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You Have to Construct Your Own Light Saber

I have to confess that before I met Sam and before our girls started to watch and become fans of the Star Wars canon, I knew very little about Star Wars. I knew the main characters, and I knew I had seen some of the original trilogy, but I had never seen the prequels nor did I understand the mythology and world of Star Wars. Now, most of our discussions in the car have centered around theories of the new Star Wars and which character has found Darth Vadaer’s helmet and of course, who the Jedi Knight with the crossguard lightsaber is and whether this lightsaber is even practical.

We aren’t the only ones discussing the debut of the new lightsaber. There has been much discussion about the new crossguard lightsaber that will appear in the Force Awakens this week and with that discussion brings the reminder that in order to become a Jedi Knight you have to construct your own lightsaber as part of your training. We have certainly discussed as a family whether the new movie would have a scene where a manual was found that contains instructions about how to construct lightsabers or whether someone would find an old lightsaber and then try to construct one himself or herself, but the question remains  (at least until Thursday), how do you construct your own lightsaber?

In this season of Advent, where candles are lit every week to represent love, hope, joy, peace, and finally the birth of the Christ child, we are all reminded that we are light-bearers. We are the ones who display and brighten the world with these traits. This is how the world knows and understands the gospel message, the Advent message. The light that shines forth from transformed lives is how people understand that the kingdom of heaven is indeed here on earth.

But the thing about being a Jedi Knight and constructing your own lightsaber is that no two lightsabers are the same. They are each created and constructed as part of Jedi training, which means they bear the marks of the internal battles between the light and dark side. They bear the marks of the transformation process.

As light-bearers, the light we shine does the same. My battle between the light and dark side and my transformation into one called and dedicated to the hope the Christ child brings to the world is not the same as anyone else’s. There is a different glow to my journey than to my family’s or to my congregation’s journeys. There is something miraculously specific about my journey that no one else can claim. In sharing that journey of transformation, perhaps there are parts that ring true for other people. Maybe there are intersections, but there are never repetitions of our journeys. We each hold the ability and the responsibility to construct our own lightsabers.

And if you’ve yet to begin that training or to construct your own lightsaber, what better time then the season of Advent and the opening of the new Start Wars movie where we are reminded of the difference light can make in a world of darkness.

Two Ordained Years: The Good News

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Yesterday marked the second year I have been living this life as an ordained minister. I took time to reflect and read the encouragement offered as I took that step two years ago. I took time to reflect on how I had changed as a person and as a pastor, and I took time to think about how the world had changed.

Can the world change in two years? Can a person and a pastor change in two years? Yes, and those changes can be more than we expected and more than we thought possible.

I look at this picture and see someone who was trying to prove herself as a pastor, as a wife, and as a stepmom. Over the past two years, I have settled into the realization that I don’t have to prove these aspects of who I am because they simply are. I am a pastor. I am a wife. I am a stepmom. I am a mom. There is no need to prove what is.

I also look at the changes that have taken place as MH has grown and changed, especially as she has learned to read and write, and now as she is a doting older sister to her half-brother. I wonder at how she is so sure that she likes Star Wars and spy gear and how she isn’t bothered if other people don’t like those things or think she should like those things. I look at LC and see how much she has grown into who she is as a person and how Kindergarten has captivated her imagination. I wonder at how she is unlocking the mystery of reading and now the mystery of not being the youngest, but being an older sister.

And then I look at the way the world is changing.

Maybe seeing the changes in the world is an aspect of life as parenting. Maybe inevitably, you wonder at how the world is going to be for your children. Maybe you can’t help but look at the world in which you grew up and think that it was easier for you than it will be for your children. Whether this is something that happens to everyone who is a parent or not, the world is changing. The sheer number of mass shootings is surely one way we know this is true. Public discourse has changed drastically with the immediacy and availability made possible by social media and internet access. Radical claims about how we treat people of different beliefs and different backgrounds than ourselves are receiving shouts of approval and those who are speaking out against this mindset are being escorted out and silenced.

As the reality of the world we live in sinks in, I realize that being ordained does not mean what it meant two years ago. Two years ago, as an ordained minister, there was no real concern that someone would come into a church bible study, and open fire. Two years ago the conversation about welcoming and affirming all people regardless of sexual orientation or ethnicity was seen as a way to represent the teachings of Jesus. Now, these teachings are shrouded by a growing number of Christians who want not only to exclude people who are different than they are, but who now want permission to harm those who are different than they are. The scariest part of this mindset is that those who hold these views are finding each other and finding a spokesperson in a presidential candidate.

Being ordained has always meant being set apart. Now being ordained, for me, means speaking out against these changes. This is not what Jesus taught and certainly not what it means to be a follower of Christ.

