Wednesday, December 4, 2013

On Speaking Out . . . .

November 24, 2013 was the annual SpeakOut to end Sexual and Gender Based Violence. I took the opportunity to do something I have never done before - disclose to my congregation that I myself am a survivor of domestic violence and rape.  Using the Rape of Tamar as my text, I approached what was perhaps the most terrifying and difficult message I have prepared to date.   

I’ve been asked if I think it was helpful for me and my congregation to discuss the issue of Sexual and Gender Based Violence. 

Just telling these people I dearly love that I am a survivor gave me a chance to heal a little bit more.  That is all I said, just that I am a survivor.  I didn’t give any titillating details.  I just wanted them to know that the statistics I was quoting weren’t just numbers.  These statistics were about me and other people who touch their lives, whether they knew it or not.  And I needed them to know that I trust them completely . . . it’s taken a long time to get to this place.

After worship several thanked me for addressing a topic that we are usually afraid to discuss.  We are always so worried that someone might be hurt or angered or feel blamed or that talking about such things might damage the children present . . . as if those children don’t watch TV or play Grand Theft Auto.   One congregant who is also a survivor said that it was a difficult thing to sit through and that they couldn’t imagine ever being able to say what I said out loud, but were so very glad that I did.  It gave them hope that they too will continue to heal.

I want you to know that just reading the passage from 2nd Samuel was painful.  I could feel Tamar’s despair and brokenness.  I heard Absalom’s instruction to Tamar not let it bother her as if it was being said to me . . . because it had been said to me.  Even now, writing this retrospective look at the sermon and the sermon writing process, it hurts and enrages me - that this was and is and probably will be for a long time a typical response to rape.  The more I wrote, the more painful it became, the more fearful I felt.  Through most of the writing I was wiping away tears.  I had to stop for a breath a couple of times while preaching.  But when all was said and done. . . it was a relief to finally Speak Out. I have been holding back for so long, fearful of letting people know this piece of my past, fearful that they would judge.  The hugs and tear-shiny eyes I experienced after worship let me know that there was no judgement here, only compassion and love.  

So, yes.  I believe that Speaking Out was helpful - to me, to other survivors, to the teachers and parents in my congregation, to the children and to all the other potential victims.  

May God walk with you when it is your time to speak.  

(The text of the sermon is located at  )

Monday, November 25, 2013

We will speak out - against Sexual and Gender Based Violence

2 Samuel 13:1-21    Common English Bible (CEB)

13 Some time later, David’s son Amnon fell in love with Tamar the beautiful sister of Absalom, who was also David’s son. 2 Amnon was so upset over his half sister that he made himself sick. She was a virgin, and it seemed impossible in Amnon’s view to do anything to her. 3 But Amnon had a friend named Jonadab, Shimeah’s son, David’s brother, who was a very clever man.
4 “Prince,” Jonadab said to him, “why are you so down, morning after morning? Tell me about it.”So Amnon told him, “I’m in love with Tamar, the sister of my brother Absalom.”

5 “Lie down on your bed and pretend to be sick,” Jonadab said to him. “When your father comes to see you, tell him, ‘Please let my sister Tamar come and give me some food to eat. Let her prepare the food in my sight so I can watch and eat from her own hand.’”

6 So Amnon lay down and pretended to be sick. The king came to see him, and Amnon told the king, “Please let my sister Tamar come and make a couple of heart-shaped cakes in front of me so I can eat from her hand.”

7 David sent word to Tamar at the palace: “Please go to your brother Amnon’s house and prepare some food for him.”8 So Tamar went to her brother Amnon’s house where he was lying down. She took dough, kneaded it, made heart-shaped cakes in front of him, and then cooked them. 9 She took the pan and served Amnon, but he refused to eat.

“Everyone leave me,” Amnon said. So everyone left him. 10 Then Amnon said to Tamar, “Bring the food into the bedroom so I can eat from your hand.” So Tamar took the heart-shaped cakes she had made and brought them to her brother Amnon in the bedroom. 11 When she served him the food, he grabbed her and said, “Come have sex with me, my sister.” 12 But she said to him, “No, my brother! Don’t rape me. Such a thing shouldn’t be done in Israel. Don’t do this horrible thing. 13 Think about me—where could I hide my shame? And you—you would become like some fool in Israel! Please, just talk to the king! He won’t keep me from marrying you.”

