Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Holding the mystery of the incarnation in my arms

For the second time in my life, I am blessed to hold a newborn baby in my arms during the days leading up to Christmas. My daughter Gretchen was born on December 5, 1978. 39 years and one day later, she gave birth to her second son. Nothing humbles me like holding a tiny baby during Advent as I ponder the mystery of God-with-us.

Just as I did with his mother, I rock Justin to sleep in the glow of Christmas tree lights singing, “Silent Night.” And I think about how Jesus began his life in much the same way. With teeny-tiny fingers and toes. A soft spot and fragile little neck that couldn’t support his head. Crying when he was hungry, or wet, or tired. Nourished by his mother’s milk. Cuddled into contentment as he “sleeps in heavenly peace.” I hold him and ponder, How could the Creator of the Universe become so vulnerable, so helpless… so small? 
When my daughter was born, my heart was so full that I couldn’t imagine how it could ever hold as much love for any other human being as it held for her. But along came my son Ben, and I realized that I had been wrong. Yes, I could love another human being just as much as I loved my daughter. Who knew my heart was so big?
Then, with the birth of my first grandson, it happened again. I felt my heart swell and I couldn’t imagine how I could ever love another person the way I loved Nicholas. And yet, by golly, it's happened once again as a six-pound bundle named Justin holds my heart in his miniature hands. It astounds me to experience how the love of each one of them fills my heart completely, while the love of the many doesn’t diminish the love of the one. 
What I appreciate most about being a parent and a grandparent is the transformation it stirs within me. God knows I’m far from the most loving person in the world, and yet my children have stretched me to love in a way that is far beyond me. It brings me as close to divine love as I have ever experienced. Even at that, I know that God’s love for us far surpasses anything I could ever grasp. It’s a parent’s (or a grandparent’s) immeasurable love for one newborn baby extended to every baby ever born. 
More than just a mushy feeling, it’s love that empties itself completely for the sake of the beloved. That’s the wonder of the incarnation. It’s the hope of all the world entrusted to the world. The God of Love trusting in the love of humans. 
The sheer humility of the Word made flesh humbles me. I can hardly get my mind around it. And yet, when I’m holding my newborn grandson, somehow in a way that transcends language or reason, I feel like I am holding the mystery of the incarnation in my arms.



Monday, December 11, 2017

Beyond the Manger

Christmas is all about the birth of Jesus, right? Yes, and no. It’s about the birth of Jesus, yes, but that’s not all it’s about. The birth of Jesus embodies something profound about God that we often lose in the swaddling clothes and the manger and the straw.

I’m talking about the incarnation here. The word incarnation means an embodiment of a god or a spirit in an earthly form. Christianity, as well as Hinduism and Buddhism all include the concept of incarnation in their belief system. Within Christianity, John’s gospel introduces an incarnational worldview as he begins with the proclamation that the “Word became flesh and lived among us.”

Father Richard Rohr talks about four possible world views that people can adopt.

The first is the materialistic world view. This perspective says the only stuff that’s real is the stuff you can measure, the stuff you can see and touch. It’s the perspective usually taken by a scientific thinker.

The second world view is spiritual. Those who adopt this view spiritualize everything. They don’t take the material world seriously. What you see out there is just an illusion. The real stuff is the inner stuff. It’s the perspective usually taken by a religious thinker.

And then, there’s a third world view that Father Rohr labels as the theological. People with this view spend their lives working really hard to put the material world and the spiritual world back together again.

Now, all three of these views are based on dualistic thought, an either/or way of looking at life. Something is either good or it’s bad. It’s either right or it’s wrong. It’s a rigid way of looking at things and lies at the heart of fundamentalism. And it’s not at all the Jesus Way of being in the world. The Jesus Way honors mystery and paradox.

And that brings us to the fourth world view that Father Rohr identifies. It’s a way of seeing the world that Jesus came to claim: an incarnational world view, which says that matter and spirit have never been separated. While the theological world view works so hard at cramming God back into the material world, the incarnational world view says that you don’t have to cram God back into the world because God never left the world. God has been here all along.

Ironically, the birth of Christ embodies the incarnational nature of God, and yet every year when we celebrate Christmas, we become preoccupied with how we’re going to split it in two. There is the sacred celebration of Christmas and there is the secular celebration of Christmas and we see them as two separate things. Heaven forbid we should mix the two. We don’t sing “Jingle Bells” at a Christmas Eve service because that has nothing to do with the real meaning of Christmas, we’ll say. And yet, we certainly don’t want to give up “Jingle Bells” and only celebrate Christmas as a sacred holiday. That’s no fun. The implication is, of course, that the sacred celebration is meaningful and the secular celebration is fun. It’s either one or the other, but it can’t be both. So, during the month of December we all adopt split personalities. I wonder if that adds to the stress of the season in a way we don’t even realize.

Well, here’s the thing. The whole point of the incarnation is that there is no line dividing the sacred from the secular. God is a part of it all. Singing a medley that includes both “O Come O Come Emmanuel” and “Here Comes Santa Claus” is completely appropriate from an incarnational perspective. In fact, the way that the celebration of Christmas first came into being is an acknowledgement of this. Originally, it was a blend of the pagan celebration of the winter solstice and the Christian celebration of the birth of Christ.

So it always amuses me when I hear Christians getting all hot under the collar because Christmas has become so secularized, as if that is some kind of an affront to God. The only thing that is an affront to God is a dualistic worldview.

The big thing about living in a split universe is that you are always having to decide where God is and where God isn’t. You get all caught up in judging, based on the false assumption that God is selectively present in the world around us. God is in America, but God is not in Iran. God is in Barack Obama but not Donald Trump. God is in Bach but not Lady Gaga. God is in Ascension Lutheran Church but not the Hindu Temple. If we spend all our time determining where God is and where God isn’t, it’s not much of a leap to say, “God is in me but not in you.”

When we live with an incarnational worldview, there’s no decision to be made about where God is and where God isn’t. Yes, we find God wrapped in swaddling cloths, lying in a manger. But we don’t stop there. We look at the world around us, seeing God in it all.

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Is the World About to Turn? (a reflection on #metoo)

There have been moments in my lifetime that I never thought I’d live to see. Schooled in post-WW2 America, I learned about the Soviet Union and countries we referred to as “behind the Iron Curtain.” I thought that curtain would always be there. Now, not only is the curtain gone, but so is the Soviet Union, and that Wall in Berlin, with all that it represented. I never thought I’d live to see it. Similarly, when Obama was elected President, I was blown away. I never could have imagined I would have a black President in my lifetime. Then again, when marriage equality became the law of the land, I was in disbelief. Was this really happening?

