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Leaning Into Lent: Watering Healing

This weekend, we planted aloe, a plant that I had in my home growing up. I can remember one summer in elementary school helping my mom grill a sandwich in the super snacker panini press. As I was watching for the light to come on indicating my sandwich was ready, my thumb touched the small black strip that was hot. I immediately cried out in pain. After putting cold water on it, my mom took a small piece of our aloe plant squeezing the aloe on the burn. The relief was immediate.

I’ve thought about that a lot over these past three weeks. There are many times in my ministry I have wished there was a plant or a solution I could administer to those who were hurting. One of the hardest aspects of ministry for me has always been not being able to alleviate people’s suffering. To be sure I am always in awe to share those precious seasons and thoughts with them and to sit with them in their suffering, but the question always surfaces: “Is that enough? Could I do more?”

And maybe you are there too as you read and hear the stories of those who are suffering the physical impacts of COVID-19. Maybe you are there too as you read the stories of the medical professionals pulling double and triple shifts without the PPE they need. Maybe you are where I have been so often saying isn’t there a balm or solution that could alleviate this collective suffering we are all experiencing? Can’t we make this go away? Can’t this be healed?

In the midst of the uncertainty of who long this suffering will last and how close this suffering will come to each of us, I am comforted with the revelation that we are not alone. Although it may seem like we can’t do that much, we can sit here together in our grief, in our suffering, in our uncertainty, and in our vulnerability. This is enough. This is healing because we know that while we may be socially distant or even isolated from each other, we are not walking this journey alone.

That revelation is water nurturing and growing healing. Healing that comes in the tiniest plant, in text messages, in Facetimes, in notes, and in stories of good. Thanks be to God for the light that shines in the darkness.

Leaning Into Lent: Fatigue

Whenever we began this Lenten journey, I joked that it would feel long, longer than forty days. When I said that I didn’t know what else we would be carrying this Lenten season. I didn’t know we would be carrying the collective grief of losing a way of life we had become so accustomed to. I didn’t know we would be carrying the collective trauma of a worldwide pandemic. I didn’t know we would all take on new roles.

All of this hit home for me yesterday afternoon. The sun had come out and we were outside playing. Our fourteen-month-old has started to toddle around and has a very strong opinion about doing things by herself. She learned to slide down the slide by herself. Our four-year-old is immersed in imaginative play become Batman and a pirate and taking his two stuffed dogs along on every adventure. I looked at them and realized their world will never be the same.

I spread my arms wide as I stepped out of the shade and into the sun and breathed as the Spring air moved across the yard. As I breathed deeply, I realized I was tired. My legs were tired from walking this unexpected Lenten journey. My back was sore from carrying the additional load of adapting so quickly to new routines and new normals.

It would be so easy to skip the rest of the Lenten journey, the suffering, the darkness and cling to the hope of resurrection and new life. I’ve seen memes going around about what a wonderful day it will be when we are all able to get back together. And it will be.

But it’s not time for that yet. Lent is not over. We are still being asked to sit in the darkness and in suffering. We are still be asked to be present for the way the world is changing around and the way so many people are suffering around us.

This is not easy work, but this is good and important work.

For when we sit in suffering, our hearts grow compassion. When we sit in suffering, we learn to be deeply, soulfully grateful. When we sit in suffering, we learn to be resilient, courageous, and strong because there just isn’t time to be anything else.

May God’s spirit sit with you in this suffering.

Leaning Into Lent: Washing Sippy Cups

Tonight I was washing the dishes. As I washed our fourteen month old’s sippy cup, I realized that her nametag was coming off. My mind immediately went to trying to remember where I had put the cute, pink masking tap and the brand new black sharpie so that I could replace the label so that it would be ready to take her to school…

And then my brain stopped. Wait. I don’t have to replace that label because on Monday she’s not going to school.

I don’t know if you have had these moments over the past week, but it has been the little things. The things that we won’t need because we aren’t headed to work and school that have stopped me in my tracks and reminded me of the severity of where we are and what is going on.

This is not the Lent I planned. This is not the Lent you planned, but this is Lent. Washing sippy cups and being thankful for teachers who have invested so much in our children’s lives and who we miss dearly.

Sometimes it takes an upending for gratitude to come to the surface in the form of a label coming off in the wash.

Leaning Into Lent

I love Lent. I know that sounds crazy, but I do.

Maybe it’s because it is a bit of a novelty since I didn’t grow up remembering Lent at all. Maybe it’s because in my experience as a pastor, Lent is a season in which so many people have open hearts and open minds to the way the Divine is moving and working in the world.

Maybe it’s because for me personally, it provides a good excuse to engage in spiritual disciplines that have maybe fallen out of practice in day to day living.

Whatever it is, this year I am leaning in Lent with an open mind and open heart ready to see the way that Divine is inviting us into deeper communion and deeper understanding.

May the Spirit protect you, challenge you, and restore you in this season.

