Monday, June 8, 2015

Mustard Seeds

Each Monday, Lakehills UMC provides a meal for the community. We call this meal and time together Bread of Life. We also provide some "to-go" meals for those who cannot come to the church building for the meal for one reason or another. I have been creating a little flyer-thing to go with the meals for those who come for those 'to-go' meals. It provides a schedule of activities going on at the church for the week and a little article about one of the scriptures in the Revised Common Lectionary for the week. I have toyed with publishing these articles off and on for a while as a way of actually using this blog space I have. So here is what I wrote for this week. Do with it what you will.

Mark 4:26-34 (NRSV)
26He also said, “The kingdom of God is as if someone would scatter seed on the ground, 27and would sleep and rise night and day, and the seed would sprout and grow, he does not know how. 28The earth produces of itself, first the stalk, then the head, then the full grain in the head. 29But when the grain is ripe, at once he goes in with his sickle, because the harvest has come.”
30He also said, “With what can we compare the kingdom of God, or what parable will we use for it? 31It is like a mustard seed, which, when sown upon the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on earth; 32yet when it is sown it grows up and becomes the greatest of all shrubs, and puts forth large branches, so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade.”
33With many such parables he spoke the word to them, as they were able to hear it; 34he did not speak to them except in parables, but he explained everything in private to his disciples.

One day, when I was in Hawaii visiting my sister and family, we were driving back home, with the children in the back seat. My nephew said to my niece, “Miranda, did you know that you can move that mountain over there?”

My niece, all of 3 years old said, “No I can’t. I’ve got tiny little arms.”
My nephew said, “Uh huh. Jesus said if you have faith in a mustard seed you can move mountains.”
To move a mountain only requires faith in a mustard seed . . . well that is not exactly what Jesus said. He did say that if we have faith the size of a mustard seed, we can move mountains. Growing up when I heard these words, I always pictured a big strong tree – one of the cedars of Lebanon or one of the giant redwoods, but as you can see in the included picture (I cannot figure out how to post a copied image here, as I have in the flyer), the mustard plant is not exactly a beautiful tree. In fact, while there are some who cultivate it purposefully, there are also many who consider it a weed, a dirty, annoying weed.
What an unusual image for the kingdom of God?! It just goes to show that, once again, God will not conform to our imaginations. I have read a definition of a weed as “a plant in the wrong place.” Like a weed, God’s kingdom is wild, tenacious, and once it takes root, it will not give up easily. There is some comfort here. Weeds have to fight for their place to exist, so by their very nature, they are tough.
Some may not believe that faith has any place in our world. My Christianity is fine for me, but I need not shove it down another’s throat. For me, however, when I look around and see the world as it is – where violence is more widespread than peace, where children go to bed hungry, where lack of proper health care and proper mental health care keeps people locked in systemic oppression, and where we can hate one another in the name of our country, our religion, or any other reason – I have to believe there is something better. I have to believe that God has a better way for us, and I have to believe that God’s way has already taken root in our world so desperately in need of God by tiny, little mustard-seed-sized acts of faith.

Grow little weed, grow. May God’s kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven. 

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

The Church of Blessed Brokenness

To begin -- my mea cupla (or lack there of):
Everyone knows I lack the discipline to blog in any sort of metronomic fashion. When I have time and something to say . . .

Last week or the week before last I listened to a conversation between the guys of the Pulpit Fiction podcast (for those who looked up Ezekiel 25:17 and were sorely disappointed) and the writer Peter Rollins about his new book The Divine Magician. I am intrigued and I cannot wait to read this book, or better yet to listen to this book. I will not allow myself to start another book until I finish When Helping Hurts, but I can totally listen to an audiobook.

Within this conversation, Rollins said something that has been eating at me since. To paraphrase, he asked, what if we ran our church like an AA meeting? I have discussed this idea with some folks already, but it's still bugging me. What if? What if we really did this?

In AA you begin with your brokenness. We do the same in Celebrate Recovery. I am Celia. I am a believer in Christ. I am co-dependent. We begin with our brokenness; we own it. I have made decisions I am not proud of. I have committed actions that moved me farther from God and damaged me and my relationship with God. But I am no longer who I was. I am begin made new by a loving, healing God, and for that, because of God's restoring love, I worship a living, loving God, who is still healing me. I worship a God who is moving me piece by piece, cell by cell, atom by atom into God's kingdom, where I will be fully whole and healed, where I can fully love the Lord my God with my whole heart, soul, and being, and I can truly love my neighbor as I love myself. In God's kingdom, God not only heals my brokenness but uses it for the healing of my other brothers and sisters.

What if, when we gather together for worship, we practice living the healing God is doing within us? When we gather for worship, what we do is practice fully living in God's kingdom. We can be ourselves and be loved for who we are without any pretense, and we can love one another without any barriers. Worship becomes practice, and the more we practice living this way, the better we get at it. It becomes a real habit. Worship as pedagogy for life in God's kingdom, worship as pedagogy for receiving and giving God's healing.

