Sunday, August 17, 2014

Something something bucket pun.

There are a variety of opinions on the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge.

A lot of the opinions on the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge make me want to roll my eyes forever. "Dumping water over your head doesn't cure ALS" or "You should do the ice water AND give money" or "[Insert personal fundraising cause] is just as important as ALS" or "People with ALS think the ice bucket challenge is _____" -- the list could literally go on forever because this is a very populous nation.

But the opinion that I am finding the dumbest is the one that insists that Californians should not participate in the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge because we are in a terrible drought.

This is a terrible opinion to have. It is true that there are many uses for water other than dumping over your head. It is true that we do not have any excess water in the great state of California. HOWEVER, it is this kind of reasoning about water use in California that keeps us in such dire straits whenever drought conditions worsen. If you're under the impression that the volume of water being used in this challenge is remotely close to the amount of water needed to hydrate California, you are kidding yourself.

The volume of water being "wasted" via the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge is a drop in the bucket when it comes to California's water usage. I know you know how to Google, but if you're looking for numbers and maps about the drought, visit the State's website on the subject for details. If you really want to conserve water in California, you can follow their tips for reduction in your home and business. Really, though, you should be writing your representatives about reducing agricultural water use in our great state. That's where the waste is happening. Not in ALS fundraising.

Did you know that because of this meme, the ALS Association has raised 13.3 million dollars this summer, as opposed to their usual 1.7? Check it out. The number of individuals, families, and communities whose lives have been forever changed by ALS diagnoses will now be forever changed by the boost in research, equipment, and care that these dollars will supply.

So if you're an ALS Ice Bucket Challenge environmental naysayer, please send some money to the ALS fund of your choice; write your representatives about water use; eat less beef; buy local produce; replace all your grass with native, low-water-use plants; replace your toilets with low-flow models; reduce your shower time; get off your high horse.

[In case you're curious, I was challenged by my dear friend Jocelyn--I chose to forgo the ice water not because I'm a Californian but because I'm a wuss. Donating to fight a disease that has claimed the lives and livelihoods of people I love was fine by me.]

Monday, August 11, 2014

Let's talk.

Depression. Addiction. Suicide. Let's talk about 'em.

In the last few weeks, my mind has been pre-occupied with stories of depression and addiction and suicide because people I love are trapped and tortured and dead. There's not a "nice" way to talk about it. Well, there's a "nice" way, but it's false. There's a way to say that it's sad, and that they were gone to soon, and that we wish we could have done something, and that we wish they would have made better choices, and that we wish they'd asked for help. We put the onus on people who are not in control of anything to somehow snap out of it. And that dishonors humanness.

I can no longer count on just one hand the people in my life who are currently in the pit of addiction. Some of them have been in my hand for years. A few weeks ago, I learned that a long-lost friend-of-a-friend had died of an overdose a few years ago, and I'd never heard about it. While that sounds so far away, it just reminded me of the trajectory, in general. This weekend, dozens of people I graduated high school with came home to mourn one of our own. This weekend, I learned that another friend has been using--whether or not he'll seek professional help right away is uncertain. This morning, Robin Williams, a beloved entertainer whose lifetime of mental health struggle has been in the news, was found dead of apparent suicide.

So this afternoon, on the internet, we started to talk about it. We talked about how much we have loved him, how much joy he has brought us, how much his career affected our lives. Oh, it was wonderful. I used up 70% of my iPhone battery refreshing twitter to read the public grief. So many people expressing their dismay that such a positive contributor to the life of the world could meet such a devastating end.

Robin Williams and my friends and your friends have not suffered from something they could have avoided. Part of what's so terrible about depression and addiction is that we, as a society, only whisper about them and believe that seeing a therapist is a problem and that asking for help is a weakness. A woman I follow on twitter wrote a while back--in response to the suicide of a famous person--that the reason we are so aghast at addiction and mental illness and overdose, in particular, is that our minds have never been in such a way that that was an option, let alone the option. We cannot imagine what it's like to be so desperate.

And Robin Williams and my friends and your friends are not at fault. And when they die, you're not at fault, either. But while they live, let's talk about it. Let's let it out. Let's allow at least the decency to pronounce the words "depression" and "addiction" like we pronounce "cancer" and "heart disease" so that we might, together, pronounce "recovery."

