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Uncovering Spiritual Abuse: Stealing Power

As we were watching Sing this weekend with our kids this weekend, we laughed as Mr. Moon climbed up and over to the neighboring building when his theater lost power in order to plug into the power from his neighbors. The scene reminded me of the beginning of one of my year’s of teaching. The school had undergone major HVAC renovations over the summer, which required a corner of the classroom to be dry walled to contain the new equipment.

In the case of my classroom, this eliminated the only working outlet in my classroom in which I was supposed to teach technology and plug in a laptop cart. The other outlet in my classroom was shorting out pencil sharpeners, so plugging in the laptop cart could have been disastrous. The solution became to procure a large surge protector with a long chord and to steal power from the connecting classroom. Not a good long term solution, but in the short-term, it solved the power issue.

The lectionary passage from John’s gospel this week talks about Jesus appearing to his disciples, but there’s something in the passage that I haven’t noticed before. Jesus breathes on his disciples, much like Creator God the creation account breathes into the dust and brings that dust to life.

20:19 When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” 20:20 After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. 20:21 Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” 20:22 When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 20:23 If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”

The power of the divine breath giving new life to disciples paralyzed by fear. Re-creation with the divine breath.

As disciples of Christ, we have all ended up in times of fear of paralysis. Times when hiding behind a closed door seems like a much better option than going outside to see what has happened and what it means to walk in the aftermath of a loved one dying; what it means to walk in the realization of a terminal illness diagnosis; what it means to walk with a new identity that we never meant to receive, divorced, homeless, unemployed.

In those moments, we feel completely powerless. Our fear and uncertainty has sapped any reservoir of power we had saved up. In those moments, we can’t find an outlet that will give us the power we need to get up and go out. Again and again in communities of faith and in family units, I see people who are in the midst of crisis trying to sap the power from other people. They try to steal the power that others who have walked through difficult times have found by becoming co-dependent, by taking and taking and never giving anything back.

This is spiritual abuse.

Our power should not be stolen from other people. Although in the short-term it can solve our power issue, it’s not an effective long-term solution. You will have to move from person to person, community of faith to community of faith, sapping people and communities of their power until you are left alone. Our power to overcome our paralysis of uncertainty can only come from Creator God and the Risen Christ who have breathed the divine breath into our dustiness and our fear and transformed us into new creations.

On Being Curious

I watched as Ben went through his book wagon to find the book that matched the character of his favorite show. I was astounded at the way he pointed to Curious George and looked at me with a smile on his face. I’m so curious to know what is going on in his head as he is interacting in new and different ways every day.

And as I watch him, I’m overwhelmed with the realization that we aren’t curious about each other. We are shocked. We are frustrated. We are dumbfounded. We are disheartened. We are disillusioned, but we are not curious. We don’t want to know how the people on the other side came to the conclusions they did. We do not want to know “their” reasoning or “their” understanding. We want to retreat to the safety of our communities: the ones who believe the same thing we do.

But I’m curious. How could we have been living in such distinctive, distant, disconnected realities and still be neighbors? How could we have been so sure that others saw the world as we did only to find out that we were wrong as our reality shattered to pieces around us?

Real change cannot occur until we recognize the vast privilege that blinds us to reality.

If you are interested in real, systemic change, you have to be curious enough to sit and wonder. You have to be curious enough to cross the street to your neighbor, the one who didn’t vote as you did. You have to be curious enough to understand the disconnect before offering solutions.

Thanks be to God for little reminders from mini humans looking for a good book to read.

I will sit with you…

I will sit with you

in the fear and uncertainty

of what the future holds.

 

I will sit with-

the anger

the bitterness

the humiliation

the fatigue –

I will sit with you as

you see the journey through.

 

I will sit with you

as the light of Truth

blinds you

and heals you

and makes you Whole.

 

And once Whole,

I’ll offer you a hand up

to stand up

to speak out

to go on

watching and waiting

for others

sitting alone

eyes covered

knees drawn

to sit beside.

