Kim’s Blog
  • Pilgrimage UCC, Marietta, Georgia ONA Covenant, 10/22/17
    10.23.17

    This morning at Pilgrimage UCC, we re-affirmed our ONA covenant.  Here’s the text of the covenant along with a picture of the mat we all signed.  The mat will frame the text of the covenant and we’ll display it at the church.  As you’ll see in the pic, the rainbows showed up today!  Thanks be to God!

     

    Pilgrimage United Church of Christ

    Open and Affirming Covenant

    July 2017

     

    We, the people of the Pilgrimage United Church of Christ, Marietta, Georgia, guided by the love of Jesus Christ, celebrate the diversity of God’s creation. As such, we seek to practice extravagant welcome and radical inclusion. Through this resolution, we declare publicly that which we have been, in fact, practicing as a congregation since its inception. We are an open and affirming congregation. We are called to act as agents of reconciliation and wholeness within the world and within the church. We know that our lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender family members are often scorned by the church and devalued and discriminated against both in the church and in society. We believe that such practices are incompatible with the gospel. We commit ourselves to caring and inclusion of people of all sexual orientations, genders, gender identities and expressions, relationship identity, and romantic preference identity.

     

    Further, we declare ourselves to be a congregation that is open and affirming to all marginalized groups. Thus, we affirm, honor, care, and support

    people of every race, including bi- and multi-race people,

    people of every ethnicity and nationality,

    people of any socio-economic status,

    people of all ability levels.

    We strive to be a place of unconditional love that inspires all people in our community and beyond.

     

    To keep this covenant, we will practice its tenants in ways that include but are not limited to the following:

    • Welcome all people who enter into our community
    • Be intentional in using inclusive language throughout our community and in our hymns
    • Be inclusive in worship practice by encouraging persons to share their talents and energy in worship, ministry, mission, educational programs, and leadership of PUCC
    • Invite all voices to speak and participate in decisions affecting the congregation
    • Actively and publicly celebrate diversity through acknowledging histories and displaying pride flags, for example
    • Support and celebrate relationships, partnerships, and families of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people
    • Practice non-discrimination when hiring church staff and contracting for goods and services
    • Condemn acts of violence, be it homophobic, sexist, racist, religious, or otherwise directed toward a particular group of our world-family
    • Support the work of the Open and Affirming Task Force to work with the congregation and its council and committees to implement the covenant statement in the life and ministry of Pilgrimage United Church of Christ.

     

    (Resource: Open and Affirming Covenant of the Edgewood United Church of Christ, February 7, 2010)

     

     

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  • The Pilgrimage Statement
    08.31.17

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    I imagine Jesus is doing a lot of sighing this morning.  The Nashville Statement.  Several evangelical leaders–President of the seminary I attended among them–so narrowly defining marriage, that not even my husband and I would be considered married in the eyes of their God.  (Procreation is given as one of the purposes of marriage.  That’s never been an option for us.)  They have drafted a statement–14 articles long, plus a lengthy preamble–excluding from the church large numbers of people because their sexual orientation or gender identity does not conform to a rigid, binary understanding of sexuality or gender.  Excluding people from the kindom of God because they don’t understand them.

     

    A trans woman in our congregation grew up in church in the South, but now practices as a pagan.  One Sunday during prayer time, she said, “If I had had a church like this one when I was growing up, I would still be Christian.”  Because of the way the church treated her when they learned of her true self, because of statements like the one issued yesterday by evangelical leaders, that person has given up on Christianity.  Is it any wonder?

     

    The Jesus I know, the Christianity I practice, is inclusive.  The meme where Jesus says, “What part of ‘love your neighbor’ aren’t you getting?” sums it up.  “Love your neighbor.”  At Pilgrimage, we talk about love in terms of “acting each other into wellbeing.”  Acting someone into wellbeing begins with accepting that person for who God has created them to be.  As the t-shirt worn by a person to whom I served lunch yesterday at MUST declared:  “God made me.”  The statement was underlined by a rainbow.  Exactly.

     

    If you are looking for a community of Jesus’ followers that truly seeks to follow Jesus, the one who rejected no one, the one who welcomed anyone–anyone–to the table, the one most concerned with how we treat the least of these, I invite you to join us any Sunday morning at Pilgrimage UCC.  You will be welcomed.  You will be challenged to live the faith of Jesus with integrity and inclusion.  You will experience the expansive, radical love of God.

    Come Sunday.  We’ve got a seat reserved just for you.

  • The Sin of Racism by reallifepastor
    08.18.17

    I’ve seen numerous calls on Facebook for white Christian pastors to speak out against white supremacy and Nazism.  I suspect the call comes largely out of anger that our President is not speaking out.  Or out of frustration that fundamentalist Christian pastors aren’t speaking out and, in some cases, are offering support of the alt right.

    As a white Christian pastor, I hear those cries of “Speak out!” and think, Have we really gotten no farther than this?  Has Christianity gone so far down the rabbit hole that people aren’t sure where the faith of Jesus stands in relation to overt racism, white supremacy, anti-Semitism, and Islamophobia?  Is all people want from Christian pastors that they “speak out?”

    So, let me speak out.  Racism is sin.  White supremacy is sin.  Anti-Semitism is sin.  Islamophobia is sin.  

     

    What is sin?  Sin is whatever diminishes human beings or creation, whatever prevents someone or creation from becoming who God is creating them to be.  Sin is whatever ignores or diminishes that bit of God inside every single person and everything God created.

    Was marching with torches chanting Nazi slogans sin?  Yes, it was sin.  Was lashing out with violence sin?  Yes, it was sin.  Was intentionally speeding into a crowd of counter-protesters, killing one and injuring 19 sin?  Yes, it was sin.  That act could not be accomplished without seeing the human beings in front of you as less than human.  Is failing to denounce the events in Charlottesville (or to do so consistently) sin?  Yes, it is sin.

    In many respects, denouncing the sin of racism is the easy part.  Dealing with it–or seeking to transform it–is a whole other story.

     

    If racism in our country is to be transformed, we’ve got a lot of work to do.  Racism–like all the other “isms”–is systemic.  Each of us changing our individual behavior is important, but focusing only on one’s own behavior is kind of like spitting in the ocean–it feels good to you, but doesn’t really change the ocean at all.  If we are to transform racism in our country, we must work on changing systems.

     

    The first step for white people in working to transform systemic racism is to recognize our complicity in the system.  As a woman, I have struggled hard against systemic sexism.  For most of my life, that struggle has defined me.  In light of that struggle, it’s been difficult to acknowledge my white privilege, to recognize that some things have come to me–or come easily to me–because I am light skinned.  Acknowledging my white privilege floods me with shame.  In truth, it makes me a little sick to my stomach.

     

    In February, I attended a gathering of Muslim scholars and others at Ahmadiyya Muslim Community in Norcross.  One of the speakers–a historian–talked about how Islam came to the United States initially.  It was slaves who brought their faith with them.  Many of those who came were well-educated and tried as best they could to practice their faith in their new circumstances.

     

    The lecturer quoted an African proverb that addressed how important it is for people to know their histories.  He was speaking, of course, to African Americans, helping them to reclaim an uplifting part of their history.

     

    As the great, great, great granddaughter of slave owners, reclaiming my history is not uplifting.  It’s excruciating.  And necessary.  For a time, my family thrived on the backs of human beings they thought they had a right to purchase.  What those family members did in that time would be unthinkable for anyone in my family now…

     

    …but tracing racism from slavery through reconstruction, Jim Crow, and now mass incarcerations (please watch “13th”), I have to ask what it means for me, a 21st century white woman, to be descended from slave owners.  How did the vile practice of slavery shape my family?  What vestiges of that history still reside in my DNA?

     

    I share a song I wrote while wrestling some with this painful heritage.  It is a first step, only a first step…but the first step all white people must take–locating ourselves in the insidious web of racism.

     

     

  • Moral Courage
    06.03.17

    Let’s talk about moral courage.  

    The term came to me when I learned of former President George W. Bush’s book, Portraits of Courage.  The book contains portraits and brief bios of soldiers wounded in armed conflicts Mr. Bush was responsible for during his presidency.  The portraits were painted by Mr. Bush.

    I confess that I was not a fan of Mr. Bush’s when he was president.  But Portraits of Courage has floored me.  I’m sure all presidents give serious thought to the devastating effects of war on service men and women before ordering engagement.  But how many take the time to sit with those adversely affected by the war they approved, paint their portraits, then contribute all proceeds for the book to those most directly affected by their decisions to go to war?

     

    I’m still making my way through Mr. Bush’s book. I look forward to becoming better acquainted with the courageous Americans represented in it.

     

    Today, though, in the wake of our current president’s decision to withdraw the United States from the Paris Climate Agreement, it’s former President Bush’s courage that most inspires me.

     

    Moral courage.  Recognizing that my actions affect other people.  Having the strength of character to take responsibility for those actions. Doing my best to make reparations for harm done by my actions.  The moral courage of individuals is commendable.  To apply that courage to national and international arenas?  That’s what it means to be a good leader. That’s what it means to be a good human being.

     

    Yesterday’s decision to pull the United States out of the Paris Climate Agreement was an act of moral cowardice.

     

    The current president’s concern for the livelihoods of some Americans is commendable.  But when that concern is divorced from any acknowledgement of the devastating impact of our country’s profligate use of fossil fuels across the globe, that concern rings hollow.

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    Though China’s growth spurt the last couple of decades has moved it to the front of the line in carbon emissions currently, cumulatively, the United States has been the single greatest contributor of carbon emissions in the world’s history.  And who most suffers the effects of our conspicuous consumption?  Poor people across the globe.

     

    Withdrawing from the Paris Climate Agreement was a cowardly abdication of moral responsibility.  By many accountants, the Paris Agreement only began to scratch the surface of what the planet really needs to begin its process of healing.  So much more needs to be done.  But to get nearly 200 countries to sign on to the agreement?  For 147 of those countries already to have ratified it?  The Paris Agreement reflects a near-global conversion to the reality that if our planet is to be saved, we must work together.  

    I weep at the loss of all we as a nation might have contributed to that work.

  • Mosaic Cross Story
    03.06.17

    Several years ago as part of a renovation of our sanctuary, stained glass windows were installed.  As the sun makes its “pilgrimage” across the sky each day, vibrant rainbows of color journey across our worship space.  Our sanctuary is modest by many standards, but those colors!  The space itself becomes magical, holy when the colors make their trek across the room..  One person was so inspired by the colors she said, “I hope to die in the sanctuary when the colors are shining brightly.”

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    I was so inspired by the colors that I asked one of the crafty people in the congregation if we might create a mosaic cross.  “Sure!” she said.  We talked about something small, perhaps to place on the communion table.  “Just get some plexiglass, some mosaic tiles or colored glass, and E-6000 glue.  For the plexiglass, you’ll need someone with a circular saw.”

     

    I talked to a church member who I knew had a circular saw.  (I later learned he has two circular saws.  J)  As we talked about size, the cross grew from 2 feet to 6 feet.  Bill purchased a couple of pieces of acrylic, cut and glued, and set the resulting cross on a folding table in the front of the sanctuary.

     

    For my part, I bought a few packs of sea glass and a tube of E-6000 glue from Michael’s, set them on the table, and wrote a sermon for the first Sunday of Lent that ended with the line, “Bring your brokenness to the cross.”

     

    After that first service, I knew the project had captured congregants’ imaginations.  The seriousness with which they processed to the cross, shared glue, and placed the bits of glass on the cross…it was holy.

     

    The experience was holy, but the cross didn’t stand up too well.  Bill worried that, once we installed the cross, it might break.  So he went back to the store and bought a thicker sheet of acrylic, cut it, set it on the table in the sanctuary, and glued new pieces of sea glass into the approximate places congregants had placed them the Sunday before.

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    With each passing week, congregants began taking ownership of the cross.  After each sermon, when invited to “bring their brokenness to the cross,” they came forward in great reverence and focus.

     

    After the third week, another church member came to me and said he had an engraver.  “Maybe we can engrave names on the glass.”  Beginning the fourth week, we invited people to write on slips of paper  names, words, and phrases they’d like to be engraved on the glass.

     

    By week 5 of Lent, we knew something special was happening.

    Then came week 6—Palm Sunday.  Each week leading up to Palm Sunday, I warned people only to put one piece of glass on the cross.  I didn’t want us to run out of space on the cross before the last Sunday.  So, in the invitation to “bring your brokenness to the cross” on Palm Sunday, I joyfully gave permission for folks to fill up all the spaces.

     

    A member raised his hand….which, for a pastor, is a little unnerving in the midst of a worship service.  But he did raise it politely.  “Yes, Ric?”

     

    “I’m wondering if we really want to fill up all the spaces.”

    “Why’s that?” I asked.

     

    “Well, don’t we worship the still-speaking God?  Don’t we talk all the time about staying open to what God might be doing in our midst?”

    I stood there stunned for a minute.  Had my sermon just been hijacked?  With a more sound theology?  Um, yes.  Sometimes sermons come from the pulpit; other times they’re delivered to the pulpit.

     

    So, we left blank spaces, or in artistic terms, “negative space” between the glass pieces.  After a year of looking at the cross, I realize just how right Ric was.  The glass speaks volumes… the spaces speak even more loudly sometimes.

     

    Ric also is the person who thought of back-lighting the cross.  The string of LED lights—and the dimmer switch Bill installed—add a whole other layer of beauty to the cross.

     

    So, that’s the story of the mosaic cross at Pilgrimage United Church of Christ.  When asked “Whose idea was that?” I always say, “The community’s.”  Then I tell the story.   No one envisioned the cross as it now stands.  The cross as it now stands grew out of an open collaboration of congregants.  Because everyone remained open to the process, open to God’s spirit, and open to each other, creative ideas were able to emerge.  To date, it’s the most profoundly communal experience I’ve ever had as a pastor.  I continue to be humbled by the project.

     

    A picture of the cross in process from last year popped up in my FB feed a few days ago.  A couple of people commented on.  Here’s what they said:

     

    *“I am not sure we will ever come up with another idea that was as meaningful as this one was.  Every week it brings me a sense of community and peace.”

     

    *“Every time I look at that cross I fondly think of my deceased sister who is no longer suffering.”

     

    *“When I see ‘our cross,’ I think of each person adding a piece of glass, and that they were probably thinking of someone special to them, or perhaps themselves, and I believe the whole finished product is infused with the gamut of human emotion.  It’s the most beautiful cross I’ve ever seen.”

     

    Amen and amen.

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  • Love Wins?
    02.01.17

    As a follower of Jesus, I’m all for love.  I believe God so loved the world.  I believe in loving my neighbor and my enemies.  I believe love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.  I believe love never ends.  I believe that, while hope, faith, and love abide, the greatest of these is love.  I believe Jesus loves all the little children, including me.

    What I don’t believe is that love wins.

    To say that love wins is to turn loving into a zero-sum game.  When winners are declared, losers are named.  If lovers label haters as losers, has love won anything besides bragging rights to having won?

    Christian ethicist Beverly Harrison described love as “the power to act each other into wellbeing.”  When we talk about love at the church I pastor, that’s how we describe it.  It reminds us that love isn’t just a nice word that makes us feel all warm and gooey inside.  Rather, love is best grasped in action, in action single-mindedly focused on the wellbeing of the beloved.

    I’m having trouble seeing how making losers of haters contributes to their wellbeing.  If love actively engages in diminishing another, can it be said to have won?  Can it even be said to be love?

    I get where the “Love Wins” and “Love Trumps Hate” folks are coming from.  It’s a call to remember what Abraham Lincoln called our “better angels.”  The protest signs, no doubt, are birthed out of a desire to reduce hateful speech and actions and to “speak truth to power.”

    I wonder, though, if their (our) aim might be better advanced by changing the phrase to “Love transforms.”  “Love transforms hate.”

    If love seeks to transform hate, might not that come closer to reducing the amount of hatred in the world?  If lovers seek to act haters into wellbeing, might not that simultaneously reduce the number of haters and increase the number of lovers in the world?  Might not the best way to reduce the hatred of haters be for lovers to love everyone always?

    Love transforming

  • Who Do YOU Say that I Am?
    01.27.17

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    Until 15 years ago, I was a Baptist.  A progressive Baptist…which isn’t an oxymoron, as many would suppose.  In truth, the phrase is redundant.

    True Baptist values are best described in terms of freedom–freedom for the individual to interpret Scripture for him or herself, freedom of conscience, freedom for congregations to govern themselves, and religious freedom (manifest in a strong commitment to the separation of church and state).  It was and is my belief that any exclusive or coercive policies or beliefs espoused by Baptists or their institutions is a departure from true historic Baptist principles.

     

    In the last decade before I joined the United Church of Christ, I found myself frequently responding to folks who were surprised to learn I was Baptist.  “I’m not that kind of Baptist,” I would assure them.

     

    A lot of what I’m reading from progressive Christians these days feels familiar.  “I’m not that kind of Christian,” they say.  I get where they’re coming from.  Statements some folks who call themselves Christians make–especially those that belittle or demean others–leave me in a constant state of rage.  But is telling the world what kind of Christian I am not going to help the world to heal?

     

    Jesus once asked his disciples, “Who do people say that I am?”  They said, “Some say John the Baptist, but others Elijah, and still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.”  But that question was just a set-up for his real question:  “Who do you say I am?”  In one of his better moments, Simon gets it right when he says: “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”

     

    Ding!  Ding!  Ding!  Ding!  Jesus says.  (That’s a rough translation.) “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but God in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.”

    It wasn’t in describing what the other people said of Jesus that Peter became the rock upon which the church was built.  It was in describing his own personal understanding of who Jesus was.  Peter was named only as he named Jesus for himself.

    I know it’s frustrating to hear the hate-filled rhetoric and see the terrifying patterns of behavior of those who call themselves Christians.  Even so, I suspect the question that still most interests Jesus is not, “Who do people say that I am?” but “Who do you say I am?”

    So, who is Jesus to you?

  • Prayers of the People (11/6/16—All Saints; Sunday before the Election)
    11.08.16

    Holy One, the room has been full today with the memories of our faithful forebears, those people who have shown us by their lives how to live our lives intentionally and authentically.  We offer thanks for all our mentors in faith.  God in your mercy, Hear our prayer.

     

    As we seek to live our own lives with faith and integrity, keep the eyes of our hearts and minds open to your wisdom and love…. especially as we come to the end of a tumultuous campaign season.  God in your mercy, Hear our prayer.

     

    God of all love and all people, someone is going to be elected President this week.  Regardless of who wins, I think we can all agree that we won’t be electing a saint….unless we join Nelson Mandela in describing saints as “sinners who keep trying.”  We pray for our next President.  We pray they will “keep trying.”  We pray they will work to heal the deep divides in our country.  We pray always for his or her mind and heart to be open to your wisdom and love.  God in your mercy, Hear our prayer.

     

    Last, we pray for ourselves.  During this election season, we have at some point, no doubt, thought less-than-saintly thoughts.  We have not always consulted our “better angels” before speaking or posting or debating.  Forgive our lapses, God.  Help us to keep trying.  And remind us again of just how much good and compassion and thoughtfulness and grace live inside us.  God in your mercy, Hear our prayer.

  • Confessing My Sin of Silence
    10.10.16

    As a Christian pastor, I take the separation of Church and State seriously.  I do not believe it appropriate for pastors–in their roles as pastors–to support one candidate over another.  While I do believe it’s vital that people of faith live their faith in the public sphere, I understand–and respect the fact–that the ways people live their faith commitments will be wildly diverse.  That diversity is good and energizing, both for faith and for democracy.

    Here’s the thing that’s frustrated me about the current presidential campaign.  Demeaning and derogatory comments are being made with alarming regularity.  Because those comments are being made by a presidential candidate, I haven’t felt it appropriate to speak directly to the comments out of fear that talking about those comments might be construed as supporting one candidate over another.

    The latest comments making the rounds–comments glamorizing the mistreatment and assault of women–have convinced me that, as a Christian pastor, I can no longer remain silent.  

    To objectify women, or to advocate for and confess to harming women is not acceptable, in a presidential candidate or anyone else.  And it’s certainly not something any person of faith can advocate for….or stand idly by saying nothing while these terrible things are being said. Theologian Rebecca Chopp has described the church’s two-fold mission as “denouncing sin and announcing grace.”  She describes sin as whatever militates against human flourishing. Advocating violence against women can only be understood as sin.

    In her book, The Power to Speak, Chopp also talks about how rhetoric isn’t just words.  Words are not birthed in a vacuum.  Words grow out of reality.  Words create reality.  And (this is me again) words that advocate–and valorize–violence, help create the reality to which they point. Because of derogatory comments being made right now, our country is a little less safe for women.  And Muslims.  And people of color.  And LGBTQ people.  And soldiers suffering from PTSD.  

    If words create reality, I choose to use my words–as a Christian pastor–to denounce the sins being committed in our public life in this country right now–both the sin of speaking words that militate against the flourishing of so many AND the sin of silence from public figures who could be speaking out, but aren’t.

    I confess the sin of my own silence up to now.  I offer these words as a first step in my penance.

  • Celebrating the life of Betty Roth
    08.14.16

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    Today’s homily from Betty Roth’s funeral service at Pilgrimage.

    Two months ago, none of us could have imagined this is where we’d be today.  Just a couple weeks before she went into the hospital, Betty–as she did every year–volunteered at VBS.  I remember thinking on the way out of church that last day, “Betty has way more energy than I do.  And she’s still smiling.”  How can one who was so vibrant so recently now be gone?  It doesn’t seem possible.  In our most vulnerable moments, it seems cruel.  We want to trust in God’s love and presence….but right now, trusting is very hard work.

    How do we make our peace with Betty’s passing?  How do we absorb the loss of her sweet spirit…of her fierce love for her family…of her loyal, playful friendship with the rest of us…of her profound compassion for and tireless work in behalf of people in need?  How are we going to move forward knowing we won’t see that bright smile and the twinkle in those baby blue eyes ever again?

    I’m not going to lie.  Making our peace with Betty’s passing is going to be hard.  It’s going to be the hardest thing you, John, Clay and Chase, have ever had to do.  We saw Betty on Sundays and every other time she helped out with activities here at the church, which was every chance she got.  We definitely will miss Betty.  Our hearts are breaking.  But your whole worlds are changing.  Thursday night dinners will never be the same.  Holiday and birthday celebrations will be hard, perhaps especially for you, Gavin, who share a birthday with your grandma.  Day to day living…it’s going to be difficult.  Grieving is going to take time…a lot of time.

    As I’ve reflected on Betty’s life, on all she has meant to us, I’ve begun to wonder if the best way to make our peace with Betty’s passing might be to make sure that the best of Betty lives on.  Betty’s body has ended its struggle.  She is now in a place of love and light, resting in the arms of God.  But Betty’s spirit…Betty’s spirit is still here.

    Just look at this room!  Your presence here today is a beautiful and fitting tribute to Betty’s life…and to just how much Betty’s sweet spirit has impacted our lives.  How might we ensure that Betty’s spirit lives on?  We can do it by living in the ways Betty lived…

    Whenever we smile or laugh or let our eyes twinkle with mischief, Betty’s spirit will live on.

    When we support our church community and do everything we can to act the least of these into wellbeing, Betty’s spirit will live on.

    When we seek to learn more about the Bible and choose in whatever ways we can to draw closer to God, Betty’s spirit will live on.

    When we watch or play tennis, Betty’s spirit will live on.

    When we fight with extra vigor for the naughtiest ornament at the Annual Christmas Ornament Exchange (two words—“Naked Santa”), Betty’s spirit will live on.

    When we honor and nurture relationships with our friends, Betty’s spirit will live on.

    When we take time to be with our families, when we offer them our constant love and support, when we do everything we can to act our families into wellbeing, Betty’s spirit will live on.

    When we love our spouse so much that our hearts seem to beat as one, Betty’s spirit will live on.

    Still, it’s not going to be easy.  Betty’s passing leaves a gaping hole in this church community and the large community of friends she and John have created.  Grieving her loss is going to be hard, especially for you, John.  As you, as we all try to navigate the difficult journey of grieving Betty’s passing, here are a couple things that might help.

    The first is this cross.  Our church community created this mosaic cross during Lent this year.  Each Sunday in worship during Lent, we brought our brokenness to the cross, represented by pieces of sea glass.  A few people named their brokenness; those words are engraved on some of the glass.  One shard bears Joshua Derby’s name.  Josh died a week and a half after Easter.

    Creating the mosaic cross together was a deeply moving experience for our community.  The Sunday after Easter, Betty came up to me and said, “Just look what you did, Lady!  You created that beautiful cross.”  I reminded her that it wasn’t me, but the community that had created it.  Then Betty told me, “One Sunday, my whole family went up and we glued all our pieces of glass in the same area.  It was so meaningful.”  I jokingly said, “That cross has some Roth real estate on it!”

    I never learned the address of that real estate, but what a powerful symbol, perhaps especially today.  Even in brokenness, the Roth family is together.  Even in brokenness, your family clings to its faith and its savior and the God who has loved us, loves us now, and will always love us.  Even in brokenness, John, Clay, Chase and Melanie, Gavin and Olivia, even in brokenness, you are surrounded by the love and care of this community of faith and your large community of friends.

    One piece of glass on the cross contains these words:  “Even broken, it is well with my soul.”  That is the prayer of every person here today for you:  That even in the midst of the brokenness caused by Betty’s death, it will be well with your souls, especially yours, John.  We pray God’s presence, comfort, and peace.  We pray for your wholeness.

    One last quote as we begin the difficult journey of grief.  It comes from Andy Raine of the Northumbria Community:

    “Do not hurry as you walk with grief; it does not help the journey.  Walk slowly, pausing often: do not hurry as you walk with grief.  Be not disturbed by memories that come unbidden.  Swiftly forgive; and let Christ speak for you unspoken words.  Unfinished conversation will be resolved in him.  Be not disturbed.  Be gentle with the one who walks with grief.  If it is you, be gentle with yourself. Swiftly forgive; walk slowly, pausing often.  Take time, be gentle as you walk with grief.”

    And John, Clay, Chase, Melanie, Olivia, Gavin, know that as you walk with grief, God walks beside you.  As do we.

    In the name of our God, who creates us, redeems us, sustains us, and hopes for our wholeness.  Amen.

  • Singing the World into Wellbeing
    08.06.16

    Among my folk music friends, I often hear the lament:  “Where has all the movement music gone?”  Many social movements throughout history have been spurred on by music.  The labor movement in the 19th and 20th centuries and the Civil Rights movement in the mid-20th century are two examples.  Cyndi Lauper’s “True Colors” also has done a lot to bring folks together around LGBTQ rights.

    With our iPods, Pandora, Youtube, and Spotify, though, we are rapidly losing a common musical vocabulary.  Folk singer Pete Seeger believed–really believed–that if people could sing together, they could accomplish anything.  Pete wasn’t looking at things from a faith perspective, but I think he was on to something.  We experience it every Sunday at Pilgrimage when we sing “Let There Be Peace on Earth and Let It Begin with Me.”  How often has simply singing that song, holding your neighbors’ hands, inspired you to live your faith more mindfully in the world?  Here’s a bit from NPR about five Pete Seeger songs you might have heard–or sung–before:  http://www.npr.org/2014/01/28/267584749/5-pete-seeger-songs-to-sing-together

    On August 28th at Pilgrimage, we’re going to celebrate the music that inspires us to “act the world into wellbeing.”  In order to do that, though, we need to hear from you!  (We’ve got a few contributions already.  Thank you!)  I don’t know that we’ll be able to sing all the songs together in worship, but we can compile a list to share with the rest of the community.  In this way, we’ll begin to create our own Pilgrimage UCC Playlist for Acting the World into Wellbeing.

    So that the musicians will have time to work up accompaniments, we’ll need your submissions by Sunday, 8/14.

    Let the singing begin!

    Kim

  • Mother’s Day Prayer
    05.09.16

    Holy One,

    It’s Mother’s Day.  Chances are good that we’ve got some feelings about that…

     

    Some of us feel gratitude:  for excellent mothering we have received– from birth mothers, adoptive mothers, grandmothers, surrogate mothers, and as one of our children said, “twin mommies.”   Bless all who feel grateful today, God.  GM/HP

    Some of us feel deep joy:  the new mothers, those who have been given another year with an aging mom.  And though they’re the tiniest bit annoying, what with all that picture-showing, the grandmothers.  J  Some of us feel joy for technological advances like in vitro fertilization and for processes like adoption and foster parenting.  Some of the mothers among us feel great joy because we love our children so much and are so very proud of them.  Bless all who feel joy today, God.  GM/HP

    Some of us feel guilt today:  for not being the best mother we could be… for not being the best daughter or son we could be…for something we can’t even name…  For all who feel guilty today, God, ease the weight of their guilt.  Surround them with your grace.  Remind them they are loved.   GM/HP

     

    Some of us are angry today:  because we didn’t get the mothering we needed… because our children don’t always appreciate what we do for them… because we feel called to be mothers, but our bodies or circumstances have prevented that from happening…  For those who are angry, God, help us learn from our anger, to understand the hurt that causes it, and to move forward in strength and love and insight.  GM/HP

     

    Some of us feel sad today….because we never had a mother…or did have a mother who couldn’t seem to love us…or do have a mother whose dementia is taking her from us one memory at a time…  Some of us are sad because our mothers have died, or are alive but have never felt their full worth…  Some of the mothers among us are sad because they have lost their children in one way or another.  And some women who aren’t able to have children– having worked through their anger– now are feeling sad.  Holy One, please comfort all who come to this day with sadness.  GM/HP

     

    (Whisper)  Some of the mothers among us are so exhausted by their mothering they have now fallen asleep.  Give them pleasant dreams, God.   GM/HP

     

    Some of us—women who have NOT been called to be mothers—are wondering just why this prayer has gone on so long.  What’s the big deal?  Bless us, too, God.  Affirm our decision not to have children.  Bless all the ways we have given and are giving the best of ourselves to others by means other than parenting.  GM/HP

     

    That last group is right, God—this prayer has gone on a long time.  And, long as it is, it likely still hasn’t given voice to all the feelings present in the room today.  In the quiet, Holy One, surround us with your love and care as we share with you all our feelings–all our joys, all our concerns, all of ourselves with you.  In silence, hear us.  (Silence)  GM/HP

     

    Holy One, some of us call you Father;  some of us call you Mother;  and some of us don’t call you anything because we’re so confused about you most of the time….Thank you for answering our prayers– no matter where we are on our theological journeys.  J  For all we don’t know, this we do know:  Jesus was our brother.  We join our hearts and voices together as we pray the prayer he taught us…

  • Song: Charleston (4/28/16)
    04.29.16

    Gun violence.  Columbine frightened me.  Sandy Hook bewildered me.  Charleston woke me up.

    Wednesday Bible study.  Nine people killed, several of them ministers.  The setting of the Emmanuel AME church shooting June 17, 2015, brought the devastation of gun violence home to me.  When I read the news on my phone the morning of June 18th, I knew that simply scrolling past news articles about mass shootings was no longer an option for me–either as a pastor or as a person.

    As I tried to make sense of what happened in Charleston and the catastrophic rise in death and injury due to gun violence, a song emerged.

    The more I sang the song and listened to the final chorus–“We can make all this killing end by living out our humanity….”–I began to wonder what that might look like.  After the shooting in San Bernardino, that wondering led to planning a Prayer Vigil to End Gun Violence with other interfaith spiritual leaders in Cobb County.

    I hope you will join us this Sunday, May 1, 2:30 p.m., on the Marietta Square.  Our time of prayer and song will begin with lament then will move toward hope, people across our community, across faith traditions working together to act our corner of the world into wellbeing.

  • Song: Who Built This House? (4/25/16)
    04.26.16

    Saturday’s clash between white supremacist and Black Lives Matter folks was a vivid reminder–again–of just how much work remains to be done in race relations.

    I have come to recognize that part of my work in race relations is coming to terms with my own white privilege.  The work is not easy.  At all.

    In this song, I wrestle with what it means to be descended from slave owners….

    reallifepastor | April 25, 2016 at 1:35 pm | Categories: Uncategorized | URL: http://wp.me/p1iN7M-mt

  • Two Good Friday Poems
    03.27.16

    Good Friday

    1

    This story is so sad.
    There’s so much love and evil.
    And fear.

    Maybe that’s what evil is—
    fear gone bad.  Or mad.
    Fear.

    I really think that’s
    mostly what this story is about—
    FEAR.

    Pilate was afraid.
    The Pharisees and other religious leaders were afraid.
    Everyone was afraid.

    Jesus.
    Was Jesus afraid?
    Was Jesus afraid?

    Mostly, I bet he was sad—
    Sad because he didn’t have time to
    help his disciples interpret what was happening.
    Sad because he still had so much to teach them.
    Sad because they hadn’t yet learned
    the things he’d already taught them.
    Sad because he loved them.
    Sad because they were afraid.
    Sad because he was lonely.

    So.

    Very.

    Lonely.

    2

    It’s the halo I don’t get—
    in every picture…
    colored yellow, always yellow—

    WHAT DOES IT MEAN, JESUS?
    WHAT DOES YOUR HALO MEAN?

    Does it mean that you’re God,
    wholly divine and all that?
    If so…that annoys me…
    …and disheartens me…

    If you’re not God,
    then the pain you feel from the beatings,
    the deprivations,
    the unjust decisions and proclamations….

    If you’re not God,
    then the pain you feel
    is very close to the pain I feel.

    If you’re not God,
    then this day is a day I can understand,
    it’s a day that you can understand,
    a day you can understand me.

    And I need to be understood by you.
    I don’t know why, but I do.
    I do need to be understood by you.

    Maybe for the artist,
    the halo does mean you’re God…

    But I choose to see it otherwise.

    I don’t think you were God,
    not that day—

    If you were God on that day,
    then what was the point?
    I ask:  What was the point?

    No.
    I don’t think you were God that day…

    But still.
    The halo.

    WHAT DOES IT MEAN, JESUS?
    WHAT DOES IT MEAN?

    I think it means God—
    not you as God,
    but God as God,

    God, who tags along with those who suffer
    because there is no other place in the universe
    she’d rather be.

    I think the halo-yellow-halo in every picture
    isn’t a reminder of just how God you were,
    but of just how close God stayed with you that day
    until you died.
    Even after you died.

    If that is true,
    Then we should all be wearing halos.

    (4/6/2007)

  • Ash Wednesday Meditation (2/10/16)
    02.12.16

    For what does your spirit long tonight?  What inside you feels incomplete, fragile, unworthy, lonely?  Do you ever try to satisfy that longing?  Chances are, you do try to fill it.  Because the ache of the emptiness, our wholeness is very painful…

    So often, though, the things with which we try to fill the emptiness, to quell the loneliness—alcohol, food, drugs, excessive spending, excessive scheduling—only satisfy for a moment.  After we have consumed whatever it is we think will make us whole, we find that the emptiness hasn’t been filled as we had hoped, but rather has grown larger.  Which means filling that now, filling the emptiness will take even more—more alcohol, more food, more drugs, more spending, more scheduling…It becomes a vicious cycle.

    Lent is the church’s way of helping us to identify the cycle, slow it down for six weeks, long enough to consider whether all these things we’re consuming, all the things we’re doing, truly are satisfying our deepest longings.

    And Ash Wednesday helps us clear out the clutter so we can do that reflection.

    Psalm 51 is attributed to David after committing adultery with Bathsheba.  On the roof of his house, watching Bathsheba bathe, David thought possessing Bathsheba would fill his emptiness, quell his loneliness.  But it didn’t.

    In fact, once the deed was done, he plotted to have Bathsheba’s husband, Uriah, killed.  What in the moment seemed like it would satisfy all his desires—possessing Bathsheba—in the end only led to greater emptiness.  And greater sins.

    When David’s sins were pointed out to him by the prophet Nathan, David finally realized what he had done.  Filled with remorse, the story goes, he wrote this psalm asking God’s forgiveness, pleading for a clean heart, confessing his deepest desire:  truth in his inmost being.

    Because that deep-down-to-the-core-of-who-he-was honesty—THAT is what would save him.  THAT is what his soul really longed for.  THAT is what would make him whole.

    For what does your soul long tonight?  For what does your spirit ache?  What are you doing to try to meet those needs?  Is it working?

    The invitation tonight is to reflect on what your soul is longing for… and all the things you’ve done to try to satisfy that longing.  As you come to receive the imposition of ashes, I invite you to see it not so much as a guilt thing or a depressing thing…I invite you to see it as a new beginning, starting over, hitting the reset button.  I also invite you to take a piece of broken glass.  Take it home and let it remind you of your brokenness, your longing to be made whole.  Each Sunday during Lent, we’ll be working with broken glass in some way.  Feel free to keep your shard at home or to bring it back here to church.  Or do both.

    I wrote the words we’re singing tonight last year.  The tune, of course, is WONDROUS LOVE.  The hymn we traditionally sing to the tune is “What Wondrous Love Is This.”  I selected this tune to remind us that no matter what we’ve done, no matter how far we have wandered away from our truest selves, always, always, we are surrounded by and held in God’s wondrous love.

    As the piano plays, I invite you into a time of quiet, honest reflection.  And as you receive the ashes with their reminder of the frailty—the brokenness–of all human living, know that God has loved you, loves you now, will always love you and more than anything else, hopes for your wholeness.

  • Colorful Creator #2: Rainbow Boy
    01.18.16

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    Today, Pilgrimage hosted the delightful singer-songwriter, Bobby Jo Valentine.  This was Bobby Jo’s second visit to Pilgrimage.  (His first happened while I was on sabbatical.)  So wonderful to hear a full-on concert at our very own church!  I’m kind of amazed at what Bobby Jo can do with his voice.  Wow!

    In the midst of his singing, Bobby Jo shared his story with us.  Raised in a fundamentalist Christian community, Bobby Jo’s gift for songwriting wasn’t appreciated.  Nor was his homosexuality.  After years of hiding who he was, Bobby Jo finally was able to come out as a gay man AND as a singer-songwriter!  I told him this afternoon–and I’m telling you now–I am so glad Bobby has found the place where he belongs!

    As you know, I’m the tiniest bit obsessed with the colors in our sanctuary these days.  Later in the week, I’ll share a couple more of the pictures I took today.  For now I want to share two more of Bobby.

    For the first part of the concert, Bobby stood on the platform.  Had I been able to take video, it would have captured a beautiful young man literally dancing in the rainbow.  The two pictures below catch just a tiny bit of the color and light that bathed Bobby this afternoon.  How appropriate that this one who is living his true colors was–for this day–our Rainbow Boy!

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    Check out Bobby Jo’s website:  http://www.bobbyjovalentine.com/

  • Colorful Creator #1 (Epiphany!)
    01.08.16

    I took these pictures yesterday–Epiphany!  A few thoughts….

    This first one looks like a hand with a paintbrush adding color to the wall.  The lighted sculpture above (it contains a dove) represents God’s Spirit. Colorful Creator, indeed!

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    Below — Reality and reflection….both announce the beauty of color and light.  (And notice the heads of the magi in the banner.  Epiphany!)

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    Afternoon sun–Orange!  Yellow!  Light!

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    Below — A good shot for Epiphany:  So much light!  Banner of the magi beneath where the light is brightest.  The cloth covering the communion table was made by the children a few VBS’s ago.  It reads:  “Guide our feet into the way of peace.”

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    Below:  My chair on the platform.  This obviously is the afterglow of my aura from Sunday’s worship.  :-)

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    Just in case you missed it.  :-)   The guitar stand and its shadow…I’ll have to think about that one for a bit.

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    Above — Late morning–more white light than color.  See the reflection on the bottom of the glass water drop in the middle of the baptism sculpture?

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    Same shot, about the same time, but with the lights behind the wall art turned off.  The water drop in the center of the sculpture is even better defined.  Notice that all appears as white light (probably from my location in the sanctuary.  Had I been closer, the colors would have been more, um, colorful).  Colors reappear near the far kitchen door–soft blue and red/pink.

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    I took this because all those little splotches of light look like paw prints.  Reminds me that God shows loves for us through the animals in our lives.

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    Above — “Arise, shine, for your light has come!”  (Is. 60:1)  Epiphany text.  Colors from the stained glass help proclaim this hopeful message!

     

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    Late morning light — January 6, 2016 (Epiphany)  Can you spot the dove in the blue patch?

  • “Colorful Creator”
    01.04.16

    My article from the January 2016 Pilgrim’s Progress newsletter.

    A couple of weeks ago in Sunday School, I surprised myself by saying that I find God in color.

    In 2008 when we began planning for the renovation of our worship space, Ric Reitz asked me about incorporating stained glass into the design.  My response?  “We’re not a stained glass church.”  Can you believe I said that?

    Fortunately, I came to my senses and remembered Merridy Palmer, a regular visitor who was—wait for it—a stained glass artist.  I sent her contact info to Ric.  What you see each Sunday (and in lots of FB posts from me) is the result of Merridy’s amazing design.

    But back to God…

    Since my surprise confession that I find God in color, every time I enter the sanctuary, I think—How are the colors, the light, the lack of light—helping me encounter God?  THEN I got a crazy idea.  Why not blog about the colors and what the different manifestations of color and light are teaching me about God?

    So, that’s what I’ll be doing.  I’m going to blog about our Colorful Creator in 2016.  I know.  In the past, I’ve promised to blog consistently and haven’t always (ever?) followed through.  But I’m going to try really hard this time!  And I hope as the year progresses, you’ll share with me some of your experiences of God in color and light.

    pucc.cross

    Afternoon light, mid-December

  • Friendship Can Be Prophetic
    12.11.15

    My article for Pilgrimage UCC’s December newsletter.  

    The week before Thanksgiving was a busy one.  The Saturday before, the Race Discussion group visited the Center for Civil and Human Rights.  The next Thursday several Pilgrimage members attended the Ecumenical Thanksgiving Celebration at Temple Kol Emeth.  The next night a few more of us attended the Transgender Day of Remembrance in Atlanta.

    As I reflect on this array of experiences, I realize that a lot of what made each one meaningful was encountering friends.

    At the Center for Civil and Human Rights, I saw my friend and fellow UCCer Bette Graves Thomas, who serves the Center as a docent.  Bette shared a little of what it was like growing up African American in the 50s and 60s in Atlanta.  At the interfaith Thanksgiving celebration, I ran into Mahmooda, one of the women from the Ahmadiyya Muslim community that helps us during Family Promise hosting weeks.  Mahmooda’s mother died unexpectedly a few months ago.  We touched base about that and I let her know that we’ve been holding her and her family in prayer.  At the Transgender Day of Remembrance event, I was so proud to see the results of Darlene and Monica’s hard work of the past few months.

    In one week, I directly engaged some of the most contentious current social issues:  racism, religious conflict, violence against people deemed “different.”  What deepened each experience for me was meeting my friends.  Racial discrimination isn’t just about what African Americans in general suffer; it’s what happens to my friend Bette.  Hearing a politician suggest that all Muslims should be registered, I immediately think of what that would mean for my friend Mahmooda.  When I hear of increasing violence against transgender people, I think of my own friends who are transgender and pray even more fervently for their safety and wholeness.

    During Advent, we celebrate the incarnation, literally, God’s “en-fleshment.”  Ours is not a distant God out in the universe somewhere.  No, our God is one who wanted to get to know us and so became one of us.  Ours is a God of relationship.

    As believers in a God of relationship, we too are called to connection with others.  Large scale justice efforts are important.  But the world really starts to change for the better when we befriend others, especially those who are different from us.  Want to create some “peace on earth” this holiday season?  Get to know someone of another faith, another race, another political party.  It’ll be a great way to celebrate God-with-us!

    Blessings,

    Kim

  • StillSpeaking Writers in Atlanta on Tues, Dec 3
    11.23.15

    Join the UCC’s StillSpeaking Writer’s Group for an evening of reading and conversation with some of your favorite Daily Devotional writers and members of the StillSpeaking Writers Group.  Click on the link below for details about this event:

     

    Stillspeaking Writers Group in Atlanta

  • Communion (after visiting the Center for Civil and Human Rights)
    11.19.15

    Yesterday, a few of us visited the Center for Civil and Human Rights.  In one room, you’re invited to sit at a lunch counter.  You put on some headphones then hear the vitriol spewed by white segregationists.  The seats even shake at a couple of points.  It makes the lunch counter experience very real.  And frightening.

    The lunch counter movement in the 1960s—and the courage of all the young people who tried to integrate them—reminds us of just how prophetic simply eating together can be.

    Jesus knew that.  We’re about to enter a new liturgical year, the year of Luke.  All through Luke, Jesus keeps eating with all the wrong people—and gets berated by the religious authorities for doing so.

     

    But Jesus knew—and tried to show the rest of us—that when we eat together, something holy happens.  The playing field is leveled.  Sharing the same food, the same drink, we know, we believe that we all are created in the image of God and that each of us is deeply loved by God.

    So, let’s do this prophetic thing together:  Let’s share a meal together.

     

    Jesus took bread, and after giving thanks to God, broke it, and gave it to the disciples, saying:  ‘This is my body which is for you.  Do this in remembrance of me.”

     

    In the same way also the cup, after supper, saying:  “This cup is the new covenant in my blood.  Do this as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.”

     

    Let us pray.

     

    Holy One, how easy it is for us to come to this table—we simply walk a few steps from our seats, stand in a circle, and receive the elements as they are passed.  We have no fear, no shred of doubt as to whether we will be served.  As we share the bread and the cup today, remind us of all who do not come to this meal so easily.  And reignite in us a passion to share this meal, which is to say, your love with everyone we meet.  In Jesus’ name we pray, Amen.

  • Last Lesson with My Teacher
    10.02.15

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    The last time I saw Betty was the day the charred skeleton of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City was imploded — May 24, 1995.  Terrorists had bombed the building April 19, 1995, leaving 168 dead, 800+ injured, and a nation stunned at what some of our own citizens could do to each other.  After a month of investigation, it was time for the remains of the Federal Building to come down.

    The night before the implosion we stayed with Betty.   (It was her turn to meet the boyfriend. J)   Betty asked if we’d like to visit the site.  In truth, I wasn’t sure I did.  I worried I would become overwhelmed.  But it was Mrs. Woodward—my teacher—who asked.  So we went.

    We drove into Oklahoma City from Shawnee, shared a meal together, then made our way to the Federal Building.  Just a month out from the bombing, the entire area still resembled a war zone—dozens of buildings around the Federal Building were damaged.  Shattered glass blanketed the streets.  The building itself—such sorrow, such silence, evidence of such evil.

    Twenty years later, I confess that I don’t have a visual in my mind of what the building looked like that night.  What I do remember is the crunch of broken glass as we walked, the gaping hole in the ground created by the blast, and the chain link fence circling the building that mourners had turned into a memorial.

    I also remember having to take my turn to peek through the chain link fence at the ruins.  Hundreds of people had gathered—hundreds of live people, standing together mourning the dead.  And somehow in the midst of it, among those other quiet, reverent human beings, I felt something I hadn’t expected to feel—hope.  I felt hope.

    I don’t know why Betty invited us to visit the Federal Building its last night standing.  I suspect part of it was to share with us what so many of my friends had been experiencing, what she had been experiencing, the last month.  Or maybe she wanted to visit the site herself and simply wanted company.

    Or maybe it was the last of many lessons she taught me—the lesson about how, when life falls apart, when nothing remains but shards of glass and burned wreckage, it might not be the end.  The lesson about how sometimes dead structures need to come down to make way for new life.  The lesson about how visiting the devastating places with friends makes the journey easier.

    As I type this, my heart aches with the loss of Betty.  But as the learnings continue unfolding from this last lesson she taught me, I know her death isn’t the end.  Life goes on…and the journey through loss—even the loss of Betty Woodward—will be eased by inviting friends along for the journey.

     

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CTtiooVUlmY

     

  • “We’re So Proud of You and Your Ministry!”
    09.30.15

    When I learned of Betty’s death, I felt compelled to drive out for her memorial service.  I didn’t know why exactly, but the pull was strong.

    I’d lost touch with Betty the last couple of years.  (My fault, not hers.)  I hadn’t been back to the state in 20 years.  There were only a few folks I’d kept up with at all, and that was all on Facebook.  I’ve been a UCC pastor for almost 15 years.  What need did I have to return to Oklahoma, a place that was very much part of my past?

    Then I saw Tom and Nancy Willoughby.  Tom served First Baptist, Shawnee, as Minister of Music when I first came to OBU.  After a year or two, he was called to FBC, Lawton.  After graduating, I got a job teaching school in Lawton.  Tom, Nancy, and I renewed our acquaintance.  They are two of the few people I’ve kept up with over the years.  Delightful people.  And always supportive.  And terrific musicians!

    When talking with Nancy, I reminded her of a comment she made at a goodbye luncheon a church member had thrown for me as I left Lawton for Southern Seminary.  Over lunch, we’d been talking about how the fundamentalists were taking over Southeastern Seminary in North Carolina.  (This was 1988.)  Nancy spoke up, her voice laced with alarm:  “I think Southern is next on their list.”  I remember wondering if she was right, then—because the idea terrified me—I shoved the thought aside.

    When I reminded Nancy of her statement at Mrs. W’s memorial service, she said:  “I didn’t want you to go!  We love you and we didn’t want you to be hurt!”

    When I heard Nancy speak those words, I knew I had driven to Oklahoma, in part, to hear her speak them.  “We didn’t want you to go.”  Someone had cared about what happened to me even before the fundamentalists took over Southern.  I had felt so alone, so cut off from anyone in Baptist life during the dark days of seminary, but someone had cared about what happened.  They loved me and didn’t want me to be hurt.

    As her words seeped in and I scrambled to reframe my narrative of seminary, Nancy looked at me and said, “We are so proud of you and your ministry!”  It was like she was speaking another language.  Proud?  These people from way back in my Baptist history—proud of me?   Later, both Nancy and Tom assured me that they were very proud that I am a pastor and that the church I serve practices an inclusive faith.  “Really?” I asked in disbelief.  “Oh, yes.”

    I’ve always liked Tom and Nancy and have always felt welcome in their presence, but I didn’t know they believed in me.  I didn’t know they were proud.  Hearing their words, receiving their hugs, hearing about their own journeys away from Baptist life—that was what I needed to hear.  It’s what I’ve needed to finally close this chapter in my life—the one of struggling to hear and follow my call to pastor.  The thing I have sought for the past 30 years is a blessing for my calling.  Certainly, many people and communities have done just that.

    But I guess I’ve needed to receive that blessing from someone who was there at the beginning.  I’ve needed to hear someone say they’re proud of me for being a pastor and of the congregation I serve for being Open and Affirming.  I had no idea that blessing is what I’ve craved, what I’ve been hungry for.  Now that the blessing has been offered and received?  Now the fight to claim my call is over.  Now I can say with the ease I first heard from a monk at St. Gregory’s Abbey 30 years ago:  “This is my calling.”

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    (Far left–Tom.  Far right–Nancy.)

  • Singing Betty Home
    09.28.15

    Text to Allen:  I’m in the sanctuary at FBC.  My heart is racing!

    Allen:  I’m praying.  All will be well.

    Me:  Thanks.  Ron Lewis just started playing organ.  Settling down.

    Allen:  Good.  Still praying for you.

    Me:  There are several brass players headed for the balcony.  Gotta go get a bulletin.

    Allen:  Okay.

     FullSizeRender

    *************

    Betty’s service was lovely.  Lots of music.  Lots of hymn-singing.  A beautiful tribute to her life…as was the large number of people who gathered to tell her goodbye.

    I was so glad to be one of them.

