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Molding Communion Bread

Last week, I went to the church for my weekly check of the building. On my list was organizing the non-perishable food donations that were collected through porch drops in order to pack bags for our neighbors in need. Also on my list was checking messages, checking the mail, and something I had been avoiding for weeks, cleaning out the refrigerator.

Mainly I didn’t want to be reminded of that refrigerator filled with food for after worship, fifth Sunday fellowships I didn’t want to be reminded of the Sunday baked goods that would serve as our Wednesday Bible study snacks. I didn’t want to see that moldy communion bread I was sure was in there.

But it was time.

When I opened the refrigerator, I found what I expected: moldy communion bread, moldy potato salad from our last fellowship meal, and stale baked goods. I couldn’t hold back the tears that came. The way we get together, the way that we are church together, and the way that we help our neighbors in need has all changed so drastically in such a short period of time. While I was sad, I also was overwhelmed with gratitude for a congregation who is committed to keeping each other safe and committed to continue to worship virtually until it is safe for ALL of us to come together in person.

I tossed the communion bread in the trash. Sometimes communion bread is blueberry poptarts, sandwich bread, or whatever else we can find in our own homes. As I walked out, I saw the food items piled up ready to be distributed to those who are hungry and thought, “Oh wait…that’s our communion. We are offering food in the form of peanut butter, granola bars, and soup to those who are most in need right now. We are offering the miracle of Jesus’ body and blood by recognizing the great need that surrounds us in these uncertain times.”

This do in remembrance of me.

Leaning Into Lent: Energy Boost

This morning, my dedication was renewed after a wonderful time of worship online. There was so much that happened last week so quickly that it really was very difficult to process through everything: schools closing, cancelling vacations, moving to working from home and homeschooling.

I don’t know about you but I ended every day exhausted from all the change and all the new.

If you are finding yourself in the same situation, take heart you are not alone. This new daily life and daily schedule on top of the news of the spread of COVID-19 is overwhelming. The grief over not being able to see friends and family and moving to purely digital communication is disheartening. These are things that don’t exhaust your physical body, but your very soul.

It’s more difficult to hear our souls. It’s harder to diagnosis when our souls are not well. Our souls are the very heart of us and also the very still, quiet center of us. Our souls aren’t easy to see and hear without lots and lots of practice. It is our very souls that will sustain us through these ever-changing times and so we must give some attention to them.

Yesterday as we were outside playing, I decided not to put my shoes on and instead feel the coolness of the grass next to the warmth of the ground. I wiggled my toes in the grass and it reminded me of exactly where I was connected to the earth and connected to my family. This is called grounding. In times of change and turmoil, if we can find some way to ground ourselves in the present moment, then we can find our center and find our souls again. Our minds quiet for just long enough for us to feel balance come back.

This is part of what Lent always calls us to do: difficult and challenging soul work. The work of confessing to being too busy to listen to our souls and connect to the Divine. This work is even more important during a time that is so different and became so different so quickly.

Our souls will provide us energy for the long days and hope for the dark nights. Listen to your souls even if for just a minute today. Allow them a chance to breathe and grieve. Allow yourself a chance for grounding and centering.

Leaning Into Lent: Unexpected Growth

Five Lenten seasons ago, I took on the task of trying to free a butterfly bush in our yard from the entanglement of a prickly weed that was strangling its growth and stealing all its nutrients. Turns out that I wasn’t actually freeing a butterfly bush but a Bradford Pear tree that had been struck by lightning years ago. It has taken five years, but here is a picture of white flowers on this resurrected tree!! Last year we got some greenery, but we have never seen white flowers before.

I think about the work and the cuts and the blood that was shed in trying to free what I thought was something else. For me, this is Lent. Looking closely at what is threatening and strangling our growth and a deeper relationship with the Divine. You might think that in this process you are freeing something and find that there is something completely different that blooms and grows from that clearing out.

I can’t think of a better analogy for our present circumstances. Everything has been cleared out. The going out and the moving from place to place, event to event has suspended. And now during this Lenten season is the time to ask ourselves whether these things and events that took up our time and attention were strangling us and stealing our nutrients.

Maybe, just maybe, in this midst of this slowly down we are able to breathe like this Bradford Pear and find new life.

