The Table

As I am finishing out my final semester of seminary, I am struck by what seems most important to me.  What are the essentials of life? My calling? And it comes down to the sacraments.

As a Lutheran I see only two – Baptism and Holy Communion.  Baptism is are adoption into God’s family.   It can happen at any time, but when it does there is no going back.  Baptism is not an “I was” but an “I am”.  It is continuous, always active and present.

The other is Holy Communion – the Eucharist – the Good Thanksgiving – εὐχαριστία – where we are called to eat with our fellow brothers and sisters.  And it is this part of the sacraments which has been on my mind.

Today I was catching up on reading my daily devotions from Henri Nouwen.  Some days I am better about setting time aside and really thinking about what I am reading and others I skim it and move forward with whatever I need to complete whether work, school work, or something with my family.  And so today I went back and reread one from Feb 15th.    I am copying the words here, because they are worth rereading, coming back to, and sharing with my friends and family.

“The Meal That Makes Us Family and Friends
We all need to eat and drink to stay alive. But having a meal is more than eating and drinking. It is celebrating the gifts of life we share. A meal together is one of the most intimate and sacred human events. Around the table we become vulnerable, filling one another’s plates and cups and encouraging one another to eat and drink. Much more happens at a meal than satisfying hunger and quenching thirst. Around the table we become family, friends, community, yes, a body. That is why it is so important to “set” the table. Flowers, candles, colorful napkins all help us to say to one another, “This is a very special time for us, let’s enjoy it!”
– Henri J. M. Nouwen”

How often do we see communion in this way.  A time to gather with our friends and family to share in the meal, the conversation, the celebration, and the sacred moments of people’s lives?  Just as when we come together for a birthday, a holiday, or even having friends over, we come to a table that has been set with care.  This is a special time and a time worthy of repeating not just once a year, or once a month, or even once a week, but daily as we are gathered back into community, having not only our hunger and thirst quenched, but are filled with the Holy Spirit and renewed in our relationships that make us a complete family.

So as I contemplate the meaning of this sacrament, I am reminded of all that I am thankful for.  My family who has supported me through my seminary journey, my friends who have prayed for me and allowed me to pray for them, as well as the wonderful creation God has given to us to tend and care for even if it means 68 degrees one day and snowing the next.  More on that in my next post.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

What would the church do?

As my friends know I tend to be a rebel at times, but I also feel very called to speak out for the underdogs, those who have little to no voice.  Hence, when I saw this video by Mission Developer Jason Chesnut; I wanted to share it.

And then if you just want to share in some farmer humor watch this one.

Both are great parodies of “What would the fox say?”

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Beloved

You, my friend, are beloved!  You are worthy!  You are loved!

So often it’s easy to find ourselves feeling unworthy of being loved.  It’s easy to find rejection in the actions of others.  Our self-esteem fails us when we most need it.  And yet, God reaches out and says.  “You are my beloved child!  I claim you.  I am with you.  You are worthy.”

This advent season I am using “Life of the Beloved” by Henri Nouwen for my devotional readings. It is written specifically to what some in the church call the spiritual but not religious, but I find it can speak easily to anyone who lives in our world.  Who among us hasn’t felt beaten up, rejected, humiliated, or out of sync with everything going on around us?  Who hasn’t felt unloved?  Even when everything is going great and people say those special things to make us feel loved; our internal voice has a way of saying, “If they only know the true me, would they still love me?”  We end up persecuting our self with self-doubt and loathing.

Nouwen speaks words of truth for all in this book when he not only talks about his own struggles, but reminds us to listen attentively and hear God say, “I have called you by name, from the very beginning. You are mine and I am yours. You are my Beloved, on you my favor rests.” (36) His words are the same that I proclaim in my sermons as well as my daily interaction to others.  They are the words which I wrote in my candidacy essay and on my call paperwork.  “God loves you.  You are God’s beloved child.  You are worthy.”

I am so thankful for a friend who taught me that I too am beloved.  This friend changed my life in ways she may never come to fully realize when we experience a sacred moment together.  And what I want each and every one of you who read this to know is “You are God’s beloved child!  God loves you.”

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Body Art

I have a love hate relationship with tattoos.  Some times I believe they are the most beautiful body art around and cannot believe the artist skills of the tattoo artist. While other times I wonder why people would cover their entire bodies with imagines and words which seem so dark to me.  So it was with some reservation, I agree to go with my second son, when he wanted to get a tattoo.  We had talked about it for months.  I understood his reasons and he was willing to relieve this mother’s worries by checking out some possible concerns I had for safety as well as possible conflicts with potential jobs he was considering for future employment. I will admit, I do like his tattoo, but still it worries me at times as I consider his future and what it will say to those he meets.

