Emptiness. A holy beginning. Green Liturgy 2016: Praying with Creation.

21 Nov

img_5246

Genesis 2:7
John 20: 19-28

Deep gratitude to my friends, colleagues and co-conspirators: Juan Carlos La Puente and my Mexican and Oregon compañerxs!

I want to share with you
breathing meditation
gifted to me in these past weeks…
that has helped me catch my breath.

Breathing in, we receive.
Breathing out, we give
In the stillness between, in the emptiness,
we belong.

Receive.
Give.
Belong.

Receive.
Give.
Belong.

The “top of the world”
will tell you —
that there is something wrong
with emptiness.
Something deficient,
less than,
weak.
And, wherever there is emptiness
you should fill it.

And do they have a product
for you — or an answer,
the only answer.

My friend, organizer,
and theologian Juan Carlos La Puente
defines the “top of the world”
as powers of:
DOMINATION,
HEGEMONY,
PRIVILEGE.

I don’t know about you all
but I’ve been wandering around
these past couple weeks:
It’s now been twelve days,
yes I’m still counting,
in a state of:
“I don’t know.”

And, that makes me terribly
uncomfortable, particularly
as a person raised in a dominant culture
that makes literally no room,
no time, no space
for the throwing up hands
and the: I don’t know.

I was supposed to know the answer
before I took the class.
I was supposed to be the answer
or what was I good for?
I was supposed to convince you of the answer
or I had failed.

So, in the wake of Tuesday,
November 8, and the election
of a President (I’m still working on getting
that word out) that appears
through his appointments
to be fulfilling a racist, xenophobic
“top of the world” agenda
I recognize that I’ve been
wandering around consuming
more than usual:
a little more (okay, a lot more)
facebook, a little more food,
a little more alcohol,
a little more Ikea —
yes, I admit it, we took a trip to Ikea
which, I know sucks out my soul
promptly at the 30 minute mark.
I’ve timed it:
First 30 minutes, the high of new stuff.
The next second: the depression
when I realize I’m standing in a warehouse
picking up balls of frozen meat packaged
in Sweden
next to a throw pillow
with birds on it. And tea lights.
You can always use more tea lights.
(I really went looking for light in Ikea?!)

(It struck me that some of you
in this room have probably
never been to Ikea — oh,
that’s why I love this community so.
You keep me grounded.)

I’m also aware that on any given night
I could be attending no less than fifty
facebook events locally in response
to the election aftermath.

I want to be clear: I’m not criticizing
any particular event. If not for my partner
with whom I have a strict no more than two
night events out a week (okay three
on occasion) I’d probably be flying around this city
night after night, event after event. I notice the guilt
that bubbles up when I don’t react.
I notice my own, perhaps OUR OWN
discomfort sitting in the: I don’t know.
Discomfort with our empty hands.
Discomfort with the emptiness.

But, if DOMINATION
(There is only one answer,
and someone will need to be sacrificed)
and HEGEMONY
(I/We lead the solution
and decide who gets sacrificed)
and PRIVILEGE
(I can insulate myself and appear clean,
while you get sacrificed)
got us here,
what is the response…?

I think about Dr. King’s wisdom:
Darkness cannot drive out darkness,
only light can do that.
Hate cannot drive out hate,
only love can do that.

If frenetic answers
that fill up every inch of space
essentially insulating us from one another —
and I will tell you,
it has been a rare event
lately that I leave
in which there was to space to actually
turn to my neighbor,
a new neighbor
and have a conversation.
No space, just speeches,
prayer, action…
or more like, reaction.

If frenetic answers
got us here,
might emptiness
be the holy beginning
of a different kind
of action?

Might emptiness
be breathing space
for God?

In Genesis’ second creation story
the clay, the dust, where there was no life
becomes the space through which
God breathes life,
the emptiness from which we come.

And, in the Gospel of John,
it is into the emptiness of grief,
even despair — locked up in fear:
where Jesus enters and comes among,
breathing: Peace.