Seeds of Hope

Yesterday, I made butternut squash soup because sometimes when I don’t know what to do, I just have to create something, anything, participating in the creation process and begging Creator God to breathe life into the dustiness of humanity. It’s a recipe I’ve made over and over again over the past year fiddling and tweaking with just the right amount of half and half to add to make it creamy, but not so creamy it’s too rich.

As I went through the motions of peeling and chopping the butternut squash, I stopped myself from dumping the seeds into the trash because I remember one of my friends told me that she cleaned the seeds added a little olive oil, salt, and pepper and roasted the seeds to add to the top of the soup or a salad or just to have on hand for a little snack. So, I went through the messy process of cleaning the seeds, washing and rinsing the innards of the butternut squash off the seeds. I dried them off and then tried unsuccessful to hold onto the slippery seeds wondering why she had made it sound so easy when it was really requiring a lot of effort to get those seeds to the point of being able to put in the oven.

And I then I thought, this is exactly what I feel like right now in the midst of the last week, the first week in a reality that I’m finding it hard to gain footing in. I feel like I chasing down slippery seeds of hope, trying to grasp them and catch them before they go down the drain or onto the floor.

Because what I know is that these seeds of hope can be planted or roasted to provide sprouts of change or nourishment or fellowship or something transformative that can ground us to community and to love. I know this can happen because I’ve seen it. I’ve tasted these seeds of hope and change and fellowship and communion and I know they are good.

But it’s going to take some wrestling to get the innards of hate and dissension washed off from these seeds of hope. It’s going to take getting our hands dirty. It’s going to take planting those in dirt and watering and waiting for them to sprout them or dousing them in olive oil and salt and pepper and enjoying the sustenance they provide around the table.

It’s going to take work, time, and energy. Don’t lose heart. Seeds of hope lead to seeds of change and new life.

You Don’t Have to Buy One, Get One Free

Yesterday, I was overwhelmed with the realization, “I have a baby.”

I know this sounds odd, but there are points that you are so nose to the grind of what needs to be done in the daily care of a mini human that you can’t ever remember a time that you didn’t have a baby. I would feel nervous sharing this with you except I have heard from so many other mother that this exact same sentiment washes over you at the strangest time. The realization that you are in a phase of life that you’ve thought about, but never knew what it would actually be like. The realization of the enormous weight and responsibility you are carrying as you nurture and guide a child.

For me that realization came yesterday afternoon as I was watching Ben have his snack. He was sitting in his high chair and I decided while he was content, I would clean out the cupboard and get rid of things that had accumulated that needed to be thrown out. Then I began to check expiration dates. Here’s what I found that had expired:

I was embarrassed. How had I let so much go by unnoticed? Why hadn’t the desire to clean out and check expirations dates washed over me sooner? Oh right, I have a baby.

I wanted to land squarely on that justification, but then I noticed I had doubles of things. Why in the world did I have two cans of breadcrumbs both of which that had been opened and both that were past their date? Because of the allure of the buy one, get one free. It’s why I had boxes of crackers (not expired!) that would probably go to waste (or let’s be honest, expire in my cupboard).

But it’s a good deal, I wanted to argue with myself. And it means I won’t have to put that item back on my grocery list for two weeks, I continued to reason with myself. Sure, but it also means that you have to store twice as much food, have twice as many choices, and have much less room because of all the repeat items.

But more than anything, my frustration with what this cleaning out episode revealed to me was that I had fallen prey to the “I Need More,” mantra that pervades our society. Didn’t I work every week with people who are in need? Didn’t I understand the privilege of having this much stuff? Didn’t I know by buying into the buy one get one free, I would eventually have to throw away way more food thus contributing to the overconsumption that plagues our society?

Not to mention, I have a baby. A baby who I want to raise with the profound truth that less is more. That we don’t need as much as we have and only when we acknowledge this can we start to bridge the great divide between the haves and the haves nots. A baby who I hope will understand that even if buy one get one free is a good deal, we only need one, even if our society and the marketing at the grocery store tells us otherwise.