Having said this, I will admit, I too have been tempted to get a tattoo.  I have a design (a Luther Rose) and site already planned out.  And yet, my fears continue to stop me from getting this tattoo.  First, there is my dislike of pain. I discovered the site I have chosen is supposedly an extremely sensitive region. This means either being super prepared for pain or choosing a new locale. Second, there is my fear of what others will think.  Will my husband be ok with it? What would my parents say? Is it appropriate for a pastor to have a tattoo?  My conservative friends would most likely say, “No, never, only sailors and the uneducated do that.”  And yet, I look at many of my seminarian friends as well as pastors I know, and can see a second side to this response.  Many people I know have beautiful body art and see no problem changing their bodies.  Their tattoos mark a change in their lives. Pastor Nadia Bolz-Weber has beautiful tattoos which represent a part of whom she is.

(Image from rachelheldevans.com)

But finally I tend to stop myself from proceeding with the idea of getting a tattoo because of my long-held beliefs that God created me as I am – a beautiful child of God.  In general I do not even wear make-up because I see no reason to change the image which God has given me. Why do I need to change what God has created in God’s own image?

And then I surprise myself by admiring tattoos which have brought new life to people who have found themselves broken and unable to see themselves as beautiful.  Today as I scrolled through the variety of posts I see daily on FaceBook, I was caught by this article regarding a woman and her tattoos. (Note: If partial nudity is a problem for you, then you will not want to view this video.)

The woman speaks about her breast cancer which resulted in a double mastectomy and reconstruction.  She felt scared by the experience as well as constantly being reminded of it because of the scaring.  She decided to get tattoos and choose ones that represent her resiliency, rarity, and beauty.  Each of these themes represent the person she became because of what she had been through.  The ideas she expresses are similar to the reasons I have heard others given when speaking about why they choose to modify their bodies with body art.  Nadia Bolz-Weber speaks about her tattoos openly.  She has the full liturgical year tattooed on one arm while the other displays Mary Magdalene, a “flawed woman who was delivered of much in her life, and she was chosen to tell the resurrection.”  (link to full article reviewing her book Pastrix.)  For Nadia each tattoo represents a part of who she is.

As I ponder the article, I am reminded of Psalm 31:9-12 “Be gracious to me, O LORD, for I am in distress; my eye wastes away from grief, my soul and body also. For my life is spent with sorrow, and my years with sighing; my strength fails because of my misery, and my bones waste away. I am the scorn of all my adversaries, a horror to my neighbors, an object of dread to my acquaintances; those who see me in the street flee from me. I have passed out of my mind like one who is dead; I have become a broken vessel.”  How often have we felt like a broken vessel?  The person that others talk about behind our backs.  The whispers, whether imagined or real, become a torment to us.  We feel lost and abandoned by our situation.  In our despair we meet Christ — the one who suffers with us.  Jesus is the one who gathers in all the broken.  He picks up our pieces and restoring us to life.  The psalmist goes on to say, “I trust in you, O LORD, I say, ‘You are my God.'” (Psalm 31:14)

Can our body art be seen a way of healing, being made whole and complete in Christ?  Can it retell our stories in a new way, allowing us to be recreated, restored to life so we can live as God created us to be?  My answer would be yes.  When a person is suddenly able to hold our head high and proclaim “Jesus love me.  I am a child of God.” and truly see them self in this light, then body art allows them to move into claiming their new identity as God’s beloved child.  For them, this the visual picture on their body speaks of the new person they have become as they journeyed through the valley of the dead and were resurrected to new life.

So what does it mean for me? That I will probably continue to sit on the fence admiring the beauty of their art work, sharing in the story they tell, and not yet being ready to move forward in making that change myself.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Songs as Cultural Artifacts

Some may know I have a fairly wide range of musical styles which I enjoy from classical and opera to country and hip-hop.  So several years ago I introduced my second son to Macklemore’s song – Same Love.  He had introduced me to some of the rap and hip-hop music he liked, so I figured I would see how he would react to something I enjoyed.  He had never heard it, but through one YouTube video he discovered another artist that we both could enjoy together.

Hip-hop and rap music is not always associated with good things in our culture.  The songs often offend the senses of those who do not understand the culture to which they are written. The language often contains expletives and references gang violence  as being acceptable. Because of this many of my contemporaries may be adverse to listening to the lyrics.  For some of my Christian friends who believe homosexuality is a sin, this song may offend them. However, I would ask that they and others listen and hear something else this song may be saying to them.

The song speaks about a seven-year old boy who is worried he might be homosexual.  He has an uncle who is.  The boy understands how cruel society can be and how they treat those who are different, and now he is worried that he might be homosexual because he likes art and keeps his room neat.  You sense he may have been teased once too often.  His mother reassured him, he is not homosexual and reminds him that he has loved girls since preschool. The song goes on to speak out against society, especially hip-hop that puts down being gay.  About our society which has become numb to some many things and thinks putting down others is ok.