Now “peace” — shalom — for Jesus,
did not mean the absence of tension or conflict.
No, shalom means “wholeness,” particularly with respect
to the presence of God. Jesus breathes on them
the Holy Spirit, God’s very presence. And, God’s presence
in relationship to the community always, always means
the movement toward right relationship, God’s justice
where no one is sacrificed,
where there is enough,
everyone, everyone has what they need.

I’m trying to imagine
Jesus arriving, finding the disciples
huddled around with knives and spears
in full armor, working out a war strategy.
Would they have even noticed him.
Would there have been space
for this peace. Or, would they have just picked up
the very same tools of their Roman oppressors.

So, it strikes me:
perhaps the emptiness of
“I don’t know,” even grief,
moments of despair,
fear — can be holy beginnings…

…space…for God to breath through.

For, “I don’t know” invites curiosity,
wonder, the open-eared, open-handed,
open-hearted space for the other
who arrives with their very presence,
their open-wounded presence,
bearing Peace.

So, I’m making friends with “I don’t know.”
Noticing spaces of silence,
and rather than trying to fill them —
attend to them,
which is letting them be.
Remembering,
emptiness: breathing space for God.

Noticing spaces where the reaction
wells up, the guilt, the shame…
and letting them be.
Remembering,
emptiness: breathing space for God.

Noticing spaces of unknowing —
where I don’t know the neighbor
and getting curious, honoring
that space between.
Remembering,
emptiness: breathing space for God.

I’m not going to an event
or holding an event
where I will not feel the emptiness of unknowing,
where I am not encountering the other,
where there is no space to hold the space
between and bear the emptiness of our wounds.
And, if that space isn’t prepared for me,
I am going to make that space…

Emptiness: the holy dwelling space for wholeness,
the arrival of Peace
dressed in flesh
and bearing wounds.

I want to be clear:
I’m not advocating for silence
in the face of hate.
I’m not advocating for inaction
in the face of death-dealing action.

I’m just wondering if emptiness
may be the first action…
from which justice will flow.

I know. It’s as wild as
the wounded and crucified body being the one
from which resurrection and all life comes…

+Amen.

Preached among Salt & Light Lutheran Church
and Leaven Community
in Portland, Oregon
on November 20, 2016.

The storm rages.

16 Nov

14976377_10210908665891720_2208798552742822547_o-1Isaiah 65:17-25
Luke 21:5-19

(Singing)
Peace be still.
Peace be still.
The storm rages.
Peace be still.

Peace be still.
Peace be still.
The storm rages.
Peace be still.

The storm rages…

The world, my world even,
seems different somehow
in the wake of Tuesday’s quake.
And, I know, in some ways
it is just getting started.

These were not the scripture texts
that I had originally chosen
for this week — it was to be “breath,
wind Sunday” of our Green Liturgy
and I had picked some really
breathy-windy texts
to blow through here.

And then Tuesday happened
and I couldn’t find my breath
and in the way it sometimes does
the lectionary — those assigned texts
shared among many Christians —
suddenly came alive in an all too
familiar way. And, this Sunday
of all Sundays, I didn’t want to go it
alone. (To be honest,
the idea of preaching today on Wednesday
made me want to throw up.
But…preach we must.)
There is a power to preaching
what my brothers and sisters up the street
and down the street are preaching,
what my brothers and sisters
across the country and the world
are preaching, in each their own
cadence and language
that I need.

I need the cacophony of voices
(will you sing with me?):

Peace be still.
Peace be still.
The storm rages.
Peace be still.

These scriptures from Isaiah and Luke
may be jarring, may be hopeful
and they are meant to be — all of it.
The both/and, encompassing
the complexity
and paradox
of where we find ourselves,
our country,
our world in this moment.

Both scriptures are apocalyptic.
If you look up this word
in the dictionary, you will get
something like: “the total destruction
of the world.” However,
dig to the etymology,
the root meaning of the word
is: “to uncover.”

Much has been uncovered
in the last week,
no?

