Saturday, March 31, 2007
As I heard tonight’s shout: “Everyone hates you!” I thought to myself, no one should ever have to hear that. And I was taken back to a 4th grade play time of my own. Lunch recess, I had just gone to the nurse to take my inhaler, a sign of “uncool” I had yet to realize. I walked out to the soccer field to find my regular group of friends. It was Thursday—white jeans day. I had none. That meant I couldn’t become an official member of the “Angels”—a group SS had thought up. As I walked toward my friends, they all started running away. They figured my asthma would slow me down. At first I didn’t realize they were running from me, so I ran after them, I heard shouts aimed at me to “stay away.” They kept running. And I stopped.
I stood alone on the field only for a few moments. I did not have to run to a teacher, or hide in a corner, or simply hide in the bathroom. I had other friends on the field that day. I stopped and ran to them in tears. Instead of running, KK, RV, AG, and others took up for me. They rallied around me and, if memory serves, even confronted SS on how mean she had been. Nevertheless it wasn’t their actions that marked me, it was SS’s.
It’s ironic how minor moments can have a monumental affect on your life. For years I have said my mantra is “I’m not good enough”—regularly: “I’m not cool enough.” I think those mere moments that day in 4th grade are what branded my heart with that horrible mantra. As I look to the new life/new birth/new beginning we (I) celebrate on Easter I think it’s time to leave two things in the past—1) My resentment (albeit minimal after all these years) toward SS. She was a kid, and she did what kids do—made a place for herself, distinguished herself, and threw a couple of play-time *punches*. 2) I think it’s time to let go of the mantra that has so molded me (especially my habits of self-deprecation). I think I can manage to let go of 15 minutes of history for the following 15 years of my life that they haunted. It’s time for new birth, a new mantra, and new esteem.
Giver of peace
Creator of life
Fill us with your spirit
Come into this place and move within us
Glide between us
We have come to witness your greatness
And to honor you for the ways you have blessed our lives
We are abundantly grateful
for your grace and goodness
we revel in the praise songs of the robins
and the sparrows
and the rooster’s call to worship
Here we stand in your midst
And in your home.
Guide this worship
That it might glorify you
And that each of us will be touched
By your goodness
In praise and adoration,
Convince me—convict me.
Logically, I know your love
I see it in grace, compassion, and love
I see it in Christ
Help my heart hear
I often feel your love—
Assurance as I walk into a difficult situation
A warm embrace to hold my tears
And yet I still don’t connect
I don’t feel worthy
Lover, connect my spirit—
Let my heart feel you with assurance and acceptance
Help me receive your gracious gift with celebration and gratitude
Connect my spirit that I might feel you throughout
My body and my soul—my entire essence.
Friday, March 30, 2007
In preparation for the 7 last words sermon(ettes) I will co-preach with my senior, I am reading one book by Charles H. Spurgeon and another by Arthur Pink. Pink referenced a Spurgeon quote: "I will just stand to what I ever shall and always have preached, and take God's Word as it stands, whether I can reconcile it with another part of God's Word or not." Spurgeon claims "I don't know" where he cannot reconcile harsh contrasts or the inexplicable. He trusts Scripture and preaches accordingly, somewhere in there the Spirit moves and speaks and he is called to be faithful to preaching the text.
That's a significant challenge for me. One I will probably need to chew on awhile longer. I do trust Scripture. I do believe it is divinely inspired and that the Spirit continues to inspire us as we read it today. I fully believe in sticking to the text and being faithful in that. And, nevertheless, I struggle with discrepancies. I struggle with the Old Testament God vs. New Testament God theories/arguments. I don't find peace in the God of wrath. One of my lectionary partners regularly challenges me on that front (though I don't think he knows that or does it intentionally). I don't want to worship a God of vindication, and so, I struggle to preach those texts without a reminder of God's grace and love. I preach amor, justicia, paz, y compasion so much that I wonder if my congregants feel any variance week to week.