The thing is, dear ones, I love you. I am glad you are alive. You matter to me. You matter to a lot of people besides me. You matter to your God (or to mine, if you don't consider God "yours"). The thing about depression is that it can rob us of that knowledge. Know it. Share it.

If you or someone you love needs help, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255, or visit suicidepreventionlifeline.org


Sunday, June 29, 2014

You're Invited -- Matthew 10:40-42

On weeks like this, as a preacher, you read over the assigned gospel text and say, “Well, I could just read that aloud and sit down.” Some weeks, the message delivers itself. “Whoever welcomes you welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me.” Welcome! 

Though you would not have asked me here today if that was all you needed, so, I suppose I’ll say a few words.

In this tenth chapter of Matthew’s account of the good news, Jesus is explaining to the disciples just what they ought to expect as they go out to continue the work of proclaiming the good news to the world. Over the last few weeks, the lectionary has walked us through the ups and downs. First, Jesus told them who to proclaim to, what to proclaim, and what else they should be doing: cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons—you know, the usual. They should take no payment for this work, but rely on the kindness of strangers. However, the disciples will be like lambs among wolves—not ideal. They should be prepared to be arrested and beaten and put on trial because of their affiliation with Jesus. He assures them, though, that the Spirit will move through them in this trauma. 

This really drives home the idea that Jesus was not necessarily the most popular guy in town. And we’re aware of that. Christians are still not necessarily the most popular guys in town. We’re “welcome” in a community (or a conversation, even) based on how people feel about knowing we’re affiliated with Jesus. Because of what most people associate with words like “christian” and “pastor” and “worship” and “baptism” and “salvation” and “evangelism”—the Religious Right—we the Religious Left have a hard time getting our message through before people’s eyes glaze over. 

And that’s a best case scenario! Plenty of folks have been hurt by the church—you and me included—who struggle to believe that “Progressive” and “Christian” can go together. Our own ELCA has had it’s struggles with this, when it comes to the ordination of female pastors and the ordination of queer pastors. 
How many of the first female seminarians—told they could study just as hard and care just as much as their male classmates but were “unfit” for the ministry of word and sacrament—felt welcome? 
How many queer seminarians—told they could study just as hard and care just as much as their heterosexual classmates but were “unfit” for the ministry of word and sacrament—feel welcome? And though we have rules and regulations and Vision and Expectations on the subject, we’re not perfect. 

Pulpits aside, what about you? 
What about the people in our pews and the people not in our pews? What does that welcome feel like? 

While we’re at it, let’s look at that word, “welcome.” Think about how that word works. When someone arrives at the place where you are—your home, probably—you welcome them. Right? Sometimes they’ve arrived unannounced—like if you’re welcoming them to your place of business. They’ve come to you, and you have offered them, at the very least, the word “welcome!” 

A friend of mine, Rob Moss, is a pastor in suburban Denver. Last year, he and his congregation decided to change that word. Because, welcoming someone is “passive. It denotes waiting for visitors and guests to drop by. When they do, we attempt treat them very well and do everything possible to make them comfortable. We’ll be willing to change who we are. We’ll follow particular formats that have proven to be more welcoming to new people. We’ll do whatever it takes to have them come back the next Sunday, even if they shouldn’t. Welcoming is about us, not about them.” 

Welcoming people into our church communities assumes that they’re going to know to show up at our door. That they’re going to come to us.  That they’re going to be the ones doing all the work.

Rob and his congregation decided to change their verbiage to being an “inviting” congregation. Because that’s different. In order to invite someone,  “we leave the comfort of our congregational home-court advantage. The main activity doesn’t happen in our worship space when people drop in, but in the neighborhood when we go out. It isn’t so much welcoming them into our place, but going out into their place and meeting them there.” Pastor Rob synthesizes the whole idea when he writes, “Welcoming involves hoping whoever happens to find you will join. Inviting involves sharing God’s specific gifts—made real in your congregation—in the world.”