Moments like these are surreal to me. They embody the words of the rousing hymn we sing in church, “Canticle of Turning.” Based on Mary’s Magnificat, it’s meant to be sung with gusto and always beckons me to stomp my feet and dance in the aisles. (Someday I might actually DO it!)

My heart shall sing of the day you bring.
Let the fires of your justice burn.
Wipe away all tears, for the dawn draws near,
And the world is about to turn!


I’m feeling a bit of this about the #metoo movement as women who long have been silent are finally speaking out about their experience with men who have harassed, assaulted, and violated them on so many levels. But this change feels a bit different, because this time it involves me and my experience. I’m not watching it unfold as an outsider. I’m standing on the inside and am not sure what to think. I’m having trouble objectively grasping the significance of the moment; it's hard for me to perceive that the world may be turning while my head is spinning.

I’m so accustomed to a world filled with toxic masculinity and men who believe women exist for the sole purpose of pleasing them that I can’t imagine one where this is no longer acceptable. I’ve lived the past 65 years deferring to male power, fearful of male power, enraged over male power. It’s been a helpless feeling that I haven’t dared express because, well, that’s just the way it is. I've often thought that if I could suck it up and go with the flow, I’d be a lot happier, as if I myself were the problem.

These days it seems that we’re hearing about sexual misconduct cases involving famous people every day, if not every hour. Some of them go back decades. We have quite a backlog to clear away because women have never felt safe revealing the truth. They haven’t felt that their voices would be heard, and their only recourse has been to remain silent. Now their silence has been broken in a big way, and we’re seeing how prevalent the problem is. And just to be clear, the problem isn’t only that men prey upon women. The larger problem is that this has been acceptable.

Of course, all men are not predators. Every man in my life hasn’t disrespected me as a human being; most have been decent guys. Yet, even among those who haven’t worked against me, I haven’t always felt that they were on my side. Their default setting seems to be looking the other way, rather than confronting the misogyny
that so blatantly affects half the population. Even among the good guys, my hurt and anger have been dismissed and not taken seriously. Rarely have I heard a man ask, “If she weren’t a woman, would it be acceptable for her to be treated this way?” But guess what, guys. That question is always on my mind.

Like nearly every woman I know, I have endured moments of fear, powerlessness, shame and humiliation at the hands of men. I don’t need to enumerate them here. But I will say that I have been changed by the women who have bravely chosen to confess “me too.” It has given me the courage to say “me too”, as well. Doing so has freed me. So, whether the world is changing or not, my world is changing.

It grieved me when I saw my daughter post #metoo on Facebook, knowing that she hasn’t been spared the trauma women suffer at the hands of men who think they are entitled to prey upon women. It rips my heart out that I wasn’t able to protect her from that. Back when she came forward and reported what had happened to her, I was at her side, so proud of her courage. But those in authority didn’t believe her. The world hadn’t turned soon enough for her.

Now I have grandsons who still have the opportunity to grow up in a different world, not just for women, but for all people. May kindness and compassion be their way in the world.

For all of us, but especially for our those who come after us, I’m praying that the world is about to turn.

Friday, November 17, 2017

It Just Doesn't Matter

One of my favorite speeches of all time is given by Bill Murray in the movie Meatballs. He’s a counselor at a camp for losers and they’re getting geared up to get their butts whooped for the umpteenth straight year by the hoity-toity camp on the other side of the lake. His motivational message to the campers is that “it just doesn’t matter.” He works them into a frenzy as they all rise to their feet chanting, “It just doesn’t matter! It just doesn’t matter!” Oh, I love that! I often silently chant it to myself when I catch myself getting all caught up in some effort to prove my worthiness to the world around me. It just doesn’t matter! It just doesn’t matter!

When my daughter was in high school she was one of the kids in her class who was competing to be the valedictorian. This wasn’t anything her father or I encouraged. It came from someplace within her. She pushed herself to be the best. Well, I believe it was sometime in the middle of her junior year that she got an A- in some rinky-dink class like health. She felt it was unjustly given and she fought it, but the A- stood. I did a little happy dance. “Thank God!” I said, “Now you can stop worrying about being perfect.” I mean, really. It just doesn’t matter. I recall that at the time she was a bit miffed by my reaction, but she laughs about it now. (She still finished third or fourth in her class and got to make a speech at graduation, so she was pleased with herself in the end.)

I was a band kid all though junior high and high school. And the thing about being a band kid is you really can’t care a whole lot about what the other kids think of you. You’re so far from being cool that you’re just not in the running to be anything but a world-class dork. So, you get to go through high school with this it-just-doesn’t-matter attitude. That’s why the band kids always have more fun than anybody. Being a band kid is great training for the rest of life. It helps you put things into perspective. So much of what people strive for in this life just doesn’t matter.

We spend our lives trying to prove that we’re better than other people. Our house is bigger. Our car is faster. Our yard is greener. Our children are better behaved. Our job title is more prestigious. We have more degrees hanging on the wall, or more published articles, or more awards. We’re thinner. Our teams win more games. We get invited to more parties. Our church has more members or a bigger building or a more exciting youth group. Our country is more powerful or more prosperous. Oh, the list could go on and on. We are so busy proving that our lives are worthwhile that we can’t see how, in the grand scheme of things, this stuff just doesn’t matter.

If we’re lucky, we have an opportunity to see what doesn’t matter and what really does. Most often, it comes when we are confronted with failure or disappointed by reality. We get fired. We end up with a debilitating disease. Our children get into some serious trouble. Our marriage falls apart. We have to file for bankruptcy. Something happens to strip away the fa├žade we’ve created to prop ourselves up in the eyes of the world. It may feel like the end of life as we know it, but if we’re smart we won’t let the opportunity pass us by. It’s our chance to consider what really does matter.

Of course, none of what we strive so hard to achieve matters a hill of beans to God. In fact, this is the very stuff that keeps us from experiencing an authentic relationship with God. We can never really come clean with God until the trappings that we hide behind are stripped away. That’s what Jesus taught us when he said that if you want to gain your life, first you’re going to have to lose it. He wanted us to see how so much of what we think is so gosh darn important just doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter if you follow the law to the letter and pert near never do anything wrong. It doesn’t matter if you hang out with all the best people. It doesn’t matter if you have all the right answers. It doesn’t matter if you’re rich. It doesn't matter if you're admired by all the people in your community. None of the standards and measures we use to judge who is better than whom matter. It just doesn’t matter.

But here are some of the things that do matter, according to Jesus: humility, honesty before God, mercy, kindness, compassion. It’s not what you get that matters, but what you give. In short, what matters most is love. The opportunities we have to give and receive love are what make our lives worthwhile. It’s love that binds us to God. Wherever love is, God is.

Blessed are those who come to realize what matters and what doesn’t.

