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Quarrels Among Us

When I share with people that I come from a family of six, one of the first things they ask is, “Did y’all get along?” I always answer yes and no. There were six of us, which multiplied the possibilities of people you could quarrel in what I am sure felt, to my parents, like an unending roll of the dice.

There were certainly times that we had trouble getting along: a phenomenon not unique to our family, which I know because of the invention of the Our Get Along Shirt that I’ve seen on Pinterest. You take one big shirt and put both kids heads through the neck hole and then the each get one arm out. Parents, there’s a little practical advice for you this morning!

There’s always a point when you are living in community together as families or communities of faith or friends that there is going to be some sort of quarrel or bickering or picking at each other. It’s how we examine our own perspectives and how we develop empathy and sympathy for someone else’s point of view. The quarreling brings up issues that are important, but eventually if you want to survive and thrive as a community who is walking through life together, there has to be a resolution to these quarrels.

And this is the point at which we hear from Paul in his first letter to the Corinthians chapter 1 beginning in verse 10.

Hear now the word of the Lord.

10 Now I appeal to you, brothers and sisters,[a] by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you be in agreement and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same purpose. 11 For it has been reported to me by Chloe’s people that there are quarrels among you, my brothers and sisters.[b] 12 What I mean is that each of you says, “I belong to Paul,” or “I belong to Apollos,” or “I belong to Cephas,” or “I belong to Christ.” 13 Has Christ been divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul? 14 I thank God[c] that I baptized none of you except Crispus and Gaius, 15 so that no one can say that you were baptized in my name. 16 (I did baptize also the household of Stephanas; beyond that, I do not know whether I baptized anyone else.) 17 For Christ did not send me to baptize but to proclaim the gospel, and not with eloquent wisdom, so that the cross of Christ might not be emptied of its power.

This is the Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.

I have to admit that there’s part of me that is suspicious of Paul’s claim here in 1 Corinthians. Doesn’t it kind of sound like Paul is just saying that the people of the church of Corinth should simmer down with the allegiance to different people so that they are faithful to him? Sure, he uses the argument that we all belong to Christ, but isn’t he trying to undo the power of Chloe and Apollos and then throw himself into the mix just to appear humble?

It would be easy to interpret this passage with that understanding, but there’s something more to these divisions. This is not a Clemson/Carolina or more importantly, a Duke/UNC division.

These are deep quarrels. Quarrels that turn to us vs. them. Quarrels that turn to factions and groups standing on opposite sides unwilling to even hear the other side. Quarrels that divide. Quarrels that can’t be solved with a get along shirt.

Paul isn’t suggesting that there should be no quarrels, but rather that there should be no divisions among us as followers of Christ. We should quarrel. We should discuss. We should live together in community, which means that we have to struggle to be together and be there for each other. When we don’t quarrel and pretend as though we all believe and agree to the same things, then we are missing a huge part of what it means to be a follower of Christ.

The cross.

The cross as Paul recounts in verse 17 loses it’s power when we cling to our own side of the story or tenaciously adhere to a specific teacher or a political party or yes, even a sports team, because we aren’t willing to sacrifice ourselves as Christ did.

And that’s what Paul is encouraging this community of faith deeply divided to wrestle with. For being a follower of Christ cannot occur until we, like Christ, are willing to sacrifice our body and yes even our blood for someone else.

You know one of the things that inevitably happens when you find yourself in the Our Get Along Shirt with someone is that you have to consider the other person’s needs. If the other person is thirsty, you have to go with him or her to the sink to get water. If that person is tired, you have to sit with them and beside them. Your time and your plans are not your own because you are walking so closely with someone else.

If we did think of others before ourselves, if we looked around us and wondered how can I meet someone else’s need today, then I’d be willing to bet, we wouldn’t have much time for talking and debating whether we liked Chloe or Apollos or Paul better. We would be too busy being the hands and the feet of Jesus, the hands and feet that were crucified on a cross, to others in our communities of faith and in our communities who are in grave need.
Perhaps getting along, or being of the same mind and purpose as Paul puts it, has a lot more to do with walking and living with each other in community, touching shoulder to shoulder, hip to hip and understanding that everyone needs community.

“What are you doing all the way out here?”

“What are you doing all the way out here?” I asked her as we both shirked from the cold wind.

