was able to betray them so powerfully.
Betrayal requires intimacy—
a stranger cannot betray you but your sister or spouse can.
Judas is a man we all revile—
his name, like Adolf, is not one we’ll be naming our kids anytime soon.
And his betrayal of Jesus was very real.
But was he a one-dimensional villain?
And was he, in essence, wrong about helping the poor?
And what are we supposed to make of Jesus’ statement
that the poor will always be with us?

This past week, I had an extensive Facebook discussion
with a couple of my friends about this.
One friend is what you call Very Catholic—
she teaches catechism to adults
and knows orthodox theology back to front.
The other friend was on my discernment committee
when I was dreaming of seminary
and now she, too, is dreaming of seminary—
she loves the church with an unmatched passion
and is as liberal as they come.
And both of them, when I shared with them
my frustrations with Jesus and Judas in this passage
said, “you missed it.”

I, like Peter, like Judas, have missed the point. Again.
Are you there with me?
Jesus is stealthy like that, maybe you’ve noticed.
He tends to be about the surprising answer, the unexpected plot twist.
Just when we think we’ve got a handle on things,
just when we’re comfortable with how the world works,
Jesus pops in and says, “you missed it.”

In this Gospel lesson, Jesus is calling Judas
and, by extension all of us, to being present.
He’s calling us to pay attention to what’s happening here and now,
to being aware of the depth of the moment.
We are so busy in our lives and in our heads,
worrying about what might happen,
and wallowing in all the things on our to do lists,
and assuming we know what the mission is
that we miss what’s actually happening in the moment.
For many of us in 2013, that’s because we have our noses
in our smartphones all the time.
But we don’t need devices to keep us from paying attention
to the world and people around us.
We were just as good at escapism and self-interest
back in the 1950s as we are today.

Look, of course we should be concerned for the poor and downtrodden,
whether they are us or someone far away.
Of course we should question how we spend our money.
Of course we should examine our motives when we offer to do something nice.
My friends, we are Judas,
we betray Jesus every day.
Every time we betray a confidence or profit from someone else’s pain,
every time we ignore the Christ shining in another’s eyes
we turn Jesus over to death.
The story we tell with our lives is that of Judas trying and failing,
of the disciples not understanding.
And Jesus says gently,
“Dude, leave it alone. I’m here right now. Focus on this.”

This coming week, some of the Edge House students and I
are hoping to do just that.
We are heading out to the Good Earth Farm in Athens, Ohio—
it’s a 5-acre organic farm run by an intentional Christian community.
Their days begin and end with prayer and, while the work is hard, it is focused.
The work is simply the work—
whether chopping vegetables to can or weeding
or helping build a firewood shed,
distractions are minimal.
Each time I have worked at the farm,
I have come away refreshed and centered.
The students this week are longing for that sense of presence.

Practicing presence is, of course,
one of the most difficult things we can attempt.
I want to invite you to try it for a moment.
Close your eyes or simply look down.
Put your feet flat on the floor and uncross your arms.
Breathe in deeply. Breathe out deeply.
Breathe in the breath of God, breathe out the struggles and joys of your week.
Notice the temperature in the room, the feel of the pew beneath you.
Notice your boredom or your brain refusing to slow down.
Breathe in the breath of God. Breathe out your anxiety about next week or the next five minutes.
Notice why you’re here this morning, notice who you’re here for this morning.
Breathe in deeply. Breathe out deeply.
May we recognize God’s presence in the ordinary and extraordinary moments of our days.
May we pause and experience God’s Creation.
May we begin to see clearly our own wrongness, our own rightness, and God’s call in every moment.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

