Stay At Home Sabbath

The ideas of Sabbath and rest are concepts that we are all familiar with on some level, but now we find ourselves in an unfamiliar rhythm of life, and sabbath has very clearly been affected.

I have asked many people how they are managing to rest in a time of what looks on the outside like unending rest… and they have all replied with the same answer… “I don’t… and what’s more is that I have never been more tired.”

Sabbath had always been, for me, a time that was separate, closed off from the hussle and bussle of daily life. It was a time to recenter, reorient, and refresh.

But now, with stay at home orders… the hussle and bussle has elbowed its way in through my front door, set itself up in my bedroom, and has begun demanding my attention at all hours of the day… and this has effectively destroyed that physical separateness of how I understand and embodied rest and Sabbath.

So how do we practice Sabbath in a world that now (at least for me) exists in 600 sq ft? Well it turns out, that that physical space part may have been a red herring, not unimportant, but a red herring to the real issue. Maybe the beginnings of an answer are found instead in not treating Sabbath like yet another thing on my checklist that I needed to get done. I had not intended for that to be the case, but in the disruption of separation between work and home, Sabbath somehow got filed under “work.” In re-reading Barbara Brown Taylor’s Leaving Church, she helped me come to this realization and remember the truth of Sabbath:

“What made any of us think that the place we are trying to reach is far, far ahead of us somewhere and that the only way to get there is to run until we drop? For Christians, at least part of the answer is that many of us have been taught to think of God’s kingdom as something outside of ourselves, for which we must search as a merchant searches for the pearl of great price. But even that points to a larger and more enduring human problem, which is the problem of mortality. With a limited number of years to do whatever it is that we are supposed to be doing here, who has the time to stop?

How long had it been since I had remembered the Sabbath? I was certainly aware of the concept. I had even declared Friday my Sabbath instead of my day off, but on that day, as on every other day of the week, I stayed very busy. I worked on my sermon, shifted loads of laundry from the washer to the clothesline during my frequent breaks, and when that was done I cleaned the litter boxes, fed the animals, and thought about what to cook for supper. The only material difference between Friday and any other day of the week was that I worked at home in my sweat clothes instead of at a church in clericals.

Observant Jews have kept the Sabbath holy for millennia, even those caring for half a dozen children and elderly parents whose needs do not stop when the sun goes down. Sabbath is written into the ancient covenant with God. Remember the Sabbath, the rabbis say, and you fulfill all of Torah. Stop for one whole day every week, and you will remember what it means to be created in the image of God, who rested on the seventh day not from weariness but from complete freedom. The clear promise is that those who rest like God find themselves free like God, no longer slaves to the thousand compulsions that send others rushing toward their graves.”

Leaving Church, pgs. 134-136

To stop, breathe, and free ourselves from the “thousand compulsions” sending us “to our grave”, if only just for 5 minutes, can be hugely re-centering, reorienting, and refreshing. Sabbath is not something outside of ourselves, or another thing to get done today… it is a reminder that we are made in the image of God, and that we belong to God, and God alone… not those thousand compulsions. 

So remember to find those moments of Sabbath…  remember that the hussle and bussle does not own you. Remember that when we stop and embody the rhythm of creation, the ebb and flow, we honor and remember the one who created us. Amen.

Life in the Big City

It has been quite a few months since my last post and to say the least, a lot has changed. In late October, I left my position in Orange County, and made the long trek from California to New York City. This was scary. Anyone who knows me, knows I like a plan. Give me a good goal to work towards, with few variables, and I am your girl. That is part of the reason I love school so much, it gives me a goal to work towards with semi-controlled variables to work with.

Yet here I was, finding myself choosing to uproot my life for a relationship, move away from friends and family, and head east with no job prospects on the horizon. That is a LOT of variables. It felt messy, scary, overwhelming, but at the same time exciting. I could feel my soul being shaken awake by the lack of predictability I now found myself in.

I chose to drive, rather than fly, from CA to NY for a multitude of reasons, but a big one was because there is nothing like a good long road-trip to contemplate and sit with your thoughts. I was able to begin processing the loss of the familiar as I crossed through big sky country, ask myself what I really wanted out of life as we entered Chicago, and get excited about the unknown future as we crossed the final bridge from New Jersey into New York City. By placing myself in a world I was completely unfamiliar with, I was having to consciously choose to trust in the guidance of the divine again, rather than taking for granted my many blessings. I was realizing how rusty I had become at this practice, and remembering how truly uncomfortable being somewhere new can be.

It had been a few years since I last found myself transplanted into a wild and unfamiliar landscape, and over those years I had (as we all do) learned to look at my time there through “rose colored lenses.” That is not to say my time in North Carolina wasn’t wonderfully life changing, but that is just it… it changed my life. Here I was again changing my life, and forgetting about the necessary “growing pains.” We forget that when we leave a place we’ve grown to love, we think of the challenges only in light in how we got through them, how we made meaning of those moments. We know how they end, and that we are who we are now because of them.  We’ve done the hard work of integrating these new experiences into our identities, and loving our new selves because of them. 

It was a humbling reminder that “being present” isn’t just a mindfulness slogan, it is a courageous way of being in the world. Life is scary when we don’t know the outcome, when we look around and can’t see the bigger picture of how these moments fit into the arch of our life stories. But by choosing to trust the divine in and around us, through choosing to see goodness in the people we meet, and choosing to hope and work for a life that brings you meaning, joy, and purpose… that is the bravest, messiest, most real thing we can do with our lives and our faith. This is showing up, being present in our own lives.

Realizing that fact has not stopped my life from being extremely difficult these past few months. There has been exhaustion, fear, insecurity, sickness, depression, and disappointments. But through choosing to trust and show up I have also experienced joy, kindness, comfort, grace, support, awe at the world, and love. Despite all the hardships that my partner and I have faced since October… Despite not having the time and distance to look back on my move here with rose colored lenses, I trust that I am learning something from being here. I don’t have any magical answers for solving the crappy moments, but I have a freshly polished respect and admiration for the courage it takes to embrace the wild and unfamiliar. There is something exciting in remembering that, amidst the mess, we have the capacity to refuse to let the crappy moments overshadow the beauty that happens in between.

So here I am, trying to be present to NYC, to what God has to show me in this new space, and in this new season. May it be full of learning, loving, forgiving, and embracing. And may whoever finds themselves in a similar season know that they are not alone, and trust that beauty and meaning making are surely happening all around them even when they can’t see it.. yet.