14 But Amnon refused to listen to her. He was stronger than she was, and so he raped her. 
15 But then Amnon felt intense hatred for her. In fact, his hatred for her was greater than the love he had felt for her. So Amnon told her, “Get out of here!” 16 “No, my brother!” she said. “Sending me away would be worse than the wrong you’ve already done.”

But Amnon wouldn’t listen to her. 17 He summoned his young servant and said, “Get this woman out of my presence and lock the door after her.” (18 She was wearing a long-sleeved robe because that was what the virgin princesses wore as garments.) So Amnon’s servant put her out and locked the door after her.  19 Tamar put ashes on her head and tore the long-sleeved robe she was wearing. She put her hand on her head and walked away, crying as she went.

20 Her brother Absalom said to her, “Has your brother Amnon been with you? Keep quiet about it for now, sister; he’s your brother. Don’t let it bother you.” So Tamar, a broken woman, lived in her brother Absalom’s house.

21 When King David heard about all this he got very angry, but he refused to punish his son Amnon because he loved him as his oldest child.

November 25th has been designated by the United Nations as the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women. It is the beginning of 16 days of  worldwide activism against gender violence.   Today is Speak Out Sunday, a day dedicated to ending Sexual and Gender Based Violence.

It seems to me that this is perfectly timed. October was Domestic Violence Awareness Month.  Wednesday, November 20  was Transgender Day of Remembrance when we remember the many - thousands - who have died simply because of who they were.   

This passage from 2nd Samuel is known as “the rape of Tamar.”  It is one of those terrible Bible stories we hate to preach on.  OK, it’s one of those terrible Bible stories we NEVER preach on. We try to skip over it in Bible studies.  And we sure don’t write children’s books about Tamar and Amnon like we do about Abraham and Sarah or even Samson and Delilah.  It’s an ugly, terrible story and we want to know why . . . Why didn’t David do something? Why didn’t Absalom go beat Amnon to a pulp? Why Tamar was told to be quiet, to not let it bother her?   Really? Absalom actually said, “ Don’t let it bother you?” That would never happen today.

Right.  That ugly scenario happens every day, today.   I could have just lifted a plot line from Law and Order SVU and found all the same elements.  A young woman is subjected to violent rape by someone close to her, her family tries to pretend it never happened, and there is no penalty for the perpetrator. There’s a reason people don’t report rape, why women and men stay in violent relationships even when it’s pretty clear even to them that their very lives may be (are!) at risk.  
 Rape.  Physical Violence.  Stalking. Not by strangers, but by a loved one, an intimate partner, a family member.   In the United States this is a reality for one in THREE women.  And for one in FOUR men!  Those numbers from a 2010 survey by the National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence survey are way up from just 5 years earlier.  And the numbers today are most likely higher.    

Many don’t tell.  They don’t want anyone to know.  They think it’s their fault, that they should have been smarter than that, that they should have prevented it somehow, that they should have found a way to get away, to defend themselves, to avoid the situation altogether.  And no matter how loudly or how often we tell ourselves that those things are not true, it’s hard to believe when it seems like all of society believes that they are true.  

And yes, you heard right.  I said we.  I am also a survivor of domestic violence and of rape.  I also struggle not to believe those untruths.  I am also one of those who never called the police on the domestic violence, whose rape went unreported.   A few months ago I was diagnosed with PTSD, which I’ve learned is a common result of those experiences, and began therapy.   Even though those things happened decades ago, I only recently started talking about it.   I am not alone.  

Tamar had no recourse.  There were no police to report to so she went to her brother Absalom.  There was nothing he could do.  The law was pretty clear.  If the woman was raped within a town or city and wasn’t heard to scream, then it wasn’t rape.   And if she had been married she would have been stoned to death.  In a case of proven rape the rapist was required to either marry the woman or pay her father her bride price, because no one else would marry her.   She was, you see, not a person with rights.  She was property.  By taking her virginity Amnon stole something of value, not from Tamar, but from his father, David, to whom she belonged.   In the Western world the laws granting women rights to own property on their own and even to live on their own are recent - just within the last couple hundred years.  In some places in the East and Africa that still isn’t the case.    Rape and other violence against women are still considered property crimes committed against the father or husband, not against the woman.    