Greatest Night of Giveaways

The past three nights, there has been Ellen’s Greatest Night of Giveaways. The unsuspecting crowd was drawn in under the pretense of filming another show. The winners of thousands of dollars were interviewed under the pretense of a show that was about how people in difficult situations turn their lives around never giving up and always holding onto hope. And of course, the audience was surprised with six-day getaways, new exercise equipment, gift cards, and the latest and greatest technology.

If you watched the show or tuned in on Instragram or Twitter, you found yourself laughing and crying. I found myself hooked on the stories of the families whose lives she was turning around. The boy who was raised living in his car with his family who started being a sign spinner who received a car and a job, his life taking a completely different trajectory than before. The single dad who lost his job who was sent to Europe with his daughters for a month. The single dad whose wife passed away just six weeks ago whose mortgage was paid off. Surely, this is the reason for the season. Surely, this is what power and influence and money can do for good.

Ellen ended each show by saying, “Merry Christmas. Spread some Christmas cheer today and remember to be kind to each other.” I couldn’t help but compare this to the impeachment hearings and the way our leaders are yelling at each other and at witnesses. The rhetoric of our political leader in regards to a sixteen-year-old girl who has a passion and a calling to change the world.

Why is that we are so unkind to each other? Why is that we are so competitive with each other? Why is that we find ourselves so entrenched in identity politics that we can’t even see the needs of other people around us?

It takes a lot of intention, reflection, and prayer to renew our minds and to open our hearts to the needs of other people. Instead of asking why the person is on the corner holding a sign asking for money or food, it takes wondering what it would feel like to be at the point where you have to hold a sign to ask for food. Instead of complaining about the fact that it is raining, it takes imagining what it would be like to sleep outside in the rain all night long and then be damp for the rest of the day as the rain continues.

It takes thinking outside of our lived experiences and imagining the lives and the realities of other people. It takes an understanding that the economic system that we live in has privileged some above others and continues to do so. It takes shifting our thinking from “I deserve this,” to “we deserve this.”

And if there is ever a season in the church year when we can change our thinking and that the Divine turns things upside down, it’s Advent. Watch and wait. Something is coming that will change the way we see the world and indeed change the powers of the world.

Just wait.

On Birthdays and Celebrations

This past week was one filled with the joys of birthdays and the grief of services of remembrance. For us, that fell on the same day, our four-year-old’s actual birthday. The beauty and the grief of life and death juxtaposed in one twenty-four hour period. And this is how it is. Life and death live within us all the time. That divine breath and our dustiness residing together in our physical beings. We walk through our days holding both hope and grief. At times they fight within us as we wrestle to find space for both and sanctuary to let them sit together never sure which one will come out on top.

The more I talk to people, the more I realize how much grief people are holding sometimes trying to fit into a box to put away for another time sometimes trying to send it away so that it doesn’t linger or pop up. The more I talk to people, the more I say grief doesn’t go away. You don’t go through grief. You don’t come out of grief. You become grief and then grief becomes you.

You and grief can’t get away from each other. You integrate into one being with a deeper love and appreciation for moments and relationships, for safety and belonging. This loss and hurt of grief make us deeper and fuller people.

People who love and live with gratitude and intention for we always hold both life and death within us.

Falling for Anything

A recent Atlantic article recounted the impact of the constant noise of our society has on an individual. While we may consider the background hum or low volume music in the coffee shop and grocery store to be inconsequential, research is showing that this constant drum has an impact on our ability to center ourselves and to hear ourselves.

There is so much noise. There are so many voices vying for our attention. There are so many stories and narratives begging for our attention. We diagnose ourselves, our friends and strangers we encounter with Enneagram numbers, Myers-Briggs letters, and a host of other ideas and philosophies.

In the midst of all the noise, we are falling for anything that will explain who we are and why we are here.

We want to understand why we react and act the way we do. We want to understand why we are here and what our purpose is in the limited time we have here on earth.

In the midst of all the noise, it is getting more and more difficult to find our own voice and the voice of the divine whispering not in the form of gifs or quotations or charts. Rather that still, small voice calls us inward to the deepest parts of who we are to explain all the good and all the missteps we have made and are making.

The journey inward is arduous and painful.

It is why we distract ourselves with all the noise.

But the only way into fullness and wholeness is to journey inward into the silence and into the uncertainty of finding our voice in the midst of all the noise.

Behind the Scenes A Theology of Scarcity

I have this voice in my head that whispers a repeating line, “It’s not enough. It’s not enough.” Most of this time this repeating line enters my consciousness on Wednesday mornings as I am walking back to my car after leading the chapel service at Transitions Homeless Shelter. I have walked with the homeless community in Columbia since our son was born almost four years ago.

This ever-changing, diverse congregation is the congregation that has challenged and taught me the most. In the midst of some of the most difficult circumstances, they hold onto hope. In the midst of what most people would consider scarcity, they are incredibly generous. Their faith has asked me to look deeply at some of my foundational, theological views. As I have reflected, I realize I have clung tightly to a theology of scarcity.

