Random Thoughts on Turning 41

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Showing off my gray hair. It’s there. I promise.

I’m irritated that all of the temporary hair color says it will “cover the gray.” I’m proud of my gray hair. I’ve earned it. And as a diminutive female, gray hair can only help my pastoral gravitas. Still, I’d love to be a redhead for a month or so. Where is the hair color that LEAVES the gray and just colors the boring brown parts of my hair?

I’m going to eat that crappy pizza in the freezer for lunch today. (I mean, I’ll cook it first.) I know I bought it for my husband, but it’s not my fault he hasn’t eaten it yet. It’s been like three weeks. And surely there is some sort of statute of limitations on these things. And it’s my birthday. And he’s not home.

Continue reading “Random Thoughts on Turning 41”

Fear, Power, and the Non-Indictment in the Murder of Tamir Rice

Are we accountable for our fear?

This is a question that white people in particular need to consider.

Tamir Rice, a 12-year-old black boy, was shot to death on November 22, 2014. Yesterday a grand jury decided not to indict the white police officer who killed him. The primary reason given for the non-indictment is that the police officers “reasonably believed their lives were in danger.

In other words, the police officers were scared. So the shooting was acceptable.

Except a dead boy in the park is not acceptable. Tamir laying there bleeding for four minutes while the police officers stood by is not acceptable. A grieving mother being told that her son’s death is nobody’s fault–simply a “perfect storm of human error”–is not acceptable.

Continue reading “Fear, Power, and the Non-Indictment in the Murder of Tamir Rice”

How Many Candles?

455623650Sunday morning at the beginning of worship, I lit our peace lamp and then I lit four white candles: for Paris, Beirut, Aleppo, and Baghdad.

I almost skipped the candle-lighting altogether because I couldn’t figure out how many candles to light. Beirut and Paris, of course. Those were horrific terrorist attacks among people who don’t experience such things on a regular basis; places where people expect to go about their daily lives without encountering a suicide bomber or masked gunman. I definitely wanted to light candles for the 41 killed in Beirut, the 129 in Paris.

What about Aleppo and Baghdad? They had terrorist attacks last week, too. But, sadly, I barely paid attention. The words “bombing” and “attack” and “violence” and “dead” are so often heard in connection with these cities that those reports can feel more like a recurring news script than a real-life event. Still, the fact that those attacks were expected doesn’t make them any less tragic. It doesn’t make the 13 killed in Aleppo and the 26 killed in Baghdad any less dead. So Aleppo and Baghdad got candles too.

It was hard to stop with the candle-lighting.

I wanted to light a candle for the Palestinian family whose house was destroyed by the Israeli military because one of the men of the family was accused of killing an Israeli soldier.

And I wanted to light a candle for the dead Israeli soldier.

I wanted to light a candle for people in the cities of the United States killed by guns—those involved with gangs, those caught in the crossfire, those shot by police, those who are police.

I wanted to light a candle for the death-dealing racism of our culture.

I wanted to light a candle for the transgender people who are attacked physically and emotionally every day.

I wanted to light a candle for the 459 civilians killed by US airstrikes as part of our “war on terror”—especially for the 100 children.

I wanted to light candles for the tragedies we all knew would come in the wake of the Paris attacks—for the Muslims threatened and yelled at and physically assaulted; for Syrians killed as the French warplanes “pound” ISIS; for the refugees who are shut out and put down because of our misplaced fear.

I wanted to light candles for all of them. And I knew I couldn’t. We don’t have enough candles in our church cupboard. We don’t have enough time in our worship service.

It’s an odd thing, really, to light a candle in the face of death. It’s a small act. It’s almost a nothing act. Almost. But not quite. Lighting a candle is something. Which, however inadequate, is at least better than nothing.

And for me, for many of us, lighting a candle is prayer. And prayer opens our hearts and our minds to God, which means that our hearts and our minds are more open to each other. Which is something, too.

This morning my devotional reading was Matthew 1; a chapter I know well and am likely to breeze through. But this time I was caught by the angel’s words to Joseph: “You are to name [Mary’s son] Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.”

He will save his people from their sins.

We are all God’s people. And our sins are killing us—physically and spiritually.

In the midst of so much death–in the midst of such sorrow, such tragedy, such brokenness—it is hard to know how many candles to light. It is hard to know what prayers to pray. It is hard to know what steps to take. It is hard to believe in the promise of salvation.