I will speak for myself:
I am seeing and feeling in ways
I did not see or feel before.
I see the very real bigotry
and hate that was seething
below the surface now given
permission, somehow, to rear up. I see
and taste the fear that many of my more
marginalized brothers and sisters
experience on a daily basis.
I see that more people are suffering,
struggling, more disenfranchised
particularly throughout the middle swath
of our country
than I realized or cared to
attend to.

I am awake
and it sucks
and it also means
I see what is:

the beauty and strength
and flexibility of the sinews
of relationship all around me
that stretch outward
beyond my comprehension.

Over the past 108 hours…
yes, I’m counting,
I have engaged in more honest,
vulnerable, heart-centered
conversations than in the last months.
I have held
and been held by you.
I’ve told more people
that I love them — it seems time
for truth telling, am I right?

Within 12 hours I gathered
in a church fellowship hall with 75
of my inter-faith colleagues,
many of whom I had heard of
but never seen face-to-face.

Within 20 hours I gathered
with forty-five of you, our Wilderness Way
comrades, and your friends
invited out of their deep need —
and after finding one another’s eyes
in the circle, finding one another’s stories
in conversations, and in the wake
of our public laments — standing up,
moving into the center of the circle
lighting a candle, speaking out loud,
preaching of that which
must be uncovered,
of which we must not,
cannot be silent,
we sang:

Peace be still.
Peace be still.
The storm rages.
Peace be still.

I have no doubt that there are fellow preachers
preaching these texts in a way —
pointing to the events of Tuesday
as a sign of the destruction of what has been
and the new order that is rising.
However, if we assign that reality
to any administration,
particularly one built on
division and exclusion and the ripping apart
of families and communities:
then…we have lost the point
of these scriptures,
these ancient love letters to a people
marginalized and in pain
that really do preach
into our time, our places,
our homes
our hearts.

Both write to communities for whom
the promises of God are not self-evident.
People looking around like:
What the hell is going on?!
Love wins?! I thought Love Wins?!

And what they offer in the midst
is a holy, prophetic vision to hold in the mind’s eye
of the community:

“They shall build houses and inhabit them;
they shall plant vineyards and eat their fruit.
They shall not build and another inhabit;
they shall not plant and another eat;
for like the days of a tree shall the days of my people be,
and my chosen shall long enjoy the work of their hands.

The wolf and the lamb shall feed together,
the lion shall eat straw like the ox;
They shall not hurt or destroy
on all my holy mountain.”

A holy vision to check ourselves
and the hucksters against!

And the promise that God —
the God who creates out of the chaos,
the God who bears the cross and pulls life with newborn cries,
eternally resilient, from the bowels of the tomb —
is there, here,
the embodiment of the holy vision itself,
getting started,
at ground zero.

And I know my ground zero,
but where is my neighbor’s —
the stranger is the neighbor, remember?
I may just have to go
and find out:
because that is where
the life is.
There, in the space between
filled with story, where speak
what we cannot, will not keep silent,
and find common ground,
or step onto new ground.
That is where the holy vision
gets enfleshed
and peace starts to sing:

Peace be still.
Peace be still.
The storm rages.
Peace be still.

I am unnerved
and grateful for the brutal honesty
spoken by the Gospel writers
of Luke about what this could/will mean:
“But before this occurs,
they will arrest you and persecute you,
they will hand you over to the religious authorities
profiting from empire, and prisons
making money off oppression and suppression
and you will be brought before kings
and governors
because of my name.

This will give you the opportunity to testify.”

This could sound like bad news,
but when you are being hauled away
by the authorities for your documentation status
it becomes very good news.

And when we hold that holy vision in the center
of community and don’t turn a blind eye
when they come for our neighbor, or us,
it becomes very good news.

We might say:
Well, we don’t know if that will happen.
Except, it is already happening.
It is just now uncovered.