  • Loving Baptists
    09.26.15

    Driving out to Oklahoma for Betty Woodward’s memorial service, I had the sense that part of the reason for the trip was to forgive myself…which felt odd.  Forgive myself for what?  Now, I wonder if the thing for which I feel I need forgiveness is being Baptist.  Maybe it is.  And maybe that assumption grows out of internalizing the thoughts of people who disparage Baptists.

    The truth is, though, that there was much about Baptist life that nourished me.  The Baptists, in their evangelical fervor, found me, for one thing.  They took me under their wings.  They nurtured me the best they knew how.  They weren’t able to imagine some things for me, like a call to pastor, but….they did the best they could with what they had.

    They did the best they could.

    So maybe now I can love, really love, these Baptist folks.  Many of the Baptists I knew—some of whom I’ll see on Saturday—were very good people, people who loved me.  If they don’t remember me or remember me, but not with fondness—so what?  They loved me then.  And nurtured me.  And helped me get to the place where I, eventually, was able to do the healing work I needed to do.

    And that is something for which I can be very grateful.

  • “Nexus Point”

    In an email exchange with a friend, she described this moment as a “nexus point,” a time to take stock of things and identify what to keep and what to leave in Oklahoma.  Since arriving, driving around the campus, I’ve felt very little connection with OBU.  I realize now that that’s a gift.  OBU was an important place for me 30 years ago, but I’m a different person now.  OBU is a different place.  And that is just fine.  I can be grateful for what I received and move on.

    Even so, I am apprehensive about how I will be received by my OBU friends…will they remember me?  I suspect they will remember me, but will they remember me with fondness?

  • Moving Beyond Southern Seminary
    09.23.15

    (The insight about “moving past OBU to a Benedictine monastery” reminded me about this piece I wrote on a trip to Our Lady of Grace Monastery in Beech Grove, Indiana—two hours north of Louisville and Southern Seminary.  The piece was written in June 2009.)

    About the trip up here (to Our Lady of Grace) yesterday…

    I really do believe I made my peace with the whole seminary thing, all the trauma of it, most of my anger at the Baptist stuff, three years ago.  But yesterday was the first time I’ve driven north of Nashville on I-65 since that peace-making.  Once I hit the KY state line, I started feeling…a lot.  It felt like I was driving back to seminary.  The closer to Louisville I got, the sadder I got, the more like crying I felt.  I felt some anger, yes.  But mostly sadness.  And love–for the city, for the good parts of my time at Southern.

    When I passed the exit for I-64 East (toward the seminary) and started crossing the bridge over the Ohio River into Indiana, the weepy-ness evaporated.  It felt like I was leaving seminary behind.  I was–literally–moving beyond seminary…

    …and I was heading to Our Lady of Grace (which is located–no lie!–on Southern Avenue!).  I stayed up much of the night thinking about this place being “beyond seminary,” both geographically and metaphorically.  Part of what makes me sad about Southern is that the school I attended no longer exists.  I can’t go back and visit professors; I can’t hope one day to teach there, like I’d often dreamed about.  Based on articles about women I’ve read in the alumni quarterly, I’m pretty sure there’s no one left at my seminary who would be proud of a woman graduate who has gone on to successfully pastor a church.

    One of the great losses since the fundamentalist take-over is the loss of a network.  Things were so traumatic for everyone in the 90’s that we all scattered–we headed for new institutions, new denominations where we wouldn’t have to talk about the Baptist stuff anymore.

    So, I’m thinking all these thoughts as I’m driving up I-65…then I arrive at the monastery.  Sr. Luke greets me.  Lots of sisters greet me.  They’re glad I’m here.  They’ve fixed my room, they help me unload the car, invite me to dinner, give me a key to the place.  Invite me to prayer.

    Then last night while I’m journaling, it hits me–what I had hoped for as an alum of Southern, I have (and more!) here…Because of their vow of stability, the sisters always will be here.  They’ll always be glad to see me.  They’ll always want to know how things are going.  They will know me.  And I will know them.

    I know.  A monastery is an institution…an institution that’s part of the largest institution on the planet.  In truth, my experience with the Baptists has left me leery of all institutions.  But still…everything I had hoped from Southern, I have here.  And much more.

    By saying all of this, I don’t mean to disparage my experiences at Southern and with other Baptists.  Were those experiences traumatic?  Absolutely.  Even so, those experiences shaped me…they’ve made me a deeper person, a more compassionate pastor.  AND….those experiences led me to claim my call to pastor…and if I hadn’t become a pastor, I never would have come into relationship with this monastery.

    Before yesterday’s road trip, I had intended to come to the monastery simply to pray and rest.  After yesterday’s powerful and surprising insights from the drive up, though, I think I need to add them to mix and see what emerges.

  • How One Baptist Introduced another Baptist to Benedictine Prayer
    09.22.15

    I graduated college in 1986.  After graduation, I taught school in Lawton, OK, for two years.  I went back to Oklahoma a couple of times during seminary, but hadn’t seen any of those folks since I’d taken my then-boyfriend Allen to meet them all just before we got married in 1995.

    Twenty years is a long time.  Not knowing when I’d ever make it back to Oklahoma, my first thought when planning the trip for Mrs. Woodward’s memorial service was to see as many people as I could—former church members in Stillwater, good friends in Lawton, several friends in Shawnee.  When a couple of possibilities for staying with friends didn’t pan out, I shifted to Plan B.  Instead of driving all over the state for hurried visits with old friends, why not make retreat at St. Gregory’s?

    St. Gregory’s is a Benedictine monastery a mile past OBU.  As a Baptist student, I was wary of Catholics.  We students—wisely, we thought—steered clear of St. Greg’s.

    …Until my Hymnology class with Mrs. Woodward.  For one of our class sessions, she hauled us down to Vespers at St. Gregory’s Chapel.  It was my first experience of prayer in a monastic community.  I didn’t understand much at all, except that it was beautiful.  I do remember, though, being struck by the fact that immediately following prayer, the brothers who I’d seen depart through a door behind the altar, were heading to a dining hall to eat supper cafeteria- style—just like I did (and hated) at the college.  I remember wondering how anyone could choose to eat in a cafeteria the rest of their lives.

    Part of the reason we went to St. Greg’s was because Mrs. W had an in—she’d taught Br. Damian, the community’s musician, Freshman Music Theory.  Br. Damian came and talked to us after Vespers.  After he’d explained a little about the history of liturgy and praying the hours, Br. Damian asked if we had any questions.  I raised my hand.  “Why do you do this?”

    Mrs. W later told me she was mortified by the question.  But Br. Damian took it in stride.  He said simply, “This is my calling.”

    In my 2 days of retreat before Mrs. W’s memorial service, as I remembered, reflected, and prayed, I marveled that I had “moved past” (literally) OBU to make retreat at a Benedictine monastery, a place whose rhythms of prayer have become so central to my life.

    The first evening in the chapel, as I closed my prayerbook and prepared to follow the line of monks through the door behind the altar to join them for a cafeteria-style supper, I giggled a little.  After all these years, here I was making retreat at a Benedictine monastery, and who was it who introduced me to Benedictine prayer?  My Baptist professor and friend, Betty Woodward.

    One more thing for which to be grateful to Mrs. W.

  • The Drive to Say Goodbye to Betty Woodward

    When I saw the news on FB that my college mentor and friend, Betty Woodward, had died, it surprised me.  Betty wasn’t the sort of person one ever imagined dying.  She was a force of nature, full of energy.  Betty loved life and people and music and hummingbirds.  And she had survived a couple of nasty bouts with cancer and the tragic death of her husband Jim in a 1991 plane crash.  Die?  Mrs. Woodward?  It didn’t compute.

    I messaged a couple of friends to ask if it was true.  Each quickly responded that, sadly, it was.  When the information about the memorial service was posted a couple days later, I made plans to attend.

    After two years of study at the University of Florida, in 1983 I transferred to Oklahoma Baptist University, in Shawnee, Oklahoma.  Betty was my Elementary Music Methods prof.  When it came time to student teach, I was assigned to three schools in Moore, OK—40 miles away… which was fine, except for the fact that I didn’t know how to drive.

    Mrs. Woodward:  “You can ride to Moore with another student who also will be doing his teaching there, but you will have to drive his car between schools.”  Then she drilled me with those piercing blue eyes.  “Do you just not WANT to learn to drive?” she asked.  I assured her that I did want to learn to drive; I’d just never had anyone to teach me.  Mrs. Woodward: “What are you doing at 3:00 this afternoon?”  Me:  “Going for my first driving lesson?”

    That I learned to drive at all is a testament to just how gifted a teacher Mrs. W was.  We went out nearly every afternoon in her car—a gargantuan (or so it seemed) gold Cadillac.  I was terrified.  But we kept going out and somehow—through the grace of God and the patience of Mrs. W—I got my license.

    After a short trip home to Florida for the summer, I returned to school walking a little taller.  I could drive!  When I saw Mrs. Woodward, I presented my license—and beamed.  (She’d been out of town when I took my driving test and hadn’t seen it yet.)  She smiled, too, then asked, “What are you doing at 3:00 this afternoon?”  Huh?  “If you’re not doing anything, I thought we could go out for a driving lesson.”  I RE-presented my newly-minted driver’s license with an even bigger smile.  “Oh, your lessons aren’t over yet.  Now it’s time to learn stick-shift!”

    All my terror came flooding back.  Stick-shift?

    That afternoon at 3:00, she took me out for my next driving lesson in their standard transmission car—a brown Subaru with the driver’s side door smashed in.  I didn’t mind so much climbing through the passenger’s side to get to the driver’s seat.  This car was much more my style.

    I thought I’d done pretty well learning stick-shift…until a few months later when I took Mrs. W. for a ride in the used car I’d just bought—a 1983 Nissan Sentra, stick-shift.  She got in, looked at the shifter, then looked up at me—“Stick-shift?”  The surprise in her voice suggested that perhaps I hadn’t been the quickest learner of stick-shift driving.  But the drive went well…and Mrs. W seemed a little calmer when she got out of the car than when she got in.  I think that’s a good thing, right?

    When I learned the date of the memorial service for Mrs. W, I debated driving or flying.  Shawnee is a 12-hour drive from my home in Georgia.  Perhaps I should fly.  But while scouring travel sites for a cheap plane ticket, I remembered those afternoon lessons with Mrs. W and knew—I had to drive.

    And so I did.

  • Oklahoma Journal: Poem
    09.17.15

    At the Hotel Waiting to Attend a Friend’s Memorial Service

     

    La Quinta Inn

    Shawnee, Oklahoma

    Room 306

    Mid-September…

    I peer through

    wispy strands

    of an abandoned

    web

    splayed against the window

    as the sun

    rises over

    a stagnant pond—

    All around the pond–

    green—

    “We’ve gotten lots of rain this year,”

    the monk at the abbey told me.

    Oklahoma.

    Green.

    At the end of summer.

    ********

    There is more life

    than we know

    in places we’ve

    long thought dead.

    ************

    Two small lumps

    in the water

    glisten white

    where sunlight kisses

    the damp–

    Turtles?

    Trash?

    Tires?

    I measure my curiosity—

    Shall I walk down to

    water’s edge

    and inspect the lumps

    more closely?

    Or will I simply let them be—

    A mystery that

    holds my imagination,

    douses me with wonder

    for one small part of a morning

    on the hazy edge

    of death?

    Or life?

    **************

    A subtle shift

    lures my gaze

    right—

    a short plank

    with four dark lumps–

    moving!

    Turtles–

    shifting

    sidling

    inching

    testing

    searching for balance

    as a group

    to rest.

    I watch unblinking

    for a moment of sheer

    awe

    as the board floats

    with four

    still

    tiny

    shining

    lumps.

    ************

    I close my eyes,

    offer a prayer of thanks,

    gratitude for friends.

    And silence.

    And water.

    And sun.

    And life.

    ************

    The next moment I look down–

    a single turtle

    paces the plank

    searching for her

    companions,

    now gone.

    Finally,

    she stops on one corner

    and sits—

    whether grieving

    or content

    or resigned

    I cannot tell.

    ************

    I observe the lone turtle

    Sympathize with her.

    Empathize with her.

    Identify with her.

    Then I think of

    her companions

    somewhere below the murky

    surface

    swimming

    drinking

    eating

    maybe even cavorting,

    Who knows?

    Then I look up,

    take in the whole pond

    and finally see–

    It’s only half-stagnant.

    Half-alive.

    kjb

    9/12-14/2015

  • Poem: Morning Lesson (May 2014)
    09.12.15

    Found this poem in my journal from sabbatical.  Reminds me of Betty Woodward, my college mentor whose memorial service I’ll be attending tomorrow.  Mrs. W loved hummingbirds!

    May 28, 2014   (Wednesday, 10:26 a.m)

    Morning Lesson

    I pause on the boardwalk

    fiddle with my camera

    try to zoom in

    on white blossoms

    doused with morning dew

    when she appears–

    Hummingbird!

    Alive with flutter!

    Deep with color!

    Pink!  I mean, PINK!

    Calm.

    Then–

    gone.

    Too quick for my camera.

    But not for my soul.

    I dance out my thank you

    then slip the camera

    into its case…

    where it belongs.

    kjb

  • Doing about racial reconciliation…
    06.26.15

    Like everyone else in the country, I was stunned by the shooting at Mother Emanuel AME Church in Charleston last week.  Having grown up in the South, race relations always have been front and center in my thinking and feeling.  Serving as a pastor in the United Church of Christ, I also am firmly committed to working for justice.

    I confess that with events in Ferguson last year, and Baltimore this year, I’ve felt paralyzed.  The problems seem so big; I feel so small.  Wanting desperately to do something, I’ve done very little.  Nothing, really.  Oh, I’ve felt plenty guilty, but not enough to take action.

    Then–last week’s massacre of nine people attending Bible study at their church….

    My complacency evaporated and I looked for something to do.  When the call came on Friday to attend a meeting in preparation for an interfaith, interracial prayer service in Atlanta, I hopped in the car and went.  I spoke at the press conference held after the meeting.  I went back to Atlanta the next day for the prayer service at Peachtree Christian Church.  Sunday at Pilgrimage, we prayed for the people affected by the shooting and for guidance in how we might work to heal the racial divide in our country.

    Then last night, I attended a prayer service at Bethel AME Church in Acworth.  I had met Pastor Leela Waller at the prayer service in Atlanta.  I had thought perhaps her church and ours could begin partnering, get to know each other, build a bridge between a predominantly African American congregation and a white congregation.

    The service was led by Freedom Church in Acworth.  It was that congregation’s gift to the Bethel AME congregation to let them know they are supporting them…and will continue to do so.

    Here’s the thing….last night’s service happened because the two congregations already had a relationship.  As soon as he learned about the shooting, the pastor of Freedom Church–who was on vacation–called the pastor of Bethel AME because they already were friends.  They didn’t get together simply because of the shooting.  They got together because the shooting affected people they already loved.

    I left the service convicted…and convinced that the only way to work toward racial reconciliation is to BEGIN working toward racial reconciliation.  And the best way to begin working toward racial reconciliation is to build and strengthen relationships with people of other races.  As long as those who are different from us remain “them,” the task always will feel daunting.  But when “they” become “our friends,” then we’ll know exactly what to do.

    After church on Sunday, a white congregant told me that one of their children had adopted an African American child.  This person said, “I used to say, ‘Oh, look what’s happening to those people.’  Now I say, ‘Oh, look what’s happening to US.'”  When we make friends, when we work hard at building relationships, then when tragedy strikes, we realize it’s happening to all of us.  And if it’s happening to US, we will know what to do…and do it.

  • Barbara Kingsolver on Community
    06.19.15

    Got this quote from a church member’s Chipotle cup:

    “The ancient human social construct that once was common in this land was called community.  We lived among our villagers, depending on them for what we needed.  If we had a problem, we did not discuss it over the phone with someone in Mumbai.  We went to a neighbor.  We acquired food from farmers.  We listened to music in groups, in churches or on front porches.  We danced.  We participated.  Even when there was no money in it.  Community is our native state.  You play hardest for a hometown crowd.  You become your best self.  You know joy.  This is not a guess; there is evidence.  The scholars who study social well-being can put it on charts and graphs.  In the last 30 years our material wealth has increased in this country, but our self-described happiness has steadily declined.  Elsewhere, the people who consider themselves very happy are not in the very poorest nations, as you might guess, nor in the very richest.  The winners are Mexico, Ireland, Puerto Rico–the kinds of places we identify with extended family, noisy villages, a lot of dancing.  The happiest people are the ones with the most community.”

    Amen, Barbara!

  • Vanier Reflections, Community and Growth, ch.1
    06.06.15

    Three ideas from the first section of Community and Growth:  “Community as belonging”  (13-18)

    (1)  To be human is to long for community.  Our longing for community begins in utero.  The minute we are born, we long for and seek the connection we had with our mothers in the womb.  The family is the first community of which we are a part.  As children, if we feel that we belong to that first community, we will be well-positioned to be part of other communities.  If we don’t feel part of that first family community, the yearning for community/belonging doesn’t go away, it simply gets buried.

    (2)  The individualism and competitiveness of Western culture is a significant challenge to building community.  Vanier tells this story.  “Rene Lenoir, in Les Exclus, says that if a prize is offered for the first to answer a question in a group of Canadian Indian children, they all work out the answer together and shout it out at the same time.  They couldn’t bear one to win, leaving the rest as losers.  The winner would be separated from his brothers and sisters, he would have won the prize but lost community,” (16).  Seems impossible to imagine, doesn’t it?

    (3)  Belonging to a community is the foundation of doing good in the world.  Of one’s community, one’s “people,” Vanier writes:  “It means that they are mine as I am theirs.  There is a solidarity between us.  What touches them, touches me.  And when I say ‘my people,’ I don’t imply that there are others I reject.  My people is my community, made up of those who know me and carry me.  They are a springboard towards all humanity.  I cannot be a universal brother or sister unless I first love my people,” (17).

  • Community and Growth: Intro
    05.30.15

    Each summer at Pilgrimage (the church I serve), we explore a theme.  This year’s theme is “Growing Deeper into Community.”  We’ve explored the theme of community before, but this time around we’ll go deeper.  We’ll look at how to become more deeply committed to providing comfort to its members and to reaching out to share God’s love with those outside the community.

    As I reflect on leading congregants in growing deeper in community, I’ll be reading and blogging about Jean Vanier’s book, Community and Growth.  In 1964, with Fr. Thomas Philippe, Vanier started an intentional community where intellectually disabled adults and persons with able bodies and minds would live together.  They named the community l’Arche, The Ark.  There now are L’Arche communities around the globe.

    I’m reading the revised edition of Community and Growth, which was published in 1989.  Far from being dated, everything I’ve read thus far describes very much what I see and sense from church members and others today about the desire to feel connected to a community.

    In the Introduction, Vanier writes:  “Today…people are crying out for authentic communities where they can share their lives with others in a common vision, where they can find support and mutual encouragement, where they can give witness to their beliefs and work for greater peace and justice in the world–even if they are also frightened of the demands of community” (3).

    People long for the kind of community Vanier describes, but I find increasingly that most folks don’t really know how to create or even participate in the kind of community for which they long.  Vanier:  “Most people seem to believe that creating community is a matter of simply gathering together under the same roof a few people who get on reasonably well together or who are committed to the same ideal.  The result can be disastrous!  Community life isn’t simply created by either spontaneity or laws.  Some precise conditions have to be met if this life is to deepen and grow through all the crises, tensions and ‘good times.’”  Community and Growth invites reflection on some of those conditions.

    If you long to grow deeper into one of the communities of which you are part, I invite you to join me in reflecting on Vanier’s book.  If you choose to read the book, as well–all the better!

    ALSO:  This week on On Being, Krista Tippett will interview Jean Vanier.  Here’s a link to the interview:  http://www.onbeing.org/program/wisdom-tenderness/234#.VWhez2fJA5t  To learn more about Jean’s important work, visit his website:  http://www.jean-vanier.org/en/home

  • Blessing Miller (on the day he wasn’t confirmed) May 17, 2015
    05.24.15

    Last Sunday, we confirmed two teenagers.  A third teen went through the nine-month Confirmation process…and chose not to be confirmed.  Here’s the blessing we offered Miller.

    Blessing for Miller (on the day he wasn’t confirmed)

    Here at Pilgrimage, we say “No matter who you are, no matter where you are on life’s journey, you are welcome here.”  We take that statement seriously…especially during Confirmation.

    Miller has completed Confirmation—and is choosing not to be confirmed.  His reasons for his decision are his own; we don’t need to know them.  All we need to know is that Miller has reached his decision after careful thought…

    …which is what Confirmation is all about—it’s about confirming the faith our parents and community have chosen for us.  If we take the Confirmation process seriously, choosing not to be confirmed must be a real option.  In taking that option today, Miller is demonstrating the radical integrity of the Confirmation process here at Pilgrimage.

    And so, Miller, we honor you and the decision you’re making today.  We know it has come after careful thought and serious study.  Here’s what we want you to know:  this decision changes nothing about how we feel about you.  We love you.  We hope for your wholeness.  We care about what you choose to do with your life.

    And if at any point in the future you decide to be confirmed, we’ll be happy to do that, too.  If you never choose to be confirmed, that’s fine, too.  We’re still going to love you, like, forever!

    So, Miller:  Be blessed on your spiritual journey… wherever it might lead.  And know that wherever it does lead, our prayers and love go with you.

  • Prayer for the Wholeness of All Families (4/26/15)
    05.15.15

    Holy One,

    We begin life connected—connected to the woman whose body nurtures us, whose heart teaches ours to beat, whose every breath triggers the chemical reactions that spur on the miracle of our human becoming.  From our births we know we need other people to survive.

    Sensing the necessity of others for our existence–that without you, I cannot be—our earliest ancestors created families.  From the beginning, those families have come in an intriguing array of shapes and sizes.  The Hebrew and Christian Scriptures offer a sampling:

    Hagar and Ishmael, Moses and Pharaoh’s daughter, Naomi and Ruth, David and Jonathan, Mary, Joseph, Jesus, and his siblings, Timothy, Eunice, and Lois.

    The ancestors who gave us these stories must have known we’d need them, that we’d need to see that family is a holy thing, no matter who’s a part of it.

    Though families are sacred communities, they also are composed of human beings, which means — they are flawed.  Sometimes families nurture; sometimes they wound.  And so, our first prayer today is for the wholeness of all families, no matter their shape, size, or make-up.

    Our prayer is this:  May all families love each other a little better today, feel a little less stressed today, have a little more fun today, draw a little closer together today.  And may every single family become holy, healthy, healing, and whole.  Amen.

    (My offering at the Cobb County Interfaith Prayer Vigil for Marriage Equality held at Unity North, Marietta, GA, on April 26, 2015.)

  • Precious
    04.10.15

    The waitress who served Mom and me at her favorite diner is named Sunday (long “a”).  Curious, I asked how she got the name.  She told me her grandmother had named her…and until years later, she hated the name.  “I grew up in the 70s.  Can you imagine?  Kids were ruthless.”  When she was old enough, she started going by her middle name–Denise.  She said that name kept her out of the principal’s office.

    When Sunday’s grandmother was dying, Sunday spent some time with her.  Finally, she asked her:  “Why did you name me Sunday?”  Her grandmother’s response:  “As Sunday is holy to God, so are you holy to me.”  Sunday teared up.  “Since that moment, I have loved my name.  I’ve done some hard living in my life, but now I know I’m loved.”

    As a pastor, I’ve talked with many, many people who do not feel loved–by God or anyone else.  Not believing they are loved often has dire consequences in people’s lives.  If only people–every person in the world–knew they were loved?  The world would be a happier, healthier, much more whole place.  If I had only one prayer to pray, it would be this:  that all people would know they are loved by God.

    After talking with Sunday, I wrote this song, “Precious.”  I dedicate to Leelah Alcorn and to everyone who longs to feel accepted and loved for who they were created by God to be.

    Precious, precious, you are precious in God’s eyes,
    You are precious, in God’s heart.
    Precious, precious, you are precious in God’s eyes,
    You are precious, in God’s heart.
    She had a hard life, which led to hard living.
    She tried to lose herself in sleeping around and drinking.
    The emptiness inside made her feel like she had died.
    She did not know how precious she was.
    Precious, precious, she was precious in God’s eyes,
    She was precious, in God’s heart.
    Precious, precious, she was precious in God’s eyes,
    She was precious, in God’s heart.
    He knew from early on he was not like everyone else.
    Trying to be like them, he learned to hate himself.
    That hatred grew so wide, he took some pills and died.
    He did not know how precious he was.
    Precious, precious, he was precious in God’s eyes,
    He was precious, in God’s heart.
    Precious, precious, he was precious in God’s eyes,
    He was precious, in God’s heart.
    In the image of God we have been formed.
    God loves us, as we were born.
    We are fearfully and wonderfully made.
    If we just believed it, if we just believed it,
    If we just believed it, we might be saved.
    Precious, precious, you are precious in God’s eyes,
    You are precious, in God’s heart.
    Precious, precious, you are precious in God’s eyes,
    You are precious, in God’s heart.
    Kim Buchanan  (c) 2014

  • Maundy Thursday: “Go to Dark Gethsemane”
    04.07.15

    Maundy Thursday meditation….

    https://reallifepastor.wordpress.com/2015/04/02/maundy-thursday-go-to-dark-gethsemane/

  • Holy Week Wednesday: “Communion Medley”
    04.02.15

    In preparation for Maundy Thursday tomorrow, 3 communion songs–today’s Music for Meditation.

     

    https://reallifepastor.wordpress.com/2015/04/01/holy-week-wednesday-communion-medley/

  • Holy Week Tuesday: “O Love That Will Not Let Me Go”
    04.01.15

    Sunday while introducing the Offering, I surprised myself by calling the Passion narrative a love story.  Then I remembered a statement someone made in a prayer group the week before:  “It’s not so much that God loved the world and gave Jesus; it’s that Jesus loved the world and chose to give his life.”  Yeah.  The story we relate this week…it IS a love story.

    This recording of “O Love That Will Not Let Me Go” is from worship at Pilgrimage UCC on March 22.

     

    https://reallifepastor.wordpress.com/2015/03/31/holy-week-tuesday-o-love-that-will-not-let-me-go/

  • Sermon: The Ten Covenants (Lent 3, 3/8/15)
    03.09.15

    Exodus 20:1-17

    In seventh grade Social Studies class in my hometown in Florida, our assignment was to write a report on one of the 50 states.  I chose Alabama.  I’d been born there.  My dad still lived there. I felt connected to “The Cotton State” and was glad to write a report on it…

    …until Mr. Maple, my teacher, said, “I’ve never had any use for the state of Alabama.”  I couldn’t believe my ears.  How could he reject the state in which I was born???

    Fast forward to 2003.  That’s when “Roy Moore, Chief Justice of the Alabama Supreme Court, refused to remove a monument of the Ten Commandments (which he had commissioned) from the Alabama Judicial Building despite orders to do so from a federal judge.  On November 13, 2003, the Alabama Court of the Judiciary unanimously removed Moore from his post as Chief Justice” (Wikipedia).  Remember that?

    I don’t know about you, but that was one of those times I was embarrassed to be associated with other Christians.  I thought I was having a flashback a couple of weeks ago when Moore– who in 2012 was again elected Chief Justice of Alabama’s Supreme Court–encouraged probate judges in Alabama to defy a federal decision to lift the ban on gay marriage in the state.

    Though I still love my native state, I’m beginning to understand Mr. Maple’s summary dismissal of Alabama.   (In contrast, this week probate judges in Georgia began adjusting the language on marriage documents in advance of the change that is sure to come to Georgia law.)

    Do you ever feel like you have more in common with people of other faiths than you do with fellow Christians?  I sure do…and not just the ones in Alabama.  Every time I hear someone reject the church because of what particular Christians say or do, it makes me sad.  I’m reminded of what Mahatma Gandhi once said: “I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.”  Sometimes, I’m not so fond of Christians either.

    What do we do with Christians who live the faith so differently from the way we live it?  Ironically, I think we can find help in the Ten Commandments…not only in their content, but in the very fact of their existence.

    A couple of weeks ago when we looked at the flood story, we heard from a character in a novel who said: “Give people a system of justice…and they will not become depraved.”  That’s exactly what happens in the story we’re hearing today.  In the stories of Noah and Abraham, God makes covenant with human beings.  In the Ten Commandments, God gives people the means of knowing how to keep covenant with God.

    That was huge in ancient Israel’s time.  Most people in the ancient world didn’t have a clue what their gods expected.  The gods’ actions were so arbitrary that trying to please them was little more than guesswork. Israel’s covenant with God—this idea that deity and people were in mutual, if not equal, relationship—was a significant theological innovation for that time. Now faithfulness to God wasn’t guesswork; it literally was written in stone.

    So, the fact of the commandments—the fact that they had them—was a big deal. But what about their content? What must we do in order to stay faithful to our covenant with God?

    One version of the Commandments is included on the cover of your bulletin.  Someone read the first three.  (Read)

    • Thou shalt have no other gods before me.
    • Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven images.
    • Thou shall not take the name of the LORD thy God in vain.

     

    What are those commandments about?  They’re about our relationship with God.  It’s like a marriage.  If we’re really going to commit ourselves to our spouse, we can’t go off galavanting with other people.  The same is true with God.  If we want to commit ourselves to God, we can’t go off galavanting with other gods.

    Somebody read the next one. (Read)  Remember the sabbath day to keep it holy. Sabbath.  Rest.   Essentially, remember who you are.

    Someone read the rest of them. (Read)

    Honor thy father and thy mother.

    Thou shalt not kill.

    Thou shalt not commit adultery.

    Though shalt not steal.

    Thou shalt not bear false witness.

    Thou shalt not covet.

    What are these last commandments about?  They’re about our relationships with other people—Honor the ‘rents. Don’t kill, commit adultery, steal, lie, or covet.

    To sum up the Ten Commandments—The first three are about remembering and respecting God. The one about Sabbath is about remembering and respecting ourselves. The rest of them are about remembering and respecting other people. Several years ago a UCC new church start in Atlanta called itself “God, Self, and Neighbor.”  Their name said it all.  So did Jesus. When asked to name the greatest commandment, he replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, and mind.’  This is the first and greatest commandment.  The second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’  All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

    So, though the Ten Commandments might seem a little constrictive at first–especially when we see them written in stone–they actually were quite innovative for the time in which our ancestors in faith dreamed up this story.  That God would seek to be in mutual relationship with people?  And would offer guidelines for how to remain faithful in our relationship with God?  A faithfulness that hinges on how we treat others? Huge!

    All that sounds good, but it doesn’t explain how people of Christian faith can understand things so differently. Some of us–as we’re doing today–read the Ten Commandments metaphorically.  We find in them assurance of God’s love for us and God’s covenant always to be our God–to the thousandth generation.  At the same time, other Christians recreate the Ten Commandments in stone or wood and impose them on everyone else.  What does the thoughtful Christian do with these differences?

    Yesterday was the 50th anniversary of Bloody Sunday. The Civil Rights Act had been signed into law in 1964, but voting rights were not part of that law. Many southern states were still making it difficult—in some cases, impossible—for African Americans to register to vote. The people of Selma, Alabama, weary of having their attempts to register to vote constantly rebuffed, organized a march from Selma to Montgomery, the state’s capital.

    The marchers lined up in twos at Brown Chapel AME Church and began the journey out of town. John Lewis and Hosea Williams led the way. As they crossed the Edmund Pettus Bridge, the marchers were met by law officers bearing clubs and tear gas. You perhaps have seen pictures of John Lewis (now a U.S. representative from Georgia) wearing a light-colored rain coat, with a back pack slung over his shoulder. Assuming he’d be jailed, Lewis had packed some books, a toothbrush, an apple and an orange—things he thought he’d need for a stay in jail.

    As it turned out, jailing the marchers wasn’t what the lawmen had in mind. As Lewis, Williams and the others knelt to pray, the troopers advanced on them, beating them with the clubs and shooting canisters of tear gas into the crowd.

    Here’s the thing that’s so hard to understand—nearly everyone present on the Edmund Pettus Bridge that day would have called himself or herself a faithful Christian. And yet, their actions were different as night and day.

    I’m guessing the Christians most of us would have identified with that afternoon on the Edmund Pettus Bridge would have been the marchers.  Jesus’ admonition to love God and neighbor is pretty clear, right?

    But what do we do with people of our own Christian faith who—in our estimation—pervert the Gospel message of God’s love for every person?  What do we do with our brothers and sisters in Christ who seem to hope for something other than the wholeness of others?

    In truth, I don’t know.  I’ve been trying to figure it out since I was a teenager, called to pastor and unable to hear that call because my church told me women couldn’t be pastors.

    So, I can’t say with certainty what to do with fellow Christians who don’t seem—to us—to follow Christ…but I’ll tell you what I do—and I don’t know if this is right or wrong—but I ignore them.  I ignore those who understand the Christian faith differently from the way I understand it, because to engage them in debate is a losing cause.  Believe me.  I’ve tried.

    Engaging those who live the Christian faith so differently from the way we live it takes time and energy away from actually living our faith.  We can spend our lives debating Christians who understand the Gospel differently from us…or we can spend it doing what we believe we, as Christians, are called to do—love God with all our hearts, minds, and souls, and love our neighbors as ourselves.  We can spend our time opposing those who we think have it wrong, or we can spend our time doing what we think is right—acting others into well-being in God’s name.   It’s true that fellow Christians also are our neighbors; we are called to love them, too.  But, as John Wesley once said:  “We need not think alike to love alike.”

    If, like me, you have to work at loving Christians who think differently from you, I invite you to sing with me now.  May we too, someday, be known only by our love.

    We are one in the Spirit, we are one in the Lord, And we pray that all unity may one day be restored.

    And they’ll know we are Christians by our love, by our love, Yes, they’ll know we are Christians by our love.

    We will walk with each other, we will walk hand in hand, And together we’ll spread the news that God is in our land

    We will work with each other, we will work side by side, And we’ll guard each one’s dignity and save each one’s pride.

    All praise to our Creator, from whom all things come, And all praise to Christ Jesus, in whom love was begun, And all praise to the Spirit, whose love makes us one.

  • Communion: 3/1/15
    03.02.15

    As we gather at table today, I invite us to remember these words of Archbishop Desmond Tutu:

    “We must not make the mistake of judging other faiths by their least attractive features or adherents.”  “We should want to deal with other faiths at their best and highest, as they define themselves, and not shoot down the caricatures that we want to put up.”  (16, in God Is Not a Christian and Other Provocations)

    If we had enough letters and enough space, that’s a message I’d love to see on our sign.  Among some people, there is little interest these days in learning the tenets of other faiths “at their best and highest”….especially the Islamic faith.

    How much do you know about Islam?  How much time have you spent studying the faith?  How much time have you spent with faithful Muslims learning from them what their faith means to them?  If you’re like me, not much.

    Today, as a way of standing in solidarity with people of the Islamic faith, we’re using pita for communion.  The ritual is our regular Christian ritual of communion.  But within the context of this sacrament of our Christian faith, the invitation is to remember our Muslim brothers and sisters, especially those who are bearing the brunt of Islamophobia… because God loves all God’s children.  God hopes for the wholeness of us ALL.

    On the night of Jesus’ betrayal, he and his friends shared a sacrament of their Jewish faith—the seder meal.  While they were eating, Jesus lifted a piece of unleavened bread—a reminder to those gathered of the haste with which their ancestors had to flee religious persecution.  Jesus said, “This is my body.  Broken for you.  Eat this and remember me.”

    In the same way, he also took the cup.  He raised it…and blessed it… and spoke to those covenant people about a new covenant.  “Drink from this, all of you.  For this is my blood of the new covenant which is given for many.  I tell you I will never again drink of this fruit of the vine until I drink it new with you in God’s kin-dom.”

    Let us pray.

    Gracious God, we thank you for this sacrament—a sacrament with origins in the faith of our Jewish cousins.  We also are grateful for our brothers and sisters of others faiths.  Today, as we eat and drink, we remember our brothers and sisters of the Islamic faith.  As Jesus’ disciples ate in solidarity with one who was about to suffer religious persecution, today we eat and drink in solidarity with all who suffer religious intolerance and persecution.  Meet us in the bread and juice.  Help us stay open to learning whatever you’re trying to teach us through this sacrament today.  Amen.

    (Sharing the elements.)

    Let us pray.  Holy One, thank you for meeting us in the bread, in the juice, in the fellowship of this table today.  As we leave this place—strengthened by this holy meal—help us to imagine new ways to act into well-being your children in other faiths.  In Jesus’ name we pray, Amen.

  • Sermon: “Rainbow Connection” (Lent 1, 2/22/15)
    02.23.15

    God said to Noah, There’s gonna be a floody, floody…  the animals going into the ark by twosies, twosies and coming out by threesies, threesies… The rainbow in the sky.  God’s promise never to destroy the earth again.  It’s a familiar story, one just about everyone knows.

    Do you ever wonder what was going on behind the scenes, below the deck?  What was it like to live on a boat in the rain with animals and odors and in-laws?  What was it like to be cooped up in a big wooden box for 6 months?  In short, what was it like to be Mrs. Noah?

    Mrs. Noah Speaking: I suppose under the circumstances there’s really no point in complaining but really! Noah and I had just got accustomed to living alone and having some peace and quiet and fixing up the house the way we wanted it at last.

    I brought up three boys, wiped their runny noses, changed their messy diapers, washed, sewed, cooked, saw to it that they had the proper advantages.  We got them safely married (though if I didn’t know it before I know it now; their wives leave a great deal to be desired).  We liked having them come to visit us on the proper holidays, bringing the babies, taking enough food home to feed them for a week, and Noah and I could go to bed in peace.

    And now look what has happened!  Sometimes I think it would have been simpler to have drowned with everybody else- at least their troubles are over.  And here we are jammed in this Ark – why didn’t the Lord give Noah enough time to build a big enough ark if He wanted him to build one at all?  The animals take up almost all the room and Noah and I are crowded together with Shem, Ham and Japheth, their slovenly wives and noisy children, and nowhere to go for a moment’s peace.

    Noah, of course, has hidden several elephant’s skins of wine somewhere, and when the rain and noise and confusion get too bad he goes down to the dirty hold with the beasts and gets drunk, sleeps it off on the dirty straw, and then comes up to bed smelling of armadillo dung and platypus pee.  

    Not that I blame him . . . It’s my daughters-in-law who get me.  They insist on changing the beds every time I turn around.  They won’t use a towel more than once, and they’re always getting dressed up and throwing their dirty linen at me to wash, the washing is easy enough – we’ve plenty of water – But how do they expect me to get anything dry in all this rain?  I don’t mind doing the cooking, but they’re always coming out to the kitchen to fix little snacks with the excuse that it will help me: “You’re so good to us, Mother Noah, we’ll just do this for you,” and they never put anything away where it belongs.

    They’ve lost one of my measuring cups and they never clean the stove and they’ve broken half of the best china that came down to us from Grandfather Seth. When the babies squall in the night, who gets up with them?  Not my daughters-in-law.  “Oh, Mother Noah’ll do it. She loves the babies so.”  Ham’s wife is always stirring up quarrels, playing people off against each other.  Shem’s wife who never does anything for anybody, manages to make me feel lazy and mean if I ask her to dry one dish.  Japheth’s wife is eyeing Shem and Ham; she’ll cause trouble; mark my words.

    Today that silly dove Noah is so fond of came back with an olive twig on his beak. Maybe there’s hope that we’ll get out of this Ark after all.

    We’ve landed! At last! Now we can get back to normal and have some peace and quiet and if I put something where it belongs it will stay there and I can clean up this mess and get some sleep at night and –  Noah! Noah! I miss the children!  (by Madeleine L’Engle)

    Noah’s Ark.  A nice story…until you consider the details.  A boat packed with animals of every ilk makes for great artwork…but in reality, it makes for great work.  Eight family members on a small boat with animals sounds cozy…but the reality?  Not so much.

    And what about the people who didn’t make it onto the boat, the ones who died in the flood?  Despite what the song said, everything did not turn out hunky dory for everyone in the story.  How could a loving God destroy everyone on earth except one family?  That’s where the details of this story get uncomfortable.  It’s the part of the story a recent novel addresses.

    Re Jana, the daughter of the construction foreman hired to oversee the building of the ark, narrates In the Shadow of the Ark.  At several points, her father quarrels with Noah about the goodness of a God who would kill nearly the whole human race.  “How should I imagine this Unnameable god of yours?” he says at one point.  “Like an eternally raging hurricane?  But who can possibly stay angry for the length of time this plan is taking?”

    “He is disappointed rather than angry,” [Noah] says.

    “If disappointment drives him, he must make clear what he expects…there should be no doubt about what his wishes are.  Only then can he justify punishment.”

    “Many things are so obvious they do not need rules.”

    “Those with that sort of understanding are rare.  Many live in ignorance.  And what is learned now will soon be forgotten again.  What makes you confident your god will not do the same thing all over again in 500 years, to your children and your children’s children?  That he will not destroy your cities again and will not butcher your descendants?”

    [Noah] says: “The Unnameable does not bear malice. He has only become tired of human kind. I have long discussions with Him, and I assure you, He does not act rashly. His spirit will not quarrel with us for eternity. Believe me, after this, there will be clear rules, commandments, and prohibitions that are so plain they will not need explanations.”

    The foreman shakes his head.  “I do not ask for rules.  I ask for judgment, the understanding that makes it possible to deviate from the rules if the need arises.”

    “That understanding too will come. With the passing of time. And with (hu)mankind’s maturing.”

    “Is this then the time of beginning, the time of mistakes and trials?  To me it sounds more like the end time.  It seems to me that soon everything will be finished.”

    “Let us say that a new time is coming.”

    “A new time for whom?  For a handful of candidates?  That is reprehensible.”

    “It is the crime that is reprehensible, not the punishment.”

    “How can there be a question of crime for a people that does not have a system of justice?”  “Give this people a system of justice…and they would not become depraved.  No god would find it necessary to destroy them…. Talk your god around, appeal to his reason… Or is the Unnameable destroying us for your benefit?  So that you will be able to live in a better world?”   (Provoost, Anne.  In the Shadow of the Ark.  New York: Berkley Books, 2001 [translation, 2004], 218-19)

    Hard questions…and, no doubt, questions many of us have asked of this story.  What are thoughtful people of faith, those who believe in a loving God, to make of such a story?

    The first thing we do is read the story of Noah’s Ark as just that—a story.  Throughout history, people have used stories to help make sense of things that happen to them…things like massive floods.  The geologic record reveals many floods in antiquity.  Every culture that experienced a flood made up a story about it.  Why?  To have some control over it, right?  If we know what caused the flood, we can prevent the next one.

    Our Judeo-Christian flood myth is no different.  Like other flood stories, the story of Noah’s Ark helped our ancestors to explain what was happening.  It gave them a feeling of control over a completely out-of-control event.  By calling the flood God’s punishment for their “wickedness,” they could avoid another flood by becoming more righteous.

    The place where our story diverges from other flood myths is at the point of the rainbow.  Listen:  9“I am establishing my covenant with you and your descendants after you, 10and with every living creature that is with you, the birds, the domestic animals, and every animal of the earth with you, as many as came out of the ark. 11I establish my covenant with you, that never again shall all flesh be cut off by the waters of a flood, and never again shall there be a flood to destroy the earth.”

    The sign of the covenant is a “bow set in the sky,” which could be something like a constellation, but I like the traditional interpretation of a rainbow…because rainbows contain every color that exists.  Anything we see, the hue of any flower, the pigment of any person’s skin, the shade of any creature on earth—any color that exists is in the rainbow… which makes it the perfect symbol of the covenant God makes with Noah after the flood.  With the rainbow, God is saying, “My love and care extend to every living thing.”

    …which begs the question:  If God’s protection and love are for everyone, shouldn’t ours be also?  I’m sure we all would answer yes to that question.  If such a flood threatened today, would we build an ark just for members of our own family or faith family?  No.  We wouldn’t think of it.  We’d agree with Re Jana, who said:  “To save (hu)mankind, you need a fleet, not a single vessel.  What sort of god carries all his eggs in one basket?”  (293)

    Our ancestors in faith understood the first flood to be the judgment of an angry God. But based on how they ended the story—by expressing concern and love for all creatures and people—maybe they learned a little from retelling the story over the centuries.  Maybe they learned that judgment now rests, not in God’s hands, but  in ours.  Will we hire people to build the boat then close the door on them when the rains begin?

    Or will we build a fleet?  Will we crowd all the animals and one very human family into a tiny boat?  Or will we build enough boats for all the construction workers and their families?  I’m pretty sure that today, we’d build a fleet…enough boats for everyone, enough vessels to save everyone.

    And, because she liked it so well, we’d build one tiny boat for Mrs. Noah, her husband, her children…and the platypus.

    In the name of our God, who creates us, redeems us, sustains us, and hopes for our wholeness.  Amen.

    Kimberleigh Buchanan  ©  2012

  • Loving Every Living Thing
    02.21.15

    by reallifepastor

    I don’t get ISIS.  At all.  I can’t comprehend such disregard for the dignity of human life.  I can’t imagine the devastating impact on the victims of the atrocities ISIS is committing.  I don’t want to live in a world where people can do such horrific things to each other.

    But that’s not something I get to choose. We do live in a world where people are tortured and killed, where girls are kidnapped from schools and forced into marriage or prostitution, where young people are radicalized and turned into killing machines.

    What is a person of faith to do?

    Yesterday, I listened in on a Carter Center webinar conversation addressing women’s rights. One of the women, Sanam Naraghi-Anderlini, an international worker, said that, as an international community, we must learn to recognize and honor humanity’s rich diversity, we must learn to honor the dignity of every human being.

    That’s the message of this week’s story from Genesis about the (rain)bow God places in the sky after Noah’s ark lands on Mt. Ararat. “When the bow is in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh that is on the earth,” God says in 9:16. God’s love and protection extend to all living creatures.

    The atrocities happening around the globe are overwhelming. This seems so small, so simple…but perhaps the best thing I, as an individual, can do is to love all living things I encounter today with the same fierceness that God loves them. If I do that, and if you do that, and if a few other people do that, perhaps, just maybe, we’ll begin to make a difference.

  • Sermon: “The Whole City Was around the Door…” (Epiphany 5, B) 2/8/14
    02.19.15

    Previously on “As the Gospel Turns,” Jesus was baptized by John, battled his demons in the wilderness, called some disciples, went to the synagogue to teach, and, while there, healed a demon-possessed man.  Not a bad showing for a newly-minted Messiah.

    Having put in a full day’s work, Jesus and his new “peeps”—the brothers, Simon and Andrew, and the other brothers, James and John — head over to Simon and Andrew’s house for some of that falafel Simon’s mother-in-law is so famous for…except that, when they get to the house, Simon’s mother-in-law is sick in bed with a fever.  All of Simon’s relatives–perhaps some of them had been at synagogue that day and had seen Jesus heal that demon-possessed man–tell Jesus about the illness.  Jesus heals the ailing woman and she begins serving them.

    Then, that evening at sundown, Mark says “they brought to him all who were sick or possessed with demons.  And the whole city was gathered around the door.”  The whole city was gathered around the door!  Can you imagine?  Now, 1st century Capernaum wasn’t a city like Atlanta is a city.  I doubt there were 6 million people gathered around Simon’s door…but at the end of a long day, it might have felt like 6 million.

    “The whole city was gathered around the door…” Take a minute to picture that…. They’re trying to have a little supper that Simon’s mom-in-law has joyfully created when they hear murmuring outside the door.  Simon goes to investigate (he’s always first) and discovers a large crowd–people with bent bodies, people walking around talking to themselves (remember, this was before cell phones), people with dead expressions on their faces, people with emaciated bodies, holding out crude cups for a contribution.

    The whole city gathered around the door, because they needed healing.  Because they’d heard that Jesus could heal people.  Because they were desperate to be made whole.

    Do you ever feel like the whole city–or the whole world–is gathered around your door?  Of course, with the internet, we’re able to bring the needs of the world inside, past the door and into our home.  Do you ever get overwhelmed?  Does it ever feel like there is SO MUCH to be done in the world, so many people who need helping, so many people who need healing—the impoverished, those suffering from AIDS and ebola, victims of human trafficking, bullying, racism, discrimination in all its forms, women across the globe whose personhood constantly is denied…   Do you ever feel helpless in the face of so much need?

    Mark doesn’t tell us how Jesus felt when he learned about all those people at the front door.  Mark only tells us that Jesus healed them.  He healed their bodies.  He healed their minds.  He healed their spirits.  The people needed help; they needed healing.  Jesus gave it to him.

    How many of you have helped with Family Promise this week?  Based on what I’m hearing, it’s been a good experience, not just for the families, but for the volunteers.  It feels good to help others, doesn’t it?  Oh, sure…when we let ourselves think about all the other homeless families in Cobb County who aren’t in Family Promise, we can get overwhelmed…but helping the families who are in it right now?  It just feels good to do something, doesn’t it?

    So why not do it all the time?  Why not host every week?  Oh, wouldn’t Camilla be grateful!  Wouldn’t those families!  Just think how many more families we could help if each congregation hosted families every week of the year!  So, why not host all the time?  (Responses)

    One of the brilliant aspects of Family Promise is the tiny level of commitment it involves.  To participate, all you need to do is a cook one meal, or spend a couple hours setting up, or stay over one night.  With everyone working together, the workload isn’t overwhelming.  And hosting only four weeks a year helps us use our resources wisely.

    If we opened a shelter for homeless families… I guess we could do that….but if we did, we would seriously have to reconsider our mission… because, currently, our mission is to be a church, not a homeless shelter.  “We seek to grow in worship, serving, and learning, as a faithful people of God, bringing hope, comfort and friendship to all, welcoming everyone in Christ.”  If we focused only on serving, we’d be doing a good thing, but we wouldn’t be fulfilling our stated mission.  I’m also guessing we’d get tired.  We’d burn out.  After a while, we’d probably close the shelter down because we were just too tired to keep it going.

    Jesus sees the needs of all those people at the door and he heals them…then the next morning–while it’s still dark–he goes out to a secluded place to pray.  Alone.  Perhaps he learned this during his 40 days in the wilderness—that the best thing to help you keep going in the work of acting the world into well-being, is to step away from it on occasion.  To stop.  And breathe.  And pray.

    Several years back, Rev. Nancy Sehested preached here.  At the time, she served as Chaplain at a men’s maximum security prison in North Carolina.  At lunch the day she preached, I asked her how she could do what needed to be done day after day.  Her response?  “I have to begin each day with prayer.  If I don’t pray, I can’t make it.”

    Jesus, too, knew that he wouldn’t make it without prayer.  He could see all the needs that cried out for his healing touch, but he knew he’d have no hope of meeting the needs of others if he didn’t take some time to tend to his own.

    In a movie called Short Term 12, the title refers to a group home for children and teenagers who’ve been abused. Grace is one of the social workers who works with the kids in the home…and she works wonders with them. When they need boundaries set, she sets them. When the flashbacks come, she sits with the kids and comforts them. When they get discouraged, she en-courages them.

    When a teenage girl is admitted to the home, Grace works her usual magic. She respects the girl’s defensiveness. She sets the appropriate boundaries. She removes all the sharp objects from Jayden’s room so that the girl won’t start cutting herself again. She listens when Jayden’s defenses finally begin to come down and the girl starts talking.

    But even as she’s doing good work with the girl, Grace spirals down into confusion, desperation. Her behavior becomes erratic. She accepts her boyfriend’s proposal of marriage, then reneges. She goes to visit Jayden’s house with a baseball bat intending to hurt Jayden’s abusive father. Instead, she bashes out the windows of his car.

    Back at Short Term 12, Jayden begins cutting again. Grace takes her into the cool-down room to keep her safe. While they’re in the room, Grace shows Jayden her own cutting scars. It’s the first time she tells anyone about the abuse she suffered from her father.