Friday, November 3, 2017

No pastor dust for me, thank you very much.

Unless you’re also a pastor, or a funeral director, you probably don’t spend as much time at funerals as I do. And you may not know that there is a tradition about the placement of coffins for church services. If the deceased was a lay person, the head is toward the congregation, so they are looking up to the front. But if the deceased was clergy, the head is toward the chancel, so they are looking out into the congregation. This way they’re facing the same direction that they faced as a preacher/presider during their time on this earth. It’s a peculiar tradition that speaks volumes to me. Certainly, it shows a respect for those who preach. But, as one of them, it makes me more than a little uncomfortable. Is the separation between pastors and the people they serve so definitive that it must continue even beyond death?

Among my peers I’m something of an oddity because I actually went from college to seminary and was ordained at the not-quite-ripe-enough age of 26. This is the only life I’ve ever known as an adult, so sometimes I’m not sure who I am apart from the role that I fill. I’ve struggled with this throughout my life. While I feel blessed to be in ordained ministry, and am thankful for the rich life I’ve enjoyed because of it, I also am keenly aware of the fact that this is what I do and it’s not who I am. There is so much more to me than the role I fill for other people as their pastor.

I have relished those moments in my life when I have been with people who either: (a) didn’t know that I had a “Rev” in front of my name, or (b) couldn’t give a rat’s ass about it. While serving my second parish, for a time I played with an orchestra in the next city over and enjoyed being known as “Nancy who plays the piccolo.” After seminary, when I returned to school, it was in a public university setting where I was simply another grad student. And for a season of my life I enjoyed contra dancing where I was just another middle-aged woman trying to twirl around in a thrift-store skirt. I always need people in my life who don’t know me as “Pastor Nancy." Without them, I’m afraid I might lose myself completely.

So, do I really want to be marked as a pastor even after I die, as if that’s the essence of who I am? The very idea of having my coffin turned in a different direction than the other dear saints in my church disturbs me and it gives me one more reason to be cremated. After my vital signs have ceased, they can harvest any body parts that might be of use to anybody and then freeze-dry the rest of me. Please know that when they do, I will not become pastor dust, thank you very much. I will just be dust!

Of course, in whatever life that follows this one, the fact that I served as a pastor won’t amount to a hill of beans. In fact, I suspect that in the next life the most useless job of all will be that of the professional holy person. I mean, why will anyone need to have someone pointing them toward God when they’re in the actual presence of God?

So whatever will I do with myself? Who will I be? I suppose it’s possible that many of the things I’ve been preaching about will turn out to be true and I could strut around telling everybody, “I told you so”, but who would really care at that point? I’d rather bask in God’s glory with everyone else as we experience the breadth and width and depth of God’s love for all creation in a way our narrow minds could never comprehend in this lifetime. That’s when I’ll know that I’ve finally become the person God created me to be.

Yes, this gives me something to look forward to -- the day when my body will be dust and Pastor Nancy will become absolutely useless. Oh, yeah!

But I’m not in any hurry. I’ll wait my turn.

Monday, October 23, 2017

You mean it's not about a guy named Stewart?


Preached October 22 at Ascension Lutheran Church, Towson, MD.
Then Jesus said to them, "Give back to the emperor the things that are the emperor's and to God the things that are God's."
A coin with a picture on it—the Emperor’s. It was required to pay the imperial tax. That’s the one paid to their conquerors for the privilege of being an occupied territory. It was a perverse tax and the Jews resented it. Well, not all of them. There were some who were in cahoots with the Romans, like the Herodians. So, it was a political question, the kind you can’t answer without getting yourself in trouble with someone.

They wanted to trick him, and he tricked them back. In the process, he taught us a concise lesson on stewardship. Give to God the things that are God’s.

The things that are God’s. And what would those things be? The way you answer that question says everything about how you live as a person of faith.

I know that a lot of people hate it when preachers talk about money. I was never crazy about it myself. And that’s forced me to ask, why? In order to answer that, I have to come clean about my relationship with money.

Some of you are really good with money. Me…not so much.

I grew up in a home where I was never taught about money and I didn’t have any good adult role models. I don’t recall any budgeting happening. If it did, I wasn’t aware of it. My parents had no pension plans. They assumed Social Security would get them through old age. No investments. No savings. It worked like this… If you had some money, you spent it. And sometimes you spent it when you didn’t have it.

There was no charitable giving, other than maybe the Salvation Army kettle at Christmas time. We weren’t a church family, so I had no awareness of the fact that somewhere there were people who actually put money into an offering plate on a regular basis.

I had a lot to learn about money, as an adult. Particularly as an adult person of faith. It’s been a journey for me.

When I first heard the word stewardship, I thought people were talking about a guy named Stewart who wanted to take us all on a cruise. Then I learned that stewardship is about faithful management of all that God’s given me—which is everything I have. I have to tell you that learning that hasn’t made it any easier for me.

Once, when my son Ben was 5 years old, for his birthday he got some cash. Actually, a lot of cash for a 5-year-old in 1986. When we counted it, it came to 43 dollars. “What are you going to do with all that money?” I asked him. “I’m going to give it to the church to feed hungry people,” he said.

Without thinking, I responded, “Oh, you don’t want to give it ALL to the church, do you? Don’t you want to spend some of it on yourself?”

Yes, I said that. I’m not proud of it. But it revealed a lot about where I was on my personal stewardship journey. I was not what you what call a cheerful giver. There was little generosity in my heart. When I gave money away, I was always thinking about how I could spend it on myself. I would think about the car I could be driving, or the wonderful vacations I could be taking with the money that I was giving to the church. I gave, but I did it with resentment. I was begrudging in my giving. I gave only what I thought was enough, so that I always had plenty for myself and my family. I confess that I was stingy.

I came to realize that there is a correlation between being stingy with my money, and stingy in other areas, too. I looked at people I knew who had generous spirits. They were generous in their money, in the way they spent their time, in their relationships… Their generosity knew no bounds. They never seemed to worry that they were giving too much of themselves or their possessions. To me, that’s what it looked like to live by God’s grace. I envied them. I longed to be more like them.

And I decided to open myself up so that God could create a more generous spirit within me.

Now one of the secrets of the faith is that if you long to become a person of faith, you don’t just think about it. You don’t just pray about it. You do the things that a person of faith does and eventually, your heart catches up with your actions.

So, I made some changes in my behavior. I changed my spending patterns. Living within my means came to mean, living within my means so that I could share out of my abundance with others. That meant that I was okay with a used car. That I didn’t buy a house with mortgage payments that made it impossible for me to give a portion of my income to the church.

I made a commitment to give off the top. To give my money away first, and then figure out what I had left for myself and not the other way around.

