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I Need Maundy Thursday

This Wednesday during our weekly chapel service at Transitions, we observed Maundy Thursday. We washed hands and took communion with the youth of New Hope Christian Fellowship and as we fellowshipped, we remembered the night Jesus supped with his disciples and gave them instructions to remember. Last night we gathered at New Hope to observe Maundy Thursday with foot washing and communion and darkness.

This day that is so often skipped in the days between Palm Sunday and Easter Sunday has become important to me. I need Maundy Thursday. I need to know that those who walked closest with Jesus looked at him that night trying to understand what his was saying, but not able to understand. Because I too have these days of darkness where I hear the words of Jesus, but don’t know what they means. I need to hear the declarations that those who followed Jesus most closely would not deny him, knowing that in just hours, those words would prove untrue. Because I too declare I won’t deny that I have been called to follow as Jesus’ disciple and then deny that call. I need to hear the uncertainty and the confusion in the voice of the those who followed Jesus so closely on that night. Because I too find myself sitting in the midst of uncertainty and confusion.

I need this part of the story of what it means to be a follower of Christ. I need to be reminded that uncertainty about the future, doubt, and darkness are a part of what it means to follow after Christ. I need to be reminded that this journey asks me to be vulnerable and uncertain and yet to still follow, even when it’s in darkness.

Spiritual Abuse and Grief

I didn’t realize the disconnect until I heard a reflection from one of my friend’s about the experience of attending a funeral and having an altar call. An altar call is a common part of evangelical communities of faith that invites people attending to “get right with the Lord” to “rededicate their lives” or to “make a profession of faith” or more simply to join of a community of faith with a congregational polity.

All of these terms are insider terms, I’ve heard my whole life. It didn’t ever seem odd to me to have an altar call at a funeral because altar calls were as common a part of the worship experience as singing the Gloria Patri or the Doxology are to other communities of faith. These liturgical elements of worship don’t stand out when you are one of the insiders who is accustomed to them.

But when we change funerals to celebrations of life, which there is good reason both theologically and emotionally for doing, we also run the risk of confining grieving loved ones to an expected reaction to death. When we say, “well, at least he or she is in a better place” or the like, then we are saying that you, loved one of the departed shouldn’t be upset or sad because you wouldn’t really choose this existence over heaven, would you? Guilt and shame and anxiety heaped on top of grief.

This is spiritual abuse.

Instead of dictating how people should respond to the shocking reality that someone they loved isn’t here, what if instead, we opted to not shroud death and grief in canned theological responses and simply allowed people to grieve, whichever and whatever way they needed to grieve in that moment, in that day.

A key part of spiritual abuse is coercion to a set of expected behaviors. Grief is not expected or controlled nor should it be. One of the reason communities of faith are so full of spiritual abuse is our need for control, predictability, and order.

But what if God is found not in the predictability and order, but in the unpredictability chaos that is life and death. Perhaps this week more than any other week as we follow Jesus and his disciples to the cross, we would do well to feel the loss and chaos and grief the disciples and loved ones in Jesus’ life felt as he was crucified on the cross. What if instead of skipping over Maundy Thursday and Good Friday to get to Easter morning, we sat in the grief and confusion and chaos of death as so many in our communities of faith are.

Perhaps then we could sit with those who have felt grief and loss so deeply and actually minister to them rather than adding spiritual abuse to their lives in a time of vulnerability.

I’m A Recovering Fundamentalist

I’m a recovering fundamentalist.

If you had met me in college or high school, you would not have liked me because I had all the judgmental, black and white thinking that comes with fundamentalism. You know the kind that tried to convert Catholics and Methodist as though they aren’t Christian because they attend the church across the street.

It’s hard for me to talk about how I thought and how I saw the world because the realization that there were Christians who did not label or group or try to counsel people out of who they were was so foreign to me. I read my Bible consistently growing up, and I prayed a lot, so how could I have so completely missed Jesus’ call to see those in need and love them as they were and where they were rather than seeing people as just another possible convert?

But I have to describe the way I used to think and they way I was so certain that I was right, the way I knew for sure what the Bible said and what the Bible didn’t say because at times I hear it creeping back into my rhetoric. On those Sunday mornings when the baby’s been especially hungry and wants to eat through the night, I hear my prayers return to Father God, when Creator God, Holy God, River of Life, or Still, Small Voice might have fit better.