If the world has changed in these way, then it can continue to change as can our public discourse. In order for that to happen, those of us who believe that what we are seeing and hearing must not be the way our country is ruled or governed, must be roused out of our belief that this too shall pass and stand up and speak out. We must not live in fear of the unknown, but instead live in the reality of the world that we are now in: a world we can indeed transform if we are willing to change ourselves. To change ourselves, we must examine ourselves in relation to our world. Are we truly trying to make the world a better place or are we merely trying to make ourselves more comfortable by surrounding ourselves with people who believe the same thing we believe?

But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people:

If we believe that God did become man and come to the earth, then the world we see needs the good news of great joy for ALL people even more today than it did two years ago or even perhaps two thousand years ago. Thanks be to God that the good news isn’t the news on our TV, Twitter feed, or Facebook feed.

For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord.

 

Noisy Peace

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All is calm. All is bright.

We don’t have many Silent Nights around our house right now. They are interrupted with shuffling feet, Willie Nelson playlists, and diaper pulls during nighttime feedings that make it hard to determine whether it is night or day; but in the midst of these noises, there is a peace that falls over our house. It’s not a silent peace, but a noisy peace.

It’s a peace filled with tiny squeaks of a three week old sleeping and growing. It’s a peace filled with snoring from parents or another as rest finally comes quickly over them. It’s a peace filled with puppy yips as they settle down now that the baby is asleep. It’s a noisy peace that takes a lot of work to achieve.

And I just wonder in the midst of our peace if it’s not an indication that the peace we all pray will settle over our country needs to be reimagined. Maybe the peace we need to strive towards is a noisy peace filled with discussion, even heated discussion.  Maybe the peace we need isn’t represented in the lovely, melodic songs of the season. Maybe the peace we need isn’t found in a silent night, but in voices joining loudly together to ask for a change.

Let there be peace on earth and let it begin with me, my voice rising loudly against injustice and brokenness.

Fighting Off Numbness

One of the after effects of having a c-section that I wasn’t prepared for was the numbness that has lasted weeks after surgery. I’ve read that some women actually never regain feeling in parts abdomen post-c-section because of nerve damage. It’s a strange sensation to know that you literally can’t feel pain or any sensation, but this is not a purely physical phenomenon.

Anesthesia is administered to a patient in order to allow a medical procedure to occur in which the pain would prove too intense for the person to experience.  The anesthesia administered during the medical procedure and then slowly wears off, so that the patient can pay attention to his or her body’s need to recover and take it slow. The idea behind anesthesia is not to leave the patient in a continual state of numbness, but rather to offer a temporary way to deal with pain.

I think to some extent, we all experience this numbing sensation emotionally when we read about another mass shooting or when we read about how many mass shootings we have had to date in comparison to the number of days that have passed this year (so far in 2015, we’ve had 274 days and 294 mass shootings). There is just no way that our minds or our hearts can comprehend the pain and hurt of the news of so many deaths and so much pain.

What I fear is that as we approach this Advent season, we will be tempted to ward off the pain and reality of the tragedies we hear about with the messages of hope, joy, love, and peace numbing ourselves to the pain of living in a broken world, a world in need of this very message. It is tempting to take these messages as a way to alleviate our pain, rather than offering this gospel message to a hurting world. In order to make this transition, we have to fight off numbness. We have to feel hurt. We have to feel pain. We have to feel broken for the people who are broken by senseless death. We have to hurt with those who are hurting. We have to think of others before we think of ourselves.

We have to believe Advent is about the Christ child coming to change the world rather than Advent being about our comfort and our peace. Only when we fight off the temptation to numb ourselves and pretend that the world is full of joy all the time can the transformative message of the Advent season really come alive.

A Different Kind of Advent

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I zipped up the garment bag that held my robe and stoles. Today’s vow exchange service was the last time I would be wearing my robe for at least two months. I was 39 and a half weeks pregnant, and had already arranged for pulpit supply to start on the following Sunday just three Sundays before Advent would begin.

I was thankful to have been able to lead our celebration of All Saints Day and to preach before heading into week 39 because having not grown up in a liturgical church, I valued and looked forward to high, holy days. This is why zipping that garment bag was proving to be so difficult. I had walked with my congregation during the ordinary times during my second and third trimester and now I was going to have to abandon them right when we got to the good stuff.

There was only one reason I would step back and let others step in the pulpit during the high, holy season of Advent and that’s for a high, holy life moment. As ministers, way too often, we abandon family and ourselves in the most important moments because of our calling to lead and guide God’s people. Being a female minister, giving birth kinda requires that I be present, and I was so thankful there was no way I was going to wiggle out of the responsibility of caring for this new life.