I suppose I was doubly challenged today. A man relatively new to our congregation loaned me a book "Licencia Para Pecar" (License to Sin). The book challenges the loose way the church treats sin in the modern world. It is actually a wonderfully written book. And while I don't agree with all of the authors conclusions, he is stimulating my thoughts around sins, Sin, etc. He wrote about the ways we dismiss God regarding sin. First, he gave an example of a burglar who takes a son hostage. The family pleads with him, offering money, then cars, jewelry, whatever in exchange for their son's life. The man refuses. Appealing to a sense of compassion, then the family pleads with the man to think of how young their son is and how much he would suffer. Still indignant, the man continues to hold the son hostage. They plead that he is their oldest son, that he is necessary to their well-being. Nothing. Finally, without alternatives, the family begins to threaten the man, they will call the police, he will be put in prison, maybe even face the death penalty. Still nothing. The man is hard-hearted.
The authors parallels the hardened heart of this man to those entrenched in sin. He made me think differently about how I approach conversations about sin. I tend to stay toward the "nice" side of the conversation--look at how much God loves you, cares for you, look at how wonderful life is when God is present and real to you. I forget what it takes when one is stubborn, hard-hearted. Sometimes we become so indignant that only fear of penalty stops us, and other times, when we feel we have nothing left to lose, even that serves to hinder destructive behaviors.
One of the (Bible) teachers in my congregation tends toward the other side. He regularly talks about God's judgment and wrath. He has served to balance me. And hopefully with this book, I will come to see the other side with less resistance, greater clarity, and may come into some "softer" language (at least by my standards) with which to explain/preach the realities of sin/Sin.
Bringer of strength
In your warm embrace
You have taught us responsibility and demanded accountability
You encouraged us to try and do our best,
You did not expect perfection
Because you understood our weaknesses
But did not allow us to give on the basics
But to give all we could.
Daddy in heaven,
You were patient in our learning—
You stuck with us until we understood
And continue by our side
Cheerleading us on as we continue to struggle and grow.
You offer a warm hug in our sadness and frustration
And a jovial laugh and a proud smile in our success.
Daddy God, we love you.
Thursday, March 29, 2007
Giver of peace
Bringer of comfort
We find solace in your embrace
Your kiss of love heals
Our cuts and bruises
The warm aroma of bread of life
You baked and kneaded
Fills the air
You bore us in your womb
You gave birth to our selfhood and faith
You raised us up in justice and kindness
Admonishing us when our hearts went astray
Calling us home with your dinner bell of grace
And embracing us in love as we ran to your arms
Mother God, we are thankful.
Accept these our thanks.
Cuando todo te parece imposible,
Cuando estas frustrado y sin opciones,
Cuando te sientes mal por no haber hecho,
En todos momentos esta presente nuestro Dios,
pero en los momentos mas difíciles,
Cuando no encuentras posibilidad,
Cuando no te queda paciencia,
Y cuando fallas,
Y en nuestras debilidades,
esta presente nuestro Dios.
Wednesday, March 28, 2007
Take up our loved one
Create in your kingdom a home for her
Show her the wonderful secrets of creations
Listen to her sing the hallelujah chorus
Rejoice in her revelrous dance
As she relishes the warmth of your love
Let your wondrous love
Fill her heart and heal her soul.
God of all spirits
Take our loved one home.
Tuesday, March 27, 2007
1) The Spirit's movement in creating a sermon that reached people
2) A youth mom who has great ideas AND is ready to organize the events
3) Youth who want to be at youth and are willing to do mission work around the church
4) The trust of my congregants
5) my new (albeit clingy) dog
6) Time with my dad
7) The ingeneous creativity of people at Disney
8) A supportive Senior pastor
9) Good food
10) Laughter with my young adults
11) Raw vulnerability
14) New faces in my congregation
15) Seeing God's work after a seemingly long "winter"
Who first loves those who are weak
Who hurts when they hurt
And hungers when they hunger
Help us to be prayerful
Not just in our thoughts and words
But in our actions
That we may not have generalized prayer for food
Btu will feel them ourselves
That they might go to bed with a full belly
God, you have blessed us so abundantly—
Help us to bless as well
You say our will provide for all our needs
And sometimes we forget that you provide through us
Open our hearts to the pain in this world
And our eyes to recognize the need in your world
That we might do our part
Doing unto that one child
as we would have them do unto us
as you have already done unto us
Help us to love them
As you have loved us
That we might honor you
Through our actions
For the health and welfare
Of your children everywhere.
Monday, March 26, 2007
Fill my heart
I am weak, confused, hurt, and frustrated
Help me to find your peace.
