Friday, July 19, 2013

Lord Teach Us to Pray - Worship on 7/21 at OPCC

“When Jesus responded to the request of his followers that he teach them how to pray, what he taught them became important – and has remained important – for the life of the church.  He gave them – and us – words to address God, words to praise God, and, only then, words to petition God.” – James A. Wallace

READING: Luke 11:1-13
Jesus was praying in a certain place. When he finished, one of his disciples said, “Lord, teach us to pray, just as John taught his disciples.” Jesus told them, “When you pray, say: ‘Father, uphold the holiness of your name. Bring in your kingdom. Give us the bread we need for today. Forgive us our sins, for we also forgive everyone who has wronged us. And don’t lead us into temptation.’” He also said to them, “Imagine that one of you has a friend and you go to that friend in the middle of the night. Imagine saying, ‘Friend, loan me three loaves of bread because a friend of mine on a journey has arrived and I have nothing to set before him.’ Imagine further that he answers from within the house, ‘Don’t bother me. The door is already locked, and my children and I are in bed. I can’t get up to give you anything.’ I assure you, even if he wouldn’t get up and help because of his friendship, he will get up and give his friend whatever he needs because of his friend’s brashness. And I tell you: Ask and you will receive. Seek and you will find. Knock and the door will be opened to you. Everyone who asks, receives. Whoever seeks, finds. To everyone who knocks, the door is opened. “Which father among you would give a snake to your child if the child asked for a fish? If a child asked for an egg, what father would give the child a scorpion? If you who are evil know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him?”


This Sunday we will reflect on the theme of our General Assembly of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), “Lord, Teach us to Pray,” that just concluded in Orlando, FL.  As we remember the prayer that Jesus taught us, we remember that Jesus taught US to pray with and for one another, not just as individuals.  We will focus on the ways that we prayed for and with one another at the General Assembly, specifically as we prayed for some of the resolutions passed, moving our denomination forward in peace and justice.  Join us this Sunday as not only remember to pray as we were taught after saying, “Lord, teach us to pray,” but also to hear the wonderful sounds of Kansas City Symphony Chorus Men who will join us for worship at 9:30 a.m.

Monday, July 01, 2013

2nd Place

On Sunday, my nephew's baseball team got 2nd place in the baseball tournament in which they were competing.

He was a really good sport, as was the rest of his team.  I know they were a bit disappointed, but overall they were really proud of a great season and a great game.  They improved a lot over the season, came together as a team and had a great time - Isn't that the best part, Predators?

I also preached on Sunday on 2 Kings 5:1-14.  In this part of scripture we find that Naaman, a commander to an army that is foreign to Israel is in need of healing because he has leprosy.  He and his army had just defeated Israel - but a slave girl, from Israel, has come forward instructing Naaman that there is a prophet in Israel who can in fact cure him!  He's just defeated Israel, but now this slave girl - the ancient world's consummate nonperson -  from Israel, is telling him that he can be cured, if he returns to Israel.  Trevor Eppehimer says, "this is yet another biblical instance of those to whom society attributes little intrinsic value serving as effective heralds of the power and presence of God."  This slave girl, who would be overjoyed to reach "2nd place" citizenship serves as a mouth piece to praise the power and presence of the Divine in the world, even though she is probably more like a 5th, or 6th "place" citizen - a nonperson if you will.

I couldn't help but think of all the ways we treat people as 2nd, 3rd, and lower-class people, especially in light of the recent decisions on DOMA, Prop 8, the Voting Rights Act and the Immigration Bill.  How many of these people that are being treated as nonpersons, yet like this slave girl are "effective heralds of the power and presence of God"?

I'm sure some are quick to say that some are not citizens of the US, so it doesn't matter if they are being treated as 2nd, 3rd, or even lower class citizens.  But that's exactly the point of this story in 2 Kings.  The God of Israel, the God whom we worship in Christian churches around the country used a prophet to Israel to heal an enemy.  And not just any enemy, the commander of an army that just defeated Israel.  It doesn't matter the country of citizenship - God sees past citizenship of country and welcomes each of us as citizens of the Kingdom of God.