Owning our hypocrisy

Isaiah 1:1, 10-20 & Psalm 50:1-6, 16-23

In our text this week, I think it is safe to say that God is a little more than annoyed with us, wouldn’t you agree? We just heard over twenty verses (which is just a small chunk) of the prophet Isaiah and the Psalmist proclaiming that we have completely let ourselves go, and that our sacrifices are no longer acceptable. “Why?” these people must be asking… “we have kept up our sacrifices to the Gods!” they might say defending themselves … “but this is how we have been taught to please the Gods” they might even be saying… and they are not wrong.

Ritual, offering, sacrifice… these are the foundations of daily life back then (and today, but I will get to that later). That was where the emphasis on reverence to God lay. It was the central way of communicating directly with deities. You bring your sacrifice, you stay in good standing with God, you go about your business. Even prayer how we think of it today, was not quite a thing yet… if ever there were prayers being spoken, it was usually accompanied with an offering, a sacrifice… some sort of mediation, to entice God to fulfill whatever it was that you were asking for. Think more along the lines of a transaction, or a bank account. If you stay in good standing, and nothing bounces when God goes in to cash your check… you are good to go.

So in our text today… in walks Isaiah, this crazy person who has been wandering from town to town… and he is saying “actually… your sacrifices to God? He isn’t taking them anymore… and in fact… he is disgusted by them.” Can you imagine? I would have been gobsmacked. What do you mean God “does not delight in the blood of bulls” or that my “incense is an abomination” to God? I have some burning right now!! Why? Why? Why? Why is this not enough anymore? These people must be asking…

And the answer to that can be found in the words of the Psalmist that we heard today… “you have cast my words behind you, you make friends with a thief when you see one, and you keep company with adulterers… you give your mouth free rein for evil, and you sit and speak against your kin”…. OH… that.

Even reading it now, I always get a little bit anxious for them because I can feel their utter exposure… you know the feeling, when you find out someone was watching you when you thought you were alone?… there are those few seconds of terror as you wrack your brain to see if there is anything you should be embarrassed about? Well guess what… turns out there is a LOT that they should be embarrassed about. Whether through laziness, forgetfulness, or some malicious intent… this community had completely thrown out the other half of the faith their God had called them to. They had fallen prey to their convenient transactional idea of God… that their sacrifices would somehow erase the bad behavior and neglect of the poor.

It turns out that what they told themselves had been honoring God (and to be fair, was the popular conception of what pleased God)… was not honoring God at all… this transactional faith was instead creating a system of extreme hypocrisy, and perverting the true character and the will of God in the process. It became so bad that God sent Isaiah to say on God’s behalf, “Your sacrifices alone has never been the point, you are letting the poor get trampled, and I have had enough”.

How did we get so far away from the will of God? It always amazes me how easily as humans, we can trick ourselves. One way the Judaeans had completely gone astray was in that bank account metaphor… I would be kidding myself if I didn’t admit that that idea is still in the water all around us today… but the toxic, harmful assumption in that metaphor, is that God wants us to do things that benefit God… that somehow we have something that God does not, and that it pleases God when we can place that particularly hefty sacrifice in God’s account. We are confusing ourselves with who God is… God is not our boss, God is not a landlord, and God is not a business. How laughably arrogant we must be to think that not only is there something we can offer God that God does not already have, but that God would be that shallow to take it and run… God is not in need… God is in love…. With us. How sad that we are constantly forgetting that very important fact.

What Isaiah and the Psalmist are trying to tell us is that it was never the goal to do things that benefit God, ESPECIALLY at the cost of one another… God wants us to do things that benefit one another… that benefit the community, and build each other up… that is what makes God truly happy. If God is in love with us, then it only makes sense that God would want all of us to flourish. And when I say flourish I do not mean economically… all throughout the bible we hear God saying that what the kingdom really is is kindness to one another, mercy, honesty, empathy, sharing resources, and caring for the oppressed. THAT is flourishing. For a reminder of this we need only hop over a few books and look at the ten commandments. “You shall not steal, you shall not covet, you shall not kill.” These are all different ways of saying “be nice, do not be selfish, and build true community.” Since the new testament obviously did not exist yet, this is the God and the scripture that these Judaeans would have been familiar with scripturally. Their effort to appease God through sacrifice alone is violating the very way of life God has called them too. What good is an offering, if it came to our hands through means of extortion? How is the blood of killed animals pleasing God when they passed starving children on the way to the synagogue? These are the contradictions Isaiah and the Psalmist are begging them to see… and they are contradictions that still exist today. 

And that right there is the beauty of scripture to me… it reminds us that we are not alone in our struggles, and that what we struggle with now, has been around for millennia. But it also reminds us that God is constantly calling us to be better, and to participate in the creation of a better, less hypocritical, world.

So how are we honoring God? As individuals, a community, a nation, and a world? Have we, like our friends the Judaeans, tricked ourselves into a hypocritical faith? Into complacency? This scripture causes me to ask “Where is my relationship with God right now? Is it only in ritual, or is it in the unscripted vulnerability that comes with helping others?” Neither are inherently bad, but am I leaning too heavily on one or the other? It is easy to fall, to become unbalanced, and that is not bad, that is natural, it’s human. I don’t think God becomes angry at us for our seasons of faith… but I do believe that God wants us to hold ourselves accountable. If we can read scripture and be honest enough with ourselves to say “oh rats… I think this is highlighting the fact that I have been negligent in this area of my faith life while feeling pious and holy over here… how can I do better?” … then I think God is very much pleased.

So as we step back into our lives at the end of service, I encourage you to take the words of Isaiah and of the Psalmist to heart. Ask yourselves “How am I honoring God? Is it through coming to church? Is it through helping the community? How do I balance out my offerings of time, money, participation, and service so that I am trying my best not to become hypocritical in my words and actions? These questions remind us that church is not a place, and that God is not contained to our sanctuaries. God cares that we are trying to be good people in ALL aspects of our lives… through work, church, friends, family.  Church is everywhere, it is a way of life… which means that, THANK GOD, we are constantly being given new opportunities to love God and love one another better. So I ask again “How are you honoring God?” Amen.