But here is what grace means for me right now: One candle is enough . . . or four . . . or sixty. Any prayer will do—art, music, words, groans, silence. Even one step will get us to a new place, eventually.

And the promise is real even when we can’t believe it.

On the Trinity

There is a story about the great theologian, Augustine of Hippo. One day after he had been writing about the Trinity for awhile, he decided to take a break and go walk along the beach. He came across a boy who had a bucket.  He would fill up the bucket, run up the hill, and dump the water into the sand. He did this over and over until finally Augustine stopped the boy and asked, “What are you doing?”.  The boy said, “I am draining the sea into the sand.”  Augustine pointed out the futility of the task, and the boy replied, “Yes, but I will drain the sea before you understand the Trinity.”

Folks, I hate to tell you that if Augustine couldn’t figure it out, we’re not going to figure it out either.

The Three are one.  The One is three.  It doesn’t make any sense. It is not clear.  It is not easy.  It is not comfortable.  But relating to God as Trinity is a profound experience for me, an experience that gets me as close to the Truth of God as I dare to go.

The point of the Trinity is not to separate out and define the parts: Father, Son, Holy Spirit; Creator, Redeemer, Sustainer. Trinitarian theology merely opens up to us one way—the primary way—that Christians have worked to understand the vastness of God.

Yes.  God is the Almighty Creator who spoke the world into being.
Yes. God is incarnate in Jesus of Nazareth who fully embodied the extent of divine love for the world.
Yes.  God is present with us today as Holy Spirit who guides and comforts and enlivens us.

It is important that we understand the breadth of the activity and personality of God.  The doctrine of the Trinity should keep us from narrowing our vision of who God is and what God does; and this should broaden our understanding about who God loves, and what the work of God looks like in the world.

I don’t often show off with fancy Greek words.  But some of them are worth learning.  And there is one you need to know if we are going to continue this futile task of trying to understand the Trinity. This particular Greek term was introduced by the Cappodocian monks in the fourth century. It describes the relationship between the three persons of the Trinity.  The term is: perichoresis.

Creator, Christ, and Spirit relate by means of perichoresis.  Like a lot of Greek words, this one is somewhat difficult to explain.  There is no English word to use as a direct translation. It suggests the mutual indwelling of the three parts of the Holy Trinity.  The idea is that all three parts are equal and their identities are based in each other.

But perichoresis is not a static concept. It has the same root as choreography.  There is both inward and outward movement involved in the Divine Trinitarian relationship.  Theologian Molly Marshall calls it “the dance that characterizes Divine life.”

To think of the Trinity in terms of perichoresis means that relationship is at the heart of the Divine identity. Relationships are not just something that God forms with creation as God sees fit, but relationship is who God is.

And if God is relationship, that means that we, too, are drawn into the Divine choreography.  And our neighbors are drawn in.  And all those who love us.  And all those who hate us.  And the stars.  And the soil. And the squirrels that jump from tree to tree and eat from our bird feeders.

The perichoresis of the Trinity means that our God exists in and for relationship.  And we, my friends, are made in God’s image.  Made to be connected to the people and the world around us.

Ultimately, the Trinity is not a doctrine to be argued and recited.  It is not even a concept to be understood. It is a mystery into which we are invited.  A dance for all to join.


This post is excerpted from a longer sermon.

You might also be interested in:
Call to Worship for Trinity Sunday
Trinity Call to Worship adapted from Seekers’ ChurchThis Prayer of Confession

Birding by Ear

A Prothonotary warbler
A Prothonotary warbler

Some people who love birds can listen to the forest chatter and tell you what kinds of birds are singing. The titmouse and the mourning dove, the chickadee and the robin and the wren and even–I’ve seen them out my back window–the stunningly yellow Prothonotary  warbler. For some people, all of these birds are like friends who call on the phone and don’t have to say who they are because you recognize their voices right away.

But I’m sitting on my back deck right now as dawn turns to morning, and I just hear birds. Lots of them, to be sure. Looking for food, calling for mates, declaring their territory, greeting the day. Chips and chirps and whistles and trills. I would know many of these birds if I saw them, but I when I just hear their voices I’m at a loss.

There’s the neighbor’s rooster, though. I learned about cock-a-doodle-doo in preschool. And technically a rooster is a bird, right?