Now, at different times of my life I’ve been in a position to give more money away than I have at other times. Right now, I’m single, my children are grown, I make a decent living, and there’s not much that I need. That hasn’t always been the case, so I haven’t always been able to give as much away as I can now, but it’s not so much the amount given as the longing for a generosity of spirit that’s nudged to give more through the years.

About 25 years ago, I started to pay attention to the percentage of my giving. In the Bible they talk about 10% as a faithful response for all that God has given, and I like that as a goal for myself as a person of faith. I’d never ever really done the math before and was surprised to learn that I was giving about 6% of my income, after taxes, to the church.

I didn’t feel good about that, so I decided to work toward 10%. I would do it by increasing the percentage of my giving by one percent per year. A couple years some things came up, and I just couldn’t swing it, so I did a half percent those years. After 6 years I was at 10%. That was right about when I started using Simply Giving, so the money is automatically taken from my bank account and it’s money that I don’t miss.

I’m living within my means, and my means includes charitable giving.

Then once I reached 10% of my income after taxes, I worked toward 10% before taxes. I decided that the 10% after taxes would go to the church. The additional money, the difference between before taxes and after taxes, that 10% would go to other charities.

One thing that’s new for me over the past few years is that I’ve become more intentional about the organizations I give to beyond the church. This time of year, I receive all kinds of solicitations for money from lots of worthy organizations. I can’t give to everyone who asks. I need a plan for my giving.

At the beginning of the year, I consider my options, and I decide who will receive my money that next year. Sure, something may come up, like Disaster Relief, and I can give to that over and above what I had planned for the year.

I want to give to organizations that I know will use my money wisely, and organizations that I believe in, ones that share my values. I do my homework before I give away the money God’s entrusted to me. This year my extra giving includes micro-loans for women entrepreneurs in developing nations, the Vision for the ELCA Fund, the World Hunger Appeal, ReconcilingWorks, my seminary, ACTC, BRIDGE Maryland, public radio.

I want to be intentional in my giving, just as I’m intentional in my spending.

That’s what stewardship is all about. Being intentional in how I use the gifts God’s given me so that the way I use those gifts reflects my relationship with the one who’s given me everything. Giving to God the things that are God’s.

When it comes to money, that doesn’t only mean stewardship of the money I give away, but it also means the money I spend on everything else, too. I continually ask, how does the way I spend my money reflect my relationship with God? This year, I took a sharpie pen and drew a cross on all my credit cards. That way, every time I use one, I’m reminded that the way I spend my money isn’t all about me; it’s a faith statement. 

I’ve become more generous through the years. That doesn’t mean I still don’t struggle sometimes, and I’m okay with that. God loves a cheerful giver, and that’s certainly true. But I take comfort in the fact that God loves a grumpy giver, too. The important thing is that I’m a giver. And God is helping me grow in generosity.

That’s a lot about me today.

What about you? What’s your personal history with money? How does the way you deal with money reflect your personal values, your relationship with God? Are you open to growing in generosity?  


Monday, September 25, 2017

Where do I stand on the national anthem? On the side of healing, please.


Professional athletes are making a statement during the national anthem again. I say again because this isn’t the first time this has happened. I remember well the black fists on the podium at the 1968 Olympics and the outrage people expressed as a result.
Clearly, Americans have diverse feelings about our national anthem. I will admit that it chokes me up when I sing it, although I’m not exactly sure why. I suppose it represents my country weathering hard times and surviving them…it's a source of pride for me. (I've only known the first verse most of my life, and that's what I focus on.)
Although it’s just a song and the flag is just a piece of cloth, they represent more than that. For some people, they are synonymous with our country, so to disrespect the anthem or the flag is to disrespect our country. If you lost a family member who fought for our country in the military, your connection to the flag probably runs deep. The flag may be a person you love who was taken from you in an act of bravery defending something they believe in. Any sign of disrespect for that is unfathomable.
I suppose it makes sense that when people are really angry with our country, they will attack our symbols. It’s a powerful way to make a statement and a lot better than blowing up government buildings. No one is physically harmed in the process. And yet it’s hard to say that no one is hurt.
I’ve been a bit puzzled by the fact that few people are pointing out the obvious about all the NFL players who got down on one knee during the national anthem this week. Those who are protesting are overwhelmingly African American. As a white person, I can’t pretend I haven’t noticed.
I have no clue what it’s like to be black in our country; that’s not my experience. But I want to do my best to understand. I would like to hear from those who are angry enough with our country that they can’t bring themselves to stand for our national anthem. I would like to understand why they feel this is necessary. Instead of accusing them of being traitors, I would like to understand their perspective.
That may sound un-American to some folks, but seeking healing in a nation that is clearly divided is born out of love for my country. And clearly, as a follower of Jesus, that’s where I’m called to go.
We are so quick to accuse “them” and defend “us.” We do this without taking the time to listen to one another. It's not productive and will never move us forward. I hate watching our country go through this latest controversy, yet again casting judgment with no concern for understanding.
Instead of accusing or dismissing those who don’t share our experience or perspective, why don’t we try listening?

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Pooky


December 7, 2001 - September 12, 20017
When the rest of the puppies in her litter opened both their eyes, she only opened one. Her brothers and sisters all found homes, but as it turned out, nobody wanted a pug with a bum eye. When I learned about this sweet, little unwanted pug pup, I emphatically stated that I couldn’t take her. And then, for some reason, I heard my voice saying, “Why don’t you bring her by the church and let me see her?”

She came, and I saw her. When she sat in my lap and nuzzled her nose into my belly, she was mine. Well, actually, I should say I was hers.

After living alone for many years since my divorce, suddenly someone was there to greet me at the door when I came home from work. I had a friend to cuddle with on the couch while I watched T.V., a warm body beside me in bed at night, and a companion on my morning walks.

On day one, I named her Sweet Pea, but that night, in a dream, her name was Pooky, and that’s who she was from that day forward. The name suited her. As a pup she was soft and squishy, wiggly and jiggly. The sounds emitting from her body (snorting, snoring, farting) were always amusing, and her wagging corkscrew tail made me smile even on the worst of days. Of course, the unconditional love in her eyes carried me along.

Pooky brought joy into my life at a time when I needed it the most. I remember her courageously chasing a flock of wild geese at the park, until they suddenly turned around and started chasing her. Pooky did an abrupt about face and came running back to me as fast as she could. Then there was the evening when she stole a pot roast from the dining room table while I was in the kitchen. I couldn’t figure out where the roast went, and then I found Pooky chowing it down in the living room; it was about as big as she was. Pooky was so proud, looking up at me, her tail wagging double-time. One of my favorite moments was the day she befriended a Great Dane at the dog park, popping her wagging butt in the air, running circles around him, nipping his heals, inviting him to chase her, until the poor Great Dane just plopped down in exasperation as he watched her. He knew he could never keep up.

