Should we wait for someone else?

IMG_0225I have to say, John the Baptist’s questions for Jesus make a lot of sense to me this week. “Things are really not working out so well, not matter how high we go, no matter how much hope we cling to, no matter how we elevate what is just, things are really falling apart around here, especially for those with the most to lose. Are you sure you’re the one Jesus? Are you sure you’re the way? Should we wait for another?” (Luke 7:18-35, Narrative Lectionary for 2/12/17)

Clearly, I’m paraphrasing a bit, but JB is straight outta jail and he’s not seeing the kind of progress he expected when he dipped Jesus in the Jordan and I would be lying if I sometimes didn’t have some of the same questions for Jesus myself. And so, as I prepare to preach and discuss this text with my people I’m beginning with this confession (& blessing):

We Tell The Truth About Ourselves

To tell you the truth this is harder than we thought

This “way” of Jesus,

It’s hard and uncomfortable

To be faced with the complexity of human life

To realize our friends and enemies cannot be separated into such easy categories

To find out that real life-giving relationships take work

And grace

And forgiveness

That no matter how old we get

Failure humiliates us

Risk-taking is scary

And yet, you keep calling to us,

“Come, follow me.”

You keep calling

and still there is no guarantee that if we give our life, our hearts, our trust to you O God

That we will always be happy

That we will have all the answers

That we will finally experience deep peace.

In fact, the opposite is often true.

Hold us tight in this unsettling time,

Hold us tight in this uncertain space,

Forgive us when we can’t see you

when we dare ask the question,

“Is it really you O God? Or should we wait for another?”

Remind us O God, who we are

And whose we are.

 

God Blesses and Forgives Us

It’s true

This human/divine creature sent to

Teach us how to live,

How to love God and one another

Doesn’t promise us

That the “way” will be easy

Or provide us peace-of-mind

Or a failure-free life.

Instead this renegade

People-loving

Bread-eating

Wine drinking

Character we call

God’s beloved

Promises us this:

If you dare to wake up,

If you dare to grow up in

Love and grace,

If you dare to take up the plight

Of the broken-hearted and vulnerable,

If you dare to claim your own belovedness,

If you dare to claim your own worth,

If you dare to see me in every human you encounter,

If you dare to give up the illusion of success for the life of a disciple,

If you dare to risk your pride for the sake of restoration,

If you dare to love your neighbor, then you will find yourself

Already on the “way,”

Already forgiven,

already free.

(44)

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The Absurdity of Hope

With Sarah’s help (Genesis 18 and 21), we’re tackling hope in the face of the impossible 13958123_10154248149040609_5115046206960868107_othis week at Friendship! Here’s a blessing to for you to wrestle with as you prepare to for worship.

God Blesses & Forgives Us
This is the blessing that meets us
in hard places
between our fragility and our resilience
this blessing sews seeds of hope in the very depths of our being
this blessing sees our devastation
and sits with our pain
and does not run away in fear.
In fact,
this blessing laughs—
not just any laugh
but a deep body shaking belly laugh
that weaves together all of life’s heartache
and all of life’s grace
into a new and surprising life
that is more than we could have ever expected.
This blessing is for you.
Thanks be to God. Amen.

(165)

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My Hardening Heart

I will not make myself small

We Tell The Truth About Ourselves
I have a confession to make.
Today I am angry. I can feel my heart hardening with hate.
I’m angry and I don’t want to make friends or make nice or make it easy on anyone who has every abandoned, remained silent or turned their back on Lesbain, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender or Queer folks.
I don’t have any compassion to spare, I don’t care if it was hard when your kid came out, I don’t care if you did hard work and changed your mind. I don’t care if you love the sinner but just hate the sin. I don’t care if your theology, your tradition, your family grounds your belief.
If you can’t love, celebrate and stand with us then you are helping to kill us.
Today I am angry. I can feel my heart hardening with hate.
Today I will tell the truth and hope it will save me.
God, if you can’t transform my hardening heart, then who?
 