We Now Return You to Your Regularly Scheduled Programming

I was surprised to discover on Monday that Ben’s school was actually opened. For some reason, maybe because the girls were out of school and Sam had a rare day off work, I had just assumed his school would be closed as well. So, did I return him to his regular routine even as the rest of the family was still on holiday break or did we all exist in this alternate reality that is Christmas break for a while longer?

I decided to take him for a little bit, just to get back in the habit. Back in the habit…just three days into the New Year it seemed that these small steps are what I needed, too. I needed to get back in the habit of running, of drinking water, of getting as much sleep as possible when caring for mini humans….back in the habit.

Back in the habit, sounds so much like back to the grind or back to work. These phrases that whisper of returning to something predictable and patterned. Isn’t it interesting how we crave the time off and then as soon as we have a couple of different days, we then beg for the consistent comfort of routine?

And all around me I see big life changes upsetting and rerouting routine: friends moving, 13 months old learning to walk, friends starting new jobs, or dealing with the aftermath of huge diagnoses. Is there really ever a consistent, predictable routine or do we just try to convince ourselves there is? When we do crave the routine, then are we really making change even harder when it inevitably creeps into our lives and turns everything upside down?

Perhaps in the changing dynamics of our families, society, and lives, there is something powerful about admitting the chaos that exists all around us. Perhaps when we can name the chaos, then we can also name divine breath that breathes into that chaos creating order in our midst. Perhaps when we step fully into the chaos, we are able to admit to the unknown: the unknown that our lives can change in a minute from death to life, chaos to order, with just one divine word.

Let there be…

Now we return you to your regularly scheduled programming.

A Divine Blended Family

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There’s something about the picturesque nativity scenes that have caused to me to ponder this Advent season. The cast of characters are usually the same in nativity scenes leaving out part of the story like the camel-hair wearing, locust-eating voice crying out in the wilderness. He’s just a little too out there. I mean how would we explain him to our kids?

Not only have I been wondering about why some people are included in these scenes and not others, but I’ve also been wondering about the peaceful expressions on these characters. Last Advent was a blur of new motherhood, but even though it is a blur, I know for certain our family certainly wasn’t this peaceful and put together. And as I’ve thought about our family and this divine family, I’ve been struck this year that they were a blended family. Did Joseph worry about whether his son would look at him one day and say, “You aren’t my real father!” like so many stepparents do? How were they going to explain to this baby that he was different than other families?

And as these questions roll around in my head and heart, I realize that although nativity scenes decorate our communities of faith during this Season, these questions of challenging truths don’t often accompany the scenes. Instead, we preach a peaceful, picturesque gospel that sits on a shelf, decorating our lives, but not transforming our lives.

If we really preached how revolutionary this blended divine family was, then we would have to question our nice, neat faith that allows us to worship both the Christ Child and Santa Claus at this time of year. If we really preached how this Christ Child gathered the outsiders and outcasts of society in a barn where animals slept, then we would have to question our pretty, festive church buildings. If we really preached what the birth of this Christ Child means, then we would have to accept the understanding that Jesus’ birth is a celebration and not a way of life for us.

There is nothing picturesque or peaceful about the birth of the Christ Child.

“Hope Is the Thing With Feathers”

“Hope” is the thing with feathers – (314)
“Hope” is the thing with feathers –
That perches in the soul –
And sings the tune without the words –
And never stops – at all –
And sweetest – in the Gale – is heard –
And sore must be the storm –
That could abash the little Bird
That kept so many warm –
I’ve heard it in the chillest land –
And on the strangest Sea –
Yet – never – in Extremity,
It asked a crumb – of me.
Source: The Poems of Emily Dickinson Edited by R. W. Franklin (Harvard University Press, 1999)
Hope is the thing with feathers,
the thing that can be blown away
with the hot air of hatred.
Hope is the thing with feathers,
that seems impossible to grasp
in the midst of violence.
Hope is the thing with feathers
that changes words of dissent
into words of peace and love.
Hope is the thing with feathers
that floats across hearts and minds
but can stay if we but grab hold tightly.