It is hard to believe that in the nearly 3,000 years since these events happened, roughly 978 bce, nothing has changed that much.  Women who are victims of domestic violence and spousal rape are told not to worry, not to pay attention to it - by their priests and ministers!  They go to their pastor, who they are supposed to trust, and are told to go home and submit in all ways to their husband, because that’s what the Bible says they should do.   They might even point to the Law that says a husband can’t use a rod any thicker than his thumb to beat his wife with, which implies that he has every right to beat her if she misbehaves . . .  

Men who are victims are ridiculed.  How can a man let a woman beat on him?  He’s bigger and stronger.  Surely he can control her . . .  If he’s even willing to tell his minister, he’s reminded that he is the head of household . . .His friends, if he tells them anything at all, might tell him he should just deck her, that would teach her who is boss.    

So what do we do?  What’s a Christian to do?   If we look to the New Testament, to the household codes in Ephesians 5 for example, we see that Paul does indeed tell wives to submit “. . .wives submit to their husbands in everything like the church submits to Christ.”  Way too often ministers stop right there, with the instruction to the wife.  However, Paul follows that statement immediately saying As for husbands, love your wives just like Christ loved the church and gave himself for her. . That’s how husbands ought to love their wives—in the same way as they do their own bodies. Anyone who loves his wife loves himself. 29 No one ever hates his own body, but feeds it and takes care of it just like Christ does for the church 30 because we are parts of his body.    (Ephesians 5:24-30a)

This bit follows Paul’s insistence that everyone in the church should treat everyone else well.  He says, “speak to each other with psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs; sing and make music to the Lord in your hearts; 20 always give thanks to God the Father for everything in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ; 21 and submit to each other out of respect for Christ. 22 For example, wives should submit to their husbands… and Paul ends this section by saying, “In any case, as for you individually, each one of you should love his wife as himself, and wives should respect their husbands.”  

All of you,  the whole community, submit to each other.  Speak only good things, holy things, to each other.  Husbands, love your wives as you love yourself.  Wives, respect your husbands.   Paul isn’t saying, “Men, treat your property well.”  He’s telling them, “love your wife as Christ loves you.  Treat her with care and respect.”  He tells them, in effect, stop paying attention to the rules of the world and live according to Christ’s law.   In Christ there is no difference between individuals.  Your wife is not your property, she is just the same as you, to be loved and  treated as you treat  yourself - as is every member of the Christian community. He is re-iterating, again, the fact that Christians are to live a different way than all the other folks out there.  Christians are all equal in God’s sight and should therefore be equal in each other’s sight.   Every one cares for and about each other.  

What happened to Tamar should never happen in a Christian community.  The victim should never hear, “Oh, you were raped?  You were beaten?  Don’t worry about it.”  The victim should be nurtured and healed.   Regardless of what the laws of the nation say, regardless of what the people outside the Church might say,  she or he is deserving of love, not punishment.   Remember that Jesus said to the crowd getting ready to stone a woman accused of adultery.  First he wanted to know who accused her - what man in the crowd saw her willingly give herself to a man who was not her husband.  And when no one came forward he said, let the one who has never done anything wrong be the first to throw a stone.  And every person put down his stone and walked away.  Jesus told the woman to go and sin no more.  He didn’t accuse her or preach at her or tell her how bad she was.  He just said, go and sin no more.  

He says that to us all.  He shows each of us compassion just as he did to that woman waiting to be killed.  He models for her the forgiveness and compassion each of us receives from God.  Always and forever, we are given another chance to get it right, another chance to reach out to the damaged, the broken, another chance to help the victim, another chance to heal him or her of the pain and shame that comes with being a victim.  And we are given the chance to teach - that no one should be victimized.  That we are responsible for teaching our children and our communities that each person is equal in God’s eyes and that we are all to love one another as we are loved.  That we are all to respect each other as equally valued, beloved children of God. That no one deserves to be punished just for being who they are, or for being in the wrong place at the wrong time, or for being a victim.  