I have been thinking a lot about Dietrich Bonhoeffer
these last days, and his own experience
leading the Confessing Church in Nazi Germany
and that uncovering.
Ya’ll are hanging with a Lutheran congregation,
so, this is one radical piece (Lutherans haven’t gotten so radical
in the past 500 years,
so we gotta really pay attention when we do)
of your tradition now —

He wrote:
“We are not to simply bandage the wounds of victims
beneath the wheels of injustice.
We are to drive a spoke into the wheel itself.”

We will testify to this vision
with our hearts,
our bodies,
this whole body —
grieving
afraid,
broken,
bloodied,
singing,
rising,
alive:

Peace be still.
Peace be still.
The storm rages.
Peace be still.

Ever since Wednesday, I cannot stop singing it.
I’ve sung it in the car,
doing the dishes,
under my breath in the grocery store,
silently in my head to the clerk,
rocking Brigid to sleep
as I weep
and sing:

Peace be still.
Peace be still.
The storm rages.
Peace be still.

When I sing it
I can hear all your voices
singing it too.
You who gathered,
you who could not be there,
you who didn’t even get word
that we were gathering
on a dime,
you all out there
who grieve, fear, and defiantly hope.
I can hear you all — your voices.
The way they come together,
weave into one another,
my voice is not alone
echoing through my body
as I put one foot in front
of the other,
pickup the pen,
pickup my child,
pickup my neighbor
pickup my voice,
my wailing voice —
I have found my breath —
that will not, cannot be silent and sing:

Peace be still.
Peace be still.
The storm rages.
Peace be still…

+Amen.

Preached among Salt & Light Lutheran Church
and Leaven Community
Portland, OR
Sermon 11/13/2016

The gospel is queer: a sermon and communion. Pentecost 2016 — Solidarity in the Spirit.

24 Jun

Sunday, June 19, 2016
Pride Weekend, Salt & Light Lutheran Church and Leaven Community, Portland, OR
Isaiah 65:1-9
Luke 8:26-39

13458574_10209709527241453_4707488621022685351_o

I checked in with Maggie Starr
and her partner Sara this week in the wake
of the Orlando massacre.
How are you doing?
How are you coping?

“We are going to pride this weekend
in mourning, in solidarity, in celebration.”
Maggie explained: “One of the great
queer wisdoms is revelry
in the face of death!” She concluded:
“There will be booze
and rainbows — halleluiahs!”

“Sounds like Easter Vigil,”
I said. “YES!” she said.

These texts this morning
from Isaiah and Luke echo wisdoms
through the ages into the dynamism
of the tragedy of early last Sunday morning
the wake we, the survivors, are left to live in —
the wake of grief, of guilt, of pain.

I looked into another queer sister’s face
this week and for the first time
saw her fear. Real, terrorized, fear.
It was a wake up from the spin and haze
of a world with its slick soothe-sayers
distracting us from seeing one another’s

vulnerability and full worth. Her eyes were YHWH
from the words of Isaiah
crying out: HERE I AM HERE I AM
so so ready to be found — meanwhile
a people stuck in the spin and haze of perpetuating shame
and fear and death: to the point
that one would go open fire
in an attempt to snuff out that I AM.

That beautiful I AM. That our lives
would be distorted to the point
that we would find better things to distract us
than beating guns into plowshares
and blessing one another — continually. Bless you.
Bless you. Bless you. Beautiful HERE I AM.

I don’t like to consider a pissed off, angry God,
because the church has so often preached that God
into the beautiful eyes of the most vulnerable. (Interestingly,
that was not the intended audience of the prophets.) But,
if God is Love that holds the whole world
and beyond, then within that heavenly Heart are pieces
maimed and maiming, stealing life, breaking
and dying,

and God’s own heart must be breaking, must be dying
and part of the divine grief process —
I mean, if God has a grief process, which would be anthropomorphizing God, I know —
but, that’s how badass God is: to hold it all
while simultaneously slipping into the thick of it and climbing up on that cross with us
and being broken open — and so, YES, then God
I imagine, to be grieving, and perhaps, really really ANGRY…
thank GOD.

‘Cause there is something worse, I can imagine,
than a righteously angry God —
an indifferent God.
Like an indifferent Congress.