sermon on Exodus 3:1-15

Preached at Prince of Peace in Loveland March 2-3. Also, I revised it when I preached--replaced some of the bits about me with stories from Edge House students, their ongoing stories of conversion.
*     *     *
Today we get the calling of Moses to be God’s messenger.
God calls to Moses through
a burning-bush-that-was-burning-but-not-consumed.
An amazing, impossible, can’t-miss-it kind of sign
that something’s happening right?
but The burning bush is not about the burning bush.
It’s about God calling. And it’s about Moses answering.
Or, maybe it’s about Moses expecting a call.
But it’s not about the bush.
See, I work at UC as a campus missioner
and I hear from college students a lot the question,
“how come we don’t see burning bushes anymore?”
or “how come God doesn’t talk to us anymore?”
Wrong questions.
Moses saw the burning-bush-that-was-burning-but-not-consumed
because he was looking for it.
Or because he was willing to see it.
Exodus says Moses looked at the bush,
then decided to turn aside and get a closer look.
He chose to see God’s presence there rather than just moving on.
We don’t practice seeing God very well and so when God shows up,
we often don’t notice, or we attribute it to something else—
a natural phenomenon
like the gradation of blue in a cloudless sky
or rain that keeps us from an appointment
(what’s more natural than God?),
or thoughts in our brains
(since we’re so busy-busy,
why wouldn’t God nudge us that way?).
And most of us don’t think that we could be called by God
because we can’t imagine God wanting to call us.
But God does call us. All of us, individually and as a group.
Paul talks about how all of us are part of the body of Christ,
all parts necessary for healthy functioning, no part unnecessary
all of us called to the healthy functioning of the church & the world. God is constantly speaking to us, constantly trying to get us to look at him
like a young woman crushing on a boy…“Just look at me…”
And the big things we read about in scripture,
those are signs that God’s trying to get our attention.
They’re not the messages.
Think about it this way: First, there’s The Story,
God’s story of Creation, Fall, Redemption, and Restoration,
a portion of which is told us in scripture.
The Story which we revere
and which describes for us what the world often looks like,
which suggests to us how we might make that world function better,
         more compassionately.
The Story which includes big crazy stories
like the burning-bush-that-was-burning-but-not-consumed
and Elijah speaking to God directly
and hearing God the whirlwind, God the thunderstorm, and God the silence.
The Story which we love and struggle with
but which we don’t often practice connecting with our own stories.
Part the second, is our stories:
your life is a story, has a plot you don’t yet know the end of,
characters who come and stay for a time,
pain and triumph, boring bits and exciting bits.
Our stories shed light on where we are now.
I have a lot of compassion for folks on the margins
—prisoners, the working poor, the gay community—
because I was on the margins for much of my life.
I was a weird kid—who knew?—
and was teased mercilessly in elementary and junior high.
I felt…feel like an outcast and so identify with others in a similar category.
I am where I am now because of that experience.
Our stories show us how we got to where we are
and sometimes a bit of where we’re going.
And last, there’s a dynamic, creative space where these two stories connect,
where The Story/God’s Story connects with our own stories.
The stories of scripture aren’t just a rule book
and they aren’t just bizarre stories about miracles.
They’re our own stories, our own lives writ large.
C. S. Lewis once said,
"Miracles are a retelling in small letters of the very same story which is written across the whole world in letters too large for some of us to see."
The Story of Moses and the burning-bush-that-was-burning-but-not-consumed
is about God calling to this guy Moses, this shepherd,
this guy who stutters and who, it turns out,
can’t keep control of the people he’s been entrusted to care for.
He’s just this guy, you know?
And God calls to him, and Moses chooses to turn aside and look and listen.
And, before you think that’s the end,
in this and every call story in the Bible,
the person being called objects to the call. Sometimes strenuously. Moses doesn’t think he can do it.
Sound familiar?
And God says, “yes, you can and I’ll help. Pay attention.”
So, how to tell when God calls?
Often, it’s not just one time, not just in a single heated moment.
A lot of the time, it takes us some time to see and turn aside to look.
I am personally rather thick and so I need a lot of prodding.
So, at the risk of being self-involved,
I thought I’d share a little of my own spiritual autobiography.
What signs did I see along the way that suggested God wanted me to do something?
When I was in first grade, around the time my father went to seminary,
I was vaguely aware of religion and God,
but I didn’t really think about it much. 
I do remember I was terribly afraid of the dark for years,
I would panic when entering a dark room
and fumble wildly for the light switch. 
I would run up a flight of stairs from a dark hallway to a light one,
afraid that a monster was chasing me. 
It was at Easter each year that I began slowly to lose that fear. 
At the university, the seminarians and faculty go all out
for the Easter vigil, beginning very early on Sunday morning
in complete darkness. 
They light a blazing fire to symbolize the light of Christ
which pierces the darkness,
but which to me only put up a thin, weak wall
between us and the surrounding darkness. 
Slowly we processed into the chapel and began the vigil. 
Most of us kids would fall asleep in the chairs,
awoken later by the rising sun streaming
through the surrounding tall, thin windows
when we came to the Resurrection. 
It was magical. 
That the service could be timed so well,
that the sun was so glorious streaming through the windows,