Leaning Into Lent: Walking by Faith and not by Sight

In the midst of the fear and uncertainty of the Coronavirus and uncertain stock market, it is easy to become dismayed. These are not things we can control. These are events that are rapidly changing the way we interact with each other, the way that we gather, and the plans we have made to travel. To be sure we can do our due diligence in washing our hands, greeting each other without touching, and wiping down common spaces, but there is so much we still don’t know about this particular strain of viruses.

It is easy for us to think that we have control over our environment when things are calm. It is easy to begin to believe that we know what the day will hold, what the week will hold, and even what the year will hold, but anyone who has walked through a season of life that held unexpected health issues, job loss, or death of loved one knows that control is merely an illusion. We are dust and to dust, we shall return. There is no controlling when that truth will come for any of us. Not one of us is guaranteed tomorrow.

Lent asks us to refocus our hearts and minds on our dustiness. Lent asks us to remember again and again day after day, week after week that we are dust and to dust, we shall return. This season is not to make us morbid of fearful of death, but to break us of our dependence on the need to control our surroundings, our schedules, and our days.

Lent asks us to walk by faith rather than by sight. Remembering that although it may look like we know what is ahead, only the Divine who goes before and behind us knows what is to come. Lent asks us to walk by faith rather than sight, not in fear, but in trust that whatever this hour, this day and this week may bring we walk with the Divine guiding us and leading us.

Lent asks us to walk by faith rather than by sight, awakening each morning to the realization that today is a day we can choose to live to our own selfish desires or with open hearts and minds to the ways we may bring light and love to a world clouded in the darkness of fear and uncertainty.



Leaning Into Lent: The Uncertainty of Tomorrow

Our son’s school sends out a monthly calendar and as I was perusing it, I realized there was a teacher in-service day that I hadn’t been expecting. Maybe it was the leap day or the shortness of February that made me miss the update, but I found myself scrambling because that’s a day I had been expecting to have childcare.

Isn’t it funny how we get so accustomed to routine and patterns that we trick our brains into thinking these things are stable and will not change? But they do change. Natural disasters, weather, and sickness all impact whether schools are opened or closed and often these decisions are made last minute when we least expect it.

The same is true in our working life. Companies get acquired or restructured, leadership changes and suddenly we realize we don’t fit there or that our skills and experiences aren’t valued as they used to be valued.

Lent reminds us of the uncertainty of the darkness. The ever-changing and ever-aging nature of our own physical bodies and indeed the world around us. It’s not a comforting reminder, in fact, more often than not we run from these reminders with the hope those brain tricks will kick in and we can get back to “normal” life.

Lent reminds us of the uncertainty of tomorrow. When you are in the wilderness, you don’t know where the wilderness ends or when your wilderness journey will come to an end. You walk, you pray, you fast, in hope that there will be an end and that the Divine will be present with you through the end, however, long that might be.

We can run from these reminders or we can lean into these reminders. When we run, we resist the revelations of the wilderness and the gratitude that comes with the light of day after that dark night. When we lean in, we remember that we are dust that we are not Creator God. We cannot be all things to all people. We cannot do everything, but we can do something. We lean into the realization that we have today, this day, and that we get to decide how to spend this day.

Tomorrow has enough troubles of its own, lean into this Lenten day.

Leaning Into Lent: Naked and Afraid

Have you ever watched the show “Naked and Afraid?” It’s a survival show that involves two people usually a man and a woman being dropped in the wilderness. They have nothing with them except one personal item and they are naked. They have no food and no water and they have to try to survive for 21 days. It’s fascinating to see. In some cases, they are dropped in deserts. In some cases in the heart of the Amazon, but they are always dropped somewhere that makes it difficult to survive. 

I was struck by one episode where the two contestants were walking through the desert and discovered that there were all these little briars. It was painful to watch their feet trying to get used to those little things and eventually, they both formed makeshift shoes to protect their feet. 

Hear now the word of the Lord from Genesis:

2:15 The LORD God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to till it and keep it.2:16 And the LORD God commanded the man, “You may freely eat of every tree of the garden; 2:17 but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall die.” 3:1 Now the serpent was more crafty than any other wild animal that the LORD God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God say, ‘You shall not eat from any tree in the garden’?” 3:2 The woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden; 3:3 but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the middle of the garden, nor shall you touch it, or you shall die.'” 3:4 But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not die; 3:5 for God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” 3:6 So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate; and she also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate. 3:7 Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked; they sewed fig leaves together and made loincloths for themselves.