Submit to each other.  Love one another as you are loved.  Heal the sick, the injured, the broken.  Feed those who hunger.  Speak the Good News where ever you go. Work for justice  And do not judge.

Cross-posted at   

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Prayer on Tamale Tuesday

As I sat in my office this morning I started to hear a bit of commotion in the church hall.  There were tables and chairs being moved around and people greeting each other.  When I looked at my calendar I realized that today is Tamale Tuesday.

On the third Tuesday of every month a Spanish speaking
congregation that shares space with us spends the day making tamales, which they will sell this evening to raise funds for their church. There are both women and men here sharing all the work - cutting, mixing, sorting out the corn husks, and stirring.  In a few hours they will start rolling the tamales.  There will be pork tamales and chicken and sweet corn meal and sometimes they make tamales that are filled with corn meal and cheese wrapped around a large pepper.  I'm not sure what they're called, but I really like those pepper tamales.  

Before they begin all that, however, they pray.  They will gather in a circle, the pastor will say something like "let us pray" and they begin.  When I say "they" I mean all of them.  Each and every person in that circle will pray out loud at the same time that everyone else is praying, saying his or her own prayer from the heart, giving thanks and praise to God and asking God's blessing on the work they will do today.  When I say "out loud" I mean that there is no mumbling, no hesitancy, no wondering what everyone else is saying.  They lift their voices together with confidence, with as much energy as my congregation puts forth when singing a well-loved hymn.

I remember how surprised I was the first time I experienced this kind of praying.  I'm used to having the pastor or some other leader praying out loud while everyone else stands there silently.  Sometimes someone will respond to the pray-er with a "Praise God" or "Thank you Jesus" or "Yes Lord."  But most of the time they just listen and let the leader pray on their behalf.   Now and then a circle will pray the same prayer in unison in that sort of sing-song way we tend to use for memorized prayers and poems. 

So you can understand my confusion the first time I stood in a prayer circle with a group of Spanish speaking Christians.  It took a couple of experiences with this new thing before I was totally comfortable with praying out loud while everyone else was praying, but I grew to like it.  It started making a lot of sense to me that each individual would give thanks and ask God's blessing on their work.  It makes sense that when a group of people are asking God for help for one of their number that each will lift up their own individual plea for that person.  This is the priesthood of all believers in action.

I don't get many opportunities to join my Spanish speaking sisters and brothers in prayer.  But you can be sure that when I hear those prayers begin on Tamale Tuesday I drop whatever I'm doing and pray along.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

What are you against?

I just saw a Facebook post asking people to join a group or like a page or whatever named "Anti-Republican."  Really, people?  When's the last time someone turned to you during a conversation and asked, "What are you against?"

I mean, why do we have to be against something?  Why not just state loudly and frequently what we are for?  It seems to me that just saying "I hate them. Let's kick them out." is not productive. Rather, if you really would rather see different people in office say, "Let's find more centrist people to fill that position."

At the of sounding Pollyanna-ish, I have learned that it is usually more helpful to come at an issue from the positive side.  Rather than reacting or pushing back against a policy or person we disagree with, name the positive options that we favor.  So, instead of being "Anti-Republican," a name which will automatically alienate any moderate or progressive members of that party, name what you are in favor of.

In truth, I learned this the hard way.  I found myself pushing back against a sense of apathy and worry about the future of our congregation.  I would say things like, "We're not dying.  Don't listen to the nay-sayers. There's still hope for us."  And yes, the congregation is getting smaller.  And yes, I worried, too - about the congregation, about my job, about the kids who come to our preschool and our teachers, about the folks who come here for food... So I would beg the folks not to give up, to hang on to hope.

Then I started paying closer attention to our church treasurer.  Because he is also an Elder he has the opportunity to give the offering invitation once a month.   He might name some emergency or unexpected expense that impacted our bank account.  He will usually mention one of the big expenses coming up, like property tax or workers comp insurance.   Then he will start praising the congregation.  "I don't know how we do it," he'll say.  "We keep having what we need to pay the bills and take care of emergencies.  We still send money to the Mission Fund.  You are the most generous people ever, and I thank you."  Most always he ends with the reminder that with God all things are possible.