In many ways Pooky was a typical pug. They are sweet, comical, mischievous, and not too terribly bright… except when it comes to food. The most important thing they’re good for is lovin’. And that’s what Pooky brought to me. As she aged, she became a different dog in many ways, but she continued to be good for lovin’.
I’m grateful to have known her. Grateful for almost 16 years together. Grateful for all the love we shared.

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Will this be on the final exam?: a plea to educators

Teachers are busy preparing for their school year: putting up bulletin boards, attending meetings on classroom management, reviewing policies, writing lesson plans, etc. These are stressful days, as well as a time pregnant with promise.

As a grandparent, a pastor, and a citizen of the United States, I have one big request of educators. Please teach your students to think critically. Let it be the explicit and implicit curriculum in everything you do. It could solve a lot of problems down the road. I know because I can see the problems that have come about because the people of my generation seem to have missed it, and we’re leaving the next generation with a mess to clean up.

It took me a long time to figure out that I couldn’t believe everything I saw in print. Just because someone wrote it in a book, or a newspaper, or even the Bible, doesn’t mean that it’s factual. Every author has a bias. I can’t remember ever learning this until I got to college. As an English major, I was introduced to a whole new way of thinking. Without critical thinking, literature was no more than a bunch of words bouncing around in my skull. When my eyes were opened, I saw how a lot of stuff that had been fed to me as "fact" had distorted my view of world.

Critical thinking has become even more challenging today, with immediate access to every piece of information that ever has been disseminated in the history of civilization. It’s literally at our fingertips. How do we sort through it all? Unfortunately, many people take the easy way out. They gravitate to whatever reinforces the view they already have. They listen to a cable news station that is clearly biased, but are deaf to that bias because it tells them what they want to hear. Many adults I know these days receive the bulk of their news on Facebook. On Facebook! That’s the place where you can unfriend people who say things you don’t like. Where you can flat out lie about someone you don’t like and before anyone can dispute it, the lie is out there and they’re toast. I know other people do the same thing with other social media sites.

How do our youth negotiate all this? They need help! Parents can challenge them to think critically, if they have become critical thinkers themselves, but I wouldn’t count on it. Teachers, please, can you take this on for the future of our country and world?

There’s a story about Paulo Freire, a Latin American educator who began as a language teacher and then an adult literacy instructor. At that time, literacy was required before a person could vote in presidential elections in Brazil. By design, this prevented the poor from participating. As the story goes, when he taught the sounds of the word for water, he used a picture of water being pumped from a well. Then he taught the word for well. Once the words had been mastered, he asked his students, “Now, who owns the well?” That’s what teaching for critical thinking looks like. How many teachers would teach the words and consider the lesson ended?
In Pedagogy of the Oppressed, Freire wrote: “Education either functions as an instrument which is used to facilitate the integration of the younger generation into the logic of the present system and bring about conformity or it becomes the practice of freedom, the means by which men and women deal critically and creatively with reality and discover how to participate in the transformation of their world.”
I don’t know about you, but I don’t want our youth to simply conform and perpetuate the world as it is now. I want more than that for them and for my grandchildren. I want them to transform the world. I know many teachers share this passion and I thank you. We need more of you!
There are all kinds of tests students take before they can graduate from high school--tests that measure their ability to conform to the academic standards set for them by educators (or in too many cases, politicians, who know nothing about education, but that's a subject for another blog). This can be as stressful for teachers as it is for students. I don't mean to add to their load, but I wish that we could make it a rule that nobody can graduate from high school until they demonstrate critical thinking skills. Is there a way this could be added to graduation requirements, please? Maybe if students and teachers know it will be on the final exam, they'll take it seriously.
Believe me, it will be on the final exam. 


After posting this blog, I heard from my sister Wendy, who is an educator in Massachusetts. She informed me that critical thinking skills are required on some of the questions on their state tests, so that's a step in the right direction. Is this true in all states? So, I stand corrected here. But I wonder if this makes a difference in whether or not a person graduates. And Wendy writes that this raises a bigger question, "... can our students apply this skill to the world beyond the school walls? Or do we as adults beat them down when they question?"

Friday, August 4, 2017

Why does water keep coming from my eyes?

When my son Ben was little I once asked him why he was crying and he explained, "I'm not crying, but why does water keep coming from my eyes?" I'm not sure why he would have thought crying was a bad thing that he needed to deny as we never told him "don't cry" or any of those other emotionally stifling things parents tend to say to their kids, especially boys. His insistence that he wasn't crying had more to do with his constant need to contradict or challenge whatever I said. And I suspect it might also have been a reaction to the inability he had to control his tears. They came, whether he wanted them to or not. And it was pretty hard to deny them to his mother when the evidence was written all over his face. Crying? I'm not crying. That's just water coming from my eyes. 

Back in June I saw the doctor for something that was nothing, as is so often the case. I can't tell you the last time I went to the doctor concerned about something and it turned out to be anything. It makes me not want to go to the doctor at all for fear of being perceived coo-coo for cocoa puffs.  

While I was there, I asked her about an ugly brown spot I had on my chest, and she told me it was just a result of getting older. (Why is every physical problem that concerns me these days just a result of getting older?) Well, that prompted her to get out her magnifying glass and look over my back. (I felt silly as she did this, like she was just humoring the poor old hypochondriac.) She found a brown spot, like a large, misshapen freckle, that also had a little pink on one side. "It's probably just an age spot, but let's get you to a dermatologist to check it out." Okay. We both know it's nothing, I thought, but let's hear it from a dermatologist. 

I took my time making the appointment, but the Monday after I got back from vacation I saw a dermatologist. I actually saw the PA, a delightful woman named Julia. She did a biopsy, just to make sure, but she assured me it was most likely just an age spot. (Of course.) They would notify me in two weeks. So, I waited for a postcard or text message. 

One week later, I received a call from the dermatologist's office. Julia needed to talk to me right away, and no, she couldn't just talk to me on the phone. I had to come to the office that day.

Well, it turns out I have a melanoma, stage 1B. When she told me, I was overwhelmed with gratitude. I never would have noticed this. I can't see my back and it wasn't bothering me. I don't see a dermatologist, ever. If my primary care physician had been in the room I would have kissed her. Thank you, thank you, Dr. Wills, for seeing this and telling me to check it out. It's early enough to treat it and the prognosis is good. Whew! Next I will consult with a plastic surgeon, set a date for surgery, and this will soon become an insignificant footnote in the story of my life.

Julia called me late that evening. She wanted me to come in the next day so she could do a full body exam. So, I went back, and this time she found something else. It's a piddly little mole that is exactly half brown and half white, as if someone had drawn a line down the middle. She sent it off for a biopsy. Yikes! I had no idea all this stuff was happening on my back. 

