16 February 2018

Keeping a Holy Lent: Day 3

What do you say when there is nothing left to say?

Outside my window it is cloudy, windy, and rainy.
The bare trees bend and shift under the pressure of the storm.
The storm has lingered here.
Most of the week has looked like this.

If I could look inside my soul and describe what I saw there, the words would be the same.

This week the storm has lingered in my soul.

This isn't anxiety.
This isn't depression.
This isn't winter trying desperately to cling to the end of it's life.

This is different.

Just a few weeks ago we sang,
"The thrill of hope, a weary world rejoices! 
For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn!"

As the words crossed my own lips I remember thinking,
"Perhaps by singing into existence, it will be so."

And for a brief time it was.

But the calendar always turns back to Lent.

We cannot stay in the hope and the joy of Christmas Eve for too long.
Because we live in a weary, broken world.

Lent is hard.
I don't like it.
I want to bypass the hurt and the suffering.
I want to ignore my own sins, my own brokenness, my own weariness.

As the seasons are wrestling between winter and spring, so my soul wrestles between hope and weariness.

I know the end of the story.
I know that Easter is coming.
I know that resurrection happens and that this weariness doesn't get the final word.

But today ...

Today in Parkland, FL two families will lay their children to rest.
Today the families of Meadow Pollack (18) and Alyssa Alhadaff (14) live the weariness.
15 more families will follow suit.
And nothing will change for the rest of us.
Life will go on, laws will stay the same, another violent crime will happen, and we will reel again.

Ella is 13.
Every day she goes off to a school.
She does her thing.
She has lunch with her friends, plays her horn, does her homework, and speculates about the upcoming Marching Band show.
I wonder sometimes if it crosses her mind that any given day it could happen at her school.
I wonder how often she catches a glimpse of someone in her school that makes her uncomfortable.
I wonder if she is ever scared to go.

Because I do.
Pretty often, actually.
Not every day, no.  But often.
Often I wonder, "Will it be today?"
Please not today, God.
Not my kid.
Not her school.
Please not today.

There's a weariness in that like none other I have ever known.
Anxiety exhausts me.
Conflict exhausts me.
Political posturing exhausts me.
Life exhausts me.

But those are temporary.
The weariness that comes with raising a daughter in a violent culture is one that never ends.
If we keep things like they are now, the day will NEVER come when I don't worry for the safety of her life.

As every parent knows, you don't stop worrying about your child because they've grown up.  They will always be your kid.

So where do we go?
What do we do?
How do we find hope in the weariness?

We don't.
Not yet.
Lent calls us to sit in it.
To explore it.
To make peace with ourselves in the midst of the brokenness.
To find God in the woundedness.

Because even Jesus knew the weariness of this world.
And that is what Lent calls us to remember:

Cry with us the brutality
grieve with us the misery
tremble with us the poverty and hurt.

(excerpt from Walter Brueggemann's prayer, cited in Awed to Heaven, Rooted in Earth)

Lord come quickly!

14 February 2018

Keeping a Holy Lent: Day 1

Ashes to ashes,
dust to dust.
From dust you were made,
and to dust you shall return.

Lent is a discipline I have only recently learned to practice.

I grew up in a Southern Baptist church, with a Southern Baptist family, and Southern Baptist friends.  Anything that would have involved a liturgical calendar or a marked cross would have been seen as "Catholic" and therefore, to be avoided (Catholics worship the Saints, we were told).

When I was first introduced to the concept of Liturgical Time, and Lent in particular, I pushed back against it.  I was raised knowing of my mortality, my sinfulness, and my utter dependence on God for the health and security of my soul.  I didn't want to take 6 weeks every year and think about it again.  I was tired of being told I was a sinner, in need of God's grace.  My sinfulness kept me awake at night for years; I had finally cast it off and didn't want to spend time reflecting on it again.

But what I have learned is that sinfulness cannot be cast off once.

It has to be cast off again and again.
Because we sin again and again.

Even today as yet another school shooting becomes a headline, I am reminded that we are but dust.  
Life is so fragile.
This life that we're living - the one where we are in constant relationship with each other - we throw away our chances at holiness every day.