    That’s the point at which Grace knows she has to get help for her own wounds. She was able to help others for a time, and did so with great skill and compassion….but neglecting her own need for healing and renewal, she was only able to go so far. Without getting help for her own wounds, without taking time to care for her own spirit, she would have been able to help no one. In fact, she’d already begun making poor choices because the pain and exhaustion were weighing too heavily on her. Getting help, stepping away, taking care of her own spiritual, physical, and emotional needs, was necessary for Grace to continue helping those children, children who, like her, also needed spiritual, physical, and emotional healing.

    Serving others, acting others into well-being—that’s the reason we’re here, isn’t it? We’re here to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, give drink to the thirsty, visit the sick and imprisoned, welcome the stranger…as people of Christian faith, as followers of Jesus, if we’re not doing those things, we’ve missed the point.

    But just because we’re called to do those things, doesn’t mean we’re called to do them 24/7. We don’t have to feed ALL the hungry or clothe ALL the naked or visit ALL the people who are imprisoned ALL the time.

    And we’re not called to meet ALL the needs of the people we are able to help. Were you surprised to hear that when Jesus got up early to go off to a secluded place and pray, “Simon and his companions hunted for him?” Of course they did. I don’t have kids, but I imagine the first thing you hear after sinking down into a warm bubble bath is, “Mom!”

    So, how does Jesus respond? “Go away!” I’m not saying that’s how I would respond if MY warm bubble bath was interrupted….but I’m pretty sure that’s how I would respond if my warm bubble bath were interrupted. But Jesus doesn’t do that. When Simon, et al, say, “Everyone is searching for you,” Jesus says, “Let’s go on to the neighboring towns, so that I may proclaim the message there also; for that is what I came to do.” And Mark tells us that “he went throughout Galilee, proclaiming the message in their synagogues casting out demons.”

    Jesus knew he couldn’t help everyone. His calling wasn’t to stay in Capernaum and see to the healing of every person there. His calling was to travel around and share the good news of God’s love with others. If he was to fulfill his calling, he was going to have to move on.

    Sometimes, that’s our calling, too. We can’t help everyone. Feeling guilty about that fact doesn’t help anyone. Getting realistic about our limitations—that’s a good gift to everyone. Sometimes, acting others into well-being begins with seeing to our own. (“Precious Lord”)

    In the name of our God, who creates us, redeems us, sustains us, and hopes for our wholeness. Amen.

     

    Kimberleigh Buchanan © 2015

  • Sermon: “Authoritative Healing” (Mark 1:21-28) 2/1/15

    Last week, refreshed from 40 days of battling his demons in the wilderness, Jesus clarifies his mission and decides to get some help fulfilling it.  But without Monster.com, how was he going to find those helpers? I imagine Jesus walking down the beach pondering the matter when he sees a couple of fishing crews hard at it.  The light dawns. Why not?  It couldn’t hurt.  He takes a deep breath and yells: “Follow me!” Immediately, two men jump out of a boat and swim towards him.  Well, that was easy! If it worked once… “Follow me!” he calls a second time.  Two more men jump in and swim to shore.

    Now what?  Five men on shore, four of them dripping water, beaming giddily at Jesus, ignoring the people on the boats yelling at them “to get back and help us!”?  Maybe Jesus broke the ice: “‘Sup?”  And maybe brothers Simon and Andrew, and the other brothers, James and John, gamely kept the conversation going “’Sup?” Then maybe they took a minute to friend each other on Facebook–isn’t that how following someone works? Maybe they Insta-grammed a group selfie.  Maybe Jesus tweeted:  “Four new peeps!  Andy, Jim Bob, John Boy, and the one who talks a lot.”

    Or maybe–in the absence of smart phones– they simply stood there awkwardly waiting for someone to get the party started.  “Hey, Jesus!”  This would be Simon.  He always speaks first.  “Hey, Jesus!  So glad to be following you, man.  What’s our first assignment?  Where are we headed?”  Here’s what I imagine happening.  Mark doesn’t tell us–which is an invitation to imagine it, right?  Here’s what I imagine.  Simon says, “Hey, bro!  Where are we headed?” and Jesus shrugs and says, “I don’t know.  I’m new at this Messiah business.  What do you suggest?”

    At that point, I imagine Simon and the others puzzling things out…until Simon says (he always speaks first), “I don’t know.  But I’ll tell you what.  If we go to Capernaum, which is just a few miles up the road, we can stay with my mother-in-law.  She makes some falafel to die for!  And she loves to cook for a crowd!”  So…

    They head to Capernaum.  When the Sabbath rolls around, they walk the short distance to the synagogue.  Jesus starts teaching–it seems like a Messiah kind of thing to do.  I wish the Gospel writer had included Jesus’ lesson plan…because whatever Jesus did, the people who heard him were impressed.  “They were astounded at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes.”

    Now that’s an intriguing line….because the scribes were the ones the community HAD authorized to teach.  Yet the people who heard Jesus–a carpenter from Nazareth with no official synagogue authority–said he taught with authority.  I wonder what that meant for them?  If not the religious establishment, then what, in their eyes, gave Jesus’ teaching authority?  Was it the way he talked, the things he talked about, the way he answered every question with another question? Maybe what happens next will give us a clue.

    Jesus, his newly-enlisted peeps in tow, is doing his authoritative teaching thing when a man with an “unclean spirit, appears and cries out, ‘What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth?  Have you come to destroy us?  I know who you are–the Holy One of God.”  

    In Mark’s Gospel, this is the first test of Jesus’ public ministry.  It couldn’t be something easy, like lining up a band for a bar mitzvah or teaching the teenagers in Sabbath School.  No, Jesus’ first test involves demon-possession. Interestingly, though—new Messiah or not—Jesus knows just what to do.  He rebukes the unclean spirit, tells it to come out of the man, and it does…which amazes the people. They “kept asking one another, ‘What is this?  A new teaching–with authority!  He commands unclean spirits, and they obey him.”

    There’s that word again–authority.  They’d already said Jesus taught with authority, but when he heals the man with the unclean spirit, they underline it in red: AUTHORITY.

    So, what is the source of that authority?  What did those synagogue-goers experience that day?  And how did Jesus know what to do when that broken man interrupted his lesson?

    Recall where today’s story began. After his baptism by John in the Jordan River, Jesus immediately goes into the wilderness where he is tested for 40 days.  By whom is he tested?  By the devil, the sneaky one, his personal demons.

    So maybe Jesus’ authority in healing this mentally and emotionally wounded man came from his own experience of healing from mental and emotional wounds.  Maybe Jesus knew what to do for a person battling demons because he was fresh from battling his own.

    Okay. Time to name the elephant in the room. We scientifically-minded Christians don’t usually talk about demons, do we? And we sure don’t admit to having them. Demon-possession evokes images from movies like the “Exorcist,” not Sunday morning worship.

    But remember — these stories we hear in the Gospel were written almost 2,000 years ago. We have so many things at our disposal in the 21st century that were not available in the 1st century. We have two millennia of study of the mind. We know about depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, and post-traumtic stress disorder. We have doctors and therapists and psychologists and psychiatrists. We have pharmacology. J In the first century, without the benefit of these 20th and 21st century advances, the only language available was the language of demon-possession. Today we call it mental illness.

    The second stanza of today’s hymn/anthem (#176) offers helpful language in describing mental illness from a faith perspective. Listen again to the words. “Christ, the demons still are thriving in the grey cells of the mind: Tyrant voices, shrill and driving, twisted thoughts that grip and bind, doubts that stir the heart to panic, fears distorting reason’s sight, guilt that makes our loving frantic, dreams that cloud the soul with fright.” Any of those phrases resonate with your experience? Or perhaps describe the experiences of someone you love?

    We have LOTS of resources today to battle the demons of mental illness. There’s one, though, that we haven’t named: this community.

    I ran across an article this week (Okay. My therapist-husband printed off a copy and laid it in the chair in my study.) written by a medical researcher at Duke University. In a talk Dr. Dan Blazer gave last April, he listed 7 things psychiatrists can learn from faith communities about helping people with mental illness, especially those who are depressed. If you want to read the article later, there are copies out in the narthex.   http://bulletin.hds.harvard.edu/articles/summerautumn2014/what-faith-communities-can-teach-psychiatrists-about-depression

    Community support

    Illustration by Andrew Zbihlyj

    What I want to show you now is the drawing that accompanies the article. I read the article a couple of times before I really saw the drawing. I saw the sad person easily, but not the rest of it…until I looked more closely. Can you figure out what I saw? (Responses) At first, I was annoyed by all those sticks at the bottom of the drawing….until I realized that the sad figure was being supported by the hands of others.

    We could read that article together and go through each of the 7 things faith communities can teach psychiatrists. If you have more interest in the topic, I encourage you to do just that. But having served with you for so many years, I suspect that many members of this community would be qualified (that is, have the authority) to write such an article. Like this picture—we all know people in this community who have needed support during times of sadness or emotional difficulty. And those arms…it is telling that the drawing just shows a bunch of arms. You don’t know what the owners of the arms look like. You don’t even know which two arms go together. It’s just the community. Holding up the person who is struggling.

    I see you all do that for each other every week, every day. I heard it in nearly every visit I made this week. One person said, “That church! I feel their prayers!” Another talked about being part of the church community as his salvation. I think he meant that literally. Being part of the church community gives him a reason to live. As a community, we’ll hold up the guests of Family Promise this week with our food, our prayers, our kind words.

    Life gets hard sometimes. Sometimes, mental illness—or just life in general– robs us of our joy, our hope, our dignity. Sometimes the therapy, the medication, the usual distractions and amusements just don’t work. At those times, isn’t it good to be part of a faith community; isn’t it good to be part of this faith community… this place where people will hug us and pray for us and send cards to us and listen to us?

    It is telling, I think, that Jesus’ first act of healing happens in the context of the faith community. Sure, he was the Messiah and all, but that man was going to need a whole lot more than an exorcism. He was going to need help—a lot of help—living into his new reality. Even when the Messiah dramatically sends your demons packing, even then, the healing process has only begun. As we’ll see next week, Jesus quickly heads on to other places. “This is the purpose for which I’ve come,” he says, to go to all those other places.

    But that man was going to need support if his healing was going to continue. He needed listening ears and shoulders to cry on and people to get him laughing. He needed to be in a place with lots of children who would remind him of the future, who would give him hope. That newly-healed man needed a community. Jesus might have been a brand new Messiah, but I’m pretty sure he knew what he was doing when he healed that man in the synagogue. He was making sure there was a community to care for that man once Jesus moved on.

    In closing, I invite us to sing “Won’t You Let Me Be Your Servant,” Hymn #539. May it remind us what being part of this community is all about.

    Won’t you let me be your servant, let me be as Christ to you?

    Pray that I may have the grace to let you be my servant, too.

    We are pilgrims on a journey, we are travelers on the road;

    We are here to help each other go the mile and bear the load.

    I will hold the Christ light for you in the shadow of your fear;

    I will hold my hand out to you, speak the peace you long to hear.

    I will weep when you are weeping; when you laugh, I’ll laugh with you.

    I will share your joy and sorrow till we’ve seen this journey through.

    When we sing to God in heaven we shall find such harmony,

    Born of all we’ve known together of Christ’s love and agony.

    Won’t you let me be your servant, let me be as Christ to you?

    Pray that I may have the grace to let you be my servant, too.

    Richard Gillard (Words and Music)

    In the name of our God, who creates us, redeems us, sustain us, and hopes for our wholeness. Amen.

     

    Kimberleigh Buchanan © 2015

  • John McCutcheon
    02.10.15

    John McCutcheon–Tonight!

    Last summer, I had the best sabbatical ever!  I worked with church members for a year and a half to design a perfect plan, one that would “make my heart sing.”  We wrote a grant and submitted it to the Lilly Endowment’s Clergy Renewal Program.  August 2013, we learned we’d received the grant!  Now, all I had to do was wait–appropriately enough, 9 months– to begin.

    I haven’t given birth, but I imagine what happened after my long wait parallels what happens when a baby is born:  As soon as the real baby appears, everything changes.  That’s what happened with the sabbatical.  Despite my meticulous planning, a new course was set–one I’d never imagined–the minute the actual sabbatical appeared.

    It started with a FB shout-out from my friend Rachel Small-Stokes, Associate Pastor at Union Church in Berea, KY.  “Hey, Kim!  We’re hosting a concert to honor Jean Ritchie.  You should come!”  So, just 3 days before the sabbatical’s official start-date, my musicologist husband and I headed north for a concert that would change everything.

    The concert itself merits its own blog post, which isn’t this one.  :-)  This post is about my friend John McCutcheon.

    John was one of the performers at the “Dear Jean” concert in Berea.  I had a couple of John’s CDs and enjoyed his performance at Union Church…so the second day of the sabbatical “proper,” I visited John’s website to see if I might attend one of his concerts on my “Playing (Music) with My Friends” sabbatical.

    None of the concerts looked convenient, but something else did:  John was leading a Songwriting Camp at the Highlander Center for Research and Education near Knoxville, Tennessee.  I signed up.  And choosing that road, as the poet says, has “made all the difference.”

    Twenty-one of us gathered at the Highlander Center for song-writing, singing together, and learning about Highlander’s rich history of community organizing and civil rights work.  John is a skilled teacher and a terrific storyteller; we all learned a lot.  But John’s best gift to us last summer was creating a space where we could (wanted to!) connect with each other.  That group of people….they are my friends.  My good friends.  And not just when I need advice on buying a new guitar!  We created that community in response to the enthusiasm and good will of John McCutcheon.

    Later in the summer, I attended two of John’s concerts in upstate New York.  As I sat and listened, I realized that in his concerts, John does the same thing he did with us at songwriting camp:   he creates a space where people can connect with each other.  He draws us in with his stories, with his music, with all those instruments, and with–this is the only word that feels right–love.  By the end of the concert, we feel deeply connected to each other….almost like church!

    Tonight, John McCutcheon plays at Eddie’s Attic in Decatur, GA!  Can’t get more convenient than that!  (Unless it’s the Gilmer County High School Auditorium in Ellijay, GA, which is where John plays TOMMOROW night.  :-)   Can’t wait to attend both concerts.  Gotta love a church service with a preacher as good as John McCutcheon!

    2014-07-02 11.38.432014-07-02 19.01.43

     

  • Back From Sabbatical
    09.17.14

    Sabbatical was great!  Having time to rest and play and make music and new friends…All my colleagues who have taken sabbaticals didn’t lie:  the last four months have renewed me as nothing else ever has.

    …which means that I am ready to get back to work.  REALLY ready to get back to work!  I love my calling, I love my job, I love the people with whom I serve, I love the work of doing whatever we can to share God’s love with others.  I can’t wait to get back in the swing of things!

    There’s SO MUCH to share.  If I shared it all right now, though, it’d be another four months before I got back to work.  So for now, let me just quote T. S. Eliot…

    “We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.”  

    Amen!

  • Mother’s Day Prayer (May 11, 2014)
    05.15.14

    Holy One,

    It’s Mother’s Day.  Chances are good that we’ve got some feelings about that…

    Some of us feel gratitude:  for excellent mothering we have received– from birth mothers, adoptive mothers, grandmothers, surrogate mothers, and as one of our children said, “twin mommies.”   Bless all who feel grateful today, God.

    Some of us feel deep joy:  the new mothers, those who have been given another year with an aging mom.  And though they’re the tiniest bit annoying, what with all that picture-showing, the grandmothers.  J  Some of us feel joy for technological advances like in vitro fertilization and for processes like adoption and foster parenting.  Some of the mothers among us feel great joy because we love our children so much and are so very proud of them.  Bless all who feel joy today, God.

    Some of us feel guilt today:  for not being the best mother we could be… for not being the best daughter or son we could be…for something we can’t even name…  For all who feel guilty today, God, ease the weight of their guilt.  Surround them with your grace.  Remind them that they are loved.

    Some of us are angry today:  because we didn’t get the mothering we needed…because our children don’t always appreciate what we do for them… because we feel called to be mothers, but our bodies or circumstances have prevented that from happening…  For those who are angry, God, help them learn from their anger, to understand the hurt that causes it, and to move forward in strength and love and insight.

    Some of us feel sad today….because we never had a mother…or did have a mother who couldn’t seem to love us…or do have a mother whose dementia is taking her from us one memory at a time…  Some of us are sad because our mothers have died, or are alive but have never felt their full worth…  Some of the mothers among us are sad because they have lost their children in one way or another.  And some women who aren’t able to have children– having worked through their anger– now are feeling sad.  Holy One, please comfort all who come to this day with sadness.

    (Whisper)  Some of the mothers among us are so exhausted by their mothering they have now fallen asleep.  Give them pleasant dreams, God.

    Some of us—women who have NOT been called to be mothers—are wondering just why this prayer has gone on so long.  What’s the big deal?  Bless them, too, God.  Affirm their decision not to have children.  Bless all the ways they have given and are giving the best of themselves to others by means other than parenting.

    That last group is right, God—this prayer has gone on a long time.  And, long as it is, it likely stillhasn’t given voice to all the feelings present in the room today.  In the quiet, Holy One, surround us with your love and care as we share with you all our feelings–all our joys, all our concerns, all of ourselves with you.  In silence, hear us.

    Holy One, some of us call you Father;  some of us call you Mother;  and some of us don’t call you anything because we’re so confused about you most of the time….Thank you for answering our prayers– no matter where we are on our theological journeys.  For all we don’t know, we do know this:  Jesus was our brother.  We join our hearts and voices together as we pray the prayer he taught us:

    Our Father/Mother, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name.

    Thy kin-dom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.

    Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our debts

    As we forgive our debtors.  Lead us not into temptation,

    But deliver us from evil.  For thine is the kin-dom, the power, and the glory forever.  Amen.

  • Daily Devotion – March 26, 2014
    03.26.14

    John 4:27-28

     

    Just then his disciples came. They were astonished that he was speaking with a woman, but no one said, ‘What do you want?’ or, ‘Why are you speaking with her?’ Then the woman left her water-jar and went back to the city. She said to the people, ‘Come and see a man who told me everything I have ever done! He cannot be the Messiah, can he?’ They left the city and were on their way to him.

     

    Reflection by Kim Lofstrand 

    I have just returned from the Pilgrimage’s 2nd Annual Women’s Spirituality Retreat in Dillard, GA. During this retreat, seventeen women spent time praying, learning, worshiping, singing, cooking, and laughing together.  I heard these women share their pain, their struggles, their faith journeys, and their questions.  By the end of the weekend, we were all transformed; we were filled with the Holy Spirit. 

    I cannot imagine what Biblical times were like for anybody but especially women.  But despite the time period, Jesus gave women access to him and to his teachings.  Thank goodness!  The women I spent the weekend with were some of the most faithful people I have yet to meet in my life . . . I’m glad that Jesus saw this same quality in the woman in today’s scripture.  

    Prayer: 

    God, I am so thankful for Jesus and his equal access for women, the sick, the young, the old, etc.  Jesus saw that we are all your children and we all deserve your forgiveness and your love.  AMEN.

     

  • Ash Wednesday Confession
    03.07.14

    Some Christians make confessions with Ash Wednesday ashes.  This year, I have a confession to make about Ash Wednesday ashes. 

    I forgot to order them.  The small packet of ashes I had picked up from the Cokesbury store in Decatur a few years ago—guaranteed to have been made from last year’s palms, just like the hymn says—had lasted through several Ash Wednesdays.  I thought we were good for another year…until last Sunday when I peeked into the small ceramic jar that holds the ashes.  Empty.  And the Cokesbury Store has closed.  And Sunday was too late to order any by mail and have them delivered by Wednesday. 

    What to do?

    Allen volunteered to smoke a cigar for me.  “That’ll make great ashes,” he said.  But no.  Those ashes would smell like, well, cigars.  So, Tuesday I stopped in at the new “Catholic Shoppe” on Highway 92.  “May I help you?” the woman asked.  “Do you have any ashes for AshWednesday?” I asked.  The woman looked startled.  Wide-eyed, she said:  “You have to go to church to get those!”  Okaaaay.

    Time for Plan C or D, or whatever we were up to by then. 

    I texted a friend who serves a nearby church as Associate Pastor.   “ASHES!  Got ‘em?  I need ‘em!”  “Sure!” came the quick reply.  “Stop by tomorrow.” 

    As I was leaving the office the next afternoon, I told Lynne where I was headed and for what reason.  In response, Lynne said, “I just changed out the toner in the copier,” and smiled.  I stood there.  Plotting.  “Would you like to look at the leftover toner?” Lynne asked.  With eagerness I said, “Yes, I would!”  I removed the lid and looked inside.  Tiny black granules glistened beneath the fluorescent light.  Oh, yes.  They would do nicely!  Then I thought some more…. “Are you really going to use those tonight?” Lynne asked.  And I thought some more.  Then, heaving a deep sigh, I said, “No, I’d better not.  It looks like they would work perfectly…. but I’d just start laughing when I tried to impose those on people.”  What would I say when I smudged people’s foreheads?  “Made in the exact image of God?”  No.  That just wouldn’t do.

    So, off I went to the nearby church.  I told my friend about the exchange with Lynne and about the aborted toner-for-ashes plan.  My friend’s response?  “Oh, toner works great!  It sticks better than ashes do!”  Apparently, Lynne wasn’t the first person to think of using toner for ashes.

    As my friend carefully tapped some ashes into a small container, I did a double-take.  Those ashes looked JUST like copier toner!  These black granules, though, had the advantage of not causing me to laugh hysterically when I used them.

    As we hugged goodbye, my friend told me that earlier in the day, the new Senior Pastor had asked if the church had any Ash Wednesday traditions.   “Just one,” my friend said.  “Every AshWednesday afternoon at 3:00 I remember that I’ve forgotten to get ashes for the service.  Then I spend from 3:00 to service time trying to find or create some.”  My friend was more than happy to share her promptly-ordered ashes with my forgetful self.  And I was glad to receive them.

    So, there’s my Ash Wednesday confession.  And now, to atone, I’m going to order next year’s ashes right now!

     

  • Sabbatical! The Trip to Ireland
    01.16.14

    Folks are starting to get curious about my sabbatical…which begins four months,13 days from now (but who’s counting?)!  As I’m able, I’ll fill you in on what I’ll be doing during sabbatical.  To learn what the CHURCH (Pilgrimage United Church of Christ in Marietta, GA) will be doing during sabbatical, you’ll need to contact the sabbatical task force….because I don’t have a clue!  (Which is as it should be.  :-)

    Several people have asked about the trip to Ireland.  Here’s a link to info on the tour part of the Ireland trip.   Kate Campbell is one of my favorite folk singers.  Spending time with her exploring Ireland and experiencing it music?  I’ve been dreaming about this trip for several years now!  An added bonus:  Allen will be joining me on the trip.  I can’t wait!   http://www.katecampbell.com/ireland/

  • Daily Devotion – December 28, 2013
    12.28.13

     

    Romans 15:7

    Welcome one another, therefore, just as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God.

     

    Reflection by Diane Ingram 

     

    She came over to our table this morning sporting a green bib apron trimmed in white
    rickrack.  “Merry Christmas,” she
    said.  “Thank you for coming in. I hope
    you have good holidays.” 

     

    Her welcome was a smart business move, but one that works especially well for Mary
    Ann because she means it.  She’s sincere,
    likes her customers, comes out of the kitchen and walks among us. 

     

    If she and I sat down to talk about religion or politics, there would be very
    little common ground, but we weren’t talking about those things this
    morning.  All she was doing was welcoming
    us in her restaurant. All we were doing was replying in kind.

     

    Sometimes, as the Pope has recently pointed out, we put all our concentration on those
    areas where we differ.  We set out to
    correct the world, to make it right, to make other people see the error of
    their ways.  And, there may indeed be
    error, but is that all that defines a person?

     

    What if, instead, we at least think about setting out to welcome one another?  Might
    we accomplish more?

     

     

    Prayer:

     

    Loving God, please help us to have patience with each other. When the urge to confront
    arises, help us to question our need to be right, our method of responding.  Help us to be kind to one another.

     

     

     

     

  • Nelson Mandela (1918 – 2013)
    12.07.13

    Nelson Mandela has died.  If even a fraction of the people in the world would do even a fraction of the things Mr. Mandela did for the cause of peace and justice, the world would be a much better place.  If I did even a fraction of the things Mr. Mandela did for the cause of peace and justice, the world would be a much better place.

    As a tribute to this great man, a few quotes.  (These were compiled by The Daily Beast)

    “If I had my time over I would do the same again, so would any man who dares call himself a man.” (After being convicted to five years hard labor, November 1962)

    “I was made, by the law, a criminal, not because of what I had done, but because of what I stood for, because of what I thought, because of my conscience.” (Statement during trial, 1962)

    “I can only say that I felt morally obliged to do what I did.”  (At the opening of his trial, April 20, 1964)

    “Social equality is the only basis of human happiness.”  (A letter written on August 1, 1970)

    “Difficulties break some men but make others.” (From a letter to wife, Winnie Mandela, from Robben Island, February 1975)

    “I came to accept that I have no right whatsoever to judge others in terms of my own customs.” (From his unpublished autobiographical manuscript, 1975)

    “Great anger and violence can never build a nation. We are striving to proceed in a manner and towards a result, which will ensure that all our people, both black and white, emerge as victors.” (Speech to European Parliament, 1990)

    “Without democracy there cannot be peace.” (South Africa, May 9, 1992)

    “We are fighting for a society where people will cease thinking in terms of colour.” (March 8, 1993)

     “When a man has done what he considers to be his duty to his people and his country, he can rest in peace.”  (Interview for Mandela, 1994)

    “Reconciliation means working together to correct the legacy of past injustice.”  (December 16, 1995)

    “I can rest only for a moment, for with freedom come responsibilities, and I dare not linger, for my long walk is not yet ended.” (From Long Walk to Freedom, 1995)

    “For to be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others.” (From Long Walk to Freedom, 1995)

    “If you want to make peace with your enemy, you have to work with your enemy. Then he becomes your partner.” (From Long Walk to Freedom, 1995)

                           

    Facts and figures from Nelson Mandela’s life, set to the trailer from ‘Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom.’

    “Man’s goodness is a flame that can be hidden but never extinguished.” (From Long Walk to Freedom, 1995)

    “Real leaders must be ready to sacrifice all for the freedom of their people.” (Kwazulu-Natal, South Africa, April 25, 1998)

    “It is never my custom to use words lightly. If twenty-seven years in prison have done anything to us, it was to use the silence of solitude to make us understand how precious words are and how real speech is in its impact on the way people live and die.”  (South Africa, July 14, 2000)

    “When people are determined they can overcome anything.” (Johannesburg, South Africa, Nov. 14, 2006)

     

  • Month of Gratitude: Day 22 (Pain)
    11.22.13

    Here’s what I’m learning at physical therapy:  If you don’t tell the therapist where it hurts, she can’t do what needs to be done to help you heal. 

    When another patient at PT yesterday said, “Um, that muscle isn’t happy,” I realized how reticent most of us are to say, “Ouch!  That hurts!”  I’m getting better at it.  A few of my lines from yesterday’s dry needling session…  “Ouch!  That hurts.”  “Ugh!  That felt like a lightning bolt traveling down my leg.”  (That line was delivered with a firm kick that nearly caught my therapist in the jaw.  Oops.)  “Okay.  That feels like a hot rod being run through my leg!”  And then, of course, there’s the sharp intake of breath and the low moan.  Those are particularly effective when delivered in quick succession. :-)

    So much of our culture is about avoiding pain, or masking it–with achievement, consumption, entertainment, addiction, sleep.  Facebook.  We work so hard at avoiding pain….all the while, it’s naming our pain and dealing with it that, as my physical therapist says, “promotes healing.”  

    So, weird as it sounds, today I am grateful for pain.  Pain shows us where healing needs to happen….and then works hard to put itself out of business.

  • Month of Gratitude: Day 20 (Poets: Mary Oliver)
    11.20.13

    Today I am grateful for poets, especially Mary Oliver.  She says things so well!  Here’s one of her best-known poems.  You’ll see why.

     

    Wild Geese

    You do not have to be good.

    You do not have to walk on your knees

    for a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.

    You only have to let the soft animal of your body

       love what it loves.

    Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.

    Meanwhile the world goes on.

    Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain

    are moving across the landscapes,

    over the prairies and the deep trees,

    the mountains and the rivers.

    Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,

    are heading home again.

    Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,

    the world offers itself to your imagination,

    calls you like wild geese, harsh and exciting—  

    over and over announcing your place

    in the family of things.  

  • Month of Gratitude: Day 18 (Sabbath Rest)
    11.19.13

    Today, I am grateful for Sabbath rest.

    “Today I am altogether without ambition.  Where did I get such wisdom?”  
     Mary Oliver, Blue Pastures

  • Month of Gratitude: Day 17 (A church that loves teenagers)
    11.18.13

    A recent article in Christian Century cited a statistic that said maintain their faith after they graduate high school, they need to have had significant relationships with five faithful adults.  The mid-high youth at Pilgrimage are fortunate to count Janet Derby as one of their five.  Here’s Janet’s PUCC Daily Devotion from this morning. 

    2 Thess. 1:3 
    We must always give thanks to God for you, brothers and sisters, as is right, because your faith is growing abundantly, and the love of every one of you for one another is increasing.

    Reflection by Janet Derby

    This may be the easiest Scripture passage I have had in a while. After seeing the youth excitedly prepare and able lead worship last week, how could I not give thanks to God for those young people? Not only that, but in Sunday school after that service, we discussed them taking the lead in our family Christmas Eve service. Some of them have participated in that service for many years, some a few times, and some not at all. They shared remembrances of past Christmas Eves and came up with new ideas of how to present the story. As we talked, they moved from wanting to just contribute their own small piece to recognizing the value of a continuing tradition of full participation. It was an amazing experience to watch the ideas flow and be accepted by each other. I give thanks to God for Athena, Danielle, Devin, Mariah, Sylvia, and Taylor. (I am sorry I only have a picture with some of them in it.)

     

    Prayer

    God of All, thank you for young people whose faith continues to grow and who care for each other so beautifully. Help us to be aware of how much they can show us. Amen.

  • Month of Gratitude: Day 15 (Sabbatical!)
    11.15.13

    Six months and eleven days to sabbatical! 

    Sabbatical.  Sabbath rest.  Rest.  And renewal.  I’m not sure where the practice of granting sabbaticals to clergy began, but based on what I’ve heard from some of my clergy friends, it’s an amazing process.  “It gives you time to disconnect from church long enough to rest some,” one friend said.  (He’s now finishing up his second sabbatical–or maybe his third–with his current congregation.)  “Oh, Kim!  You’re going to love it!” said a fellow Woman Touched by Grace, who will be flying back this weekend from six weeks of painting in the South of France.  Another Woman Touched by Grace says this:  “People are still talking about the last sabbatical.”  (She’s just finished her second sabbatical.)  “It was so good for the congregation!”

    The theme for the Lilly Endowment’s Clergy Renewal Grant Program is:  “What Will Make Your Heart Sing?”  When I thought about it–and I’ve been thinking about it for years!–the thing that makes my heart sing is music.  I love singing, playing flute, writing songs, attending concerts, and making music with my friends.  Trouble is, having to write so much for work (which I love doing!), I don’t have much time to write songs.  And having to work Sundaymornings, I miss a lot of really great concerts because most of them happen on Saturdays and I’m past the age when I can stay out late on Saturday and still be effective on Sundaymornings.  :-/

    So….the whole sabbatical focuses on music–songwriting, singing and playing with friends, attending concerts, and praying with monks in three different monasteries.  Oh.  And a little trip to Ireland with one of my favorite singer songwriters (Kate Campbell).  I can’t wait!

    Today, I am grateful to God for coming up with the idea of Sabbath :-), to Pilgrimage UCC for granting this sabbatical, and to the Lilly Endowment for providing funding for it.

     

  • Month of Gratitude: Day 14 (Church Council)

    Yep.  You read it right.  I am deeply grateful for the Council at Pilgrimage UCC.  This group of church leaders is deeply thoughtful about everything they do.  It’s not easy making decisions on behalf of a very diverse congregation.  This group, those, does it well.  I feel honored to serve with all of them!

  • Month of Gratitude: Day 13 (Physical Therapy!)
    11.14.13

    Achilles Tendonitis.  If that’s not a sermon-title waiting to happen, I don’t know what is!

    If it just didn’t hurt so much.  That’s what it’s been doing for about five years now.  Five years!  Dr. Weiskopf  (yes, my foot doctor’s name is “wise head”) finally convinced me to do some PT.  (Whether that stands for Physical Therapy or Physical Torture, I’m still not sure. =:-o   )

    Lauren, my torturer, I mean, therapist, is teaching me a lot…like, how oblivious to what my feet have been doing the past few years (I had no idea that my left big toe is avoiding touching the floor like it has cooties.)….like, how my “presenting pain” is only the tip of the iceberg (Who knew that heel pain is connected to calf pain?)…like, how if you do the exercises over and over healing–eventually–comes.

    I’m learning a lot from Lauren and am so grateful she knows how to help my foot heal.  This, I really couldn’t do on my own.

  • Month of Gratitude: Day 11 (Sabbath Rest)
    11.11.13

    Today, I am grateful for Sabbath rest.

    “Today I am altogether without ambition.  Where did I get such wisdom?”  
     Mary Oliver, Blue Pastures

     

  • Month of Gratitude: Day 10 (Pilgrimage YOUTH!)

    Wow.  Just wow.  Today was Youth Sunday at Pilgrimage.  They did great!  It was a little hard for me to choose a seat in the congregation  (How do congregants do that EVERY week?  Man.  That’s hard work!) and to keep quiet during worship (it’s just unnatural for me, okay?)….but what a beautiful thing to be led in worship by a group of teenagers who are thoughtful, passionate, and kind!  I am deeply grateful for all each one of them brings to Pilgrimage.  I’m grateful for their parents.  And I’m really grateful for Wayne Scott, our Youth Director, and Janet Derby, Mid-High Youth Sunday School teacher, who guide these amazing young people.  I’m also grateful for a congregation of people who genuinely love the teenagers in their midst.  How blessed I am!  How blessed we all are!

  • Month of Gratitude: Day 9 (Former mentees in ministry)

    I missed posting yesterday.  All day meeting I town.  While in my meeting, though, I took at peek at Facebook (like you’ve never done it? :-) and saw that Rachel Small was celebrating five years of ordained ministry.  Wow!  Hard to believe. 

    Rachel is one of many In-Care students, Members-in-Discernment, or theology students with whom I’ve worked over the years.  Today I am grateful (well, yesterday AND today!) for all I have learned from each of them…for the ways in which they allowed me to journey with them for a season of their lives…and, now, for the exceptional ministry each is doing in his or her setting.  

    Shout outs to Rachel, Leslie Small Stokes, Sarah Weaver, Michelle Calderon, Heidi Schuler, Leah Lyman-Waldron, Lacey Brown, Drew Terry, and to all the folks with whom I’ve worked through the PATHWAYS program.  Journeying with you has been a joy.  May God continue to bless your ministries.

  • Month of Gratitude: Day 8 (ENDA Passes Senate!)
    11.09.13

    From our earliest days, religious folk—at least, UCC religious folk—hear how “God loves everyone” and how “we all are created in God’s image.”  Sometimes it takes society—and Congress—a while to catch up.  How grateful I am, though, when it does!  Now, for the House…

    http://www.nytimes.com/2013/11/08/us/politics/senate-moves-to-final-vote-on-workplace-gay-bias-ban.html?emc=edit_na_20131107&_r=0

  • Month of Gratitude: Day 7 (My flashdrive!)
    11.08.13

    Those who know me know I’m technologically challenged.  I remember the day our Associate Pastor, Kristin Gerner Vaughn, showed me a flash drive.  Having just bought a new carrier for all those floppy drives I still had (and not wondering one bit about why its price had been drastically reduced :-), that tiny bit of plastic and metal seemed a miracle to me.  So much information on/in an object that fit on a key chain?  Wow.

    It took a while, but I finally bought a flashdrive.  And loved using it.  All my sermons in one place!  All the scripts for all the worship services!  All the letters of recommendations I’ve written!  All the lyrics to all the songs I’ve written, sung, or want to sing!  Addresses for family and friends!  So many items on so tiny a gizmo!  Brilliant.  Just brilliant.

    Until that one tiny gizmo got lost.

    That’s what happened last June.  June 8, to be exact.  Aware that so many hours of my life were contained on that one flashdrive, my concern with its location had become an obsession….which is why it surprised me when it went missing.  I rarely left it out of my sight!  I had even bought a special tiny glass in which to store it in my desk at home.  How could it just disappear?

    I looked for it—all over the house, in my book bag, in the car, in my office at church.  It.  Was.  Nowhere.  How helpless I felt!  What terror attended the recognition that so much work was simply gone. 

    After about a month, I reminded myself of the Buddhist concept of detachment, and let the flashdrive go.  If it was gone, it was gone.  Yes, I’d lost a lot of work, but I’d just have to write new sermons, songs, and letters.  This might sound strange, but I actually grieved.

    Then, yesterday—NOVEMBER 6!—I found it.  I found my flashdrive!  It was in the wooden container where I keep paperclips and pens on my desk at church.  I couldn’t believe it!  My flashdrive!  I have no idea how it ended up there.  (Allen said the bigger miracle is that I haven’t needed a paperclip for five months…)  Don’t care, really.  I have found my flashdrive!  Like the woman in Jesus’ parable who searches her house high and low for her lost coin, then is so happy when she finds it she throws a party, I nearly threw one yesterday.  My flashdrive has been found!

    Today I am grateful to have my flashdrive safely stashed in its rightful place in my desk drawer.  (I’m also grateful for friends who have introduced me to Dropbox!)  What I’m most grateful for, though, is the reminder that, as happy as I was yesterday to find that which was lost, God feels that way every time I come home from my spiritual wanderings.  What a difference believing in God’s love for me has made in my life!

    Amazing grace, how sweet the sound!  That saved a soul like me!

    I once was lost, but now I’m found; was blind, but now I see!

  • Month of Gratitude: Day 6 (Pilgrimage UCC)
    11.07.13

    A couple of days ago, I expressed gratitude for my job.  I’m also grateful for the church I serve, Pilgrimage United Church of Christ in Marietta, GA.  Here’s a beautiful testimony of a new member, someone who thought being “spiritual but not religious” was enough.  I am so grateful to be part of a Christian community that—though not perfect—does live God’s welcoming love with integrity and grace.

     

    After reading a very inspiring essay by Seth Adam Smith entitled, “Marriage Isn’t for You,” I substituted Seth’s words and expressions into a thought that God isn’t for me. See, I have not attended church regularly for 25 years. I did not think I needed church. I consider myself a “spiritual” person with a solid childhood of mandatory church attendance three times a week courtesy of my parents. I make donations to worthwhile charities. I try to live a gentle life and obey laws. To me, church was a social gathering of people who felt a need to belong and a have a sense of security. In addition, I don’t like labels and membership comes with labels.

    All of this changed for me in April 2013. My husband and I hit a final wall in our quest to become parents, and the result was devastating. In my mind, my world had imploded. I was void of hope. I lost my purpose. My identity would forev…er be “childless.” No grandchildren would ever affectionately call me, “Nanny.” I gave up on life, as it had betrayed me.

    After a week of existence in the bed, I realized a needed a life line, if I was going to survive. So, I prayed. I prayed again and again and again. With each prayer, I felt strength and a will to continue. I kept praying and God led me to a church I visited seven years prior. I listened carefully to the minister as she spoke. I listened to the words of the choir as they sang. I was greeted with warm handshakes and smiles. I kept visiting the church every Sunday, and I kept praying.

    During my enlightened stage, I became aware of how much I changed. I was kinder to people and more patient. My soul felt compassion and tenderness. I had a deeper desire to help others in addition to writing a charitable check. I no longer censored myself on saying “God” in front of others or praying in public. I felt doing these things made God pleased with me. It was then I realized that God isn’t just for me. I am for God. I have a true desire to become the person God intended me to be. I wake every morning with a drive to be the kind, gentle, patient, loving, and forgiving person that God created. I live every day now with the goal of making God happy with me. I discovered living to please God brings more meaning and purpose to my life than chasing after my own desires and expectations.

    Did I join the church? Yes, and it was definitely one of the best decisions for me. I am a proud, label-wearing member of my church. We pray, eat, laugh, and cry together. I am finding ways to be of value to my new church, and I believe this pleases God. So, I will admit that God isn’t for me. I am for God, and life is better than ever.

  • Month of Gratitude: Day 5 (My huband, Allen)
    11.05.13

    Today—and every day—I am deeply grateful for my husband, Allen Mullinax:  partner in love, partner in work, partner in life.  A character in Barbara Kingsolver’s book Poisonwood Bible describes her marriage as a balm.  That describes my life with Allen perfectly.  Our life togetheris a healing balm, a refuge, a joy.

  • Month of Gratitude: Day 4 (Sabbath Rest)
    11.04.13

    “Today I am altogether without ambition.  Where did I get such wisdom?”  

     Mary Oliver, Blue Pastures

     
  • Month of Gratitude: Day 3 (My job!)

    I don’t even know where to begin.  I know so many people who are unemployed, or under-employed, or in jobs that put food on the table but fail to feed their spirits.  Talking with so many who are mis-matched in their employment, I know how rare it is to find work you truly love.

    Count me lucky.

    Today’s worship service—where we celebrated the installation of a stunning artistic representation of  baptism and remembered our loved ones who have died—reminded me of just how much I love my job.

    This post by a Pilgrimage member on the Pilgrimage UCC FB page (Like us!) reminded me again.

    I know I’m not a frequent FB poster. Much less about anything religious or controversial. But I had a really neat conversation with my kids today (Oct. 16) that I’d like to share, given thatFriday was National Coming Out Day and tomorrow is Spirit Day.  It went something like this. . .

    5-year-old DAUGHTER:  I want to move to Massachusetts so I can marry Christina and live there with her.  (Why she knows what states allow gay marriage is a conversation for another day.)

    9-year-old SON:  You couldn’t do that in Georgia.

    ME:  That’s right.

    SON:  (Quite consternated.)  Why?

    ME:  Because some people believe that women shouldn’t love women and men shouldn’t love men, and only men and women should get married.

    SON:  You don’t think that.

    ME:  No.

    SON:  They can get married at OUR church.

    ME:  That’s right.  Our church thinks people should be accepted for who they are.  Remember the tall woman with the deep voice (a transgender church member) you asked me about?  Some people think it’s wrong that she would like us to treat her as a woman and not let her be in their church.  Some people might even bully her.

    SON:  That’s awful.

    DAUGHTER:  We don’t bully people.  Not anyone.

    SON:  (Smiling.)  I’m glad we go to our church.

    Thank you, Pilgrimage UCC, for exposing my children to so much diversity and acceptance that they think LGBT folks and families are the norm.

    *********************************

    Thank you, Pilgrimage UCC, for allowing me to be part of such an amazing congregation!

  • Month of Gratitude: Day 2 (Artists Who Help Us Experience God)
    11.02.13

    I was at the church last night getting my first glimpse at the new wall art that’s being installed in our sanctuary.  Stained glass artist Merridy Palmer and her partner Mary have created a magnificent, multi-colored depiction of baptism.  It is stunning

    Last night as she worked, Mary told me that one day last week two young women—Mormons on mission—walked up to their workshop to share the good news.  Attached to the wall in the workshop was the artwork that now is installed on Pilgrimage’s church wall.  As the young woman stared gaped-mouthed at the sculpture, Mary explained the baptism symbolism, which the women understood completely.  Then Mary said, “Don’t you think I’m doing God’s work?”  Still slack-jawed in amazement, the young women nodded vigorously, then went on their way.

    Having stood slack-jawed myself, staring in wonder at the wonder they created, I concur:  Merridy and Mary have done God’s work.  I can preach sermons about baptism and teach classes about baptism and do baptisms.  I might even write a poem or a story or a song about baptism.  But none of that will express the meaning and depth of baptism like the new artwork in our sanctuary.

    Today, I offer profound thanks for the visual artists among us, those who help us see the things of God in new ways.

    To see more of Merridy’s artwork, visit her website:  http://www.merridycorporateart.com/

  • Month of Gratitude: Day 1
    11.01.13

    Today—All Saints Day—I’m grateful for saints like Jake.  I wonder how the world might change if more people took the time to encourage people they don’t even know.  (…or maybe even people they DO know…)  Check it out.

  • November 2013: A Month of Gratitude
    10.31.13

    By Pastor Kim

    When he’d just about hit rock bottom—his business was circling the drain and his marriage already was down it—John Kralik did something radical:  every day for a year, he wrote a thank you note to someone.  365 Thank Yous:  The Year a Simple Act of Daily Gratitude Changed My Life is the book that chronicles that year.

    The discipline of expressing gratitude was hard at first—really hard.  As the year wore on, though, after expressing thanks to people he loved, people with whom he was angry, people he didn’t even know, John was changed.  By the end of the year, expressing thanks was no longer an item on his To-Do list, but a habit.  Gratitude had become part of his makeup. 

    I’m not at rock bottom—far from it!  But I do believe in the power of living out of a mindset of gratitude.  So, for the month of November, I’ll be blogging about things for which I’m thankful.  I’m going to try to post every day….but you all know I’m not the most consistent blogger in the world      :-/

    Hey!  There’s the first thing I’m thankful for—the grace and patience of the two of you who are still reading this blog!  Thank you!  Thank you!  Thank you!

     

  • Death Toll in Egypt
    08.17.13

    So many people—dead…in a conflict I don’t understand– either historically or experientially.

    So many news reports—two or three a day, sometimes more—of the rising death toll…constant reminders of everything I don’t know, everything I am powerless to do.

    Oh, for the days of week-long news delays!  What balm those time-lags were on mind, nerves, and heart.  Those grace-filled gaps gave time to decide what to feel, how to think, how to act, if there was action to take.  And if there was no action to take?  The temporal distance assuaged any guilt or grief.

    Life was easier when I received my world news once a week.

    Now?  This constant barrage of events—of death—demands a decision from my depths every day, every hour—525 more people dead in a conflict I haven’t taken time to understand.  Will that number be the total, or only the tip of the iceberg?  How many people will die in this conflict?  How much of my heart will break for them?  Or not?

    Suddenly, I want to know—I need to know–When did I last pray for the people of Egypt?  The people of any country in conflict, or drought, or famine, or political oppression, or abject poverty?  Am I really one of those Christians who neatly excises the parts of the body of Christ that tax my faith?  Am I really one who lops off from my human family tree limbs of those whose experiences drive my prayers too deep?  Do I, in truth, bask in my paralysis?

    I don’t want to know!  I don’t want to know!  I don’t want to know!

    And yet…

    I do know.  Part of me does want to know…I did, after all, sign up for this newsfeed.  So, what can I do with this knowledge?  What must I do with it?

    I can pray.  I can pray current prayers, not week-old, stale ones. 

    I can pray for mothers grieving the loss of sons, husbands grieving the loss of wives, children grieving the loss of innocence…

    I can pray for the people truly paralyzed—by stray bullets, lost dreams, terror…

    I can pray for first responders giving aid to the wounded, treating bodies of the newly dead with dignity…

    I can pray for imams, priests, and pastors as they help congregants navigate the horror…

    I can pray for political leaders—in Egypt and elsewhere—to work together to find a solution that will end the killing…

    I can pray for the business owners who never will recover from the economic toll of the conflict…

    I can pray for teenagers, whose thoughts and feelings about themselves, their country, the world are being shaped by this violence….

    These two, three, four…Five…a day emails…not just death notices.  Also, calls to prayer.

    Let us pray.

  • What a week!
    07.01.13

    It’s like you wait forever then–Boom!  Justice comes all at once.  Or maybe I should say, “most at once.”

    *DOMA–the defense of marriage act–is dead.

    *Same gender couples can marry (again!) in the state of California.

    *Same gender-married couples are afforded full rights….in states that allow gay marriage.

    *And in May, the Boy Scouts of America lifted the ban on gay youth.

    The jubilation folks are feeling and expressing over these decisions is well-founded and grounded.  When the UCC General Synod voted to affirm gay marriage in 2005, the reality of legal gay marriage seemed far in the future.  “Maybe in my lifetime,” I said.  Not only has it happened in my lifetime, it wasn’t even a decade in the future….just 8 years.

    Three things are coming to mind in the wake of the momentous decisions this week…

    1)  CELEBRATE!  All of us can celebrate that LOVE HAS WON.  In many ways and places, LGBTQ folks are no longer second class citizens.  Their love–which is human love and blessed by God– is recognized legally.  THAT must be celebrated!

    2)  THANK YOU!  The celebrations happening right now would not have been possible without myriad incremental acts of justice for years and years and years.  The struggle sometimes is so hard.  Often, seekers of justice labor under the assumption that, while their acts will lead to justice someday, they could well die before they “get to the promised land” themselves.   That kind of consistent, brave work takes tremendous energy and courage. 

    For all the people who have labored for justice for LGBTQ folks, THANK YOU.  For the couples who have lived their marriages with integrity, even when others refused to acknowledge them, THANK YOU.  For every one who filed a lawsuit–and everyone who navigated it through the court system–THANK YOU.  For the Supreme Court justices who decided in favor of human dignity–THANK YOU.  For all the clergy who have been preaching the love of God for all people for decades–centuries–THANK YOU.  For the UCC, who ordained its first openly gay person in 1973 and its first woman in 1853–THANK YOU. 

    No one person, no one process creates tide changes like the one marked by yesterday’s SCOTUS decisions.  It takes tons of brave people taking tiny step by tiny step toward justice.  This week, we must say THANK YOU to everyone who has helped make this week possible.

    3)  WHAT NEXT?  Even as we celebrate the momentous decisions this week, other decisions point out the large amount of justice work still left to do.  

    [a]  While the rights of same gender married couples were affirmed in states that recognize gay marriage, those rights do not extend to same gender couples in states that do NOT recognize gay marriage.  On this issue, the Court missed an opportunity to strike down discrimination at its core.  In states like Georgia, same gender couples still must live as second class citizens in the eyes of the state.

    [b]  The Voting Rights Act decision….I have mixed feelings about this decision.  With the Court, I really would like to affirm that–nearly 50 years out–the South (and other regions affected by the Act) have changed.  I would like to believe that oversight by the Federal Government of certain states’ polling practices is no longer needed.  Though the restrictions on certain states were put in place because of massive abuses in those states, there’s something that feels overly punitive–and belittling–about adding a layer of oversight on some states and not others.

    That said, I just don’t think we’ve arrived with fair voting practices.  Some of the comments I’ve heard at Poll Worker training (by those being trained) convince me that discrimination at the polls still exists.  And very few voting districts in the metro Atlanta area seem racially mixed.  In my voting precinct, Democratic candidates rarely even run.  Is that evidence of a fair and balanced system?

    With this decision, I feel a need to increase my vigilance on fair voting practices, particularly in my work as a poll worker.

    [c]  Boy Scouts.  At Pilgrimage UCC, we’ve been deeply immersed in conversation about the recent decision by the Boy Scouts to lift the ban on gay youth.  We haven’t made a final decision yet on whether to charter a troop.  While we want to affirm this important step by BSA, we still are deeply troubled by the ban on gay leaders.  I was troubled even more by a member of the BSA leadership who said, “Our current policy on Scout leaders has worked for 100 years.  It’s okay as it stands.”  (That’s not a direct quote….but it does catch the spirit of what he said.)

    As our act of justice in regard to the Boy Scouts’ decision, at Pilgrimage we are continuing to talk and discern the best way to demonstrate the dignity of all people, what, for us, is a theological value.

