(November 30, 2014 – First Sunday of Advent) In the wake of more racial injustice, and in the face of pandemic illnesses, what does it mean to hold out hope? Can we hear the sacred longing in our own cries of “how long?”, and cling to the Advent promise that Christ is and will be present with us? (Isaiah 64:1-9, Psalm 80:1-7, 17-19)
No, not How the Grinch Stole Christmas. Although I’m feeling particularly non-Christmassy at the moment.
Let’s start there.
Remember Rev. Frank Schaefer? He’s the United Methodist pastor from Pennsylvania who officiated for the wedding of his son and his son’s husband in 2007, only to have an inactive church member file a complaint against him years later (and curiously, just after that inactive member’s mother had been fired by the church). Rev. Schaefer was found guilty of violating UMC polity by officiating the wedding and suspended for 30 days, at which point he was told he would have to either agree to uphold the entirety of the United Methodist Book of Discipline (whatever that means) or surrendered his credentials. This week, he refused to do either.
And so today, the Board of Ordained Ministry in his annual conference removed his clergy credentials.
Happy Birthday, Baby Jesus.
To be clear, I don’t even know if this is permissible under the rulebook Rev. Schaefer was accused of disobeying; the jury did not issue a sentence of defrocking, so it’s unclear if the board can apply that punishment now. And there are numerous other problems with the case. Rev. Schaefer says he will appeal.
But what hurts right now is that I’m trying, trying with all my faith and courage, to find some hope and love and peace and justice and joy this Advent and Christmas season. I don’t think I’m the only one. I think a lot of people need some hope and love, justice, joy, and peace. And I honestly believe the Christian church, even the United Methodist Church, has a faith to offer, a Christ to offer, a beloved community in God to offer, that can help us find those things.
And we’re not doing it.
We are, as Reconciling Ministries Network communication director Andy Oliver put it, choosing law over love, so unlike Joseph, who decided not to have Mary stoned as the law allowed, but to live into love.
Call me a Grinch, but I don’t like it. Not one little bit.
And yet, here we are. We are here.
On a day when the UMC defrocked a pastor for loving all people equally, for being a good pastor and a good dad, we are here. On a day when New Mexico ruled that it is in fact unconstitutional to deny marriages to same-gender couples, we are here. Just before the longest night of the year, when we most need our hope that love will be born in our world, we are here.
In the Dr. Suess story Horton Hears a Who!, the Whos (who live on a small speck on the puff of a flower) join their voices together so that they may be heard, not only by Horton, but by the cynics and doubters and narrow-thinking creatures as well. They chant and they call out, and they lift their voices, proclaiming the only thing they can say in their defense: we are here.
Only when every last Who has lifted a Yawp (a barbaric one, Walt Whitman?) are they heard.
For some reason, that’s where I am today.
Hope is hard, especially hope in my denomination. But then I wasn’t placing a lot of hope in the New Mexico Supreme Court and look at that. So I’m holding on. I am with Frank, and so many others, and I will not be moved. My one voice, joined with yours.
We are here.
(December 15, 2013) George Bailey is at the end of his rope, unable to see a way forward, when Hope breaks into his life, against all odds. Can we learn from his story that hope can enter again, in unlikely places and through unlikely people, and to respond with compassion and love to those for whom hope is elusive or altogether lost? (Isaiah 35:1-11)
As I reference in my sermon, this week a student at Montpelier High school ended his life, and I pray these words and others like them remind us to respond in love and care. And as always if you are in a place where hope seems gone, or if you suspect a friend might be in such a place, say something. It’s hard and scary, but you don’t need to be afraid or ashamed. People will listen.
I name this portion of the film “It’s a Wonderful Life,” although of course you should watch the whole thing since it’s that time of year. ;)
The Advent series this year is a look at how God breaks into our lives when we least expect it and whether we’re ready or not. We’ll look at seasonal grumps who find transformation breaking into their lives: The Grinch, who experiences love; Ebenezer Scrooge, who moves toward justice; George Bailey, who rediscovers hope, and a Mystery Grump, in need of some Christmas joy.
It was the second full day of classes in the fall 2001 semester at Boston University School of Theology. The basement lecture hall was filled with first year graduate students, cut off from the sunlight and the outside world for the duration of the 9 am church history class. These were the days before smartphones and wifi, and only the students in the last row could see the rest of us playing solitaire games on our laptops or palm pilots, but no one was checking Facebook or Twitter, or receiving push notifications. One student came in late, and we thought nothing of it.
At the break before the next class, the student who had come in late described what she’d heard on the radio during her drive: that a plane had crashed into one of the Twin Towers in New York City. Only when we took our break, and some of us ran to the mailroom to huddle around the radio, and others to the Student Union to find a TV, did the unfolding story begin to emerge.
Shell-shocked and horrified, we gathered again for Intro to Hebrew Bible. Dr. Kathe Darr walked in, her black binder and stack of papers clutched in her thin arms. She placed her burden down on the table at the front of the room, just next to the table-top podium, and walked out in front of the assembled class.
“I won’t wish you good morning,” she said in a voice that sounded angry, “because it’s not.”
We shuffled in our seats.