God, I desire a relationship with you
But I don’t know where to start
Show me where my words meet your ears
Show me God that you are here,
Present with me, holding my hand.
Give me the strength to persevere,
To be strong
Show me your will for my life
As my heart is pulled from both sides
I come to you yearning for peace
Bathe me in your grace and love
That the fragrance of your mercy may touch all those I meet today
Take me up and make me whole
In your grace I pray.
Sunday, March 25, 2007
Please give me strength for the journey.
I am weary and tired and feel I can ingest no more.
My legs are weary on this race-and I fear I am too fatigued to finish.
Yet there is hope.
The finish line is so close.
People are preparing for my reception.
God it is their work that gives me hope.
I do not want to disappoint them.
I also know I do not want to start this race all over again.
The remaining few miles seem like nothing compared to the miles I have already run.
Give me the water to rinse my parched mouth
and the strength to keep me moving forward.
God, this journey is long—but I know you have not left me.
Hold my hand and lead me on.
Take my hand and remind me of the beauty of your works.
Pull me up the mountain.
Remind me to catch my breath and not push too hard,
but to just keep climbing—for the view will be worth it.
Thank you for today
Thank you for the sun
And for the life you have breathed into me
God, so often I forget
To take account of the beauty of your creation.
Remind me to walk a little slower
Taking in your palate of colors
Remind me to listen to the chorus of your bird choir.
Remind me to smell
To inhale the gragrance of your flowers
Remind me God of your creativity
Remind me to look at people’s souls
Not their past or their designer fashions
Remind me to see you at work in each of their hearts
Thank you God for today
Remind me to be mindful
In awesome wonder of your creation, I pray. Amen.
As a part of the sharing, one woman described her frustration that we don’t advertise in the local paper anymore. She shared that when she came, 4 years ago, she had looked in the paper and seen an ad for our church and that’s how she came to be a member with us. One woman had been on the committee that voted to stop advertising in the paper. 1) It’s expensive and we were/are struggling financially. 2) Younger generations aren’t reading the paper—not the paper one anyway…we use the internet. 3) The younger generations generally also use the internet to find a church. Hence the decision. The woman continued to air her frustration. It’s common in our church of “older” members. They take the paper daily and always read it; it makes sense to advertise there.
I left the meeting wondering how it is that we properly finesse the whole issue. It isn’t that this woman doesn’t want younger members, or that she doesn’t want to advertise on the internet, and despite her insistence on its importance, I don’t think she’d pay to keep it in the local paper. So the question becomes, does she really want to see the ad in the newspaper? Probably. But why? If I heard her right, her real statement was: “If it weren’t for the newspaper ad I wouldn’t be here, and if you think the newspaper ad (and who comes as a result) isn’t important, then you don’t care whether I am here or not.” That’s why she persisted—she needs to know (as I believe we all do) that her presence matters to someone. She needs to know, by our affirmations, that we wouldn’t be the same church without her, and that’s important. In many ways, we have failed to make that clear to her. Actually, I would say much of the problem with our “numerical decline” (though there are a multitude of other reasons) is that the church is not convincing people that their presence matters, that we are a weaker body without them, that we need people—not just people who say closet prayers, but we need people who come and move with the body in worship, prayer, lament, mission, study, and discipleship. We all long to “be a part of” and part of that sense of belonging is having a role, generally one that is acknowledged and recognized, and making a difference because of our role. So, how do we affirm our members, hold them accountable, AND become more relevant to those outside the church (particularly those generations that are almost completely unfamiliar with religious practices)?
Saturday, March 24, 2007
In On the Anvil, Max Lucado writes: "Once upon a time there was a tiny hamlet in the Swiss Alps. This hamlet was in serious trouble. The well that supplied water to the village went dry. Th people began to panic. A river was near the community, but it was located at the bottom of a deep, deep gorge. Hence, no one could reach the water. And it was the middle of summer, so the snow on the mountain had long since melted. There was, however, another well flowing with water across the gorge on the adjuacent mountainside. An imaginative young thinker came up with a solution. He built a bridge across the gorge. The villagers were elated. A bucket brigade was formed immediately, and the water supply was replenished. Needless to say, the bridge became very important to this group. It was their source of life. They honored the bridge. They named the bridge after the builder and painted it a beautiful gold. Tinsel was strung fromt eh bridge. Miniature bridges were built and sold in the streets. People wore them on their necks and hung them in the windows. A committee was formed to pay homage to the bridge. Only certain people were allowed upon it, and then only on certain days, and then only when wearing certain clothes. The bridge keeper became the most respected and revered position on the mountain. No one could see or cross the bridge without his permission. Unfortunately, there were disputes within in the committee. The disagreement centered around whether a canopy should be built over the bridge. So the bridge was closed until a decision could be made. Many villagers died of thirst while the leaders debated. In the search for truth, the means often become the end."