How does this change Jesus’ words in the text for today? “Whoever invites you invites me, and whoever invites me invites the one who sent me.” Later on, in the text, Jesus says that those who welcome prophets—no matter if you agree with that prophet’s message—will be rewarded as those prophets will be rewarded. How people receive us is going to be affected by how we receive them. How people receive us is going to be affected by how we invite them. 

I can feel you all squirming. Invite someone? To church? The horror! Heaven forbid we engage in evangelism, out loud, to a real fellow human person! Ahhhh! 

Today, of all days, is going to be a great day to do that. After church today, I’m going to watch the Pride Parade, and cheer for all of the incredible performers and floats and groups doing incredible work for everyone in this city—for people of every gender and sexual expression. This is a welcoming day, of course. But today can also be an inviting day. 

If you’re out today, and someone notices that you’re, say, wearing a cross and also waving a rainbow flag—take that opportunity to say, “Looking for a way of being church that wants you, celebrates you, loves you? I’d like to invite you to mine.” If you’re out today, and you run into a protestor waving a horrific sign that puts words in God’s mouth that we’ve never read in this book—take that opportunity not to swear at them or spit on them (though Lord knows we’ve all considered it) but rather to say, “God loves you and me and everyone, actually, and if you’d like to experience that God, I’d like to invite you to my church.” I have my doubts that people will agree on the street to come to worship next Sunday, but they’ll at least think about the idea that you, and St. Francis, and the ELCA, and people who love Jesus could also invite, welcome, and love them. 

We know (or are learning) that God loves us. That we are claimed and loved as children of God despite and because of everything that makes us unique individuals and a motley crew.  We know that though we have not always done everything according to plan—ours or our parents’ or anyone else’s—God has loved us and the Spirit has moved throughout. We know that, as the Apostle Paul claims in this week’s text from his letter to the Romans, though we have been slaves to sin, and we have done things of which we are now ashamed. This much cannot be denied by any among us. But what is undeniable, too, is that we are free from that sin. We are freed by the grace of God. Who wouldn’t want to be invited into that?

Amen.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Father Abraham -- Matthew 10:24-39

Genesis 21:8-21
Romans 6:1b-11
Matthew 10:24-39

Grace and peace from God our Creator, hope in our Redeemer Jesus the Christ, and the promised gifts of the Holy Spirit are with you, always. Amen.

When I first read through today’s scripture, I was like, “whoa.” Some really seminal stories from our tradition, for sure, full of meaning. I don’t know how much you all know about sermon preparation, but I was thinking, immediately upon reading these foundational words that it’s a good thing I get to consult thinkers besides myself for this sermon this morning. It’s a good thing that the only resource available to me is not just these words on these pages and the thoughts in my head, but rather the words that surround these words in this whole book, and the thoughts in the heads of all those who have come before me in faith. That extreme is also overwhelming, but it’s a huge relief. This is probably not the first sermon you’ve heard on these texts, and it probably won’t be the last—which is also great, because now there’s no need for me to rattle off everything you ought to know about Abraham and Isaac and Ishmael and Sarah and Hagar and Paul and Jesus and…the gang’s all here. 

So, where to begin?

Let’s begin in the Family Center, just across the way. It was there, nearly 20 years ago that I first learned the Sunday School song “Father Abraham” during Learning Circles one morning. “Father Abraham, had many sons. Many sons had Father Abraham…” If you know it, you’re welcome that it will be in your head now, forever. The next line is “I am one of them, and so are you,” but this ancient story also produced my first experience of feminism, as my friend Elizabeth Limbach sang, instead, “I’m not one of them, cuz I’m a girl.” The song ends, “So let’s all praise the Lord.” Let’s. 

Praise the Lord that we are here together this morning!
Praise the Lord that the sun is shining!
Praise the Lord that we are mostly happy and mostly healthy!
Praise the Lord that when we are mostly unhappy and mostly unhealthy, we are not alone!
Praise the Lord for old friends and for new ones!
Praise the Lord for ends and for beginnings!
Praise the Lord for adventures and for homecomings!
Praise the Lord for struggles and for reconciliation!

I know this is a Lutheran church, but can I get an amen? A hallelujah? Praise God. Okay, awesome. But now let’s take a look at those texts. 

We know these characters well. We’ve heard their stories and we vaguely remember their names and what lessons God taught them and what lessons that teaches us. But what, really, do we do with this part of being one of Abraham’s “many sons”? 