People over Profit

Sermon 6/2/19 Acts 16:16-34, John 17:20-26

 

Our scriptures today speak to two different realities… one speaks to the reality of the kin-dom of God, and the other to the kingdom of man. In the gospel of John we hear Jesus proclaim: “the glory that you have given me, so I have given them, so that they may be one, as we are one.” The chunk of scripture we read today is a bit repetitive and convoluted as John sometimes tends to be, but the gist is this… Jesus wants to be one with us, just as he is one with God. That is his ultimate goal for humanity… for us to know him so deeply that we see one another as he sees us, isn’t that beautiful? That is the reality of the kin-dom of God. And since our theme for today is healing from trauma (since James has been leading us through a series of healing in the book of acts), it seems only appropriate to understand trauma as the opposite of that oneness. Trauma is separation from God. This can look like many things… the isolation felt after the loss of loved ones, the pain we inflict on others when we act out of fear and stereotypes, the shame we ingest when our bodies are violated… the list goes on and on but what they all have in common is the ability to separate us from our beloved identity in God… Jesus wants us to know first hand the love of God, to feel how deeply we are loved by our creator, and that does not come from separation from God, or identities that would further divide us from one another… it comes from liberation from those things. Jesus knows that the only way we begin to let go of what has separated us from God and experience that healing “oneness” with our creator is through opening ourselves up to closeness, intimacy, and vulnerable relationships with God and one another. And I think all of us here know enough to realize that is no small order.

Turns out this idea of healing and oneness is not all peace signs and daisies… it is messy, hard, and holy work to reclaim the shattered pieces that trauma (both individual and communal) leaves behind … it requires choosing relationships over convenience, vulnerability over defensiveness, it requires not turning a blind eye to the injustices of others, and it requires a close enough proximity with our neighbors so that we cannot trick ourselves into thinking we are better than them. Seeking “oneness” with God means putting people before any form of profit… and that is bound to ruffle a few feathers. But this “oneness”, this unity that Jesus speaks of, is not defined as ruffle or conflict free. Unity with our brothers and sisters does not always mean abiding by the rules, it does not mean simply smiling at one another on the streets (although that is good, keep that up), and it definitely does not mean unity as conformity to the social norms of our society… this may seem like an oxymoron, but we see this statement affirmed in the life of Jesus, the ultimate feather ruffler… who flipped tables, healed on the Sabbath, and ate with prostitutes…. All things that broke rules, caused conflict, and definitely did not abide by society’s norms… in the name of peace and unity. Jesus did all of these things in the name of fulfilling a ministry that would bring us closer to one another, heal divisions we had placed between ourselves, and bring us closer to the true character and love of God. If we follow his story all the way through we see that this work of unity is in fact what Got him killed… so we begin to see the pattern that this work of loving our neighbors and seeking unity with God and the Holy Spirit is not only hard, but in fact can be dangerous work. The kin-dom of God is not for the faint of heart. But it begs the question- How can dangerous and disruptive work bring healing? Well… it depends on what we are disrupting. Are we disrupting something that is perpetuating the kin-dom of God or the kingdom of humans?

I believe the perfect example of disruptive healing lays in our story from Acts today…

This story of Paul and Silas is a pretty traumatic story if you look at it as a whole… Paul and Silas get beaten, thrown into prison, there is an earthquake big enough to bring down buildings, and now there are escaped convicts running amok on the streets of Rome! I don’t know about you, but I would be pretty traumatized from the earthquake alone, let alone witnessing or experiencing the violence perpetuated on Paul and Silas. But that is just the tip of the iceberg of what is really going on here… this is a story of liberation, of radical compassion, a story of those dangerous acts of healing and unity, and of surviving the trauma of our world.

Upon a first reading we may list the people who were separated, enslaved, or imprisoned as Paul, Silas, the girl with the spirits, and maybe the other prisoners. But if we go through it a second time with the lens of trauma as separation from God, who else would be included on that list? What about the owners of the girl? They were enslaved by their greed for money, putting their profit before the well being of this girl, and when she is cured of her illness, instead of celebrating… they are so far separated from this union with God that they only see it as a wrong perpetrated against their bank account. That does not mean I am de-emphasizing the trauma inflicted upon this young girl…. But it does make me feel sorry for these men, and it reminds me of my own enslavement to money, and the fear of not having enough… it forces me to ask myself “when have I put my profit before the well-being of people?”

The next people I would add to that list upon a second reading is the jailer and magistrates. I have never been forced to beat or imprison someone before, but I can only imagine that it would carry a significant weight on my soul. And again, I do not want to overlook the trauma of Paul and Silas, but I do want to call attention to everyone involved in that trauma. The men who beat and imprison Paul and Silas are themselves enslaved to perpetuating a system that uses violence as a means to control the community. Nobody is benefiting from this violence except the ones at the very top.. And Jesus’ ministry happens an awful long way away from the upper echelons of society.  This is division, separation, and the brokenness of the kingdom of humans.

It would seem that pretty much everyone in this story, in one way or another, is tethered to this system of exploitation. So where is the radical compassion? The dangerous and disruptive work that is claimed to bring healing? It appears in four distinct moments… the healing of the girl, the singing and praying in the cell, the holy earthquake that unfastened EVERYONE’S CHAINS, and the baptism of the jailer.

It was important to highlight where all of the exploitation and trauma is happening, because it makes the beauty of these healing acts even more powerful.

Paul and Silas were acting in the name of Jesus Christ when they brought this girl out of trauma of enslavement to both owners and spirits. They probably knew that there were going to be ramifications (which might be why it took a few days for them to do it) but they eventually did it anyway… they put the person before the profit. Whether out of annoyance like it says in the text or not, they were able to see this girl for more than the dollar sign over her head… something that her owners were either unable or unwilling to do. And it ruffled the men’s feathers enough to have them beaten and imprisoned… they even make sure to identify Paul and Silas as “Jews” as opposed to Romans, which further reveals the broken world view of human reality, and its foundations in divisions, stereotypes, differences, and xenophobia… and this is enough to get them put in prison, where the second glimpse of healing and God’s kin-dom occurs. Did it not seem odd to anyone else that after being thrown in prison, they spend all night singing and praising God?? When our natural impulse is to scream “why?!” at the top of our lungs, it does feel strange to choose to sing and pray… but I am here to tell you I have seen this pattern many many times during my tenure as a chaplain, and can vouch for the holy healing it can provide. When I would come to the bedside of those saying an imminent goodbye to a loved one, often one person would start singing, maybe they would start saying a prayer and reach out for the hand next to their own. This act of gathering together, of seeking togetherness in a time of deep isolation… they somehow knew that this was what was going to get them through their grief and trauma. We cannot avoid death, trauma, and grief all together unfortunately… but we can survive it, we can heal from it. I love that these weird intimate compulsions I saw families and friends have in the hospital, are reflected in scripture like this… it is a reminder that even over the course of thousands of years we are more alike than we are different, and that we were never meant to go through life, let alone trauma, alone… Jesus wants to be one with us.

James even told me that this is exactly what happened recently at the bedside of our dear Velma right before she passed. Her family gathered around her, her great grandchildren sang her the ABC’s, and the adults sang hymns… when they found themselves in a time of overwhelming sadness they reached for GOD.. not to save them from their grief, but to accompany them through it.