that the music was so jubilant…
I was overcome with joy and renewal
and felt that something very good had pushed away
the literal and figurative dark.
In high school, I sometimes went with my priest father
to the local women’s prison.
On Wednesday nights, he would go and celebrate Eucharist
for a small group of women.
It didn’t occur to me to be afraid of the people we visited
until I walked through the first set of metal doors.
Their clanging shut sounded so final and I woke up a little.
The second set  told me I wasn’t getting out of here easily,
and neither were these women.
Even then, I was not afraid but curious.
At the point in the Euch. after the long, beautiful, boring prayer is over,
the priest invites the assembly forward saying something like
“These are the gifts of God for the people of God.”
My father always added, “holy things for holy people.”
That was when I realized what was happening.
These women whose pasts I didn’t know and could only guess
were indeed holy people.
This bread and wine was theirs as God’s beloved.
Prisons have struck me as holy ground ever since,
rather like the ground Moses removed his shoes to walk on.
Around this time, I also read a book called The Mirror of Her Dreams
which, honestly, may not be very good, but it affected me profoundly.
One supporting character, one of the daughters of the king
who is rather dreamy and idealistic and thought to be weak-willed,
says to the main character,
“problems should be solved by those who see them.”
Later, she finds her courage and risks her life for a wounded stranger.
Problems should be solved by those who see them.
Yes, they should. If not you, who? If not now, when?
Yes, I thought, yes, I felt in my bones.
And the fire in my heart began to burn in earnest.
Many years later, after rejecting the feeling that I was called
to ordained ministry several times, I ended up in seminary.
To make ends meet, my husband and I worked at Barnes and Noble
and, at this time, the number one bestseller on every list there was
was The Da Vinci Code.
To be honest, I didn’t care for it, but many did
and I found myself in daily conversations
with coworkers and customers about issues the book brought up.
And those conversations expanded into more personal ones
about folks’ faith and desires.
I became the informal chaplain to the store.
It was a weird spiritual place,
but one which helped explain the burning in my heart
to care for those hurt by the church, those seeking,
those wandering lost in the wilderness.
All of these experiences were my burning-bush-that-was-not-consumed.
It wasn’t a sudden moment.
And, while I’m still figuring out what it means to be a priest,
and what it means to be a campus missioner
 I have turned off the main path to look at what God is calling me to.
Sometimes the overlap between God’s story and our story
is sudden and easily seen like Moses’ story
or like Paul on the Damascus Road.
More often, it takes time, is a cycle, seems rather ordinary.
And that is precisely where God is working all the time.
God doesn’t need the big moments to tell us something,
to call us into deeper relationship or risky giving
or radical inclusion.
God calls to us in every moment of every day.
Steve Jobs agrees with me, in a way…
in 2005, he spoke at Stanford University’s commencement and spoke
         of the calligraphy class he took before he dropped out of college
         he said he learned what makes letters and words,
typography interesting and beautiful
and subtle and fascinating
He said, “None of this had even a hope of any practical application in my life. But ten years later, when we were designing the first Macintosh computer, it all came back to me. And we designed it all into the Mac. It was the first computer with beautiful typography. If I had never dropped in on that single course in college, the Mac would have never had multiple typefaces or proportionally spaced fonts. And since Windows just copied the Mac, it's likely that no personal computer would have them. If I had never dropped out, I would have never dropped in on this calligraphy class, and personal computers might not have the wonderful typography that they do. Of course it was impossible to connect the dots looking forward when I was in college. But it was very, very clear looking backwards ten years later.
He said, “Again, you can't connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something — your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. This approach has never let me down, and it has made all the difference in my life.[1]

This week, I’m giving you homework. I want you to try to connect the dots.
Take a little time each day this week to consider your life story.
What are your strongest memories?
What were your favorite books or most influential people?
How are they related to who you are now?
Do you see any similarities among those stories?
Threads which continue through your life
but that you hadn’t noticed before?
Then spend some time in prayer
—not the intercessory prayer we often do for others,
but in silence, asking God to help you see what God’s trying to show you.
Consider what God might be saying to you
in the most ordinary moments of your life,
in the birthday parties and the deaths,
in the Habitat houses you’ve built or the papers you’ve written,
the things you’ve gotten excited about
and the things you wish you didn’t remember.
Ask God to help you see more clearly
the thread of the sacred running through your life.
Ask God where that thread might be leading.
Write this stuff down if that’s helpful,
or talk about it with your family or a trusted friend.
Be honest.
Be open to a burning bush-that-is-burning-but-not-consumed,
because it’s been burning all your life,
off to the side, in the corner of your eye.
Turn aside from the path you think you have to be on
and look at what God is doing.
Choose to see your story connected to God’s story. And catch fire.

[1] From Steve Jobs’ commencement address at Stanford in 2005: accessed 8.27.11 12:26pm EST