Every day we see another in front of us and we view them as expendable.
As here to meet our own needs.
As a stepping stone to get where we want to go.
As an object of our humor.
As a label.

These fragile creatures, made of nothing more than dust ...?
They're our brothers and sisters.
And we sin against them every day.

So this year, I am taking the time to write about Lent.
I am taking a few minutes each day to spend reflecting on what it means to be dust, destined to return to dust.

I will sit with these ashes.
I will mourn my sinfulness toward these beloved children of God.
I will find myself complicit in systems of injustice.
I will listen more.
I will find new and holy ways to be human in this world.

Because it will not be long until this flesh of mine returns to the Earth.
The day is surely coming soon when I will have no more chances to be God's breath and life in this world.

Lent is hard.
It is sad.
It is brokenness.

Just like this life.

And it should not be ignored.

Will you join me?

13 December 2017


On March 4, 2015 - just 3 days before the 50th anniversary of Bloody Sunday - I took a pilgrimage.

I didn't know when I stepped onto that bus that it was a pilgrimage.
I thought it was a field trip.
I have never been more wrong.

I was attending Black Ministers Retreat with the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) as a representative for the seminary.  My job was to recruit potential students and to build relationships with pastors.  I had done that for a few years, and I enjoyed that portion of my job, so I decided I would "join them on their trip" to Selma.  It would be a neat experience to be there!

And then the anxiety set in.
I almost didn't go.
The thought of getting on a bus full of near-strangers and being "trapped" there for an hour was almost too much to bear.
But I didn't want to admit to my disorder that day, so I boarded the bus.

I sat with one of my white colleagues and we chatted about kids and grandkids and a variety of other meaningless things.
And then I heard Dale speaking.
I realized that he was talking about growing up right along this road.  The road from Selma to Montgomery.  The road the marchers walked.  And I was drawn to listen.

He talked about who lived in which farm.
Who allowed the marchers to rest there.
Where the marchers were in the most danger.
Which day it was when they stopped there.
I was enthralled.

And then we got to Selma.

I stepped off of that bus and realized I was in a holy place.
Selma is a sleepy little town in Alabama - it doesn't seem too big.
It's just across the bridge and feels like a blue collar sort of place.
I confess I don't know much about the makeup of Selma now or then, but I know it felt like I had stepped into history when my feet touched the ground there.

There was an air of reverence among my colleagues.


I was aware of the whiteness of my skin in that place.
It certainly was not that I was unwelcomed by them; I was embraced warmly!
But I was aware that 50 years prior, I didn't know which side of that bridge I would have been on.

I like to believe I would have marched with them.
But I will never know.
I will never know because we are products of our history.
Of the story we have been told about who we are and who the "others" are.

Selma changed me that day.
Selma and my colleagues (now friends) taught me that there is always more to the story than we are told in our history books and on the news.
I learned that yes, Selma was about the right to vote.
But Selma was about so much more.
Selma was about being treated like human beings.
About being heard.
About being recognized as fully human and fully American.

And I came to understand that I had never been told otherwise about myself.
The sheer fact that I was born with this pasty cream skin means that no one has ever questioned my value as a citizen of this country.  No one has ever considered me 3/5 of a person.  No one has ever shackled me - physically or politically.

Selma was about so much more than the vote.
Selma was about being heard.

It is nearing 3 years since I took that pilgrimage to Selma.
And this morning Selma is on my heart.
Because last night, Selma once again changed Alabama's history.

The box of votes that elected the first Alabama Democrat to the U.S. Senate in 25 years came from Selma.  The Selma box got Doug Jones elected last night.
And it was chock full of votes.
Of black men and women.

Of people who 53 years ago risked their lives and the lives of their loved ones so that this moment could one day happen.

Selma taught me that the hope of this nation is in the perseverance and patience of my African-American brothers and sisters.  It taught me that 3 years ago and it reminded me last night.  The future of this nation is not in the hands of white men and women; it is in the hands of my black and brown brothers and sisters, and for that I am grateful.