I wonder what it would do to our perception of this very familiar passage to look at the Garden of Eden like a wilderness. At least in my understanding and teaching surrounding the Garden of Eden, this was paradise and this is what we are all deprived of because of the choices of these first people. 

Maybe I have been watching too much Naked and Afraid, but here are two humans just formed out of the dust of the earth trying to figure out how to relate to each other, their creator, and their surroundings. It kinda sound a lot like what we are trying to do every day, doesn’t it? 

And in the midst of their trying to figure out what it means to be in their world, there is a voice that brings doubt to what the Creator has said. Many people interpret this being as Satan, but the text doesn’t provide that interpretation. The text says it was just a talking serpent. And just like us, the man and the woman have to wrestle with which voice to believe and which voice to trust. 

And when they realize that they have been deceived, that they have listened to the wrong voice, they are embarrassed and just like us, they try to hide themselves realizing that they are vulnerable and realizing that they are naked for the first time. 

Those makeshift clothes are what we are still creating today. We are still trying to hide our vulnerability from each other and indeed from our Creator. We are still trying to hide the ways that we have been deceived and the ways that we have been duped. 

The season of Lent asked us to journey naked and afraid into the wilderness, not knowing what we will encounter. We will probably at some point want to get out. We will probably at some point want to hide. We will probably at some listen to the wrong voice.

But still the Spirit of God invites us, calls us, into the wilderness, naked and afraid.

Leaning Into Lent: Letting Go of Stuff

This suitcase has been with me for eleven years. It was one of the two I packed to move overseas for a year. It was quite an investment at the time because I wanted it to last and because I wanted features like dual wheels.

But I haven’t traveled overseas in quite a while nor have I gone on a trip where a suitcase this size would even be reasonable to pack. Seriously our four-year-old and one-year-old could both fit in this suitcase comfortably.

So why is it still with me?

Because we get attached to stuff.

Objects remind us of experiences and people and new identities. For me, this suitcase was a reminder of my courage in moving to a foreign country for a year. This suitcase reminded me that I really didn’t need as much stuff as I thought I needed to live for a year somewhere. This suitcase reminded me of the clarity and call I received while overseas to become a preacher and pastor. And so I have kept it.

Lent invites us to look at things differently, yes even suitcases. This morning I dropped off this suitcase at a local nonprofit that offers sanctuary and shelter for children who have to be removed from their homes and are awaiting foster care families. They have asked for suitcases because many times the children are relocated quickly and only have a trash bag or grocery sack of belongings. They don’t have sturdy bags that they can move from place to place.

When I dropped off this suitcase, the woman said, “Thank you. This is a nice big one. Oh and it rolls!”

This is where this suitcase needs to be, not in my closet.

Leaning into Lent means letting go of stuff, even stuff that served really important roles in our lives and in our transformation.

When Dreams Reveal

I had a dream the other night that I was arriving at the yearly baptist denominational gathering. The first encounter was from a male colleague who greeted me with a lingering hug. My body stiffened and my mind prepared for what was to come. As he departed, he commented on how good I looked and I knew this year was going to be like the other years.

My dream continued with a gathering at the anchor church in town. As I walked in the building shined pristinely.  The male pastor was touting the vast opportunities women had been given over the past year. I countered that there were had indeed been opportunities for some women, but the vast number of women pastors were underemployed, underpaid, and their duties twice their male colleagues. He smiled a smile that let me know I had overstepped my bounds. I excused myself citing another meeting. As I walked back through the building what had looked pristine, looked a bit more tarnished.

My dream then skipped in time to the evening worship service. That same male pastor cornered me backstage explaining that my information was incorrect and I wasn’t helping things by pointing out what still needed to be worked on. He grabbed my arm just above the elbow as he issued the reprimand and from somewhere within me I uttered, “I do not consent to being touched.” Perchance in the dream, he already had his microphone fitted and it was hot. The whole assembly heard the exchange. For a moment I was bouyed by the hope that the pretense had been shattered. Now, people would realize there was a backstory, backstage to this whole gathering. He dropped my elbow and I walked out. The dream ended before I found out whether this revelation changed anything at all or whether business continued as usual.  Although my dream changed the circumstances and the people, the interactions were drawn from a deep place of memory of being silenced and ashamed of my looks because of similar circumstances.