The Importance of Participation

I was recently at my parents’s house and found my box of awards. You know the one I mean: the one that has all those participation ribbons and those good works and the more special awards, the ones you worked really hard to receive and tried to act like you didn’t care if you got them or not, but you really did care: the MVPs, the honor roll, the good citizens award.

And I was thinking about those Award Nights throughout school in which I knew that by participating I was eligible to receive an award, but there was a big maybe hanging in the air. Maybe I would be called out or maybe I would watch as other teammates and classmates were (this was much more of my experience). And I thought about how vulnerable that place of uncertainty is: the not knowing, the hoping, the possibility of being let down. It would have been a lot safer to not have participated at all because then I would know that I wasn’t eligible. I would have taken myself out of the running.

And I know that’s where a lot of us are in our presidental elections. We’ve taken ourselves, our vote, our voice out of the running because we don’t want to participate because we aren’t happy with either candidate. And I get it because participating, signing up to vote, going to vote, and then waiting to see if your vote mattered at all, is vulnerable and risky and you find yourself in the same position as in school waiting and hoping, but not knowing.

But being in the midst of that scary, undecided, waiting position is one of the best position we can put ourselves in because it means we are depending and counting on a community of people. It means we are putting our control on the line. It means we are not going to be able to cop out with the “Well, that’s why I didn’t vote,” when the December rolls around.

Instead, we tried. We participated. We voted.

“I’m Not Good Enough to Take Communion”

This week at ministrieslab, we studied chapter 14 in Luke’s gospel where Jesus teaches his disciples a parable about the place of honor at the table:

14:7 When he noticed how the guests chose the places of honor, he told them a parable. 14:8 “When you are invited by someone to a wedding banquet, do not sit down at the place of honor, in case someone more distinguished than you has been invited by your host; 14:9 and the host who invited both of you may come and say to you, ‘Give this person your place,’ and then in disgrace you would start to take the lowest place. 14:10 But when you are invited, go and sit down at the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he may say to you, ‘Friend, move up higher’; then you will be honored in the presence of all who sit at the table with you. 14:11 For all who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” 14:12 He said also to the one who had invited him, “When you give a luncheon or a dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, in case they may invite you in return, and you would be repaid. 14:13 But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. 14:14 And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you, for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”

I told those gathered the story of my family and how growing up, we always had the same seats at our round, wooden table. I told them that the way it had ended up was with the youngest seated next to my mom and the second youngest (that would be me) sitting next to my dad, probably because we were the two who needed the most help. The older children had migrated away from my parents as they had gotten older and younger siblings had come along.

We knew we had a place at the table and we knew that we were welcome to the table.

For so many whom we have worshipped with at ministrieslab, this isn’t true. They aren’t welcomed to a table because they are without homes or because they have can’t see family, children, or spouses because of past choices.

And so when the man said he didn’t feel like he should take communion, I wasn’t surprised, I had heard this often in our worship and work. I said what I usually say, “Here are ministrieslab, everyone is welcome to the table. It doesn’t matter how long it’s been since you’ve been to church or what kind of church you attended. All are welcome to fellowship with us and remember Christ’s sacrifice.”

“Thank you, but not today, I’m not good enough.”

I looked him squarely in the eye and said, “I’m not saying that and our passage today is not saying that.”

“I know, I’m just working on some things.”

I smiled and nodded appreciating the reverence with which he engages in the sacred act of communion. Afterwards, he came up and asked if we would have chapel next week. I told him we would. He asked if communion would be served. I assured him it would.

“Good,” he responded.

“I look forward to seeing you next week.”

This radical act of breaking bread and pouring wine or juice and offering it to God’s people wherever we encounter them is transformational just as this parable in Luke. Perhaps if we concentrated on sharing God’s table with those who can’t repay us with tithes or designated gifts or invitations to feast together and instead invite those who can’t repay us to table fellowship, we would understand this parable more clearly and in turn we would understand what it means to be a disciple of Christ.