She started to tell me and then stopped, “Hey, wait I know you. You’re the lady who gave me that bread that you dip into that juice in that tall cup.”

“That’s right,” I smiled realizing I had recognized her before she had recognized me. “You know the cold weather shelter is open tonight. Don’t you want to go there where it’s warm?”

“There’s too much drama there,” she explained.

I hesitated not knowing at all what to say. Wasn’t it worth enduring drama to be warm? It was below freezing outside, surely it was worth dealing with people so that you didn’t have to sleep outside.

“There’s always someone who is looking for a fight and it’s just not worth it,” she continued.

I was trying really hard to understand where she was coming from, to understand the world as she saw it, knowing that privilege was hindering a connection. I was trying to respect her voice and choice, knowing that telling her what she should do would disrespect her humanity in ways she had experienced over and over again.

I had seen first hand what she was talking about, people in desperate situations guarding their reputations and their identities fiercely. I knew she was speaking truth, but I also knew there was no way I’d ever completely understand.

A humbling realization.

She had seen more death than I had seen. She had felt more desperation than I had seen. She had felt more hunger than I had. There was a gap that divided us, a gap I’ve been working for eight month not to eliminate or justify or defend, but simply understand.

But maybe on Wednesday I would see her again and that gap would be bridged for just a moment as we worshipped and fellowshipped and celebrated the Lord’s supper together, side by side.

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.

Healing Through Cooking

“Well, you’re becoming quite the cook,” Sam’s grandmother said to me as she opened her Christmas present of homemade pasta sauce, cowboy caviar, and pickles.

“Just try it first before you say that so certainly,” I joked back.

It was a surreal conversation to me because for so many years, there has been no question that I am a bad cook, maybe bad isn’t the right adjective, but dangerous certainly would be an appropriate descriptor.

In an effort to try to impress Sam early in our relationship, I decided I wanted to cook for him. Chicken fajitas seemed like just the right meal because it was a step above regular tacos, but still seemed manageable. And it is, for most people. For me, it resulted in third degree burns on my left hand and arm and a trip to Urgent Care. Scars I still bear years later. I’m pretty sure he still has a wave of anxiety every time I declare I was thinking I would cook dinner.

When Ben went in for his four month check up, we found out that his weight had dropped significantly. This was surprising with his over eight pound birth weight and his 10 lbs 2 oz two week check up weight. We were exclusively breastfeeding, but it seemed with his activity level and his growth pattern that it was time to add solids into his diet. We started with baby oatmeal and decided to make our own baby food, so that we could be sure he was getting lots of vitamins and good fat to up his weight. Our days started to be ordered around how long a sweet potato took to cook, how many oatmeal bars were left, and whether it was time to make more applesauce. It became just a natural routine over the course of the year that making his birthday cake, the task was exciting rather than intimidating.

And so began a change in our daily schedule that included cooking, and a lot of it. I found myself engrossed in baby-led weaning websites and in the cookbook section of the library! Truly, motherhood had changed me.

Over the course of the year, I have had many more disasters (none resulting in a trip to the Urgent Care, thankfully), but I’ve gotten to the point where preparing and planning the time to make something homemade is relaxing as well as a spiritual. For surely, there is something mystical and divine about enjoying something created by someone else’s hands. Couldn’t homemade pimento cheese slathered on a piece of bread be the body of Christ? Couldn’t gathering around the table eating and fellowship rather than rushing through a meal to get to the next thing be something that transforms us as a society and as families? Couldn’t a good old-fashioned potluck be what our communities of faith need to discuss budgets and the changes in our society? It’s harder to be angry and defensive when there’s warm pound cake to be enjoyed, isn’t it?

And I can’t help but think back to the times the kids have helped prepare our meal as we were all gathered in the kitchen and remember hearing their moans of how difficult it is to peel potatoes and then how good the potato soup was because they had helped make it. Or how they didn’t think they liked broccoli and cheddar soup, but because they tasted it along the way, they wanted a mug full.

There’s something about the divine and mystical process of creation that we can capture and hold onto in the kitchen. When we invite our children and families into that creation process, the Divine whispers gently to their hearts and hands that they, too, can create something new, something that sustains both the body and the spirit. When we invite others to come and fellowship around the table, we can’t help but wonder if this isn’t exactly what Jesus was doing as he ate and drank with people he wasn’t suppose to talk to much less share a table and meal with.