And a cardinal. I know what they sound like because even living in town they were all over the place. I got used to hearing their proud, jaunty proclamations and looking up to see a bright spot of red perched high on a tree or wire or pole singing his little heart out. I try not to take the cardinals for granted; they are truly beautiful birds. When I hear their call–long notes followed by short–I look for the flash of red. . . . I see him now, near the top of a dead tree. And there’s another across the way calling back to him.

I know some of the birds I hear this morning are woodpeckers. The little hairy woodpeckers and the red-bellied and the flickers, maybe even a redheaded, though I haven’t seen any of those. I don’t know what their calls sound like, but I know the sharp raps they make when they are drilling into trees–or the siding on our outbuilding. It’s sharp and loud and echoes from a distance.

In the past week I’ve learned what an oriel sounds like, though I don’t hear any right now. There are a few that hang out in the trees in my front yard and I’ve learned that even with a bright orange chest an oriel can hide behind a leaf where his shrill call taunts me and I can’t quite see him–even with the binoculars. Luckily one of the trees in our front yard is dead, and when he sits high up in those bare branches I have a lovely view. (Though I’m afraid my husband plans to cut down that tree and then I may never see an oriel again.)

I’m pretty sure I heard an owl last night, though I couldn’t begin to tell you what kind. And it’s possible I dreamed it because I never fully woke up. I just have this warm cozy memory of darkness and hooting.

Birding by ear is something I’m learning. Very slowly. In fact, it may take the rest of my life. And even then I may not be able to identify more than a handful of birds by sound. And that is OK.

For now, this back deck is a good place to practice listening. This early morning is a good time to realize that there is beauty hiding within beauty in this world.

On Worship, Freedom, & Fear

wildgooseThe Wild Goose Festival is a gathering at the intersection of justice, spirituality, music and the arts. Happening June 26-29 outside of Asheville in Hot Springs, NC. You can get more information and tickets here: www.wildgoosefestival.org. I am honored to be part of the Wild Goose blog tour and connect through cyberspace with many other people of faith who long to celebrate and embody the living liberation of God!

 

Several weeks ago, blog tour participants were given a list of topics from which to choose, all related to this year’s festival theme: Living Liberation! When I finally for real had to pick one of those topics, my spirit settled on “living liberation through worship.”

 

Maybe because I’m a pastor, and facilitating worship is one of my primary activities every week.

 

Maybe because–at least in my white middle-class context–I don’t generally connect the act of worship with liberation, so the idea intrigues me.

 

Maybe because I was getting to the end of the list and I’m not brave enough to write about “living liberation as sexual beings”–which was the last option.

 

So, “living liberation through worship” it is. And this whole idea makes me think of what Annie Dillard wrote in Teaching a Stone to Talk:

 

It is madness to wear ladies’ straw hats and velvet hats to church. We should all be wearing crash helmets. Ushers should issue life preservers and signal flares; they should lash us to our pews. For the sleeping god may awake someday and take offense, or the waking God may draw us out to where we can never return.

 

Somehow for me the danger of worship and the liberation of worship are connected. Because a truly healthy fear of God–a realization of the full power of the Almighty–puts my earthly fears in perspective. And I have plenty of earthly fears. Petty fears about things like whether or not you will like this blog post. Deeper fears about what life holds for my teenage son when he finishes high school next year. Life-grabbing fears about the storms and tornadoes that sweep into Kansas this time of year, about the prevalence of guns in our society and the hurting, violent people who might use those guns to kill people I love.

 

If you need more fear in your life, just let me know. I’d be glad to give you some of mine.

 

And fear, as I imagine we have all experienced, is an imprisoning force. It is the opposite of liberation. It can hold us back and lock us in and keep us from living the abundant life that Jesus said he came to give.

 

Now I won’t claim that worship is some kind of magic ritual that will erase fear from our lives. But I do think that regular and true worship can help us release our fears–at least a little bit. Because in worship we acknowledge the true Power of this world–and the next. We remind ourselves that the forces of bondage and death that we fear are not the most potent forces in this world.  Worship reminds us–against the loudest of cultural voices–that our own individual lives are not the most important things in this world. And through worship God reminds us that the end of the Story–the true and real end–is Life. No. Matter. What.

 

In that way, worship gives us perspective. And perspective, it turns out, can be very liberating indeed.