Who is my neighbor?

This week started out so well for many of us. We celebrated the birth of our nation and the freedoms we possess because a band of colonists were brave enough to say, “We’re not gonna take it anymore.” And they set in motion this incredible American experiment.

But no experimental design is without flaws. Underneath the celebrations and patriotism and mixed feelings (or not) about this great land of ours, there is a history of violence toward and violations of the lives and rights of others–usually the ones who don’t look like us. Although we have made progress around some of those misdeeds (a gross understatement), let us not think that the narratives we write and speak and believe don’t also render others silent and invisible.

Exhibit A: The events of the past 36 to 48 hours.

Black lives continue to hang in the balance every day–sometimes at the hands of those who swore to protect. I thought once that perhaps black parents could exhale just a bit once their sons and daughters survived into their 30s. Apparently, they can never exhale–a notion that takes #Icantbreathe to a whole new level.

Cop lives also hang in the balance. The officers in Dallas had nothing to do with the deaths of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile. Nothing. They were working a protest, present, I assume, to ensure the safety of those in attendance. But the misplaced anger and venom of a few people with access to what I also assume were some high powered rifles (based on the nature of the attacks) led to even more heartache and loss of life.

The lectionary passage for this Sunday is the story of the Good Samaritan. It’s a story Jesus tells in response to the question asked by an expert in the law. The expert wanted to know what he needed to do for eternal life. Jesus asked the expert what the law said. He responded: Love the Lord your God…and love your neighbor as yourself. Affirmative, good buddy. The man followed up that statement by asking, “Who is my neighbor?” And then Jesus launches into the narrative we have come to know as The Parable of the Good Samaritan. After telling the story, Jesus had a question of his own. “Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man?” You’ve been given three examples, expert. You tell me who the neighbor is. “The one who showed mercy.” The one who was the helper. The one who cared for a stranger as if the man were his own flesh and blood. The one who crossed the lines of social divide because it was the right thing to do. The one who dismissed the norms of who belonged to which group because another human being, with a real face and a real name (though not known to us–probably for a reason), with real pain and real wounds, needed mercy. And love. And someone to see him when two others passed by on the other side of the road, rendering him invisible.

A friend of mine said today, “If your pastor doesn’t mention the shootings this week from the pulpit, you should demand to know why. Actually, I think you should probably walk out and then sue the church for malpractice.” Because church is one place we seek solace, yes, but also where we receive the challenge and the invitation to see and think and live differently. Because that is what it means to follow the Way. That is what it means to acknowledge Imago Dei. That is what is required to heal the broken places.

Let us awaken from the separateness that keeps us from hearing and knowing the answer to the question, “Who is my neighbor?”

#WeAreNotThis on this Maundy Thursday

It’s Maundy Thursday. The night of Holy Week in which many Christians commemorate the Last Supper of Jesus and his disciples. Churches all over the world are serving up the bread and the wine, many as I write this.

Once the church I grew up in started making it part of the Holy Week tradition, the Maundy Thursday service became my favorite service of the year. But it’s been a long time since I’ve been to one. My last church never observed Holy Week. And, well, toddler life prevents a lot of things from happening in the evening hours.

And for as long as it has been since I’ve been to a Maundy Thursday service, it’s been even longer since I have craved Jesus. It’s been even longer since I have had a sense of God at work in this world. There is entirely too much broken. Latent racism and intolerance has once again become overt in this election year. The wounds of a dictatorship and exile were opened once again when our president stepped foot onto Cuban soil and a baseball game was one of the celebrated highlights of the tour. Another set of suicide bombings in Europe has reminded us that extremism looms large–and has for a long time in some parts of the world but hit our Western doorstep again, prompting us to lower our flags to half staff. The legislature in my home state rushed into an emergency session to pass one of the most discriminating pieces of legislation arguably since the Jim Crow era.

And that’s just this week.

As I stand here and stir the pot that contains my dinner, my husband is stirring the pot alongside a friend and many others at a protest against HB2. Many of my friends are commemorating the subversive, pot stirring movement of Jesus. I’m performing the mundane tasks of the daily routine, all the while craving the body and the blood….the bread and the wine…the unmistakable presence of love and acceptance in our world.

Because that’s what Holy Week is about. Love. Sacrifice. Welcome. Hospitality. A way in for all. A command to love and care for one another just as Jesus did for us.

Mother’s Day

Every year I write a post about Mother’s Day and how I don’t really like it–especially in church. This year’s post takes that sentiment, weaves itself into a bigger net, and includes a litany you can use for your Sunday AM worship if it fits your context. Here goes…

 

God of creation, you have been in the business of birthing your children for generations.