When I really started listening to him, he helped me remember that I'm the one in the pulpit. Yes, there might be folks out in the parking lot whispering and worrying (and maybe even plotting!), but I'm the one in the pulpit. I'm not here to soothe their fears and worries for the future. I'm the one whose job it is to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.  I'm not just here to tell them about loving the neighbor and the work that needs to be done to end oppression in the world.  I'm the one whose job is to remind them of just how awesome our God really is.  And that everything  really is possible with God.

So . . . I changed my tune.  I started telling the congregation exactly how much they impact our community.  I lifted up their generosity and compassion for our neighbors. I thanked them for their hard work packing lunches for the hungry and going around the neighborhood handing them out.  I tell them how different we are from other congregations.  We are smaller than we were 10 years ago, yes.  But where most congregations who've been around 50 years or more are populated mostly by silver haired folks, we are getting younger!  There are new young families and couples who have come and gotten involved in mission and worship.  I told them that we now have an energy that's very different from before and that energy comes from God.  It results from our willingness to do whatever we can to serve our neighbor with love.

Then people started coming up to me saying, "I was worried about my little church, but not so much now.  Now I have hope.  I know that God can make a way where there is no way."

I don't know what the future holds any more than anyone else does, but I do know that just speaking against whatever worries or frightens or angers me isn't the solution.  The solution lies in naming the good potentialities and working toward them.  The solution lies not in arguing or defending or defeating, but in shifting the focus from negative to positive, from anti-whatever to for something.

So, to you Anti-Republican folks out there . . . I am absolutely in favor of finding leaders with a more centrist view of the world than some of the folks who are serving in government now, but I think some of them just might sit on the red side of the aisle.  Maybe you could re-think your name?

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Is it better...?

I wonder about all sorts of things. Sometimes my wondering wanders into the world of worrying.  For example:

 Is it better to post numerous short pieces on my blog or wait until I have something essay-length to share?
My habit of late has been to make note of things I intend to write more about, usually on my phone or iPad.  I might have just an idea or as much as half a page of musing.  It might be a "this'll preach" moment or just some random observation.  The problem with this is that I almost never get around to "finishing" any of those pieces.  I usually don't even use the "this'll preach" bits in sermons.   I have dozens of these little gems stored as notes or in documents titled "blogishness".

It was easier to finish things when I was committed to contribute a piece every Tuesday on The Intersection, a social site for Disciples.  (That's members of the Christian Church (Disciples of  Christ), not the folks who followed Jesus around Judah and Galilee.). Or when I was more active in RevGalBlogPals.  Or, frankly, when I have any kind of deadline imposed by someone other than myself.

I am fairly certain it would be better for me if I were to practice the spiritual discipline of writing regularly in one place instead of having mini (unpublished) posts scattered all over my electronic devices.   I suspect my spiritual director - herself a writer of some note - would agree. I 'm just not very good at imposing this kind of discipline on myself.  Even titling this blog "Everyday Thinking" wasn't enough to motivate me.

(Quick, Maria.  Post this before you add it to your "to be finished" file.).   See what I mean?

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Watch where you're pointing that.


I love smiling at people. I especially love smiling at strangers. It costs me nothing and the return for something completely effortless is tremendous.

For example:  Today as I waited for a light to change so I could make the turn into Starbucks for my daily green tea a rather glum looking man started walking across the intersection.  Having nothing better to do at the time I watched him as he walked.  When he got in front of my car he happened to glance over, saw me smiling and smiled back.  His face lit up.  His whole body straightened.  He looked like a different man entirely when he was smiling.

Sometimes I wonder if my smile will get passed along later. It's ok if it doesn't, of course.  Just the thought that it brightened one moment for one person is enough for me to float on for a while.

Gotta go now.  There are people out there needing to be smiled at.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

What do you keep?

I looked into each room I passed on my way to lead Sunday worship for the Health Care Unit.   Some of the rooms had two residents and some were singles.  Each had a bed or two and a window and some personal items softening the institutional feel of the room.  One or two looked to be fully furnished with antiques, but most had just one or two personal pieces of furniture and/or artwork.