    So….It’s important to celebrate this week’s victories.  That’s great.  It’s equally important, though, to realize that there are so many other areas in which we have not arrived.  In those areas, all seekers of justice will continue working until the promised land is open to EVERYONE.

     

  • Pope Francis
    03.14.13

    Francis…as in, Francis of Assisi, born into wealth, chose poverty and simplicity, loved the least of these–both human and creaturely, wrote two of my favorite prayers, which I’ll include below.

    For the pope–the pope!–to take the name of Francis? I’m beginning to wonder if there might be some changes in store for the church. One commentator said that St. Francis once heard a call from God to “repair the church.” At first, Francis thought he was being called to refurbish the chapel. Later he figured out that, no, the call was to repair the living church.

    Perhaps the new pope has chosen his name well. I will pray for that end.

    Okay….here are the two prayers…

    Lord, Make Me an Instrument of Your Peace

    Lord, make me an instrument of Thy peace; where there is hatred, let me sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; and where there is sadness, joy.

    O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console; to be understood, as to understand; to be loved, as to love; for it is in giving that we receive, it is in pardoning that we are pardoned, and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.

    Canticle to Brother Sun and Sister Moon

    Most high, all powerful, all good Lord! All praise is yours, all glory, all honor, and all blessing.

    To you, alone, Most High, do they belong. No mortal lips are worthy to pronounce your name.

    Be praised, my Lord, through all your creatures, especially through my lord Brother Sun, who brings the day; and you give light through him. And he is beautiful and radiant in all his splendor! Of you, Most High, he bears the likeness.

    Be praised, my Lord, through Sister Moon and the stars; in the heavens you have made them bright, precious and beautiful.

    Be praised, my Lord, through Brothers Wind and Air, and clouds and storms, and all the weather, through which you give your creatures sustenance.

    Be praised, My Lord, through Sister Water; she is very useful, and humble, and precious, and pure.

    Be praised, my Lord, through Brother Fire, through whom you brighten the night. He is beautiful and cheerful, and powerful and strong.

    Be praised, my Lord, through our sister Mother Earth, who feeds us and rules us, and produces various fruits with colored flowers and herbs.

    Be praised, my Lord, through those who forgive for love of you; through those who endure sickness and trial.

    Happy those who endure in peace, for by you, Most High, they will be crowned.

    Be praised, my Lord, through our Sister Bodily Death, from whose embrace no living person can escape. Woe to those who die in mortal sin! Happy those she finds doing your most holy will. The second death can do no harm to them.

    Praise and bless my Lord, and give thanks, and serve him with great humility.

  • All Souls Day
    11.02.12

    by Pastor Kim

    One of the first things you learn when you start hanging out with nuns, is just how important the cemetery is to them. Want to take a walk? “Let’s go to the cemetery.” Need a place to talk? “Let’s go to the cemetery.” Need get a little perspective on life? “Get thee to the cemetery.”

    At first, I thought this obsession with the cemetery a little unseemly…and kind of morbid. The longer I hang out with the sisters, though–and the more trips I take to the cemetery myself–the more I find it to be an energizing trip. All those sisters…each one living a faithful life…and now at least two of them having impacted my own faith journey…I find strength and courage from visiting them. And when I remember that for all the sisters whose graves I can see, there is no more suffering, there is no more sadness, there is only complete joy in being with their God…that makes me a little happy, too.

    In my mind and heart today, I plan to visit the graves of those who’ve gone before me–Granny Jett and Pa Joe…my first boss, Principal Carolyn Mayes…my Old Testament professor Page Kelley…to name only a few. People who have guided me on my life’s journey and my faith journey. People whom I have loved and who I know loved me. As I visit these residents in my own “cloud of witnesses,” I will draw strength and courage and joy. And I will offer deep and resonant Thanks!

  • International Peace Day (9/21/12)
    09.21.12

    by Pastor Kim

    Today is International Peace Day…a designation assigned by the UN. This year’s theme for Peace Day is sustainability. Makes sense. Many of the world’s armed conflicts are rooted in scarcity of resources (or unjust distribution of them).

    In his book Eaarth: Making Life on a Tough New Planet, author Bill McKibben writes: “On the new world we’ve built, conflict seems at least as likely as cooperation. In 2006, British home secretary John Reid publicly fingered global warming as a driving force behind the genocide in Darfur, arguing that environmental changes ‘make the emergence of violent conflict more rather than less likely. The blunt truth is that the lack of water and agricultural land is a signficant contributory factor to the tragic conflict we see unfolding in Darfur. We should see this as a warning sing.’ When Time magazines’ Alex Perry traveled to the region the following year, he reported that ‘the roots of the conflict may have more to do with ecology than ethnicity.'” (p.82)

    Based on a Department of Defense report in 2009, an author in Fortune magazine wrote: “Wars over resources were the norm until about three centuries ago. When such conflicts broke out, 25% of a population’s adult males usually died. As abrupt climate change hits home, warfare may again come to define human life.”

    Sobering.

    Today my prayer for peace is that everybody on the planet have everything they need to live, especially food and water.

    What is YOUR prayer for peace?

  • Mrs. Messiah?
    09.19.12

    By Pastor Kim

    So…a Harvard professor (Karen King) has discovered an ancient text where Jesus mentions “his wife.”

    What do you think? Would it shake your faith to think that Jesus was married? As a married person, it would actually strengthen my faith to think that, in the midst of all his work of being Messiah, Jesus also was working on an intimate relationship with his spouse. Or at least was negotiating the chores of marriage. “Honey, would you mind cooking tonight? I’m just pooped from all that fighting with the Pharisees.” “Jesus, you know, I appreciate just how hard it is being the son of God and all, but the garbage in this place is really piling up. Would you mind?”

    The text goes on to quote Jesus as saying that his wife, Mary, could be a disciple, too. It’s kind of nice to think that, even in the midst of the mundane tasks that surround married life, even there, discipleship is possible.

    And, who knows? Maybe it was Mary who helped Jesus figure out how to relate appropriately to women….the woman with the flow of blood? Mary would have known how she felt. The woman caught in the act of adultery? Mary might not have understood the adultery, but she certainly got the double standard for women. (Was anyone threatening to stone the man in that instance?) Or the Canaanite woman Jesus called a dog….I wouldn’t be surprised if Jesus himself got called worse when he got home that night.

    Singlehood is a good means of living a holy life. As Paul says somewhere, When you’re married, you’re necessarily tied to things of this world. Being unmarried makes you freer to focus on the things of God.

    But having a Messiah who could focus on the things of God in the midst of being married and tied to the world? That’s one tough Messiah.

    Was there a Mrs. Messiah? I don’t know that we’ll ever know for sure. But if there was, I, for one, wouldn’t be disappointed.

  • Day 1 Taping (for 10/28 Broadcast)
    09.17.12

    By Pastor Kim

    Taped the Day 1 sermon on Friday. I so love that process! Peter Wallace is such a likable guy…and is so good at what he does. As is Donald, the sound guy.

    Here’s how it went…

    When I got there, we video-taped a meditation on Matt. 5:37a–“Let you yes be yes and your no be no.” (This one gave my Southern accent a little workout.) My first experience with a teleprompter! Very fun. The meditations are supposed to be 2 – 3 minutes. I came in at 2:12! Cool. I’m not sure, but I think it might be on youtube. Check out www.day1.org to see.

    Next, we audio taped the sermon. Again, so much fun….except for the part where there’s no congregation and I can’t speak too loudly and where sudden movements are counter-productive. No, seriously. It’s fun to do the sermon, then to do re-takes. And then, of course, the playbacks. It’s always so strange to hear my voice on playback…kind of surreal.

    After the sermon, we tape the interviews. Okay. I’m going to be honest with you–I don’t excel at the interviews. If we did the interviews a day after I’ve thought through all the questions, they would be phenomenal…I’m just not that great in the moment (which is why I’m a manuscript preacher!). So. If you listen to the sermon when it’s broadcast and the interviews sound okay, just know that Peter and Donald did a fanstastic editing job!

    Oh, yeah. The sermon will be broadcast on Sunday, October 28. Go to the Day 1 Website to see if there’s a radio station near you. (After 10/28, it’ll be available on the website.) Website: www.day1.org

  • Monty’s Music

    By Pastor Kim

    Today’s sermon ended with Monty Wyne singing and playing “Blue Skies.” Monty’s been a member of Pilgrimage for, what? 20 years, maybe? A long time, anyway. I only learned a couple of years that he’s a jazz pianist. After a little coaxing, I talked him into playing for church. Initially, he didn’t really think it was okay to play jazz in church.

    Whew! I’m glad he got over THAT idea!

    I’ve been convinced of the appropriateness of jazz in worship since I first heard Dave Brubeck’s piece, “The Voice of the Holy Spirit.” (Listen to it. You’ll love it!) The piece is basically a classical choral work of the events of Pentecost (and a few things after that). Every now and then, when you get to the parts of Acts where the the Holy Spirit blows in, the classical sounding piece suddenly goes jazz.

    In the liner notes, Brubeck says that he didn’t want to associate any one instrument with the Holy Spirit. For him, jazz is the thing that represents the Spirit–literally, blowing where it will. So, one time it’s the piano, another time a flute, another time the sax playing jazz.

    Yes, I think God’s spirit must be a jazz musician (whatever the instrument)–taking what is familiar and expected and pushing it to new places, places that set your soul soaring.

    That’s EXACTLY what Monty did today. While he played, my soul was able to soar, to go with his flow, a flow that I think must have come straight from God.

    Thanks for your music, Monty! It was a wonderful gift….and it helped me meet God.

  • Sermon for Day 1 – Writing
    09.10.12

    Whew! I just finished the sermon I’ll be taping for Day 1 on Friday. It’s been a few years since I taped a Day 1 sermon. I forgot how nerve-wracking the process can be!

    Don’t get me wrong. I LOVE preaching on the radio….except for the part where you’re enclosed in a small padded room, and where every single sound you make–even the ones you can’t actually hear yourself making–are cause for a “Cut!” and where vocal modulation is best kept to a minimum (I have to check my “Baptist” at the door) and where there are no Amens or laughs or gasps or crying babies–okay. I don’t miss the crying babies so much.

    Yes, I love preaching on the radio…except for all the radio parts. Sigh.

    But…I do love to the opportunity it gives to hear what others hear when I preach. (Oh, come on! You’d listen to yourself, too, wouldn’t you?) And I do love the thought that tons of people are hearing the same message and thinking about their faith in similar ways at the same time. I especially love that Day 1 is broadcast on Armed Services Radio and that women and men in the military stationed over seas might get to hear the sermon….

    …especially this particular sermon, now that I think about it. I don’t want to give everything away–I want you to tune in and listen! But the sermon I just finished is about seeing hard things…our military people serving in Afghanistan…I know they’ve seen hard things. It’s nice to think that this message might reach people who might really benefit from hearing it.

    You know what? I need to get off this whole nerve-wracked self thing. The gospel isn’t about me…it’s about helping others to experience good news. And if this sermon might help someone stationed in a war zone experience good news? The few nerves I’ve felt will have been completely worth it.

  • Ellen Came to Church!
    08.21.12

    by Pastor Kim

    No….not THAT Ellen! But our Ellen–Ellen Green–came to church yesterday.

    I remember Ellen as the 8th grader who came to sit with me while the Pilgrimage congregation voted on whether or not to call me. Even as an 8th grader, Ellen showed great maturity and was a gracious host during that anxious few minutes.

    One of the joys of being a long-term pastor–I’ve been at Pilgrimage 11 years now–is watching the teenagers and children grow into adulthood. To see them graduate from high school and college, to watch them find their life’s calling and pursue it. Sometimes, even to marry them. What an amazing gift being a local church pastor is!

    Watching all the children and teens grow up is wonderful. What’s very, very cool, though, is to see one of those teens follow a call into ministry. After graduating from Reed College, Ellen spent a couple of years (I think that’s right) living and working in a L’Arche community. Now, she’s just completed her first year at Harvard Divinity School. Yes. Ellen feels called to ministry and wishes to be ordained.

    See what I mean! SO. VERY. COOL!!!!!!

    Also at church yesterday, we baptized 9 month old Cade Lumpkin. As a congregation, we pledged to nurture Cade into the Christian faith until he is able to claim it for himself. Ellen was able to hear her call to ministry–in part–because of the love and nurture of her community of faith. Both Cade’s and Ellen’s journey are beautiful reminders to all of us in the faith community of just how important our task as nurturers of our children is.

    Thanks be to God!

  • Kim’s Blog – August 18, 2012
    08.19.12

    I’ve just started Bill McKibben’s book, Eaarth.  No, that’s not a typo…he spells the name of planet differently because, as his thesis goes, we now inhabit a different planet than the one we used to inhabit.  “The earth that we knew–the only earth that we ever knew–is gone,” (27).  Now, we live on Planet Eaarth.
     
    This new, harsher planet has seas that are rising, ice caps that are melting, tropical regions that are growing ala-the Blob….In some regions, like Australia, they’re no longer calling arid conditions “drought,” because aridness is the new normal.  To call it a drought is to suppose that at some point, the drought will end.  The droughts that are coming to the fore now won’t end.
     
    Even if everyone cut their greenhouse emissions to zero this afternoon, the after effect would continue growing exponentially.  Processes that fossil fuel consumption began decades ago, now unleashed, are–at this point–unstoppable.
     
    In one preacher-stopping line, McKibben sums it up:  “We’re running Genesis backward, decreating.”
     
    What’s the person of faith to do?

  • Sermon: Pentecost (May 27, 2012)
    06.03.12

    Posted on May 29, 2012by reallifepastor

    There are lots of sensational things in the story of the first Pentecost, aren’t
    there? The rush of a mighty wind, tongues of flame, a general feeling of
    happiness…

    Perhaps the most sensational part of the scene is this thing about everyone hearing
    whatever was said in his or her own language. That’s just nutty, isn’t it…for
    you to be speaking in Swahili and me to hear it in Southern American English?

    Have you ever tried to communicate with someone who speaks a language you don’t
    know? I tried it once on a layover in the Frankfurt,Germanyairport. Having just
    received my seminary degree—with an emphasis in biblical Hebrew—I was a little
    full of myself and thought it would be a cinch to communicate with someone who
    spoke German.

    So, I initiated a conversation with the young woman sitting next to me. I asked
    where she was from. She said, “Essen,” which I thought meant to eat. So, I told
    her what I liked to eat. She looked puzzled. So, I asked again where she lived.
    She asked again what I liked to eat. We both were smiling, trying really hard
    to communicate with each other, but I could tell this was going no where fast.
    A third time, I asked where she was from. Again, she saidEssen. Then it hit
    me—Essenis a city inGermany!

    Oh, the joy we shared when we “got” that bit of communication! It was a beautiful
    thing! Flush in that profound moment of connection, I asked my new friend
    another question: What do you like to eat? She looked at me, first, with
    eagerness, then with weariness, then she shrugged, turned the other way, and
    went to sleep. Our moment had passed.

    But you know the kind of moment I’m talking about, don’t you? The kind where you
    really feel with someone…a moment where you feel in perfect synch with
    everyone else…a moment where you know with certainty that everyone present is
    part of something bigger. You hear talk these days about thin places…what I’m
    talking about are thin moments, moments when the holy breaks in and we
    know that we have experienced something special.

    I wonder if that’s the reality the writer of this Pentecost scene is trying to
    describe when he talks about people hearing each other in their own languages.
    Maybe it’s not so much a linguistic fact as a metaphor for this
    feeling-close-to-everyone-and-being-part-of-something-larger-than-oneself thing
    I’m describing. Maybe the communication was so deep, so profound that it was as
    if
    people were hearing the things said in their own languages.

    Don’t you wish we had more Pentecost experiences? Don’t you wish you could experience
    something that feels like rushing wind, tongues of flame, and that wonderful
    oneness with everyone around you our ancestors in faith experienced 2,000 years
    ago? Wow. It sure would be nice for something like that to happen again,
    wouldn’t it?

    I’ve been thinking about that first Pentecost and what might have contributed to its
    occurrence. This might seem simplistic….but I wonder if part of what paved the
    way for the first Pentecost was people’s openness to it. The people had lived
    through something very difficult, something traumatic—the death of their
    leader. As people who have lost a leader often do, they gathered together
    trying to figure out their next step. Maybe they started telling stories about
    Jesus, maybe they started telling their own stories of grief and stress and
    disappointment, maybe they shared some of what they had hoped would come from
    the movement Jesus had started….

    …and maybe in their sharing, they began to open up to each other, maybe they began
    to hear each other, maybe they began to realize that together they were so much
    more than they were alone…and maybe in the midst of all this sharing and
    hearing and remembering and dreaming someone got a chill, another heard a
    sound, someone else felt a flame ignite and grow, and suddenly, they all knew,
    they just knew—God’s spirit was there! With them! In that moment! And
    now, nothing would ever be the same.

    I had a Pentecost moment yesterday on I-75—well, technically, it was a Pentecost
    4 hours (the length of time it took me to progress 4 miles). Flames from a
    truck fire just north of exit 212 ignited the grass alongside the
    interstate—see? Flames! And if the actual flames weren’t enough, it was hot as
    blazes….especially with thousands of cars idling on the asphalt. It wasn’t the
    case in my car, but there might have been some car radios tuned to Mr.
    Limbaugh. And all the cars with functioning ACs had them blowing…See? Fire and
    Rush and a mighty wind! All the elements of Pentecost were there!

    Of course, I might not have noticed them if I hadn’t been thinking about today’s
    sermon. The sermon was mostly done…but an experience like sitting on I-75 for 4
    hours… that would make a great story, right? So, I started thinking about how
    to use the experience in a sermon, maybe even today’s sermon. Fire, rush of
    mighty wind, lots of people gathered in a similar experience… very Pentecostal,
    don’t you think?

    Except for God’s spirit… Where was God’s spirit in this mass of humanity stalled on I-75?
    I started searching. Was God’s spirit in the kindness of people letting each
    other cut in line? Was it in prayers that might have been offered for those
    injured in the fire or for those going to help put it out? Or was God’s spirit
    present in the connections people were making with loved ones on all the
    cellphone calls going out?

    Then, I saw it! I saw God’s spirit moving. I didn’t recognize it at first. In the
    midst of my deep and very wise homiletical musings, I saw a young man and woman
    walking down the right shoulder of the road. He was carrying a gas container;
    she had a canvas bag slung over her arm and was carrying a cardboard sign.
    “Here it is!” I thought cynically. “The gouging opportunists are going to try
    to make a buck.”

    When
    the pair got close enough, I read the sign. It turned my cynicism on its head:
    “Free gas and H2O to those in need.” Wow. I had been looking for God’s spirit
    from the relative safety of my air conditioned car (doing who knows how much
    damage to the earth) while those two young people had embodied it. I had
    been trying to figure out how to use this experience in a sermon when—Boom! A
    sermon walked by carrying a sign. I had been looking for God’s spirit from a
    distance when those two young people were actually sharing it with others. They
    weren’t waiting for God’s spirit to come to them in their air conditioned car;
    they were bringing God’s spirit to others in need in 90 degree weather.

    So, here’s the great homiletical insight from my Pentecostal moment on I-75
    yesterday. Maybe the important question for today isn’t so much, Why doesn’t
    God’s spirit move like it did at Pentecost? But, What are we doing to invite
    God’s spirit into every moment of our lives…even the ones spent sitting on the
    hot asphalt of I-75?

    In the name of our God, who creates us,
    redeems us, sustains us, and hopes for our wholeness. Amen.

     

     

  • The Good Sheep (4.29.2012)
    05.20.12

    What comes to mind when you hear the phrase “good shepherd?”  A pastel painting of a man in flowing robes holding a long pole with a hook on the end in the midst of several, fluffy white sheep?  Or maybe it’s that other pastel painting of a blond-haired Jesus carrying the lost sheep across his shoulders.  It could even be Little Bo Peep in her frilly pantaloons and wide brimmed hat that comes to mind.

    Professional actress Anne Priest became a shepherd in the 1970s.  She didn’t mean to.  After her divorce, she was looking for a new adventure, so she purchased a piece of land on the coast ofNova Scotia.  Her property was on a point that overlooked the ocean.  Just out from the point was a 138 acre island.  She bought that island and—somehow—ended up putting sheep on it.
    Trafficking in Sheep is Priest’s memoir of her twenty year career as a shepherd.  In addition to the sheep she kept onBlue Island, she eventually bought another sheep farm inNyack,New York—that was so she could stay close toNew York City and continue to act.

    That’s also where the sheep trafficking began.  Because the winters are so harsh inNova Scotia, breeding the sheep had to be carefully planned so that lambs would be born in spring.  Had lambs been born in autumn, they weren’t likely to survive winter on the island.  At the end of each summer, then, Anne would load the ram and a few ewes into her truck and take them back toNew   Yorkfor the winter.  Each summer she would load up a few more sheep inNew Yorkand cart them back toNova   Scotia.

    Carefully planning the birthdates of lambs isn’t the only thing a good shepherd does.  She also makes sure the sheep are sheared once a year.  She tends to their horns, which sometimes curl around and grow into the heads of the sheep.  When the sheep start inbreeding and unhealthful traits begin presenting—like the extensive overbite of parrot-mouth—she culls those sheep to keep the flock healthy.  When neighbouring dogs threatened her flock inNew York, Anne bought a guard donkey—yes, a guard donkey–to help keep her flock safe.  A lot of hard work goes into being a good shepherd.

    In her book, Anne gives examples of bad shepherds, too.  There’s Peter, who, in a flurry of excitement one year, bought 28 sheep from Anne to start his own sheep farm.  As sometimes happens, Peter’s interest waned; he wanted to sell the sheep back to Anne and go to law school.  Anne agreed to buy 28 lambs.  The deal was made while Anne was in NY.

    The plan was for Peter to bring the lambs toBlue   Islandin the late summer so they could get acclimated to life on the island before winter.  Peter’s schedule got busy, though, and he didn’t bring the lambs to the island until November.  When Anne returned to the island the next summer, she discovered the carcasses of all 28 lambs.  A good shepherd would have adjusted his schedule for the benefit of the sheep.

    Anne also relates an example of bad shepherding fromPapua New Guinea.  A friend had gone there on a Peace Corps-like mission.  Concerned for the lack of protein in the diet of the islanders, some people from a neighboring country had once tried to introduce sheep.   “They had simply dumped…a thousand sheep into the provinces, providing no help whatsoever in how to care for them.  The sheep all died.”

    Anne’s friend and his wife tried a different approach.  “They introduced a few sheep at a time into the school system, where the children were taught how to care for them and how to shear.  The sheep grazed on the abundant grass outdoors all the school day, then the children shut them up in a barn at night at the school.  By 1988, when [Anne] got there, there were small flocks of sheep in 65 different schools.  Those children who showed a keen interest in shepherding were given a small flock of three ewes and a ram at graduation, so they could start their own flock.”  (157)   That was good shepherding.

    Here’s what I’ve learned about good shepherding from Anne Priest:  shepherds know their sheep.  They go out of their way to accommodate the sheep.  They do whatever it takes to help the sheep be the best sheep they possibly can be.

    So, when Jesus calls himself the good shepherd, maybe that’s what he’s saying—that he knows his sheep (that’s us) and will do whatever it takes to help us be the best possible us we can be.

    Which is all really great, right?  It’s great to know that we are known by Jesus.  It’s great to know that we are known by God.  And if the good shepherd is willing to lay down his life for the sheep, there’s a good bet the shepherd loves the sheep, especially if we go with the definition of love as “the power to act another into well-being.”  Everything Anne Priest did for her sheep she did as a way of acting them into well-being.  Dumping 28 lambs onBlue Islandon the brink of a brutal winter did not act those sheep into well-being.

    So, we could take this metaphor for Jesus as shepherd and run with it.  We could remind ourselves all over again that God loves us and will do whatever it takes to act us into well-being.  We can bask once again in the good news that God has loved us, loves us now, and will always love us.  But then what?  Or to ask my favorite question:  So what?  So, Jesus knows us and loves us and lays down his life for us.  So what?  So God loves us and acts us into well-being.  So what?

    And by “so what?” I mean…so what difference does God’s loving you make in your life?  I know that saying “God loves you” to many people is still news.  A lot of people have never been told before that God loves them.  It’s important to continue to proclaiming the “God loves you” message.  There are many people who still long to hear those words.

    But for those of us who know that and have experienced God’s love, there’s more.  Once we receive God’s love and care, the next step is to respond to it in some way.  That’s what the author of the first epistle of John is saying.  Listen again:
    “We know love by this, that he laid down his life for us—and we ought also to lay down our lives for one another.  How does God’s love abide in anyone who has the world’s goods and sees a brother or sister in need and yet refuses to help?  Little children, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action.”

    For those of us who know God loves us and who know there’s a whole lot that needs doing in the world, it’s easy to get overwhelmed, isn’t it?  Where do we even begin?  World hunger?  Poverty?  Human trafficking?  Child sex trafficking?  Political oppression in many countries?  Wars…disease…illiteracy…global warming…  If you’re like me, you want to love “in truth in action,” but don’t have a clue where to begin.  Sometimes when I think about all that needs to be done in the world, I just want to scream like the person in that Edvard Munch paining.  It’s too much!!!!!

    “We know love by this, that “he laid down is life for us—and we ought also to lay down our lives for one another.”  He laid down his life us; we should lay down our lives for others.  Maybe that phrase gives us a clue.  Maybe we begin loving others “in truth and action” by doing for them what God has done for us.  Maybe we share love with others in the same way God has shared love with us.
    That’s what Sara Miles did.  I mentioned Sara a couple of weeks ago and am sure to mention her several more times in coming months.  Her’s is a remarkable story.  A leftist leaning agnostic journalist who also is a very good cook, one day Sara wandered into an Episcopal church inSan Francisco.  When she received communion, Sara’s spirit was fed in a way she’d never before experienced.  When she received the wafer and wine, she received God.

    Finding God in being fed was such a powerful experience for Sara, she began feeding others.  She set up a food bank at her church (and eventually at several other sites in the area). They served people—literally—from the table in the sanctuary.  God had loved Sara—that is, God had acted her into well-being—by feeding her.  She now acts others into well-being by feeding them.

    So, how might you act others into well-being?  In what specific ways has God’s love changed you?  Might the answer to that question give you a hint as to how you might “love [others] in truth and action?”

    Has God’s love fed you?  Feed others.
    Has God’s love sheltered you?  Shelter others.
    Has God’s love nurtured you?  Nurture others.
    Has God’s love healed you?  Heal others.
    Has God’s love helped you accept yourself?  Help others accept themselves.
    Has God’s love helped you make sense of life?  Help others make sense of their lives—teach them, counsel them, ask them annoying questions.
    Has God’s love helped you with your anger and addiction problems?  Help others with theirs.
    Has God’s love parented you?  Parent others.
    Has God’s love empowered you?  Empower others.

    As children of God, we have been shepherded well.  Jesus is our good shepherd.  The question now becomes, How might we become good sheep?   Perhaps one way to become good—or at least better—sheep is to remember the ways in which God’s love has acted us into well-being and THEN to act others into well-being in the same way.

    How has God acted you into well-being?  Go and do likewise.

    In the name of our God, who creates us, redeems us, sustains us, and hopes for our wholeness.  Amen.

     

  • A Little Christmas Liturgy… (2011)
    12.26.11

    Christmas Eve Meditation

    The PBS news magazine, Religion and Ethics News Weekly, recently reported on a significant crime problem:  the theft of the baby Jesus from untold outdoor nativity displays.  As she reported the problem, the anchor also promised a “potential solution.”

    Being a good, solid religious news show, well-versed in all matters of religion, I thought I knew what solution they would propose— don’t put the baby Jesus out until Christmas Eve!  I’m still convinced that all those Jesus thieves are secret members of the liturgical police.  They are saving the world from liturgical incorrectness!  Put the baby Jesus out when he’s supposed to come, there would be no need for the messianic thievery.

    Thinking the religious world finally was getting on board with a practical solution to the mass kidnapping of baby Jesuses, I was disappointed to hear the actual solution.   “Brickhouse Security has developed a small GPS tracking device that can be attached to the baby Jesus figurine.  If someone steals it, the device alerts the owner with a text or email and the authorities can track where it went.  Brickhouse is distributing the device for free to churches and other qualifying non-profits.  The program is called “GPS Jesus.”  It can be used for Santa and Rudolph or other holiday figures as well.  But the baby Jesus seems to be the most popular among holiday thieves.”

    I find this whole obsession with knowing the precise location of the baby Jesus, Emmanuel, God-with-us, fascinating.  It’s like this is the one time of year when we can have a little control over where God-with-us is…God-with-us is right there, in the manger, in the stable, right there between Mary and Joseph, right where he’s supposed to be.  When the baby Jesus isn’t where he’s supposed to be, something feels incomplete, unfinished, unwhole.

    Let me say that again.  When the baby Jesus—God-with-us—isn’t with us, something feels incomplete, unfinished, unwhole.  When God-with-us goes missing, it leaves a gaping hole in our lives. 

    But I bring you good tidings of great joy!  We don’t need a GPS to find Jesus!  No APBs will be necessary this Christmas Eve night because God-with-us is not missing!  God-with-us is here, has been all evening—in the Scriptures read, in the songs and carols sung, in our togetherness, in the silence, in the candlelight… In fact, God-with-us shows up every time we open our eyes and our hearts to the divine presence in our lives. 

    So, yes.  Go ahead..it’s okay to look—the baby Jesus is there, right where he’s supposed to be—in the manger, in the stable, right between Joseph and Mary.  But I also invite you to look around you…because God-with-us isn’t only in that tiny piece of pottery.  God-with-us is everywhere.  All we have to do is look. 

    Thanks be to God!

    *******
    Pastoral Prayer

    Loving God, we thank you for this night and for the best story of our whole Christian faith:  the one that reminds us that you loved us so much you wanted to become one of us and to come live with us in our real lives every day. 

    Remind us again, God, that if your story is to continue—just like tonight—every single one of us has a role to play.  If the sad and lonely are to feel better—we have to do our part.  If the poor and homeless are to get what they need– we have to do our part.  If people are to learn about how much you love them–we have to do our part.

    Help us always to do our part in the ongoing story of your love for all people, God…but most of all, God, we thank you for doing your part.  Now we join together in praying the Lord’s Prayer…

     

  • Memorial Service for the Homeless
    12.23.11

    Last night, I attended a candlelight vigil and memorial service for homeless people who died in Cobb and Cherokee Counties in 2011.  A national organization that advocates for people who are homeless encourages local communities to have memorial services on December 21 every year. 

    December 21st is the longest night of the year.

    Just before 5:30, I pulled into the parking lot of the Elizabeth Inn, a homeless shelter that is part of MUST Ministries in Marietta.  I found my way to a makeshift altar on a patch of asphalt on the far side of the Inn.  A table had been draped in black cloth.  Five 8” x 10” frames were arranged on the table with an unlit candle in front of each.  Three of the frames held names; the other two, pictures.  These were the five homeless people who died in Cobb and Cherokee Counties in 2011.

    At one end of the table sat a thick white candle with three wicks.  I picked up a smaller candle from a basket, walked to the table, and lit my candle from one of those flames.  Or tried to.  For the next hour and 15 minutes, I worked hard to keep that flame alive.  Unusually warm for December, the air was pleasant, but the wind was persistent.  Take my eyes off the flame for even a second, it would die.

    My first lesson of the evening:  flames are fragile.

    My friend, Andy Peabody, was in charge of the vigil and service.  He invited us to enter into a time of silent—or at least quiet—reflection, not only for those people who died, but for all people in our area who are without stable housing.

    Fighting to keep my flame alive, aware of its warmth and light–and fragility–I remembered a thought earlier in the day:  “If it rains, will they cancel the service?”  Well, of course not, silly.  What message would be sent to the homeless if we cancelled a vigil for them because of a little rain?  And then it hit me what a luxury, what an absolute luxury it is to choose to cancel something because of weather.  (…indeed, what a luxury it is to be sitting here in my recliner with a laptop on my lap listening to the rain fall outside my window.  A luxury.)  People without homes have few options when it comes to avoiding weather.

    My second lesson of the evening:  I live a life of luxury.

    I chose to attend the service because I wanted to experience the deep suffering caused by homelessness.  I wanted to confront the stark reality that homelessness isn’t a game, it’s not something to shove to the back of our thinking.  Jesus said that we’ll always have the poor with us, but I don’t think he meant for us to give up on them.  Because people die.  They really die.  For many people without homes, there is no happy ending.  Life is hard.  It kicks them in the teeth then turns its head when they die.   

    Anyway, the best way for someone like me (a worship leader) to experience this depth of suffering is by attending a worship service and opening myself completely to the experience. 

    Which is what I was doing when a woman came up to me and started chatting… asking me who I was, where I lived, talking about how it’s always windy at these December gatherings…  Okay.  I confess:  I was annoyed.  I was there to pay my respects to homeless people who had died.  Didn’t this woman have any respect for the dead?

    My third lesson of the evening:  Everyone deals with grief in his or her own way…some of us by chattering our way through it; others of us by judging others for their chosen method of grief.

    By the time the memorial service began, the sun had set.  The pictures and names of the deceased had become obscured by darkness.  As we gathered around the table, drawing closer together, Andy invited everyone who didn’t have a candle to get one and to let another person light it. 

    By this time, I had used up two candles.  I thought I would forgo using any more.  But the invitation, though gentle, was insistent.  So, I walked back to the basket, got a third candle, and turned to a person I didn’t know to get a light.  Again, because of the wind, it took two or three times of trying before the light “took.”  Then a person came up to me to get a light from me.  Again, it took several times before the light took.  Flames are fragile.

    The service began with prayer and comments made by representatives of several homeless advocacy groups.  Then the names of those who died were read.  After each name was read, the frame holding the name or photo was placed and the candle lit.  After the candle lighting, a bell sounded.

    The fourth name to be read was that of a man who had been a Marine and who was a veteran.  After his name was read and the candle lit, somewhere behind me, a trumpeter played Taps.  It surprised me, that solemn sound.  I wasn’t prepared for it.  I was wide open; I was vulnerable.  I nearly lost it.    

    My fourth lesson of the evening:  Homeless people are people.  They are human beings created in the image of God…people who have lives, histories, loves, and disappointments… people whose passing needs to be noticed.  People who need to be—deserve to be–honored. 

    Our last act of the evening was to read a litany.  In it, those gathered promised to work for a future where everyone in our community has stable housing.  By that point, I was so devastated by the plight of the homeless and so overwhelmed by the size of the problem, I despaired of what, if anything, I could do to help ensure that anyone—much less everyone—in my community has stable housing.  

    Who knows?  Maybe this blog post is a first feeble step.

  • Sermon: Getting to Yes (December 18, 2011)

                She said yes.  I wonder why?  A young woman, engaged, but not married, minding her own business, trying to be a good Jewish girl…then a person claiming to be an angel shows up, tells her God has chosen her, that she’s pregnant, that she’ll bear—no, really—God’s son.  “How can this be?” she asks. 

                How can this be, when it’s so far outside the box?  The women at the well are going to talk.  Joseph will be upset.  Joseph’s parents?  Ugh.  If people in town find out she’s pregnant, some might even want to stone her.  Why in the world would she say, “Let it be with me according to your word?”  Why in the world did Mary say yes?

                Saying yes to some things is easy, isn’t it?  Free Super Bowl tickets?  Yes.  A promotion at work?  Yes.  A batch of Lois’ deviled eggs made especially for you?  Oh, yes!

                But other things don’t elicit yeses quite so easily.  A position on the church Council?  Umm…  Actively working for justice in the world?  Well, I…  Welcoming an unplanned pregnancy?  You see, I… 

    I wish we got a little more information between Mary’s question—“How can this be?”—and her yes—“Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.”   How did Mary get from “How can this be?” to “Here am I, send me?”  What process did she go through?  What convinced her to say “yes” to God?

    If we knew what helped Mary get to yes, maybe that would help us get to yes, too.

    Poet Michel Quoist wrestled with this very question in a poem called “I am afraid of saying, ‘yes,’ Lord.”  Maybe his struggle in getting to yes will resonate with your own.

    I am afraid of saying “yes”, Lord.
    Where will you take me?
    I am afraid of drawing the longer straw,
    I am afraid of signing my name to an unread agreement,
    I am afraid of the “yes” that will entail other “yeses”.

    Yet I am not at peace.
    For you pursue me, besiege me.
    I seek out the din for fear of hearing you,
    but in a moment of silence,
    you slip through.

    I turn from the road,
    for I have caught sight of you,
    but at the end of the path,
    you are there, awaiting me.
    Where shall I hide?
    I meet you everywhere.
    Is it even possible to escape you?

    I am afraid to say “yes”, Lord.
    I am afraid of putting my hand in yours,
    for you to hold on to it.
    I am afraid of meeting your eyes,
    for I know you will win me.
    I am afraid of your demands.
    I am hemmed in, yet I continue to hide.
    I am captured, yet I continue to struggle,
    and I fight, knowing that I am defeated.

    For you are the stronger one, Lord,
    you own the world,
    and you take it from me.
    When I stretch out my hand,
    to catch hold of people and things,
    they vanish before my eyes.

    I can’t seem to keep anything for myself.
    The flower I pick withers in my hands.
    My laughter freezes on my lips.
    Everything seems empty,
    everything seems hollow.

    For you have made a desert around me.
    I am hungry and thirsty,
    and nothing in this world seems to satisfy me.

    And yet I have loved you, Lord,
    I’ve worked for you; gave my whole life to you,
    followed your voice in the night,
    from the earliest days of my youth.
    O great and terrible God,
    what more do you want?
    Why won’t you leave me in peace?

    * * * * *

    My son, I want more for you and the world,
    until now, you have planned your actions,
    but I have no need of them.
    You have asked for my approval.
    You have asked for my support.
    You have wanted to interest me in your work.

    But do you not see,
    that you were reversing the roles?
    I have watched you, I have seen your good will.
    And I want more than you, now.
    You will no longer do your own works,
    but the will of the one who has called you,
    who has whispered to you on that night,
    when you were merely a child.

    Say “yes”, son.
    I need your “yes” as I needed Mary’s, to come to earth.
    For it is I who must do your work.
    It is I who must live in your family, not you.
    It is I who must be in those whose lives you touch, not you.
    It is I whose words they must hear, not yours.
    It is I whose eyes they must look into, not yours.
    It is my Word that carries weight, not yours.
    It is my Life that transforms, not yours.

    Give all to me, abandon all to me.
    I need your “yes” to be united with you,
    and to come down to earth.
    I need your “yes” to continue saving the world.

     

    ********

    O Lord, I am afraid of your demands.
    But who can resist you?
    That your Kingdom may come, and not mine.
    That your Will may be done, and not mine.
    Help me to say “yes”.

     

                Well, there you go right there!  If God came out and delivered us a poem on the spot or sent an angel or even a well-placed billboard, well, that would make getting to yes as easy as could be, wouldn’t it?  If God came to me and said, “Say ‘yes,’ daughter,” I’d probably say yes before God even finished saying the word “daughter.”

                But how do you get to yes without all the angels and auras and divine poetry?  How do you get to yes when you’re confused and afraid and just trying to live your life?  Why bother saying yes to God when life is plenty complicated enough already?

                The poet’s God said this:  I need your “yes” as I needed Mary’s, to come to earth.  I need your “yes” to continue saving the world. 

                “I need your ‘yes’ to continue saving the world?”  Oh, man.  Are we really that important to God?  What was God thinking, making us human beings so big a part of the divine action plan?  Surely, God doesn’t need us to continue saving the world!

    But…well…If you think about every religious movement that’s ever happened in the world, if you think about every glimpse of the holy that human beings ever have gotten… people always seem to be hanging around, don’t they?  Abraham, Moses, Martin Luther King, Jr., Dorothy Day, Mother Teresa.  In fact, it’s almost like the thing that unleashes God’s spirit and love into the world is human beings allowing themselves to be used by God.  It’s like God’s spirit and love are unleashed in the world only when human beings say “yes” to God.

                Like when Mary said yes.  Just look how much love was unleashed into the world because Mary said yes to God.  Despite her fears, despite her misgivings, despite the inconvenience, Mary said yes…and through her, God was able to do amazing things.  Through Mary, God was able to continue saving the world.

                What amazing things might happen if you say yes to God?  If you say yes to God, in what ways will God’s spirit and love get unleashed in the world?  Who’s life might change?  Hear me well.  No one’s saying you have to say yes to God.  But don’t you wonder what might happen if you do?

    In the name of our God, who creates us, redeems us, sustains us, and hopes for our wholeness.  Amen.

    Kimberleigh Buchanan  ©  2011

    Luke 1:26-55

    In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, 27to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. 28And he came to her and said, ‘Greetings, favoured one! The Lord is with you.’* 29But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. 30The angel said to her, ‘Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favour with God. 31And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. 32He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. 33He will reign over the house of Jacob for ever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.’ 34Mary said to the angel, ‘How can this be, since I am a virgin?’* 35The angel said to her, ‘The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born* will be holy; he will be called Son of God. 36And now, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month for her who was said to be barren. 37For nothing will be impossible with God.’ 38Then Mary said, ‘Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.’ Then the angel departed from her. <!– 39 –>

    Mary Visits Elizabeth

    39 In those days Mary set out and went with haste to a Judean town in the hill country, 40where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. 41When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leapt in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit 42and exclaimed with a loud cry, ‘Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. 43And why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me? 44For as soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb leapt for joy. 45And blessed is she who believed that there would be* a fulfilment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.’ <!– 46 –>

    Mary’s Song of Praise

    46 And Mary* said,
    ‘My soul magnifies the Lord,
    47   and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour,
    48 for he has looked with favour on the lowliness of his servant.
       Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
    49 for the Mighty One has done great things for me,
       and holy is his name.
    50 His mercy is for those who fear him
       from generation to generation.
    51 He has shown strength with his arm;
       he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.
    52 He has brought down the powerful from their thrones,
       and lifted up the lowly;
    53 he has filled the hungry with good things,
       and sent the rich away empty.
    54 He has helped his servant Israel,
       in remembrance of his mercy,
    55 according to the promise he made to our ancestors,
       to Abraham and to his descendants for ever.’

     

     

  • Merton’s Prayer
    12.08.11

    An amazing prayer…  for a sung version, check out Kate Campbell’s rendition.

     

    Thoughts in Solitude (Thomas Merton)

    My Lord God,
    I have no idea where I am going.
    I do not see the road ahead of me.
    I cannot know for certain where it will end.
    Nor do I really know myself,
    And the fact that I think
    that I am following your will
    Does not mean that I am actually doing so.
    But I believe that the desire to please you
    does in fact please you.
    And I hope I have that desire
    in all that I am doing.
    I hope that I will never do anything
    apart from that desire.
    And I know that if I do this you will lead me
    By the right road
    though I may know nothing about it.
    Therefore I will trust you always
    though I may seem to be lost
    And in the shadow of death.
    I will not fear, for you are ever with me,
    And you will never leave me to face my perils alone.

    Amen.

     

     

  • Icons at St. Greg’s
    12.02.11

    Two days ago, I was reading a spiritual memoir called “take this bread,” by Sara Miles.  A die hard atheist (or maybe agnostic), this liberal-as-they-come-lesbian-journalist wandered into a church one day and received communion.  It changed her life.

    The part I read two days ago was about her church, St. Gregory of Nyssa Episcopal Church in San Francisco.  Among her descriptions of the church (which I MUST visit some day!) was a blurb about the 91 “saints” icons painted (or written) at the church.

    African American iconographer, Mark Dukes, wrote the icons of the saints of the community of St. Greg’s, a multi-racial group of social justice loving artists.  Dukes wrote icons of an interesting array of saints…not all of them “saints,” per se…not all even Christian.  But each meant something in the life of St. Gregory’s.

    Here’s the really neat part of all this…two days ago I was reading this chapter that described the icons.  Yesterday, I received an email from All Saints something that had a link to the icons!  How’s that for the working of the Holy Spirit?  Pretty cool to read about something one day and then have a link to views the pictures the next day.

    And now I get to share them with you!  Here’s the link.  http://www.allsaintscompany.org/dancing-saints-all-icons

    Were you an iconographer, which saints would you write?

    Enoy!

  • Sermon: Waiting for God (November 27, 2011)
    11.30.11

    Isaiah 64:1-9

    Here’s a news item you might have missed.  “The folks at Star Provisions in Midtown are eagerly praying for the return of Jesus.  Sometime on Wednesday, a thief…swiped the Christ Child from a manger scene set up in the store.                                                      “Merry Christmas,” said a disgusted Dana Kirkpatrick, floor manager at Star Provisions.  “It’s wrong on so many levels.”  The shop was pretty busy on Wednesday so employees have no idea who robbed the cradle.                                                                          “This is a hand-carved set from Germany.  It’s kind of pricey,” said Tim Gaddis, the store’s cheese monger.  A former Gilmer County law enforcement officer, we asked how he’d go about investigating the crime if he still wore a badge.                                                                “I’d talk to everybody who was working that day, review security tapes,” he said.  “Fingerprints would be pointless.”  Were he to apprehend the culprit, the thief could expect another come-to-Jesus moment.  “You steal baby Jesus, you’re going to jail,” Gaddis said.”   “Star Provisions is not offering a reward – it just seemed too untoward (perhaps too King Herod-like?) to put a price on Jesus’ head.  Gaddis figures the thief knows who he or she is, and hopes to appeal to the better angels of that person’s nature.  “Jesus could return quietly in a brown paper bag,” he said.  “We just want it back.”                                                                   So, I wonder who the Jesus thief is?  A kid pulling a prank?  A non-Christian tired of all the baby-Jesus hullabaloo?  A Christian pastor tired of all the baby-Jesus hullabaloo?  Or maybe—and this is my theory—maybe it was a member of the Liturgical Police…because a member of the Liturgical Police would know—as every Christian should know—that the baby Jesus doesn’t come until Christmas Eve night!  (And, no.  I did NOT take that baby Jesus.)       We don’t like waiting on the baby Jesus, do we? 

    We don’t like singing Advent hymns or hearing strange Scripture texts or looking at an almost-complete nativity.  No, now that Thanksgiving is over, we’re ready for the baby Jesus!  We want him and we want him now!       

    In this age of instant everything, we’ve nearly lost the experience of waiting.  Like the guy in the 4G phone ad says to the guy with the 3G phone:  “That was so 27 seconds ago!”  We want everything now and, with few exceptions, we can get everything now.  But Advent –the season that begins today– is about waiting.  The baby Jesus is about waiting.  And those who want to experience Christmas meaningfully, can do so only after waiting for it.                    

    The author of today’s Scripture lesson knows something about waiting.  The Prophet wrote in the 6th century BCE, after Israel had been taken into exile.  The people had been torn away from their homes, torn away from their land, torn away from their Temple.          

    That part about being torn away from their Temple doesn’t have much meaning for us; we know we can experience God anywhere.  But for 6th century Israelites, God literally lived in the Temple.  So when the Temple was destroyed, and when they were forceably removed to a foreign land, the people began to wonder about God.  Did God still exist?  Were they still God’s people?  If they were still God’s people, why were they still in exile?  If God still loved them, why were they still suffering?      

                                                                                                        The prophet’s lament begins with memories of how God had, in the past, swooped in and saved the people.  O that you would tear open the heavens and come down,  so that the mountains would quake at your presence…to make your name known to your adversaries, so that the nations—like the one that had conquered Israel—might tremble at your presence

                The people are in trouble.  They’re in exile…they’re away from everything that’s familiar, everything that’s comfortable.  They’ve heard stories about how God acted in the past.  They want God to do the same right now.  They’d give anything for God to tear open the heavens and come riding in on a white horse to save them…right now.                          

    Do you ever want God to swoop in and save you?  Do you ever long for God to tear open the heavens and whup up on your problems and set everything in your world right again?  If so, then you know something about how the author of these words was feeling.    

           Even in the midst of his angst, though, even in the midst of his suffering and his longing for God to tear open the heavens and swoop in and save him, still the prophet proclaims:  4From ages past no one has heard, no ear has perceived, no eye has seen any God besides you, who works for those who wait for him.”  Yes.  Sometimes we just have to wait for God.  The pain will stop, the suffering will end, everything will go back to normal—or at least to a place of comfort—if we just wait on God.  Yes.  Just wait on God.

    You know what I love?  Cheesy holiday movies.  I saw one Thanksgiving Night.  I don’t remember the name of it…but that’s okay.  You’ll know the plot by heart, anyway. 

    A successful corporate attorney trying her best to make partner by the end of the year, tells all her underlings to cancel their Thanksgiving plans; they’ll be working all day to prepare for a court case the day after Thanksgiving.  They’re trying to win a case for an unsavoury mining conglomerate that wants to replace a town’s only park with an unhealthy mine.  In her drivenness to win the case, the attorney, Claudia, also cancels Thanksgiving plans with her sister and her sister’s family…not the first time she’s done so.

    The day before Thanksgiving, Claudia shares a ride in the company car with a woman named Gina.  Gina asks Claudia if she’s happy with her life.  Claudia insists she is.  She doesn’t need family, she doesn’t need anything she doesn’t already have…except full partnership in the law firm….which she’ll get if she wins the case for the mining company.

    About that time, the car hits a bump and Claudia hits her head.  When she gets out of the car, she finds herself at a house, with a husband and two children.  See?  You already know where this is going.  In a play on Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol,” Claudia has the chance to live for a few weeks as if she had chosen a different life…not the life of climbing the corporate ladder, but the life of family connections and friends.

    While living her alternate reality, Claudia crosses paths with Gina a couple of times.  Each time she begs to be taken back to her “real life.”  Each time Gina says, “You’re not ready yet.” 

    Then, as the court battle with the mining conglomerate looms, Claudia gets in the taxi to go defend the townspeople’s case.  Who’s her cabbie?  Gina…who tells Claudia she’s now ready to return to her real life.  Of course, now Claudia doesn’t want to go.  She wants to stay and help defeat the evil mining conglomerate.  But with another bump of the head, she ends up back at her old law firm.  You know what happens…She goes to court, loses the case—and her job—then celebrates by going to the coffee shop where she meets the man who was her husband in the alternate life and who now will be her beau for real.  The end.

    Okay.  Got the plot?  Seen it a thousand times?  Here’s why I’m telling you this story… because it’s all about waiting.  The first hours and days in her new life, Claudia wants out of there as fast as she can be removed.  This is not what she wanted.  Ever!  But then hubby and the two kids start to grow on her…and after a couple of weeks she discovers that she loves them.  And, yes, that she needs them.

    It’s only when Claudia makes the discovery that she needs others in her life that she is at last ready to re-enter her “real life.”  With that first bump of her head, Claudia easily could have been returned to her life immediately.  It’s TV, right?  But if she had been, she wouldn’t have experienced the change that was necessary for her “real life” to have the deeper meaner it needed.  By the movie’s end, you know Claudia has changed enough that she’s going to make better, more whole-making decisions than she had in the past…all because she waited.  The experience of waiting taught her what only waiting could.  By inhabiting that place of discomfort, that place of longing to be anywhere except where she was, Claudia learned enough and was changed enough to begin living her life more deeply than she ever had.

    So, I guess we could look at the absence of that baby Jesus in Midtown, not as a robbery, but as a gift.  What kind of Christmas would we have if we didn’t have to wait on the baby Jesus?  What lessons might we miss if we skipped over the waiting process?

    There is one person in our community right now who is an expert on waiting, Emily Adams, who is in her 9th month of pregnancy.  I sent Emily an email this week, asking, first, if she might delay her son’s birth until December 24 or 25.  That would be so cool liturgically, don’t you think?  Apparently, Emily wasn’t in a liturgical mood when I made the suggestion.             