With a jam-packed week at the church, I've hardly thought about any of this. Well, there's that awkward time every morning when our Parish Administrator, Sue, has to change my dressing because, as someone who lives alone, I have no way of seeing or reaching the more recent little hole in my back. But other than that, it's life as usual... Okay, I've also spent a little time researching the word melanoma online, because that's just what I do. But everything I read gives me the reassurance that we caught this in time and all will be well. 

Last night, when I came home from a long day, I watched an old episode of "The Mary Tyler Moore Show" to help me unwind and end the day in a happy place. It was the one where Georgette has her baby. I didn't recall ever seeing it before. A very funny episode! When it was over, I turned the T.V. off and bawled my eyes out. Then I happened to realize that throughout the week I've caught myself tearing up over random things that normally wouldn't phase me. 

Hmmm. Why does water keep coming from my eyes?

Friday, July 28, 2017

Truth-seers

I've been on a campaign lately to update and modify the signage at Ascension. As a relative newcomer, I need to pay attention to details my eyes won't be noticing as the years pass. The more times I walk by the directory sign inside the Yarmouth Rd. entrance, the more likely I won't notice that where it once read "DIRECTORY", it now says "DIRECTO." The RY are missing and I don't know how long it's been that way. But I do suspect that it doesn't seem to bother anyone else the way it bothers me. 

Last week, as I was obsessing over all the signage that needs work inside our building, I exited the main doors and noticed a "No Parking" sign I had never seen before. There is was, right in front of me in all its glory! (The streaks you see are rust.)



Argh! I've been at Ascension for a year and was seeing it for the first time. I snapped a picture and shared it with a few people in the office. "Have you ever seen this sign before?" I asked. Not a one of them had ever laid eyes on it, and yet every time we leave the building, it's right there in our church circle-driveway. There's no way you could miss it. But, of course, everyone has. 

Now, I'm not pointing this out to disparage our property manager or property committee. They are amazing and keep the church in top-top shape. My point is how we can become blind to stuff that's right in front of us after it becomes so commonplace that we don't even notice it.

What's true for signage around the church is true for so much more. The longer we're a part of an organization, a system, a culture, the less we question how it works. That's why we need truth-seers.

This is what prophets did for God's people in the Scriptures. When the people fell away from God's ways and were swept up in the ways of the world, the prophets gave them a verbal smack upside the head, calling them to see the truth. God still sends us prophets today. If we're wise enough to listen to them, they will challenge us to become more than we are.

Lately, I've become especially sensitive to the word we use to describe the way we worship in the church as "traditional." I've used it for years to describe liturgical worship that follows the book, with "traditional" hymns, and "traditional" organ music. But truth-seers have challenged me to question the use of that word. How can I say that the way we worship in my white, middle-class, English-speaking, North American Lutheran congregation is "traditional?" That may be my tradition, but it is not the tradition for most of the Lutherans who are worshiping God on any given Sunday morning. Truth-seers have helped me to expand my vision in a way that includes those I hadn't considered when I bought into a certain standard for what is traditional Lutheran worship.

Truth-seers are usually outsiders. They're people who aren't a part of the dominant group. After all, when the system is working for you, you have no need to question it. This may seem relatively harmless when we're talking about local customs and preferences, but it quickly becomes dangerous when we're making assumptions about who's in and who's out. Then, in our blindness, we're failing to see injustice. It becomes so much a part of our lives that we don't even realize it exists. I've only been able to see this with the help of the truth-seers God has placed in my life.

Without the voices of truth-seers, I shudder to think of how much worse things might be than they are. Whenever I want to hide my head in the sand and ignore injustice in the world around me, I thank God for the annoying truth-seers who regularly challenge my false assumptions, expose my blind spots, and confront me with the reality of a faded, rusty sign that's just gotta go.


Sunday, July 23, 2017

Resisting my default settings

I’ve never been one to lie about my age. I know it’s just a number and doesn’t have anything to do with my ability. What I may lack in stamina these days, I more than make up for in experience. I’m cool with being a woman who just began serving in a challenging new call at a time when most of my peers are retiring. The way I see it, I’m in my prime, so it’s full steam ahead.

That means I need to be a part of the 21st century. I do my best to keep up on the latest books they’re reading in seminary. I participate in social media and am technologically aware. I’m always pushing myself to think about what’s next and don’t wring my hands over the loss of the good old days, which, for me, where never really all that good anyway.

Despite all of that, on a regular basis, I’m reminded that I grew up in a different time. No matter how hard I try to remember that these days we record things, we don’t tape them, I still refer to taping my favorite shows on T.V. When I’m working at the keyboard on my computer, I often still find myself leaving two spaces after a period. When I ask someone to roll down their car window, I make a cranking motion in the air. None of these are things that a 30-year-old would think of doing, but I take consolation in the fact that at least I’m aware of it.

I’m always resisting the urge to return to my default settings. As I age, this is becoming more and more challenging. I can’t deny the fact that physically I’m not at all the person I once was. Mentally, I’m not as quick. It happens to all of us as we age and it can’t be avoided. But refusing to revert back to the world I grew up in during the 1960s is a choice. I’m convinced that for as long as I’m able to resist my default settings, I’ve still got it.

Viva la resistance!

Monday, May 29, 2017

Should we stop inviting people to join our Jesus Club?