As I walked down that hallway last Sunday I wondered how these ladies made the decision about what to keep and what to leave behind.  I knew that for many this was just the last of a number of events that required them to make this decision.  They were mostly widowed, mothers and grandmothers and great-grandmothers.  They had lived in homes large enough to hold families with children and pets until the nest was empty and it was time to downsize.  Some lived in smaller homes for while before retirement and time to downsize again, this time to move to a retirement home, perhaps in a community like this one.   Eventually the time came when they could no longer live on their own or even in assisted living, when they needed nursing care around the clock.  Time once more to downsize.

That decision had to be hard each time they had to ask themselves, "What do I keep and what do I leave behind?"  I remember when my mother moved from the family house to the retirement house and how hard that was for her.  I remember how she would pick up a precious memory and try to decide if there would be room for it in the new living space.  Some she picked up and put down repeatedly, simply unable to make up her mind until the very last moment before the movers came.  I can't even imagine what it must be like to have to decide which few items from a long and fruitful life I would keep with me until the end, in the room where I would live out my last days.  Which things were of the most value to my heart?  Which would give the most pleasure when my eyes fell upon it in the evening before I slept?  Which could I simply not live without?

It's been a bit like that in my faith journey.  Some, if not most, of the things I learned to believe as a child and young adult simply do not apply to my life today.  Some of them I've outgrown, like guardian angels.  Others I've rejected entirely as unloving, unmerciful and unjust - all the things God is not.  I have kept the beliefs that bring joy and peace, that stimulate my mind and soul, that bring me closer to God's kingdom, that make me want to seek ways to serve God and God's people.  As time goes by, as I learn new things about God and the world and myself, I find myself sorting through my beliefs again, leaving behind anything that doesn't conform to those two greatest commandments that Jesus left us with, ""You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.' This is the greatest and first commandment.  And a second is like it: "You shall love your neighbor as yourself.'" Matthew 22:37-39

ln the end the things that I choose to keep are the things that help me live toward God's beloved community; the knowledge of God's love, mercy, and compassion, God's passion for justice, and God's great desire for reconciliation between God's self and  all of God's creation.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

They'll know we are Christian by . . . what was that again?

I read a post on a progressive blog today titled "Republicans aren't Christians."  For quite some time now some on the right have been writing articles titled "Liberals aren't Christian."  Really?  Is this really the position we want to take with each other?

It's time to stop all the finger pointing and name calling and hostility in the name of Christianity.  All of it flies in the face of what Jesus tried to teach us.  "Love your neighbor as you love yourself", he said.  "Love one another" he said.  And "Do not judge so that you may not be judged."

"Love one another" sounds pretty straightforward.  It means love one another.  It means care about the other, about their well being and about their feelings.  It doesn't mean agree with everything the other says, but it does mean show love for the other as a person.  It doesn't mean accept everything the other says as Capital T Truth but it does mean allow others to have their own opinions on matters of importance to them.  Love one another means having respect for the beliefs and opinions of the other.

"Do not judge sounds pretty" sounds pretty clear to me.  It says to me that I don't get to decide if your way is right or wrong.  If I believe that God has a preferential option for the poor and that therefore it is the role of government to care for all of its citizens, and you don't believe those things in the same way that I believe them - I don't get to say you are wrong and I am right.  That would be judging.  I can say I don't agree with you, but I don't get to call you names.  I can keep working and lobbying and praying for the result I desire . . . and so do you.  "Do not judge" means I need to believe that your opinions and beliefs are every bit as valuable as mine and vice versa.

Yes, I get frustrated when I see politicians putting the desires of people with money ahead of the needs of the poor.  But that has always been the way of the world. Politicians, business owners, even church leaders have always looked first to pleasing the folks with deep pockets and if there is anything left, scattering some crumbs for the poor.  True, not all politicians or CEOs or Church Leaders are like this.  We have a rich history of many good, honest men and women in leadership.  But too many are impressed by wealth and power.  This is human nature.  James even found it necessary to warn church leaders in his time against treating the rich with more respect than the poor (James 2:3-4).