My resolution last year started simply: I’m going to learn to hard boil an egg, but it whispered of a much deeper need in my life. I’m going to learn to practice even when I fail again and again. I’m going to learn to wait until things are fully cooked and then fully enjoy them instead of trying to hurry up the process. I’m going to learn to be aware of people who are in need around me.

Because sometimes pumpkin bread left on someone’s doorstep says, “You are not alone. I see you,” in a way that words and good intentions can’t.

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.

“I’m Following the Bread”

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Yesterday as we worshipped at Transitions Homeless Shelter, we had more new people who had never worshipped with us than we’ve ever had. When someone new joins our community, there are always questions about who can or can’t take communion and since communion is a part of every service it is a point of discussion almost every week.

Again and again I’ve heard reflections from our community of their experiences being denied communion. The justification was they were not worthy, not in good standing with God, or had unconfessed sin before God. In most cases, the person denying communion was a minister who had judged their life to not be in good standing with God. This has happened so often that it has driven me to research the theological interpretations and traditions surrounding partaking of communion.

Certainly, part of the communion conversation has to include the Catholic tradition of not having people who are not Catholic partake in the Body and Blood. This belief stems from doctrine in the Catholic church that indicates that one who is conscious of grave sin should not partake in the Body and Blood of Christ nor those who are non-Christian or non-Catholic.

In the Protestant church, there are a variety of different beliefs and traditions associated with whom can partake of communion and how often communion is administered. Lutherans, Disciples or Christ, UCC, and Episcopalians all partake in communion weekly following the tradition found in the Catholic Church while Methodists, Baptists, and Presbyterians vary in how often they participate in the Lord’s Table. Just as some Protestants have taken on the traidtion in the Catholic church to partake in weekly communion so to have some denominations taken on the belief that no one who is engaged in grave sin or unconfessed sin should partake in communion. These grave sins are interpreted and expounded upon by church leadership creating a closed communion experience in these communities of faith. Other denominations who are welcoming and affirming of women, all races, members of the LGTBQ community, and to those who are seekers of faith and have not yet defined their faith identity, engage in open community meaning that all are welcome to God’s table regardless of race, gender, or sexuality.

As someone who was raised in a closed communion community of faith, it is important to me to specify in our worship with ministrieslab that God’s table is open to God’s people and God’s people are all who are created in the image of God. My sincere belief in open communion reflects my belief that my role as a minister is not to judge, classify, or exclude anyone who is seeking fellowship with God, but rather to encourage, challenge, and journey with God’s people.

I’ve seen too many people like the woman yesterday who said, “I’m following that bread around. Wherever that bread goes, I go,” who are hungry for the sustenance of fellowship, community, and yes the broken body of Christ to deny anyone a seat at God’s table.

May we all consider more deeply how our practices and traditions in our communities of faith have lasting impact on people who worship with even just once.

Prayers of the People

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I didn’t grow up in a worship tradition that included Prayers of the People. Perhaps it was because the congregation was so large that ministers and worship leaders didn’t know how to manage and plan for the time it would take for people to utter prayers before God and their community of faith. Instead I grew up with a Pastoral Prayer: one voice leading a prayer on behalf of God’s people. I’ve found this is common in larger congregations, but I’ve fallen in love with the beauty and authenticity of God’s people uttering requests, praises, and concerns before a community of faith and before God. I love that the role of the minister is not the voice of the people in prayer before God, but rather that the minister or worship leader joins with the people in praying.

This is why at ministrieslab, Prayers of the People are a part of the services we lead. And today the prayer uttered by a first-time attender at our worship service at Transitions was so authentic and so compassionate that it reminded me how important the voice of God’s people in worship is:

I pray for the people who look down on us because we are homeless and think we don’t have faith. I pray that we will continue to have our faith strengthened even when people look down on us.

Lord hear our prayers.

And may this prayer remind us to see and hear God’s people whenever and wherever we find them rather than thinking God’s people are only in our own faith communities.

Let it be. Amen.

When Our Children Serve Beside Us

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This Saturday as part of ministrieslab, we partnered with Resurrections that has been popping up on Saturdays in downtown Columbia to serve a midday meal for fourteen years. We knew it was going to be hot and we knew that there were going to be a lot of people in need. We also knew we had all three children. We made the choice that all the kids would go and serve beside us. We made that choice not knowing for sure if children had helped serve before or whether there would be tasks they could handle, but knowing we wanted them to understand that serving and helping others in need is part of who we are as a family.