I hate that no matter how vulnerable and real we are in the LGBTQ community there are some who are louder and more powerful who will twist our beautiful lives and complex stories and make us villains.
I hate that when we share our stories, our gifts, our resources and ourselves with the communities we live in and work in we are made to feel like curriculum and curiosities.
I hate that the overwhelming message – even in progressive hetero communities and institutions – tells us that we should be grateful to be included or invited to the table.
I hate when I fucking feel grateful.
I hate that we’re expected to keep our identities, our families our living milestones on the down-low so folks in our families or neighborhoods or churches who are afraid and uncomfortable around queer folks can be made to feel safe. Safe? Really?
I hate when we make excuses about generational differences, cultural norms and geography to excuse hateful bigotry and homophobic behaviors as if there aren’t queer folk suffering in silence and isolation in every single corner of time and space.
I hate how trickle down civil rights is as failed an experiment as trickle down economics and only works to divide and isolate oppressed communities, pitting us against one another in a hunger-games-for-civil rights.
I hate that when I meet new people I always think twice and still, still, still revert to gender generic terms for my wife and queer family until I know where I stand.
I hate that I fucking lie by omission or fail to correct someone else’s assumptions almost every single day.
I hate how quickly I rush to apologize when I make someone uncomfortable.
I hate the paternalistic eye-rolling, the disbelief and the defensiveness that meets my efforts to share my story, my feelings and my best attempts to describe my gender fluid, queer identity.
I hate that when I met friends for a birthday celebration yesterday we discussed how we – a group of visible queer folks and friends – would need to be on high alert for a potential fucking gunman. Yes. I said gunMAN.
I hate how lgbtq spaces fill up with more wounds and war stories than love stories, and tears stream down my face when the truest anthem we can sing together is, “You don’t know me!”
 
I confess – I do not want your apology and I will not crawl on my knees begging to be seen and heard, known and loved or acknowledged.
The truth is, I am seen and heard and loved.
I am loved I am loved I am loved.
God sees and loves me for my whole damn queer self and I will not make myself small so my allies or my enemies can feel big.
 
This is my prayer. This is my confession.
Transform this hate O God – be the salve that will soften my hard heart.
Transform this hate O God – give me courage to tell the truth.
Transform this hate O God – restore my gentleness.
Transform this hate O God – break the hearts of our hatefulness and pour your grace upon us.

***

I write this today, remembering Amy J Snedeker. Our friend and fellow pastor, Amy suggested we call it the time where “We Tell The Truth About Ourselves.” You know, that moment in Reformed Worship we’ve long called the Prayer of Confession? Our worship team was trying to find descriptive titles for the parts of worship so that new folks, old folks, skeptics and those who are sure could all understand and embrace the work of the people – the work we do together when we come together to worship.

Almost a year ago our friend Amy died after a long battle with cancer. She was one of the truthiest people I know. She was irreverent and funny and faithful and she could tell the truth with a remarkable gentleness that didn’t let you off the hook but helped you see real deep inside yourself. Amy was a same-gender loving woman, I wish she were here right now.

(855)

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The cost of forgiveness…

Forgiveness is the final form of love. ~Reinhold Niebuhr

Have you ever had to beg for forgiveness? Have you ever thrown yourself at the mercy of someone in power? Has forgiveness ever knocked you off your feet?

I wonder if begging hardens our hearts or cracks them open? I wonder what part power plays in our ability to seek and find forgiveness…IMG_0026

The Narrative Lectionary has gifted us with a series of challenging parables this lenten season. According to the Gospel of Matthew Jesus told these parables as a way of illuminating what the Kingdom of Heaven – that is God’s alternative world order – might look like. This week’s parable from Matthew 18: 15-35 is often called the Parable of the Unforgiving Servant but the reality is no one in this a parable is very forgiving… right before the parable Jesus tells the disciples that forgiveness has no limits… but the servant’s master takes back his supposed forgiveness in a heartbeat.

It seems such a challenge for us to imagine a God who’s love is not transactional. To imagine a being, a God, who holds such immense power, and yet, is willing to relinquish it, willing to let the very creation God so lovingly crafted to crack God’s heart open again and again.

Telling the Truth About Ourselves

So how do we forgive from the heart?

How do we seek forgiveness

and ask forgiveness

without belittling the pain?

How do we learn compassion

but never tolerate abuse?

It begins with telling the truth.

To unbind the wounded parts of our hearts,

and face the wounds we’ve inflicted on one another,

to face the grief of the world and take it in,

and take on our share of the responsibility and our share of the pain

is no small thing.

However,

if we can find the courage,

it will

set us free.

[silence is kept]

God Blesses & Forgive Us

Abandon your fear and leave your disappointment in the dust.

Believe in the abundant forgiveness found along this road

That leads to love.

Dig your feet into the earth and wait for the promise of spring.

Let your heart be broken open

like a seed that cracks open in order to absorb the nutrients that will bring it to life.

Get ready to lean in towards the rising sun

and open your eyes to it’s incandescent light.

This is the beginning of the journey home

to the one who piles grace upon grace.

 

(937)

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Rip into our world, O God…

Rip into our world once again, O God, and give us the good sense to be absolutely overwhelmed with joy at your proclamation,

 “This is my child, this is my beloved, this is my greatest pleasure.”

You know what I’m afraid of?

That in the midst of trying to name and attend to all the pain the Church has inflicted on folks over the centuries in the name of God, I’m afraid that sometimes I preach and paint an image of God that is so gentle, so simple, so easy on the eyes, and the ears, and the heart, that it is stripped of it’s power to comfort, let alone transform our starving souls.