But there is a difference between God’s anger
born of Love — a love that creates all life — and anger born of self-preserving fear,
born of shame — that only perpetrates and perpetuates death.

It is an anger that, rather than bombing Legion in retaliation,
seeks out Legion. Ah, of course we would find
Legion in the texts for this Sunday. Legion, named aptly in Luke,
gone mad, the sins of the empire
moving into his soul, gripping his life. Legion who bears the name
and the weight of the death-dealing army
of his oppressors. Legion — who we might also name:
Omar Mateen? Oh, that we would find
Omar Mateen in these texts this morning?!

Omar Mateen, the carnage of our religious
and political systems of greed, fear and shame.
His nakedness masked with
an assault rifle. And there, Jesus goes
seeking out Legion — the one whose demons
have driven him into utter desolation,
utter isolation, scanning social media as he killed,
beyond all life, to live among the tombs,
into the land of the dead.

What does it mean
that Jesus goes into the land
of the dead and seeks out Legion?

Could it mean
that the heart of God enters into the carnage
and claims even Omar Matteen?

That would mean
that the demons
don’t win.

That would mean
that the systems of greed, fear and shame
don’t win.

That would even mean
that death — the death
perpetrated on the 49 beautiful lives
early last Sunday
doesn’t win.
For, from the cruciform heart of God
their souls cry out HERE I AM!

I’ve deduced that the gospel is queer.
For it is the goodnews of God’s revelry
in the face of death.
Divine Revelry through which the hungry are fed,
the lame walk, legions find peace,
and the dead — they climb out of tombs
and dance!

For, what does Jesus do in the face of his own death —
he gathers with his friends and enemies in the promise of God’s love,
breaks bread, and raises a glass…

Booze and rainbows…and Alleluias!

This is my body…
This is my blood…
HERE I AM!

+Amen.

We gather around the table…

In the face of death, we join with Jesus — his friends and enemies — around the table to eat together and raise a glass:

In the night in which he was betrayed
our Lord Jesus took bread
gave thanks
broke it
and gave it to his disciples saying:
take and eat
this is my body
given for you
do this for the remembrance of me.

In this body are all bodies,
particularly the broken bodies —
beautiful bodies
queer bodies
brown bodies
beautiful bodies
filled with holes
lying on cement
filling morgues.
The bodies that once lived
once loved, once danced
and each body that mourns
that fears
that cries out: Why have you forsaken me?

We now name those bodies we carry in our own body:
(We read aloud the names of all who died in Orlando, lighting a candle for each.)

Stanley Almodovar III, 23 years old
Amanda Alvear, 25 years old
Oscar A Aracena-Montero, 26 years old
Rodolfo Ayala-Ayala, 33 years old
Antonio Davon Brown, 29 years old
Darryl Roman Burt II, 29 years old
Angel L. Candelario-Padro, 28 years old
Juan Chevez-Martinez, 25 years old
Luis Daniel Conde, 39 years old
Cory James Connell, 21 years old
Tevin Eugene Crosby, 25 years old
Deonka Deidra Drayton, 32 years old
Simon Adrian Carrillo Fernandez, 31 years old
Leroy Valentin Fernandez, 25 years old
Mercedez Marisol Flores, 26 years old
Peter O. Gonzalez-Cruz, 22 years old
Juan Ramon Guerrero, 22 years old
Paul Terrell Henry, 41 years old
Frank Hernandez, 27 years old
Miguel Angel Honorato, 30 years old
Javier Jorge-Reyes, 40 years old
Jason Benjamin Josaphat, 19 years old
Eddie Jamoldroy Justice, 30 years old
Anthony Luis Laureanodisla, 25 years old
Christopher Andrew Leinonen, 32 years old
Alejandro Barrios Martinez, 21 years old
Brenda Lee Marquez McCool, 49 years old
Gilberto Ramon Silva Menendez, 25 years old
Kimberly Morris, 37 years old
Akyra Monet Murray, 18 years old
Luis Omar Ocasio-Capo, 20 years old
Geraldo A. Ortiz-Jimenez, 25 years old
Eric Ivan Ortiz-Rivera, 36 years old
Joel Rayon Paniagua, 32 years old
Jean Carlos Mendez Perez, 35 years old
Enrique L. Rios, Jr., 25 years old
Jean C. Nives Rodriguez, 27 years old
Xavier Emmanuel Serrano Rosado, 35 years old
Christopher Joseph Sanfeliz, 24 years old
Yilmary Rodriguez Solivan, 24 years old
Edward Sotomayor Jr., 34 years old
Shane Evan Tomlinson, 33 years old
Martin Benitez Torres, 33 years old
Jonathan Antonio Camuy Vega, 24 years old
Juan P. Rivera Velazquez, 37 years old
Luis S. Vielma, 22 years old
Franky Jimmy Dejesus Velazquez, 50 years old
Luis Daniel Wilson-Leon, 37 years old
Jerald Arthur Wright, 31 years old