The third miraculous act of healing comes as Paul and Silas are coming together to sing and pray… it is the holy earthquake that shakes all the cell doors open and unfastens everyone’s chains. The crazy detail in this act is that all the prisoners were freed… not just Paul and Silas. In this moment, God liberates all who have found themselves in chains. This is an act of radical compassion, trust, and hope on God’s part that to this day still baffles my mind. I have a hard enough time being vulnerable in a relationship let alone giving someone who society has deemed untrustworthy, a convict, a second chance… yet that is what God is doing here. God is choosing forgiveness over punishment. This simple yet radical action convinces me that God is always asking us to choose togetherness over separateness, unity over division, and second chances over mercilessness. God apparently does not work on a penal system… and that is scary for us… this act is a radical, vulnerable, and dangerous act of healing if ever I saw one. It is frankly also a bit of an indictment to a society like our own that has the highest percent of incarcerated individuals in the world. In don’t pretend to have answers to this, I am still working through what healing acts this calls us to do as a community, but like I said earlier… oneness with God requires us to not turn a blind eye to things that make us uncomfortable.

Lastly we come to the healing act of Paul and Silas stopping the jailer from killing himself, and later baptizing his entire family. Contrary to the grudge I would most likely be holding against the jailer for putting me in a cell, Paul and Silas seem to hold no grudges, no impulse for revenge… where I would seek to keep this man at arms length, Paul and Silas welcome with open arms. How do we harm ourselves and one another by choosing to trust our grudges? What opportunities do we miss to see Jesus in one another? To see and feel the surprising love and compassion that God wants for all of our lives.

So it would seem that how we heal from trauma is how we respond to trauma… are we choosing isolation or community? Are we reaching for our guns or one another’s hands? Do we let our neighbors drown in grief or do we join them to sing a song that invites the holy spirit into the grief? Who are we choosing to liberate and why? Does it put the person of the profit of economy first? These are all difficult questions… but it all points back to what we claimed at the beginning… that the healing work of Jesus Christ can be dangerous, can be disruptive, can ruffle feathers, and often goes against the system of value in our society. But as long as these disruptions are happening in an effort to be one with God and one with each other… these liberations big and small continue to bring the kin-dom of God here, to give us small glimpses of the unconditional love God has for us. So let us proclaim release to the captives, sing in joy and grief with one another, seek to break all chains, and welcome one another with the love of Jesus Christ. Amen.

Temptation and Evil

When Pastor James asked me to preach today I asked, “okay, you’ll be doing the Lord’s Prayer sermon series around then right? Which verses are that Sunday?”… he said “Lead me not into temptation but deliver us from evil.” “Oh ok” I said… “the easy part…”

 

Those two words, temptation and evil, are so loaded, so crammed full of connotation, especially in a church setting, that it would take a week to unpack all of the different meanings, understandings, and experiences we associate with them. Don’t worry, I am not going to hold you captive here for hours… but I would like to explore a few of the ways this scripture may be sitting with us this morning or in this season of life. That is part of the beauty of scripture, is it not? This ability it has to feed us over and over again using the same ink… the same words on the page, but each time we sit with those same words it moves us, opens us, and makes us privy to God and the Holy Spirit in new ways we never knew we needed at that exact point in time.

 

So we discovered on Wednesday at Bible Study, that the word in Greek that is translated here as “temptation” (peirasmos)… is not only used in 21 other places within the New Testament, but can be translated as “test” or “trial” as well. Now, I don’t know about you, but each of those words in the English language strike me differently. When I think of resisting temptation, I think of not going to get the ice cream out of the freezer after dinner. When I think of being tested, I think of all of the exams I had to take to receive my Master’s degree… a test of my knowledge. And with trial, I think of either a court case or being in times of trial, of tribulation. These differing translations are all simultaneously interchangeable and very different. This one word alone, peirasmos, can leave us a bit disoriented, a bit confused in knowing what to do with it. But just as the water starts to get a little too murky, we remember that in verse 9 right before we hear “Our Father in Heaven”… we catch Jesus saying “pray then in this way..” We are reminded that this verse about temptation and evil is not simply scripture, but also part of a prayer! It was never meant to be a stand alone verse. It was never meant to be taken out of it’s larger context! While I strongly believe in spending time with and pulling apart verses individually, we must never forget they are not just pieces of wisdom floating around in the wind… they are usually tethered to something, and in this case, these words are tethered to the rest of the prayer.

 

And while we have established context is important, it turns out, so is the order of Jesus’ prayer. The more I read it, the more convinced I am that it is critical that the hardest, harshest, and most theologically confusing part of this prayer (today’s verse) comes right after we have blatantly asked for forgiveness of sin both towards God and one another. Seems a bit odd right? Shouldn’t it almost go after we petition God to lead us away from doing or perpetuating bad things?… So it would be as if to say “oh and in case we mess up and succumb to our temptations, can you forgive us please?” After all, in our daily lives we usually ask for forgiveness after we do something wrong, not before. But instead we petition to be forgiven before we even get around to petitioning God to help us make good decisions in our lives… hmm… it is almost eerily reminiscent of the pattern of God’s love for us, isn’t it… to be forgiven before we inevitably fall short of our potential.

 

And if the order of this prayer is meant to offer insight into the character of our Loving Creator, than skipping certain verses is not an option either…. Let us consider… if we skipped from “your will be done” straight to “lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil” sounds like a much heavier, much more rigid declaration… one that seems to use fear and power rather than love and hope as it’s motivators. It reminds me of that phrase that I think real estate agents use… Because, turns out, it really is all about “location, location, location.”

So if we take a step back and look at the whole thing, take into account the order, inclusion, and placement of each verse in this prayer… how does that lend us insight into our verse for today? If trials and evil inevitable find their way into our lives, regardless of who we think brought it there… it seems that the emphasis is not on what grade we get, like my tests in seminary, not on whether or not I resist the siren call of my Baskin Robbins mint chocolate chip ice cream, or even on “trial” as a way to stand up in front of a court and defend my actions. These are all things based on logic, fact, and retribution… and that is not our God…. if we look long enough we begin to see that our trials and tribulations are always meant to bring us back to the hope and forgiveness of Jesus Christ.

After all, when  take a step back and look at the whole thing, we find that this theme of hope and forgiveness is woven almost methodically throughout the entire prayer… we proclaim the awesomeness of God, then we have salvific hope that one day our reality will be the reality of heaven. Then we pray that God be present with us, feeding us every day… and that petition is answered by proclamation of forgiveness.

