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Worship Pieces: Exodus 1-2

For those following the Lectionary, here is a call to worship for this Sunday inspired by the Exodus reading:

In this act of worship
we lay down our fears;
we refuse our oppressors;
we deny the forces of death.
In this act of worship
we know God’s protection;
we receive Divine power;
we are embraced by the Giver of life.
Let us worship God with joy.

*You might also be interested in this reflection on the power of the women in the story, and this one on the connections with this story and current events related to the shooting of Michael Brown.

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A White Mother’s Neglect

One more brown body
shot
and I think of all the lessons I never
taught
my son like
avoid the police at all costs
dress nice
and don’t wear red or blue or any color that they might think means you’re in a gang
keep your hands at your sides in the store
so they know you’re not stealing
or packing
or preparing to throw a punch
and if they accuse you of stealing
or packing
or preparing to throw a punch
anyway
say “sir” and “m’am”
and keep your head down.
I have not taught these things to my son.
And not once
have I thought to give him the script
that should have saved Michael Brown’s life
but didn’t.
Never have I said,
“Son,
when they take aim at your beautiful body
you must
spread your fingers,
raise your arms
and say
clear as day
‘I do not have a gun.'”

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Yes, You Have a Choice

greendoveLast year my teenage son got in trouble for playing Pokemon with a friend before school instead of attending a meeting he was supposed to be at. He informed me that it was my fault he was playing Pokemon because I would not let him be in Pokemon club. So he had to play before school with his friend.

“No,” I told him. “That was not my fault. You made a choice–a poor choice–about what to do that morning. You had the power in that situation. I don’t have a remote control that works on you. (If only I did!) You need to take responsibility for your choices and their consequences.”

I find myself wanting to have this same conversation with our denominational leaders.

The Executive Board report released the end of June does not come right out and say “It’s the delegates’ fault that we have to refuse to recognize Theda Good’s credentials,” but that is the distinct impression I get. The implication of the report seems to be that the board must abide by the foundational documents (approved by delegates) and therefore they must refuse to recognize Theda’s credentials. And gosh gee if the delegates would just do something already because the board’s hands are really tied here.

“No,” I want to say to Ervin and the board, “This is not the delegates’ fault. You are made a series of choices that lead to your decision to refuse to recognize Theda’s licensing.”

First, the “foundational documents” that the board has to abide by are documents that they chose to identify as foundational. Yes, many of them have been approved by a delegate body. As have many other documents that are not listed as “foundational.” The board chose which documents to consider foundational.

Second, the board chose which parts of the documents to emphasize and how to interpret those documents. (Gordon Oyer articulates well some alternative understandings of these documents.) It is not the documents themselves that prevent an acknowledgment of Theda’s credentials, it is the board’s particular interpretation of those documents.

Finally, the board chose to respond to their selection and interpretation of foundational documents by refusing to recognize Theda’s licensing. It was completely within their power to say, “These documents indicate that Theda should not be licensed, but we don’t care. We will recognize her pastoral calling and authority anyway.”  

The board report indicates that the delegate body can present resolutions at our 2015 convention that might allow for a new understanding of credentialing, and indeed several people are currently working on such resolutions. The fact remains, however, that the Executive Board is exercising power in the choices it makes about how resolutions are submitted and processed and which resolutions get to the floor for discussion and vote. The idea that the delegates are all-powerful over the Executive Board is a false one.

Currently the denominational leadership is refusing to send Theda a copy of the survey that is going out to all credentialed MCUSA pastors. She has been told that the Executive Board statement leaves the survey-sending powers that be “no choice” but to not send her a survey. In reality any number of people at the national office could choose to send Theda a survey. It would take a computer connected to the internet and about three minutes. Would that choice have consequences? Of course. But that doesn’t mean there is not a choice.

Obviously I disagree with many of the choices the Executive Board has made and continues to make regarding LGBTQ inclusion in general and Theda’s credentials in particular; but I am most concerned about people with power pretending that they do not have power; about people with choices convincing others–and maybe even themselves–that they are left with no choice.

The denominational leadership does have a choice. A very difficult choice. If they choose to “enforce” their interpretation of the “foundational documents,” many congregations and even conferences will be placed under discipline and possibly choose to leave the denomination. If the board chooses to regard and interpret the church documents in a way that allows space for conferences such as Mountain States to ordain LGBTQ clergy, then many congregations and even conferences will choose to leave the denomination. If they choose to continue on the current path of pretending not to choose and referencing the ever-ellusive “third way,” we may all just collapse from exhaustion.