White women, we have got to open our eyes.  We need to look at the world around us.  We need to realize that we, too, have been duped by this nation.  We need to understand that our privilege is a gift.  I will never understand why 63% of white women voters in Alabama willingly chose to vote for a man who has repeatedly broken the law - as a Judge no less - and who is accused of molesting young girls!  Yes they're "just" accusations, but you and I both know that we would never make that up.

So why would they?
Why would these women wait 40 years to talk about it?
Because it's shameful and because we just want to forget.
We don't want to think about our #metoo moment ever again.

And yet ...
And yet 63% of white women in Alabama stuffed their #metoo moment down deep inside and voted for a man who doesn't see them as fully human - you're a commodity to him.

We have much to learn from our black and brown siblings, my friends.
We need to learn that we have allies and friends in our sisters and brothers of color.
We need to learn that you can be a Christian and a Democrat at the same time.
We need to learn that being against abortion is not the only thing that makes you pro life.
We need to recognize that our voice could be powerful and we really could make changes in this nation that benefit ALL of us!

I know you.
I know your hearts.
If you're reading this and you're a white woman, you're probably a personal friend of mine.
And I know how much you love people.
I know you want to make sure that kids aren't hungry and our schools are safe.
And I know we disagree on how to make that happen.
But here's the thing ...

Voting for an accused pedophile who has repeatedly broken the law he swore to uphold and defend?
That's not your heart.
That's your loyalty.
It's loyalty to all that you've been taught your whole life.

You've been taught that Good Christians are Republicans because Republicans are pro-life.
You've been taught that your faith and your values need to be in Washington.
You've been taught that elected officials want what's best for you.

I'm not telling you you're wrong; you're entitled to your beliefs.
I'm simply asking you to listen.
Listen to your hearts.
Because I know those hearts.
And I know that these are complicated issues and scary days.

But I also know that when I allowed my heart to be opened that day at Selma, I saw the world differently.  

My prayer is that you would, too.

12 December 2017

Jose y Maria: Living Advent

I longed for the week where we celebrate Peace.
It has arrived.
And yet, it has been a week full of anxiety.
The anxiety disorder I live with doesn't ask what the liturgical calendar says.
It runs amok inside my brain whenever and however it wants.

And yet ...
And yet this week, my thoughts have been of Mary.
(And yes, I know ... next week is Mary's week!)
What must it have been like?
I suspect it was much like this:

Jose y Maria by Everett Patterson

They don't look very peaceful, do they?
And they don't look like the beatific images we put on our Christmas cards.
No, we want to judge these people.
We want to know what they did to get themselves into this mess.
We want to know why it is our responsibility to help them out now.
Just by looking at them, we think we know their story.

And I am absolutely convinced we aren't unique in that.  I'm sure the people of Bethlehem and Nazareth and a little town outside of Jerusalem had the same thoughts.
Talk about anxiety!

But I've learned some new things this week about Mary's story.
I've learned that church tradition says Joseph may have lived in Bethlehem, meaning their relationship was a long distance one.
I've come to realize that Elizabeth and Zechariah would have had to live near the Temple (because he's a Priest), and so they would have lived in or near Jerusalem.
Do you know how far Jerusalem is from Nazareth, where Mary lived?
It's about 93 miles.
Which Mary would have traveled on foot - on a donkey if she was lucky, but probably not.
While she was pregnant.
To visit a relative she may or may not have known.
Mary may not have yet told her parents.
She may not have yet told Joseph.

And yet, when Gabriel offered her the job of "Mother of Jesus," she accepted.
Despite all that she had to have known it would mean for her.
Despite the stigma.
Despite the shame.
Despite the risk of her literal life. (Joseph could have had her stoned for adultery!)

Mary could have said no.
Nowhere in the text does it indicate that Mary was forced into this.
Nothing seems to imply that Mary is already impregnated when Gabriel comes to her.
She could have said, "Oh, that's too much!  I don't think I can do that."