 

Hope… and Forgiveness… these are the responses that matter. If we reflect back on our own lives, we can all see that it is through our practice of forgiveness that we are able to know God, know one another, and know the love of Christ in our world. All of this in our Lord’s prayer… so that by the time we get to temptation and evil… we have been reminded of what is good, what is holy, and what actions and reactions truly sustain us through this life. It is when I read the Lord’s prayer like this, that the last verse begins to look a lot less scary and judgmental, and much more humble and unassuming… much more like the one who spoke it into existence.

 

A person who kept coming into my mind as I was writing this sermon, was my grandma. It could be because she was sitting across from me as I was writing a good portion of it, but I think it is because her life speaks to how we are to carry this last verse and the entire Lord’s prayer in our hearts in general. My grandma has not had an easy life. She lost her mom to cancer when she was eight years old, her dad institutionalized due to the trauma of World War 1, and just a few months later found herself on a train by herself from Massachusetts to California to live with family she had never met before. All this at eight years of age. The family she went to live with was not great, so she eventually went to live with a different family… and two marriages, two kids, two more moves, a stroke, and decades later here we are… but those are just the facts… when I look at her life through the lens of “and lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil”… everything changes. If there is someone who has a right to be angry, to succumb to the temptation of bitterness, to shut the world out due to the evil she has experienced… it would be my grandma. But she has chosen hope, love, and forgiveness time and time and time again. She chose to keep loving despite the lack of love she received as a child, and now has two daughters, two granddaughters, and an extended family that would drop anything to be by her side. She forgave those that wronged her and it wasn’t until I was in high school that I put two and two together that it was a bit out of the ordinary to celebrate Christmas with my family, my grandma, her ex-husband (my gpa) and his new wife (my other gma)… all with the utmost joy and love for one another in our hearts. To me, her whole life is an example of the Lord’s Prayer. She has sought God through her 85 years, sat in awe at the wonder of God’s love, never stopped hoping in a coming kin-dom rid of pain and suffering, patiently accepted the daily bread of God while not knowing what the future holds, and each time has been delivered from evil and the road of dark temptations by her strength to love, forgive, and hope.
So may we all take a page from her book… may we all remember that this prayer is a way of life. And just like the cyclical nature of life, this prayer is meant to be read and experienced cyclically…  so when we are in times of trial, of uncertainty, and temptation..may we never forget that your kin-dom God, is coming, that there are already moments of it here on earth… may this buoy us so that instead of words of hatred, may the next words on our lips be“Our father, hallowed be thy name!”… may God’s daily bread keep us seeking the path of righteousness, and lead us back to it when we begin to follow the road of anger, of fear, and of exclusion. We are shown how to stand up to and withstand the ways of evil through the life of our Messiah… may we always seek this way of life. Amen.

Is God Near?

With this past week of General Conference and all the other struggles that come with being in a church I keep finding myself asking “Is God near?”

Because when I sit by my garden, looking at the flowers, watching new green sprouts so full of potential shooting out of the dark soil, I know God is near… I am certain in my very bones that she refuses to let her church die and be done… and it is evidenced by the very green life in front of me.

But then I look at the Institution of the Church… and I feel abandoned, alone. I don’t recognize the tradition that raised me, and it seems that what once was a space full of life and community is now empty, and instead only full of the echoes my steps make ricocheting off the walls.

So as we approach this season of lent I again as myself “Is God near?” And it hits me… the answer to my question has been in my tears, in my hurt, and in my uncertainty. I have felt the nearness of God more acutely in my tears this week than I have anywhere else in a long time. So maybe that is where God is calling us to start. Maybe our tears are the beginning. Our sorrow as a Methodist community could be what composts those empty halls and archaic rules. It could be the key to what begins the deep, honest work of the new… of the near.

Come Holy Spirit come… remind us how near you are amidst this foggy future. Show us how to make holy space for your work, your grace, and your love to take root. Help us to remember you are always near, doing the radical work of redeeming this broken world. Amen.

New Year, New Faith

It is truly embarrassing how long it has been since I last posted anything. In my defense I was finishing up papers in my never ending process of Ordination in the UMC.

I wanted to share my sermon from this past Sunday because it was surprisingly life giving to write, and therefore hopefully surprisingly life giving to read/hear.

As we enter this new year, let us let go of what has been weighing us down, and embrace what brings us life.

-Nicole

Sermon 12/30/18 Luke 2:42-51 and Colossians 3:12-17

For those of you who do not know me well enough yet, there is something you should know about me… I love school. Well maybe not high school, but college more specifically. I love the idea of a place devoted to the task of learning… learning that requires humility, questioning, critical thinking, the willingness to admit we don’t know everything, and the willingness to see the world through someone else’s eyes. My dream vacation would be to visit as many colleges as possible, and just sit in on classes, learn, and pretend like I went there. But enough about me… I tell you this because it should give you some measure of how much I love this week’s scripture, and because today we get to see Jesus in that exact same place… learning, questioning, thinking critically, and beginning to see the world through the eyes of Jewish law…

 

What is interesting is that this is the only place in the Gospels that we get to see Jesus as an adolescent. The other gospels skip these “lost years” and jump to his baptism and ministry. Why is that? Now, there are many theories as to why, but they are all speculation… so instead I wanted to take a step back and look at the bigger picture. We see Jesus as a baby… a sweet, innocent child… and then as an adult… a wise, calm, patient, justice seeking man… and the link I began to see here is that these are depictions of a man who is pretty easy to love. With his miraculous birth, and later unwavering wisdom and commitment to God, how could we not praise this idyllic behavior and praise God’s holy name? What we don’t see is God as a teenager… now I don’t know about you… but I find it sometimes pretty difficult to love teenagers… and just so I am not accused of hypocrisy, I will also admit that my sister and I were not a basket of roses during those years either. But it is because those are rough years! They are embarrassing, they are clumsy, and incredibly vulnerable years! It is a hard phase of life to love, both in others and in ourselves. But they are also necessary because they are deeply formative years.  Through experiential trial and error, those years provide much much learning…they play a critical part in creating the beautiful faces I see before me today. The richness of life and of all of your stories comes from your journeys, your curiosities, your lessons learned, your lessons still being learned, and your vulnerable moments, not just from your end goals.

 

That is why I am so thankful for this glimpse of Jesus, sitting at the feet of his elders… it is a glimpse of his journey, his lessons learned, and a reminder of the humility of Christ. Here is God almighty… sitting at the feet of Jewish leaders, eagerly asking questions and being excited about the very faith he embodies! Did you ever stop to wonder why Jesus wasn’t just born with all of his wisdom, knowledge, patience, and mercy? I mean, if God can miraculously conceive a child through Mary, it is definitely not out of God’s reach to make that child a genius baby. Obviously there were some “genetics” at play that already made him freakishly wise and independent, but I also believe that there was some “nurture” involved too. We see it in the efforts of his parents, the presence of the Jewish leaders, and probably in friendships he made as a young boy too. All of these “nurture” moments remind us that someone can know all the facts in the world, but without humility, without remembering that they too were once students, shaped by the people around them… it can do more harm than good.