Whenever I share my experiences like these, the responses I get almost always fall into two categories. The first are responses from others who were in those denominational gatherings who attempt to overshadow my experiences with their positive ones. I am a woman and I have only found this space to be safe and encouraging, they say.

The other responses are women who pop out of the wings of backstage. Their faces and voices are timid. I’m here too they say. They told me to wait in the wings. They told me it would be our turn soon, they say. We’re still waiting, they say.

When I woke up, I was overwhelmed with relief. This spring I would not be a part of the denominational gatherings I had been for the past six years. Over the past year, I have found sanctuary in the United Church of Christ where I need not pretend I am someone else. No one has ever commented on my looks or lingered in an embrace too long. I don’t have to pause to think about whether my reflections and thought are too challenging and might inhibit my future professional chances. My experiences are not overshadowed but welcomed just as everyone is welcome, especially those who have been oppressed and silenced.

When dreams reveal our deepest hurts and our deepest joys perhaps these dreams are not dreams at all but visions of the divine.

“Who do you say that I am?”

15 He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” 16 Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”

This passage from the gospel of Matthew chapter sixteen always challenges me. I can feel my palms sweating and my heart begin to beat a little faster. This is one of those moments between teacher and student where you know the answer is really, really important. Simon Peter answered the question and received a blessing from Jesus.

But in the gospel of Mark, the interaction goes a bit differently:

27 Jesus went on with his disciples to the villages of Caesarea Philippi; and on the way he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that I am?” 28 And they answered him, “John the Baptist; and others, Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets.” 29 He asked them, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter answered him, “You are the Messiah.” 30 And he sternly ordered them not to tell anyone about him.

There is no blessing after Peter identifies Jesus as the Messiah, but rather a stern instruction to keep his identity a secret.

I can remember still the conversation I had when I voiced for the first time to preach and pastor. I can remember the sweaty palms and my racing heart as I tried on the new identity: “I am called to preach. I am a called to pastor.” My call came as a surprise and a relief. When I found space and sanctuary to look deep within and hear the voice that had been calling me for so long, I knew things and I would never be the same. It would take five years after that first timid declaration before I was able to say, ” I am a preacher. I am a pastor.” Still to this day, I hesitate to introduce myself to others as a preacher; knowing that in South Carolina to be a woman and to be a preacher don’t seem to go together; knowing that living into my calling and my very identity means creating theological crises for friends and family who had been taught that women were never called to preach and teach.

So to those of you struggling to live into who are called to be and timidly trying out those identities on a few close friends asking them to keep quiet about who you are, know that you are not alone. Jesus asked his friends to keep it a secret too. Jesus knew that living fully into who he was called to be would create ripples in his family, in his culture, and in his religion.

And to those of you ready to declare who are you, know that living into your identity is a blessing to your friends, to your family, to your culture, and yes to your religion, even if your identity presents a theological crisis to those communities. It isn’t until we are challenged that we grow. It isn’t until we see and hear someone living fully into their own identity that we get the courage to declare who we are.

Pain, Pain, Go Away

A recent NPR report revealed that 20% of adults in America are living with chronic pain. This issue is so prevalent that medical schools are now having additional coursework for aspiring doctors pertaining to pain management so that they will be able to treat this pain epidemic thoughtfully and holistically.  How do we help those who are in pain while also combatting the opioid crisis that plagues our society?

Others are asking the question, where is all this pain coming from? Those who are asking this question often reference the seminal text on trauma and the somatic response to the trauma: The Body Keeps Score. The author suggests that even when we are years past the traumatic event, our bodies hold onto the memory of the trauma for much longer.

Jamie Lee Finch in her recent book, You Are Your Own says:

There are ways to help surivors recognize that the physical and psychiological reactions resulting from traume are messages – attempts from the body to try and expain what has happened. Imbalances, illnesses, anxietiesm and pains are signal flares from our deeper selves searching for rescue (78-79).

We are not well. We are hurting. We are in pain.

We need healing. The type of healing that can only come from the gospel of light and love and resurrection.

May God grant us the courage to embark on the journey of deep, soul-filled searching. May God grant us the community to sustain us along the journey.