Just to recap, this story is the end/beginning of the struggle between Sara, Abraham, Isaac, Hagar, and Ishmael. Sara and Abraham had no children and were very old—like a few hundred, because that’s how ancient storytelling works—but God had promised that they would have descendants as plentiful as the stars. So Sara agreed that Abraham should father a child with Hagar, their slave, so that he’d have offspring. God promised to make of that son, Ishmael, a great nation, too. And then Sara got miraculously pregnant and had Isaac. Two heirs to the lineage of Abraham, two promises from God. Uh oh. 

So, in the portion we heard this morning, Sara demanded that Abraham banish Hagar and Ishmael, because there was no way that the two boys could share in the promise of God. That had never happened before and it wasn’t about to happen now, apparently. 

This story is an easy allegory for the ongoing struggle between the Abrahamic traditions—Judaism, Christianity, and Islam—that have followed. Though separated, Isaac and Ishmael—and we—must live together in the extended family of God. A Rabbi named Arthur Waskow writes that Isaac and Ishmael—and we, descended of Abraham, too—are a “cloudy mirror to each other.” The problem is not that we are so different, but that we are so similar. 

For the Israeli/Palestinian crisis, it is impossible for both groups to reconcile that they “love the same land.” God has promised this land twice—to Isaac and to Ishmael, to Jews and to Arabs—because God wants all of God’s people to “live out their particular pattern of holiness” in an embodied, planted, rooted, earthy, place

Rabbi Waskow does an incredible job of giving Christians the lay of the land in this millennia-old war—and then offering us a specific place at the table. [If you want to know more about this, specifically, I can point you toward Rabbi Waskow’s essay. If you want to know more about this, in general, I can point you toward Pastor Daren and his PhD research.] 

The great thing that Rabbi Waskow gives to us is this deep wisdom: As Christians, we’ve weaseled our way into weird positions—some us are Christian Zionists, more zealous even than most Jews about their right to inhabit the land we call holy, condemning Palestinians as aggressors and terrorists; some of us are aggressively Pro-Palestinian, claiming that the land was unlawfully given to the Jews as a sovereign state, with no regard for anyone’s holiness. We insert ourselves into arguments about Jewish tradition and Muslim tradition, meanwhile, we notice not the log in our own religious eyes.

How can we, then, as complex people of complex faith affirm all of the above—Jewish, Muslim, Christian—“children of God in the body and spirit of Abraham”? 
Sorry if you’re expecting an answer. This is not a question for one sermon or one church or one nation—but we are better for it if we wrestle with these big questions again and again and again. Together.

We’re going to do some things wrong—we’re going to grab at words as they tumble out of our mouths, wishing we could stuff them back in there before anyone heard them. It happens. 

In Paul’s letter to the Romans, he acknowledges that the stakes are pretty high. I just love the abrupt start of our portion this morning. Right off the bat, he’s like, “Should we continue to sin in order that grace may abound? By no means!”—if any of the high schoolers are playing sermon bingo this morning, I hope “sin” and “grace” are on your card. But I don’t know about that, y’all. Martin Luther says “Sin boldly! Trust and rejoice in Christ even more boldly.” A fun thing about having so many “fathers” of our faith is that even they disagree sometimes, and we get to draw our own conclusions, taking theirs into consideration. What fun! I’m with Marty on this one. Grace abounds. Be who you are, unafraid of what pieces of you others may name as sin. Speak truth to power. Speak the truth to one another in love. Err on the side of saying so. Grace abounds. 

This brings us to the third confusing text of the morning, the Gospel. Jesus is talking about slaves and masters and teachers and Beelzebul and secrets and dark and light and bodies and souls and then sparrows…? (Congratulations, by the way—you are of more value than many sparrows. I’m putting that on my résumé.) 

These verses are meant to be reassuring, but I’m not reassured. Shelley Douglass, who’s part of the Catholic Worker movement, is with me on this one. “Who wants to lay down their life?” She asks. “Baptismal death is comfortably symbolic; we’d prefer to leave it that way.” 
The part of this dying to life paradox that is comforting, after all, is “not that we won’t die, but that if we die for [Jesus’] sake, we will live again. Like Jesus, we will live a transformed life.” 