I find myself in our Baby and Me class at the library talking to little girls and telling them how pretty they are when I could also describe how alert they are or strong their heads or legs or arms are. These stereotypes and assumptions that fill our words before we can filter them through what we want to say and what we mean to say rather than what we’ve always heard.

And now as I see Ben’s eyes focusing on me and can tell he is listening, I want to be ever more mindful of the words he hears me say to him, to those we meet, and especially when I am referring to the Divine.

Thanks be to God for grace and forgiveness even when it is God’s own name we use to oppress, label, and exclude. Thanks be to Creator God that I am a new creation being formed in the image of the Divine with the Divine’s breath in my lungs. May that breath of life fall on those I encounter rather than stereotypes, judgements, and labels.

Death’s Lurking Around Again

One of the great contradictions of Holy Week is it often comes just when the blooms are first appearing and the birds are singing as they busily build their nests.

Yes, you say this is the reminder that out of death comes life, just like the Holy Week message.

But that’s backwards, isn’t it? Aren’t we seeing new life right when we are supposed to remember death’s lurking around again as the hours tick away until we gather to remember and follow Jesus to the cross. How can I see life, but preach death?

Because death’s always lurking around. Just as the bird builds their nest in our hanging baskets on our porch preparing to lay eggs, so too are the lizards that ate the eggs from their nests last year lurking at the bottom of the railings of our porch waiting to see if they can snatch away new life before it begins.

And just as we try to prepare to celebrate the Good News of the resurrected Christ as ministers preparing for a high, holy day, our news feeds are filled with stories of the death of 30 and 200 injured. Just when we had bought our new Easter dresses and our new Easter shoes, death’s lurking around again.

And as we celebrate with friends over the birth of their children, we also mourn the loss of young moms who battle cancer and leave behind young children because death’s lurking around again reminding us even when it’s not Ash Wednesday that we are dust and to dust we will return.

In these moments we are often paralyzed just as Mary is at the tomb in John’s account trying to understand why death is always lurking around again and why we can’t just have one moment, one day to not think about how little time we have on earth and with those we love. Why can’t I just be blissfully ignorant? Why must death lurk around again?

Because the power of new life is that it happens miraculous and unexpectedly even when death is lurking around again and each time we witness that new life, let us notice and share the miracle of resurrection and the miracle of death together in one week, together in each day, together in our lives.

Thanks be to God, death’s lurking around again.

Waiting is Not Easy

Mo Williems is one of our favorite authors and we are big Elephant and Piggie fans, but this is not one of our favorites because Waiting Is Not Easy! In the book Gerald is waiting for a surprise and Piggie has guaranteed it’s going to be a good surprise and that Gerald is going to love it. He just has to wait for the surprise, but Gerald doesn’t want to wait. He wants the surprise now. Why, he insists, must he wait?

For 40 long days, we have kept our ears open for the whisper of the still, small voice of the divine. We have kept our eyes open for evidence of the divine working in the world. We have disciplined ourselves in prayers of confession and acts of fasting. We have been waiting and waiting is not easy.

It would be easy  to rush through this week, this Holy Week, we have been waiting on in order to get to the celebration of resurrection, of new life.

But let’s wait.

Let’s wait and watch and listen and wonder and follow the footsteps of Christ.

Let’s wait just a little bit longer because maybe in the waiting, we remind ourselves that following after Christ isn’t about knowing for sure what new life looks like. Maybe in the waiting, we remind ourselves that although we know the story, there could be something we have missed as we have rushed through Jesus’ suffering in years past. Maybe in the waiting, we will find the answers to the prayers we have been praying for those we love and for ourselves.

Waiting isn’t easy, but maybe waiting puts us squarely in the path Jesus walked. Waiting reminds us of of the journey to the cross. Waiting reminds us that this Holy Week isn’t about what we need, but about what the world and the kingdom of God needs from us.

 

On Renewal

I did it. I actually renewed my books before any fines were incurred.

This sounds simple, especially since the options for renewing your library books are endless: by phone, in person, online. Why I haven’t been able to do it effectively is beyond me, but it has gotten to the point that my husband won’t let me borrow his library card. He knows me too well.

The main reason is that I think I am going to be finished with the book in the allotted time. It seems completely reasonable that I will be able to finish reading, studying in three weeks, right?

But as we all know, life doesn’t tend to go as any of us plan. So, I end up scrambling to remember how many weeks it has been and whether I have time to renew the book before fines begin. Most of the time, I can’t remember without a little help.