As we move forward in our conversations and (please, God) actions related to inclusion of LGBTQ people in our denomination, we all need to be honest about the power we have and the choices we are making. We need to make the most loving and faithful choices we can make, and we need to take responsibility for those choices and the consequences that come with them.

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Easter Benediction

From Romans 8:

Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword?

No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through God who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.

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The Palm Sunday Crowd

442780252This reflection is excerpted from a sermon on Mark 11:1-11. As you prepare for Palm Sunday, you might also appreciate this prayer of confession and offertory prayer.  For more Lent and Easter worship material, check the “Lent/Easter” category on the right side bar or go to the Index and scroll down to “The Year” section.

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For the Palm Sunday crowd, I think that Jesus was a convenient person on whom to pin their hopes. A learned Jewish teacher, said to have performed miracles, riding into the holy city on a donkey colt. It must be him!

“Him” being . . . whoever they were wanting him to be. And they took his silence as consent. Because he did not tell them otherwise, they clung dearly to their ideas of how and when and why Jesus would save them. In their own minds, the people in the crowd made Jesus into the savior they most desired.

Now, if you know anything about history, then you know that the original Palm Sunday crowd is not the only group of people guilty of taking advantage of Jesus. From Constantine to the Crusaders to Nazis to the Klu Klux Klan to Fred Phelps and his “church.” It is so easy for people to use Jesus as a rallying cry for their own ideals and causes.

“Hosanna! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!”

Of course, there are examples less drastic than Hitler. A perusal of the religious bookstore will prove my point. Now, I am sure that some of these books contain good theology. I’m also sure some of them don’t. Still, it is instructive to consider the range of titles available on Amazon:

Jesus CEO; Jesus, Entrepreneur; Jesus, MD; Jesus, Life Coach; Rabbi Jesus; Jesus the Pastor; Jesus . . . A Religious Revolutionary; Jesus, the Greatest Therapist who Ever Lived; The Laughing Jesus; Jesus Mean and Wild; Jesus in Blue Jeans; My Best Friend, Jesus; Jesus Christ, Superstar; The Yoga of Jesus; The Politics of Jesus.

Save us, we beseech you! O please, please, give us success!”

We are desperate for salvation. When a savior comes along, our tendency is to mold that savior, in our own minds, into whatever we think we need from a savior.

It is easy to follow Jesus when we simply make Jesus into the person we want to follow. It is much harder to follow the one who rides into Jerusalem on the back of a donkey colt in silence, tottering towards death.

I imagine this was a lonely, heartbreaking time for Jesus. As he listened to the praises of the crowd, he must have known that he would not live up to their expectations. That the salvation he offered was not the salvation they wanted.

It is easy to do. To make Jesus into what we want him to be. To latch onto him at just those moments when he seems to fulfill our hopes, our needs, our expectations.

But ultimately, when we only look to Jesus for the salvation we want, we deprive ourselves of the fullness of the salvation Jesus offers.

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Jesus before the Sanhedrin

Mark 14:53-65; 15:1

[This reflection is excerpted from a sermon. The full sermon text is posted here.]

 

In his massive two-volume work, The Death of the Messiah, Raymond Brown gives an overview of the scholarship on the Passion Narratives in the Gospels. It quickly becomes clear that there is a wide range of opinion regarding the historical details of this trial before the Sanhedrin–for example, scholars don’t even agree on exactly who was part of the Sanhedrin or what rules governed the body.

But beyond all the questions of historical accuracy, there is a deeper question of why. Why would the religious authorities have been so concerned about this 30-year-old rabbi from Nazareth?

As Brown notes, we cannot simply dismiss the religious leaders as evil hypocrites. There might have been a few among them who were simply power-hungry and cruel, but most of them were genuinely concerned for the greater welfare of the Jewish people; they deeply loved the Law and did not want to see it diluted by some fly-by-night miracle worker.

Jesus was a threat to the faith they loved. He hung out with sinners–and even forgave them. He healed and blessed people for no good reason–even women and children and non-Jews. He broke the Sabbath regulations. He implicitly and explicitly criticized the religious authorities. He threatened the Temple–the very heart of Jewish worship.