This short piece spoke to me loud and clear about overly rigid structures or traditions, those which used to provide a pathway to God, to abundant life, to *living water*, to peace, joy, assurance, and grace and yet have often become the focus of our energies and attention. The structure becomes overly prized and we forget all about why it was prized in the first place. The bridge is worthy and honorable only as long as it gets us there. When it ceases to take us to that which actually sustain us, its value is gone. The old addage: "Keep the main thing the main thing" could also be applied here. The bridge, the structure, or tradition fail us if we can no longer use them freely and inclusively. The exclusive bridge doesn't even meet its original purpose. If only some may cross, or if they meet with certain restrictions and regulations first, then the bridge ceases to offer a true path to the water (i.e., life, abundance, God).
What is your bridge? Your means? Your path? Has it become your idol? The all-important, set-in-stone, gold-painted, don't-use-it-'cause-you-might-wear-it-out, used-to-get-us-there-but-now-it-don't super-structure?
Friday, March 23, 2007
Thursday, March 22, 2007
He's also getting back into his own meditative and devotional practices and we talk about that. I've encouraged him to come to the church to pray in the chapel in the mornings after dropping off the kids. He brings me CDs burned with songs that have moved him (the first was Amazing Grace--which he had never heard before and fell in love with and played 60 times the first 2 days!) the second was a video that moved him that he found here. It's nice to share that part of his journey with him.
Where I can I offer "insider"information. Cultural norms or rules or other random things that come up. We've talked about how they can work their work schedules around childcare and the kids being home alone, they saw a tea kettle for the first time, =) and most recently the ins and outs of buying a car. They were excited to know that it's a lot like street bartering!
I'm grateful they are here. I'm grateful that they have offered so much hospitality, even as the "stranger in a strange land". I'm grateful for their smiles. And I'm grateful to know someone would notice if I didn't come out of my apartment for days on end, or if someone were making off with my furniture!
I’m really not trying to be self-deprecating here. (Though I am good at it). It really is a reality check for me. I wing it a lot. I mean honestly, I’m 25 and offering advice to 70 year old trying to raise their grandchildren or re-raise their own children. Not much experience there, so I offer what I can about personal relations, seeking God’s direction, loving without enduring abuses, and family systems. More often than not, I wing it. Sure, three years of seminary taught me a lot and I would be lost without the experiences I had there (especially work at the Carpenter’s House, First Hispanic UMC of Atlanta, CPE, Forest Park UMC, and The Open Door) but there’s still a lot to learn.
My latest “winging it” experiment (don’t tell him I said that) is with a congregant who has been in a spiritual desert for a few years now. We met and he told me his story (faith and personal) and I asked my “really hard questions” and I gave him a *homework assignment*. I asked him to look through magazines and pick out images that speak to him, that he likes, that depict things he likes to do. Faithfully, he is doing his tarea. The obvious question is “Deb, what are you going to do with the images?” Therein lies the winging it piece. Beats me. The idea just popped into my head so I went with it. I think I will exegete the *text*. I’ll do what I do with any text—look for words, phrases, ideas that pop out at me, look for themes, see what comes up, and go from there. And who knows where that will take us? My prayer is for guidance and wisdom. After that, I don’t have much.
Sunday, March 18, 2007
I was struck from the other side last week in talking with a congregant who is struggling in a spiritual desert and also struggles with issues of self-esteem. I shared that I too struggle with self-esteem and that the incarnation has been the most profound theological idea that speaks to me--God values me (US) so much that God was willing to come in the most fragile human form and entrust God's self to our care. Not only does God love me but God TRUSTS me. Two pretty distinctive ideas in my mind....and ever since I gained a little clarity about the incarnation, it has been my theological stronghold. All that is lead in back to the issue of affirmations, because after I shared this with the congregant he said he was surprised that I struggle with self-esteem issues and that when I got a full ovation from our english congregation after my first sermon that I "must have felt pretty good about [myself]". And it hit me: it was nice to receive applause, but I doubt the sincerity of it, the value of it, and there was the other side of my coin....I want and crave affirmations, and yet more often than not, when they come, I led them slide right off...