On this day, we thank you for the women who have desired to do the same, who have labored to become mothers through childbirth or adoption. We thank you for the ways in which they teach us to love and care for ourselves and the world around us.

We pray for the women who deeply desire to become mothers but struggle to do so. We ask that you provide hope in the midst of disheartenment and that you remind these women that they are by no means less of a person because of imperfect biology.

We pray for the women who have loved and lost children—for whom this day is fraught with painful reminders of who and what they have lost. We pray that they may encounter you in new and different ways through other children in their lives and find peace.

We thank you for the women who have made a difference in our lives as mothers, who loved and cared for us in the ways you would.

We thank you for the women who have worked to be the best mother possible but whose experiences of parenting have not matched their expectations. We ask that you bolster these mothers, reminding them of the ways in which they lived up to your idea of motherhood.

We thank you for the women who tried to be mothers, who may have failed because they lacked the resources they needed to be present as mother. We pray for those sons and daughters who mourn the mother they are or were not able to have, that they may find in you, and in this community, the deeply loving and nurturing presence they have missed.

We pray for those sons and daughters who are motherless because of disease and death, that they may have a sense of your presence in the midst of their pain and the solace and joy that come with fond memories.

We thank you for the ways in which our lives are shaped by our mothers, by our quest for motherhood, and for motherhood itself.

Above all, Creator, may we all work to be the kind of parent for our children and the children around us that you have been for your children for generations. Help us to look to your Spirit as a guide for being parent—for knowing how to love, when to speak, when to whisper, when to stay quiet, how to play, how to nurture and comfort, and how to be present.

We ask these things of you, in the name of our Brother, Jesus. Amen.

 

***I’ll also make an attempt at tweaking this for Father’s Day next month. Be on the lookout.

Sacrilege

As most of you know, I periodically review some of the books I read…mostly because I get the book for “free”…with the expectation that a review will be posted here for everyone to read within 30 days of receiving the book. (I think I’m still under the deadline…maybe?)

I gotta tell you. This book was a really good one…in a terrifically awesome and disturbing way. So. Without further adieu…

What does it really mean to be like Jesus?

That is the fundamental question that drives Hugh Halter’s book, Sacrilege.

The conclusions Halter makes, and the suggestions that come from them, are what drive the title.

And maybe Halter’s proclivity for tattoos? Or piercings? Or drinking beer? Or open communion? Or not using the King James Version?

I digress.

Halter starts with the notion that Christians say they follow Jesus and want to be more Christ-like, but when you look at what those well-meaning Christians do and what Jesus did and compare the two…it’s not really working out that way.

So how should it work out?

Halter uses The Beatitudes as a framework for examining what Jesus said we should be about…and how that might actually play out in the 21st century (note the absence of the word “church” after century…chances are, it doesn’t play out there for most of you). Halter provides stories, examples, and challenges of what it might look like to be apprentices of Jesus…to be like Jesus, do what he did, and do it with the kinds of people he liked to hang out with (hint: Jesus was found more often with tax collectors and sinners…you know…not the typical church crowd…and less often with the typical church crowd). That’s not to say Halter thinks we shouldn’t do church because that’s not where Jesus hangs out. (Jesus went to Temple, people.) What Halter does provide, in addition to ways we can be Jesus apprentices as individuals and families, are suggestions for how churches might embody this apprenticeship as a larger community.

And, quite frankly, I love and hate him for it. Because that he proposes–indeed, the life to which Jesus calls us–is awesome and disturbing.

It means moving beyond places in which we find comfort. It means really doing something about the way each one of us allocates our resources of personal time, energy, finances, etc. It means opening ourselves up to the hurt and pain and joys of others–and being present for all of it in the messy, complex, nuanced lives each of us lives. It might mean closing the church doors one Sunday morning a month and the whole community engaging the needs of the community around it. It might mean, on any given evening, that your dinner table looks like an island of misfit toys.

I am thankful for the challenge. I am thankful for the discomfort. I am thankful for the grace that is present as I move…in fits and starts…toward being more like the real Jesus.

If you’ve been looking for a way to rethink family, faith, spirituality, church, scripture, and more, this is the book for you.

But it might ought to come with a warning label. Because you may never be the same after reading it. And that’s a good thing.

Professional Development and Church

I was rifling through this weekend’s mail when I ran across the most recent newsletter/mailer from a denominational organization of which I’ve been somehow connected for a long time. There’s a state meeting coming up in less than a month and then the national meeting/convention/assembly this summer. Both were prominently displayed.

I like conferences/workshops/professional development opportunities so I thought I’d check out the planned events. There was basically the usual type of list of options–only a few of which appealed to me. Most of them related to social justice kinds of issues. Shocking, I know.