 

It makes me think of a professor I once had while in seminary at Duke. She had recently joined the faculty there and began to teach one of our big lecture classes. Now I was still in my first year, and was coming from a sociology background… It was like drinking from a fire-hose. I was still learning the lingo and getting used to this new world full of made up words that always made my Microsoft Word so angry whenever I wrote papers… I was sensitive to the fact that I somehow didn’t know everything everyone else knew… and in came this new professor. She always wore her Oxford robes to teach in (I am guessing so that we never forgot she went to Oxford), and if someone asked a “dumb” question (God forbid you did not know something) she would shame you in front of the entire class for not knowing! We all looked around at each other going… “does she not know that we are at a school?? Where we go to learn things? Where questions are part of the process?” Her shaming tactics made it an unsafe place to truly embrace what we were learning, and so instead we all worked from a place of fear… learning the facts so she wouldn’t call us out but simultaneously missing out on the opportunity to fall in love with the material.

 

So when I read this scripture… It is a beautiful reminder to me that even Jesus was a student… that God wanted to live authentically with us, so much so, that instead of imbuing Jesus with the knowledge of the universe, left some space to be a human… to wrestle, question, and grow like we all do… these experiences are crucial to remember because they show us how life-giving it is to have a safe space to ask questions, to be vulnerable with one another, especially in places of learning… but these experiences also help remind us to also have patience, forgiveness, and empathy for those around us… for we are always learning, every single one of us… and that is not shameful at all but empowering and exciting!

 

It is also beautifully subversive… because we live in a society of experts… sports experts, pet experts, medical experts, weather experts…. We have created Doctoral degrees so that we can proclaim to the world.. “I am an expert at what I do”… we rarely see these experts doing the work, the learning, the late nights to get there, all we see is the finished product, the plaques on the wall, and so it begins to create this feeling of shame within us, or at the very least embarrassment for not knowing certain things, for not achieving our own status of expert in life… but our God sees right through that false sense of grandeur… our God does not love us because we are experts… in fact it is the opposite, God loves us because we will always be God’s children… because we will always be lifelong learners. How else are we to keep our faith alive?! We should always be learning new things from and about our world and our faith. Through seeing Jesus here, as a twelve year old, disobeying his parents, and being so enraptured by the teachings of his Jewish faith that he spends three days in the temple?! We are reminded that our God wants us to be that in love with the world, that in love with God… because that is how in love God is with us.

 

In our other scripture, Colossians 3:12-17, we are shown instead what God would have us aspire to, what God would have us seek expertise in… compassion, kindness, humility, patience, love, forgiveness, harmony, and gratitude. Phew… that is a high bar… and one that I am inclined to think is even harder to obtain than a Ph.D… God knows that this goal is a bit of a moving target, so the author even includes in verse 16 “teach and admonish one another in all wisdom”… we were meant to rely on one another, to have the humility to learn from one another, not beat each other down with the knowledge we managed to obtain before them… this section of Colossians is entitled “new life in Christ” because the author is claiming that through Christ, things are being made new…it is emphasizing that while our laws and traditions are holy and important guides, our faith was never meant to become stagnant. We see this exact trajectory play out within the life of Christ, because while we see him here, learning, growing, and loving his faith… we also see him 20-ish years later in the same temple, flipping tables and driving out the people because they have stopped learning from their faith… they instead began using their faith traditions to extort money from people, and gave themselves the power to delineate who was and who was not holier than thou.

 

Jesus does these things later on because we had stopped learning from our faith, we had fallen out of love with God, and in love with our own sense of significance. We had lost our childlike state of being… lost our willingness to question, to sit at the feet of one another, to be vulnerable enough to grow, and our ability to be in awe of a God who seeks relationship with us.

 

Both of these scriptures are reminding us today that we are constantly growing out of and learning from the old, while growing into the new. And what a beautiful time to be reminded of that as we prepare to begin a new year in just a few days. So I pose this question to you: What life giving teachings have become stale for you? What has begun to feel like co-opted confinements weighing you down rather than waking you up to the beauty of this world? Where has your faith come alive? Where has the energy and excitement of this youthful Christ shown up in your life? I encourage you as we enter this new year, to take stock of what’s going on inside you and really be honest with these questions. Like Christ, let us learn to be faithful stewards of our living faith, rather than experts… let us remember what it was like to fall in love with learning, to fall in love with the teachings of Christ. Let us have the humility to acknowledge that we will always have that awkward teenager inside of us, questioning any and all authority while also believing in an idyllic world… but let us also have the humility and vulnerability to admit that we need that teenager. I never thought I’d hear myself say this… but I would like to thank all of our teenage years because they taught us how to learn, how to adapt, how to question, how to fall in love… and may we never shame that beautifully and divinely childlike part of ourselves, for that is in fact exactly who God calls us to be. Thanks be to God. Amen.

Being a Camp Counselor: Inhumane or in the Name of God? Summer 2018

  For two weeks this past July, I spent two weeks as a Leader/Counselor at Lazy W Ranch Camp. This is a camp that has been a part of my life and faith formation since the 3rd grade. Over a decades worth of hikes to the crosses, meal moments, campfire songs, and talent shows have been experienced here. It is a sacred space in my life, and there are no words to describe how thankful I am to have stumbled upon it as a child. But these are all hard sentiments to remember when you are waking up at 6:45 in the morning, on a 2” thick plastic mattress, knowing that you are about to face another day of 100 degree heat with the humidity of North Carolina and no air conditioning. It was an exhausting two weeks to say the least, physically and emotionally. So why do I find myself longing to go back already?? Am I simply a masochistic minister?

  Now that I have been comfortably recovering from heat exhaustion for two weeks in my air conditioned office, I am able to look back with rose colored lenses and see clearly the things that have brought me back year after year. It is the sound of 90 high schoolers singing at the top of their lungs “and heaven meets earth like a SLOPPY WET KISS” with their arms draped over one another’s shoulders. It is the sight of campers spread out over the entire camp playing ridiculous games for an activity called “Giant Olympics.” It is the smell of the dirt and the oaks as we walk to and from our cabins to the dining hall. It is singing worship songs on the volleyball steps first thing in the morning before breakfast while we groggily sip on coffee. It is witnessing deep friendships develop between campers during FOB. It is filling our water bottles with ice all day and sliding some cubes down our shirts to cool us off. It is creating a safe space for campers to ask hard questions like “do you think there is a hell?”, “why do bad things happen to good people?”, and find the bravery to say “I don’t actually know if I believe in this whole Christian thing.” It is having the privilege to hear campers say “I can be myself here because I know I will not be judged.” This type of intimacy, this type of vulnerability, and this type of community is few and far between in our everyday lives. And if you ever get the privilege to experience this type of community, you will know immediately that it is by no means easy or free from pain, but that it is indeed the Kin-dom of God. So I will take the dirt, the non-stop sweating, the hard mattresses, even rattlesnakes if it means that I get to partake in the life giving experience that is Lazy W Summer Camps. Thank you for another wonderful summer God, you never disappoint.