It doesn’t mean that I am missing Advent. In fact, this Advent there is still a lot of waiting. Waiting for the next feeding. Waiting for his eyes to slowly close and his breath to become steady. Waiting for my body to readjust after nine months of supporting another life.

This is holy work, too.

This is worship, too.

This is Advent, too.

Pregnant Preaching

At each stage of this journey of pregnancy and preaching, there have been physical adjustments that have altered my sermon preparation. First trimester: How much ginger ale can I consumer before 9 am? Will four or five saltines be the winning number for keeping something on my stomach, but not too much. Second trimester: Is it time to highlight the baby belly or is a flowing top a better option? How many breakfasts is too many breakfast before 9 am? Two? Three? Now in my third trimester as the weeks get closer and closer to 40 weeks, I approach Sundays a bit differently. My Sunday morning routine has changed from, “I think this outfit looks most like a pastor” to “Ok, what fits?” My water intake has to be a little more mindfully timed in order to make it through the service and my delivery has to take into account this almost 7 pounds of life that is pressing into my lungs, making phrasing and breathing more difficult.

But it’s not the physical ramifications of the pregnancy that have been weighing on me most heavily. Now my heart and mind as I prepare are concerned over whether this Sunday will be the last Sunday I will be able to stand before my people and offer a word from God before I go on maternity leave. I wonder is this sermon powerful to sustain and challenge them while others so graciously step in a step up to fill the pulpit.

I wonder as a single-staff pastor whether the time we have planned during my maternity leave will be meaningful and challenging and continue the work God has called us to. Can you really plan that work as far in advance as we have and still make it relevant and responsive to the needs of the community? Should it really be ok for the pastor and preacher to not be there during Advent on of the holiest seasons in the life of the church?

But what if this new life is the gospel message? What if the hope and anticipation along with the physical adjustments are what new life is all about?

Perhaps this is the most powerful lesson of the last 40 weeks. New life doesn’t come without it’s discomfort. New life doesn’t come without work. New life doesn’t come without sleeplessness and restlessness.

New life changes every aspect of who we are and how we view the world.

On Nesting and Nursery Decorating

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This weekend we are celebrating the girls’ fall break. We have gone to Riverbanks Zoo for Boo at the Zoo, and they have also been helping with deliveries of the donations we have received from Fernwood Baptist Church, but mostly we have been preparing for their new brother to come.

The girls have both taken time to practice pushing the stroller. We’ve been washing clothes and decorating the nursery. We’ve also had discussions about what are his toys and what are his things and remembering that being siblings means respecting each others space because he will be expected to do the same for his sisters.

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And we’ve been practicing his name:

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In the midst of my need to organize the Tupperware cabinet and rearrange the nursery for the 14th time, there is a quiet anticipation that has fallen over our house. The girls know the next time they come to visit us, there will be a baby. The next time we go to Boo at Zoo, there will be a baby. When we celebrate Thanksgiving and Christmas this year, there will be a baby.  For us as a family, the Advent season is starting now at the end of October with a pumpkin-size baby we can’t wait to meet, knowing that Baby Ben will change our family, will change us, just like the Christ-child changed the world with his birth.

Open Arms, Closed Doors

In my first year of teaching, I experienced something that changed the way I view God, the church, and society. I was teaching second grade  in a high poverty school. Our school was 88% free and reduced lunch, the second highest rate of food insecurity in the district.

At Christmas, my home church had always done a Christmas outreach in which two youth group members adopted and shopped for a child in need. As Christmas time neared, two of the students in my classroom began to talk about the event and tell their classmates that they were going to the big church to eat and see Santa.

I stopped what I was doing because it dawned on me that my students were the outreach program. The reason it hit me so hard was because there were a lot more kids in my classroom who needed help.  I also knew that after the Christmas party, there was going to be no follow up or continuing relationship between the church and these kids who I saw everyday.

I knew because I had been on the other end. I had been one of the youth who adopted a child at Christmas and picked him or her up and took them to Christmas party thinking that I was doing what God had called us to do as followers.

But I have to say now years later looking back on this, I don’t think we were. I think we were making ourselves feel better about the amount of time and money we spent on ourselves. I don’t think welcoming these kids into our lives and into our church for one day every year was what Jesus was asking his disciples to do either. 

As we approach the season of Advent, it would be easy to plan outreach programs that would allow us to tout that we our arms are opened to the community and to our community’s needs, but let’s think more critically and hold ourselves more accountable as churches and as Christ-followers. If we are opening our arms to our community only at Advent and the rest of the time our doors are closed to these same people, then what is the point?

If our community encounters locked doors and security guards as their first impression of church, then there is a good possibility that they will never encounter Christ in what we call the house of God.

Is church about us, our safety and our comfort or is church about God and God’s work among God’s people?