It is the refrain which haunts me even hours after listening to the music. The words “I can’t change even if I try” speak to me.  I have often felt this same way in my life.  I can’t change even if I try.  Stop trying to make me into something I am not! I will never be a super model.  I will never be a straight A student.  I will never be the perfect wife, mother, sister, daughter.  Yet the mother’s reassuring words to her son could just as easily be God’s words to each one of us.  Stop trying to change those you love.  Stop judging others.  Just as the mother loves her son, God loves us.  God loves us as the person God created in God’s image.  The song hits that deep chord within me as I listen to it and hear the underlying song.  God loves me and God loves each of you. For this same reason I also love you, no matter who you are.

Often the church has been seen to judge people who are different.  Individuals who do not look like, act like, or sound like the rest of those present on a Sunday morning.  People who are not like us.  We want people to change, to be like us, to behave in a certain manner.  We get upset when others are unwilling to conform. This song by Macklemore speaks out against our behavior and gets down to the nitty-gritty and says, Hey, I’m a person to.  I can’t change who I am even if I try. Love me just as I am.

It does not matter what color our skin is. It does not matter what political party we support. It does not matter if the music I love is not the same as the music you love.  It does not matter what religion we are. Nor does it matter what sexual identity we claim.  What matters is we are beloved children of God.  What matters is each and every person we meet on a daily basis is also a beloved child of God.  They are an individual, knit together in their mother’s womb, created in God’s image, and claimed fully as God’s beloved child.  They are not someone who needs to conform to societies approved standards.  They are not a person who needs to change in order to be loved.  Each of us is already loveable and accepted in God’s eyes.

This week as I finished off my call papers, I had to describe the three most prominent themes  preaching.  And my top theme is the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow.  You are God’s beloved child. God does not say you will only be my beloved child if you do x, y, and z.  No, you are already claimed as God’s beloved child.  Nothing you do can change this fact. God does not love us because of our works.  Nor does God love us because we are perfect.  God loves us as the unique broken vessels we each are.  And Macklemore’s song reminds me I don’t have to change to be claimed as God’s beloved child. Neither do you need to change in order to be God’s beloved child.

Jesus spoke to the criminal dying next to him on the cross. The man said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” Jesus’ response to the criminal is the same words he tell us, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.”  (Luke 23:42-3, NRSV) The criminal did not change his behavior.  He knew he deserved the death sentence and asked just to be remembered.  Yet, Jesus response full of love and compassion. “I am not leaving you.  You do not need to change.  I love you and you will be with me forever.  Today you will be with me in paradise.”

These are the words we need to remember when we feel alone and rejected by society.  “Today you will be with me in paradise.”  “I will never leave nor forsake you.”  “You are mine, my beloved child!”  But these words are also the words we need to share with all we meet in our daily lives. “I love you just as you are.  You do not need to change.  You are God’s beloved child. Nothing, not anything, can change this.” Jesus does not come to us demanding change, but claiming us and loving us just as we are – broken and imperfect.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

My CrossSightings Blog

IMG_0090

For those in my IC2643 class and who are not familiar with my final class project or if you want to just see what I’ve been up to this semester in seminary, please go out and look at my CrossSightings blog.  If you want to post a cross sighting and/or prayer request for a specific context you can email crosssighting@gmail.com (it’s also listed under the about tab) and I will post them for you.

Have a blessed day.

Posted in Uncategorized | 9 Comments

Loving one another

In John 13:34-35 (NRSV) we hear Jesus tell his disciples, “34 I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. 35 By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”  He says this to the 11 disciples who remain after Judas leaves to betray him.  He says it to the in core of his group.  Love one another as I have loved you.

So how do we love our pastors?  It’s fairly easy to love our pastor if they say and do things exactly as we want.  But it becomes a struggle when they say or do things which challenge us to think in new ways, who cause us to delve deeply into who we are, what we believe and why. In fact in some churches the command Jesus gives us, is so hard to do, that we might believe it’s our pastor who needs to leave because we can’t seem to love him.

I was reading a fellow pastor’s blog this morning about “Crappy Pastors.”  As I read the title “Get rid of your crappy pastor,” I’ll admit that I was a little leery of what he was going to say.  But ultimately, I found in his light-hearted post, a reminder to love one another as Jesus loved us and this includes loving the one whom we struggle to love.  His suggestions range from making sure your pastor takes all of his/her vacation and continuing ed days to praying for and encouraging your pastor to spend time in prayer and devotion.  All the suggestions work together to create a place where you are feeding your pastor spiritually just as you desire to be fed.

So how do you love one another?  Remember Jesus asked his most trusted disciples to do this just as he asks each of us to do this for all the people in our lives.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , | Leave a comment