I'm a big Richard Rohr fan. This meme is one I've seen before, but this morning I posted it on Facebook because I need to take it to heart. I forget this truth over and over again and I need the reminder. 
As you may know, I'm in the first year of a new call. That means I'm navigating a sea of expectations--some my congregation is expecting of me, and some I'm expecting of myself.
Since coming to Ascension, a number of people are returning who have been away for a while. This brings me great joy, but it leads to stories about why they disappeared in the first place, and those stories are often about how the congregation or the previous pastors didn't meet their expectations. With a new pastor comes a fresh start, but I'm aware of the fact that the same expectations may still be in place, and I wonder how long it will be before I don't meet them.
One of the expectation traps I fall into is the one that says, "We need to grow." It's shorthand for, "We need to grow numerically so that we're around for a long, long time." It's what every congregation and every pastor wants. And it's killing us.
Since I've come to Ascension, we've only received a handful of new members, and lately I've been obsessing over it. We aren't keeping pace with the deaths and the people who have moved away, so we're loosing ground. Ascension is the first congregation I've served where this has happened and it has me rattled.
We're doing all we can to stop the bleeding. We're following all the expert advice on how to get people in the door and hang onto them once they arrive. I keep telling myself it's early, it will turn around, but then I succumb to the fear that is lurking in the recesses of every mainline pastor's mind these days--the fear that the congregation they're serving is going to be one of the many to bite the dust over the next few decades. It's happening all around us, and I'm afraid it's making a lot of us a little crazy.
That's why I'm always thankful when someone like Richard Rohr comes along to give me a whack upside the head, reminding me that the whole point of being a Christian is not serving an institution, it's following Jesus and allowing him to transform our lives.
Why is it so easy for me to forget that? I get sucked into a culture of scarcity and fear and devote myself to maintaining the institution; I've become a slave to expectations that have nothing to do with Jesus. Jesus never tells us to build enormous edifices, design great websites, offer services of worship that are major productions, have dynamic youth programs, or sermons that make our listeners want to stand up and cheer. He says, "Follow me."
That's not to say that we should be satisfied with mediocre ministry. We offer our very best to a God who has given us all we have. But we need to be clear about our purpose, and our purpose is not proving we're a church worthy of a future. Our purpose is following Jesus.
Maybe we need to stop inviting people to come to church. Maybe we need to stop taking attendance on Sunday mornings. Maybe we need to stop working so hard to get people to join our Jesus Club. Can you imagine what it would be like if we expended that same energy inviting people to follow Jesus and supporting one another as we walk the Jesus Way in the world, as individuals and as a community? I wonder if we can do that as long as the Church as an institution exists.
Here's the irony. If the Church continues to engage in this struggle for the survival of the fittest, we're as good as dead. But if we can be about inviting people to follow Jesus and supporting them on the Jesus Way in the world, I suspect we will grow and thrive. (Maybe it's a variation on "Whoever wants to save their life must lose it.")
Yes, every once in a while I need to be reminded of that, and I need to adjust my expectations accordingly. I'm not a pastor called to save an institution. I'm a pastor called to invite, encourage and support others who are, along with me, followers of Jesus. I trust as long as I'm doing what I'm called to do, God will do the rest.

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Why I can't keep my mouth shut

I’m one of those people who has trouble thinking inside my brain. It’s like my thoughts need to breathe, and they can’t when they’re trapped within the confines of my skull. So, if I’m ruminating about something, I need to talk about it, or write it down, or do something to get it outside myself, where I can examine it and turn it over and tweak it until it looks like what I’m thinking (at the moment, at least).

As an external processor, I recognize that many people in the world around me are internal processors. For a long time, I tried to emulate them, assuming that was the normal way people share their ideas. But I’ve grown suspect of words like normal, and I’ve decided that I can only be who I am. Who I am is an external processor.

Internal processors formulate their ideas into thoughts before they reveal them to the world. I suspect most of them believe that’s the way everyone else thinks. When they spend time with someone like me, they may wonder why I feel compelled to say everything that pops into my head, why I don’t think things out before I speak. I want them to know that I AM thinking things out, but I need to do that WHILE I speak.

Back when I worked with Bishop Bob Kelley, he conducted all his correspondence with a Dictaphone. He’d record what he wanted to say, word-for-word, and then a secretary would later listen and type his words. I couldn’t imagine ever doing that. I would be going back and changing what I said so many times that it would be exhausting for both of us. I love word processing on a computer screen because I can read and re-write what I have written again and again before I'm satisfied with what I’ve said. If I tried to think like Bob Kelley, my head would explode!

For much of my life, I’ve envied internal processors. It’s a lot safer to share your thoughts when you can clearly own them than it is to share thoughts in process, thoughts that aren’t fully formed. We external processors open ourselves up to the possibility of being misunderstood. When we speak, we’re vulnerable.

Early in my ministry, I was figuring this out. Sometimes in meetings, I kicked myself for saying too much. Then the next time I would try hard to keep my mouth shut, and I kicked myself for not saying enough. I finally arrived at the conclusion that I’d rather kick myself for saying too much than for saying too little. And really, for someone like me, that makes sense. If I’m engaged, if I’m a part of the process, I can’t keep my thoughts to myself.

Being an external processor presents challenges for me as a pastor. I am not good off-the-cuff. If I don’t write down what I intend to say, I can go someplace I didn’t plan to go in a split second. On Sunday mornings, this happens regularly during announcements, or the children’s sermon, which are unscripted. I routinely jump down rabbit holes or say things I ought not to have said. Oy! It can be difficult for folks who expect their pastor to be diplomatic and in control of every word she speaks. With me, that just ain’t gonna happen, so unless they’re open to adjusting their expectations of a pastor, I’ll probably leave them bewildered and scratching their heads, asking, “What was THAT?” (This is just one reason why I really need to serve a congregation that's forgiving and has a sense of humor.)

It may not always be easy for people who work with me. As their pastor, they may expect me to give definitive declarations that they can accept or reject, and then we move on from there. Instead, what they often get are random thoughts that I’m still processing. I expect them to add their own thoughts to the mix, and then together we can figure out how we'll move forward. It’s called collaboration, and for me, it’s the only way to do ministry. It’s creative, and it involves everyone in the process. The results are always more fruitful than they would be if I sat in my study and came up with a final product all on my own and prescribed it to others.

I’m blessed to be serving in a setting where, for the most part, collaboration is expected. My external processing is truly a gift. I work with a staff team that listens to my ruminations on a daily basis. They help me sort through my thoughts and there is synergy when we put our minds together. The same is true for congregational leaders, although they aren’t as readily available to me when I’m thinking through a new idea. My way of external processing works well in a congregation where decisions are made collaboratively and all God’s people contribute to the ministry we share. I know the Spirit can work within the confines of our individual skulls, but she seems to thrive in an environment where she is free!

So, I’ll keep doing what I do. I won’t keep my thoughts to myself and I’ll invite others to join me. God will work with that. I’m counting on it.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

13 Reasons Why: 13 topics to consider

I’m reading blogs from a number of people who are upset about the Netflix series 13 Reasons Why. The criticism is harsh. Some are saying that it glorifies suicide, encouraging teens to consider it a viable option, or that it advocates suicide as an effective means of exacting revenge on those who have wronged you. They are advising parents not to let their teenagers view it.  

I had to find out what all the fuss is about. Last weekend, I was finishing up my post-Easter vacation week and I binge-watched 13 Reasons Why for two days. To be honest, I don’t know if I would have been able to watch it any other way because it was written in a way that always pulled me forward into next episode, and I couldn’t turn it off.

I do not agree that it glorifies suicide. The suicide scene was so terrifying that I had to look away. In the book, Hannah kills herself with pills. In the film, she slits her wrists. I don’t know how anyone could have watched this scene thinking it’s a cool thing to kill yourself. It was horrific!

I found it to be an engaging show that I really wished I could have watched with teenagers. If you’re the parent of a teen, I won’t say that you should let them watch it. But I will say that, depending upon the maturity of the teenager and your relationship, this film offers an opportunity to explore some important topics, and I can imagine that you might have many hours of good discussion while viewing it together.  