Jesus gave the Jewish leaders plenty of reason to be upset–even afraid. Brown, who, in addition to being a well-regarded biblical scholar was also a Catholic priest, points out that self-consciously religious people rarely appreciate it when someone comes along and tells them they need to change their minds. He writes, “[Jesus] would be offensive on any religious scene if he told people that God wants something different from what they know and have long striven to do.”

The early Anabaptists certainly found out how offensive it could be to suggest that religious leaders had it wrong. Infant baptism was a foundational practice for Catholics and protestants in the 15th and 16th centuries. Those religious leaders most certainly did not appreciate a bunch of people telling them that the Bible actually did not condone infant baptism and that their sacrament would have to be done again for adults. This suggestion of religious error was enough to get many Anabaptists banished, and even killed.

And I will admit that I have also been thinking about Brown’s assessment in relation to modern day Anabaptism. His comments seem pertinent to the current conversations–and threats–in our denomination [Mennonite Church USA] related to Mountain States Mennonite Conference licensing Theda Good–a woman married to another woman–for ministry: “[Jesus] would be offensive on any religious scene if he told people that God wants something different from what they know and have long striven to do.”

In essence, that is what Mountain States is doing, what the Western District Conference did when they upheld my credentials, what our congregation does by being open and affirming of sexual minorities–we communicate to the broader church that, in our understanding of scripture and the way of Jesus and the movement of the Holy Spirit, “God wants something different from what they know and have long striven to do.” We should not be surprised that people are offended. We should not be surprised that authorities call us up for hearings and trials.

Now, I do not want to foster a persecution complex; and I do not want to equate my arduous journey to Newton, Kansas, for the Leadership Commission review with Jesus’ trials and beatings and crucifixion. They are very different things.

We also must consider that it is dangerous for us–or anyone who is not Jesus–to assume that the beliefs we hold represent the heart of God merely because we hold them. When speaking and acting in opposition to others within our faith family, we may be in the role of Jesus, but it is also possible that we slip into the role of the Sanhedrin from time to time. As people of faith we are called to accountability in community, to prayerful study of scripture, to an openness to the Holy Spirit.

Still, as we walk toward the cross through these days of Lent, it is good for us to consider the whole story of Jesus’ death; to acknowledge that it is not just the secular world that opposes the way of Jesus. Resistance to Jesus can be strong within the religious community as well.

Categories: Bible Study, GLBT Concerns, Lent/Easter, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

The Gratitude Phenomenon on Facebook

There has been a bit of discussion among bloggers recently about the merits and pitfalls of daily gratitude posts on Facebook. You can read my contribution to the discussion–and see my random list of ten things I’m grateful for–over at Rev. Gal Blog Pals.

 

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Sermon Snippet: Acts 19:11-20

Acts 19:11-20(See full sermon here.)

Today, in our culture, we don’t understand the world to be filled with demons–except maybe on Halloween. Otherwise, we’re more likely to ascribe illness to a virus or bacterial infection or cancer; erratic, illogical behavior is blamed on mental illness; a series of tragedies chalked up to bad choices or plain old bad luck.

We understand the causes differently than they did in the first century. But the problems persist. Whether you call it demons or disease or neurosis or bad luck–people still suffer, people still need the power of Christ to set them free and lead them to abundant life.

Back in Paul’s day, it seems that there was some confusion about how exactly that power worked. I imagine that the seven sons of Sceva weren’t the only people to confuse miracle with magic, to try to harness and control the power of God rather than opening themselves up to let God’s power control and transform them.

It’s been a temptation throughout the history of the Christian church–to think that if we say the right prayers, give money to the right people, worship in the right way, follow the right set of rules, hang out with the right crowd–the temptation to believe that if we just get some external piece right, the power of Christ will prevail in our lives for health, for wealth, for restored relationships . . . for whatever we want.

The earliest Anabaptists were, in large measure, arguing against such magical understandings of the power of Christ and the work of the church. Baptism is a choice to follow Jesus, not some magical protection spell. Communion is a demonstration of faith and community, not a trick to get God’s good favor. Prayer is a means of developing a relationship with God, not a ticket for forgiveness. We Mennonites have a long tradition of wrestling with the power of Christ–with what it is and what it isn’t.

There are, of course, grotesque examples today of people who try to manipulate the power of God. I once received a paper prayer rug in the mail with instructions to put it on the floor and pray while kneeling on it. And maybe send this organization a little money. And my prayers would come true.