When we arrived, we found that the whole team at Resurrections believed the same thing we did. They believed that willing hands are willing hands, no matter how big or small. They asked our children to jump in by carrying the tents and serving food just like the adult volunteers were doing.

The picture I am taking away from this Saturday is our eight-year-old serving another eight-year-old who was there with her mother. To serve someone her own age and own height was a powerful picture of what happens when we invite children to serve beside us rather than restricting them to children’s missions activities. When we serve together as a family and serve other families in need, there is a powerful communion that occurs. We understand that family is what unites us and binds us, whether we have a lot of whether we have little.

When our children serve beside us, we are welcoming them into the gospel message. We are letting the little children come unto God. We are bringing the kingdom of God here to earth in ways that we as adults can’t see. When our children serve beside us, we hear in their voices, “I like that better than some of the other times we’ve served because we actually got to do something. They actually let us help and serve the food.”

Thanks be to God for pop up meals and for people who understand that when Jesus said, “For I was hungry and you gave me food,” he wasn’t just talking to adults.

“I Wasn’t Sure If You Were Coming”

As we have worked with the community at Transitions through ministrieslab, I have been struck by the number of times I have come to worship and have heard, “Are we having chapel? I wasn’t sure if you were coming.”

At first, there was a part of me that bristled at the comment. Have I not been faithfully showing up? Have I not been clear about when we gather? Until it dawned on me that the comment had nothing to do with me, but expressed a deep sense of need in the person.

As my thoughts shifted, I wondered how many times someone in his life had said they were going to show up and didn’t. I wondered how many times someone in his life someone had said they were going to help and didn’t. I wondered how many times someone in his life had said they had a place for him to stay and didn’t.

These are parts of his story I don’t know yet. There is a whisper in this comment of those experiences. Until he is ready to share those stories, we’ll keep showing up, until he knows for sure we are coming to worship and commune with him and the community of faith that gathers.

When We Withhold Communion

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Yesterday, as we worshipped together at ministrieslab, I offered an invitation to the table. An invitation to anyone who wanted to come. I offered the same thoughts that we offer each week, “It doesn’t matter when the last time you went to church was or what church that was, God’s table is open to all.”

There was a woman who hadn’t been in worship with us, but was waiting at the doorway for the next class. As we wrapped up with the Amen chorus, she ventured into the conference room. She complimented the pianist telling him how powerful his music was and how it moved and encouraged her. She came in where I was packing up the communion elements. I offered her the rest of the communion bread, something we do every week in case there is someone who is hungry and needs a bit more than a pinch of bread to sustain them. She shook her head no. I offered again explaining that she was welcome to it, knowing that to be homeless is to be vulnerable and being offered handouts is often offensive. She shook her head again. Sensing something in her eyes, a question or a hesitation, I offered one last time.

She explained that she wanted to take communion. The juice had already been given to someone else, but I told her I would be happy to pour the cup again, just for her. “I want to take communion, but people have told me I shouldn’t because you have to be a certain kind of person to take communion.”

I looked her in her eyes and said, “I’m a minister and I’m offering you this bread and cup to remember that we are all offered new life.” She took the smallest pinch of the body of Christ I have ever seen and dipped just a little into the cup. After she had eaten the bread dipped from the cup, she took the cup and raised it to her lips. She finished the small amount I had served just for her. As she handed the cup back to me, I said, “Thanks be to God.” “Amen,” she muttered.

When we withhold communion from people who need to be reminded of the sacrifice Jesus made on the night he was betrayed, we withhold new life from them. When we withhold communion from people because of their sexual orientation, the color of their skin, or whether they have a home or not, we are withholding God from them. When we withhold communion, we are withholding God’s love and God’s hope and instead offering them exclusion and brokenness.

When we withhold communion from people, we are forgetting, not remembering. We are forgetting that in the wilderness God offered manna from heaven to God’s people: the people who had faith and the people who were complaining, whining, and had no faith. We are forgetting that Jesus on the night he was betrayed offered the bread and the cup to the very person who was about to betray him. We are forgetting that in the midst of our own brokenness, we were offered the hope and healing in the body and blood of Christ.

Thanks be to God that we are welcomed to God’s table even when we tell others there is no seat for them.