(We pop the cork on the champagne and fill the cup…)
After supper, Jesus took the cup
gave thanks
and gave it for all to drink saying:
this is the new covenant in my blood
shed for you
and for all people
for the forgiveness of sins and the healing of the world
do this for the remembrance of me.

In this cup is all blood:
all blood spilled,
all blood lost,
all blood that brothers line up to give,
all blood rejected.

(Raising cup and bread)

In this body are all bodies.
In this cup is all blood.
And so, we take and eat and drink and live and love and dance
and, so, those bodies, they rise
and they take and eat and live and love and dance
and love is love is love is love is love
with no period

All are welcome to God’s table without exception!

This is my body…
This is my blood…
HERE I AM!

+++

Your hands are made for resurrection. Easter 2

6 Apr

IMG_6185 - Version 2

John 20:19-31

“Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands,
and put my finger in the mark of the nails
and my hand in his side,
I will not believe.”

Brigid, I have wondered about your hands
since they first curled around
my finger the day your were born.
“Piano hands!” I declared to your grandfather,
over the phone, describing your long
wispy fingers. “Yes!” he declared.

In toddlerhood, now, it is harder to tell.
They are appropriately pudgy
and active — covered with minor cuts
and dirt below the fingernails — signs of a true
Northwest kid whose parents
prioritize an extra hour of diggin’ in the dirt
or anything, really,
over and above
a bath.

Hard to tell: will they be pink and freckled
like your Dad and his Dad or olive like your Mama
and her mama?

Will they span octaves or press the keys
into poems, or
both?

Will they raise babies,
or reach into bodies
and stitch them up
or hold their hands
while they are dying,
or all of the above?

I don’t know — jury’s out.
What I do know is this:
those hands, Brigid Clare,
they are made for resurrection.

+++

I wish you could have known
my Grandpa Jack.
Your maternal great grandfather.

He, too, always had cuts on his hands
and dirt beneath his fingernails.
At least in retirement.
Surgeon’s hands, they retired
to working on the boat
and diggin’ in the dirt
with your me,
your mama.

I can remember looking at
bulb catalogues together
for hours in my grandparents’
Rockport, Massachusetts home.

He won awards in town
for his rose gardens.

Then, when I was twelve,
years of smoking — although he knew better —
caught up with him:
Pneumonia.

That year he taught me
something else about life:
loss.

He got sick early Spring,
he turned seventy-eight on March 17,
he died on March 28,
his funeral was held the weekend
of Palm Sunday.

A week later,
on Easter, my uncle, your great-uncle Jay,
looked out his Rockport window
(he lived in the same town
as Grandpa Jack)
and thread throughout his lawn
were crocus.
Crocus upon crocus upon crocus.

Here’s the thing —
Uncle Jay, nor Aunt Barbara,
had planted crocus.

He must have come that fall
while Jay was at work,
bag of bulbs in hand,
and a spade.

Apparently, this was not
Grandpa Jack’s first
covert planting operation.
He was known
to amend your garden
on a visit
while you were otherwise occupied
with your own children,
his work announcing itself
long after he left.