    Then I asked her if she’d share something about her own experience of waiting.  She wrote:  “When waiting for something I really want, my first impulse is to focus on the feeling of unhappiness that I don’t have what I want yet.  I can’t wait to meet Ian and sometimes find myself feeling negative about the fact that I’m still waiting.  But I’m trying to train myself to take a deep breath, open my eyes, and see the wonderful things I can experience only because I am waiting.  In this case, all of the bed rest and time off of work has meant that I’ve gotten lots of extra time to be with Ben and really savor each moment of our time together before our family dynamic changes.  Waiting for one thing has given me the space to mindfully appreciate what I already have in my life.  And for that I am eternally grateful.”

    What might we learn from waiting for our baby, the baby Jesus?  What might these days of longing and anticipation teach us, how might inhabiting this place of discomfort change us?  How might we use these next 28 days to prepare—really prepare—for the coming of God-with-us?  I don’t know.  I guess we’ll just have to wait and see.

     In the name of our God, who creates us, redeems us, sustains us, and hopes for our wholeness.  Amen.

    Kimberleigh Buchanan  ©  2011

     

     

     

     

     

  • Sermon: The Least of These (November 20, 2011)

                Okay.  Let’s just get this out of the way:  Everyone here is a sheep.  Not a goat in sight!  I say that because often when we read this “least of these” text from Matthew, we get stuck on the idea of if we don’t do enough of the right things, if we don’t do enough good deeds, if we don’t do the most for the least of these, then we’re going (Choir: “straight to hell”).  Right.  And being afraid of going (“straight to hell”), we get paralyzed and do nothing or we get rebellious and do nothing.  Or we just discount this whole religion thing as quaint but obsolete.  And do nothing.

    When we get bogged down in the question of where we’ll spend eternity, it distracts us from the question of how we’re spending our lives right now…and I’m convinced that THAT is the question Jesus is asking in this parable.  So, let’s just declare ourselves sheep and get on with it.

    It’s not such a stretch to imagine everyone in this room as a sheep.  I’ve never been in a church that does so much for “the least of these.”  If a need is mentioned in this place, the response always is swift and generous— whether it’s chicken for MUST lunch, Christmas gifts for the girls at Wellspring, space heaters for people who need them, or supporting our youth in their mission trip to an Osage Indian reservation this summer.  Or this past summer when the MUST food pantry was out of food?  I mentioned that in worship and many of you left the service, drove to Publix or Kroger and were back with food before Sunday School was over.  We aren’t a large church, but we do have a large heart, especially when it comes to meeting the needs of “the least of these.”  I’m proud to pastor such a flock of sheep.

    But reading this parable, I wonder if we’ve reached our sheepy potential?  I wonder if we’ve learned everything we can about serving the least of these?  I wonder if there’s still room for us to grow in the ways in which we live Jesus’ love in the world?

                Here’s why I wonder that…because there’s something about this passage that bugs me.  It makes sense that the goats didn’t realize that when they didn’t feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, clothe the naked and all those other things…it makes sense that the goats didn’t realize that the things they weren’t doing they weren’t doing to Jesus.  I mean, in this story, the goats are clueless anyway.  It makes sense they didn’t get the connection between helping others and helping Jesus.

    But don’t you find it strange that the sheep hadn’t made that connection either?  They asked, “Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, thirsty and give you drink, naked and clothe you,” and all those things.  Jesus answered:  “When you did it for the least of these, you did it for me.”  “Oh, man!  That was Jesus?  Why didn’t somebody tell me?  I just thought that was old Joe who I see every time I go to serve at MUST.  I didn’t know it was Jesus!” 

    We can’t deny that the sheep were doing good works.  They were doing amazing things—clothing the naked, welcoming the stranger, visiting the sick and imprisoned.  But somehow in the midst of all their good works, it looks like they had missed Jesus.  They were doing good, but somehow, they were missing Jesus. 

    I’d like to tell you one sheep’s story.  His name was Henri Nouwen.  He was a priest who, after a successful career of teaching, was becoming restless and looking for the next thing to do.  After a period of discernment, Henri ended up at a community called Daybreak inToronto.  Daybreak is a community for severely disabled people and the assistants who care for them.  “When Henri arrived inToronto, he was assigned to work with Adam.” 

    Adam was “a 24 year-old man, [who] was very…handicapped.  He couldn’t speak.  He couldn’t walk.  He couldn’t dress or undress himself.  You never really knew if he knew you or not.  His body was very deformed.  His back was distorted and he suffered from continuous epileptic seizures.   

    “I was really afraid,” Nouwen wrote.  “Here I was a university professor.  I had never touched anybody very closely and here was Adam.  Hold him!  At 7: 00 in the morning I went to his room and there he was.  I took off his clothes, held him and walked with him very carefully.  I was frightened because I thought he might have a seizure.  I walked with him to the bath and tried to lift him into the bath tub – he was as heavy as I am.  I started to throw water over him, wash him, shampoo his hair and take him out again to brush his teeth, comb his hair and bring him back to his bed.  I dressed him in what clothes I could find and took him to the kitchen.  I sat him at the table and started to give him his breakfast.  The only thing he could really do was lift the spoon up to his mouth.  I sat there and watched him.  It took about an hour.  I had never been with anyone for a whole hour, just seeing if they could eat.

                “Something happened. I was frightened for about a week, a little less frightened after two weeks.  After three or four weeks, I started to realize that I was thinking about Adam a lot and that I was looking forward to being with him.  Suddenly I knew something was happening between us that was very intimate, very beautiful and that was of God… Somehow I started to realize that this poor, broken man was the place where God was speaking to me in a whole new way.  Gradually I discovered real affection in myself and I thought that Adam and I belonged together and that it was so important.”

    There’s a way of helping people that helps them, but at the same time, keeps them in their place.  Do you know what I mean?  I will help you because I have so much and you have so little.  I will help you because I am able-bodied and you are disabled.  I will help you because I’m an insider and you’re an outsider.  Sometimes the way we help others reinforces the idea that people who have more net worth also have more human worth. 

    What Henri learned from Adam, though, is that he and Adam were equals.  Part of what helped Henri discover “real affection in himself,” was recognizing that, despite the very real differences in their abilities, he and Adam were just alike.  They both were human beings.  They both were loved—deeply loved–by God.  And Jesus lived in both of them.  It’s almost like in learning to see Adam’s humanity, Henri was able to see his own humanity.  In learning to see Jesus in Adam, Henri learned to see Jesus in himself. 

    Maybe that’s what Jesus is calling us to in this “least of these” parable, at least those of us who identify as sheep.  We’ve already answered the call to work with and in behalf of the least of these.  Maybe our new call is to do so mindfully…to think with every person we help—this is Jesus.  This is a human being.  This is a person who is just like me—deeply loved by God. 

    It is good to good things.  It is good to good things in the name of Jesus.  What might happen, though, if we do good things as if we are doing them for Jesus?  What might happen if we look for and find Jesus in the least of these, the outcasts?  It might just be that in loving the Jesus in others we will discover the Jesus in ourselves as well.  IT might just be that we will discover that we all are children of God.

    In the name of our God, who creates us, redeems us, sustains us, and hopes for our wholeness.  Amen.

    Kimberleigh Buchanan  ©  2011

    Matthew 25:31-46

    Here’s a story I left on the cutting room floor… 

    Christ Heuertz made that discovery one afternoon inJerusalem.  Chris is part of the “Word Made Flesh” movement, people who live in community and serve the poorest of the poor across the globe.  I highly recommend his book “Simple Spirituality:  Seeing God in a Broken World.” 

    On the day in question, Chris found himself on the Via Dolorosa—the way of Suffering.  It’s the path many think Jesus took on the last day of his life.

    At the end of the way, Chris saw a Palestinian man.  “He had a long black beard and dirty hair that fell below his shoulders.  His eyes were kind.  He was barefoot.  He had no pants.  The only thing keeping him from being completely naked was the open rag of a shirt that he wore, torn and dirty, loosely hanging off his shoulders.  It caught me off guard,” Chris writes.  “He obviously was not in his right mind.  However, this man was gentle.  As his dazed eyes drifted into the sparsely clouded sky I could tell he was harmless.”

    “Various tour groups making their pilgrimages throughJerusalemwould walk down the path with tears in their eyes and the typical romanticized holy-land-tour wistfulness.  Arriving at the end of the path, the tour groups and pilgrims came face to face with this naked man.  Their responses were usually very similar.  At first, most were frightened by the man.  Many flat out ignored him, walking right past him, acting as though he wasn’t there.  Some, realizing he was harmless and helpless, would cruelly try to scare him off or send him away.”

     “I went back to my dorm room that evening and began reading through the Scriptures.  I found myself stuck in Matthew 13:44, where a man discovers treasure hidden in a field.  The passage tells us that ‘joyfully’ he went off to sell all his possessions in order to buy the field… I sat at my desk with my Bible open, thinking about the meaning of this verse.”

     “I was compelled to pray about the passage.  Suddenly it was as if the Lord took a hold of my heart, trying to show me that I was the ‘hidden treasure.’  Jesus joyfully went to the cross and sold everything (his own life) so that I could be his.  I was overcome with a sense of God’s love for me.  It broke me.  I sat at my desk weeping, drinking in the love that God was lavishing, pouring out on me.”        

    “I reflected on the events of that day, remembering the pain and sadness I saw reflected in the face of the naked man.  Praying for that man, the Lord opened my eyes to the hidden treasure that had been standing before me.  That crazy man, naked and dirty, also was a ‘hidden treasure’ that Jesus loved so much that he gave his all for him.”

     

     

  • Sermon: Blessed Are the Poor? (November 13, 2011)

               We’ve heard the Gospel lesson and a great spiritual written about it.  Before you get anxious about that going “straight to hell” part, let me assure you that this story is not about the afterlife.  When Jesus told this parable, it was meant to focus people’s attention on the here and now.  Hearing this parable today, 2,000 years later, it’s meant to do the same.  What does this parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus say about our lives today?

                Maybe we’ll learn something by hearing the story again.  Tell you what let’s do.  Let’s divide into two groups.  First group (choir side):  Listen to the story as if you are the rich man.  Second group (kitchen side):  Listen as if you are Lazarus.  Got it?  Here we go.

                There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day.

    (To the “rich”)  You’re rich, probably royal—you were born into wealth.  You aren’t evil, just…insulated by your money and privilege.  You enjoy the fruit of yours or some ancestor’s labor.  Your wealth isn’t good or bad; it’s just the way things are.

    20And at his gate lay a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, 21who longed to satisfy his hunger with what fell from the rich man’s table; even the dogs would come and lick his sores.

    (To the “Lazaruses”)  You’re wishing you’d gotten here earlier to get a seat on the rich side, huh?  You are a poor person, one who literally is spat upon.  You are invisible.  Though you lie at his gate every day, it’s doubtful the rich man ever has noticed you.  For him, you simply don’t exist.

    But you do exist.  You’re a human being.  Jesus draws attention to this fact by giving you a name:  Lazarus.  In fact, you’re the only person in ANY of Jesus’ parables ever named.  You are a human being…

    …one who is hungry.  As the rich man feasts sumptuously, you beg for the bits left for the dogs under his table.  As it turns out, the dogs are the only ones who care for you.  They lick your sores, as they would lick their own wounds for healing.

    So, how are you feeling, rich people?  How are you Lazaruses feeling?  Ready to change seats, Lazarus?  Hold on.  You might want to hear the rest of the story.

    22The poor man died and was carried away by the angels to be with Abraham. (Rock-a-my soul in the bosom of Abraham; Rock-a-my soul in the bosom of Abraham; Rock-a-my soul in the bosom of Abraham.  O, Rock-a my soul.)  The rich man also died and was buried.  (He went straight to hell.)  23In Hades, where he was being tormented, he looked up and saw Abraham far away with Lazarus by his side.

    Okay.  So, the tormented rich man looked up, saw Abraham and Lazarus in that sweet little scene, then…

    24He called out, ‘Father Abraham—Kim:  Father ABRAHAM, right–have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am in agony in these flames.’  (Dip you finger in the water come and cool my tongue, for I’m tormented in the flames.)

    Okay, Lazarus.  How does that make you feel?  You’re in paradise, all cozy in the bosom of Abraham, finally receiving comfort you never experienced in life…and there’s this rich man who never noticed you in life, who never once acknowledged your agony…He does at least see you now, he knows your name, but he won’t call you by it…no…He’s still trying to order you around…(or order Abraham to order you around).  Who is this guy?

    But Abraham said, ‘Child, remember that during your lifetime you received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner evil things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in agony.  26Besides all this, between you and us a great chasm has been fixed, so that those who might want to pass from here to you cannot do so, and no one can cross from there to us.

    (Carole King:  “It’s too late.”)  It’s too late.  The Rich Man has lost his chance to see the poor man, to help him, to share with him.  It’s important to note that Father Abraham isn’t angry or punitive with the rich man here, he’s simply stating the obvious—that there comes a point beyond which generosity can not reach.  There comes a point when you dig the moat so deep around you—or the grobin, Jim?—When you spend your life building moats and walls and gates and suburbs around yourself to insulate yourself from the people who make you uncomfortable, the people, in your heart of hearts, you’re afraid of becoming…when you dig a chasm around yourself to keep others out, well, that’s exactly what it does.  It keeps others out.  It becomes too vast to fill in, too wide to bridge.  The chasm, the abyss gapes.  Forever.  Yeah.  It probably is hell, in its way.

    (Point out “chasm” between the middle sections.)  Thanks to the choir’s help, we’ve created a representational chasm here in the sanctuary today.  Take a minute and think—are there chasms in your life?  Are there moats you’ve dug around yourself, to insulate yourself?  Are there people you work hard to keep at arms’ length? 

    Who stands on the far side of your chasm?  Who has tried to reach you, to no avail?  Another way of thinking about it, Who are you glad is on that unreachable far side?  To whom are you grateful no bridge will reach?

    Where are the poor in relation to you?  Or another way of asking it:  Where are you in relation to the poor?  Are you standing with them?  Or have you dug a chasm between you and them?   Have you so insulated your life that you don’t see the poor at all?

    Author and UU minister Kate Braestrup talks about the time she missed the beltway inWashington,D.C., and ended up on the wrong side of town.  To get where she wanted to go, she and her children had to drive through some scary neighbourhoods.

    She writes:  “When the light ahead turned red and the line of cars travelling upNew York Avenuestopped, a gaggle of homeless men shuffled off the sidewalk into the street.  They began dabbing at windshields with dirty rags, beseeching drivers for money.

    “I stared at the light, willing it to turn green before they got to me.  This sort of thing doesn’t happen in Maine, I said fretfully to myself.  I’ll give them money if I must, but I’d really rather the light just turned green.  Come on, light.  Turn green.  Turn green.

    “Then one man turned in my direction.  He was making some loud, strange sounds, but he was not begging.  His hair stuck out in clumps all over his head.  Clad only in a pair of cutoff jeans, he wore no shirt, no shoes.  His face and torso were thickly scarred, as if he had been badly burned.  He had no arms.

    “I pressed the button that raised the car windows the last half inch.  I checked to make sure the doors were locked.  The light turned green, and I drove forward.  It wasn’t until I was passing under the traffic light that it dawned on me.

    “’He had no arms,’ I said aloud.

    “’What?’ the children said.

    Shoot.  Oh, shoot.  “He had no arms,” I repeated.

    “’Who?’ her daughter Ellie asked.

    “’That man back there…he had no arms.”

    “’Poor man,” said Ellie.

    Poor man!  He had no arms.  He couldn’t hurt me.  I didn’t need my fists, didn’t need to flee:  What did I have in the car that he might need?  What did I have that he might want?  Juice boxes, cookies, money, Band-Aids, and baloney…but I checked the door locks and the windows to make sure they were closed against him.

    “’Shoot.  Oh…shoot!”

    “’Mama is crying,’ Woolie announced.

    “Having seen, what could I do?  Turn around, go back?  Chase him down the street, this poor, differently-abled, mentally challenged person of color?  Hey!  I can see you now!  You’re innocent, truly a child of God!  Oh, please, can I give you a Fig Newton?

    “It was too late.  He was gone.”  (Beginner’s Grace, 81-82)

    We’ve had some fun playing the roles of the rich man and Lazarus, but the real invitation of this parable is to identify with the rich man’s five brothers. 

    He said, ‘Then, father, I beg you to send him to my father’s house—for I have five brothers—that he may warn them, so that they will not also come into this place of torment.”  Abraham replied, “They have Moses and the prophets; they should listen to them.”  He said, “No, father Abraham; but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.”  He said to him, “If they do not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.’”

    We are the rich man’s siblings.  Despite how the economy might make us feel, we are inhabitants of the first world.  We do have power in the world.  And I doubt that for most of us here this morning, this is the first sermon we’ve ever heard about the poor.  The truth is, I could preach many more of these sermons…we could do power points, sing songs, hear testimonies, watch movies, even take mission trips…but in the end, the only thing that will change any of our hearts about the poor, the only thing that will help us to take off our blinders and see, really see, the poor, is our own desire to do so.

    So, how about it?  Where are you standing in relation to the poor?  Are you satisfied with that location?  Would you like to change locations, fill in the moat, bridge the gap?  If so, you might want to get to work….before it’s too late.

    In the name of our God, who creates us, redeems us, sustains us, and hopes for our wholeness.

    Amen.          Kimberleigh Buchanan  ©  2011

    ***********************

    What I left on the cutting room floor….

    I came across some questions the other day that have caused me to stop and think—really think—about my relationship with the poor.   (These questions came from the version of the Spiritual Exercises I’m doing…see www.creighton.edu/retreat)

    What evil continues because of me?

    How have I been deaf to the cry of the poor? 

    How have I insulated myself, lived in my own world so that I don’t get bothered by the need of others? 

    How does my comfort cost others?

     

     

  • catholic (little “c”) Communion
    11.06.11

    The table.  It’s not by chance that the primary symbol of our faith is the table.  Jesus knew what he was doing when he invited his disciples to remember him at the table…

              This place of nourishment…

              This place of fellowship…

              This place where we come together…

    Like this past Monday.  On Monday, the memorial service for Bob Donahue was held at St. Ann’s Catholic Church.  In our phone conversation a few days before, I asked Fr. Gabe, the priest in charge of the service, about communion.  His response:  “If anyone comes with their hand out, we’ll serve them communion.”

    I didn’t tell Fr. Gabe, but I had decided not to receive communion, mostly because I didn’t want him to get in trouble.  Everyone else there on Monday could have “passed” as Catholic…but not me!

    But when it came time for communion, Fr. Gabe invited me to the altar and served me communion.  He served me–a Protestant clergywoman–communion! 

              …and the roof didn’t fall in…

              …and lightning didn’t strike…

              …and no thunder roared…

    We simply shared the body ofChristASthe body of Christ…and we all got a brief glimpse of God’s kin-dom.  And it was beautiful.

    That’s what I mean about this table bringing us together.  When I say it brings us together, it brings us together…

    …It brings us together with other parts of the body of Christ…

    …It brings us together with everyone in our past who has ever shared with us in this meal, even those who have died…

    …And it brings us together with each other, this part of the body of Christ we call Pilgrimage United Church of Christ…

    As I speak the words of institution, I invite you to imagine all the others who join you at the table today—your personal saints, loves ones who have died, your church family, and the rest of the body of Christ.

    While they were eating, Jesus took a loaf of bread, and after blessing it, he broke it, gave it to the disciples and said:  “Take, eat; this is my body.”

    Then he took a cup, and after giving thanks he gave it to them, saying:  “Drink from it, all of you; for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.  I tell you, I will never again drink of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you in God’s kin-dom.”

    Let us pray.  We give you thanks, loving God, for the fruit of the vine and the grain of the field….these constant reminders of your incarnation, your desire to be with us and to love us.  Bless these elements with your holy presence…and thereby bless us in your service, O God.  Amen.

    Invitation:   Come to this table you who have much faith

    And you who would like to have more;

    You who have been to this sacrament often

    And you who have not been for a long time;

    You who have tried to follow Jesus,

    And you who have failed.

    Come, it is Christ who invites us to meet him here.

    Share the Elements

    Nurturing God, the table was a little crowded today, what with all our saints and loved ones and fellow church members and the rest of the body of Christ.  Despite the fact that we ALL came to the table, still we all were fed…we were fed by juice and bread, we were fed by your love, and we were fed by our togetherness at this table. 

    Now that we have been nourished, send us out to nourish others.  In the name of our brother Jesus, Amen.

     

  • Sermon: Committed to Community (October 30, 2011)

    Koinoinia.  When I chose this year’s theme—A Year of Koinonia—here’s what I imagined.  I imagined that we’d all learn about the Koinonia community started by Clarence Jordan in south Georgia and, so inspired by the story of people living Christian community the way they did in the Bible, we’d naturally dive more deeply into doing community here.  I imagined we’d recommit ourselves to being a true community of Christ here in this place and start imaging together how we might live out the Gospel even more boldly.

    But then I read the history of Koinonia Farm.  As committed as Clarence Jordan and the rest of the Koinonians were to living in true community—a community where they made decisions together and worshiped together and lived out the Gospel together—they never really achieved it.  It wasn’t for lack of trying, though.  Those Koinonians met…and met and met… They prayed together and made decisions together and tried as best they could to live out the Gospel, but there seemed always to be some kind of dissension in the group, some kind of conflict among the members.  The turn-over rate was high.

    It’s true that the persecution Koinonia experienced for its views of racial equality put undue stress on the community.  But I suspect that the difficulties of living in community are inherent to the beast.  Trying to get people on the same page with ideas, with work, with money, with relationships, with theology?  That’s not easy.  Not even Jesus’ disciples achieved that, and there were only 12 of them…and they were in community with Jesus

    In Acts 2 you read that wonderful passage about the first Christian community—“Awe came upon everyone, because many wonders and signs were being done by the apostles.  All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need.  Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having the goodwill of all the people.”  (Acts 2:43-46)  Sounds ideal, doesn’t it?  Don’t you want to be part of something like that?  Yet, just three chapters later you encounter a couple—Ananias and Saphira—who betray the community.  They end up dead on the temple steps.  Can you imagine if every person whose commitment to the community waned dropped dead in the narthex?  We’d have one full narthex.

    Let’s face it, Christian community isn’t easy.  In fact, learning about the history of Koinonia, reflecting on the valiant—and failed—attempts of others living in community…I’ve begun to wonder if koinonia is such a good theme for us. 

    For one thing, we’re not literally living in community.  We’ve probably got 5 or 6 counties represented here this morning.  We don’t work together.  We’re not raising our children together.  Except for the occasional potluck and Lunch Bunch gatherings, we don’t share meals together.  Except for tithes and offerings, we don’t share a common purse.  I mean, really.  What does this koinonia idea have to do with us, we who are scattered across the metro area, we who work in different places, we who do well to gather together four hours a month?

    UCC pastor Lillian Daniel caused quite a stir a couple of months ago with a piece she wrote about people who identify themselves as “spiritual but not religious.”  I’d like to share it with you.  Here is “Spiritual but not Religious?  Don’t bore me.” 

    Rev. Daniel writes:  On airplanes, I dread the conversation with the person who finds out I am a minister and wants to use the flight time to explain to me that he is “spiritual but not religious.” Such a person will always share this as if it is some kind of daring insight, unique to him, bold in its rebellion against the religious status quo.

    Next thing you know, he’s telling me that he finds God in the sunsets. These people always find God in the sunsets. And in walks on the beach.  Sometimes I think these people never leave the beach or the mountains, what with all the communing with God they do on hilltops, hiking trails and … did I mention the beach at sunset yet?

    Like people who go to church don’t see God in the sunset!  Like we are these monastic little hermits who never leave the church building.  How lucky we are to have these geniuses inform us that God is in nature.  As if we don’t hear that in the psalms, the creation stories and throughout our deep tradition.

    Being privately spiritual but not religious just doesn’t interest me.  There is nothing challenging about having deep thoughts all by oneself.  What is interesting is doing this work in community, where other people might call you on stuff, or heaven forbid, disagree with you. Where life with God gets rich and provocative is when you dig deeply into a tradition that you did not invent all for yourself.

    Thank you for sharing, spiritual-but-not-religious sunset person.  You are now comfortably in the norm for self-centered American culture, right smack in the bland majority of people who find ancient religions dull but find themselves uniquely fascinating.  Can I switch seats now and sit next to someone who has been shaped by a mighty cloud of witnesses instead? Can I spend my time talking to someone brave enough to encounter God in a real human community?  Because when this flight gets choppy, that’s who I want by my side, holding my hand, saying a prayer and simply putting up with me, just like we try to do in church.

    The trouble with UCC ministers is that you never know what they’re really thinking! 

    I know of at least one person who unsubscribed to the UCC devotions when this devotion was published.  She found Rev. Daniel’s tone harsh and unwelcoming and just the slightest bit defensive.  At first, I did, too.  If we’re out to evangelize the spiritual-but-not-religious folks, that is, if we’re trying to convince them of the benefits of Christian community, I don’t think calling them self-absorbed and boring and sending them to the far side of the plane when the turbulence hits is going to get us very far.

    But now that I’ve thought about it some, I kind of get what Rev. Daniel is saying.  A faith that is nurtured, tested, and honed in community…that’s a faith that can stand just about any circumstance.  Can we encounter God outside of a community of faith?  Of course, we can!  Happens all the time!  But how much deeper and richer and more resilient those encounters with the Holy are when they happen in and are reflected on in community.

    One of the things I love—love—about this place, is that there is no such thing as “group think.”  Oh, everyone in the group does think, but there’s no telling where people’s thinking will lead them.  Some of us have high Christologies, some of us have low Christologies (and some of us are Googling “christology” right now to see what the word means).  Some of us can quote the Apostles’ Creed by memory, others of us look at any creed with suspicion, (and some of us wonder why we’re debating over a rock group in church).  Some of us worship best with drums and electric guitars, some of us worship best with hymns and piano (and some of us wonder why the preacher doesn’t just preach for the whole hour).

    I confess…a little bit of group think on occasion might be nice.  When we all come from different places on any given issue, it takes a lot of time to talk things through, to listen things through, to pray things through, and to come to consensus.  We’d certainly get things done more quickly and efficiently if we were all on the same page all the time…

    …but how would we ever grow?  If everyone thinks like you and believes like you and worships like you and votes like you, how are you ever going to test your own thoughts and beliefs and practices?  As one person said in Sunday School a couple of weeks ago, “I love engaging someone who’s passionately opposed to me…that’s how I learn!  That’s how I grow!”

    As I do on occasion, I’m going to invite you all to finish today’s sermon.  I’d invite you to respond to this question:  How has being part of this community helped your thoughts and beliefs and practices to grow?  How has being part of this community helped your faith to deepen?  How has being part of this community shaped who you are as a person faith and as a human being?  [Responses]

    Hmmm…So maybe we should continue with this Koinonia theme, huh?

    In the name of our God, who creates us, redeems us, sustains us, and hopes for our wholeness.  Amen.

    Kimberleigh Buchanan  ©  2011

  • Cotton Patch Evidence: Ch.6 “Elusive Unity”
    10.27.11

    The more I read about the history of Koinonia, the more I wonder if it has anything to teach a contemporary congregation about living in community.  As we saw in the last chapter, Koinonia really struggled with the reality of living in community.  Clarence Jordan was steeped in the Scriptures and believed whole-heartedly in the model of community demonstrated in Acts 2:44-45 (“All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need.” NRSV).  Clarence, however, “was no student of community.”  The community’s struggles for unity continue in this chapter.  While they learn a lot from the experiences with the Hutterite and Bruderhoff communities, unity, as the chapter titles suggests, still eludes them.

    Sometimes, I feel a little like Clarence.  As a pastor, I hope–down to the marrow in my bones–that our congregation might become a true Christian community, sharing goods and good news with each other and with others outside the community, making all our decisions through conversation and prayer, living out the Gospel in every aspect of our community’s life together.

    But the members of our church don’t live (geographically) together…our members probably come from seven or eight different counties.  We certainly aren’t a “community of goods;” several economic “locations” are represented by our members.  We don’t worship, or work, or eat together daily.  In fact, we have very few members–some, but not many–who come to worship weekly.  And in this age of “Why did you call when you could have texted?” I am coming to despair that true community–outside of true communities like Koinonia and the Hutterites and the Bruderhof (which are called “cults” by some on the web, by the way)–can really happen.

    Sigh.

    So, what can these intentional communities teach congregational communities about living as a Christian community?  Is there something to be gleaned?  Or is the gap between intentional community and church community simply too wide to learn anything?

    These are the questions that will continue to guide my reading of “Cotton Patch Evidence.”

  • Sermon: “Just Think What We Could Do” (Oct. 23, 2011)
    10.23.11

    How are your investments going?  Are you getting a good return on your stocks, 401Ks, CDs, money market account?  Is your house worth more or less than it was worth three years ago?  Do you owe more on your house than it’s worth?  How are your investments going?

    Jesus tells the story of an investor who got a great return one yearBhis fields produced abundant crops, more than he was able to store.  Mulling over what to do with the abundance, the man decided to tear down his barns and build bigger ones.  But before he had the chance to fill the new barns, the man died.

    That=s what you call irony.  Or maybe tragedy.  Jesus frames the story as a warning: ASo it is with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich toward God.@  Kind of makes you want to go right out and buy some God stocks, doesn’t it?  I mean, when you consider the alternative.  Perhaps our stewardship theme this year should be “Give, or Else!” 

    No, I’m joking.  I really don’t think Jesus meant that if we aren’t generous toward God we’re going to die.  At least not die physically.

    I heard once about a woman who died with a large balance in her bank account.  Just days before illness would claim her life, the woman had the chance to help someone with a small sum of cash.  She refused.  Despite her healthy bank balance, despite her advanced years, that woman died a spiritual pauper.  She hadn=t invested wisely.

    Twelve-year-old Nkosi, on the other hand, was an extremely wise investor.  Born HIV positive in South African, Nkosi was raised by a white mother.  That mother, Gail Johnson, worked tirelessly for Nkosi and for other people with AIDS inSouthern Africa.

    Among Gail’s many projects was a home for people living with AIDS, many of whom were children.  The place was called Nkosi=s House.

    By the time he was 12, Nkosi was into full-blown AIDS and wasn’t doing well.  Even so, one of his favorite pastimes was going to Nkosi’s House and playing with the children there.  One evening, Nkosi asked Gail if he could spend the night at the shelter and maybe take his allowance money and buy the kids pizza for supper.  “Sure,” his mom said.

    When Nkosi arrived, he asked the matron if he might treat the children to some pizza… but supper already had been prepared for the evening.  “Perhaps tomorrow night,” the woman said.  Nkosi looked disappointed–he loved pizza–but agreed.

    After a lively meal–Nkosi was a charmer–the diminutive child climbed into the tub for one of his famously long baths.  The hot water relieved his body’s significant pain.  During that bath, Nkosi had a seizure.  He lived for several more months, but never regained consciousness.

    Like the elderly woman, Nkosi died with money in his pocket.  But unlike the woman, it had been Nkosi’s deepest desire to share that money with others.  Nkosi didn’t live long, but he did live generously in the few years he had.  Nkosi invested his life and his resources wisely.

    How about you?  How are your investments going?….your investments in your family, your children, your community, your church?   How are your investments in your church going?

    Have you ever thought about giving up on church?  I sure have.  The first time was in seminary.  When you learn about things like the Crusades, the Inquisition, and the advocacy of slavery, it makes you wonder if the church is something you want to be part of.  By the end of seminary–after some close encounters with some rabid fundamentalists–I was toying with what has been called post-Christianity.  I was this close to ditching church.

    But then I moved toAtlantaand got involved in a couple of really cool churches, one of which–Virginia-Highland Baptis–ordained me and called me to serve as Minister of Education.

    My second flirtation with post-Christianity came one morning in 1999 at theCivicCenterinMacon.  Two thousand plus delegates of the Georgia Baptist Convention were considering whether to dis-fellowshipBthat is, kick outBVirginia-Highland and Oakhurst Baptist inDecaturfor our ONA commitments.  Two people spoke for us, and each church’s pastor said a few words. But the speakers who got the crowd riled, the ones who elicited whoops and hollers and applause were the ones who called homosexuality an abomination.  That’s the only time in my life I’ve had 2,000 people cheering against me and people I cared for.  I was terrified.

    That negative encounter with Christians almost did it for me.  If this is what Christianity is all about, I thought.  Forget it.  Just forget it.

    But then I remembered the faces of our church members in Macon…the way they winced every time the word “abomination” spewed from another speaker’s mouth.

    And I remembered another church member’s face, the person who, after hearing a sermon I’d preached on the good news that God’s love is for everyoneBwhich seemed pretty everybody’s-heard-that to me…Even so, that person looked me in the eye and said: “Thank you.”  When I remembered that man’s “thank you”…when I saw how devastated my friends were that morning in Macon, that’s when I knew that–despite its flaws–I couldn’t leave the church.

    Because, yes.  The church is deeply flawed.  There are too many parts of the body of Christ who beat up on the fragile, the vulnerable, and the different.  But despite its flaws, the church is still the best means we have of sharing the Good news that God’s love is for everyone.  All of us can cite examples, personal experiences with churches that have gone bad–or worse yet, churches that have gone boring–but what might happen if church went right?  What might happen if we took the Gospel message seriously, this good news that God’s love REALLY is for everyone, the good news that God really does hope for everyone’s wholeness?  What might happen if we really tried to live out that message?

    Oh, man!  Can you imagine if the church were “clicking on all cylinders?”  What might happen to this world if the entire body of Christ lived the good news of God’s love for every person?  What might happen to this church and the community around us if we got even more intentional about sharing the good news of God’s love?  Just think what we could do!  Just think what kind of return we’d get–that God’s kin-dom would get–if we invested even more of our time, talent, and treasure in this place!  Think of all the people whose lives would change– people whose lives would change!–because they experienced God’s love in this place, among these people.

    Don’t you know that that’s why we’re here?  We’re here to live God’s love and share it with others so that their lives can change…

    so that the spiritually hungry might be fed,

    so that the wounded might be healed,

    so that the grieving might find comfort,

    so that the lonely might find friendship,

    so that the weary might find rest,

    so that the outcast might find acceptance,

    so that we all might experience God=s love

    and in that love discover our own worth,

    our own dignity,

    our own preciousness in God=s sight.

    What we’re doing here is holy work!  We are busy building God’s kin-dom.  What will you invest?  

     In the name of our God, who creates us, redeems us, sustains us, and hopes for our wholeness.  Amen.

     Kimberleigh Buchanan   (2007)  2011

    Luke 12:13-21

    Someone in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the family inheritance with me.” 14But he said to him, “Friend, who set me to be a judge or arbitrator over you?” 15And he said to them, “Take care! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.” 16Then he told them a parable: “The land of a rich man produced abundantly. 17And he thought to himself, ‘What should I do, for I have no place to store my crops?’ 18Then he said, ‘I will do this: I will pull down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. 19And I will say to my soul, ‘Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.’ 20But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life is being demanded of you. And the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’ 21So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich toward God.”

     

     

  • Sermon: “We Give Thee but Thine Own” (Oct. 16, 2011)

                The next few Sundays, we’ll be looking at some of Jesus’ parables.  Last week we looked at a dramatic or acted-out parable—the time when Jesus turned the water to wine as a sign of the abundance of God’s love and grace.

                This week, we get a more traditional narrative parable, the story of the talents.  This parable—like most of Jesus’ parables—is about the kin-dom of God.  That means it reveals something about God’s dreams for how the world will be when all God’s children wake up and get to work helping God’s kin-dom come on earth as it is in heaven.                                

    In this story, the kin-dom is like a man going on a journey who called together his servants and gave each of them a certain number of talents.  A talent in those days was a sum of money equal to about 15 years of a day laborer’s wages.   So, this man who’s going away on a journey gives 5, 2, and 1 talents, respectively, to three of his servants, then leaves.  The first two servants double their boss’s investment, yielding a total of 14 talents on an initial investment of 7.  When the boss returns from his journey, he’s pleased with their results.  ‘Well done, good and trustworthy slave,’ he says to each of them.

    The third servant…well, the third servant is scared of his boss.  Afraid he’ll lose his boss’s investment, he hides the 1 talent, buries it in the ground.  When the boss returns and the third servant comes back with the same single talent, the boss is not pleased.  ‘You wicked and lazy slave!’ he says…then he says something about casting the servant into outer darkness where there’ll be weeping and gnashing of teeth.  No Christmas bonus for him!

    So, what was Jesus trying to say with this parable?  Some churches have read this story literally…they give everybody in the church $100 and ask them to give a good return on the money after a certain period of time.  Now that I think about it, I don’t recall ever having read a follow-up story about how they did.  Interesting…

    Reading the parable literally like that is one way to interpret it.  But if we look at it  more closely, I think we’ll see there’s more to it.  The first thing you notice when you take a closer look is that this parable comes at the end of Jesus’ ministry…in fact, it’s the next to the last parable he tells before his arrest and crucifixion.  By this point in the story, Jesus knows his time with his disciples is very short.  Like a professor does when she realizes the term’s about to end, Jesus is trying to cram everything he can into his final lessons.

    So, what’s he trying to say?  What might this parable have meant to his disciples?  First off, the “man going on a journey” is most likely Jesus.  He’s arrested in the very next chapter and crucified in the chapter after that.  Yes, Jesus definitely was a man going on a journey.  But having roamed the countryside without a salary to speak of for three years, it’s doubtful he had any money to give his disciples.  So, if Jesus wasn’t giving the disciples money on his departure, what was he giving them?  What had he been giving them?

    Remember, now, this is a parable of the kin-dom, a story that reveals something about God’s dreams for how the world will be when we all wake up and get to work.  So, what was it Jesus had given the disciples that he would want them to double?  What investment had Jesus made in the disciples whose return would help to prosper the kin-dom of God? 

    The things that Jesus had been investing in his disciples all this time were…his ideas, his stories, his radical notion that God loves all people, perhaps especially, the poor…his idea that the outer trappings of religion don’t mean nearly so much as what’s going on in the hearts of believers….his idea that loving our enemies is part and parcel of the kin-dom…his idea that eye for an eye theology isn’t God’s theology…

    Jesus is a man going on a journey, a professor at the end of the semester…he knows his time on earth is short and getting shorter fast…so, through this parable, he’s trying to tell his disciples that if God’s kin-dom is ever to come, they’re going to have to multiply everything he’s given them— every idea, every story, every prayer, every sign… If they take his gifts–these radical ideas about God’s kin-dom–if the disciples were to take Jesus’ gifts and hide them, if they were to bury the good news he’s given them, what would happen to God’s dreams for the world?  They’d die.  If the disciples didn’t take Jesus ideas and, as the parable says, “trade” with them, all God’s hopes for the world would die.

    That’s why Jesus told this parable at the end of his ministry.  It’s what Clarence Jordan called a “kick-in-the-pants” parable…a story that’s meant to get people up off their comfortable chairs and working hard for the kin-dom.  In his three years with them, Jesus had given his disciples everything they needed to know to get working on God’s kin-dom…he’d given them grade A starter seed…but if they buried those seed in the ground without any nurture, without any support, without any tending, those seeds were going to die in the ground.  Jesus was desperate for those first century disciples to get what he was saying and multiply his teaching…because that was the only way, the only way God’s kin-dom was going to get off the ground.

    Nice parable.  Nice story, isn’t it…for those first century disciples?  Whoo-ee, Jesus really laid it on them.  And, if you read the rest of the New Testament, they seemed to get the message, didn’t they?  Take a look sometime at the book of Acts.  It’ll make you tired reading how fast the church grew in the next few decades after Jesus’ departure from the scene.  Oh, there might have been a few of those first century disciples who took Jesus’ lessons, put them in a notebook, and shoved the notebook to the back of the closet…but enough of the other disciples took those radical kin-dom ideas out and traded with them, exercised them, nurtured them, and grew them, that God’s kin-dom grew, too. 

    What a great first century parable.  I sure am glad those disciples way back then were able to “crack” that parable.  Based on the evidence, they cracked it good.  They got its meaning and lived it out.  Good for them!

    What about us?  What does this parable mean to us, 2,000 years later?  What does this parable mean to us in the 21st century?  It means the same exact thing it meant in the first century.  Just look around the world, friends.  Do you think God’s dreams for the world have been fulfilled?  With all the war, all the crime, all the poverty and hunger and thirst and disease and hatred and eye-for-an-eye justice seeking that goes on?  Not even Pollyanna on her very best day could say that God’s dreams for the world have been fulfilled.  God’s kin-dom is not yet come on earth as it is in heaven.

    And why not?  It’s been 2,000 years, right?  Why hasn’t God’s kin-dom come on earth as it is in heaven?  God’s kin-dom hasn’t yet come on earth as it is in heaven because somebody somewhere along the way buried the treasure Jesus gave us.  God’s kin-dom hasn’t yet come on earth as it is in heaven because somebody somewhere along the way hid Jesus’ radical ideas about living our religion authentically and loving our enemies and doing unto others as we would have them do unto us.  God’s kin-dom hasn’t yet come on earth as it is in heaven because somebody somewhere chose to take the amazing gifts of his words and his life and bury them in the ground.

    Was it you?

     In the name of our God, who creates us, redeems us, sustains us, and hopes for our wholeness.  Amen.

    Kimberleigh Buchanan  ©   2011

     

    Matthew 25:14-30

    “For it is as if a man, going on a journey, summoned his slaves and entrusted his property to them; 15to one he gave five talents, to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability. Then he went away. 16The one who had received the five talents went off at once and traded with them, and made five more talents. 17In the same way, the one who had the two talents made two more talents. 18But the one who had received the one talent went off and dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money. 19After a long time the master of those slaves came and settled accounts with them. 20Then the one who had received the five talents came forward, bringing five more talents, saying, ‘Master, you handed over to me five talents; see, I have made five more talents.’ 21His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and trustworthy slave; you have been trustworthy in a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.’ 22And the one with the two talents also came forward, saying, ‘Master, you handed over to me two talents; see, I have made two more talents.’ 23His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and trustworthy slave; you have been trustworthy in a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.’ 24Then the one who had received the one talent also came forward, saying, ‘Master, I knew that you were a harsh man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you did not scatter seed; 25so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here you have what is yours.’ 26But his master replied, ‘You wicked and lazy slave! You knew, did you, that I reap where I did not sow, and gather where I did not scatter? 27Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and on my return I would have received what was my own with interest. 28So take the talent from him, and give it to the one with the ten talents. 29For to all those who have, more will be given, and they will have an abundance; but from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away. 30As for this worthless slave, throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’

  • Cotton Patch Evidence: Ch. 5: “Churched”
    10.21.11

    This chapter describes two main tensions in the Koinonia community–the tension between the community and established churches and the tension between the ideals and the reality of living in community.

    First, the church tension. From the beginning, there was some question as to whether Koinonia was a church community or not. Some Koinonians chose to do all their worshiping within the community; others chose to join and/or attend Rehoboth Baptist Church…which worked fine until the Brownes brought an agriculture student from India to worship. This student was not Christian and wnted to learn about Protestantism in the South while he studied at Florida State University. Because the man was dark skinned, the church took offense. A dis-fellowshiping process was begun.

    I’ve been dis-fellowshiped before. While I was on staff at Viriginia-Highland Baptist Church in Atlanta, we, along with Oakhurst Baptist in Decatur, were dis-fellowshiped by the Georgia Baptist Convention. At the Macon Convention Center in November 1999, 2,000 Geogia Baptists cheered for us to be removed from the rolls. I was frightened, perhaps more frightened than I’ve ever been. (We later learned that sheriff’s deputies had been assigned to follow us around the convention center to provide protection.) It was the ugliest display of “Christian” conviction I’d ever seen.

    Even when you know that you’re living contrary to many of your brothers and sisters in Christ, the experience of being excluded from the fellowship is traumatic. It makes you rethink everything you ever believed about Christian faith….at least it made me re-think my faith.

    Because Clarence and the Koinonia crew were so committed to living into God’s kin-dom, and because they already had begun to stir things up in their Sumter County community, perhaps they were better prepared to deal with being dis-fellowshiped…or maybe it was just as traumatic for them as it was for us in 1999.

    Now, the other tension addressed in this chapter–the tension between the ideal and the reality of living in community.

    Before reading “Cotton Patch Evidence,” I always assumed that Koinonia was a little piece of heaven (or kin-dom of heaven) on earth. I began studying Koinonia because I thought here was one Christian community–a community started by Baptists, no less–who had gotten it right.

    Then I read this chapter and learned that living community, really living it is hard. How do you handle finances? How do you divvy up the workload? Should each home have a kitchen, or should everyone depend on community meals for nourishment? Who raises the children, individual families or the community? If everyone is equal, how is the community led? How does the community account for the differing gifts of the community’s members?

    To figure all of this out–to figure out any of it, really–you have to have meetings. Lots and lots of meetings.

    Congregational (with a little c) churches make a lot of their decisions by meetings/talking. There have been times when church members (usually Catholics or Methodists, churches with hierarchical structures) have pulled me aside after a council meeting and said, “I think things would go more smoothly and efficiently if you’d just tell us what to do.” Those people are exactly right. Things would move more quickly if I pulled rank…but we are a congregational church through and through (which basically means, I have no rank). To the best of our ability, all major decisions made FOR the community are made BY the community. It might not be as efficient as a hierarchical model, but it is a model that honors every voice in the community. As one person has said, “In the UCC you might not get your way, but you always get your say.”)

    The thing that I think is so hard for church members today is this idea that community is hard work. So many people come to chuch looking for exactly the kind of worship experience, exactly the kind of outreach programs, exactly the kind of small group experiences they want. If they find everything they want, they stay. But the minute something happens that doesn’t fit with what they want, they leave….

    …which is a fine process for nurturing one’s own spirituality, but it is not a means of living in community. Living in a community means working it out together. Living in community means learning from the things that happen that aren’t your cup of tea. Living in community means listening as much as you speak. Living in community means setting your own desires aside on occasion for the good of the community. I fear that, in many ways, our society has become so individualistic, so attuned to instant gratificiation, that we are losing the gifts of true community…all because we simply don’t want to do the work.

    The biggest surprise for me in reading “Cotton Patch Evidence” came in this chapter. I never knew that Clarence asked the community if it would be better if he and his family left the community. His speaking engagements kept him away from the community and its work for long periods of time. His constant leaving and returning was disruptive. A person who could recognize his disruptiveness to the community and who was willing to sacrifice membership in the community for the good of the community…that is a person who was truly committed to koinonia.

  • Cotton Patch Evidence: Ch.4 “War and the True Son”
    10.18.11

    When I read “Cotton Patch Evidence” the first time, this was the one chapter that made me nervous. Clarence’s ideas about the military were waaaay out there, I thought. I wasn’t sure how I felt about completely eschewing military service.

    But, because of my gender, my relationship with military service always has been theoretical–I literally could take it or leave it. Regardless of what age I might have lived in, I never would have had to face the reality of a military draft.

    For my husband, though, who graduated from high school in 1973–the draft was a very real thing…it was something he dreaded, something he thought about constantly, something that forced him to figure out how he really felt about war and being forced to serve in the military. Who he is as a Christian and a citizen was formed by his experience of the draft.

    In many ways, the draft or the idea of military conscription is still theoretical for me…but, having read this chapter a second time, I hope that I would (or would have) had the gumption and moral clarity Clarence had when working out his own beliefs about military service.

    For Clarence, the issue really was quite simple: How can one child of God, a person created in God’s image, kill another child of God, also created in God’s image? Jesus said “love your enemies.” Period. Killing someone, for Clarence, could in no way be seen as an act of love.

    My favorite quote in this chapter: “If you love your friends and love your enemies, there’s no one else to hate.” That about sums the whole thing up for Clarence.

    So…is the military as a whole unnecessary? I don’t think I can go there. In many ways the military serves an important purpose in the world. That doesn’t mean that everything the military does is right or even logical (the current conflicts in which our military is engaged, for example). I do know, though, that there are many faithful people serving in the military, many people fulfilling many roles who are happily living out their Christian faith in military service.

    What would I have done if conscripted to serve in the military? I don’t know…I have no way of knowing. Here’s what I do know….It is good that there have been Clarence Jordans and Quakers and myriad others who have sought to be released from military service because of religious beliefs. Whether their’s is the only “christian” response to war and conscription, I don’t know. I do know that their stands against war help raise the moral question of war for ALL of us…and that is an important thing.

  • Sermon: Signs of God (October 9, 2011)
    10.09.11

    Would Jesus have occupied Wall Street? That’s what I’ve been trying to figure out all week. The Jesus we meet in the Gospels often stands in solidarity with the poor; he speaks truth to power. I don’t know if Jesus ever carried a placard and marched in a protest, but he did do some civil disobedience on occasion. So, if he were here on earth today, he might be toting a sign through the financial district. I’m just not clear enough yet about this current “occupation” to have a clear sense of what a faithful person should be doing about, with, or in it. At this point, I don’t know whether Jesus would have occupied Wall Street.

    Regardless of what Jesus might do in New York City today, we learn a lot from what he did do at a wedding in 1st century Judea.

    Here’s what’s happened in the story thus far. John has introduced the whole thing by reminding us that Jesus came from God, that Jesus always has been with God. “In the beginning was the word and the word was with God and the word was God.” Then, John says, “the word became flesh and dwelt among us.” Or, as they liked to say in the 60s, “God put some skin on.” The theological word for this “enfleshment” is incarnation. In-the-flesh actions that reveal God…John calls those actions “signs.” So when Jesus does one of these signs, he reveals God to us. And the sign we get today is the very first sign Jesus does in the book of John: he turns water to wine. At a wedding.

    Jesus, his family, and the disciples have been invited to a wedding. As sometimes happens at these gatherings, the wine runs out. Jesus’ mom comes to him and says, “They have no wine.”
    There’s all kinds of speculation about why Mary came to Jesus. Had she been seeing his little miracles all along and thought he could remedy the situation? Was she wanting him to show off a little so she could claim some Mama-pride? Clarence Jordan has an interesting take on this question of Jesus’ Mama’s request. He says she came to Jesus because his disciples were the ones who drank up all the wine. Not so much a “Show us what you can do, Son,” as “Those disciples of yours are a thirsty bunch. You’d better run down to the 7-11 and get some more wine…You can just get that kind in the box. They’ve drunk enough by now that nobody will care.”

    In the English translation, Jesus’ response comes off sounding testy. “Woman, what concern is that to you and me?” In the original Greek, the response isn’t rude at all. It’s more: “Ma’am, why is that our concern?” Then he says, “My hour has not yet come.” What hour is that? It’s the hour when he’s going to start doing signs that reveal God. “Mama, I’m going to start working tomorrow. Today, just let me enjoy this wedding party.”

    But just then, Jesus spots 6 water jugs, the kind that were used for purification… basically, that means they were the foot bowls where people washed their feet before they entered the house. Jesus sees these 6 jugs and a light bulb clicks on. “Oh! What a great opportunity for a sign!” He couldn’t help it. That’s just how Messiahs think. Where normal people would have seen water bowls, he saw sermon illustrations.

    Anyway, Jesus tells the people there to “fill the jugs with water”…which means what? They weren’t full, right? So, you’ve got half-full water jugs. And how many jugs was it? Six. In Jewish faith, the number of completion was seven. So, you’ve got six—not seven—half-filled jugs, the epitome of incompleteness. Now, you understand that there wasn’t some law that said you have to have seven foot-washing jars and that you should keep them full…nothing like that. No, Jesus just saw these jars, noticed there were six and that they were half full and took advantage of the situation to make a point, to draw a picture, to tell a story, to act out a “parable,” if you will.