I can understand the deep seeded questions that people have over some of these issues - because these issues are incredibly complex.  I thank you for your convictions to wrestle with the issues; even if I disagree with you I'm thankful that you are willing to study, read, listen to others, to discern, to agree with the opposite on some points, and to contemplate together.

Regardless where we stand though, we have to take a moment and think.  If a "nonperson" in the ancient world, a slave girl, effectively brought about this healing, what are we missing by continuing to treat others as "nonpersons"?  What power of God are we shutting out because we refuse to see "the other" as anything else than "other"?  What presence of the Divine are we missing when out of fear we limit the number of seats at the proverbial and literal table?

There are complex issues here that include not only our own faithful response, but also the question of how much should our own faith, and the faith of others influence these secular decisions.  And that's for another blog post.  However, as faithful people, our faithful response, should always, always, always be to welcome the other.  Not just welcoming by allowing their existence as "the other," but welcoming them and doing to them as you would have them do to you (Matthew 7:12).  Hospitality and welcome are of utmost importance, but the treatment of the underdog, the outcast, the nonperson and the ones that come in 2nd place (or further out) truly what we learn about when we consider the life of Christ.

I'm not saying that the people affected by DOMA, Prop 8, VRA or the Immigration Bill ARE 2nd class citizens, but it is easy to see that we as a society continue to treat them as such through various laws and legislation.  It is not right, but it continues to happen.  As a nonperson, an outcast, as a criminal himself, Jesus calls us to consider the ways we listen to the people that we have deemed a nonperson, the outcast and the 2nd placers.  After all, when we listen to those - we truly see the power and presence of the Divine.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Dig Deeper

I've recently returned to "tornado alley" after being away for about 8 years (3.5 of which were in hurricane country) and find myself remembering the odd combination of anxiety and worry, the excitement of a good thunder-storm (that stays ONLY that), that despite bad acting I love the movie Twister, and all the stories of those who have been affected, including my own family, by awful, awful storms throughout the years.

People have developed better safe places with storm shelters and basements becoming more popular than they were in the mid-50's when the Ruskin Heights tornado tore apart my aunt and uncle's house.  Technology continues to improve, helping to create earlier warnings and alerts.  Systems and organizations of response (such as the DOC's Week of Compassion!) have become better organized and quicker at responding, saving lives and drawing together communities from around the world.  Yet we still continue to operate with poor, immature and sometimes downright awful theology as we strive to understand the "why" of it all when the proverbial and actual dust has settled from such a force of nature.

Don't get me wrong, its essential that we try to make sense of it all, especially as faithful people.  However, in our instant gratification world we are far too quick to jump to easy (and bad) explanations, because that's well, EASIER than working through a complex set of questions that sometimes may never get fully answered.  Most of us aren't even jumping to the same (horrendous) conclusions of Pat Robertson, or Westboro Baptist Church, blaming an act of nature and complex weather systems on a few people who don't pray enough or individuals who support an openly gay athlete, but we still listen to the bad theology happening inside our head on a daily basis. 

Just two years ago Joplin, MO was ravaged by a similarly horrible tornado, tearing apart the town.  One young woman left Joplin and eventually arrived in Moore, OK for work - and survived THIS tornado in 2013 as well!  I want to think that she was "living right," because, seriously, who lives through TWO F5 tornadoes in two years? Or we want to say that "God only gives [her] what [she] can handle" (or some equally awful cliche).  However, deep down, deep down... we know that's not right.  Those are just the easy answers, the cheap theology that sits at the top of our brain to spout off when we don't want to, or feel incapable of digging deeper into the parts that might not have the answers we want (at best) or have answers at all (this sucks).