Mid-day, I can see him pull up
in his red Honda civic;
LL Bean khakis, red-checked flannel,
on hands and knees,
diggin’ in the dirt,
here and there
seeding the earth
with round husks
that will lie in wait
until it is time
to announce new life.

That year, his last: to his son
who peers out his window
in grief.

Brigid, I wish you could have known
my Grandpa Jack.
But, you have his hands:
hands made for resurrection.

+++

“Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands,
and put my finger in the mark of the nails
and my hand in his side,
I will not believe.”

Brigid, in the waters your little, under-bathed hands
will undoubtedly splash in today
you inherit hands. Big ones, small ones,
pink ones, brown ones, freckled ones,
dirt-under the fingernails, scarred ones,
gaping open wounded ones, weary ones.
Even, dead ones.

These hands have swaddled babies,
sewn up bodies, sewn up shirts;
crossed oceans, crossed deserts,
crossed protest lines;
made music, made love,
made community,
tended the earth,
tended the hearth,
washed feet, washed souls,
poured water,
poured wine.

These hands have climbed mountains,
dreamt ,
freed peoples,
raised the dead.

These are tired hands,
over-worked and under-paid hands,
alcoholic and addicted hands, shackled hands
behind-the-back, face-to-the-pavement,
hands blown off by IEDs,
empty hands,
grieving hands.

And, let’s be honest:
these hands have pulled triggers,
and clenched fists,
and enslaved, and taken life,
sometimes even in the name
of these waters.

In the least,
they have denied other open hands.

Let’s be honest,
because if we can’t be honest
we have forgotten the One
whose hands these are.
The One whose hands
bear the wounds of the whole world —
each and every pair of hands,
even the dead ones — in body or in soul.

For, in making them too clean,
too healed, too perfect:
we will have forgotten the power of these hands
to climb out of the tomb:
each and every tomb we will create —
and greet us in our fear,
in our shame,
in our grief,
even in our death:
“Put your finger here,
and see my hands.
Reach out your hand
and put it in my side.
Do not doubt,
but believe.”

Brigid, you inherit Thomas’ demanding hands.
I pray you never forget that,
daughter of mine!
For whoever, or whatever claims
they can heal you or save you,
or improve you, but won’t show you
their wounds isn’t God
and isn’t telling the truth.

And so, today, I baptize you into these hands
this circle of hands right here
and the hands that hold them and the One who holds them,
so wherever you go, you won’t forget.
Big ones, small ones,
pink ones, brown ones, freckled ones,
scarred ones, gaping open wounded ones,
weary ones.
Even, dead ones.
Look closely: there is dirt beneath their fingernails,
just like you.

They’ve been doing a lot of
climbing out of tombs.
And, there are a whole lot more tombs
in this world
that need climbing out of!

Good thing you got those hands+

And, when you forget whose hands you have,
this circle of hands will take your hands — whether they be pink and freckled
or olive like your Mama’s — in theirs and remind you:
Brigid Clare, your hands,
they are made for resurrection!

+Amen and Alleluia!

Early in the morning. Easter 2016

28 Mar

12321429_10208952911679087_6527289602162363052_n
Luke 24:1-12

“Why do you look for the living among the dead?”

On Maundy Thursday
we sat around tables
out in the sunroom,
ate borscht (beet soup),
pondered Jesus’ last meal
with his disciples — the one where he breaks bread
and he washes feet —
and we shared stories
of important meals
and moments of footwashing
from our own lives.

My table dug deep into
the meals —
a neighborhood meal in the wake of fire,
meals that forged strangers into community,
wedding banquets of starched New Englanders eating plated Ethiopian food,
or the one where the chicken was dry
but everyone — for the first time — managed to get along.

On Thursday,
my table never got to the footwashing,
until later in the evening
when we were actually
kneeling down,
washing one another’s feet.

But, I do have a footwashing story,
of sorts.
It’s of a footwashing that hasn’t happened, yet.
One just talked of once-in-awhile
over wine after the kids go to bed.