    So, he tells the people nearby to fill up the jugs, which they do–“to the brim,” John tells us. By the time the filling’s done, those jars are as full as they possibly can be. Then he says to draw out some water and take it to the steward. You know the rest. By the time the cup reaches the steward, that foot-washing water has turned into wine…and not just any wine, but the best wine. The steward says to the bridegroom, “Usually people serve the good wine first, then, after everyone’s had a few, they bring out the boxed stuff. But you have kept the good wine until now.”

    Okay. How many of you tuned out the minute I mentioned water turning to wine? Water into wine? That’s just not possible. Wine comes from grapes, not water. H2O does not wine make! If it did? Our fund-raising problems would be solved, right?
    If you’re focusing on the how-water-could-turn-into-wine question, quit it. If we get bogged down with the science of this sign, we’re going to miss the point and miss it badly. The point of this story is not some scientific oddity in first century Palestine. The point of this story is what it reveals about God.

    So, what was Jesus trying to reveal about God in this action, this lived-out parable, this sign? Six jars, not seven. Incomplete. Half-filled jugs. Again, incomplete. Jesus begins his ministry by saying that the way the people had been understanding God to that point hadn’t been complete. It’s true the’d spent millennia learning about and worshiping God… but as rich as that experience had been, Jesus was showing people that what they thought had been the good wine had been only a foretaste of what was to come. What they thought had been sufficient water, was only a drop in the bucket compared to what God wanted to give them. In this sign, Jesus used the materials at hand to demonstrate a deep, spiritual truth: And that truth was this: God is bursting on the scene in a brand new and amazingly generous way. God’s grace is rich and abundant… and it’s here right now!

    That’s some good stuff Jesus was revealing about God in that sign of the wedding wine. Excellent story. But the question remains: Would Jesus have occupied Wall Street? If he were here today, would protesting on Wall Street be one of Jesus’ signs?

    Personally, I don’t know. I do know that Jesus advocated for economic justice. “Sell all you have and give to the poor,” he told the rich young ruler. I do know that he stood in solidarity with the poor. “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.” I do know that Jesus spoke truth to power on many occasions, an activity that eventually got him killed. What I’m not sure about is whether he would have marched with one of those homemade picket signs in the world’s largest financial district. If Jesus were here today, I’m not sure what signs he’d be using to show us God.

    But maybe wondering what Jesus would do if he were dwelling among us today isn’t the real issue. In fact, it could be that wondering what Jesus would do if he were dwelling among us today keeps us from dealing with the real issue. It’s great to see how Jesus showed us God in the first century…especially when the God he showed us is generous and gracious and joyous and takes such delight in us. But if we leave it at that, as a nice story written in the first century, what good is it? Yes, Jesus did this sign, he acted out just who God is for those first century people…so what? Is the real issue what Jesus did 2,000 years ago?

    Or is the real issue what we are going to do in the next minutes, hours, days, months, years? In today’s story Jesus performed a sign, he became a sign… a sign that showed with clarity just who God is. Here, I think, is the real issue, the real question: How might we become signs that reveal God to those around us?
    If you read the Pilgrimage devotion this past Wednesday, you know that former member Rachel Small joined the “occupation” on Wall Street. On the eve of her participation, Rachel shared these thoughts. “I am aware … that these rallies are not really good tools for changing hearts or minds. They are excellent tools for boosting the spirits of like-minded people. When nonviolent action is taken that challenges the status quo, they can also be really good tools for getting a message into coverage by the media. Perhaps the best that can be hoped for with signs and protests is to rouse the apathetic into caring.

    “But as long as there is a stark us-vs.-them attitude of dueling placards, hearts and minds will not be changed. The change happens when people of different minds build trusting relationships with each other and begin to hear each other’s stories. Change happens when empathy, not righteous anger, is aroused in the other. It happens when we humble ourselves enough to see God in the other, and to allow them to see God through us. It is much harder than making a sign. It is lifelong work, to which we have all been called.”

    Making signs is fine, sometimes even important…but the harder work, as Rachel says and as Jesus demonstrated at that wedding in Cana, the harder work is being a sign; the harder work is “allowing others to see God through us.” We might write “God loves you” on a sign, but listening to someone with whom we disagree might show God’s love more clearly. We might tell others God loves them, but how much more loudly might our lives speak if we acted out that love?

    At that wedding in Cana—or Canton, Georgia in the Cotton Patch Version—Jesus used the materials at hand—just a few old foot washing bowls—and acted out a parable of the abundance of God’s love and grace. That’s what Jesus did—He used what was there and used it to show people God. As we survey the world around us, what might we use to reveal God’s love to others? What simple action might demonstrate the depth of God’s concern for all people? How might we show others the abundance of God’s love and grace? How might WE become signs of God?

    In the name of our God, who creates us, redeems us, sustains us, and hopes for our wholeness. Amen.

    Kimberleigh Buchanan © 2011

  • Sermon: Unless You Come to the Table As a Child (October 2, 2011)
    10.03.11

    On a trip to the Holy Land in 1992, I saw lots of things I’d never seen before: Byzantine mosaics in northern Jordan, rock carvings at Petra, Jews in prayer at the Western Wall, Muslims in prayer at the Al Aqsa Mosque. Beautiful things. Old things. And, to me, foreign things. But what I saw as we approached a Palestinian refugee camp was far more foreign than anything else I had ever seen: walls around the camp. Barbed wire atop the walls. Israeli soldiers in guard houses dotting the wall. I’d never visited a neighborhood hovered over by automatic-toting guards. It was unnerving.

    Refusing to drive us into the camp–the Israeli plates on the bus would have made that dangerous–the bus driver let us out at the road. We swept into the camp with a wave of joyful children just returning from school. Inside the camp, we were greeted by our host and taken to the kitchen of a preschool. There, our host motioned to a woman who held a tray of plastic cups filled with lemonade. “Please, have some lemonade,” the host said in heavily accented English. Visions of the wall, the barbed wire, the guards, the guns, the sub-standard buildings, the skeletons of destroyed buildings–all those pictures danced across my mind and I thought: “So much has been taken from these people. Will I also take their lemonade?” All of us in the group hesitated…much to our host=s dismay. “Please, please, have some lemonade.” Her plea was compelling. Each of us reached for lemonade. And drank. “You like?” our host asked hopefully. We did like. The lemonade was sweet and cold and very welcome.

    Now, I was savvy enough to know that we were being played a little. Americans visiting a refugee camp? Of course, the Palestinians were going to try to make their case against Israel (which they did). But that offering of lemonade…it was so much more than a gesture or–to put it crassl–a bribe. That offering seemed to grow out of a deep, fundamental place in those people. Had we refused their gift of lemonade, I got the sense that we would have offended them deeply. Despite their poverty, they needed to give us something AND to have us receive their gift.

    Foundational to Arab cultures–and to many other of the world’s cultures–is the practice of hospitality. And we’re not unacquainted with the concept of hospitality in our own culture. Many of our churches have hospitality committees. Just try not serving coffee some Sunday morning! Many of us from the South pride ourselves on Southern hospitality. But, if you think about it, in our culture, hospitality often is an add-on to the regular business of life. How many times have you heard people commenting about Pilgrimage: “It”s such a friendly church!”? Why do they always sound so surprised? Perhaps because friendliness–hospitality–isn’t something we’re socialized to expect. In our culture, hospitality is supplemental, something you get extra credit for. It’s not so much part of the currency of everyday living.

    Which, I think, is why we sometimes miss the point of communion. Here at Pilgrimage, we usually practice communion by intinction, which means we pull off a piece of bread, dip it in the juice and eat it. Have you ever noticed that the bread we use sometimes doesn’t tear so easily? Have you ever had this experience–you go to tear off a small piece of bread and instead of a nibble, you end up with a hunk? And very quickly, you palm the hunk and dip only the tip in the juice and then, just as quickly, put the whole thing in your mouth and look around, hoping no one saw you? Then you go back to your seat and begin chewing….and chewing…and chewing…and when we start singing “Let There Be Peace on Earth,” you can’t sing because you’re still chewing? I won’t ask for a show of hands, but has that ever happened to you?

    What impels us to apologize for taking what we deem to be too large a portion of the bread? Why are we embarrassed when we end up with a hunk rather than a nibble? This is just a guess, but I wonder if, in our minds, we feel we’re only entitled to just so much–just so much bread, just so much juice….just so much of God’s grace. I wonder if we come to this table seeing this bread, this juice as a reward we’ve earned (or not earned) rather than as a gift that’s given freely, a gift that’s given, not because we are good, but simply because we are?

    Today’s Gospel lesson is one of my favorites. “Let the little children come to me,” Jesus says. We use those words every week for Children’s Time to remind us all–children and adults alikeBthat children are a vital part of God=s realm…and of this church.

    The other great part of these verses from Mark is Jesus’ comment that Awhoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it.” I wish Jesus had said more about that. What exactly does it mean to receive God’s realm like a little child? Or, more appropriate for today: What does it mean to receive communion as a little child?

    There long have been debates in churches about the appropriateness of serving children communion. In some traditions, first communion is a really big deal…something you buy a new dress or suit for. In other traditions, you don’t take communion until you’ve made a profession of your Christian faith. Here at Pilgrimage, we encourage children to participate in communion. There is, of course, merit to the don’t-serve-them-communion-until-they-understand-what-it-means way of thinking. If we don’t instruct our children–and ourselves–on the meaning of this meal, then communion becomes no more than a snack break during church. But who among us completely understands what transpires at this table? We’re given bread and juice and are told it’s flesh and blood. Is that something you completely understand?
    To tell the truth, I think children may have a better understanding of the holy meal than we adults do. There’s the five year old who takes the bread, but carefully avoids the juice. Do you really want to drink BLOOD? Then there’s the six year old whose bread drops into the cup. He reaches in with his fist, grabs the bread, squeezes the excess juice out of it, eats it, and bounces back to his seat, wiping his purple hand on his white shirt. And then there’s the other six year old…the one who came up to me after one worship service, tugged on my robe, and asked: “Can I have some more bread? My daddy made me drop the first piece.”

    What do these kids know? They know that communion is a big deal. They know that participating in communion is an important part of being in this community. They know something of the danger of this meal…and the mystery. They assume they will be nourished by the meal. They rarely take nibbles…and never hide hunks. How do children receive communion? With joy and wonder and respect and a complete lack of self-consciousness. Children receive communion as a gift. Oh, we have a responsibility to teach our children what we understand this meal to mean. But I think we also have a responsibility to learn from children what THEY understand about this meal. If we watch children for very long, we might just get a glimpse of what this table is all about. We might begin to see it as a place of radical hospitality, a place where God feeds us extravagantly and with profound love.

    Father Mark Gruber tells of the time his Land Rover broke down in the Egyptian desert. Leaning against the front fender, fretting over how he was going to get out of the fix, he spied a goat. He tracked the goat to a Bedouin camp. Remember what we said earlier about Arab cultures and their practice of hospitality? These Bedouins were very Arab.

    Bedouins roam the deserts, living in tents, wandering from camp to camp, scraping nourishment for themselves and their animals from the stark, unforgiving land. Occasionally, they happen on a water source. While camped near that source, they stock up, especially on bread. Because they go for long periods without water, they make a kind of bread that lasts a long time. The bread has a very hard crust. When the crust is broken–even after many weeks–the bread inside is moist and tender. Often a Bedouin family will make a basket full of these bread cakes at one time to use over the course of many months of travel.

    Father Mark had only hoped to gain from the Bedouins information about mechanics in the area. What he received instead was a feast. During the meal, the leader of the tribe drew a bread cake from a basket, cracked it open, and offered it to Father Mark. He ate the bread and thanked his host. As soon as he finished the first bread cake, his host cracked open a second and offered it to him. Father Mark ate; again, he thanked his host. When the man cracked open a third cake and handed it to Father Mark, the now extremely full monk demurred, communicating to his host that he really could eat no more. The man responded by cracking open a fourth bread cake ….and a fifth…and a sixth…and every single bread cake in the basket until there was none left. It was the family=s entire supply of bread. Of this extravagant gesture, Father Mark writes: “The gesture was unmistakable: he wanted me to know that he had withheld from me nothing; he had reserved from me no gift, but had imparted to me everything at his disposal. He wanted me to know that I had been received well, and by this great gesture, this extravagant waste, this complete sacrifice, I would be persuaded, convinced of his kindness. I would be certain of his hospitality.” (Gruber, Mark, O.S.B. ABreaking Bread,@ pp.90-92 in Food: True Stories of Life on the Road. Edited by Richard Sterling. San Francisco: Travelers’ Tales, Inc., 1996.)

    I wonder how our experience at this table might differ if we saw it like Father Mark’s experience in that Bedouin camp? What might happen if we came to this table, not to receive the tiny nibble of a reward we have earned (or think we haven’t)…what might happen if we came to this table prepared to receive the extravagance of a gift, a grace, a love purchased at great price just for us? I wonder how our experience of this table would differ if we received God’s gift to us here like little children? I wonder if we might feel more loved by God? I wonder if we might feel more generous with our own bread? I wonder if, certain of our own place at the table, we would be better prepared–eager, even–to make room at the table for others?

    In the name of our God, who creates us, redeems us, sustains us, and hopes for our wholeness. Amen.

    Kimberleigh Buchanan © 2011 (2003)

    Mark 10:13-16

    People were bringing little children to him in order that he might touch them; and the disciples spoke sternly to them. 14But when Jesus saw this, he was indignant and said to them, “Let the little children come to me; do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs. 15Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it.” 16And he took them up in his arms, laid his hands on them, and blessed them.

     

  • Sermon: “Waiting for Adoption” (September 18, 2011)
    09.19.11

    The wilderness of waiting… Have you ever experienced that kind of wilderness? A place that is both wild and barren, a place far from home, a place where you learn a lot about yourself, but don’t quite feel settled, you don’t quite feel complete?

    In his letter to the Romans, Paul is writing to friends who are in a wilderness time. They are a minority group in Rome. They’re experiencing persecution. They’re disconnected from other communities of believers. No doubt they’re learning a lot about themselves in their wilderness experience, no doubt their faith is growing, but there is a strong sense that they are not yet who they will become. They hope for a day when they will breathe freely, when they will be free. And, as with all people who wait for something better, the Roman believers need encouragement…which is why Paul sends this letter.

    The great thing about Paul’s letters is that, while they were sent to particular communities dealing with specific issues, he speaks about those issues in ways that resonate with anyone on a faith journey. We might not be experiencing the kind of persecution those first century believers in Rome were experiencing, but I’m guessing that every one of us here knows something about not feeling completely whole in our faith journeys. I imagine that very few of us feel like we’ve arrived at our spiritual destination. Which of us every moment of every day feels as close to God as we possibly can get?

    Every week at Pilgrimage, we say the familiar words—say them with me: “One fact remains that does not change, God has loved you, loves you now, and will always love you. This is the good news that brings us new life.” We all know that right? We all know that God loves us. But feeling that love? That’s a different thing completely. Knowing that God loves us and really feeling loved by God…two very different journeys. One of the journeys happens in our head, our intellect, in the abstract. The other happens in the real world, in the context of the material things around us, in our own flesh and blood.

    As Paul is trying to describe this gap between the relationship with God we do have and the relationship with God for which we hope, it makes sense that he seizes on the image of adoption. Whatever else you might think of the Apostle Paul, he was a brilliant theologian. His arguments are complex; his images sometimes startling in their accuracy. This idea of “groaning as we wait for adoption” is one of them. Considering how lost we sometimes feel, how much we long to feel connected to something larger than ourselves, how desperately we want to feel—really feel—like children of God, Paul seized on the deepest longing known to human beings, the longing to belong.

    Wanting to get some sense of the experience of waiting for adoption, I sent a request to several people in our congregation who know something about the adoption process. It’s interesting that each of the four families who responded is at a different stage in the process. Susan Dempsey and Becky Nelson are several years beyond the adoption of their girls. The adoption process for Brendan Ashton, Kristi and Angie’s son, was just completed this summer. Next Sunday, Matthew Kozak Gula will be baptized. The following Wednesday, his adoption will be complete. And Wayne and Stephen have been actively waiting to adopt for a year and a half now. Four different families; four different perspectives from which to view the process of waiting for adoption.

    While their places in the waiting process are different, in all the stories, the waiting itself is similar. It involves profound longing, a feeling of incompleteness, a fierce love for something one doesn’t yet have, a deep desire to belong. In Romans, Paul says this: “For in hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what is seen? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.” There is perhaps no other population in the world who understands hope better than those who are waiting for adoption.

    Because each of the stories is beautiful and important, I wanted you to have copies of them. I invite you to take them and read them at your leisure. Right now, I’d like to read from two of those stories.

    First, on the “groaning” that attends waiting for adoption, Angela Gula wrote: “These words couldn’t be any truer for Michelle and me. Even before Matthew’s birth we waited, anticipating the day that we would legally be recognized as a family. We always knew it would be a challenging process….we knew it would take time…there was plenty of groaning, some frustration and even some tears shed. What we didn’t know was just how anxious we’d get as the day approached. Here we are now, just 10 days from the final hearing and we continue to groan inwardly while we wait for adoption.”

    Paul was a master wordsmith. There comes a point in his writing, though, where he recognizes that much of the faith journey, much of human experience happens far deeper than words can go. How often can you say, “I really want to have a child!” Or, “I really want to feel like God’s child,” before the words feel superficial, old, small? There comes a point when words just don’t communicate the fullness of the meaning any more. At those moments–moments when we long for something so desperately there are no words left–groaning can help….even when there are only 10 days left before the adoption happens.

    Everyone who has awaited adoption understands something of the pain of the waiting process, of the need for patience. At this point, in our community, the people who are best acquainted with this particular pain are Wayne and Steve. As you’ll read, the first part of the adoption process went quickly for them….mostly because they had control over the process. They filled out paperwork, went to state-mandated classes, completed a home study.

    Then came the real waiting process, the time when they wait to be matched with a child or children. Here’s how they talk about the process of waiting. “Needless to say, here we are over a year later and we are still in the matching process. We keep telling ourselves that the right child will come into our lives at the right time for the right reasons, but sometimes that just doesn’t feel like enough when you have spent so much time preparing your heart for a child of your own. We continue to pray for patience and guidance as we wait for parenthood.”

    Wayne and Steve’s story ends with prayer, a prayer for patience. Paul ends his discussion of waiting for adoption–waiting to feel, really feel, at one with God–with prayer, too. These are some of the best words about prayer in all of Scripture. He writes: Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words. Don’t you love that? We get to the place where we don’t know what to say, where the feelings go deeper than words can reach, where all we can do is groan….and somehow the Spirit understands our groaning, then translates it into the language of sighs and communicates it to God? We groan, the Spirit sighs, and God still gets the message. Isn’t that great?

    Are you waiting for adoption this morning? Not so much the kind that Wayne and Steve, Angela and Michelle, and many children in the foster care system are waiting for…are you waiting for adoption by God? Are you waiting to feel, really feel, like you belong to God’s family? Are you ready to get through all the words, all the forms, all the superficialities to the material reality of actually living with God? Are you ready to emerge from the wilderness and find your way home?

    Today’s sermon ends with a time of prayer. In this time of prayer, I encourage you to refrain from words. Simply be in the presence of God. Communicate this morning in the language of sighs, or groans, if you need to. The invitation is to cut through all the superficialities and get to the heart of what you’re feeling in your heart…because God wants to know what’s going on there…and whatever you express to God from that deep, wordless place, God will understand. God will understand. Let us join our hearts together in prayer. [Two minutes]

    In the name of our God, who creates us, redeems us, sustains us, and hopes for our wholeness. Amen.
    Kimberleigh Buchanan © 2011

    Romans 8:18-25

    I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God; for the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now; and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies. For in hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what is seen? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.

  • Cotton Patch Evidence: Ch.3 “According to the KKK”
    09.17.11

    And so, Clarence and Martin set about making Koinonia habitable for their families and began the hard work of farming.

    Not long after they’d moved in, they got their first visit from the KKK, folks who were upset that Clarence and Martin were sharing meals with the African American man they’d hired to work for them. In a tense stand-off, Clarence responded with customary humor. By means of that humor, he made a connection with his complainant and defused the situation.

    Humor notwithstanding, Clarence and Martin were afraid. The KKK was no organization to mess with. I was struck by Clarence’s comments regarding their fear: “It was not a question of whether or not we were to be scared…but whether or not we would be obedient.” “It scared hell out of us, but the althernative was to not do it, and that scared us more.” (38, 39)

    It’s that total commitment to God’s work–with every fiber of your being, every cell in your body–that so characterized Clarence….and that I’m not yet sure I’ve made. TOTAL commitment, that’s hard. Especially when the bad guys are breathing down your neck.

    In a post a couple of months ago, I talked about starting to work my way through the Spiritual exercises of St. Ignatius. Swept up in the Koinonia stuff, I haven’t kept up with posts about the Exercises.

    But this week, the two are intersecting. The basic journey of the Exercises in the first nine weeks was this–Feeling God’s love, acknowledging my defenses against that love (sin), and accepting God’s love even in my sinfulness (or inability to receive God’s love into my depths).

    This week, the invitation in the Exercises is to hear God’s call–this One who loves me completely–to work with God in the world. Now, I’m all about working with God in the world. I’ve been preaching that forever. The difference with the invitation from the Exercises is that I don’t work with God in the world because “that’s what Christians do.” I work with God in the world because God loves me and, out of that love, invites me to work alongside. Working for justice is not simply another thing to do, just one more religious activity designed to get the God of guilt off our backs. No, working for justice in the world is something we do because God loves us and because the only loving response to that love is to join God in God’s work in the world. I don’t know. Maybe it’s a subtle shift…but, for me, it’s a big one.

    Two other fun things about ch.3…Clarence’s creativity with the farming–climbing on the roof each morning to see what other farmers were doing, starting a “crop” of chickens, the mobile peanut harvester, the cow library… and the way he began to draw young, idealistic followers of Jesus to Koinonia. The more I read about Clarence, the more I want to meet him. This was one impassioned, faithful, creative, and charismatic man. What possibly could come next?

  • Cotton Patch Evidence: Ch.2 “The Experiment”
    09.16.11

    In this chapter, Lee does a great job of describing Clarence’s M.O. with everything he did. (1) He was deeply immersed in Scripture. A true Baptist, he believed that God speaks through the pages of Scripture. It was his desperate desire to know, really know what Jesus was talking about, especially in the sermon on the mount, that led him to become a Greek scholar.

    (2) Though he immersed himself in Scripture in his studies, exegesis was never the end of the Bible study process for Clarence. If you’re not going to live by the truths you learn in Scripture, what’s the point? So, looking closely at the life around him–particularly the plight of the poor, which in Louisville, were largely people of color–Clarence sought to LIVE the biblical truths he discerned in his study of Scripture. (Hence his comment that the associational offices “should be put in the inner city, ‘where our preachers will have to wade through the shipwrecks of humanity to get there. I believe they would be better preachers.” (23) The Gospel wasn’t just words on a page for Clarence. The Gospel is to be lived in the here and now.

    3) The third piece that always was key for Clarence, was community. Scripture is important, living the Gospel in real life is vital, but you can’t go it alone. You need a place to study and reflect on what you’re learning and what you’re doing. It makes sense that Clarence–in his attempts to reflect and discern–ended up in partnerships like the Koinonia group at the seminary and in relationship with people like Martin England and businessman A J Steilberg.

    As committed as Clarenc was to Scripture, living Scripture (especially the teachings of Jesus) in real life, and doing all of that in community, the birth of the Koinonia “experiment” in Sumter County, Georgia, makes sense.

    On p.26, when describing the on-camps Koinonia group, Lee summarizes the three main concerns of Clarence Jordan. In the group, “Clarence began to toss out his ideas about pacifism, racial equality, and the radical stewardship of complete sharing.” Those three ideas–peace, the brother-and sisterhood of all people, and economic justice–will shape everything else that is to come.

    Question: On p.24, Lee writes: “The storehouse plan was tabled, but the question of waht influence a [person’s] faith ought to have on his economic resources apparently continued to tumble end over nd in Clarence’s mind.” What relationship do you see between faith and money?

  • Prayer for 9/11 Remembrance (Psalm 139:7-12)
    09.14.11

    Where can I go from your spirit? Or where can I flee from your presence?
    If I ascend to heaven, you are there; if I make my bed in Sheol, you are there.
    If I take the wings of the morning and settle at the farthest limits of the sea,
    even there your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me fast.
    If I say, “Surely the darkness shall cover me, and the light around me become night,”
    even the darkness is not dark to you; the night is as bright as the day, for darkness is as light to you. (Psalm 139: 7-12)

    **********************

    A friend of mine has a plaque that reads, “Bidden or unbidden, God is present.” I’m not sure who spoke the words first, but I think they must have been inspired by Psalm 139. We heard the words read earlier. Now, we’re going to pray them…and we’re going to pray them in the context of 9/11. I can tell you that God was present everywhere and with everyone on September 11, 2001. I can tell you that God continues to work in and through that traumatic experience. I can tell you that, even after 9/11, God has loved you, loves you now, and will always love you….but how much more powerful will the experience be if you have the opportunity yourselves to get reassurance from God?

    And so, Allen will read a line from Psalm 139, then I will suggest an image from September 11, 2001 to help you pray that line. After the prayer, you are invited to come forward and light a candle. You might come with a specific prayer in mind or simply to add a tiny piece of light to the room this day. For whatever reason, you are invited to come. I also invite you to come shoeless, as a way to signify that we all are standing on holy ground. Let us pray.

    Where can I go from your spirit? Or where can I flee from your presence? Remember where you were on September 11, 2001, what you were doing, your first instincts when you heard the news. Now remember—or imagine, if you don’t remember—God’s presence with you on that day. (Silence)

     

    If I ascend to heaven, you are there; Think of the people who died that day. Imagine them safely in God’s arms. (Silence)

     

    if I make my bed in Sheol, you are there. Think of all the people who have experienced hell since that day. Imagine that, even in the harsh difficulties of their lives, God is with them, too. (Silence)

     

    If I take the wings of the morning and settle at the farthest limits of the sea, even there your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me fast.
    No matter where you have been since 9/11, no matter how your life has been impacted by that event, no matter how much poorer or more frightened or leery of your fellow human beings you might have become, no matter where your life’s journey has taken you since 9/11, imagine God beside you, leading you every step of the way, holding fast to you. Still. Always. (Silence)

     

    If I say, “Surely the darkness shall cover me, and the light around me become night,”  Imagine the darkness of those days in September 2001, the dust and smoke, the grief and fear, the helplessness and hopelessness. (Silence)

     

    even the darkness is not dark to you; the night is as bright as the day, for darkness is as light to you.   Now, imagine God’s light breaking through your darkness. Feel the light warm your eyes, feel the light of God’s love surround you and hold you. (Silence)

     

    God, we thank you that, bidden or unbidden, you always are present with us.  Amen.

     

    [Candle lighting]

  • Sermon: “Holy Ground Zero” (September 11, 2011)

    Moses was keeping the flock of his father-in-law Jethro, the priest of Midian; he led his flock beyond the wilderness, and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. There the angel of the LORD appeared to him in a flame of fire out of a bush; he looked, and the bush was blazing, yet it was not consumed. Then Moses said, “I must turn aside and look at this great sight, and see why the bush is not burned up.” When the LORD saw that he had turned aside to see, God called to him out of the bush, “Moses, Moses!” And he said, “Here I am.” Then he said, “Come no closer! Remove the sandals from your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.” (Exodus 3:1-5)

    What makes ground holy? Sometimes God just says it straight out, like God did with Moses: “Remove the sandals from your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.” Some places just have a sacred “feel” to them, “thin places,” they’re called…places where the other-worldly breaks in unbidden, places, I’ve heard, like Sedona, Arizona.

    Then there are places that become holy because of what happens on them… like a small patch of land in Manhattan.

    Chances are if you’re 15 or 16 or older, you remember exactly where you were when you learned about the planes flying into the World Trade Center Towers on September 11, 2001. A brand new pastor, on the job only 3 months, I was at MUST Ministries that morning. I’m not sure why, but they asked me to pray when we learned the news. I remember nothing about that prayer…except how inadequate it must have sounded. How do you pray for a situation you cannot comprehend?

    Have you watched or read any of the 9/11 tributes the past couple of weeks? I don’t know how it is for you, but it’s still hard for me to see those images, to remember the feeling of absolute vulnerability and helplessness. In fact, when Allen asked if I’d be addressing 9/11 in today’s sermon, I told him “no,” that we’d be attending the Interfaith 9/11 Remembrance service at Mt. Zion tonight; no need to do it here in worship this morning. I guess that was my way of trying to avoid the still-painful parts of 9/11.

    But when I began seeing all the tributes, the remembrances, I knew it would be important for us to talk about 9/11, not only in the interfaith service this evening, but here in our own community this morning. Whether we like it or not, 9/11 has become a vital part of who we are. 9/11 is part of our DNA now, it has shaped who we’ve become. It continues to shape how we live our lives, including our faith lives.

    So, where does one begin remembering 9/11 on this tenth anniversary? Taking a cue from the season of creation, I’d invite us to consider 9/11 from the perspective of the land. While the land at the Pentagon and the scarred earth in Pennsylvania are key parts of the 9/11 experience, I want to focus on the land in Manhattan.

    By the best estimates, the collapse of the Twin Towers registered 2.4 on the Richter scale. Yes. The earth quaked. It shook. It opened up to receive twisted metal and broken bodies. In a flash, a piece of earth that had sustained life became a mass grave. Dust, dust, and more dust rained down—perhaps God cried with dust that day, dry tears, a drought of grief. Days, the dust lasted. Weeks. Months. Dump trucks hauled away debris, load by load—bits of dirt, brick, and flesh mingled together. Traumatized workers picked through the debris, bit by bit, looking for signs, any signs of victims. Do you remember the feelings of utter helplessness?

    One day, finally, the last dump truck exited “Ground Zero,” the last pile of debris was sorted. One day, finally, a decision about what to do with the piece of land on which the towers had stood had to be made. Another building? A tribute to those lost? Nothing at all?

    What has emerged at Ground Zero is a little of all three. One World Trade Center is a new structure being built just adjacent to where the original towers stood. When it is completed in 2014, it will stand 400 feet taller than the tallest of the towers. There also is a tribute to the victims and survivors of 9/11. I recall there being lots of debate about the best memorial to be built. The design that won is basically two square holes surrounded by newly planted trees. Over the sides of the holes pours a continuous flow of water…finally, the tears; finally, the hope for all those new tree-lives; finally, life is emerging from death.

    The most interesting thing about this memorial is the fact that it is a tribute and it preserves the emptiness parts of us always will feel when we think of 9/11. The death of so many people….that emptiness cannot be filled. But in our mourning, through our tears, the hope of new life emerges. Ground Zero has become holy ground.

    It is important today to remember the lives lost on 9/11, to hug our family members a little more closely…but just as important is to ask how we might transform this traumatic experience into something positive. What have we learned from 9/11? What new hopes have emerged from the dust of the Twin Towers?

    Allen and I just returned from San Francisco. Great place! So great, nearly half the world, it seemed, spent Labor Day weekend there. Man, at the people! Everywhere we went—people, people, people. Tourists.

    One of the places we visited was Muir Woods. Established in 1908, Muir Woods is a wonder of a national park, rife with life—tall redwoods, beautiful creeks and hills, even a very large slug. Muir Woods is a beautiful place. Every so often, there were signs posted, asking for quiet on the trails, like the sign marking the entrance to the Cathedral Grove: “Walk quietly…listen to the heartbeat of the earth.” Nobody did. Everybody talked…which would have been all right if I could have eavesdropped. I’m sure there were many sermon-worthy comments being made there beneath the redwood canopy last Saturday. Unfortunately, people were speaking many different languages. The visitors that day were from all over the world.

    Finally, we made our noisy, multi-lingual way into the Cathedral Grove–A place well-named. On a historical plaque in the grove, I learned that “in 1945, delegates from all over the world met in San Francisco to establish the United Nations. On May 19, they travelled to Muir Woods to honor the memory of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, whose death one month earlier had thrown the world into mourning.

    “President Roosevelt believed in the value of national parks as sources of inspiration and human renewal. He also believed that good forestry practices and sustainable development of natural resources were keystones to lasting peace around the world. (Later, while standing in the same place, Secretary-General of the United Nations, Dag Hammarskjold, said: “Persons who love nature find a common basis for understanding people of other countries, since the love of nature is universal among [people] of all nations.”)

    “Organizers of the (United Nations planning) event (in 1945) hoped the profound beauty and serenity of Muir Woods would inspire the delegates to pursue the president’s program for world peace as they met to establish the United Nations.” Isn’t that something? Finding the inspiration for world peace—not in a sterile conference room in a grand hotel, but in a forest, standing—together–on fertile ground?

    It wasn’t until the flight home that I realized that the dream of the creators of the UN had been realized…because peering over my shoulder at the description of that 1945 meeting were people from Japan, Germany, Russia, China, France, Australia…Dag Hammarskjold was right—there in Muir Woods, people from all over the world literally came together over their love of the land.
    I realized, belatedly, (ironically, while flying through the air) that in Muir Woods I had been standing on holy ground. The best proof of that fact? Among the tourists reading over my shoulder were people from Germany and Japan, our bitter enemies in World War II. On the ground in the heart of the forest, we were enemies no more. Just imagine who might no longer be our enemies 55 years from now?

    So, what have Ground Zero and the ground in Muir Woods to do with each other? If FDR, Dag Hammarskjold, and all those tourists last weekend are to be believed, everything.

    So many 9/11 remembrances—especially those coming from religious folk—seem to be focused on forgiveness. Don’t get me wrong. Forgiveness is an important part of the 9/11 experience. If you’ve ever forgiven anyone, you know how liberating the experience can be. Before extending forgiveness to an offender, it’s like you can’t get on with your life. It’s like all you want to do is to get even, to harm the offender. In the end, though, you realize that the greatest harm being done is to your own soul and well-being. Forgiveness frees us to move on with our lives. So, in relation to 9/11, forgiveness is important. Letting go of resentment, anger, hatred is important. Moving beyond all the pain and trauma—when we’re ready to do so—is important.

    But then what? What lies beyond forgiveness? What lies beyond the trauma, the grief, the mourning? That’s where the ground comes in.

    The only way—the only way—to find our way beyond the earth-shattering bombs and terror-caused graves, is to seek out and nurture connection with each other. Land, ground is a good means of making that connection. Land is something all people on the planet have in common. As inhabitants of planet Earth, we all depend upon the earth for sustenance. If, as FDR believed, good forestry practices and sustainable development of natural resources are keystones to lasting peace around the world, perhaps we can contribute to the kind of world peace that precludes terroristic acts by caring for the earth. Perhaps we can love our neighbors, in part, by loving the land. Perhaps world peace will happen on the day that we all, every inhabitant of planet earth, learns that all ground is holy ground. Or better yet, perhaps we can make all ground holy by the way we love our neighbors.

    In the name of our God, who creates us, redeems us, sustains us, and hopes for our wholeness. Amen.

    Kimberleigh Buchanan (C) 2011

  • Cotton Patch Evidence: Ch.1 “Derailed”
    09.11.11

    I’m a litte past my first week of Sept deadline, but here are few reflections–and questions!–from my reading of ch.1 of Dallas Lee’s biography/history of Clarence Jordan and Koinonia Farm.

    It’s great to get the backstory on Clarence…how he was always a bit “detached” from his family, how he had the gift of verbal sparring from early on, how his nick name was “Grump.”

    Lee charts well Clarence’s evolution from a wondering Southern child to a thoughtful, faithful man from the South…his ability at a young age to see the hypocrisy of a man singing “Love Lifted Me” at church one night and torturing a prisoner the next…his decision to pursue agriculture, rather than law, so as to help his African American neighbors…his decision to resign his commission in the ROTC because “Jesus was going one way and he was going the other”…his decision to follow God’s call to preach.

    On the one hand, I am glad to get this background on Clarence; it gves a good sense of where his strong commitments to the faith of Jesus and racial and economic justice began. As with any of us, understanding Clarence’s past sheds helpful light on where he went in the rest of his life. That information is helpful.

    On the other hand, reading about Clarence’s past makes me wonder about my own. As Lee draws the picture, Clarence was always a little different, kind of special. Though Lee is careful to say that some of the things Clarence likely was feeling as a child and teenager he probably wasn’t abe to articulate, still…it seems like he was a very perceptive child. I just don’t know that I would have been (or was) that perceptive.

    Adorning the wall of our staircase here at home is a photograph of “the old home place” in Oglethorpe County, Georgia (just a few miles from Athens, where Clarence attended UGA). The centerpiece of the old home place is a large farmhouse. The place was sold a few years ago, but prior to that, that old house–even for those of us who only visited a couple of times–that place represented home. I don’t remember my maternal grandmother; she died just before my fifth birthday. But when the old folks talked about my grandmother growing up there, or Uncles Arthur and Leo, Aunts Inez and Henrietta…I could see them all in my mind, playing, working, eating, sitting in the yard swings talking.

    Then, when I got my copy of the family history, I learned that the old farmhoue that I so loved had been built by slaves, slaves owned by my family.

    That fact haunts me…it haunts me because I don’t know that I would have questioned the institution of slavery had I grown up at the old home place when the farmhouse was built. Would I have questioned racism as a 19th c. woman? Would I have questioned racism as a woman in the 1960s? I don’t know, I don’t know.

    The bigger question for me is, Can someone like me live a life like the one Clarence Jordan lived….or does it take someone especially spiritually gifted like Clarence was?

    What about you? Having read this first chapter, do you think Clarence Jordan is someone you can emulate, or only admire from afar? Is it possible for just anyone to live Christian faith as he did?

    Another question….Do you remember anything from your childhood that struck you as unfair? Maybe it was your first encounter with injustice… How has that encounter shaped–or not–your faith life in adulthood?

    Okay…ch.1. Let me hear from you! I’ll get to ch. 2 later this week.

    Peace,

    Kim

  • Koinonia: “Briars in the Cotton Patch”
    08.21.11

    We watched “Briars in the Cotton Patch” today at Pilgrimage. I’ve been talking, preaching, and writing about Clarence Jordan and Koinonia for many weeks now. I think the folks who saw the movie today now have a much better understanding of just how radical Clarence’s vision was.

    “Briars..” documents very well the history of Koinonia, especially the violent protests against it in the 50s and 60s. You see some footage of Clarence and hear his voice in some audio clips. There are interviews with many of the residents of Koinonia–including “Koinonia kids,” all grown up. There are even interviews with people who opposed Koinonia Farm at the time.

    My favorite part is when Americus resident, Frank Myers says, “When I asked those folks at Koinonia to leave, I thought I was doing the right thing. It really seemed like the right thing to do. But I see now how wrong I was. I didn’t have any guts back then.” Wow.

    I’ve now seen “Briars” at least four times. I’ll watch it again with anyone who wants to see it!

  • Koinonia: The Cotton Patch Evidence, by Dallas Lee

    I recently finished reading “The Cotton Patch Evidence,” by Dallas Lee. It’s part biography of Clarence Jordan and part history of Koinonia Farm until Clarence’s death in 1969. Reading all those pithy, scathing quotes by Jordan is well worth the price of this definitive chronicle of Koinonia.

    The greatest gift of reading the book was learning just how difficult living Christian community can be. I think I’d always idealized Jordan and Koinonia…but, in many respects, the Christian community Clarence had envisioned never actually happened. There was even a point at which the community and Clarence and Florence considered parting ways.

    The vision of community Jesus invites us to just isn’t easy live out. We’re so set on our individualism, on hierarchies…living as true equals takes a lot of imagination…a lot. I sometimes wonder if we well-meaning, but individualistic Americans can do it.

    There’s so much more to this book. One blog post isn’t going to do it justice. So here’s an idea…

    Beginning in September (sometime around the 7th or 8th), I’m going to be reflecting on “The Cotton Patch Evidence” one chapter at a time. If you’d like, check in, see my thoughts about the book, and share your own.

    Peace for the journey,

  • Koinonia: Taking Jesus Seriously

    The more I read about Clarence Jordan and Koinonia Farm, the more times I watch the documentary, “Briars in the Cotton Patch,” the more I talk with people about Koinonia and hear sermons like the one preached by Jimmy Loyless today at Pilgrimage, the more convinced I become that everything I’ve been doing in my faith life until this point hasn’t even begun the scratch the surface of what Jesus was talking about.

    Richard Rohr’s book on the Sermon on the Mount is called, “Jesus’ Plan for a New World.” I think Rohr is exactly right. There is so much about the world as it is, especially its inequities, that we unquestioningly accept as “simply the way things are.” But Jesus challenged us all to think–to THINK, for Christ’s sake (literally)!–about how fair, how loving, how gracious our world is…and to make changes where things weren’t fair, gracious, or loving. In another place, Rohr says that the greatest enemy to living the Gospel is conventional wisdom, the status quo. Jesus called us–calls us still–to look honestly and seriously around at our lives and to work to make changes that contribute to the wholeness of all people. All people. All people.

    Amen.

  • Sermon: Blessed Are Those Who Are Persecuted… (Jimmy Loyless) August 21, 2011

    August 21, 2011 “Blessed are Those Who are Persecuted…”
    Matthew 5:10-12

    “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 11“Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. 12Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

    ‘Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake…. A few verses earlier, Jesus says that those who hunger and thirst for righteousness will be satisfied. In the context of the Beatitudes, righteousness means fairness, wholeness, justice for all people. Thus, those who hunger and thirst for fairness, wholeness, and justice for all people, we are told in Matthew 5:6, will be fully satisfied….mostly because those who hunger and thirst for justice and fairness are likely to seek them out and make them happen. And that’s a good thing, right? Seeking fairness, wholeness, and justice for all people….

    What Jesus DIDN’T in Matthew 5:6, but does say now in 5:10-12 is that hungering and thirsting for righteousness also is likely to make you some enemies. Actually working toward wholeness and justice for all people DEFINITELY will make you enemies. Jesus tries to prepare his disciples for that reality when he says “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake.” If you take action to the end of creating justice and wholeness for all people, there’s a good chance you’ll experience some persecution.

    Working for righteousness—the wholeness and well-being of all people—looks different in different times, in different cultures, for different people. Many of us have taken stands for and worked actively for the wholeness of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgendered folks. Mahatma Gandhi worked for the poor of India, as did Mother Teresa. Mr. Wilberforce in the 18th century, worked to end the institution of slavery in England. Our own Dr. Joyce Baker worked for the physical wholeness of the poor in Honduras when she served as a medical missionary there for 30 years.

    The thing is, as any seeker after righteousness knows, going against the cultural norms, trying to change the status quo sometimes creates enemies. It’s like Brazilian Bishop Dom Helder Camara said: “When I fed the poor, they called me a saint. When I asked why they were poor, they called me a communist.” Changing systems can be dangerous. And yet, that seems to be what the Gospel is all about.

    We’re calling this year a “Year of Koinonia.” In part, we are exploring what it means for us to be a Christ-centered, God-following community. (Koinonia is the Greek word for community.) We’re also learning about Koinonia Farm, an experiment in Christian community started by Clarence Jordan in 1942 in Southwest Georgia, near Americus.

    The system those Koinonians in the Jim Crow south sought to change was racial segregation. After worship today, we’ll be showing the film, “Briars in the Cotton Patch,” an excellent documentary on just what sorts of persecution the people at Koinonia Farm experienced for their righteous stand for the equality of the races. Koinonia—by its very life—threatened the status quo. That threat netted them the wrath of their fellow south Georgians.

    A few weeks ago, Jimmy Loyless came to me and said he’d be willing to share with us some of what life was like in south Georgia during the 50s and 60s. Jimmy?

    [The rest was written and spoken by Jimmy Loyless. Note: The original was typed–appropriately–in “Georgia” font.]

    IS LIFE ANY BETTER
    OR THE WORLD ANY DIFFERENT
    FOR THE PERSECUTED SINCE KOINONIA?

    Welcome to the most segregated morning in America, which it was for Clarence Jordan in the 1940s and it still is today in 2011. Oops, I forgot, we have a different reason for that today – the music is too different for those people at the AME churches and at First Congregational in Atlanta!!

    You have heard the scripture for today read from the version of the Bible we use here at Pilgrimage. That is certainly not the version my father used in his sermons – “the King James version is the holy and only word of God”, I remember he would say!!

    Y’all please do sit back and relax, I do not have his cadence or his typical sermon length!! However, one of the phrases I most remember from his sermons is “Brothers and Sisters, just remember that when my finger is pointed at you, my thumb is pointing back to me.”

    Well, there is another version of today’s scripture I would like to read from, “The Cotton Patch Version of Matthew and John” that was written by Clarence Jordan. “You all (or y’all) are God’s people when others call you names, and harass you and tell all kinds of false tales on you just because you follow me. Be cheerful and good-humored, because your spiritual advantage is great. For that’s the way they treated men of conscience in the past.”

    Today’s scripture was likely the “vision” statement for Clarence Jordan. He was certainly persecuted for the vision he pursued when he established the Koinonia community just southwest of Americus in Sumter County, Georgia. If there is anyone who deserves to be seated at the table with our God in heaven, it is Clarence Jordan along with many others who have lifted the plight of the impoverished, opened the doors of opportunity to those who historically faced locked gates before reaching the front (or back) porch, and defended the rights of all of God’s children, not just those who were the same skin color as they are.

    Just a few years before Clarence Jordan established the community at Koinonia, there was a prominent American who was forming a vision to address the impoverished communities he saw while taken for a car ride through the countryside near Warm Springs, GA. As an aside, his car was often driven by my cousin, Tom Loyless, who was manager of the Warm Springs Center. Many of the ideas developed for President Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal were formulated while undergoing treatment at the well known rehab center just northwest of Columbus, GA.

    President Roosevelt arrived at Warm Springs by train and he often traveled by train to other parts of the South, including my hometown. On both the car and train trips, Franklin Roosevelt saw the impact of the Great Depression first hand. He saw some of the freed slaves and the first generation of “born free” blacks struggling to survive beside the black and white sharecroppers who were also scratching out a meager existence in the area where the red clay meets the sand in southwest Georgia.

    President Roosevelt saw people who had lost their life savings when their local bank failed or who had not recovered from the stock market crash of 1929. Farm families were still devastated from the arrival of the boll weevil that destroyed their crops and their livelihoods. The majority of the population was in poverty and was no longer in a position to retire or scale back from working, due to the devastating losses and the poor economy. At times, it seems that part of our history is repeating itself today.
    I was born in Bainbridge, GA and graduated from high school in Blakely, GA. Those towns are 70 to 90 miles away from the Koinonia Community. All of those towns and communities are south of the “Gnat Line” in Georgia.

    My early childhood was in an era when many of the norms and practices associated with the Jim Crow laws continued to exist. Included amongst those practices were separate sections for whites and blacks on buses and train cars, restaurants and businesses offering services to whites only, separate entrances and waiting rooms at doctors’ offices, and separate schools.

    Fortunately for me and for so many, I grew up in a time of marked change in those norms and practices. There are many memories and recollections of those times, a few that I appreciate the opportunity to share with you today.

    When school choice was initiated in Bainbridge and Decatur County in 1966, a local minister and his church decided to start a private, “Christian” school. He approached all of his fellow ministers within the ministerial association to demand of them that they place their children in this new school. In a blessing for me then and for my lifetime, my father refused and stated, “Jimmy will be around people who are different from him for the rest of his life and now is as good a time as any for him to be getting used to it.” My father only completed sixth grade due to the death of my grandfather but, my oh my, did he outsmart Rev. Dr. Bishop?

    Around the same time, my father pastored a small rural church that had a normal attendance of twenty to thirty each Sunday – he pastored there for nine years until one fateful day. One of the member’s grandsons was killed while serving his country in Vietnam. As tradition was then, the minister normally meets with the family at their home before going to the church.

    Things did not seem right when we turned down the red dirt lane toward the church. Standing on the top step outside of the church was a deacon while the honor guard and casket were not yet in the church, as they should have been.

    When asked by my father, the deacon forcefully stated, “them boys ain’t coming in this church.” My father responded by saying the honor guard is with us to represent our country and to participate in the service for this young man who gave his life for all of us.

    My father asked the deacon to move aside because the service was going to proceed as planned. To which, the good deacon stated it would be the last service my father led at that church.

    The very next week, four families from that church met together to pray about and plan a new church start. One family donated two acres of land. A new building was completed in six months with much of the work done by the members, friends, and relatives. My oh my, what people with a vision and a unified mission can do.
    During much of my pre-school years, I often spent time at my uncle’s and aunt’s house due to my mother’s illnesses. My uncle was a supervisor at a local mill that produced feed for many types of animals, including horses, cows, and chickens.
    Most of the employees under his supervision were black. He often shared time with them outside of work, including fishing together.

    When he died in 1971, several of the black employees came to the house to pay their respects to my aunt and cousins, saying they had so much respect for him for the manner in which he treated them as employees and as people. They also felt that they had to ask if it was OK for them to attend the visitation and funeral – what a shame they felt they had to ask.

    In 1970, schools were integrated in Blakely and Early County. A new, county-wide high school was built to facilitate the change. The existing white high school in Blakely became the county-wide middle school and the existing black high school in Blakely became the county-wide elementary school. Four school buildings around the county were closed and everyone was bussed to the three new locations.

    To my best recollection and from those of many of my classmates, the process went very smoothly, considering the radical nature of the change and unlike many other schools in the South and the North.

    The only incident many of us can recall was pre-game at the first home football game that year. The black drum major was much more animated with his on-field routine – it appeared our principal was going to hyperventilate. After all, it was rumored the principal had banned Elvis and the Beatles at proms in the past.

    What we did not do well at the start was having separate proms – something again about the music, from both perspectives. That is no longer true; I was “volunteered” to assist decorating the cafeteria for this year’s prom while visiting home.

    To this day, my graduating class is yet to have an integrated reunion. Some of us have started work on plans for that to change next year for our 40th.

    A lot of things have changed back home since the founding of Koinonia and the repeal of the Jim Crow laws, some good and some not yet. The population of my home county has declined from 18,679 to 11,008 from 1940 to 2010, a drop of nearly 40%. Less than half of the population (48%) remains white while the percentage black has dropped from 51.5% in 1940 to 49.6% in 2010.

    The high school graduation rate has improved to 72% but remains 10 percentage points below the state average. Today, over 35% of the people in the county are living below the poverty level, compared to 16% for the state. The median household income is $20,000 below the state average. But, the average travel time to work is only 18.7 minutes.

    There are so many challenges the Koinonia area and my Early County continue to face today. In Early County, people have worked together to form a vision for the community and to collectively work to improve the community by business development and job creation. In forming that vision and plan, participation was open to all members of the community. They sat around the table and worked together to envision the future for the community.

    In his time, Martin Luther King gave many fiery, prominent speeches with several phrases and sentences continually used to this date. One I heard again recently for the Table of Brotherhood Project that is being held in various locations certainly seems to define what Clarence Jordan envisioned – “I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia, the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit together at the table of brotherhood.”

    Today, we are all sitting at the same table but are all of our lives any better and what they could be? May we better strive to reach the visions of Clarence Jordan, Franklin Roosevelt, and Martin Luther King to lift the plight of the impoverished, open the doors of opportunity to those continue to face challenges, and defend the rights of all of God’s children, no matter where you are from or no matter where you are on life’s journey. Peace.

  • Sermon: Blessed Are the Peacemakers (August 14, 2011)
    08.15.11

    “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.”
    Through the magic of genetics, I ended up looking just like my grandmother. When I’m with extended family, someone always says—still, nearly 20 years after her death–“Kim, you look just like Lujette!” No matter what I do, because of my physical traits, I always will be known as “Lujette’s granddaughter.”