And there are slightly more subtle examples of this phenomenon. . . . We can try to control God’s work in our spiritual lives as well. . . . I talked to my spiritual director yesterday about how I’ve been slacking on my spiritual practices and feeling a bit ungrounded, cranky, spiritually lazy. And if I’m honest, what I probably wanted was a few magic words or a specific formula for making God show up when I pray, for making the Holy Spirit hold my tongue when I’m getting ready to say something harsh. But instead we talked about several practices I could try. Because, according to him, there is no magic way to rub the lamp and make the genie appear. Sometimes we experience God in one way, sometimes in another.

God is not ours to control–not with the name of Jesus or by any other means. And our attempts to control God rarely turn out well. In fact, they often leave us vulnerable and wounded on the side of the road.

A key message of this story from Acts seems to be that we should not attempt to claim the power of Christ unless we are allowing Christ full claim to our lives as well.

But this is not the only story Luke tells about a renegade exorcist. In the prequel to Acts, the Gospel of Luke (9:49-50), the disciple John tells Jesus, “We saw this guy driving out demons in your name and we told him to stop because he is not one of us.”

And Jesus didn’t say, “How dare he!” He didn’t say, “I hope those demons send that guy running scared!” In fact, Jesus didn’t rebuke the exorcist at all. Jesus rebuked John. Jesus told John, “Don’t try to stop that guy. Whoever is not against you is for you.”

The work of casting out demons–of healing the sick, comforting the afflicted, of seeking the Divine–this is the work of God. It can be good and holy work, even if we don’t have the purist of intentions, the most faithful methods. It can be good and holy work even when we have ulterior motives, power issues, faithless hearts.

So I’m not sure where we go from here, with these two contradictory stories. Except to know that there is a difference between using the power of Christ and allowing the power of Christ to use and transform us. And to know that even when we don’t get it exactly right, there is grace.

 

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Moving Week

house front

This is the week we move. Just a few miles away. Onto three glorious acres. I can’t wait to meet all of the trees.

house side view

To host s’more parties and craft parties and retreat times. To sit on the deck and look at the stars. The bright, twinkling, abundant stars.

house deck

Of course, there is still the packing. Boxes and boxes and, come Thursday morning, a big truck to fill. And there is a basement to finish. And our current house to sell.

The anxiety is mixed with the excitement. The grief of leaving a house I love swirls amidst the joy of going to a house I expect to love more.

It’s kind of hard to sleep. And not much time to write. Because I really should be packing boxes.

IMG_2577

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Spacious Faith in 2012

I’ve been enjoying some end-of-the-year posts from other bloggers and thought I would do one of my own. So here are a few highlights from Spacious Faith’s second full year!

I’ve become a contributor to a few great web sites:
Mennonite Weekly Review
Huffington Post
Christian Century
TextWeek
Liturgy Link

I’ve developed creative worship, retreat, and prayer materials:
Holy Spaces: A Creative Arts Lenten Retreat for 2012
Fruit of the Spirit: A Creative Arts Retreat in Daily Life
Colored Pencils Prayers book

During my sabbatical I redesigned the blog and created:
Facebook Page
Index of sermons and worship materials

And, of course, I wrote blog posts.  Much to my amazement, you read them!

Posts with the most views:
Worship Pieces

  1. Prayer for Sandy Hook
  2. Ash Wednesday
  3. World Communion Sunday

–Writings

  1. Still a Rev.
  2. What Not to Say series
  3. Here’s the Thing

Posts with the most likes: (they are all tied)

Posts with the most comments:

  1. Still a Rev.
  2. Yes I Officiated a Gay Wedding, Yes I Would do it Again
  3. Adoption is Good (But Not Like That)

And I should include the post that got me in trouble even though I only use the word “ass” in quotation marks.

Looking Forward to 2013:

I plan to keep posting Monday Prayer Practices and Wednesday Worship Pieces, along with writings on faith, family, the Bible, and other things that spark my interest.

I will be a guest contributor for the fabulous Rev. Gal Blog Pals starting in January while Martha Spong is on sabbatical.

And I am heading up a collaborative blog project that will focus on living spiritual practices within the family. So watch for Practicing Families to start up in early February!

Thank you for all of your support in 2012. I pray this blog can be a small part of the way God blesses you in the coming year.

IMG_2083

From my family to yours–Happy New Year!

~Joanna

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