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Advent, Reflectionary, The Inner Landscape

Winter Wonderland

The monthly specials at my favorite office away from home, Cornerstone Coffeehouse.

I write this from the draftiest location in my favorite local coffee shop, overcrowded as everything seems to be in the onrush of Christmas. I spent the morning reading blogs written by clergywomen, mostly, and thinking about all the pastors I know while drinking a holiday-themed beverage called “Winter Wonderland.” My morning included a trip to the Post Office to send off one overdue package, one present I hope will come as a surprise to the recipient, and a padded envelope full of stocking stuffers for my daughter in Japan (the cost of the postage affixed thereunto being something I will have to explain when I get home).

My responsibilities are different from the past few years, as I am not serving a church, and I’ll admit that feels strange. I wonder if it isn’t true that having to craft and curate experiences for other people gave me a sense of purpose that made the mixed-up world feel closer to manageable. After all, if I accomplished Advent wreath liturgies and multiple bulletins for special services with all their moving parts, I had control over my little sliver of the universe.

Beautiful artwork by Hannah Garrity of A Sanctified Art, amateur coloring job by yours truly.

This Advent I am busy with other things and missing the familiar ones dearly. I am trying to look at my faith life as a regular person’s faith life. I’ve been coloring in the devotional booklet put together by the wonderful women artists of A Sanctified Art. This morning’s reading was from Psalm 80; those words and I have a long history of meditations, sermons, devotions I have written. They have lived inside my head.

Our meeting today was different. I don’t need to unpack them for anyone else, or embroider them for any liturgical or homiletical need to be met. I was able to let the words and the colored pencils work their way with me. In the loss of a familiar role, there is the luxury of being no one in particular this Advent.

Of course, I am sharing *that* thought with you. As the other preacher at my house said on Facebook just this morning, everything is sermon material.

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The Inner Landscape

No one but God knows

Last year not long after the election, we bought a faux birch tree with lights on it.

We brought it home and put it on the wide window ledge in our kitchen/dining room and plugged it in and admired it.

We never turned it off again.

Day and night, winter and spring and summer and fall, we have been waking up to the lights on that tree and coming home to the lights on that tree and eating breakfast, lunch, and dinner by the lights on that tree. It has been in the background of innumerable photographs; right now our ginger cat is sitting under it with his paw in the water dish.

Yet it has never become something we don’t notice.

As night impinges on day in these dwindling weeks before the Solstice, the little tree reminds us that even in a sad and terrible world, in a devastating political and cultural season, glimmers of goodness exist and there are means to defy the despair evil wants us to feel. By the lights on the little tree, we will call our representatives, and make donations to religious and civic organizations doing good work, and wrap packages and write cards for people we love, and play games and read books and hold hands and pray with them, too.

We will kiss, and we will cry, and we will rage and prepare to burn the whole thing down, and we will refill the cat’s water dish.

Jesus told the disciples that no one but God knows when the hour and the day will come.

In the meantime, I’m not sure what else any of us can do but stay awake and be ready for the moment when something we do or say can make a difference.

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Children, Church Life, Family, Reflectionary

Why would anyone go to church now?

“Why would anyone go to church now?”

The Boy wondered this, watching the news about the church shooting in Sutherland Springs, Texas. He has reached the age where he hears about the news at school, so we have become more open to having him hear and see things on TV, rather than trying to shield him from the hard things that happen. We need to be able to answer his questions ourselves. I don’t know if you have heard the common talk of 7th grade boys lately, but it definitely requires some counter-influences.

“Why would anyone go to church now?” He asked us again. “The doors are unlocked! Anyone could come in.”

It’s true that in church we are a special flock of sitting ducks, focused in one direction, both physically and spiritually. I rarely look around in church, when I am sitting in the pews, other than when we pass the peace. I estimate how large a crowd is behind me by the sounds they make. I’m trying not to seem overly interested in who is late, or whose children are making noise; I’m trying to be a good pastor’s wife.

Up front, as the pastor and preacher, it’s different. I’m counting heads, noting who is missing. But even then, I am not worrying about disaster, or I haven’t been, even though I know Kathryn has a plan in case someone dangerous comes into the sanctuary.

Experts offering their two cents worth on cable news recommended that churches review their emergency plans and look into security systems of staffing appropriate to their size and situation. Maybe, they suggested, someone in the congregation is already wearing a weapon to worship.

I know this is true in some of my colleague’s congregations.

“Why would anyone go to church now?”

It’s not clear yet what the shooter’s relationship to religion was. His social media accounts were quickly archived, but not so fast that some bad actors didn’t have a chance to create alternative “likes” and loyalties for him. What does seem to be clear is that a man with a history of domestic violence threatened his mother-in-law, and then he shot up the church she attended. This morning the President suggested that had a neighbor not fired at the shooter, there might have been hundreds of deaths. A better guess is had he not been given chase, his next stop would have been his mother-in-law’s house.

“Why would anyone go to church now?”