I can't help but think of Job in this story - and the eternal question of "why bad things happen to good people".  Job was "living right," a wealthy, honest man with plenty of sheep, camels, cattle, donkeys, a means of livelihood and a huge family of children from his beautiful wife to support.  Like us, (not all the time, but often enough) Job's friends blame his disease, loss of family and poverty on sin, some way Job has ticked off God, or something HE has done wrong and for a moment Job begins to believe them.  However, the beauty of the story is that it corrects this ancient misunderstanding that suffering MUST BE GOD'S PUNISHMENT or that OUR FAITH IS CONTINGENT upon Divine blessing and/or a lack of bad occasions and circumstances.

I don't believe in a god that created a tornado as a form of punishment, for anyone.  I don't believe in a god that set certain people in particular locations so as to survive the storm because they were more deserving than those that didn't survive.  I don't believe in a god that only sends blessings in ways we can "measure," a nice house, or a successful career, or a house two blocks away from the path of the tornado.  And if I'm truly a follower of the crucified and resurrected Christ who redeems and brings us all back to oneness with the Divine, then I don't believe in a god that punishes at all.  

I believe in God who created a world and universe often beyond our imagination that includes unpredictable and uncontrollable forces of nature in which we find our being and source of life.  I believe in God who created the most amazing pieces of nature that are capable of inexplicable beauty and devastating loss all at the same time; pieces that do not exist without the other.  I believe in God who sat with every single woman, child, man, teenager, grandparent, baby and the like as the storm raged, sitting with them and us as Christ sat with humanity on the storm of the cross.  I believe in God who works in and through the many, many people who immediately acted, racing to save lives regardless of age, gender, nationality, economic status, sexual orientation, political affiliation, race, or even species.  I believe in God who rejoices with those who survived and are reunited, but mourns and grieves, and cries right along with those who must face the loss of a loved one.  I believe in God who is alive and well within the multitudes of people working together as one to bring life, wholeness and hope back to this community.  I believe in God who will continue this Spirit of life for each and every one of us, eternally, throughout this life and even beyond what we can imagine.

Friday, May 10, 2013

I am Taking it Back

I'm thankful that I have a body in which I am happy, but more than anything, I am thankful that I have a body that I know is my own, and does not belong to anyone else.  But it is SO, SO , SO easy to forget that.  I often do forget that, so I am declaring; I am taking back my body.

There have been so many blogs, tweets, news articles and the like that are talking about body image, sex education, the church, rape culture, abortion rights, natural beauty and numerous other things and I just feel like shouting at the time of my lungs to every woman and girl to remember that her body belongs to her.  Partially this is a reminder, because you owe it to yourself to embrace YOU.  But is also partially an assignment to always remember this:


I am taking back my body from the advertising that tells me what is or isn't beautiful, that my size dictates my worth (think H&M), or that I am more or less beautiful based on the coverings of my body.  Don't get me wrong, I haven't always loved my body - but I've finally come to a point that I do love the skin I'm in, and I'm claiming it as my own.  No thanks to advertising campaigns like the Victoria's Secret "Bright Young Things", or the Dove Campaign, or fashion magazines or mean high school girls, or the idiot A&F CEO, I'm taking back my body - curves and blemishes and all; I'm taking back my body that allows me to do my job, hug my family,  run with my dog, smile for crazy photos with  friends, and devour a delectable bajillion calorie meal with a heavenly glass of wine without worrying about my waste line EVERY TIME I CHEW.  I've struggled with body image and weight issues nearly my entire life - at least since I hit double digits in age - but FYI - I'm taking back my body. It is MY BODY, and it is MY job and no one else to allow people in (for betterment and support), or to shut out people (or media, advertising, magazines or down-right crappy people) who do not allow me to own my own skin and LOVE IT.

My body belongs to me, and I'm taking it back.