On the day of Jesus’ baptism, nothing is simple. Nothing is easy. God rips into the world of human experience. God tears the sky and comes crashing through space and time to make an extraordinary claim.

Rather than a disembodied experience this baptismal moment is one of super-embodiment – it’s a sensory overloading, heart-stopping, genesis of life moment.

I wonder if Jesus’ whole life flashes through his mind’s eye as he is dunked beneath the surface of the Jordan. Not just his embodied life but his life that began at the beginning – when all of creation first burst forth. Beginning with that first infinite breath of God and on and on through his own life, death and resurrection. And ours.

I wonder, if just for a moment our physical reality, the one in which we rely because we can see it with our eyes, didn’t collapse in and expand back out as he came up out of the Jordan gasping for breath.

Here’s where we tell the truth about ourselves:

You call us to dive into your holy water with abandon O God,

To be caught up in the current of your love

And to be buoyed by your grace.

But your holy water scares us O God,

We worry it will overwhelm us,

We lose our footing and fall beneath the surface,

Pulled under by our fear and self-loathing.

We are lost. Any peace we might know is drowned out by

Anger

Hatred

Distrust

And Disbelief.

[silence is kept]

God Blesses & Forgive Us

Trouble the holy water in which we swim, O God.

Do not let its placidness lull us into complacency,

send your wild and holy spirit to agitate the quiet waters of our apathy.

Enliven the tide of justice,

stir our passion and nourish our resilience,

so that when we rise from your holy water

and step back onto the banks of our lives

we know our names our

Forgiven

Claimed

Beloved

and Sent.

(593)

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Wreck This Worship Journal!

Recently the kids at Friendship Presbyterian helped me design a Wreck This Worship Journal. I posted some photos and a few folks have asked for templates so I’m posting it here for you to download. Please keep in mind, this is our first attempt and we kept it simple! We used Microsoft Word to design the pages and online puzzle generators to make Word Searches, Cross Words and Madlibs. I turned Friendship’s Mission Statement into a Madlib and I left it in the Generic Worship Journal linked below so you can see how we did it but  you should replace it with one of your own! We also left plenty of blank pages with simple borders so that their is plenty of room for your own ideas!

Screen Shot 2014-10-11 at 7.55.06 PM

The pages are 8.5×11 and the journal could be printed and three whole punched or you could print it on 11×17 in booklet form like we did at Friendship. We made book covers out cardboard and duct tape and are stitching our pages in tomorrow! I’m also going to run a bunch of booklets with paper covers so we have them to share with anyone who wants one Sunday mornings!

 

Friendship’s Wreck this Worship Journal!

And here’s a Generic Wreck This Worship Journal That you can download and print or use as template!

Have fun making a Wreck This Worship Journal of your own!!

PS: Presbyterian Pastor, Theresa Cho inspired me to create these and has tons of amazing ideas around integrating kiddos in worship, you should check her blog out!

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What’s Your Story?

Beloved community,

gather in and gather around,

incline your hearts and

listen closely for the story of who we are.

Add your own voices to

the story of what God has done.

Claim God for yourself

to worship

to love

to follow

to serve.

This week’s Narrative Lectionary Reading is taken from Joshua 24. In the unfolding story of the people making new lives in the “Promised Land” Joshua takes a moment to remind them who and whose they are. Whenever I read these “recaps” of the Ancient Israelites story I’m struck by two things.

The first is how rich and imaginative the oral tradition was in those ancient days. I long to recapture this practice in our lives and communities. Some might even say I’ve become a bit obsessed with the art, practice and privilege of storytelling. I love the digital age, the opportunity to learn and relate and be challenged in the context of the Global Community.

I love words and text and imagery but I want to balance these things with having a story, a story I’m connected to, that I’m implicated in whispered in my ear. I love the intimacy and the humanity of real-life storytelling. I can forget the person in a facebook feed is real and whole and has as complicated and complex a life as I do. But if you’re sitting across the table or standing in the middle of my circle speaking your truth into the open, you better believe I will see your humanness. Is it just me?

The second piece that strikes me is the piece about privilege. The storyteller (and later story recorders… and later story canonizers) have significant power don’t they? Who tells the story and how they tell it shapes the identity of the community, and the communities place in the world for generations. How do we decide what parts to tell? What to highlight and leave out? How do we paint our friends? How do we paint our enemies? Who’s side is God on in our stories? Do we ever enter communities where we are strangers or outsiders so we can hear the story from another perspective?

When you think about the stories of your lives and your communities how do you tell them? Whose version is ‘canonical’? Who has the privilege of the voice, the pen, the mic?

When I tell the story of my own life I love the version in which I’m a survivor, determined and independent. I love the version in which I am creative and interesting and interested. But there are pieces missing from that version aren’t there? There are moments I’ve failed badly, I’ve broken promises, I’ve been wrong, I’ve been self-centered or self-righteous (this might be my achilles heel), dependent or just plain ordinary (gasp!).