We did our best to reassure The Boy, pointing out that the shooter did not choose a church at random. I’m not sure how comforting that is, really. How was a guy who cracked his infant stepson’s skull out on the street to do this? He choked his wife; he punched his dog. Why don’t we take these clusters of behavior seriously? We don’t because we undervalue harm done to women/children, overvalue white men and their chance of a future. This is magnified when we add race, sexual orientation, gender identity to the victim side of the equation.

The permission given to this man to keep assaulting other people, the pattern of abuse he inflicted on others before Sunday, the ready availability of a weapon that can kill, terribly, so many people, so quickly – all these factors remain for other abusers, other men who cannot manage their anger or their disappointment or their frustration, who cannot resist the temptation of power and have the means available to deal out death.

Now if you are unwilling to serve the LORD, choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your ancestors served in the region beyond the River or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you are living; but as for me and my household, we will serve the LORD. (Joshua 24:15)

It might not be fair for me to make suggestions about what churches should do about their security when I am not serving one right now. Our own history as people of faith is problematic. Joshua and his house pledged to serve the Lord, but in the Promised Land, they used all their available weapons and powers to kill the people they saw as enemies, and to gain the land they wanted. They saw being the chosen ones as permission to deal out death. We should not be surprised that righteousness and power have been confused and conflated throughout human history.

Why would anyone go to church now? Our boy doesn’t drop his questions until he gets a satisfying answer, and he usually asks them again, just to be sure. We will go because it’s what we do, just like we ride on a bike path, or go to the movies, or attend a concert. We will go because most of us cannot maintain the kind of hyper-vigilance required to be on watch at all times. We will go because we want to be with the people we know and love. We will go for solace, and solidarity.

That is not enough.

I’m not saying this is easy. In the United States, we worship our guns like no other nation in the world, and some will say more guns are the answer. I do not believe this. We need to be direct in saying the god of guns is a false god. As much as I believe Jesus is among the grieving, I believe he is also pressing on his church to engage with the powers and principalities and say “No more!” Our culture privileges the powerful; often our church culture does the same. Yet we know Jesus proclaimed a preferential option for people who are marginalized and oppressed. We need the church to be a place where we talk about why mass shootings happen. We need to have those conversations and let God be part of them. We need to decide whether the church will be not just a voice speaking but a body acting to bring change in human priorities and understanding. If we have any power left as an institution, we must work together for good, in Jesus’s name.

I could stay screened here across the street, watching for unfamiliar vehicles and people, but I want more than the safe view from my window.

As for me and my household, we will serve the LORD.

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Orientation, Reflectionary

Queerfully Made

I’m giving thanks for the whole queer family today.

We are pastors, soldiers, legislators, moms and dads, single people, educators, coaches, artists, musicians, welders, bureaucrats, athletes, and administrators. We are tired, we are wrinkled, we are smooth and young; we are beautiful. We are young urban radicals, comparatively dull suburbanites, and hardworking outdoorsy folk. We are every race and shade, every shape and size, all religions and none.

We are funny, and sympathetic, and no better dancers than the rest of you, and sadly some are really terrible people, because we are human.

File Oct 31, 11 24 28 AMWe are the ones people look at twice and the ones people never identify as LGBTQIA+. We are the young cashier at the drive-through, and the brilliant professor in high heels, and the linebacker who hits the hardest, and the butch who looks smoking in a black t-shirt, and the spruce executive with the beautiful neckties, and at least one silver-haired mama wearing pearls and drinking a mocha at your local Starbucks.

We are fearfully and wonderfully made, in the image of God, whose diversity is beyond human imagining, categories, prejudices, and phobias.

Prayers for Pastors

Siempre más

My God
When we read the news
Morning or night
There is
Always more

More cruelty
More devastation
More prejudice
More suffering

Siempre más

My God
We wonder where to start
How to keep going

Listen to Jesus
And it is clear

By speaking truth
Gathering strength
Sharing resources
Offering comfort and
Outrage as needed

Always more

You give us what we need

Mind and heart
Body and spirit
To get the work done
To get the word out

Siempre más

No one can do it alone
We thank you for community
For catalysts and cohorts
For our connection in you

For Christ
Who is
Always more

Prayers for Pastors

To raise holy hell

To raise holy hellHoly One

You give us strength
To face oppressors
To fight injustice
To bear misunderstanding
To bring peace

To resist evil

You make us ready
To comfort the suffering
To encourage the humble
To call out the hypocrites
To equip the saints

To unsettle the satisfied

You call on us
To walk our talk
To sing Your song
To shout down evil
To take a knee

To raise holy hell

May we rise up
To the tasks set
When they are hard
And necessary
Unpopular and
Revolutionary

In the name of Jesus

Amen

Prayers for Pastors

Would we open the doors?

Dear God,

I ask myself,

Would we open the doors
On a Friday night
And shelter protestors?

Or would we stop short,
Worried about the police,
Or angry neighbors?

Would we turn off the lights,
Draw the blinds,
Hide in the office?

Or would we be ready
With water and cookies,
And first aid kits?

Would we welcome strangers,
For Your sake,
And keep them safe?

O God,
who opens doors,
I hope so.


(Offered with thanksgiving for Central Reform Congregation and University United Methodist Church in St. Louis and their hospitality to protestors this weekend.)