The Mysterious Kin-dom

I wanted to share my sermon from this past Sunday, 6/17/18. I love conversations around what we can and cannot control, as well as where we foolishly expect the kin-dom to pop up in our world… spoiler alert, it is usually not among the powerful and affluent. Anyways, here it is. Please excuse any grammatical errors, I wrote it with the intention of speaking it, so the breaks and run on sentences would actually be spoken more rhythmically than it comes off on the screen.

 

“The Mysterious Kin-dom”

Show of hands… how many of us have a hard time with being patient? How many people have a hard time of letting go of control over things we care about? How many suffer from both? If you raised your hands to both, you would have been in good company with the early church. If we remember, the popular belief back then was that Jesus was going to return soon after he ascended to heaven. So a big hope and motivator was this idea of the imminent return of Christ and restoration of the Kin-dom. So after some time goes by, people are starting to get antsy, to get frustrated… they are beginning to turn against themselves and lose hope. As more time passes, there is a mirkiness that begins to accumulate. What is God doing? Which of our human actions truly please God? Are we doing something wrong? Should we be doing more? What works of God, if not the blatant return of Christ, should we be looking for in our world? If these questions sound familiar to you, just know that these questions started thousands of years ago, and persist to this day! So over the course of all this time, we’ve been using these questions to navigate how to be in our world.

This is where all three of the lectionary texts for this Sunday come into play. The first one, that we did not read, is from Ezekiel 17. The prophet is speaking to his own people, the people of Judah, who have been exiled, become refugees in a foreign land, while outsiders rule their home. They are in a much more dire situation than us, but they are asking the same questions. Where is the kin-dom of God? How will we know? The allegory they receive is of an eagle picking a sprig from a cedar tree and transplanting it to places of abundance, fertility, and resources… and while we would naturally expect it to prosper.. It does not. All the ingredients were there, so why didn’t it prosper? Then God says in 17:22-24, “I myself will take a sprig from the top of a lofty cedar… and will plant it on a high and lofty mountain. It will produce fruit and under it every kind of bird will live. I bring low the high tree and make high the low tree.” This should take us all by surprise a little bit. As the mouthpiece of God, Ezekiel is claiming that the strength and prosperityof the kin-dom of God is not limited to the places where we find earthly prosperity. God is distinctly separating Godself from the places of earthly abundance and fertility, instead naming God’s presence to be among a place with little to no resources. What God is highlighting here, is that out of their fear and scarcity, the people of Judah sought security, and resources from corrupt, wealthy, and powerful countries; and in our worldly economic society, that still happens today, and quite honestly that makes sense right? Befriend the rich countries and that will secure resources for our livelihood. I mean, we aren’t actually the ones perpetuating the corrupt and hurtful policies. But it turns out, God is not okay with our complicit behavior. Instead God turns all of that upside down, and describes this crazy third option we just heard. God decides to plant a tree on the top of a mountain… where there is wind, not much soil, lots of rocks, and no river to supply the tree with water… yet this will be the tree that thrives. The distinction God is trying to make here is one that I think we often compound. The power and flourishing of God’s kin-dom, is not the same as the power and “flourishing” of earthly kingdoms. God’s power cannot be domesticated and refuses to be complicit with oppressive behaviors. It is found in the most unlikely of places. We see the heart of God here because we see that for God, the ends do not justify the means. Financial and worldly security at the cost of other’s oppression, is not an option in God’s kin-dom. And I really wrestle with that because in our world today, it is practically impossible to not be involved one way or the other in the oppression of someone else. God is setting a ridiculously high bar for us… and it is not a bar we can successfully explain away with the excuse of Capitalism. And on that same note, what we also see is that humans cannot control or predict the power of God, nor seek credit or recognition for it. The second we think we have a pulse on how God works in the world, God catches us flat-footed and knocks us on our backsides. We are constantly learning and re-learning to have faith in the mystery of God rather than the our expectations of God.

We see this in 2 Corinthians as well. Paul explicitly says in verse 7, “we walk by faith, not by sight.” He is making a distinction between our community as a part of the Risen Christ, and our community here in the world. Now this statement is obviously easier said than done. I myself usually tend to seek understanding of something through books, and school, and google before I get comfortable with it. And that is not bad (I hope), but it does over time erode my ability to easily feel awe, hope, and accept the things I cannot understand in this world. So Paul’s words in verse 9 come as a challenge to me, “So whether we are at home or away, we make it our aim to please God.” So just as we wrap our heads around Ezekiel clarifying to us where God is and is not, Paul comes around saying to his community, “it doesn’t even matter where God is or is not, how close we may think we are to being with God or not… what matters is how we treat the world and those in it for as long as we are here.” Basically, twice we are told in two seemingly opposing ways, to stop trying to pin God down to a place or expectation. Once again, we have been slowly building a jenga tower with do’s and don’ts as a means to understand and get closer to the Holy, then we hear Paul exclaim “everything old has passed away! In Christ there is a new creation!”… and just like that…  it all comes crashing down with a loud bang, sending us back into the mystery once more.