Is our faith community a place we bring our best selves and tell only our best stories? Is it a place we can hear the depths of one another stories without judgement or fixes?

Telling the Truth About Ourselves

We often think the easiest thing,

is to only share the good parts of our lives with one another and with God,

the career successes,

the sweet and easy parts of our relationships

the parenting wins,

that time we kept our cool,

stood up for justice

or had the best, right, funniest answer.

We are sure the world can’t handle our inner ugliness.

We are certain that we are the only ones who have failed,

that our relationships are the only ones to sustain cracks,

that we are the only parent who has let down a child, or a friend, or a stranger in need.

and so we keep the hard parts of ourselves hidden and our ugliness gets uglier.

We can’t imagine that God would embrace our trauma and turmoil,

we are afraid God won’t love our selfish, mean or broken hearts,

we don’t believe that God’s grace is so expansive that we can reveal our true selves

and so we don’t tell the truth about ourselves.

Blessing

But here’s the thing,

You are not alone and

healing happens in the light of day,

reconciliation is grounded in telling the truth,

and love isn’t love if it’s built on conditions.

God’s grace really is so expansive

it will hear and hold and transform

your WHOLE story.

Yes, we are broken,

but we are also beautiful children of God,

so take in this good news:

In all things,

you are seen,

you are loved

and you are forgiven.

Amen.

(618)

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Returning to what is sacred…

This week the Narrative Lectionary hones in on the story of God’s Ten Words (or Ten Commandments) for the newly forming Israelite people. The story takes us back to the foot of a mountain in search of God. Back to a mountain where Moses has stood before. Back to a mountain Moses has climbed many times before. Back to a place Moses has met God before. Back to the holy ground where God first called him by name, “Moses, Moses.”

The biblical writers use two names for this mountain, some call it Horeb while others call it Sinai and of course, we readers, scholars and storytellers don’t all agree about the whereabouts of this mountain or whether there are one or two, or whether it is a geographical location or a mystical one. But what I love about this story and about this man Moses is how raw and deeply human he is.

How many times have you returned to a holy place hoping to find God again? 

I have. I have walked the holy halls of old schools decades after I sat in their classrooms and I have sat quietly in the empty sanctuary where I was once sung too and baptized even though I am a stranger to the community who worships there now. I have returned to the sites of hard conversations and promises made, listening for the lingering hope and stirring passion that made them sacred. I have walked the same roads and trails hoping to encounter the holy in the beauty and wonder of creation just as I have before. I have revisited the prayers and poems that have consecrated the brokenness and the beauty my life has born. And I return each sunday for worship in a space made holy by it’s gracious people and sacred by God’s willingness to show up and break open our hearts again and again.

Our Call To Worship this week at Friendship (see below) honors the way in which we return to what we know is sacred… the holy places in our lives – the geographic and the mystical – in order to rekindle, to listen, to learn and to experience God again and again.

holygroundApproaching God On Holy Ground

We have returned with Moses,

to the foot of the mountain

where we’ve seen you before O God.

Once again we will remove our shoes

and stand on this sacred ground.

We are looking for your word,

your promise,

your protection.

Reveal yourself to us again,

like you did on that ancient day

to the one who dared to answer,

“Here I am”.

Here we are, O God,

Curious

Hopeful

Attentive

Afraid

Listening

Ready

Open

Joyful

Surprised

Hungry

for your presence.

(614)

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Making promises…

Our biblical story for this week is Genesis 12:1-9. The epic Genesis story of God suddenly drops into the day to day reality of one man’s life. God chooses Abraham, and never really tells us why. God chooses Abraham and “invites” him on a great journey. There are times I’m up for a grand adventure, but in this story, if I were Abraham, I’m not so sure I would go.

Why in the world would I pack up my comfortable life on the word of a God I don’t know and have never met and wander the land for the rest of my life on the promise of a future I can’t possibly conceive of? 

It’s so hard to go, it’s so hard to move forward, to say yes to an unknown future and an unknown God. Would you stay or would you go? We will wrestle with your answers in worship and as our fall season of covenants and promises continues to unfold.

We Tell the Truth About Ourselves                                                                                  (At Friendship this is how we describe our time of Confession.)

Loving God, you have called us as your people,

but we don’t always want to be your pilgrim people,

called to be on the move,

from simple to complicated,

from safety to insecurity,

from comfortable to strange,

from what we know, to what we will never fully understand.

We don’t want to face where we fall short,

We don’t want to name the places,

we’ve dug in our heels and refused to be moved.

We don’t want to know the ways,

we keep the world from becoming safe and just for all of your children.

The journey from the homes we’ve made for ourselves

to a new home in you is not a journey we can make alone,

we need to know you are with us on the winding road, O God.

 

(540)

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