I get even more frustrated when I see Christians, or people of any faith tradition trying to force others to comply with their own religious convictions.  It was to avoid that very thing that so many came to this country in the first place.  It was to keep that from ever happening here that religious freedom was written into our constitution.

If, for example,  I believe it is wrong for a Christian to do business on the Sabbath, then I don't do business on the Sabbath.  I don't try  to make you stop doing business. That's between you and your God. My responsibility is simply and always to obey God the best way I can.  I can certainly tell you what I believe and even why I believe it, but your choices are not for me to judge.  Your actions and stated beliefs might make me crazy, but I don't get to tell you that you aren't Christian because we disagree.

Here's the thing.  Love one another means I respect your beliefs and choices, even especially when I do not agree with you.  It means I speak respectfully to you and about you.  Do not judge means I avoid evaluating your beliefs, words and actions as right or wrong, better or worse when compared to my beliefs, words and actions.

Love one another.  Do not judge.  These are simple, easy to understand instructions.  These are also really, really difficult instructions to carry out.  It is not expected that we will do these things perfectly, for which I am grateful.  But it is expected that we will try.  We will give it our best shot.  If we fall, we get up and try again.  That's what is to be Christian.

The title question?  They'll know we are Christian by  . . .?
Answer:  They'll know we are Christian by  our love.  But you knew that.

Monday, June 3, 2013

Saturday thoughts or "off topic things that pop into my head while sermonizing"

(this piece was found in the middle of a sermon already in progress following some other random and off topic thoughts) 

. . . .   as long as I’m in sidebar mode, a bit about my process.  Obviously, I spend time during the week pulling books off my shelves and searching through them for ways to understand what I’m reading.  I spend possibly an equal amount of time on the internet doing pretty much the same thing, researching and chatting with other preachers about what on earth we’re going to do with this one.   Saturday morning I  set all the sources I plan to use on my desk and settle down in my home work space for the duration - that is, for as long as I can keep coming up with words that I think I can use.  All around me are other items that help me work - candles, books of prayers and stories, stones to hold while I think, something from Starbucks.  

Directly in front of me are quotes that I check often.  A couple of years ago a preacher named Lindsey posted this, which resonates with me every week:  “Trying to write a sermon on Luke...wishing I could be doing something else. It’s hard to write a sermon when you don’t know what the parable means.  That may be where I’m going with this:  that the Bible isn’t an instruction manual but an invitation to be in relationship with God.  Sometimes that means thinking some hard thoughts.”    Next to that is a quote from another preacher - one of the RevGalBlogPals, I think: “A good sermon is one-half of a passionate conversation . .  and a place to meet Jesus.”  And from Soren Kierkegaard, “When you read God’s word, you must constantly be saying to yourself, “it is talking to me, and about me.”   All of those help me focus or get back on track when I wander into sidebar land.  

Running through my mind the whole time is that line from the 19th Psalm that many preachers pray just before they begin their sermon on Sunday morning, “Let the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be pleasing to you, Lord, my rock and my salvation.”   I’m never quite sure why they pray these words before they read a manuscript.  I would think this prayer is most appropriately prayed before I start writing the manuscript.  Which, now that I think about it, probably shouldn’t be called a manuscript at all, as it is neither handwritten nor on paper, but synced to an iPad mini which I hold so I can “preach while walking around” and not get too sidetracked from the topic.

Some of what I write on Saturday shows up in my sermon on Sunday morning.  Some (like this piece) gets posted to my blog.  Some I file in my “miscellaneous writing” folder to flesh out later.  A lot of it just gets deleted.   And, as most of my congregation and friends already know, more often than not I’m up at 4 am on Sunday to re-write the entire thing because the Spirit has written something different on my heart overnight.  

Monday, May 6, 2013

Witness in the back of the church

I took the children for their Sunday school lesson this week while our intern preached. When we came back for the Lord’s Supper I sat quietly in the back row.  A few minutes later Robert, a recent addition to our church family, slid into the row in front of me. Just after he received the bread and cup another man came to sit with him.  The deacon also noticed the new arrival and came to serve him.   Robert said "I gave him mine."