For me, that’s a truth I need beyond just my library books. We all need help in life. We all need renewal in life. Some time that is life-giving that reminds us that three weeks have gone by since we checked out. It’s easy to get caught up in the fast pace of day after day and week after week. It’s even easier to forget that there are things our bodies and minds need to be renewed.

As I approach Holy Week this week (with no worries of library fines), I know I am going to take time to check in with myself not because I just want the refreshing spirit of Easter, but because I want to be reminded of my limits and boundaries as a human being who needs help and who needs time for renewal.

Walking into the Darkness

Tonight after our open church time in remembrance of Good Friday, I walked into the sanctuary to start the transformation for Sunday morning. This is one of my favorite parts of being in ministry: being able to see the behind the scenes preparation aspect of worship.

I remember the first time I robed and participated in a service. I knew the movement and who was going where when. From that first processional down the aisle to the platform, I stepped fully into my call to live as a minister.

Tonight as I turned off the lights of the church and locked the office, I just smiled. We walked into the darkness and know we hold our breaths in a collective hope that in the coming days we will experience something miraculous.

Jesus cried, “It is finished,” and it was; yet in another very real way, it was just beginning.

On the Road Again, Again

After I wrote the post yesterday, I got in my car after class to make the drive home. The first song that came on was Willie’s Nelson’s “On the Road Again.” There was a moment where I just laughed, I had to because the moment we speak what we are thinking there are bound to be moments like these that happen.

The fascinating thing is that if we don’t share our thoughts and our experiences with others, then there’s no one to write a follow up post to, to say, “Kinda crazy, huh?” I think all of us desire to know that we are not alone in this world. Whether that comes in the form of a four-legged creature or whether that comes in the affirmation from friends that what we wrote, what we said, what we did meant something. The search to make our time on this earth into something meaningful is overwhelming at times, but when we can share our experiences with each other, but even more so, those little peeks we get into a world and a being far greater than us, then we are truly offering a bigger picture.

Whether you believe my hearing Willie Nelson’s song again is a testament that the divine is in the world or a series of choices about when people travel and would enjoy hearing a song about traveling, I’m glad I shared because if I hadn’t, these words would only be for me.

On the Road Again

Last week as I was driving onto campus, the radio station happened to play Willie Nelson’s “On the Road Again.” As I fought the fatigue of my Monday morning commute, I couldn’t help but readjust my attitude to realize the great privilege I have had in pursuing seminary. To be certain, the journey has not been easy nor without its uncertainty, but the neither has Willie’s, right?

I can’t help but wonder if there aren’t some churches and pastors who have been in this field much longer than I have who are experiencing the same thing this Holy Week. Here we are, on the road again to the cross, how can I make this fresh to my congregation? How can I experience anew the wonder of the cross?

Maybe, if we approach the road to the cross with the anticipation that is evident in Willie’s voice as he sings about going on tour again, our passion for the Passion of Christ would be revived. Or perhaps if we had a band of other minister with which we were more willing to travel this journey of Holy Week with, our eyes would be open to the creative power of being in fellowship with others.

 

Toe Testing

As the weather changes, I can’t help but be reminded of the summer we spent at my grandmother’s pool. I can remember some Springs that were so warm that my grandfather would open the pool on Easter Sunday. The brave souls that were the grandchildren would timidly creep to the edge of the pool and put their toes in to taste the water.

“Woahhh! That’s coooold!” Someone would shout. With this declaration some would fade to their towels and the chairs around the pool explaining, “I am not going in there!” Inevitably, the next stage would be for someone to jump in from the diving board. As he or she (but let’s be honest, this was usually one of my boy cousins) would emerge, he would declare, “It’s not thaaaat cold. You get used to it.”

I can’t help but think about this as I enter my first Holy Week as a pastor.

There is a timidity to this journey for me. There is a sense that I am dipping my toe into the holy healing powers of the story of redemption to share with others. I am the cannon baller who jumps in first and invites others to dive in to experience the depth and the refreshment of the healing waters of this Holy Week.

Let us walk where Jesus walked. Let us see what others saw as Jesus rode into Jerusalem. Let us feel what the community felt. Let us hope with them and grieve with them. Let us feel hopeless as we watch Jesus being arrested, being beaten, and being crucified.

Come let us follow Christ as he journeys towards the cross.