When I was growing up, I often heard that I was not good enough or generous enough to make it to God. Not only was I not good enough, I was born not good enough. The very essence of who I was, was sinful. This is why accepting Jesus Christ as my personal Lord and Savior was so essential. In seminary, I learned that this theological concept was called total depravity of the soul. I also learned that while I was raised baptist this theological concept was most often found in reformed theology.

What I hadn’t put together until now is that this theological concept actually crept into my very being and bloomed into a theology of scarcity. It starts by believing that you can’t be good enough and turns into you are not enough and that leads to you are not good. It starts by believing there is nothing we can do to reach God and turns into there is nothing we can do to change unjust systems and unfair treatment of God’s people. It starts by believing there’s a limited amount of money and blessings for a chosen few and turns into making and keeping money and resources away from other people.

I heard this all the time as I entered into the process of pastor search as a woman preacher.

“We wish there were more churches, but there just aren’t that many who will even consider a woman pastor and even fewer who will actually call a woman pastor.”

“We wish we could offer you more money, but there just isn’t enough right now.”

“We wish that we could offer you benefits, but that just isn’t in the budget.”

“We wish that we could offer you a raise, but we have to grow first.”

All of this speaks from a theology of scarcity. A theology of scarcity allows us to limit what God can do to what we can imagine. If there is anything I have learned from my journey into ministry, it’s that God is much, much bigger than anything we can imagine.

A theology of scarcity limits the kingdom of God to a capitalistic market that profits off the back of the underpaid and undervalued workers rather than working together towards a greater good. A theology of scarcity purports that the meaning of life is gaining more through rapid and vapid consumerism rather than giving generously every time we have more than we need. A theology of scarcity excludes people because of their sexual identity, gender, or race believing that God’s people are limited rather than believing that ALL humans are created in the image of God and hold the Divine breath within their very beings.

Most importantly, a theology of scarcity allows churches, denominations, and minister the excuse that this is “just the way it is” thereby never having to change their beliefs or their actions.

Slowly, but surely, I am operating from a theology of abundance.

There is more than enough room at the table for everyone. There is more than enough food, clothing, and shoes for everyone. We have more than enough and so we share with those who do have enough so they too know the right and abundant life the Spirit of God is offering.

This theology of abundance opens the heart and mind to welcome and include everyone. A theology of abundance gives without thinking or wondering if there will be enough because there is always enough. A theology of abundance worries not about what I am going to put on my plate, but whether there are enough plates for all who are gathered at the table to fellowship and commune together.

As I am renewing my mental patterns, I find my words and my actions changing each week at Transitions. Rather than worrying about whether I am doing enough or trying hard enough, I find myself whispering the words, “You are enough. You are enough. You are enough.” to God’s people gathered around the table to encounter a God who always offers more and more and more.

 

Bread Enough for All

Yesterday, I was working at the church sorting generous donations we have received from church members. I was elbow-deep in little girls’ clothes when I heard the news of the father and 23-month-old daughter who drowned attempting to find sanctuary. As I sorted and folded and sorted and folded, I tried to understand the desperation of this family as they sought something better. What must they have been leaving and running from in order to risk everything?

As I continued the work of sorting donations to go to our partners who work with the homeless and our neighbors in need, I heard that the facility in Clint, Texas refused donations of diapers, soap, and clothes after the report that some children being detained has not changed clothes in three weeks. I was surrounded by clothes that were donated to our church in order to go to someone in need and yet those who most desperately are in need in our country can’t receive donations of any kind.

It is easy for us to make political claims about what is right and wrong. It easy for us to process these reports and these stories by claiming that we know what we would should we find ourselves in such desperation. Our privilege is clouding our view. Our political party affiliations are clouding our sight.

After feeding the 4,000 in the gospel of Mark 8, Jesus says to his disciples:

Do you have eyes, and fail to see? Do you have ears, and fail to hear? And do you not remember? 19 When I broke the five loaves for the five thousand, how many baskets full of broken pieces did you collect?” They said to him, “Twelve.” 20 “And the seven for the four thousand, how many baskets full of broken pieces did you collect?” And they said to him, “Seven.” 21 Then he said to them, “Do you not yet understand?”

Jesus fed all. Jesus gave bread to all.

There is enough here in America and in our churches for all to have food, clean clothes, and a safe place to live. There is enough for us all.

May our eyes be opened and our ears hear the cries of the children.

From Behind the Table

From behind the table, I see hands being washed.

From behind the table, I see the veil lifted –

the body and the blood revealed.

 

From behind the table, I see the bread broken –

crumbs falling down.

From behind the table, I see the cup lifted –

the smell of fruit wafting in the air.

 

From behind the table, I see

the mystery,

the wonder,

of sacrifice

all over

again.