Receiving bread and cup again Robert ate the bread and held the cup as we usually do.  Then a third man walked in and sat on the other side of Robert who told him, "You missed it, Pops, but here, take my cup so you can share that with everyone else."

I wept.

One Sunday morning several months ago David came to worship.  The next week he brought Robert.  Most weeks Robert, David and a few others show up near the beginning of worship.  They nearly always bring someone new with them and those new friends often come back bringing others. They lift their hands to sing and pray.  They respond out loud to prayers and sermons.  After worship  Robert always goes to the piano in the church hall to play and sing words of praise before sitting down to the fellowship meal.  They all help pack lunches for the hungry.  Every week they ask what else they can do to help.

You'd think that every congregation would be thrilled to get folks like this. But that hasn't been their experience.  Quite the opposite, in fact.  Most of them haven't felt welcome inside a church in years.  

David and Robert and their friends are homeless.  They don't always smell great.  They may not always behave in “socially acceptable” ways.  They have little or nothing to put in the basket.  But man, they really love worshipping God in community!

For years I've been inviting the local homeless folks to join us for our Sunday after-worship meal.  I've been telling them "No pressure to come to church, just come eat with us."  
Not "let us feed you."   
But "Come eat with us. Come share a meal.  Come sit with us and talk with us and let's all get to know each other."

And then, at the grocery store on Sunday afternoon Jimmy, who is always sitting in front of the market, told me that he’s going to start coming to worship with David.  He’s never said that before.  I extended an invitation to join us for lunch after worship, as I always do whenever I see him.  He said, “Pastor, I can get food. I won’t come for food.” Pointing to the sky he said, “I’m coming for Him.” 

I wept again.

I’ve been working on the Acts model of doing church, of going out into the community to feed and heal whomever, whether or not they are part of our congregation.  You know, the way the early church did. We’re told that they did this and because they did people came to listen to the Good News out of curiosity, having witnessed great love demonstrated by the followers of Jesus.  Some of my clergy friends seem to think we should never invite people to come to worship, but that we should always first invite them to come and eat, or join us in do service in the community.  And then, if the Spirit leads us to, we can invite them to worship.   

For the better part of 10 years I've been inviting Jimmy to come eat in community with us and he never accepted the invitation. But now Jimmy is coming and he’s coming because David invited him to come worship God in community.  David invited him to come sing and pray and shout Amen in community.  David is working on a different model - the great commission model.  Jesus told his disciples, “Therefore, go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to obey everything that I’ve commanded you.”  (Matthew 28:19-20a  CEB)

I think perhaps Jesus is telling me, "Go, and do likewise."

Friday, February 22, 2013

Smog and the Soul

I often find myself traveling on Interstate 10W toward Los Angeles.  As I reached the top of the hill that separates San Gabriel Valley from the Inland Empire this morning I was disappointed to see that the smog was so thick I couldn’t see the LA skyline through it at all.  Most days I can at least see the high rises downtown, even though they may be partially obscured beneath the brown haze.  Just two days ago the sky was so clear there wasn’t any brown in the sky at all.  The sky was clear and bright blue.  The skyline gleamed and sparkled, making me think of the Emerald City.

It seemed to me that this is a(nother) metaphor for our spiritual life.  There are times when we are surrounded, subsumed by a  brown funk.  Our pain, depression, illness, grief - whatever it is that has us in its grip - is so deep that we can’t see God at all. It is as if God isn’t even there.  We feel alone and in despair.

There are other times when, although still in the midst of our trials, we can see, as “in a glass dimly” the reality of our God in the distance.  We know that God is there, we know that God is accessible, we know that all we have to do is reach out through the pain and we will find that God there holding on to us, anchoring us.  We know hope.

And there are times when, regardless of what we are experiencing in life, we can see our connection with God so clearly that our hearts gleam and sparkle.  Those are the times when we know for a fact that God is with us no matter what is going on in our lives.  Those are the days when we can face even the most difficult circumstances with serenity and confidence.  We know that no matter what happens, we will be ok.

And so I pray:  Holy One, help me to always see you gleaming and sparkling just ahead, leading me into your kingdom of peace and love.  Amen.