“This,” she said, lifting a stack of printed pages up into our view, “is my lecture for today. Yes, it is important. Yes, the material will be on the midterm. No, I will not rearrange my syllabus to deliver it at another time. My TAs will have copies for you before the next class. I expect that you will all read them. Thoroughly.”
She walked back behind the table, placed the pages on top of the podium, and gripped its sides in her long-nailed fingers.
“Now,” she said. “Let’s pray.”
And pray we did. She prayed, we prayed, whoever wanted to prayed. Then we talked and expressed fear, and tried to help one another contact loved ones in New York and Washington. And we prayed some more.
Together with my undergraduate professor, Fr. Joe McCaffrey, Kathe would go on to teach me the large majority of what I know about the Hebrew Bible, about the visceral and strange Book of Ezekiel, about the Hebrew language, and no small amount about biblical interpretation, history, and hermeneutics.
But that day, she taught me in word and deed how to lead in the midst of fear and sorrow and impossible turmoil. She taught me to be kind and firm, flexible and disciplined, to assess my own gifts and shortcomings and the needs of my congregants, and respond quickly, decisively, and always compassionately. And to pray.
That’s what I tell people, and it’s true.
Struggle and strife in my marriage, counseling and arguing, separation and paperwork, single parenting and legal questions still unresolved (and a broken ankle, too). All of these things seemed to suck away my energy and consume my life, and I felt like I woke up a little in January, and have been waking up bit by bit ever since.
Finally cleared from my ankle fracture at the end of June, I’ve been able to start exercising again, making my way to Taekwondo with Ari (and sometimes on my own), and I even went running– two days in a row!– although that was a couple of weeks ago now…
So I’m starting to find my body again. It’ll take some time, and it’s not just about losing weight (although holy mackerel, there’s work to be done there), but about honoring and loving myself and my place in the world in an embodied way.
Finding my heart and spirit is gentler work, but requires the same sort of discipline, daily stretching and testing the muscles, building stamina and courage. This too is about honoring and loving myself and my place in the world, tentatively reaching back out to friends and family and community to re-forge the connections neglected or clouded by months of pain and self preservation.
And in all this, I’m starting to see that it’s not time that I’ve lost, but myself, or parts of myself. And maybe, when I’m honest, some parts have been missing for quite some time. But I’m finding them again, finding me again. Bit by bit, with the same faltering starts and stops with which I return to exercise and self care and deep belly laughter. But I’m there, underneath. Be gentle with me, but I’m there.
(April 21, 2013) In the wake of the bombing in Boston this past week, we reflect on what it means to forgive, and to reach out to those we might call enemy, drawing on Jesus and the lesser known Ananias of Damascus as examples. (Acts 9:1-20)
Before the sermon, I played this video from MLB.com
During the sermon, I read this letter by Rev. Michael Rogers, S.J.
If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give away all my possessions, and if I hand over my body so that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing. (1 Corinthians 13:1-3)
‘Tis the season to celebrate love, it seems. Last week was Valentine’s Day, and today’s RethinkChurch Lenten Photo-a-Day reflection word is love.
Love is central to my theological and spiritual understanding of the world. I’m not talking about hearts and cupids, schmoopy puppy love here. I’m talking soul-shaking, boundary-shattering, grace-soaked, all-infusing love that is synonymous with the name of the Holy. That stuff. The reason for living. Love between God and creature, between an individual and the world, between two people: lovers, parents, children, siblings, friends, lived out in a myriad of ways as unique as snowflakes. Love. Love Divine. Love that makes us human and whole.
But when we talk about love, when we use and over-use the word, when we say it so often it starts to sound small and fathomable and domestic– like a word rather than like The Word– I’ve found a painful dissonance. Lately, I’ve felt excluded from conversations about love. Felt excluded when it comes to the most inclusive thing in the world. Felt silenced when it comes to the most powerful force I know.
And I don’t think I’m alone in feeling excluded in conversations about love, nor is divorce the only instance where reflecting on love can be painful. What does it mean to speak of love if love has been removed, has withered or faded, was never there? How does a child learn love if one’s parents were not loving? How does a friend trust in love if one’s trust has been violated? How does someone risk loving if love has been a place of pain and loss? How does one claim and celebrate love if that love is silenced or shamed?
What if we have not love?
Our love is our human way of living in love with God, the world, and one another. As such, it is an imperfect reflection of Love Itself. I can accept that there are times and places where we glimpse the Holy, and there are times and places where the word love comes with brokenness and pain and fragile, fearful hope for healing. For people walking that latter road, just starting the conversation– or knowing it’s not a conversation in which they want to participate at this time– can be painful enough.
So today, here’s to love that is wrapped in pain. Here’s to love that has been silenced and closeted. Here’s to love that stretches tender shoots out of the bitter destruction of broken hearts and lives and relationships. Here’s to love that is re-framed following abuse and neglect and betrayal. Here’s to love that is flawed and incomplete and imperfect. Here’s to love we aren’t ready to talk about. Here’s to love that’s too complex to grasp or name. Here’s to love that’s so big we can’t get our hearts, let alone our words, around it. Here’s to love that is a tiny portion of God’s own self.
Even if it hurts, even if we’re afraid, even if we have to whisper when we’d rather shout– or rather be safe and silent: Here’s to Love.