    A similar thing happens with people of faith when we make peace. When we work actively to create peace in ourselves and those around us, others will know—they’ll just know–that we are God’s children. Apparently, peace-making is a dominant gene for God, so dominant that anyone who actively works at making peace is going to be known as “God’s child.” So, what are we waiting for? Let’s get to it!

    Making peace, making peace…Let’s see…First, I’m going to…Yes! I’ll go to the United Nations! They’re all about peace, right? I’ll bet I can purchase my ticket right now. www.airtran.com…I’ll go to the United Nations and I’ll… talk to…people… about… peace. World peace….like peace all over the world! Hmm… sounds a little vague, doesn’t it?

    Maybe the Peace Corps would be a better way to go. With them, you go and actively work for peace, right?, for like two years or something. I could go and help somewhere in the world, working for peace…but two years. I’d have to quit my job…and the Peace Corps isn’t a religious organization, so they probably wouldn’t let me preach. Or sing Broadway songs… no. I don’t think I’m called to make peace with the Peace Corps.

    Maybe I’ll go to the UCC website… Does someone have a smartphone? Look up the UCC website—www.ucc.org– and search for “peace.” Tell us what comes up…(Responses.) That might be a way to get working for peace…but it’s a little overwhelming. I mean, working for peace in the Middle East? I’d have to do a lot of research before I’d even know what the issues were, much less how to address them. And helping Iraqis and Afghanis or the people in East Africa…I could do something there, I guess. But what difference could my small contribution make? [David begins playing, “Let There Be Peace on Earth….”] Let there be peace on earth and let it begin with me…

    When I planned to preach this Sermon on the Mount series, I thought we’d be addressing the externals of our faith–doing unto others as we would have them do to us, judging not, loving our enemies, that sort of thing. Tons of people throughout history have used the Sermon on the Mount as a platform for living the gospel in the world—Martin Luther King, Jr., Mahatma Gandhi, Clarence Jordan at Koinonia Farm. If you’re wanting to live your faith actively in the world, there isn’t a better text in all of Scripture to follow.

    The thing that’s surprised me about the Sermon on the Mount, though, is just how much time Jesus spends on the internal lives of believers, especially in the Beatitudes. “Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.” “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.” One of the key things about living faith, it seems, is getting our internal lives and our external actions in sync. Clarence Jordan said it this way: “Before this new order (the kin-dom of God Jesus is trying to establish), before this new order can ever become a reality, it’s got to take root in our own lives” (Cotton Patch Evidence, by Dallas Lee, p.193).

    Which is certainly the case with making peace, isn’t it? How can you create peace outside you if your insides are in turmoil? [David: Let there be peace on earth…]

    When doing research for a book on silence, author George Prochnik visited a monastery in the Midwest. Brother Alberic, his host for the visit, shared some thoughts about monks and silence. “Monks live in the desert,” he said. “These giant, snow-covered fields are the desert. It’s where monks have always been drawn. We come for a radical confrontation with ourselves. Silence is for bumping into yourself. That’s why monks pursue it. And that’s also why people can’t get into a car without turning the radio on, or walk into a room without switching on a television. They seek to avoid that confrontation.”

    Here’s where Alberic’s ideas get really interesting. “I think this may be one reason for the incredible violence of that final surge during the Gulf War…You remember there were those long, long delays before the last invasion, with waves of troops going over there and just sitting in the desert, week after week. The soldiers just sat and waited in more silence than many of them had ever experienced. And then, all of a sudden there was that huge violent surge—the Highway of Death. Americans don’t sit in a quiet, solitary place and flourish. They were starting to have a monastic experience. And that doesn’t jibe well with the military’s goals.” (27)

    Fascinating theory, isn’t it? That those soldiers were so disturbed by what they discovered internally they lived it out externally. Makes you wonder what might have happened if their monastic silence had lasted longer…or if it had occurred in different circumstances, not in the middle of a war. Might they have found internal peace? Might they have externalized that peace?

    Are you at peace? Do you have “peace like a river?” Is it “well with your soul?” Let’s try an experiment. Take out a piece of paper and something to write with. We’re going to have a few seconds of silence. Write down everything that comes to your mind in those few seconds. (You also can just do it in your head if you want.) Ready? [15 seconds of silence] Now, take a look at what’s on your list. Based on what’s on your list, would you say you’re at peace? Are the things on your list the signs of a peaceful person?

    It might be helpful to step back and look at what peace is. What does it mean to be at peace? The Greek word for peace, which is used in this verse, is eirene. It’s related to the Hebrew word “shalom.” Eirene and shalom mean completeness, harmony, wholeness. Thus, the one who is at peace is whole, he is completely himself; she is completely herself.

    So, another way of asking, Are you at peace is, Do you feel whole? Do you feel completely at ease with who you are? Or do you feel like something’s missing? Do you feel like all the pieces haven’t quite fallen into place for you? What would make you feel more whole? A job? A better job? A better marriage? A stronger relationship with your kids or parents? Relief from an addiction? Relief from an illness? Less anxiety? Less fear? More confidence? More quiet?

    I’ve been doing some reading on silence lately. The more I read, the more I’m convinced that peace and quiet are intimately related. Brother Alberic’s theory about the violence of the Highway of Death is kind of out there, but it does make you think about how noisy our world is and how closely that external noise relates to our inner lives. It does seem sometimes like we insulate ourselves with noise. We keep everything that’s real and good—including peace–at arms length by enveloping ourselves in blankets of sound.

    In the book I mentioned before–In Pursuit of Silence: Listening for Meaning in a World of Noise—the author did more research by going on patrol with a policeman in a large city to see how the police respond to noise complaints.

    That particular night, there were no official noise complaints. Finally, about 3:00 in the morning, Prochnik’s host, Officer Spencer said this: “The majority of domestic disputes we get called into these days are actually noise complaints. You go into these houses where the couple, or the roommate, or the whole family is fighting and yelling and you’ve got the television blaring so you can’t think, and a radio on top of that, and somebody got home from work who wants to relax or to sleep, and it’s just obvious what they’re actually fighting about. They’re fighting about the noise. They don’t know it, but that’s the problem. They’ve just got everything on at once.

    “And so the first thing I’ll say to them is, ‘You know what, don’t even tell me what you think you’re fighting about! First, turn down the music. Switch off the game station. Turn down the television.’ Then I just let them sit there for a minute, and I say to them, ‘Now that feels different, doesn’t it? Maybe the real reason you were fighting is how loud it was inside your apartment. Do you still have anything to tell me? Do you?’ You would be amazed how often that’s the end of it.” (18)

    Blessed are the peacemakers for they will be known as the children of God. Let there be peace on earth and let it begin with me. Peace and quiet… I wonder if the way we begin making peace is simply to be at peace, to make friends with quiet? Take a couple of minutes and see… [Two minutes of silence.]

  • Why I waltz at church…
    08.08.11

    Our church ends every service by joining hands and singing “Let There Be Peace on Earth.”

    “Let There Be Peace on Earth” has three things going for it. First, it has great lyrics. “Let there be peace on earth and let it begin with me.” That’s kind of what it’s all about, right? Second, it has a wickedly hard melody line that jumps around every which way. Any congregation that can sing that song–and our congregation can–can sing any song!

    Third, the song is in triple meter. I confess that, at the beginning, I wasn’t thrilled with ending every service with a waltz. Really? A waltz? But then I met MR. Waltz. Leroy Waltz.

    Leroy was the wise elder of Pilgrimage when I arrived. When I met Leroy, I sensed that a lot was riding on the encounter. Impress Leroy and I was in. Flub the meeting and I wasn’t. Simple as that.

    I must have done okay with that first meeting…because the church called me. For the first few years I served as pastor, Leroy still came to church…faithfully! As a deacon, he took his duties seriously. He ushered, he greeted, he helped with missions. Leroy was a fine church member, one everyone looked up to.

    Then, we didn’t see Leroy for a while. He called one day to ask that his name be removed from the church rolls. We’d taken “that Open and Affirming thing” too far for him.

    Six or eight months later, I got another phone call from Leroy. “Kim,” he said, “There’s just not another Pilgrimage out there. I’d like to come back, if I may.” Everyone welcomed Leroy home with open arms.

    When driving to church became too difficult for him, I began visiting Leroy at his small apartment. The first few visits were very hard. The usually congenial octagenarian was almost rude when I’d visit. I began to wonder if I had done something wrong.

    On a later visit, though, when he opened the door to let me in, I knew the old Leroy was back. He welcomed me gracously. In our conversation that day, he told me he’d been praying. In his praying, he said, God had given him peace about not being able to go to church any more. I realized then that before he’d found his peace, every one of my visits had only reminded him of all he couldn’t do any more. And not serving his church? That had been devastating for Leroy. He’d had to grieve that loss.

    Once his grieving was done? We had the best visits! Leroy told me once, “There are some things I just don’t bring up with you.” In light of our many theological differences, I had to agree in the wisdom of that decision.

    But here’s what we did do…We talked about the Bible. We talked about the Holy Land. We discovered a mutual love for the Gospel of Luke. We prayed together. And we shared communion together. Leroy loved communion; it was a key element of his faith. In those precious vists, Leroy taught me just how deeply two people of faith can connect with each other, despite their different theological leanings.

    At the end of his life, Leroy’s mind started slipping. The last couple of visits, I knew he didn’t recognize me. That part was hard…but the hardest thing of all was the last visit. I brought communion as I always did…but that time, when I handed him the tiny bit of bread and the small cup of juice, he looked at me questioningly, as if to ask, “What do I do with this?”

    When he didn’t know communion any more–that ritual of the church that had meant so much to him–I knew Leroy was gone. I quickly finished the visit, hurried out to my car, and sobbed out my sadness. Leroy died within the week.

    Leroy’s been gone for several years. It saddens me now to look around the congregation and see only a few people who knew our saint of the church….

    …but about a year ago, I found a way to stay connected to Leroy, a way to remember hs faith, his love for God, his love for his church, and even for his liberal-leaning woman pastor. Here’s what I do. Every Sunday as we gather around the communion table and clasp hands to sing “Let There Be Peace on Earth,” I sway. Yes–right there in church–I waltz. And in my waltzing, there at the table, I remember Mr. Waltz and everything that is good about faith and church and integrity and friendship. And I whisper a silent “thank you” to my old friend.

    Peace for your journey…

  • Sermon: “Lord, Have Mercy” (August 7, 2011)

    August 7, 2011 “Lord, Have Mercy”
    Matthew 5:7

    Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy. Matthew 5:7

    [Play, “Lord Have Mercy,” by Memphis Slim. Through 2:12 only!]

    Everybody crying’ mercy. I wonder what do mercy mean? The folks on Walton’s Mountain were probably asking that same question when they first encountered recent divinity school graduate, Rev. Fordwick. Rev. Fordwick stays with the Waltons as he prepares to preach his inaugural sermon at an all-day tent revival.

    I’m sure they covered the Beatitudes in Rev. Fordwick’s New Testament class, but he must have missed the day when they talked about mercy. At one point, he practices his sermon. It goes something like this. “Repent! For I say that the hour is nigh when judgment shall be visited and the sheep shall be sep-a-ra-ted from the goats. Drunkenness is an abomination. Repent! Fornication and lustful ways must be abandoned. Repent! Lying and stealing and bearing false witness are abominations. Repent, ye sinners! Carve out sin from your hearts like a boil. Repent! For whatsoever ye sow, so also shall ye reap.” Rev. Fordwick asks young Jim-Bob how his sermon sounds. “Scary,” says Jim-Bob.

    As the Reverend walks up the steps to go inside the house, John Walton says to him, “I heard you practice.” “Perhaps you have a suggestion?” Rev. Fordwick asks, somewhat defensively. John tries to tell the young preacher that the folks on Walton’s Mountain don’t respond well to shouting and the use of fancy language. He gently suggests that the preacher say what he’s going to say, just to do it a little simpler and easier. Rev Fordwick’s response is less than gracious: “I have spent four years, Mr. Walton, learning and studying to preach the word of God. It’s up to you to accept or reject it.” And with that, he goes inside.

    It’s clear with the slamming of the door that young Rev. Fordwick might know the Bible, but he doesn’t know much about people…or mercy.

    But—it is The Waltons, after all—Rev. Fordwick gets a great lesson in mercy (and humility) before the end of the episode. The day before the revival, he receives a letter from his mother, who asks him to look up her cousins and extend a personal invitation to the all-day service. His mother’s cousins, as it turns out, are the Baldwin sisters.

    For the uninitiated, the very proper spinster Baldwin sisters are the suppliers of moonshine on Walton’s Mountain. They refer to their “herbal elixir” as “Papa’s Recipe.” To refuse Emily and Mamie’s gift of recipe, is among the rudest things a visitor can do. Which is why Rev. Fordwick accepts the first cup of recipe offered. And the next. And the next.

    By the time Grandpa drives him back to the tent where they’re setting up for the revival, the preacher is three sheets to the wind. The Waltons hurry him to the house to let him sleep it off.

    As you might guess, Rev. Fordwick is deeply ashamed of what he’s done. The next morning as he makes plans to leave—both Walton’s Mountain and the ministry—he asks John Boy: “How can I ask people to do what I can’t even do myself?” Being the merciful people they are, John and John Boy convince Rev. Fordwick to preach as planned.

    When they arrive at the revival, Miss Prism, a missionary, is talking to the crowd, calling the people sinners and abominations and outcasts who are not worthy to enter the kingdom of heaven—things like that. John interrupts her and asks if it isn’t possible for Rev. Fordwick to preach as he’d been scheduled to. Miss Prism resists, but steps aside when John says something about “he who is without sin casting the first stone”….

    Here’s Rev. Fordwick’s sermon. I am a sinner. I guess I don’t need to tell you that. But I need to admit it. Maybe it takes a sinner to know another sinner, to know how it feels to do wrong things when you want to do what’s right. I think the Lord understands how hard it is to be good. He appreciates it when we are, and he’s sad when we aren’t, the way you parents are when you watch your own children making mistakes. It hurts. It’s hard to live in this world, especially these days. And I just want to say one thing…that the most important thing is to love the Lord and to try to do what He wants and to pray for forgiveness when you fail.

    Unsure of how to end, he stands there awkwardly, still certain, it would seem, of his unworthiness to be in a pulpit preaching. Grandpa Walton—as only Grandpa can do—seizes the awkwardness and transforms it into a moment of pure mercy…he stands and begins singing “Just As I Am,” the standard Baptist altar call hymn. And wouldn’t you know? Every person in the place walks the aisle and joins Rev. Fordwick at the pulpit.

    Did Rev. Fordwick deserve that act of compassion? No. Had he earned the good will of the people? No. But, as Richard Rohr has said: “You don’t know mercy until you’ve really needed it.” And Rev. Fordwick need those people’s mercy like nobody’s business. Happily, the people of Walton’s Mountain were gracious in extending it.

    Here’s the thing. Before he had experienced mercy, Rev. Fordwick was unable to extend it to others. But, as his behaviour in subsequent episodes reveals, receiving mercy when he’d failed changed him for the better. Receiving mercy made it possible for him to give mercy to others.

    What about you? Have you experienced mercy? Has someone shown you compassion that you in no way and no how deserved? And if someone has shown you compassion, have you allowed yourself to receive it? Have you taken their love and forgiveness and acceptance into your deepest self? Have you experienced mercy?

    I don’t know this, but I suspect that part of the reason we resist taking mercy in is because, in order to do so, we have to acknowledge just how far off the mark we are…just how much we’ve messed up, just how far from God’s hopes for us we’ve wandered. And who wants to do that, right?

    But if we only allow God into our good parts, are we really experiencing mercy? How much more deeply might we experience God’s mercy, how much more deeply might we experience God’s love, if we allowed God into the deepest depths of ourselves? The only way to receive God’s forgiveness, mercy and love into our depths is to acknowledge all of who we are in our depths…which includes the not-so-great parts.

    That’s where we can learn a lot from the blues. The thing that’s so great about the blues is that they tell it like it is. There’s no pretense in the blues, no trying to put a positive spin on things. The blues start where you are—at the bottom…at the bottom of the bottom… at some place so low you’ve got to look up to see the bottom…a place you’re probably in because of something you yourself have done. If anybody needs to ask for mercy, it’s someone singing the blues.

    “Everybody cryin’ mercy. I wonder what do mercy mean,” Memphis Slim asked. For Richard Rohr, mercy means “God’s very self-understanding, a loving allowing, a willing breaking of the rules by the One who made the rules—a wink and a smile, a firm and joyful taking of our hand while we clutch at our sins and gaze at God in desire and disbelief.” Then he quotes Thomas Merton who described his experience of God’s love as ‘Mercy, within mercy, within mercy.’ Rohr says: “It’s as if we collapse into deeper nets of acceptance, deeper nets of being enclosed and finally find we’re in a net we can’t fall out of. We are captured by grace.” (Jesus’ Plan for a New World: The Sermon on the Mount, 136)

    Can you imagine? Looking honestly at your sinfulness, at the things you’re most ashamed of, and at the same time, feeling secure in a mercy net that you can’t fall out of, knowing—knowing— that you are “captured by grace?”

    It’s when we can look squarely at all the things we’re embarrassed about, all the things we wish were different about ourselves, it’s when we can look honestly at everything we don’t like about ourselves and still feel, really feel, God’s love, that we truly know mercy. And it’s only when we truly know mercy that we are able to extend it to others.

    And so, I’m feeling a little like a Baptist here, but I’m going to invite everyone to take your hymnal, open it to #207 and sing together “Just As I Am, Without One Plea.” This isn’t an altar call…but it is an invitation to acknowledge yourself “just as you are” and, at the same time, to feel God’s love and acceptance into the depths of who you are…to feel yourself “captured by grace.”

    [Sing “Just as I am”]

    In the name of our God, who creates us, redeems us, sustains us, and hopes for our wholeness. Amen.

    Kimberleigh Buchanan © 2011

  • Sermon: Don’t Worry? (July 24, 2011)
    07.24.11

    July 23, 2011 “Don’t Worry?”
    Matthew 6:25-34

    So, how are you feeling about those debt ceiling talks in Washington? If you’re like me, your feelings are running the gamut from disgust with political posturing to abject terror over what could happen on August 3. It’s surreal to think that our real lives could be affected in devastating ways if the country defaults on its debt. Really? Can political posturing really affect our lives to that extent? Disgust and terror—that about sums it up for me.

    Forgive me for skipping today’s sermon on the next couple of Beatitudes. Sometimes current events just take precedence. As I thought about what I’d like to hear from a sermon today, I knew immediately—I’d want my pastor to address this craziness in Washington. So, that’s what I’m going to do.

    The passage that keeps coming to mind for me is Matthew 6:25-34. Listen:

    Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?

    And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life? And why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith?

    Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear?’ For it is the Gentiles who strive for all these things; and indeed your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today.

    I guess I’m supposed find this call not to worry about my life comforting. But in light of what’s going on in Washington? I’M WORRIED ABOUT MY LIFE! Aren’t you?

    Okay. So, what is a Christian response to all this debt talk? Or perhaps I should say, what are some Christian responses?

    Some might side with Paul in his suggestion to the Romans that “everyone should be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established.” If this is your perspective, please, please, please pray for those authorities!

    Others might take a more “being good stewards” approach to the issue. Thus far, our government hasn’t been a great example of good stewardship. Fourteen point three trillion dollars in debt? Some might trust individuals to care for the common good more than politicians. If that’s where you are, please, please, please pray for all people (including yourself) to make good and just decisions with their financial resources!

    For some Christians, the debt ceiling crisis reveals just how un-just and unfair much of our economic and political systems in this country can be …or if not unfair, at least skewed toward the haves more than the have-nots. Twentieth century Brazilian bishop Dom Helder Camara expressed this view well when he said: “When I fed the poor they called me a saint. When I asked why they were poor, they called me a Communist.” Questioning the system is not an easy thing to do. Just ask, I don’t know, Jesus. But for many Christians, questioning the system, holding the authorities within the system accountable, are acts of deep faith.

    How we respond to the national debt crisis—by trusting the government, by advocating for more individual control of the country’s finances, or by calling for strengthening the social safety net…it is possible to find support in Christian Scripture and tradition for each of these responses. And I don’t know this for sure, but I suspect we would have representatives from each perspective here this morning.

    I’m not here to advocate for any particular response to the debt crisis as more or less Christian than any other this morning. I know better than to try to tell you how to think.

    What I am going to do is invite us all to go deeper than the debt debate, deeper than politics or governing principles, deeper than the economic and social systems that undergird our lives as we know them. The invitation today is to go into our deepest selves and ask: where does our true security lie? What—really—do we trust more than anything else? In the words of theologian Paul Tillich: what is our ultimate concern?

    Think about it for a minute… What’s the one thing in your life that would most devastate you if you lost it? Losing this one thing would make you question whether or not you could go on; it would make you question your whole life; it would call into question everything that makes you feel safe. Can you name that one thing?

    That one thing, that ultimate concern, is, in truth, our god, Paul Tillich says. The one thing we most trust, the one thing that makes us feel most secure, the one thing we cling to more tightly than anything else—that is what we worship. That is what receives our devotion. That is where we place our faith. If that ultimate concern isn’t God, Tillich would say, we’re living as functional atheists.

    The gift—yes, the gift–of issues like this debt ceiling debate, is that it gives us the opportunity to see where our faith really lies. Does our trust lie in economic, political, or social systems? Does our trust lie in ourselves and our ability to care for ourselves? Or does our trust lie in the God who creates us, redeems us, sustains us, and hopes for our wholeness?

    The more I read about Millard Fuller, the more impressed I become with the major change he made in his life in 1965. Now, Millard wasn’t perfect. Like most of us, he had his human weaknesses. But in 1965—just after he’d made his first million at the age of 29—Millard took a journey to the depths like the one I’m suggesting today.

    The journey began when Millard’s accountant told him he’d made that first million. Millard’s first thought—his first thought—was how to get started on the second million. About the same time, Millard’s wife, Linda, announced she was having an affair and planned to leave the marriage. That announcement led Millard to do some soul searching.

    First, he had to convince Linda to come home—she did. Then, through prayer and talking they realized that, functionally, wealth had become their god. They were functional atheists. Money and success had received their devotion; the thing in which they had most faith was their ability to provide for themselves. But like Jesus said—you can’t serve two masters. While worshiping their god of wealth, Millard and Linda had lost sight of the things that were truly important to them—family and faith.

    Which is why they decided to get rid of their wealth. They gave it away. Their wealth wasn’t necessarily a bad thing. It’s just that, for them, their devotion to wealth and status short-circuited their devotion to God.

    I don’t think Jesus is asking us in this “Don’t worry” passage simply to sit back and wait for things to come to us. There is part of us that does need to worry about food and clothing, especially with what’s going on in Washington right now.

    I do think Jesus is asking us in this passage to question our priorities, to get clear with ourselves about what comes first in our lives—not what we say comes first, but what really comes first. For Jesus the answer is clear: “Seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness…and all these things will be added unto you. Alleluia.”

    When we get our priorities in order, when God actually functions as our God, then our anxiety lessens. Go ahead and worry about food and clothes, just don’t let worry about material things short-circuit your devotion to God. That is Jesus’ lesson in this passage.
    I don’t know if any of this has made any sense today…I don’t know if it’s helped anxiety levels or not. Hopefully, it hasn’t increased anxiety for anyone! Here’s what I do believe, though. I believe that God loves us and desires for us to have what we need. God desires that for all God’s children. And I believe that if we get our priorities straight, if we seek God’s kingdom first, the other stuff—somehow–will fall into place.

    I’m going to end today by reading the Scripture text one more time. Then we’ll sing together #772 in your hymnal, “Nothing can trouble.” This is one of those prayer songs, the kind that we sing over and over to give it the chance to go deep inside us, down to that place of deepest authenticity and need. Allow it to comfort you today.

    Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?

    And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life? And why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith?

    Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear?’ For it is the Gentiles who strive for all these things; and indeed your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today.

    (Then we sang “Nothing Can Trouble”)

  • Hello world!
    07.19.11

    Welcome to WordPress. This is your first post. Edit or delete it, then start blogging!

  • A Year of Koinonia: Kick-off!
    07.17.11

    The journey begins! I preached about Koinonia today, introducing the idea of A Year of Koinonia to the congregation. The way this is dovetailing so nicely with the Beatitudes sermons, the way it coincides with the Koinonia celebration next year, the way it will help us–as a community–think about how to live the kin-dom of God NOW? It’s feeling like a God-moment!

    Okay. Here’s the sermon…

    July 17, 2011 “Meek Inheritance”
    Matthew 5:5 (Philippians 2:1-5)

    In the first Beatitude, we learned that the first step of becoming a citizen of God’s kingdom is acknowledging our need of God: “blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” The second step is mourning—that is, becoming deeply concerned to the point of action—about the suffering of the world: “blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.” The third step of becoming a citizen of God’s Kingdom involves becoming meek. Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. This Beatitude has long amused quipsters.

    The meek shall inherit the earth—they are too weak to refuse.

    Let the meek inherit the earth—they have it coming to them.

    It’s going to be fun to watch and see how long the meek can keep the earth once they inherit it.

    The meek may inherit the earth, but the other kind inherits the mortgage.

    The meek shall inherit the earth, but not its mineral rights. J. Paul Getty

    Welcome to the most puzzling of the Beatitudes. Like the comedian said: Why should the meek inherit the earth? They don’t even want it!

    So, who are these “meek” to whom Jesus refers? In common usage, meek usually means weak, harmless, spiritless. The quotes I just read are funny because they assume that shrinking-violet definition of meek. But I don’t think Jesus is talking about the weak meek here. I think he’s talking about something stronger, something more like a healthy humility.

    Are you humble? I’m not talking about the false humility we’re so good at here in the South. “That’s a beautiful dress!” we might be told. “Oh, this old thing?” I’m not talking about false humility. When I ask if you’re humble, I’m asking if you have a true and accurate understanding of who you are. Are you realistic about who you are and what your gifts are? Or do you feel a need to inflate—or deflate—your actual gifts? Joan Chittister suggests that “humility is reality to the full;” it “comes from understanding our place in the universe,” (Wisdom Distillled from the Daily, 53). Do you understand your place in the universe? Or do you feel the need to occupy a larger place than others…or maybe a smaller place? The humble life is a mama Bear life—it’s lived in a “just-right” perspective.

    Have you ever been around a truly humble person, someone who seemed to have a realistic grasp of their standing in the world? They’re kind of different from most folks, aren’t they? They seem so comfortable in their own skin. They’re satisfied with what they have; they aren’t always wishing for what they don’t have. And while seeming to be confident, they don’t seem to need to impose their will on others. Have you ever met someone like that? Kind of spooky, isn’t it?

    This thing about not needing to impose their will on others…Clarence Jordan, he of Cotton Patch Gospel fame, says that the meek Jesus is talking about here no longer feel the need to impose their will on others because they have surrendered their will completely to God. Jordan wrote: “Right there is the secret to the power of the meek. They surrender their will to God so completely that God’s will becomes their will.” That means that “whoever fights them is fighting against God, for a surrendered human will is the agency through which God’s power is released upon the earth.” “Through [the meek] God’s will is done on earth as it is in heaven; through them the kingdom of heaven comes to earth.” (25)

    Jordan sums up this meek inheritance business about as well as anyone. The meek are those who have willingly surrendered their wills to God. Their desire is no longer to build themselves up or to control others. Their desire has become one with God’s desire. They hope God’s hopes; they dream God’s dreams. And not only do they hope and dream what God hopes and dreams, the meek also have the hands and feet to make those dreams reality…
    …which is exactly why it is the meek who inherit the earth, right? If God’s dream is for the divine will to be done on earth as it is in heaven and if “a surrendered human will is the agency through which God’s power is released upon the earth,” then who better to receive the earth than those who are best equipped to claim it for heaven?

    All this defining and discussing the meek and their inheritance is fine, but what does it look like? What does it look like when the meek come into their earthly inheritance?

    It probably looks a lot like Koinonia Farm, the interracial Christian community Clarence Jordan established in 1942 in Sumter County, Georgia, down near Americus. If you read my blog this week, you saw a description of the theme I’m suggesting for Pilgrimage this year: A Year of Koinonia. In September 2012, Koinonia Farm will mark its 70th anniversary. There’s going to be a big celebration, including a production of the “Cotton Patch Gospel” with Tom Key. I thought it might be fun for some of us to go down there for that celebration.

    Then I thought it might be fun to learn about Koinonia before we went. Then I thought it might be fun to study some of Jordan’s Cotton Patch translations of the Bible. Then I thought it might be fun to reflect on what it means to live koinonia, Christian community. Then I thought it might be fun to get involved in Habitat for Humanity, an idea that was inspired by Koinonia. Then I thought—It might take a year to do all of this! Thus was born the idea for this year’s theme: A Year of Koinonia.

    Here’s the thing about the Sermon on the Mount—it’s impossible to study it without at least thinking about changing your life. I just don’t think Jesus said all this stuff simply to hear himself talk. Why talk about fulfilling God’s dreams on earth as they are in heaven unless you wanted people to try to do it, right? I think Jesus’ dream was that we would take God’s dream seriously and do everything we can to make it reality.

    If we’re looking for a model of that, we need look no further than Clarence Jordan himself. Clarence grew up a child of privilege in Talbotton, Georgia. The disparity between all he had and the poverty of many of those around him bothered him, even as a child. After high school, he attended UGA, where he got a degree in Agriculture—he planned to work with poor farmers to improve their farming techniques.

    Toward the end of college, he felt a strong call to ministry and ended up at my alma mater, the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky. While there, he distinguished himself as a Greek scholar and biblical interpreter.

    I think seminary might also be the place where Clarence became meek in the way he describes in his Sermon on the Mount commentary. In his study, the words of Jesus had become so real to him, God’s hopes for humanity had become so compelling, that Clarence completely surrendered his will to God. God’s hopes and dreams were now his hopes and dreams. His mind and heart were completely aligned with God. As Paul says so well in his letter to the Philippians, Clarence Jordan now had the mind of Christ…

    …he also had the hands, feet, courage, and agriculture degree it would take to try to fulfil God’s dreams here on earth…which is why he went in with another family to buy a run- down farm in Sumter County, Georgia, in 1942.

    For the longest time—eight years—the folks in Sumter County left Koinonia alone. Koinonia might have seemed a little weird, but mostly it seemed harmless. Some neighboring farmers grew concerned when they learned that white and black workers were paid the same wage at Koinonia; that forced them to have to raise their pay as well. But mostly, they just left Koinonia alone…until the Jordans took a dark-skinned student from India to a worship service at Rehoboth Baptist Church. That was when things got tense. The next Sunday, the deacons of Rehoboth voted to exclude all Koinonians from their church.

    Things started getting really bad in 1954, with the Supreme Court’s Brown vs. Board of Education decision. At that point, the terrorism started—drive-by shootings, bombings, cross burnings, an economic boycott. Many Koinonia families eventually had to be relocated to New Jersey because things were just too dangerous.
    Eventually, as the Civil Rights Movement effected change all over the country, things simmered down in Sumter County. By the time Clarence Jordan died in 1969, membership in the community was on the rise again. The terrorism had stopped. There’s no doubt, though, that the Koinonia community—meek though its leader was—claimed at least one small piece of earth in southwest Georgia for the kin-dom of God.

    Over the years, the emphasis of Koinonia has changed. It has been involved in the peace movement and is now focusing on renewable agricultural techniques. Jubilee Partners, an offshoot of Koinonia, has on ongoing ministry to refugees. That’s the thing about the kingdom of heaven—each generation has to re-interpret for the current times.

    Which brings us to today’s “So what?” question: How will we help God’s kingdom come here on earth as it is in heaven? If we allow ourselves to become meek, if we allow our wills to become one with God’s, if we dare to dream God’s dreams, how will we help those dreams become a reality? What will we do with the earth once we receive our inheritance?

    In the name of our God, who creates us, redeems us, sustains us, and hopes for our wholeness. Amen.

    Kimberleigh Buchanan © 2011

  • Church Theme 2011-2012: A Year of Koinonia
    07.15.11

    In 1942, a Baptist preacher name Clarence Jordan, set out to establish the Kingdom of God in Sumter County, Georgia. Along with his wife, Florence, his children, and a few friends, Clarence bought some property, called it Koinonia Farm, and sought to create an intentional Christian community. (The Greek word for community is koinonia). The people of Koinonia would live together, work together, and try as best they could to live in the way Jesus taught. And, oh yeah. The community was interracial. During Jim Crow’s reign in the deep South.

    As I have read some of Jordan’s work on the Sermon on the Mount this summer, I’ve begun to understand just how radical Jesus’ teachings were, just how seriously the faith life is meant to be taken, and just how deeply the world—and believers—might be transformed by living the God-life. Reading Jordan’s commentaries on the Gospels alongside histories of Koinonia Farm, it’s becoming clear just how seriously Jordan took Jesus’ teachings. Bible study wasn’t something he did one day a week then forgot about the rest of the time. He LIVED it…until the day he died working on a sermon in his writing hut at Koinonia in 1968.

    Since the first time I heard “Cotton Patch Gospel” and learned that Clarence Jordan was a fellow Southern Baptist Theological Seminary graduate, I have loved all things Clarence and all things Koinonia. A Southern Baptist preacher living in Christian community with African Americans in southwest Georgia at the height of Jim Crow? Clarence Jordan is a Christian saint if ever there was one.

    A couple of summers ago, several of us took a trip down to Sumter County to see Koinonia. While there, we watched the documentary, Briars in the Cotton Patch, that details the civil rights history of Jordan and Koinonia. Then we toured the facility and learned about the community’s new emphases on renewable farming and its continued commitment to living in Christian community.

    I recently learned about a big celebration they’ll be having at Koinonia Farm September 28-29, 2012. 2012 will mark the 70th anniversary of Koinonia Farm and the 100th anniversaries of Clarence and Florence’s births. To celebrate, they’re throwing a BIG party!

    …Which sparked an idea. Why don’t we attend the celebration? Several UCC folks will be there, including Joyce Hollyday, one of our excellent historians. Tom Key also will be there doing “Cotton Patch Gospel.” Jimmy and Rosalind Carter are honorary chairs for the event. Y’all, it’s going to be great!

    When I thought about attending the celebration in September 2012, that thought sparked another one—why not focus on Jordan, Koinonia Farm, and koinonia (Christian community) all year long?

    …Which led me to a church theme for this year (September 2011 – September 2012): A Year of Koinonia.

    The Year of Koinonia will (or could) involve:

    –reading through Clarence Jordan’s writings
    –reading daily devotions from Common Prayer: A Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals
    –talking together about how we might practice Christian community
    –reading a history of Koinonia Farm
    –taking a trip (or trips) to Koinonia Farm
    –watching “Briars in the Cotton Patch”
    –watching/performing “Cotton Patch Gospel”
    –planting a community garden
    –engaging in some sort of social action in the spirit of Clarence Jordan
    –participating in Habitat for Humanity (Millard Fuller’s life was transformed by a visit to Koinonia)
    –hosting guest speakers (Kirk Lyman-Barner; Joyce Hollyday)
    –ATTENDING THE KOINONIA CELEBRATION Sept. 28-29, 2012! (Check out all the info at www.koinoniapartners.org (Look for the June 2011 newsletter.)

    Here’s the latest blurb from Koinonia Farm:

    2012 Celebration Plans Shaping Up

    We are pleased to share with you that President Jimmy Carter and Mrs. Rosalynn Carter are serving as Honorary Chairs for the 2012 Clarence Jordan Symposium!

    Plans for this and other special activities in 2012 continue to take shape. We’ll kick off with the Clarence Jordan Symposium on September 28-29, 2012. This weekend will be packed with thought provoking discussion, presentations and entertainment. We open the Symposium Friday evening with Tom Key and his production of the “Cotton Patch Gospel.” Saturday we hear from our list of speakers how they have been formed and shaped by Clarence and his legacy, with a variety of topics for the attendees to choose from.

    For four weeks following the Symposium, we’ll have a variety of projects at Koinonia Farm and in the surrounding community. Please come, share your talents as part of a work-study team. If you, your church, or other group would like to take a leadership role in one of these week long projects, please contact us.

    On October 26 and 27, 2012, we will host the Koinonia Family Reunion. Come reconnect with old friends and get re-aquainted with what Koinonia is doing today. It should be a fun time with folks from all eras at Koinonia coming together for fun, fellowship and renewal. We expect to have some music and a lot of volleyball games, much like we’ve enjoyed through the years with so many people. Perhaps you’ve been a long-time friend but have never been to the farm. Well, come on down! You’re welcome, too.

    Registration opens in late August or early September this year for all events. Unfortunately, attendance will be limited by the constraints of the venues, so watch and sign up as soon as registration opens.

  • Synod Reflections!
    07.13.11

    Synod is always a good experience. There are so few UCC churches in the South; it’s easy to feel small. Gathering with a few thousand UCCers—it’s nice to feel big once in a while!

    Sundry reflections….

    Worship. During the intro to one of the worship songs at Friday night worship, I leaned over to Rachel Small and said, “I come to Synod to sing!” In part, I do. Singing songs and hymns with life-giving, liberating texts in a large space with other UCCers? There’s nothing else like it in the world. The preaching was good (the Southeast Conference’s own Elizabeth Clement preached Tuesday night) and the visuals were great (including all iPhone users using candle apps one night), but it was the singing that really helped me to experience God’s presence during Synod. Wonderful!

    Fellowship. Yeah, it was great to see Rachel. She’s doing well and says “Hi!” I barely missed Donna Papenhausen at Sunday afternoon’s worship service. We spoke briefly by phone. Unfortunately, Sarah Weaver wasn’t able to come; I missed seeing her. But I did meet Joe and Kim Skalski’s former pastor by phone! That was kind of cool.

    Also kind of cool was meeting with other representatives from the Southeast Conference for breakfast one morning. About 25 of us gathered for fellowship and to debrief the business that was being discussed by delegates. After ten years in the Conference, I feel more positive about our churches, their pastors, and their members than I ever have. There is an amazing sense of comraderie that I find very energizing…and hopeful. I look for much more collaboration among churches in the Southeast Conference—and especially in the Atlanta area—in the coming months and years.

    Workshops. Unfortunately, I reinjured my Achilles tendons on Friday of Synod, which put me out of commission for most of the events on Saturday (though I did make Leonard Pitts excellent keynote address Saturday morning and a wonderful worship service that night! Oh, and I did make it to the flash mob [see below]). Happily, I was able to get CDs of the two workshops I hoped to attend—one on prayer in all aspects of a congregation’s life and one on storytelling. Once I have the chance to listen to those, I’ll report back.

    Business. The biggest piece of business for Synod was approval of the Agreement on the Mutual Recognition of Baptism. This conversation is an ecumenical one; it involves agreeing on certain language for baptismal formulas so that baptisms among denominations might be recognized. The struggle for some UCCers was having to adhere to non-inclusive language for God (“Father, Son, Holy Spirit”). The compromise is to use Father-language first, then use whatever other language for God the local community uses. The really significant thing about these conversations is that the Catholic Church—including Atlanta’s Archbishop Wilton Gregory—is on board with it.

    For other news of the business portions of Synod, see a recap at http://www.ucc.org/news/gs28.html

    A new geezer’s reflections on the Youth and the 20/30’s. Okay, I’m not old…but I am a well-established middle ager. This, I discovered at Synod. There were tons of teenagers at Synod! They did lots of outreach and fun stuff in Tampa and—very importantly!—added a lot of energy to worship services, including several impromptu conga lines. At Tuesday night’s worship service, I saw in the bulletin, that there would be a blessing with youth. I assumed that meant that the youth would BE blessed. Imagine my surprise when I saw that the youth were actually doing the blessing. They blessed and challenged the new Leaders of the UCC as they begin their work.

    That moment of blessing was pivotal for me. As one youth said in a video shown just a few minutes before the blessing: “The youth aren’t the future of the UCC, we’re right now!” Indeed. The Youth are now. The meeting—and the denomination—would be much, much less vibrant were it not for the youth being among us right now.

    The 20/30’s are the folks in their 20s and 30s who are ordained. Rachel Small is a part of that group (and I guess Sarah is now, too…probably Kristin, too). Among many other initiatives, the 20/30’s orchestrated two flash mobs and a flash mob communion service. The flash mobs filled me with joy; the communion service gave me chills. (View the flash mob at http://www.ucc.org/synod/video/gs-28-flash-mob-edit.html You’ll see Rachel Small in the aqua colored top by the palm tree on the left. At 2:07 or so, you will actually see my shoulder and the back of my head in the bottom right hand screen!)

    Again, the comraderie among these young ministers, their energy, their passion for doing God’s work and doing it through the UCC were inspiring. Really inspiring. Of course, when I saw in the program that they had a gathering for drinks one night from 10:00 p.m. – 1:00 a.m., I was saddened to realize that my 1:00 a.m. days are long gone. At the same time, though, I was filled with hope to know so many young clergy who are and will continue to have a profound impact on the UCC. That is cause for celebration!

    Exhibit Hall! Okay. This is where Synod gets downright unfair. So many wonderful books! So many beautiful stoles and banners! When I stopped by the “In Stitches” booth (they make beautiful stoles!), I told the folks in charge, “I’ll try not to drool.” One of the women said, “Honey, just bring a towel.” (The people at “In Stitches” made the quilted green stole that so many of you have commented on. Beautiful stuff!) Sure is nice to look, though.

    Synod 2013: Long Beach, CA! Won’t you join me? Syond is a great experience. Good speakers, great worship, helpful workshops, service opportunities, good fellowship…and the good news is that it’s not just for clergy! The next Synod will be held in Long Beach, CA. Won’t you consider joining me for that event?

  • Women Touched by Grace (WTBG)
    07.07.11

    I’ve been away from the internet for days…having fun at UCC General Synod in Tampa! (I’ll write more later.)

    Right now I want to share this link to an article from the next issue of Christian Century. WTBG is the program I participated in from 2008-2010. Our Lady of Grace Monastery is the monastery I visit when I talk about “the monastery.” Sr. Luke is just amazing.

    Here’s the article: http://christiancentury.org/article/2011-06/time-grace-women-clergy

    Peace for your journey…

  • Spiritual Exercises: Week 1 [Day 6]
    06.29.11

    Today’s readings are two of my favs– Psalms 8 and 139.

    From Psalm 8: “When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what are mere mortals that you are mindful of them, human beings that you care for them? You have made them a little lower than the heavenly beings and crowned them with glory and honor.” (TNIV)

    From Psalm 139: “For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made.” (TNIV)

    Every time I read these verses, I am overwhelmed again with just how much God loves every human being, just how much God loves me. Even so, knowing in my head and believing in my heart are two different things.

    My prayer today is this: Gentle God, help me to receive your love. Amen.

    Peace for your journey…

  • Spiritual Exercises: Week 1 [Day 5]
    06.28.11

    Today’s reading is called “The Courage to Accept Acceptance.” (The line comes from Tillich.) (Author: Peter Van Breeman, SJ) So much truth in such a short article! Here are a few “gems.”

    “Acceptance means that the people with whom I live give me a feeling of self-respect, a feeling that I am worthwhile. They are happy that I am who I am. Acceptance means that I am welcome to be myself.”

    “Acceptance is an unveiling.” (Don’t you love that? An “unveiling!”) “Every one of us is born with many potentialities. But unless they are drawn out by the warm touch of another’s accpetance they will remain dormant. Acceptance liberates everything that is in me. Only when I am loved in that deep sense of complete acceptance can I become myself.”

    Acceptance means accepting ALL of a person, even her shadows (the author uses the words “defects”…)

    “I am accepted by God as I am–as I am, not as I should be.” (That one’s hard.)

    “It is one thing to know I am accepted an quite another to realize it.” “It takes a long time to believe that I am accepted by God as I am.” (No kidding!)

    “It is fairly easy to believe in God’s love in general (I preach it every week!), but it is very difficult to believe in God’s love for me personally.” (Very true.)

    “Self-acceptance is an act of faith. When God loves me, I must accept myself as well. I cannot be more demanding than God, can I?”

    And here’s my favorite:

    “God’s love is infinite. We can never grasp it, never get hold of it, much less control it. The only thing we can do is jump into its bottomless depth.” (And that is sometimes soooooo difficult!)

    A quote from Irenaeus (2nd c guy) in today’s Common Prayer reading fits well with these quotes: “The glory of God is the human person fully alive.”

    Amen!

    Peace for your journey….

  • Spiritual Exercises: Week 1 [Day 4]
    06.27.11

    Here’s a paragraph from one of the helps on Week 1 of the Exercises…

    “The first and most important point is to begin this journey with great hope and confidence. God is never outdone in generosity. So, if we make even a small change in our weekly pattern, that is a tremendous opening for God to work in us. One way to affirm this hope and confidence is to express it for just a brief instant, each morning, at the same time each day — as I’m finding my slippers, or as I’m brushing my teeth, or while I’m pouring that first cup of coffee — “I know you are with me today, Lord.”

    Because I’m not completely comfortable with “Lord” language, I tweaked it a little to “Holy One, I know you are with me today.” I say it each morning as I’m pouring my coffee. So simple…and yet so powerful.

    Today I launch into reflections on adolescence and young adulthood. It could be interesting trying to find God in THOSE places!

    Peace for your journey…

  • Spiritual Exercise #1 [Day 3]

    I couldn’t start until I bought a new journal. I probably have 75 wire notebooks around the house, but I really needed a new journal for this. Really. So I went to Border’s and bought one, the one on sale, of course. It’s not all that pretty, but it’s thick….and already has a few pages filled.

    Week 1 is titled: Our Life Story–The Memories that Have Shaped Us

    Here’s the assignment: Put together a mental “photo album” of scenes from your past and find God in them. From the guide: “With every picture in my story, there is a grace offered to me as I look for God’s presence there.”

    I spent Friday, Saturday, and today thinking about childhood scenes, will spend tomorrow, Tuesday, and Wednesday reflecting on scenes from adolescence and young adulthood, and Thursday, Friday and Saturday thinking about the rest of adulthood. (This first week is a little longer. I couldn’t wait until Monday to start…not after I bought the new journal!)

    I like the discipline of reflecting on scenes from my past and finding God in them. Some of the scenes I have to think about for a while, you know, the sad or painful ones. With others it’s easier.

    A happy scene–me playing a chord organ my mom bought me when I was in the fourth grade. I loved that chord organ! (You play the melody with the right hand, and chord buttons with the left.) I learned how to read music AND learned how much I loved making music playing that instrument. I still meet God most deeply and surely in music. A definite grace.

    Another music scene…In second grade, we were rehearsing for the Christmas program. You know that big leap in “Silent Night” when you sing “heavenly peace?” Our music teacher told us not to “slide” from the lower note to the higher one, that it was more musical to sing it cleanly. Wow! I still work hard not to “scoop” or “slide” when I sing…because that teacher taught us that making music was a beautiful thing, a thing that takes great skill and care. Another grace.

    A final scene–this one comes from my preschool days. Until I started kindergarten, I stayed with Mrs. Carpenter, a woman who kept children in her home. One day–I’m not sure why–but I screamed in another child’s ear. Mrs. Carpenter came right up to me and screamed in mine. Then she asked, “Did you like my screaming in your ear?” Now, you need to know that I adored Mrs. Carpenter. I couldn’t fathom why she would do such a thing to me! But when she asked me if I liked her sreaming in my ear, I had to say no. “And neither does ‘Janie'” (or whoever it was). It was a painful lesson, but a powerful one. In that exchange, I began learning how my actions affected other people. I began what moral developmentalists call “perspective taking.” I was able to begin to imagine what other people might be feeling or thinking. A very important life lesson in “loving my neighborh.” A definite grace.

    So far, it’s been a good exercise, finding God in any random scene from my past. Kind of cool.

    Okay. There’s tons more I want to say, but I’ll save that for tomorrow.

    Peace for your journey….

  • Spiritual Exercises: Getting Started

    So…I visited my spiritual director last week. Once a quarter I drive up to the monastery in Beech Grove, IN, hang with the sisters for a couple of days, and, while I’m there, make a quick trip into Indy to talk with my spiritual director about, well, spiritual things.

    Felicity and I started working together during Women Touched by Grace, the program for women pastors in which I participated from 2008-2010. Felicity and I were assigned to work together by the luck of the draw, but it ended up being a good fit…so good a fit, that I’ve decided to continue working with her, seeing her the four times a year.

    When I met with Felicity last week, I asked about how we might structure our time and conversations. One of the things I love about Felicity is that she’s Quaker…which means that sitting in silence is really a cool thing to do. But still…our conversations are supposed to be focused on my spiritual disciplines (or at least my attempts at getting some!). So, I wondered if there was something that might help focus our conversations on that.

    Felicity suggested that I try the Ignatian Spiritual Exercises. I don’t know a whole lot about the Exercises. Here’s what I do know. Ignatius is the guy who started the Jesuits. He lived in something like the 16th c. (around the time of the Reformation). The Exercises were written to be done in a 30 day retreat, an exercise a day (I think). The 30 day retreat includes many meetings (weekly? daily?) with a spiritual director. It’s supposed to be VERY intense.

    Because few people have 30 straight days to give to a retreat, some folks at Creighton University (a Jesuit university) designed a 34-week “real life” retreat. Each exercise lasts a week and is designed to be done in the midst of living your life.

    Felicity’s suggestion was that I do the exercises as they’re outlined on the Creighton U website, then check in with her every week by email. (“They don’t have to be long emails!” she said.)

    I started last Friday (two days ago). Don’t know how the journey will be, but I thought I might share some of it with you.

    If you’ve ever done the exercises, I’d love to hear about your experiences.

    If you want to see what I’m following, you can visit the website:

    http://onlineministries.creighton.edu/CollaborativeMinistry/cmo-retreat.html

    Peace for your journey…

  • A Good Good Friday
    04.23.11

    Just got back from “The Last Walk,” an interactive Stations of the Cross experience the youth in our church planned and put together. It was–by far–the most meaningful Good Friday worship experience I’ve ever had. Ever.

    I could tell you about the experience-it-yourself communion on the table in the sanctuary or the weighted bags meant to help us feel the weight of the cross. I could tell you about the (Hershey’s) “kisses” of betrayal or the rooster-shaped planter that received our written confessions of denial. I could write for days about the mirror placed on an easel in such a way that when you looked in the mirror, it was as if you yourself were on the cross. Yes. I could write for days about that.

    But what I want to tell you tonight is how it felt to kneel in front of the banner that read, “Not my will, but thine.” As I knelt, the pleadings of Jesus to God to “let this cup pass” from him fresh in my mind, I was struck by this insight: He didn’t want to do it. Jesus really didn’t want to do it. He would have given anything, if these texts are to be believed, not to have been executed…but as much as he didn’t want to do it, as much as he dreaded what he must have known was coming, still he said “Not my will but thine.”

    Why? Why relent? Why give himself over to God’s will? Why give himself over to a process that could lead only to his death?

    As I knelt there praying, thinking, reflecting, feeling (or trying to) some of the anguish of Jesus’ prayer, the answer came to me. Why, despite his dread of what was to come, did Jesus give himself over to the process that would end with the cross? He did it for love. Jesus gave himself over to the way of the cross because he loved people.

    My favorite definition of love comes from Christian ethicist Beverly Harrison who says (this might be a paraphrase): “Love is the power to act each other into well-being.” To love someone is to hope for and act toward the beloved’s well-being, his or her’s flourishing…and yet, the world in which Jesus lived was one that favored the well-being of only a few. The systems of that 1st c world were violently unjust. Anyone who challenged those systems as much as Jesus did? Execution was highly likely…because that’s what evil does to love–it destroys it, or seeks to.