Perhaps this is God's plan. Perhaps this is how it can happen that God's kingdom with come on earth as it is in heaven. Rollins also discussed this reality that seems to be for us (humanity), that is our inability to be okay with not being okay. Think about it. When our friends are hurting, it is our nature to try to to cheer them up -- 'oh! cheer up! It will get better.' We seem to be uncomfortable with sadness, with grief, with anger, with what we classify as negative emotions. It is as if we have to pretend these are not real. We are so uncomfortable with these "negative emotions" that we will do or say anything to avoid them, even temporarily, and even if what we do will only temporarily remove pain but will enable and even sustain the cause of the pain. We would rather pay a utility bill for someone than get involved the messiness of another's life that contributed to the poverty that created the need in the first place. In writing a check, have we actually healed someone?

Reality is that we live in a world where war seems more common than peace, where children go to bed hungry. We live in a world where spouses abuse spouses, and the earth itself seems to have had enough of humanity's abuse. In short, we live in a broken world. We have to learn to be in our sadness, in our brokenness. When we are grieving is the friend who tells us "this" was all part of God's plan and we should be happy for our loved one who is with God now, or is it the friend who sits with us in silence and allows us to cry who offers real healing? If we are unwilling to acknowledge this sadness, this brokenness, how will we ever see it healed? I we cannot acknowledge our brokenness and practice receiving our healing, will we ever allow ourselves to be healed? Can we really receive God's salvation, if we cannot acknowledge our sin?

It is in our brokenness that God begins our resurrection. I think Rollins may have actually changed the direction of where I will begin my dissertation. Maybe, maybe not, I will have to read the book first.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

I know; I know. It's been forever since I have posted in my blog. It's been so long that I had serious difficulty remembering which site I used for my blog. It's been so long, I'm pretty sure that no one in my current charge is even aware I have a blog.
Nonethess, I had some thoughts today and this seemed to proper area to post about them.

When I got home today from worship I was tired; I mean really, really tired, the kind of tired I have not been in years. Just to set the record straight, the day was normal -ish, for a Sunday. I woke at about 6:40 am, having slept for about 7 hours or so. I drank some coffee, and I had breakfast. There was nothing physically wrong with me to make me tired, but I was I'm-not-even-hungry-I'm-so-tired tired. So what was it?

Today being the last Sunday before Easter, we celebrated Palm Sunday. Actually, like many United Methodists we celebrated Palm / Passion Sunday today. Therein lies my hypothesis. We began the services with the procession of the palms. My liturgists read the story of Jesus' triumphal entry from Mark's gospel. In the second service the choir processed singing Hosannas. It was beautiful.

But it was not long into the services when it was time for me to read the Passion Narrative. Two chapters from Mark will take something out of you, no matter what you had for breakfast. In fact, it was during the second service, right after I finished reading the Passion narrative that I first noticed how tired I was. I still had a sermon, and all of the responses to the Word to go.

As I have read and understood the logic, we (not sure exactly who the "we" is) have begun combining Palm Sunday and Passion Sundays using the logic that we cannot and should not go from Palm Sunday to Easter Sunday without the Passion, and many of our congregations do not participate in the Holy Weeks services, where the Passion stories are told. As a result, they miss all of it. I agree that we should not go from Palm Sunday to Easter Sunday without the Passion. Truly we cannot experience the resurrection if we do not experience the cross, but I am not sure that Palm / Passion Sunday is good for us. I am not sure it is emotionally or spiritually healthy for us. 

I think it may be too much to transition from the Palm procession to the Passion in such a short amount of time. I think we may need the entirety of Holy Week to experience the Passion, in smaller shorter doses, for our own spiritual health and our theological well-being. It reminds me of a comment I heard once at an OSL retreat, several years ago. The speaker said something to the effect of, 'we Christians try to swallow the Holy Divine whole and we wonder why it gives us indigestion.' What I mean to say is that the Passion narrative is an important part of who we are as Christians, and I think it is not healthy to feel it all at once.

I believe there is an anemnasis that happens in the whole of our worship services, not just the Eucharistic prayers. If this is so, then we do experience the Passion narrative as we hear it, again and again. It is not just a story. It is part of who we are, and we need time with it, way more time that I had with it today in either worship service. We need time to let the story affect us, let it move us. We need time to feel what we feel about our God who loved us enough to become one of us and to be obedient even unto death, even death on a cross. Christ's Passion should not be thoughtlessly consumed like a Big Mac. If so what should be provisions for our soul becomes a food-like substance -- yeah, you can eat it, but there is no nourishment in it for you.

I have no real conclusion for these thought, except to say that I will have to do something different next year.
The peace of God be with you all, and may your Holy Week be Holy indeed.