So, this year, I think it is high time that I truly allow the crucifixion and resurrection speak to me and God's affirmation of my life, of all of our lives, and maybe I will be less reliant on those words of others.
As a side note, I regularly read JT's blog and ran across this quote as I caught up: (I thought it applied...)
if the examination of our life is rooted in the world rather than the Spirit we will find that we are examining ourselves according to the world’s standards. We will be mired in the world’s standards of success. We will be trapped by the world’s standards of life and wealth. The world’s standards are at odds with God’s standards. To examine our life according the world’s standards rather than the Spirit’s grace we will be rendered a hollow shell, perhaps beautiful on the outside, but empty on the inside.
Saturday, March 17, 2007
So this morning, I sat next to A for another riveting day at our conference, and he starts talking about setting me up on dates. Huh? Did I say I needed a date? I asked if he was any good at setting people up seeing as how I have endured my fair share of bad dates. He wasn't sure. Then this evening, apparently prompted by my earlier conversation I linked to an online dating site. All you have to do is login with virtually no information to look at possible dates in your area. Why did I do this? It only seems to bring out the shallow "first impression" woman in me. Can people really find a date simply by scanning pics to see who is attractive and then see if their profile says anything interesting? Does this work? I clicked on one, he's a publicist--read: marketing, of course he sounds good. He works at selling things. I do not. So the other horror of online dating--I think the reason (well one of the many anyway) why I have avoided such sites like the plague is that they require that I too develop a profile to sell myself. Uh....I think not. Really, now that I have my wits about me, it really creeps me out....I know that sounds like a harsh judgment on those who do it, it really isn't. I get how hard it is to find a date and why not try and use the internet to provide some dating options.?..and yet I can only see such an endeavor going horribly, horribly wrong for me....
So apparently it's back to "Mr. Perfect". And maybe somewhere along the way A will use his skills and set me up with someone who's willing to date an ex-cheerleader who CANNOT tell a joke! =)
Wednesday, March 14, 2007
First, my encouragement for you to take political action: S774 (Senate Bill) a.k.a. "The Dream Act" has been resubmitted to Congress for approval. This is a bill that allows undocumented youth (who entered the US before age 14) to go to college. The age limit is there because it presupposes that these youth were subject to their parents' will rather than their own and that as a result they have gone through the public school system and done well. Having graduated high school with a clean record (criminals are not afforded the privilege under this bill) these youth are granted legal residency status so that they might attend college. I advocate for this bill for a number of reasons: 1) these youth (as do ALL youth) deserve an education 2) barring these advances these immigrants are forced to remain in the American underclass (a fate no one should be subjected to) 3) They have done well in public education, demonstrating an ability to do well in higher education as well. If you are willing to advocate, please write your senator urging them to vote yes for S774 (to find an email address for your senator go to: www.senate.gov)
Second, my rant. A year after having written to the "beloved" (cough, cough) senator of Georgia--Johnny Isaakson, I received this gag-worthy email:
On February 20, 2007, I had the opportunity to travel with Secretary
of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff to the U.S.-Mexico border in Arizona ,
where I was proud to help weld a section of the double-barrier fence that is
being constructed along the border. My one-day visit there convinced me more
than ever that we can - and we must - secure our border first before we grant
legal status to anyone who has come to our country illegally.
Quite frankly I could go on for hours about immigration and the issues related to it. There are so many misperceptions and a surplus of misinformation that it is sometimes difficult to know where I should begin. In response to this wonder of a representative, I will say that the fence is NOT the appropriate answer to the issue of illegal immigration. Those who do humanitarian aid on the border have shown that the fences do little to actually deter those who cross and actually serve to increase the number of (often heat related) deaths. A few years ago a fencing project was titled "operation deterrant". The basic premise was that people WOULD die as they had to go further into the desert to cross and that would serve to deter others from crossing. The action proved both right and wrong. Right: people DO die in the desert as they cross (For a vivid and true account of this read: "The Devil's Highway" by Luis Urrea). Wrong: most have not been deterred by the deaths. Why? Well, when the need to cross is so profound that many spend almost two years of wages, stake their lives and the well-being of their families by allying with coyotes, and spend days in deadly heat--the prospect of death is already present, they are not deterred.