As I kept turning pages to see what else was going on in the life of this organization, I came across a racial reconciliation workshop (a very good thing) separate from the events mentioned above…and a seminar on governance for church. Topics to be covered include policies, decision-making, defining clear roles and authority, and basically having a positive business model for your church.

And my stomach churned.

Certainly, I have been part of many congregations who function as businesses. And many of them do reasonably well with that model. However, the further I get from that model and the more I hang out at my church–which in no way operates as a business–I can no longer fathom churches operating as businesses. Mainly because I can’t stand the idea of faith and spirituality as commodities to be bought and sold.

Church is a body of people who recognize their place within that particular body. If an individual doesn’t fit in one place, he or she should move on until finding the right fit. This is not a numbers game. This is about developing unique communities of faith who are healthy and function in a way that brings peace, justice and love to the here and now. THAT’S how you stop micromanaging, how you define roles and make decisions. And you don’t need a seminar for that.

2010 Year in Review

My 30th year (or the 2010 year in review)

This year seems to have passed by, quickly and under the radar…and when I think about all that’s happened, I shouldn’t be too surprised. So here goes the 2010/age 30 round-up:

I did my first marathon…got my first tattoo…survived a semester with two practica…attended soccer games for my child…ran my first 10K in Charleston…smashed my 10K time in VA Beach…finally got my child the resources he needs to catch up and be successful in school…took a family trip to Williamsburg…took another trip to DC…finally went to the Holocaust museum (I’d been wanting to go since it opened my junior year in high school)…saw the Newseum…revisited powerful monuments…took in the city…navigated my family through the metro…went to the beach…survived the hottest summer on record of late…lost some weight…found some muscle…read some really good books…started a dissertation…had it scrapped four months later…fought (and lost) more dissertation battles (I’m just hoping to win the war)…was introduced to Anusara yoga by my sister in love and have gone to a class almost every week since…sent my child off to high school…got ready to attend wrestling matches and then he broke his arm…cleaned out the closet in my home office twice (and it needs another two rounds)…had a lot of family time…squeezed in a half-marathon…did a total of five races this year…celebrated Thanksgiving in a different way…had work done on our house…broke the book embargo…started shifting my taste buds away from coffee and to hot tea…discovered the beauty of Brooks shoes…made new friends…renewed bonds with old friends…finished my last required class for this degree…met a lot of new babies (all girls)…left church…found church…saw my husband get a job that went along with his calling…did honest to God therapy in a university counseling center…beat my head against a wall…and a desk…posted links…shook my fist at the Wake Co. school board, NC voters and Westboro Baptist Church…increased the tweeting…started Insanity…had the best birthday (31st) I’ve had since Mom died…got selfish…reached out…prayed a little more…opened to grace…mellowed a bit…borrowed books from others I have yet to return…did a Warrior Dash…contemplated giving up football…discovered the beauty of the salted caramel hot chocolate…had only one pumpkin spice latte…broke bread with some really great people…spent more time in the kitchen…realized my level of competence…and how far I have to go…

Situation Normal, Part 4

Working in church as it is now requires a lot of energy. I still don’t have it and Mom’s been gone for 6 years. So I may not ever get it back.

Then again, even if I did have the energy, I wouldn’t do ministry the way it’s always been done. Which means I probably wouldn’t get hired by a church.

Because if I’m a youth minister, I’m going to talk to your teenager(s) about sex. And gender. And media. And I’m going to provide a space for them to question and think and encourage them to do so. And teach them that there’s no dichotomy between the contemplative life and the active life. And most of you, churches, don’t like it when I do that. Or when any other youth minister does it. Because most of you, churches, like things in a nice, neat package that can be marketed to the larger community.

God doesn’t work like that, so why should that be the nature of my ministry?

And if I’m a youth minister in a church, I’ll be having series for parents. We can talk about parenting teenagers in this increasingly complex world. We ought to. And I will coach you on how to talk to your teenager(s) about sex and set limits and make good decisions…and not be so dang entitled.

And I won’t be feeding the youth ministry machine. Don’t get me wrong. I would provide opportunities for various types of growth and we’d still do the mission trips and youth camps. But…God is not a machine and church shouldn’t be either.

So often, however, church is a machine. And it chews you up and spits you out. And I’ve seen far FAR too much of that lately. So much so that it makes me want to gather my tribe and start another new church (because they’re isn’t already one on every block in the South).

But then I remember that I don’t have the energy for all that. At least, I don’t think I do. Not right now.

So my plan for now is to finish this PhD. And write a book on the coming of age of girls—because no one has synthesized all that lately. And write parent training materials for prospective adoptive parents. And do parent training for the rest of us. And throw in some counseling and advocacy for good measure. And that’s just my professional life.