    Anyone who loves people and wants to act them into well-being, anyone who wants justice, grace, and mercy for all people, anyone who is willing to face the powers-that-be and call them on their hypocrisy also must be prepared to reap the consequences of his actions. In his anguished prayer that night, I think that’s what Jesus was doing–he was reconciling himself to the natural consequences of the actions he’d been taking on behalf of the people, especially people not represented well by the social systems. Because of his love for people, Jesus took on the work of advocating for them…and in his final prayer, he also accepted the reality of the consequences for that advocacy–his execution.

    Could Jesus have done it another way? I don’t think so. I’m way, way past all that substitutionary atonement stuff…the idea that “Jesus died for my sins.” That’s not what I mean when I say that I don’t think Jesus could have done it any other way. What I do mean is that I don’t think we would have gotten the message–any of us–if he hadn’t died. His death showed just how virulent and violent evil is. Evil destroys.

    Evil destroys…but love builds up, love seeks the well-being of the beloved, love hopes for the wholeness of the beloved. And–as we know well–love wins….that is the message of resurrection.

    I’m 46 years old and am still trying to figure out this whole crucifixon/resurrection thing…but the thing I got much clearer about tonight is that Jesus did it all for love.

    Thanks be to God.

  • Maundy Thursday
    04.22.11

    I was trying to put my thoughts together about last night’s Maundy Thursday service, when this email arrived. Lynne gave her permission to post it. Thanks, Lynne!

    Maundy Thursday took on a whole new meaning for me tonight.

    I don’t remember if I ever attended a service on Maundy Thursday. If I did, I was in my teens and obviously it did not leave a lasting impression. Unlike tonight.
    Maundy Thursday, also known as Holy Thursday, Covenant Thursday, Great & Holy Thursday, and Thursday of Mysteries, is the Christian feast or holy day falling on the Thursday before Easter. Maundy, derived from the Latin word mandatum, meaning “commandment,” refers to the commands Jesus gave his disciples at the Last Supper: to love with humility by serving one another and to remember his sacrifice. Yeah, I looked it up. I do this because I have an inquisitive mind. No, that’s not it. Well, maybe a little, but I want to KNOW about Jesus. (Once in the SW?SS class, I blurted out “I wonder what Jesus was like when he was a teenager.”)

    Weird, I know.

    Anyway, who cares about why I am taking such an interest in Jesus’ journey—his life, the disciples’ written testimonies—what He was trying to tell us through his teachings. Why, after 60 years, would I bother to try to understand all this stuff? It’s your fault, Kim.
    There were about 24 of us attending the Maundy Thursday service tonight. Long tables set up in the Fellowship Hall, candles, soft lamp light, a fountain (which was all you could hear at times), piano music softly playing as we quietly entered. On each table: grapes, various cheeses, flat bread, figs…water for drinking. Kim quietly leading the evening in prayer and verse, she invited us to feast and reflect; we ate in silence. Scriptures were read and hymns were softly sung. We shared communion. Even the two youngsters remained quiet during the entire ceremony. It was about as close as one could come to experiencing the Last Supper. And the scriptures so aptly chosen lay the path towards Jesus’ final hours. The closer we came to the final reading, the candles were snuffed and, one by one, the lights were turned off. There we were in the light of dusk manifesting somberly in the moment. Somewhere in another room a cell phone rang. It didn’t even penetrate the atmosphere at the very end; I thought, hmmm, it’s a sign from God that he approved of this evening.

    At the end, we departed in silence.

    We were all overwhelmed.

    Some of us hugged Kim; I was one of them. I felt the energy come through her; the true meaning of Lent finally imminent for me. She did it again to me.

    The cleanup was done in silence. And when we spoke to each other, we whispered.

    A magnificent evening with my Pilgrimage family. And now off to bed to think about how blessed I am. In so many ways.

  • Questions and the Table
    03.21.11

    Today’s communion intro…

    Before I started hanging out with the sisters at the monastery, I thought monastic life was, well, boring. You go to prayer three times a day, mass once a day, and share all your meals with the other sisters. With all that structure, I assumed that everybody’s spirituality was, well, kind of boring, too. Or at least the same. Or at least steady.

    But it’s not. In fact, there’s a lot more doubt and questioning in religious communities than you might think. After three years of dipping my toes into the monastic routine, I’ve come to realize that the sisters don’t go to prayer all the time because they’ve got it all figured out. No, they go to prayer all the time because they’re trying to figure it out. The structure of community prayer, worship, and meals doesn’t give them faith…it simply creates a space where they can wrestle with it.

    That’s what this table can be for us. We don’t come to this table because we understand everything about the eucharist. We don’t come to this table because we’ve already found answers to our faith questions. No, we come to this table because it gives us a structure, it creates a safe place for us to receive God’s grace…even during those seasons when we’re lurking in the shadows of faith.

    Come today.
    Receive the bread, Jesus’ body, gift of grace.
    Receive the cup, Jesus’ blood, gift of grace.

    Let us pray. God, we thank you that faith is much less toggle switch and much more rheostat. We thank you, too, that we are welcome at this table no matter where our personal spiritual dimmer switch is set. Amen.

    [Sharing the elements.]

  • Amazing Grac(i)e
    03.18.11

    I confess that it took me a while to get used to Gracie. She’s one of the cats we welcomed into our home last November. You see, Gracie is a black cat. A solid black cat.

    I don’t consider myself a superstitious person…but all that “If a black cat walks in front of you, it’s bad luck” nonsense ran through my head every time I saw Gracie. If a black cat walks in front of you… But what if she slithers around your ankles and wraps herself around your legs while you walk? For the first couple of months, I was sure I was done for. Bringing a black cat into our home? What was I thinking?

    I had an insight about Gracie this week–she’s living up to her name. I named her after the monastery I’ve been visiting the past 3 years, Our Lady of Grace Monastery in Beech Grove, Indiana. OLG is the place where I have definitely experienced grace through the Women Touched by Grace program for women clergy (www.wtbg.org). I wanted to pay tribute to OLG and WTBG by naming one of the two cats we got “Gracie.” (We thought of naming the other cat “Georgie” [as in Burns], but opted instead for Dayo, a Yoruban word that means “joy arrives.”

    Once able to get past the fact that Gracie is a black cat who walks in front of me every chance she gets (and recognizing that no more bad luck than usual has visited my life since Gracie had entered it), I began to observe Grac(i)e for who she is. Here’s some of what I’ve observed…

    –Grac(i)e is always present. The moment I begin to stir in the mornings, Grac(i)e is right there, poking around, gently pawing, nuzzling. If I respond to her, she seems overjoyed. If I don’t respond, she hops off the bed…then returns the next time I stir. Grac(i)e also accompanies me to the bathroom. That seems to be one of her greatest concerns–making sure I’m never un-attended in the powder room. Whether awake or asleep, studying or watching TV, Gracie is present, sometimes in my lap, usually just nearby sleeping.

    –Grac(i)e loves to play. LOVES to play! Several times a day, she approaches me with a sponge ball in her mouth; sometimes she’s on the floor, sometimes on the chair, sometimes in my lap. Her invitations are always subtle, yet still insistent. “It’s time to play, Kim.” I’d say I accept her invitation about 97% of the time. We don’t usually play long, but the game is always a gift.

    –Grac(i)e loves and accepts me, no matter what I do. If we have a falling out–like when she sneaks under the covers and starts nipping my legs–no matter. We take a short break, then she’s right back with me, nuzzling, purring, loving (or whatever the cat equivalent of loving is).

    Now, when I see Gracie, I imagine that I’m encountering God’s grace. God’s grace, too, is ever-present, accepts me for who and what I am, and often invites me to play.

    Amazing Grac(i)e, indeed!

    Peace for your journey…

  • More Ash Wednesday Reflections
    03.11.11

    Yesterday at my clergywomen support group, I told my colleagues about how hard the whole ashes thing had been this year. One friend said that she, too, had had a hard time with it. Then she got an idea. “I said the ashes to ashes thing to the first person, but every person after that I said, ‘You are loved,’ while I imposed the ashes.” Kind of cool, huh?

    In her Ash Wednesday sermon, another friend focused on the love and grace of the season of Lent…she talked about how the whole ashes and dust thing reminds us that we aren’t in control, that we are only human, and that we are loved by God for being human.

    Those responses got me thinking…Lent is the one season of the church year that invites us below the surface of our lives, into the depths of who we are. Why invite people into the depths then focus on how bad we are? You’re born, life sucks, then you die. No…in this season of coming clean with all of who we are, we need more than ever to know of God’s love for us.

    I think that’s what I’ll try to focus on this Lent–both as a worshiper and as a worship leader–the love of Lent. From dust I have come, to dust I shall return, and I’ll be loved every minute until I do.

    Peace for your lenten journey…

  • Ash Wednesday Reflections
    03.10.11

    So, I told Allen at supper that I hate–just hate–Ash Wednesday services. “That’s because they’re all about sin,” he said. But I don’t think that’s it. I am a woman of errors, well-acquainted with sin.

    As a participant, I love Ash Wednesday services. This is the one time of year we have explicit permission to go into the depths of who we are. Since I live there most of the time any way, Lent feels kind of comfortable for me.

    No, I think it’s LEADING Ash Wednesday services that’s uncomfortable. It’s really hard to impose the ashes, to remind everyone present–in such an intimate way–that they were born and they will die. I mean, we all know we’re going to die…but to be the one to say so in so many words? It’s not the most favorite part of my job.

    The thing that’s humbling, though, is that all those people LET me impose ashes on them. They let me touch them in that intimate way and remind them that they were born, are living, and will die. I guess that part’s nice, to have the trust of the people…but Ash Wednesday…it just makes everything about life and death and our humanness so real. Sigh.

    Here’s one thing I really enjoyed today…setting up the sanctuary with Allen. We hunted up the right paraments and banners, assembled the lenten candles, practiced creating the ashes (we didn’t use last year’s palms this time), draped the cross with a purple cloth…the Lenten journey can be rough and solitary…it was nice to prepare for it with my husband, my colleague, my friend. My Allen.

    Peace for your lenten journey…

  • The Holy Spirit…and All that Jazz
    03.04.11

    Allen and I were awakened from a sound sleep around 1:00 this morning by the jazz riffs of a solo flutist playing in the living room. Our living room. I knew I’d left my flute out…and I know we’ve got some really crafty cats…but could they really be playing jazz? In the middle of the night?

    Once I’d gained full consciousness, I realized that I’d left a jazz flute CD in my player and had left the player turned on. When one of the afroementioned crafty cats walked across the player, she turned it on. Mystery solved.

    As annoying as it is to be wakened from a deep sleep hours before the alarm goes off, it was kind of nice hearing jazz mysteriously playing in my house in the dead of night. Hearing it reminded me of Dave Brubeck’s piece called “The Voice of the Holy Spirit.” The piece is, I guess you’d call it an oratorio. It tells the story of Pentecost from Acts 2.

    The thing that’s so cool about the piece is that every time the Holy Spirit appears in the text, the instrumentalists break out into improvisational jazz. One time it’s the piano, another the saxophone, another time the flute. Brubeck’s thinking is that jazz is the musical form that best illustrates the moving of the Spirit…there is some basic form there, but what happens within that form is totally up-for-grabs and dependent on being fully present in the moment. As Jesus tells Nicodemus: “The wind/spirit blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes.” (John 3:8)

    Come, Holy sha-da-ba-doo-dah Spirit, Come!

  • Free Speech vs. Freeing Speech
    03.03.11

    This was a hard one…hearing the Supreme Court’s decision in favor of funeral protesters. The Phelps clan has been around for a long time marching with signs that declare with certainty what God thinks and who God hates. Everything in my being is repulsed by what I read on those signs…and I only see them on the news. They’ve never been directed at me; their words never have assured me that God hates me or that people are dying because of me. (But then, maybe they don’t know that I’m a woman pastor…who knows?) Evenso, reading the unbelievably violent things written on those signs… how much psychological damage are those signs doing? How much psychological damage has been done to people that they think it okay to inflict such violence on others?

    Yes, yes, yes. Free speech is vital to a democracy, vital. I want the same freedom to preach my theology that others have. But wasn’t some line crossed in this case? “Thank God for dead soldiers” at a military funeral? I can’t imagine the psychological damage that has been done to the Snyder family.

    I don’t know this…I haven’t been to law school; I’m not exactly on the Supreme Court justice trajectory…But the decision feels right. The Court’s job in this case was to affirm the right of citizens to free speech…

    But as a person of faith–and as a pastor–in addition to my concern for free speech, I’m equally concerned about freeing speech. “No one condemns you,” Jesus said. “Go and sin no more.” “I have come that they may have life, and have it abundantly.” “Today you will be with me in paradise.”

    In the Gospels, over and over again, Jesus seems always and only to speak freeing words to people, words that accept them for who they are, words that assure them of God’s love for them, words that move them into a closer embrace with God. In fact, now that I think about it, the people with whom Jesus is less-than-gracious are the religious leaders, the ones who seem so certain of what God thinks and whom God hates.

    As people of faith, we have such an opportunity to share God’s love–God’s LOVE–with people who are hurting. How can any Christian in his or her right mind knowingly hurt those who are hurting? How can any Christian be so sadistic? How can any adherent to the faith of “God is love” and “Love your neighbor as yourself” do such violence to thier neighbors?

    As a citizen, I affirm the Phelps’ right to free speech. As a person of Christian faith, I wish to God they would exercise their freedom to say the right things.

  • Books for February: 9
    03.01.11

    I only read 9 books in February…but, hey. The month only had 28 days, right?

    Here they are:

    1) Myers, Tamar. Too Many Crooks Spoil the Broth. (PennDutch mysteries, #1)

    2) Wallace, Daniel. The Watermelon King (Southern fiction, by the guy who wrote “Big Fish.” Loved this one.)

    3) Buechner, Frederick. The Storm. (Buechner is absolutely a masterful writer…If I were to sum this one up, I would say: God is found in community.)

    4) Edelman, Marian Wright. Guide My Feet: Prayers and Meditations for Our Children. (Read this in prep for the service about the sexual exploitation of children. Anyone who advocates for children–or wants to–should read this book of prayers.)

    5) Roberts, Gillian. Helen Hath No Fury. (Amanda Pepper Mystery #10) (Don’t you just love her puns?)

    6) Lewis, C. S. Prince Caspian. (Narnia #4) (Listened to it on audio–read by Lynn Redgrave.)

    7) Myers, Tamar. Parsley, Sage, Rosemary, and Crime. (PennDutch, #2…These Amish/Mennonite mysteries are pure fluff…guilty pleasures!)

    8) McNeal, Reggie. The Present Future. (A book for work…about how church as we know it is changing…The most striking idea–how Christianity has become subsumed by “churchianity.” We aren’t so much inviting people to Christ as we are inviting them into club membership at a local church. McNeal writes from his perspective as a Southern Baptist, so not everything he says resonates with me or the context of the church I pastor, but the basic question of the relationship between church membership and faith–that’s important.)

    9) Roberts, Gillian. Claire and Present Danger. (Amanda Pepper Mystey #11) (I say I read these mysteries for fun…but occasilly I run across really good sermon/ Sunday school stuff in mystery novel…like these two quotes: “I knew I should back out of that pantry and remove this scene from my mind. (An undocumented maid was hiding in the pantry obviously distressed.) This really was none of my business. Or was it—in the way it was everybody’s business. There are no parables of the Half-Assed Samaritan who asked politely, then backed off.” (47) “There are societies and religions that consider being excluded the ultimate punishment. The loss of community is basically a death penalty.” (211)

    A new month, new books to read. Here goes!

    Peace for your journey…

  • Youth Sunday!
    02.28.11

    Yesterday’s worship service was AMAZING…under the able direction of one of our adults, the kids planned the entire service. They welcomed, they ushered, they prayed, they took up the offering, they preached, they sang…it was a phenomenal worship experience.

    Then adults and kids met in Sunday school to debrief the worship service. Here’s some of what I heard: Youth: “Our youth group became a little closer working on this service.” Adult: Oh, man. I don’t remember anything specifically…but there was tender sharing all around the room. Aduls listened to teenagers, teenagers listened to adults, we told each other we loved each other. (Okay. One adult did say that our church was “groovy.” I said that I thought that if you said you were groovy, you probably weren’t.)

    Sunday we definitely mucked around in the holy. A tremendous experience.

    I’ll end with an image and a quote…IMAGE: Children’s Time–6 or 7 children and 10 teenagers gathered together in the front of the church. In that gathering, we saw the church’s future…and it was very bright.

    QUOTE: Youth (at the end of Sunday School…in tears t the adults): “I just love you guys, and I love this place.”

    A bright future, indeed…

  • Real Life Community: Jean Vanier

    One of the disappointments of pastoring is when members who once were gung-ho about the church slowly pull away. A quote from Jean Vanier, the founder of the L’Arche communities suggests one possible reason for some people’s disenchantment with community…

    “Almost everyone finds their early days in a community ideal. It all seems perect. They feel they are surrounded by saints, heroes, or at the least, most exceptional people who are everything they want to be themselves. And then comes the let-down. The greater their idealization of the community at the start, the greater the disenchantment. If people manage to get through this second period, they come to a third phase–that of realism and true commitment. They no longer see other members of the community as saints or devils, but as people–each with a mixture of good and bad, darkness and light, each growing and each with their own hope. The community is neither heaven nor hell, but planted firmly on earth, and they are ready to walk in it, and with it. They accept the community and the other members as they are; they are confident that together they can grow towards something more beautiful.”

    Amen.

  • Common Prayer and Social Justice
    02.25.11

    I just finished the reading for the day from “Common Prayer.” What a great resource for thinking about social justice in a faith context! Traditional prayers and songs are interspersed with stories about saints of old and contemporary saints–all people who sought to do what they could to help all people live free and unimpeded lives.

    Today’s prayer in “Common Prayer” began by marking the 17th anniversary of the Hebron Massacre, the day when a Jewish settler entered a mosque in Hebron, Israel, and opened fire on worshipers. Twenty nine Muslims died that day. The paragraph ends with this statement:
    “It is a reminder that extremists of all faiths have distorted the best that our faiths have to offer, and it is our prayer that a new generation of extremists for love and grace will rise up.” (p.158)

    “Extremists for love”…Several years ago I ran across a definition of love by Christian ethicist Beverly Harrison that transformed my understanding of the word. She said (I’m paraphrasing a bit): “love is the power to act each other into well-being.” My favorite thing about this definition is that action is central to it. To quote another old saying, “Love is something you do.”

    Maybe that’s part of what connects social justice and church–the impetus for it. Why work to ensure that all people are able to live free and unimpeded lives? Because of love, the power to act others into well-being.

    Two more things from today’s “Common Prayer”… “Mother Teresa of Calcutta said, ‘To show great love for God and our neighbor we need not do great things. It is how much love we put in the doing that makes our offering something beautiful for God.'” So, doing is important. Doing the BIG thing isn’t always necessary. And sometimes doing the big thing–if done for the wrong reasons–isn’t even as helpful as the small thing, if the small thing is done out of love.

    Today’s “Common Prayer” reading ended with this prayer: “Today, Lord, help us make our lives an offering of quiet commitment to thread love through the torn garments of society. Amen.”

    That might be the best defintiion of social justice I’ve heard…a commitment to “threading love through the torn garments of society.”

    Got your sewing kit?

    Peace for your journey…

    P.S. you can find an online version of “Common Prayer” at www.commonprayer.net

  • Social Justice and Church?

    I know I’ve already blogged today…I guess it’s feast or famine with me…but Allen and I just finished wrestling with a question I was asked last week: How do I, as a pastor, engage in social justice?

    Great question, right? Hard to answer. At the church I pastor, some people have left because we’re too focused on social justice, while others have left because we’re not focused enough on social justice. The thing is, it seems like, though we all assume we use the term in the same way, everyone has their own definition of “social justice.”

    For some people, social justice is about demonstrations and lobbying and “changing systems” (another term that means different things to different people). For others, social justice is about LGBT rights or anti-war protests or working to eradicate poverty or lobbying for a livable wage for all people. For some people, working for social justice is about “living lightly on the earth”–driving hybrids and reducing carbon footprints. For others, social justice is about working with the poor or on behalf of children or with the disabled or for gender equity.

    If we had one definition of “social justice,” it might be easier to answer the question…but we don’t. I guess I’ll have to devise my own. Here goes.

    It seems like you have to begin with the idea that all human beings–every last one–have the same right to live free and unimpeded lives (to the extent that their freedom does not impede anyone else’s freedom). A global/political description of this idea is the United Nations’ “Declaration of Human Rights.” A couple of Christian descriptions of the idea: “There is neither Jew nor Greek, neither slave nor free, neither male nor female, for you are all one in Christ.” (Gal 3:28) “God so loved the world that WHOSOEVER believes in God…” (John 3:16) “God shows no partiality” Peter says in Acts 10:34.

    If you begin with the idea that everyone has the same right to live freely, then you engage in social justice when you notice places in the world where people are not treated the same, where people do not have the same right to live free and impeded lives, where some people have more rights than others. You engage in social justice when you do whatever you can to make it possible for everyone to live free and unimpeded lives.

    An example: Every human being needs food, right? The human body doesn’t function well without proper nutrition. It’s hard to live a free and unimpeded life if you’re starving. The places where people do not have enough food to eat–that is the result of an imbalance of justice. Thus, working on the issue of hunger is a means of engaging in social justice.

    But there are so many ways of engaging the issue of world hunger as a social justice issue. At our church, we collect food for the local food pantry; we prepare and serve food on the fifth Tuesday; we work occasionally at a different food bank; we participate in a summer lunch program to help feed children who wouldn’t have a midday meal otherwise; our youth and some adults participate in the 30 Hour Famine each year. We also contribute to ecumenical offerings, part of whose funds go to relieve hunger in places around the United States and the globe. Are we engaging in social justice? Absolutely.

    And yet…there are some people who say that simply giving people food only perpetuates the problem of hunger. If we don’t address the systems that create a glut of food in some places and a scarcity of it in others, then the situation will never change. My dad, an agriculture professor, once said, “World hunger isn’t a food problem, it’s a political problem.” When asked how to solve the world’s hunger problem, the Dalai Lama said simply: “Share.” Perhaps the most striking comment about hunger as a justice issue was spoken by Dom Helder Camara, a 20th c. Catholic bishop in Brazil. Camara said this: “When I fed the poor, they called me a saint. When I asked why there were poor, they called me a Communist.”

    Okay…I haven’t really reach any resolution, have only barely begun to answer the question…but I can tell this is going to take a while. So I think I’ll stop for now. I’m certain I’ll return to the topic.

    Any other thougths about social justice and the church?

    Peace for your journey…

  • Self-care–God’s for it!
    02.24.11

    This real life pastor gets tired sometimes.  Like most folks, I over-commit, over-function and rationalize all my busy-ness because I’m “doing God’s work.”  The thing is, the cells in my body can’t distinguish between God’s work and other work.  To my body, work is work and when I’ve done too much of it, it gets tired.  Really tired.

    The thing I hate is when exhaustion hits on a Sunday morning.  I remember one time several years ago falling asleep during the Silent Confession.  I fell asleep leading worship!  Man.  That was too tired. 

    A couple of weeks ago, I was dragging again.  Often when I drag, I say a little prayer:  “God, please use me, despite my exhaustion.  And, if you can, give me a little extra energy.”  I was, after all, working for God, right?  A little miracle in the synapse action of my brain shouldn’t be too much to ask.  Here’s how God responded: “Honey. I’m not going to be able to use you until you get some rest.”

    Sigh. 

    When I received that response, I realized that I was asking God to take better care of me than I was taking of myself.  It wasn’t much different than a teenager asking God to help her ace a test for which she hadn’t studied.  “God, give me energy, even though I haven’t done what I know I should do to create that energy for myself.”  God isn’t a puppeteer.  God doesn’t want to do our lives for us.  God wants to work with us in our lives, co-creating  with us a life of wonder and joy and love.   Doesn’t that sound like lots more fun than simply saving us from ourselves?

    When that “Aha!” came in the middle of the worship service, I realized I was going to have to muddle through somehow, foggy-headed though I was.  God wasn’t going to save me from myself this time.  I had to live with the consequences of neglecting self-care.  So, I did.  I muddled through…I muddled through worship, muddled through Sunday school, muddled through all the hand-shaking, muddled through lunch with Allen, went home…  and slept.

    I can’t be sure, but just before dropping off, I think I heard these words:  “Well done, my good and faithful servant.”

    Peace (and rest!) for your journey…

  • Grace of the Next Moment
    02.20.11

    You know those weeks when everything goes right? You follow through with everything you say you’re going to do, the creative juices flow, the house is clean, the desk at work is clean, you let down no one, and check everything off your to-do list every day? In this perfect week, you might even you blog every day!

    Yeah. This wasn’t one of those weeks for me. I must have gotten 5 (maybe it was 10) emails from people reminding me of things I’d forgotten to do. Sigh. The people pleaser in me really hates letting people down…

    ..but you know, every moment is a chance to start over. The one good thing that came out of my dissertation was the idea of the “grace of the next moment.” Because time continually moves forward, every moment–every moment!–is a chance to start over. Sometimes you have to mop up the mess from your failures, but then, life goes on again…sometimes even to the point where you have one of those really great weeks again.

    Here’s hoping!

    Peace for your journey…

  • Nelson Mandela: “To be free…”
    02.10.11

    February 10, 1990 Nelson Mandela was released from prison in South Africa. Do you remember where you were when you heard he’d been released? Do you remember how you felt? And that was just 3 short months after the Berlin Wall fell. What an amazing time of liberation! It felt like the whole world was getting free!

    …and yet…we cntinue to pray for people in Egypt, North Korea, Tibet, the list of un-free places is long. Too long.

    On this anniversary of Mandela’s release, it is good to remember all the places in the world where relative peace has been attained. At the same time, we will do well to remember Mandela’s words: “To be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others.” (Quoted in “Common Prayer”, 140.)

    May the freedom we seek and celebrate be freedom for all people.

    Peace for your journey…

  • One Really Intense Worship Service
    02.09.11

    Sunday’s worship service was very intense. Amazingly so. Before I tell you about Sunday, though, I need to tell you about a book club meeting last June.

    The book group had read a book about women’s spirituality. The ensuing conversation led us to a point where we began wondering how we might encourage and support young girls and women on their faith journeys. At that point, one of the women remarked on the recent news that Atlanta is one of the top five cities for the sexual exploitation of children–child prostitution. Bewildered, the woman cried: “We’ve got to do something about this!”

    I pastor a really good group of folks, people who, with every fiber of their beings really do want to make a difference in the world. So often though, as with most well-meaning people, the conversation ends with “We’ve got to do something!” because that’s usually the point at which we get so overwhelmed that we begin to feel so very small that we give up. Oh sure. We feel guilty about giving up…but the problem just seems too big. We don’t see how anything we could do would change anything.

    So…I asked the next question. “What are we going to do?” Dead silence. More dead silence. Then one person said, “Well, I know this attorney who works with children’s issues; maybe I can talk with her.” And another said, “I can look some things up on line.” “Yeah,” someone else said, “I can do some research, too.”

    And from that night, a movement was born. We visited an informational session at a neighboring church. We invited someone from an advocacy group for vicitms of the child sex trade to come speak at our church. We bought Christmas gifts for residents at a safe house for girls who have left “the life.” A large group in the church became and has stayed involved.

    Which brings me to Sunday’s worship service. I asked Donna Papenhausen, a UCC pastor who is a member of our church, to preach for me the Sunday after Christmas. The text for the day? Matthew 2:12-23, the passage we call “The Slaughter of the Innocents” (the one where Herod sets out to kill all the boy babies in the area). Donna wrote a powerful sermon (she sent me a copy beforehand) likening Herod to contemporary psychopaths…like pimps of young girls.

    Then, the snow came. Church was cancelled. But Donna’s sermon was so powerful, I started thinking of a time when she might preach it. Then it all came together this past Sunday. Donna preached. Allen (my husband and Pilgrimage’s Music Director) picked some amazing hymns (“Little Children, Welcome” which has the line, “Little children, welcome! We, the church of Jesus, we will help your growing, little children, welcome!”) I led a healing ritual in the 8:30 worship service, where all present stood in for healing by proxy for the victims of the child sex trade. And I led a communion service in both services where we were reminded of the brokenness of all children…and of the power of the table–somehow–to heal us, a little bit anyway. (See the communion liturgy below.)

    After the second worship service, we heard Pamela Perkins from Interfaith Children’s Movement speak. She showed us ways to become involved in advocacy for children, things we might do to prevent children from becoming victims of the sex trade. On the way out the door, several members already were talking about ways to become involved.

    A powerful, powerful day. Powerful because, (1) it was a group effort (very much guided by the Spirit) and (2) it helped us to make the connection between our worship and our service. Somehow, Sunday felt like kin-dom work.

    It was powerful…AND we’re not having a worship service like that again for a while. Intense worship is good…when taken in small doses!

    Peace for your journey…

    Here’s the communion liturgy from Sunday:

    Communion: February 6, 2011

    The night before Jesus was wrongly arrested, paraded through the streets, abused, and eventually killed, he knew he would need strength for what was coming….so he gathered with his friends for a sacred meal—sacred because it was Passover, and more sacred still because he shared with those friends the cares of his heart, the things he most feared and dreaded and hoped.

    If nothing else does it, Jesus at the last supper sharing his final meal with his friends shows us just how human he was, just how apprehensive, just how much he identified with the most vulnerable in our world.

    Why else would he have said, “This is my body, broken for you?”
    Why else would he have lifted the cup and said, “This is my blood, poured out for you?”

    Today, as every communion day, we remember Jesus. On this day, let us also remember the people, the children, especially, who have no safe place to share the things they most fear and dread and hope. Let us remember today the children who are broken—

    The children who are unloved…broken…
    The children who are uncared for…broken
    The children who are hungry…broken…
    The children who are thirsty…broken…
    The children who are vulnerable…broken…
    The children who are homeless…broken…
    The children who are beaten….broken…
    The children who have to grow up too fast….broken…
    The children who end up on the streets…broken…
    The children so hungry for love, they go with the first person who acts loving, never suspecting he’s a pimp…broken…

    The children who lose their innocence in seedy motel rooms…broken…
    The children who contemplate taking their lives they are living are so horrendous….broken…

    The children looking for a village, their village to step up…those people who will nurture them, advocate for them, keep them safe, and act them into well-being…broken…

    As we come to this table today, let us remember all the broken children and all the broken adults who exploit them. Let us remember, too, our brother Jesus, whose own brokenness, somehow, can heal us all.

    Let us pray. Mending God, today we ask that you would indwell each broken piece of bread, each tiny sip of juice—may they nourish us and strengthen us and, somehow, make us a little more whole than we have been. Amen.

    (Sharing the elements)

    Let us pray. Now that we have visited the table and been nourished, which is to say, healed a little, send us out to do your work in the world God…help us to work for justice, help us to act “the least of these” into well-being; help always, always, always, to walk humbly with you…for the sake of our children. Amen.

    We invited Pamela Perkins from Interfaith Children’s Movement to come speak to us about ways we might become actively involved in helping children (hopefully, helping them before they ever end up with a pimp).

  • Dealing with Sadness
    02.05.11

    Yesterday someone asked a question I’m frequently asked: How do you deal with so much sadness, particularly the kind that attends the difficult diagnoses, the news that the cancer has returned and that there are no treatment options left?

    How do I deal with so much sadness? I get sad. After walking with people through several years of their lives, I grow to love them. A lot. the prospect of losing them hurts…

    …like the day I visited an elderly member–one I had grown to love deeply–and recognized that he no longer recognized me. That day I ran back to my car and sobbed. I sobbed because I was sad.

    So, yes. It’s sad when someone you’ve grown to love begins the last leg of their life’s journey, but sadness isn’t everything I feel…because, as that person’s pastor, I have a job to do. And my job is this: to be present. That’s really it–just be present. There’s nothing more I CAN do. I’m not a doctor; I can’t cure anything. I’m not a nurse; I can’t make anyone more comfortable. I’m not a family member; I don’t do the things famly members do. I’m a pastor. I show up and offer my presence…and through my presence (and maybe a prayer), I remind the others in the room that God also is present.

    That’s pretty much what we pastors do–we show up. We show up, we say a few words (and those are optional, I’m learning), and then, barring some crisis, we leave. And when we leave, we entrust the person to God’s care.

    How do I deal with the sadness when a congregant’s devastating diagnosis comes? With sadness, with presence, and with the full knowledge that the beloved is in God’s hands. Always.

    Thanks be to God.

  • Common Prayer Prayerbook
    02.03.11

    Each year I use a different prayerbook for my private prayer time. The diversity keeps me interested, you know?

    I found one called “Common Prayer: A Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals” at the bookstore back in November. I love several things about this prayerbook.

    1) It feels very ecumenical. The fact that it’s a prayerbook, that there are Psalm and Scripture readings, the Lord’s Prayer every day, feels like the prayer I’ve experienced with the Benedictines at Our Lady of Grace Monastery in Indiana. Some of the songs we sing–folk songs and such–remind me of my Baptist days (even “Nothing but the Blood!”). Others are definitely Gospel (“I Want Jesus to Walk with Me”). There are also Taize, Hispanic hymns, chant…

    Here’s what the compliers say about the different traditions represented in the book: “Folks are bound to ask if this prayer book is for Catholics or for Protestants. Our answer is, ‘Yes, it is.’ We want the fire of the Pentecostals, the imagination of the Mennonites, the Lutheran’s love of Scripture, the Benedictines’ discipline, the wonder of the Orthodox and Catholics. We’ve mined the fields of church history for treasures and celebrated them wherever we’ve found them. We’ve drawn on some of the oldest and richest traditions of Christian prayer. And we’ve tried to make them dance.” (10)

    2) The quotes…nearly every morning, prayer contains some quote from a saint of some sort. Not all of these saints are Catholic. Some of them aren’t even Christian. But all of them get me thinking about how to live faith, not just in my head or in my recliner at home or the pulpit at church. They get me thinking about how to live my life out in the real world. The authors say this about the quotes: “Not all of these quotes are from Christians, nor was it our intention to endorse everyone we quoted, but we do believe that anything true belongs to God, no matter whose mouth it comes from.” (24) Cool, huh?

    3) Artwork–at the beginning of each month is a beautiful woodcut. Gotta love those.

    4) At the end of each month there’s a section called “Becoming the Answer to Our Prayers: A Few Ideas.” Here’s one from the end of January: “Try to go a whole week without spending any money. If you have to, barter or beg a little to make it through.” Or “Join a Bible study led by someone with less formal education than yourself.” Or “Attempt to repair something that is broken. Appreciate the people who repair things for you on a regular basis.” (126)

    5) Here’s the best thing about this prayer book…and I just discovered it this morning! There’s a website that includes the prayers for each day! www.commonprayer.net Check it out!

    As gung ho as I am about it, I do have two disappointments with Common Prayer. The first is that it doesn’t use inclusive language. The other is that the book is meant to be used in community prayer. I’d like to be reading it in community as well.

    Anyone want to join me?

    Peace for your journey…

  • January’s Books: 11!
    02.01.11

    As a pastor, I do a lot of reading. Some of it is even edifying! Several years ago, I started keeping a record of what I read, including quotes and stories. You never know when you’re going to need a good illustration for a sermon, right?

    Last summer some time, I discovered that Allen does the same thing. He chronicles his readings. By the end of last year we were in a little competition.  It’s true that I tend to read MORE books, but the quality of books Allen reads is quite a bit higher, the length much longer. (Most of his tend to be in the areas of psychology, theology, ethics, that sort of thing.) That said, I still won last year! (82-68, I think.)  …not that we’re keeping score!  :-)

    My goal this year is to read (or hear) 10 books a month. I know. That’s more than 2 books a week! I’m going to give it a shot, though.

    So far, I’m doing well–It’s January 31st and I just finished book 11! Here are…

    JANUARY’S BOOKS:

    Buechner, Frederick. Wishful Thinking: A Theological ABC.
    Buechner, Frederick. The Wizard’s Tide.
    (I’ve set myself a goal to read all of Buechner’s books this year.)

    Davies, Pete. The Devil’s Flu.
    (For book club at church…about the Hong Kong flu in 1997 and the 1918 flu, the search for the flu that killed 40 million people. I love books about epidemiology…I think it’s the mystery that hooks me.)

    Grisham, John. A Painted House.
    (Recommended by a friend, Russell Kemp. A nice departure from Grisham’s usual fare…about a 7 year old boy in 1950s Arkansas. Kind of nice.)

    Lewis, C. S. The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.
    Lewis, C. S. The Horse and His Boy.
    (Books 2 and 3 of the Chronicles of Narnia. I read them in college. Decided to listen to them this time. Great fun…and I can complete books while I drive my car!  Did you know you can download “The Chronicles of Narnia” for 9.95 on iTunes? Readers include Kenneth Branagh, Lynn Redgrave, and Patrick Stewart!)

    Paretsky, Sara. Bleeding Kansas.   (I LOVE the V. I. Warshawski books. Didn’t like this one much at all. More fiction than mystery. Somehow I never came to care about the characters.)

    Roberts, Gillian. The Bluest Blood.
    Roberts, Gillian. In the Dead of Summer.
    Roberts, Gillian. The Mummer’s Curse.
    (I just discovered the Amanda Pepper mystery series this Fall. Love it. Ms. Pepper teaches English in a so-so prep school in Philadelphia. Each mystery usually involves her teaching or her students in some way (or her ever-meddling mother, Bea, who lives in Florida). A classic piece of literature also features in each book. (Romeo and Juliet, The Picture of Dorian Gray, Jane Eyre.) Very fun books. Total escapism!)

    Tvedten, Brother Benet. How to Be a Monastic and Not Leave Your Day Job: An Invitation To the Oblate Life. (As part of my devotional life, I try to read something on spirituality every day. Deeply interested in the way of Benedict, I often read books on Benedictine spirituality. If I lived closer to Our Lady of Grace Monastery in Beech Grove, Indiana, I probably would look into becoming an oblate. That vow of stability is a hard one!)

    So that’s it for January. Tomorrow begins a new month…and a new list. Stay tuned!

    Peace for your journey.

  • Pastoring Because It’s Fun
    01.31.11

    Today at church, a grandfather related a recent suppertime conversation with his grandkids. A granddaughter said she wanted to be a geologist when she grows up. When it came his turn, the youngish grandson declared, “I want to be a pastor when I grow up!” “Why?” his grandfather asked. “Because they look like they have fun!”

    The best compliment I think I’ve ever received.

    I gotta say, this pastoring business IS fun. In what other profession does one have the privilege of accompanying families through every phase of life, of helping them get to know their sacred text, of facilitating the creation of community? Oh, man! AND we get to sing and dance and laugh while we do it!

    Yes, indeed. This pastoring business is very fun.

    Thanks be to God!

  • Anything Worth Doing…
    01.29.11

    Each of the last three days I haven’t blogged, I’ve convinced myself that I was just too busy. I have had a LOT of writing projects for church; there’s been no time to gather my thoughts into a blog.

    That’s what I thought with my self-important self…until I read today’s blurb in “The Artist’s Way Every Day” devotional book. The first line of January 29’s entry? “Anything worth doing is worth doing badly.” Gulp. It wasn’t out of some sense of more important things to do that I kept from writing…it was an old personal ogre rearing it’s ugly head: perfectionism.

    Does anything kill life or creativity more than perfectionism, this idea that if you can’t do something brilliantly, you mustn’t do it at all? Sigh.

    So much that is good and, yes, brilliant in the world came to be as the result of play, of trial and error, of–gasp!–mistakes.

    As a young preacher, I labored over every word of every sermon. Preaching only thee or four times a year, I had that luxury. When I began pastoring, though, I quicky realized there simply wasn’t time to write the perfect sermon every week. For a while I tried, oh how I tried! But, as you might imagine, I got very exhausted very quickly.

    So, I set myself a challenge: one week I gave myself only 2 hours–for the whole week–to complete my sermon. At first, it was nerve-wracking…but then I set my pen to the task at hand–just get it finished–and the nerves disappeared.

    That cured me of my perfectionism with preaching. Oh, goodness. Why do I lie like that? It HELPED with my perfectionism with preaching. While I usually spend more (sometimes much more) than 2 hours with any sermon, I have learned that it’s better to get something down on paper than to try to write perfectly from the beginning. So, when I feel the Perfectionist Ogre–let’s call him Erskine–when I feel Erskine creeping up on me, I type out a flurry of words until he retreats. That done, I relax into the writing/editing process and have some fun.

    Okay..so much for today’s flurry of words. Erskine has gone back to bed…good thing. Tomorrow’s sermon isn’t quite finished yet!

    Peace for the journey…

  • Why I read fiction…
    01.25.11

    I started reading fiction because one of my doctoral professors said it was okay. Here’s how it happened.

    I attended The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky. In many ways, seminary was a great experience. While there I discovered my love for biblical languages, my love for preaching, and–at last–my call to pastor.

    As good as it was, seminary was just that painful. The fundamentalists took over while I was a student there–in the dead center of my tenure. Among the many life-squelching tenets of the fundamentalism that took hold at Southern was the prohibition against women ministers. The refrain I heard nearly every day by the time time left Southern was: “Women can’t preach; women can’t pastor.”

    What was a woman who had just gotten in touch with her call to pastor to do? My professors–to a one–discouraged me from seeking a pastorate. (Wise advice.) They all encouraged me to pursue doctoral studies. And since I was pretty good at translating biblical Hebrew, they suggested Old Testament studies. So…I went to Emory University in Atlanta to pursue a PhD in Hebrew Bible.

    By the second semester of my work at Emory…well, let’s just say I had not distinguished myself as a scholar of the Hebrew Bible. One professor told me gently, “Kim, there are lots of people in the world who are happy without a PhD.” Okay.

    Another professor in the department could tell I was struggling. She invited me to stop by her office one day. I did. “What’s up?” she asked. By that point, I was so unhappy in the program I had no words to describe my despair.

    After a few failed attempts on my part, my professor told me a story. She had gone to a prestigious school to earn a law degree. During her coursework, she often came home in tears. Finally, her husband one day said, “You know, you don’t have to get a degree in law.” When she recognized that law school wasn’t doing it for her, she changed programs and was much happier.

    The other thing she did, she told me, was to begin reading fiction every day. “Fiction?” I asked, just to be sure I’d heard correctly. “Yes, fiction,” she said. “I just need a break from everything else once a day….just a little escape.” At that point, I asked her what she was reading currently. She mentioned the Church of England series by Susan Howatch. A fun series. As soon as I left her office, I drove to the bookstore and bought the first book in that series.

    Now, I, too, read fiction nearly every day. I can’t say that most of it is intellectually edifying–I tend to stick close to the “cozy mystery” genre. But that little escape? It really feels like a gift I give myself every day.

    When I finally graduated with my PhD ten years later (yes, ten) from a different doctoral program, I sent my Hebrew Bible prof a thank you note….not only for giving me permission to change doctoral programs, but also for encouraging me to read fiction. What a gift!

    Okay…you want to know what I’m reading right now? Two books–“Casting Off,” by Nicole R. Dickson (for the church’s book club) and “Bluest Blood,” by Gillian Roberts (a “cozy mystery”).

    I enjoy reading lots of genres…more about those another day.

    Do you read fiction? What kind? And why?

  • Chief Seattle: Our God is the Same God
    01.24.11

    Today’s quote from “Common Prayer: A Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals”:

    “One thing we know, which the White Man may one day discover–our God is the same God. You may think that you own Him as you wish to own our land; but you cannot. He is the God of humanity, and his compassion is equal for the red man and the white. The earth is precious to him, and to harm the earth is to heap contempt on its Creator. Even the white man cannot be exempt from the common destiny. We may be brothers after all. We shall see.” Chief Seattle

    Amen.

  • What makes a sermon good?
    01.23.11

    I got a notice this week about a preaching award. It’s called the “Brave Preacher Award,” and will go to the “best” sermon addressing the recent shooting in Tucson and doing so in light of the Sermon on the Mount. The prize: $500.

    Something about awarding a monetary prize for a sermon…I don’t know. It feels weird….maybe even antithetical to the intent of preaching. Would the Sermon on the Mount have won Jesus a prize? I mean, it’s a little on the long side, right? The focus and function statements? Difficult to determine.

    And yet, that sermon is still around 2,000 years later. That sermon has changed perhaps millions of lives…and not just Christian lives. Did you know that Mohandas Gandhi read the Sermon on the Mount every day?

    What criteria will the sponsors of the preaching contest use to determine which sermon is best? If sermons are preached to particular people in particular contexts, how can a determination be made that one is better than another?

    I guess I need to let you know that I did doctoral work in preaching. I spent a lot of graduate work grading sermons. Yes, grading sermons.

    It’s true. There are some things that can be rated–the proper use of the biblical text (the USE of the biblical text!), the appropriateness of illustrations, the cohesiveness of the sermon’s theme…

    While working on my doctorate and in the midst of grading many sermons, my grandfather died. Two ministers preached at his funeral.

    The first minister’s sermon–the church’s new pastor–preached a sermon that I would have given an A- in class. His focus and function statements were clear, the stories well-told. It was a good sermon. But he didn’t know my grandfather.

    The second sermon was preached by the church’s previous pastor, the one who knew my Pa Joe. His sermon was a mess. I’m not sure he knew what he was going to say before he stepped into the pulpit. He wandered around the whole countryside in his remarks.

    At the end of his wanderings, though, he told a story about him and his young son leaving church one day. Just as they had reached the door to go out, the little boy turned around and shouted, “Good-bye, Joe Buck!”

    That image, those words…they helped me do what a funeral sermon is supposed to help grieving loved ones do–let the beloved go. “Good-bye, Joe Buck!” Good-bye, Pa Joe.

    In class, the sermon would have netted a C. At the funeral, it did exactly what it was supposed to do; it helped me say Good-bye to Pa Joe.

    In the interest of full disclosure, I need to let you know that I did win a preaching award in seminary. At that point, though, my preaching, for me, was still about me. As a new preacher in a denomination that didn’t encourage women preachers, I needed the affirmation of winning an award for my preaching.

    But now? I don’t know. It just seems like there’s more to it than, as one of my colleagues used to say, “hitting it out of the park” every week.

    Now, I’m beginning to appreciate the wisdom of Frederick Buechner’s reflections on sermons. Sermons, he says, “are like dirty jokes; even the best ones are hard to remember. In both cases that may be just as well. Ideally, the thing to remember is not the preacher’s eloquence but the lump in your throat or the heart in your mouth or the thorn in your flesh that appeared as much in spite of what he [sic] said as because of it.” (Wishful Thinking, 86-7)

    I got another notice soliciting sermons this week. This one came from an organization that wanted to collect as many sermons as they could on a single topic.

    That felt a bit more helpful to me. That organization isn’t rating one sermon better than all others; by doing a broad call for sermons, they are acknowledging the importance of hearing many voices on a particular subject. That email makes me want to look through my old sermon files to see if one or two might be appropriate.

    …hmmm…where is that disk of old sermons?

    Peace for your journey.

  • Congregational Colonoscopy
    01.22.11

    Like most folks, pastors often dream about work. Most of the church/congregation references in my dreams are pretty obscure. If I think about them long enough, sometimes, I’m able to make sense of them.

    The one I had the other night, though….If sense can be made of it, I don’t want to know what it is!

    It happened the same night I watched the season finale of “Men of a Certain Age,” the one where Scott Bakula talked Ray Romano and Andre Braugher into having their colonoscopies done at the same time. They went to a resort hotel, played some golf, then had the colonoscopies.

    That night I dreamed that our entire congregation had colonoscopies done at the same time. Kind of weird, huh?
    Not sure what to make of it.

    I don’t think I’ll recommend to the Parish Life committee at church that we have a “colonoscopy day”….but I would encourage everyone over 50 to have one. If you have a family history of colon cancer (which I do), have it done even sooner. Once you get past the Ewwww! factor and the disgusting prep, it’s really not so bad!

    Peace for your journey.

    The end. :)

  • Brother Lawrence
    01.21.11

    Responding to the “findiing my way to prayer” post the other day, my cousin Jamie (Hi, Jamie!) mentioned Brother Lawrence. Brother Lawrence is one of my favorite mentors on prayer. Anybody who can find God while washing dishes…that’s a faithful guy!

    Here’s a paragraph on Brother Lawrence from the prayer book I’m using this year, “Common Prayer: A Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals.”

    “Brother Lawrence (1611-1691). Born Nicholas Herman in Lorraine, France, Brother Lawrence received little formal education and, as a young man, served briefly in the army. One day, he had an experience that set the course of his life in a new direction. Gazing at a barren tree in winter, Lawrence saw for the first time the majesty of God’s grace and the constancy of God’s providence. He imagined himself like the tree, waiting for the life that God would inevitably bring in season. Shortly after this experience, he became a lay brother in the Carmelite monastery in Paris. There he worked in the kitchen and, in the repetition of his daily chores, found a way to integrate spirituality and work, which he called the ‘practice of the presence of God.’ By learning to perform his daily, mundane tasks for the sake of God, Brother Lawrence turned every moment into an opportunity for prayer.” (101)

    Here’s the thing about the “practice of the presence of God”…it takes prayer from church or private devotional time to every single moment of our lives. I don’t have to formulate any fancy words or sit, stand, or kneel in any particular way. All I have to do is open my eyes, mind, heart to God’s presence in the midst of whatever–whatever–I’m doing…

    …even blogging! (Hi, God!)

    Peace for your journey.

  • Waking Up to (Your) Life
    01.20.11

    The most exciting thing as a pastor–THE most exciting thing–is accompanying someone as he or she wakes up to his or her life…

    That happened last night. Someone had had an experience that lit a flame in his core; he shared it with me. As he spoke, his eyes brightened, he became more animated, he opened himself to possibilities he’d never before considered. Though I’ve never seen one, it felt like witnessing a birth.

    Maybe that’s why Jesus used birth imagery with Nicodemus… Awaking to one’s life–to the one life God intends us to live–is like experiencing new birth. It is, in a word, miraculous.

    I think I might have witnessed a miracle last night. A miracle! Can you believe this is the work to which I have been called? HOW GREAT IS THAT? Thanks be to God!

    Peace for your journey…

  • Finding My Way to Prayer
    01.19.11

    A friend of mine serves as chaplain at a maximum security prison for men. I once asked her how she has the strength to go to work every day. Her response: I pray. There’s no way I could face what each day holds if I didn’t reconnect with God.

    That was the first time I’d heard someone speak of prayer as a means of spiritual survival. My friend HAS to pray to maintain her soul in a place where the spiritual life is not nurtured.

    As I continue trying to find my way with my prayer life, that’s what’s becoming clear to me: prayer is a means of spiritual survival. The method, time, words, silence of prayer…all that is peripheral. The most important part of prayer is connecting with the source of all life, the source of all spiritual strength, the one, as we say at church every week, the one who has loved us, loves us now, and will always love us. Connected to the source of all love and life, I feel as though I can face whatever the day might hold…

    …most days.

    Peace for your journey.

  • Real Life Pastor

    I’ve avoided the blogosphere a long time. What to write? Aren’t sermons enough? And newsletter articles? And weekly musings to the congregation? What else is there to say? And who could possibly want to read it?

    But the urge to blog has intensified recently…so I thought I’d give it a try. And following the old saying that one must “write what she knows,” I’ve decided to write about the thing I know best–living life as a pastor.

    I’ve titled the blog, “Real Life Pastor.” ONE Real Life Pastor would be more accurate…because reallife looks different for every pastor, every person. What is real in my life isn’t necessarily what’s real for your life… so take what I say here as Gospel–Gospel for me. If it helps you live your life real-ly, cool. If not…well, I’ll at least try to make it funny on occasion.

    Okay. This real life pastor’s real life husband has just arrived home. Time to debrief the day.

    Peace.

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