Finally that brings us to Mark. And if you weren’t already feeling confused, we are handed two seperate parables about the mysterious kin-dom of God. The first describes a seed growing in the ground while we sleep, and the second describes a mustard seed that grows so robust “birds of the air” can make nests in it. But if we look closer we can see that theme of patience and relinquishing control within the text. The only action that is required of humans in the first parable is the scattering of the seed. The rest of the time we are described as “sleeping and rising day and night.” And the seed never ceases to sprout and grow, “though we do not know how.” For anyone that has attempted to grow something from a seed, you know just how much patience is required. But what’s more, is that a good gardener knows that there is only so much they can do to control the outcome. I have watered and loved so many plants to death out of the ironic anxiety that they were going to die, that I have begrudgingly accepted the identity of having a black thumb. Now, my intentions were good! I wanted my plants to thrive and flourish! I was following all the steps my books where telling me to, convinced I had found the formula to a green thumb. Who needs the Holy Spirit when you have miracle grow, fish poop, and pesticides?! Turns out I did… badly. I was so preoccupied with my role in the growing process and controlling the outcome, that I forgot the main truth of gardening… Nature does the growing. The earth and its mysterious innate knowledge of how to nurture seeds into plants was not something that myself, or any human was going to learn to control with a formula. And that, I think, is an ancient wisdom we get further and further away from as we remove ourselves more and more from working with the earth. I had more faith in the formula than faith in God’s earth. It’s ridiculous if you think about it because obviously the dirt under my feet has been doing this much longer than I. This is a reminder, I think, of how much we as religious institutions should rely on the dogma we have created in an effort to understand God, versus how much we should rely on the trust and faith we have in God’s loving nature. As we have seen through all of these scriptures, God is a radical and wild spirit, impossible to pin down… and it is definitely helpful to have some structure that guides us. But how much is too much? At Annual Conference this past weekend, it was interesting to see how everyone was wrestling with whether certain rules and regulations were right or wrong. Some of them I fully supported, but as a first timer to Annual Conference, I was overwhelmed and confused. I could see how the inundation of so many rules, and the extreme reliance on them as a guaranteed means of being faithful to God were killing some people’s faith, or at the very least making their faith rigid. Where was the mystery? Where did our control stop and God’s begin? When did figuring out what is right and wrong supersede the call to action of loving the unloved. I appreciate that this parable includes the action of the farmer after they have done their job of scattering the seeds because it specifically says that they sleep and rest. Not everything God would have us do is action oriented, sometimes God knows that the best thing we can do for ourselves and everything around us is let it go, and take a nap. The farmer knows where their job ends and God’s begins. They know that the mystery and space given to the seed is an essential part of the growth and without it, we die. So what if this confusion, this murkiness, this necessity to have faith in what we do not know, do not control, and do not expect, is exactly what’s saving us? It is the mystery of faith that is responsible for keeping our faith limber, agile, and alive. And how can we expect to achieve clarity when not even the disciples knew what was going on 50% of the time… and they had the parables explained to them in private! These allegories of eagles planting trees on mountains, parables of growing seeds, and comparisons of our relationship to God in or outside of our bodies… these mysterious witnesses constantly guide and challenge our ability to acknowledge where our work ends and God’s begins. They push us to stay on our toes looking for the true kin-dom of God in the most unlikely places, seeds, and communities. They challenge our perceptions of reality, therefore pushing us to hope, dream, and imagine a more radical God-like world.

But maybe, just maybe, that is the point. Maybe the takeaway is that the more we try to understand, describe, and control the kin-dom of God, the more confusing it gets. Maybe it is time for me to put aside my rationality, my pride, and my Master’s degree, and join the early church and the communion of Saints that followed it in admitting the one mysterious truth we do know about the kin-dom of God…that it is bigger than any allegory, larger than our life here on earth, wilder than any plant we’ve domesticated, and more tenacious than any weed we’ve sought to eradicate. And I find that oddly comforting. Because that means that the only thing more tenacious than our appetite for power and control, is the tiny, unassuming mustard seed. This is the kin-dom of God. And if a seed is more powerful than human destruction, than imagine how powerful the glory of God will be when it flourishes. So let us have the audacity to imagine, work, and rest towards a world where that happens; where love, justice, peace, and compassion are a flourishing reality, and not simply naive ideals. Amen.

PSA: Pentecost and Feminism

This past Sunday was Pentecost, the day we remember and celebrate the Holy Spirit descending indiscriminately upon a crowd of friends, strangers, neighbors, and passersby. The idea being that all were included and that all were equal participants in the Holy Spirit. With that in mind, we chose to include in this Sunday’s worship a blessing of the animals as well.

There were around 25 dogs and two turtles. The service was outside, and the Sunday school kids were running around next door. It was a little bit of a madhouse, but that is exactly what I wanted. Unabashed noises of life all around, unencumbered by social norms and expectations. I can only imagine what kind of chaos ensued on the actual day of Pentecost. Voices so loud and diverse you wouldn’t have been able to preach if you wanted to. There wasn’t time to have an orderly service; barriers were too busy falling down, strangers too busy becoming friends. There was a social and cultural hierarchy based on exclusion being turned to rubble.

Now I am obviously guessing and most likely idealizing this day and event, but frankly I need that ideal. The fact that I can imagine something like that happening, however impossible, means I can still hope and strive for the values within it. This has been a season of frustration for me. There have been many moments of blatant sexism, derogatory comments on my clothing, and an unwillingness to interact with me as an equal due to my sex. This is not a new thing to be hearing or writing about with things such as the “Me Too” movement going around, nor is it as terrible as what some women go through on a daily basis. I say this because I want to be careful to name my privilege as a white body, and intention of only speaking for myself and not all female experiences.  

These moments are frustrating because I don’t want to become the “man-hater”, or the one “causing an unnecessary ruckus.” But it’s not a coincidence that these stereotypes come up when women speak up.  They come up because it is an attempt to invalidate my words and assuage those who are made uncomfortable. So I am stuck between a rock and a hard place… stay quiet and accumulate that hurt and frustration, or voice it and wear the frustrating and hurtful label. So far I am trying to listen to my emotional boundaries and act accordingly… sometimes acting and sometimes letting it go… but either way, I go home with a heavy weight in my bones. Oh, and PSA: When I wear shirts or say things jokingly (but serious) like “destroy the patriarchy”… and someone says “isn’t that insulting to (insert male name here)?”, it hurts my heart because what I hear is that you think my advocacy for women means that I hate all men, and wish upon them the oppression women face. This is simply untrue; a warped interpretation speaking more to the insecurities of some men than the aspirations of women. Why does it have to be one or the other? Men or Women? I have experienced the system of patriarchy to be one where men’s voices create the rules, establish the norms, assume the power, and assign blame elsewhere. So if anyone should be insulted here, you are right. It should insult anyone to be spoken for in such a way without being there to defend themselves. Hopefully one day we won’t have to protect the fragile masculine ego. If there is anything you take away from this post today… let it be that when I speak of destroying the patriarchy and being a feminist, I hope that men will have the courage to do the same. I hope men and women understand that I mean advocacy for EQUAL opportunity, for an acknowledgement that the assault women go through is real and not our fault, and for social/cultural/political change. Men are not the enemy… many just don’t think to ask how they can be a part of the solution. 

So, like the Pentecost service this Sunday, if there is going to be chaos in this world and in our churches, let it be the holy kind. Let it be due to inclusion, due to vulnerability, the willingness to let our pride go, due to dismantling oppressive hierarchies, and most of all… due to the Holy Spirit.