If you have teenagers in your home, and if you would like to take your relationship to a deeper level by watching and discussing 13 Reasons Why together, let me offer some possible fodder for discussion. It seems only right that I should offer 13 topics to consider.

1.       High school is depicted as a cruel, heartless place in this series. It’s a wonder anyone survives it. Is it really this bad? Is the social status of students (jocks, nerds, etc) a reflection of larger society or is high school a unique environment? Is the pressure to get into the right college an ever-present threat? Are friendships more important than doing the right thing? How are girls treated differently than boys? Are teachers as clueless as they appear in this series? From your experience, what seemed like a true depiction of high school and what was false?

2.       The bullying in this film seems over the top. Is this the way high school really is? Hannah isn’t the kind of person you would imagine being bullied; she is bright, smart, pretty. What does this say about people who are the targets of bullies?

3.       There are so many kinds of fear in the film: fear of being exposed for who you really are, fear of being rejected, fear of being perceived weak… As you think about each of the main characters, what they are afraid of and how does that fear drive their actions? (As a person of faith, I can’t help but think about how faith, which is the opposite of fear, might have made a difference. I noticed the absence of faith in the film.)

4.       I wonder if Hannah might represent more than one young woman in one high school. Is she like a composite character who experiences what so many other young women experience: harassment, objectification, slut-shaming, unwanted groping, rape? Are these common experiences among young women? Hannah seems hyper-sensitive to all of it. Nothing goes unnoticed. Is she more aware than most? Or is this just what it looks like when a young woman is paying attention?

5.       Consider the credibility of the narrator. Hannah doesn’t always tell the truth. For example, when Zach receives a note from her, she describes how he crumpled it up and threw it on the ground. In fact, he kept it. Does she see the world through a distorted lens where everyone is against her? Is her thinking twisted because she’s depressed?

6.       In her mind, Hannah knows how her narrative will end from the beginning of the first tape. Does she make the tapes, which she leaves as an extended suicide note, to get revenge, or to justify her choice? What is her motivation for making the tapes? (That may be at least as interesting to consider as her motivation for ending her life.)

7.       Does anyone in a healthy state of mind decide that it makes sense to solve a temporary problem with a permanent solution like suicide? Or is it the choice of someone who is depressed, someone who experiences so much pain in life that they would do anything to make it stop? How much do you know about depression? If a person is struggling with depression, how can we give them permission to talk about it?

8.       It’s important to talk about suicide. You don’t plant the idea in someone’s head by talking about it. The best thing you can do with someone who is contemplating suicide is talk with them about it. Often, simply hearing oneself say the words out loud is enough to make sense of the thoughts. Do you know what the warning signs are for someone who is contemplating suicide? (You can find this by doing an easy internet search. Every person, especially every teenager, should be aware of these signs to watch for in their friends.)

9.       Some people fear that teenagers will watch 13 Reasons Why and be persuaded to commit suicide. Is that giving teens enough credit? They see actions in movies all the time they know are wrong and they know better than to copy them. In fact, if people are worried about young people copying the actions they see in movies, aren’t there are much worse movies that you should ban from their viewing—movies that glorify violence, racism, misogyny, illegal drugs, casual sex…? And don’t the destructive behaviors in this film clearly come with consequences? (which is more than one can say for a lot of movies, TV shows, video games, posts on social media)

10.   The main character in the series, Clay, considers suicide himself, but he decides against it. How was he different from Hannah in the way he reaches a different conclusion than she does?

11.    Clay makes the statement that any one of the people Hannah exposes on her tapes could have changed the outcome—if any one of them had helped her, she would still be alive. Is that fair? Is it true? When someone takes their own life, who is responsible?  

12.   Tony has a sense of loyalty to Hannah throughout the series that may be hard to understand. He's bound and determined to honor the wishes of a dead person, even when they don’t make sense. How important is it to keep a confidence when someone is in danger, or to protect someone you love at great cost to others? As a loyal friend, was Tony complicit in Hannah’s craziness?

13.    In 13 Reasons Why, the high school students live in their own world, which is completely closed off from the adults in their lives. The adults are not perfect; they make mistakes. But most of them care deeply about their children. Despite this, the teens do everything they can to hide information from their parents and teachers. The adults are expected to have superpowers and pick up on subtle clues, and the teens expect to navigate their struggles on their own. Does this ring true for you? How might 13 Reasons Why have played out differently if the adults and high school students had talked to each other about what mattered?  


Saturday, April 22, 2017

In the Big Cathedral

My understanding of God the Creator has been greatly enriched by studying about the spirituality of the Celts. In Celtic spirituality there is a love and amazement at creation. They refer to the world, the out-of-doors, as the Big Cathedral. An enclosed building like a church, they would call a Little Cathedral. If you travel to Celtic lands today, you will see high-standing outdoor crosses, which are a reminder of the worship they held outside where they could experience the beauty of nature. This earth that God has created is our Big Cathedral.

When you look at it like that, our lives aren’t about getting up in the morning and doing what we gotta do so we can come home and go to sleep and get up in the morning and do the whole thing all over again. We’re in the Big Cathedral here. In that context, living in the Big Cathedral, our lives are worship. But, what if you’re living in the Big Cathedral, yet fail to notice?

A reporter several years ago carried out an interesting survey on the street. People walking by were stopped and asked, without looking up, to describe the sky as it was on that day. Do you know that only a very small percentage of the people could do it with reasonable accuracy? God’s presence is all around us, but most people don’t take the time to notice or appreciate it.

I confess that I’m often among the unappreciative. Still, there are times when I can’t help myself. I have to take note of the wonder of creation in my presence. Like when I’m bowled over by:

 A gorgeous sunset.
 A big fat yellow moon.
 The misty ridges of the blue ridge mountains.
 The branches of a naked, gnarly tree against a clear blue sky.
 The first bright green buds of spring.
 The sound of seagulls and waves rolling onto the beach.
 The wagging tail of my dog when she greets me at the door.
 Rainbows that always seem to surprise me.

Perhaps the most amazing part of God’s creation is what I see looking back at me in the mirror every morning. This is a creature that has been set apart from all the others. In the Genesis creation poem we read, “Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness…” I’m never quite sure what that means. It’s puzzling. The second part of the verse is clearer to me, “…and let them have dominion over…” all creation. God created humans to be in loving partnership with him for the ongoing care of creation. (Maybe that’s what it means to be created in God’s image.)

I wonder if we’re so often oblivious to the marvels of creation all around us because, if we really saw them, we wouldn’t be able to ignore our responsibility as partners with God in the care of creation. But what if we did? What if we saw our lives as worship in the Big Cathedral?