I'm taking back my body from the religious sources that tell me I should be ashamed of my body, and what it is capable of.  Elizabeth Smart didn't want to leave her CAPTOR because she felt ashamed of the ways her body was used.  Not because she was afraid of a violent man, but because she was made to feel worthless because of her own body.  Oh Lord...  literally.... Lord!  Lord, remind me that I am a woman.  I have fingers, toes, breasts, curves, a vagina, a clitoris, legs (sometimes hairy!), lips, arms, nipples, hair, an ass (cellulite!) and so much more - THAT YOU GAVE ME.  I was created in your image.  I was created to bring forth life (and probably gain weight while doing it!), and created in such a way that I am allowed to enjoy that creative process we call sex.  Dear Lord, please remind me of this every day.

My body was given to me by my Creator, and I'm taking it back from religious sources that want me to be ashamed.  DON'T GET ME WRONG, there is still an imperative need to teach young people as they come into their own bodies about the implications of a sexual relationship; it is meaningful, important, often sacred, not something to treat lightly, not set apart from God, moreover it includes the Divine - but neither is it something to be ashamed of.

It is MY body - given to me by my Creator - and I am taking it back.

I am taking back my body from anyone who thinks that it is my fault if I become a victim of violation.  The Steubenville rape case comes to mind for sure, but it has only highlighted the "rape culture" that permeates our society in which we seek to blame anything and everyone EXCEPT the violator for the cause of such atrocities.  It is MY body and I am taking it back.  I shouldn't have to live in a constant state of "protection," just in case someone wants to violate me.  Violators are violators.  It doesn't matter if my skin is showing, if I've had too many drinks, if I'm walking alone to my car in the middle of downtown, if I'm a minister, a stay at home mom or a stripper - ANOTHER PERSON should not violate me, nor have the right to feel like they can get away with it.  Sure, most of us (regardless of profession) use certain techniques as a source of "protection" (carrying pepper spray, never leaving your drink unattended, parking under a light pole).  However, I shouldn't have to live in a constant state of "do this so I don't get raped," or have to live in fear that IF something happened to me, I could be BLAMED and not protected by society or my government because I was violated.  It's not just about dark alleys and drunken nights either - its the dangerous, dangerous assumption that silence means consent.  It's quite the opposite.  I haven't said yes just because I didn't say no - I say YES when I say YES - and that is it.

It is MY body - you have no right to it unless it is expressly granted - and I am taking it back.

There are so many more things that I could address.  There are so many more blogs and tweets and news articles that have had me questioning what is my responsibility, how other's could say such awful things, where did I go wrong with my body, why I'm not allowed to feel sexy apart from the opinion of another person, and what steps I need to take to make sure I'm not blamed or ashamed.  But the bottom line is this.  It is MY body.  I am taking it back.

I am taking it back from anyone who has ever made me feel less than because of how I look.
I am taking it back from highly processed food that does it no good.
I am taking it back from anyone who has ever made me feel uncomfortable for wearing a certain set of clothing.
I am taking it back from anyone who has considered silence consent.
I am taking it back from companies who value the bottom line far about human life.
I am taking it back from anything that gives me an excuse to not stay active.
I am taking it back from anyone who wants to tell me that God made a mistake.
I am taking it back from anyone who wants to tell me what beauty is.
I am taking it back from anyone who wants to sell me food that isn't food for a $$.
I am taking it back from anyone who determines my worth by the price tag on the clothes they sell.
I am taking it back from excuses I have given about health.
I am taking it back from anyone who I have not given consent to.
I am taking it back from large portion sizes that trick me into thinking I'm still hungry.
I am taking it back from anyone who believes a decision about my body is not MY decision.
I am taking it back from anyone who values my looks, my mind, or my accomplishments or anything else above the love I hope to offer.