The perpetuation of false information and fear based propoganda really gets me going. I will stop for now as I am off to a Bible study, but will probably post more related to this information in the coming days. I realize not all of you are on the same page as me on this issue, please bear with me and know that I have not always believed the way I did. Going into college I held a staunchy "right" position regarding immigration--it took a couple years of God unhardening my heart before I came to the place where I am.
Tuesday, March 13, 2007
Friday, March 9, 2007
Since the birth B & K have dubbed me their personal doula, and quite frankly, I love it! I do swaddling lessons, tips on all kinds of things, baby watch so they can rest, and nursing consults. I'd say that if my "season of ministry" ends prematurely, I could be a doula as an alternative.
I am off to sit and stare at this beautiful baby girl.
Saturday, March 3, 2007
He told them this parable: "No one tears a patch from a new garment and sews it on an old one. If he does, he will have torn the new garment, and the patch from the new will not match the old. And no one pours new wine into old wine skins. If he does, the new wine will burst the skins, the wine will run out and the wineskins will be ruined. No, new wine must be poured into new wineskins. And no one after drinking old wine wants the new, for he says, 'The old is better.'"
For the church, what is new wine, what are the wineskins, which are the old ones and what will be the new ones to hold the new wine? What is our container? What are the goods? And what do we do with the last verse: "And no one after drinking old wine wants the new, for he says, 'The old is better'"?
You can't have old wine without first having new wine, right? So what is the "aging process" for the wine in the church? How long does it take for it to age/ Is sit good after only a year or two or do we have to wait 50 years? and is there a point when it turns to vinegar because we waited too long?
Similarly, without answers, I was reading Luke 13:1-9 and was left with the following questions:
Now there were some present at that time who told Jesus about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mixed with their sacrifices. Jesus answered, "Do you tink that these Galileans were worse sinners than all other Galileans because they suffered this way? I tell you no! But unless you repent, you too will perish or those 18 who died when the tower of Siloam fell on them--do you think they were more guilty than all the others living in Jerusalem? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish." Then he otld this parable: "A man had a fig tree, planted in his vineyard, and he went to look for fruit on it, but did not find any. So he said to the man who took care of the vineyard, 'For 3 years now I've been coming to look for fruit on this fig tree and haven't found any. Cut it down! Why should it use up the soil?' 'Sir', the man replied, 'Leave it alone for one or more year, and I'll dig around and fertilize it. If it bears fruit next year, fine! If not, then cut it down.'"
So are we to understand these two together as one illuminating the other? If yes, if the vineyard illuminates "repent or perish" does our repentance serve as the fertilizing and watering of our lives (either physical, spiritual, or eternal)? So if we don't repent, we don't nurture ourselves toward life? Such that then we perish? If the analogy is not clearing debris or weeding, but feeding and watering--how does that change or enhance how we understand repentance? What if we understand repentance not as clearing away the junk as much as offering nutrience to our being? How does repenting nourish me? How does it offer me space to grow (i.e., "dug around it")?
Thursday, March 1, 2007
But even more fun than all of that was that I had them side stepping (as best as my fair skinned novice parishoners could) and clapping or snapping. Remember I work with an aging congregation, so there were two young adults there, and everyone else collects social security, so this is no common place occurance. And God bless 'em, everyone was up and moving as they attempted to use their bodies to worship--to dance like David.
It was fun to do, and exciting to not experience resistance. And despite my limited music skills, we learned new songs and sang them well, they filled the chapel with their voices. It was beautiful. I think it was the second olive branch God has extended to me this week. The olive branch of hope, of not giving up, the olive branch of promise. Apparently the rough waters I lived on for so many months were just that, rough waters--flood waters, and now hopefully the storm is over, the waters are calming, and receeding, and God has sent me an olive branch. Reason to keep going with this calling of mine, even though there has been so much trial over the last 8 months. God is good my friends....God is good.