Sometimes, in this transformed life, we’ll run into those hard conversations and insolvable riddles and those foot-in-mouth moments. We’ve been warned by Jesus in this text that we’ll be set father against son, mother against daughter, in-laws against in-laws—families might be torn apart. That’s a huge risk. That’s some bold sinning we’re about to do. 

But Shelley Douglass continues to keep it real, writing, “We cannot know as we begin to act what the outcome will be. We can only know that as we respond to the mercy shown to us by showing mercy, we invite the death of our former selves. And we believe—sometimes barely—that when the dust has settled…we will regain our lives.” Mmm. 

And so my favorite prayer that Martin Luther wrote seems like the ideal way to draw this to a close: “Lord God, you have called your servants to ventures of which we cannot see the ending, by paths as yet untrodden, through perils unknown. Give us faith to go out with good courage, not knowing where we go, but only that your hand is leading us and your love supporting us; through Jesus Christ our Lord.”


Amen. 

Friday, May 30, 2014

#YesAllWomen

I've been a little busy (you know, graduating from seminary) and so I haven't been here, addressing all the things that have caught my attention in the last few months. My newfound freedom (this week has already been sprinkled with "what now?" and "I think I'm bored" more than once) allows for some words on #YesAllWomen, and what that has to do with me.

I've been mulling over just how I want to talk about it, and a lot of that has to do with how everyone else has chosen to talk about it. If you've been on the internet in the last week, you've seen a lot more think pieces about misogyny than you're used to (unless you're me and you follow feminist writers who rarely put down the subject). You've seen the responses from men and women in support and in opposition. I don't really want to give you the scoop on who thought it was great and who thought it was stupid--you have the rest of the internet for that information. What I want to tell you is how I experienced it. Because this is my blog and that's what I do here.

On Saturday night (5/24) I crawled into bed after a wonderfully busy day of graduating and celebrating. I checked Facebook and Instagram to like some more of my classmates' pictures, and then perused twitter to see what had gone on that day, since I'd been largely absent. My feed was full of tweets and retweets tagged #YesAllWomen, sharing stories of harassment and trauma and the added terror of never being heard.

Women empowered each other to tell the world just what it is that we suffer day in and day out. We talked about everyday street harassment: catcalls, demands for smiles, lewd gestures, being followed, additional harassment for refusing advances. We talked about bars: unwanted chatter, drinks that demand something in return, being anonymously groped, additional harassment for refusing advances. We talked about dates: fear of the semi-stranger we'd agreed to meet, escape plans, "got home safe" text messages.

We talked about things like the number of men who hadn't called us for a third date after we'd said "no" to sex on the second. We talked about male friends who regularly use "rape" in sentences that are not about rape. We talked about male friends who think catcalls are compliments. We talked about talking to our friends and partners about our experiences, and about their less-than-thoughtful responses. We talked about how we hadn't necessarily thought about all of these things as misogyny before, but recognized the implications that our bodies were something to which those men felt entitled, and their ability to brush off our worst fears.

In addition, of course, to talking about all of our fears, we talked about why we have these fears in the first place. We talked about stranger rape, and date rape, and partner rape. We talked about intimate partner violence of all kinds. We talked about being attacked on the street and having onlookers literally look on. We talked about stalkers and about police departments who couldn't help until there was a crime committed.

The point is that we talked. We learned more about each other, we learned more about our common lives, we learned more about how to talk to children and adults about the realities of violence. I learned about how common my experiences (and the experiences of my friends) have been. It's hard to explain how gross it feels to feel lucky that I have never been raped. It's a little bit grosser to debate with myself about putting a "yet" in that sentence.

If you're male, think about the ways in which your behavior could be perceived as scary to women. If you can't think of any examples, ask a female friend or your female partner, if you have one. She may love you, but she can probably think of one. And when she next tells you about the harassment she received on her way to your house, worry about that. And when you're next with your male friends and one of them says or does something you think even borders on sexism or misogyny or harassment, say so. That's what it takes.

If you haven't spent time in the #YesAllWomen hashtag, mosey on over and read for yourself what's up. Think about the ways in which you interact with your fellow humans. I know, right? That's really all I'm asking.