Joseph could have said no.
He could have "put Mary away quietly."
But he didn't.
He didn't ask for this - and the visitor to his dream didn't ask him if it was ok with him if Mary bore the Son of God.
Joseph agrees to this, anyway.

He takes on Mary's story.
He chooses to believe her and the messengers.
He chooses a life he never anticipated without knowing what would come of it.

It makes my struggles over viruses and lack of sunlight and busy schedules seem pretty trivial.

I am grateful that I am not living the life of Mary and Joseph.
I am grateful that no one asked me to take on a life like theirs.
Because God knows I probably wouldn't have handled it as well as they did.

But one of the things I'm wrestling with this week is that somewhere in the midst of all of that mess, Mary made peace with her own story.
And I need to make peace with mine, too.
Somewhere in the midst of all of the pain and the struggles and the heartache and the tears, there has to be a place where I can be ok with who I am.
Who God made me to be.
And where this journey is taking me.

And that, I believe, will lead me to find Peace.

Do I want World Peace?
Of course.
Do I think that there are political and economic ways to work toward that?
Of course.

But I don't believe it will happen until individual people can begin to come to terms with their own stuff.  I don't believe we'll ever be able to have peace in our homes or our churches or our world until we can have peace in our hearts.  And that has to begin with me.  It has to begin with me making peace with my story, my journey, my life and choosing to live into all that God wants me to be.  If I can begin to find peace in my own soul and you can begin to find peace in your soul, perhaps we can begin to live together in unity.

May it be so.

05 December 2017

Two Fires and a Funeral: Living Advent

Twenty years ago this week (tomorrow, specifically), a fire broke out in a dorm at Greenville College.  I was a junior.  I woke that morning knowing something was wrong - the air just felt different as soon as I drew my first breath.  It was eerily quiet, like the whole campus was holding her breath.  Within a matter of minutes I learned that the dorm had burned to the ground and a Senior, Joel Pierce, had died in the fire.

Nine years ago this week (yesterday, specifically), a fire broke out in the sanctuary of Immanuel Baptist Church in Paducah.  I was the Associate Pastor there, and I was in the building when it started.  It was the middle of the workday and the offices were bustling with people.  We had no idea when those first sparks caught what was about to become of our story.  The sanctuary was destroyed.  The walls and the stained glass were essentially all that survived.

Two years ago this week (the 3rd, specifically), a little girl in Iowa drew her last breath.  An accident in surgery just days after her birth caused brain damage and some paralysis that made every breath she drew in her 14 months of life, a tough one.  She was Milly Bles, and she was the single most amazing little girl I have ever known. 

What is it about this first week of Advent that beckons me to remember the sadness? 
I am sure there are other weeks in my life marked by such poignant events over the course of decades. 
But there is something about knowing that this grief happened during the week marked by Hope.  Something draws me to the pain, calls me to remember it. 
Every year.

The first winter rain streams down outside today. 
It feels like even the Bluegrass knows my sadness. 
And I wonder about the living of these days.

Living the advent journey begins with hope.
In my tears and frustration earlier this week, I said to a colleague,
"Why can't it be the week of Peace?  I need to hear that lesson this week."
But it can't be.

It can't be because in order to get to peace, you have to live through hope.
Hope doesn't happen when life is good.
Hope is found in the darkness.
In the hardest times.
In our weakness.

We don't need hope when all is right in the world.
We need hope when it all falls apart.

It has been a week of reflecting.
Of remembering.
Of storing up the memories of Greenville, Immanuel, and Wonder Milly's Team.
Of absorbing again the community found in each of those places.
Because it is in that remembering that I see God.

It is in the remembering of dark days that I can also see where God has walked alongside us.

Once the worst of the darkness is over, when dawn is on the horizon, we are able to see that God was present all along. 
That God has been at work in our midst. 
That she grieves with us. 
That she hopes with us.

And maybe that is part of living the advent story, too.
The walk through the darkness cannot be skipped over.
The journey to the manger doesn't begin with peace.
It has to begin with hope.
Hope for something better.
Hope for a new song to sing.
Hope in the darkness.

Even when it feels like the darkness will never end,
there is Hope.