Saturday, December 29, 2012

"Do you have any pastoral words... help in this tragic time of ct?"  This question came to me via text the Friday afternoon of the killings in Newtown.  My heart, already broken open, dropped into my feet.

The texter went on to say,
"It's so hard to comprehend.  I'm trying to focus on the majority of love and good in our world." 

My answer?
"That is a good place to focus.  Any words of explanation are insufficient for the loss of life and the loss of innocence for those who survived and those grieving.  I just know that, for me, believing in a God who died on a cross gives me hope that God is there.  Where else would God be but with those who are suffering and dying at the hands of an evil act?  At the end of the day, the "why" question is unanswerable.  So we are left with turning to each other with love and hanging on...because, as you say, love is still out there too."

Insufficient?  Absolutely.  Honest?  Yes.  Pastoral?  Don't know.

I simply know that God's presence, God's power, baby-sized into skin and solidarity among us, is the hope I defiantly celebrate during these 12 days of Christmas.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Disagree in Love [or, 'Oh that beloved Vincent Harding']

One of my professors during my time at seminary is a man named Vincent Harding.  He was a colleague to Martin Luther King Jr., occasionally his speech writer, and also his friend.  When my fellow students and I talk about Dr. Harding, it has that slightly whispered quality of reverence and maybe a little sigh thrown in for good measure.  I was sitting in a class taught by someone else who brought in a few other professors including Dr. Harding.  They sat up front, panel-style, and were asked questions – proceeding to answer them in ways that revealed obvious areas of agreement and also exposed the fault lines among them.  At one point, Dr. Harding turned to one of his colleagues, spoke the professor's name in his usual quiet way, softness around a steel core, and said, “I’m going to disagree with you in love..."  

"I’m going to disagree with you in love.”  Who says stuff like that?!  Who even stops to think it before they dive into a disagreement?!  

As we move towards November, we could use a little more of Dr. Harding's disagreement in love - not as a way to avoid conflict or to give each other an artificially cheerful thumbs up that keeps a superficial peace.  This disagreement in love takes us more deeply into the disagreement and possibly through it.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Weekly vindication for being an "a##*ole"?

I overheard someone make a comment this morning.  It was something about a particularly vocal Christian they know who "spends his week being an a##*ole" and heads to church on Sunday for his "weekly dose of vindication."  My heart sank and is still sinking.  I've spent the morning busily doing other things but this conversation simply won't exit my brain.  So, here I sit, deeply believing in the power of Christ's forgiveness and deeply believing that the cross of Christ helps us tell the truth - the truth about ourselves and our experiences.

Part of the truth is that this guy (I know him too) has hurt some people I know and have come to love.  I've heard him speak about Jesus and faith and I also struggle to see how he connects life and faith together in how he has treated some people.  

While it plays out differently, I also see these things in me.  I hurt people too.  Sometimes I know it and sometimes I don't.  I'm pretty certain that there are people who wonder about the connection between the faith I confess and their experience of me during the week.  But I also place my hope in the promise that whatever happened at that cross also has a part to play in what needs to die in me.  Because God loves my neighbor (you) and by extension God loves your neighbor (me).  Therefore, the forgiveness that comes from the cross is not an empty one.  It is one that also names the pain, the perpetrator, the victim and the consequences as we move through the muddle of our humanity.  I believe that the way I treat you all has true consequences for me on both large and small scales.  I also believe it is true that God forgives wholly and completely.  And I am grateful for it all.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

A letter for you...

This morning I preached a sermon that had been re-written on Friday because the movie theater shootings in Aurora had also shot down the festive tone of my sermon for Mary Magdalene's Feast Day as well as any other sermons being planned around town.  A completely minor consequence to be sure but one that affected preachers across area nonetheless.  People coming to church today collectively needed a deeper word in light of the horror and despair of so many people murdered and so many more wounded physically, emotionally and spiritually.

Today I am grateful for the many people sharing comfort and hope as we care for each other.  But I am especially grateful for Pastor Meghan Johnston Aelabouni's open letter to all who suffer from the shootings in Aurora.  Her words are heartfelt, insightful and elegant.  I quoted her in my sermon today because her way of speaking about, " God is able to reach into sin and death and pull out healing and life..." is simply stunning.  I encourage you to check out her full letter as she, like Mary Magdalene, points us to the "indestructible love of God."

May the Spirit of God fill you and hold you in grace and peace.

[Click on Pastor Meghan's name to link you to her letter.]


Monday, July 16, 2012

Calling the gender question...leads to new ones

I'm preaching this coming Sunday from Mary Magdalene's garden chat with Jesus (John 20:1-2, 11-18) and am so excited I can hardly take it!  July 22nd comes around every year as a Feast Day in honor of Mary Magdalene, the Apostle, and this year it falls on a Sunday.  In the last few verses of the story, Jesus (now resurrected) sends Mary to fill the disciples in on what he said and...wait for it...she does!  For me, both as a woman and as a preacher, it just doesn't get any better.

I took my enthusiasm and intensity on the topic to a weekly pastors' text study.  As group-leader-of-the-week, I laid out some thoughts and questions about Mary Magdalene's story, the various interpretations of who she is, and how this text might be preached on Sunday.  The conversation was open and honest and wonderful.  And then someone called the question that has been with me for days, "Do we lose something here when we make this more about Mary's gender rather than emphasizing her as a follower of Jesus?"

The problem is that in so many ways, the last few thousand years of the church and, by extension, Biblical interpretation have been absolutely about gender - which genders are good or bad or clean or unclean or given voice or not given voice or public or private or preachers or listeners or...  The list of how gender has formed, and been formed by, church and society is utterly exhausting.

Pat Keifert, one of my seminary professors, would urge us to understand the assumptions behind someone's idea before entering into the conversation.  He wanted us to consider what we were agreeing to when we began a disagreement.  Because often, even when we disagree, we are agreeing to certain assumptions about how the argument should go.  So, does calling attention to Mary as woman, or anyone as a woman, in addition to whomever else she be might be lock us into the disagreement in the exact spot from which we we are trying to move?  Or might it give us a starting point from which we are able travel to something new?

Sunday, July 8, 2012

To faith or not to faith...

I recently sat with a new friend who invited me to coffee by first asking, "How do you feel about disagreement?"  Mind you, his question came just a few minutes after I preached a sermon that included John 3:16 so I was utterly intrigued.  The next thing I knew, we were chatting over coffee and disagreeing about preaching.  What he asked, "Why don't Lutheran preachers exhort to faith?"  What I heard, "Why don't Lutheran preachers ask people to agree with an orderly list of theological ideas that equal faith?"  My response to his question is as simple as it is complicated.  "Preaching evokes faith," I said.

What's the difference?  The difference is a distinction about where faith comes from.  If I say that I agree with a list of ideas about God then faith is an intellectual "yes" that I dredge up from inside of myself.  However, faith generated by God, by the shattering of me in the shadow of the cross, comes from outside of myself.  [More about the cross in future posts].  In this light, a preacher points me to the cross and it is from there that faith is evoked, pulled, generated, etc., as a mystery of God's work in me.

Why does it matter?  Because it's about what God is doing, not what I am doing.  I can never do enough, say enough or be enough to make my way to God.  God is then the one who evokes faith.