I am taking back my body both as a way to say - it is not yours, it is mine - but also as a sense of responsibility and ownership.  I have been gifted a vessel to live and enjoy life.  I have been gifted a vessel to share love and create vitality.  I have been gifted a vessel to make this world a better place. I am taking ownership of my body and responsibility for the way I care for it, and I will surround myself with people and communities that will help me do that in a healthy manner.  So if I don't give you consent to touch, comment, value, define or decide for it - then leave it alone.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Advent and Tattoos - I swear they go together

Well I've made a big decision, a big change in my life - and it wasn't just the tattoo.  (See below - unless you're my mom, then pretend you didn't see it.) :D

On January 10th the congregation of First Christian Church Baton Rouge was notified that I accepted another call to ministry at Overland Park Christian Church in Overland Park, Kansas.  My last Sunday in Baton Rouge will be February 24th.  I will begin ministering with the people of Overland Park Christian Church on March 18th.

We've just finished Advent: a time of waiting, a time of pregnant anticipation and a time of excited anxiety, not knowing what could lie ahead.  But we so often forget this anticipation and it is hard to recapture, because as devoted Christians, we know what lies at the end of that Advent tunnel: the birth of Christ.  Each year in Advent we hope to capture some of that same excited anticipation, but so often we get sucked into the run around of a busy holiday season that we forget what that excited anxiety could mean.

This year I grasped a little bit more of that anticipated excitement, yet also nervous anxiety, as I made this decision.

I'll be honest - this was one of the hardest, if not the hardest decision I've ever made over these last couple of months.  On some level I knew I was supposed to go to seminary, so while I didn't know what was ahead of me, I knew that was the right place for me with every ounce of my being, so the decision to go was a no-brainer.  But when I left for seminary I wasn't leaving anything behind.  I had just finished college and had the whole world ahead of me, no matter what direction I headed.     The same can be said for my coming to Baton Rouge.  All of us were graduating, getting ordained and starting new calls into ministry and so it was only natural that I would be making the decision for a new call, my first call into ministry, no matter how far away.

But when the idea of a new call to Overland Park came up, it was different.  I have loved my life here.  I have loved my congregation here.  They have supported and loved me.  I have loved the person I have become here.  How do you leave that?  So there were some tears, questions, chit chats with friends and family, a few glasses of wine, and some more tears.  In the end though, after much thought, discernment and prayer, there was the confident decision to say yes to where God is calling me, "Here am I."

The Bible doesn't really say A LOT about Mary's life in between the Annunciation (Luke 1:26-38) and the Birth of Jesus (Luke 2).  She gets way more press than most women in the Bible, and we have her Song of Praise, the Magnificat, in Luke 1:46-55, but I feel like if she really is a fully human woman, there were a lot more emotions than the Bible lets on.  There's the knowing awareness that with God all things are possible, and the desire to listen to God's call to wherever God is leading you, (even if it seems crazy or not in line with your own "plan"), but there's also the anxiety about leaving comfort and a way of life you've known.  I feel confident that if Mary really is the woman we believe her to be, then somewhere in between Luke 1:37 when the Angel finishes telling her why she should believe him, and Luke 1:38 when she eventually says, "Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word," there were a few tears, a lot of questions, chit chats with her friends and family, a glass of wine or two, and some more tears.  It only seems fitting before she would confidently say, "Here am I."

I am so thankful for all the time I have had in Baton Rouge.  I am even more thankful for the people and the experiences that have helped shape who I am, who I have become. However, I also know and trust that they have made me all the more ready to take this next step into ministry with a new congregation, in a new city, into the exciting unknown.

How does a tattoo fit into Advent?  Well, maybe not with Advent, but it is there and part of this journey for me.  I am a changed person because of the time I have spent in Southern Louisiana.  The fleur-de-lis tattoo of dark and light that reminds me I am leaving this experience a changed person.  Much like the four years I spent in Kappa, where I "stumbled up those back steps, only to walk confidently out the front door," I am confident in this next step because of these last 3 1/2 years in Baton Rouge.  I can never take away these experiences in Baton Rouge, and for that I am thankful.  I'm thankful they are permanently a part of who I am.  I am leaving Baton Rouge changed, for the better, for good, confident and looking forward to the ways that God will use me in this next step.