I’m not sure how exactly it comes up,
but my husband Matt asks,
and I promise,
that when he dies,
before they take him away,
I will wash his body.

We really know how to have
a good time, huh?

But, I guess this is what happens
when you are a hospice chaplain
and a pastor — when you sit
at bedsides for a living.

Death becomes a real thing
in your future, part of being human.
You plan for it,
kinda like your next vacation,
or your next kid.
You see it done well
and not so well.
And, you know that life continues, again,
on the other side.

“I want you to wash me,”
Matt asks.
“Yes. I will do it,”
I promise.

I have already imagined it.
Kind of like dreams,
the details don’t make a ton
of sense.

We are in our last apartment.
The pepto pink tile is distinct.
With help, I carry him from our bedroom
and place him into the tub. There,
we are left alone
one last time. I bathe him
from head to toe
just like his mother bathed him
for the first time
when he was born,
not neglecting an inch.

I can’t tell if I cry.
But, I know I am grieving.
I know it is the longest bath
he has ever taken.
I will lock the door
until I am good and ready.
There are years of love —
of flirt and babies and door-slams
and I’m sorries and I forgive you
and laughs and adventures
and losses and foundings
in that bathtub —
and so,
I will wash that body.
From head to toe.

“Why do you look for the living
among the dead?”

I get their point, these
angelic snazzle dazzles
here in Luke.
Jesus has said he will rise,
so why are the women there
looking for the body?

Jesus is alive, not dead.

Except, where else would they be?
Risen or not,
dead or not.
When there has been so much life
there — and so much death:
that’s where you go.

When there has been so much healing there
and so much feeding there
and so much revolution there
and so much future there;

When there has been so much pain there
and so much terror there,
and so much suffering there,
and so much, so much death there

and so much love there,
that’s where you go.

You go with your spices
that you’ve been up all night preparing,
and your body that has not slept
for three days.

You go with a broken heart
that is so full it feels like it will
bust out of your chest.

You go first thing,
ready to anoint,
to touch, to care for that body
one more time.

And there,
at early dawn: resurrection finds you.

Or, the next day.
Or, the next.
Or, the next.
But, it finds you.

Those first breaths of new life.

Confusing, at first.
Disorienting.
Where’s the body? Where did it go?

But then, resurrection:
it will call you by name — like in John.
Or, find you on the road,
and eat a meal with you — like in Luke.
It will whisper: do not fear —
like in Matthew.
It goes ahead of you, making a way —
like in Mark.

The snazzle dazzle angels
mean well. After all,
they have good news!
Yes, we know,
Jesus is not dead, he’s alive.
Bling! Bling!
Duh. We’ve heard the story before,
or at least know generally how it goes.

And, it seems, so do these women.
For, they do not come out of fear
or coercion, or — it seems — obligation,
unless we are talking about obligation
of the heart. Because, clearly:
they come out of love.

There are years of love —
meals and healings and feet washed,
and betrayals and I forgive yous,
and revolutions and crosses,
losses and foundings —
in those hearts.

They grieve
because they love —
a Love that has been strung up, nailed to a tree
and buried with death in the ground
and could, would not be contained.

A Love that will call them by name,
meet them on the road, over a meal,
whisper: do not fear,
and going ahead, make a way.
Ever their future.

Women and men go this morning,
with spices prepared, not yet slept,
hearts broken and bursting,
first thing, ready to anoint,
to touch, to care for those bodies —
bodies in Brussels and Nigeria and on the streets across our country —
one last time:
and resurrection meets them there.

Our neighbors go this morning,
with spices prepared, not yet slept,
hearts broken and bursting,
first thing, ready to anoint,
to touch, to care for those bodies —
bodies living in tombs of homelessness
or walking the streets in fear
of deportation or no-cause eviction
or their trailer park home
being sold from under them —
in love, one last time,
or one more time:
and resurrection meets them there.

We come this morning,
spiced prepared, sleep deprived
hearts broken and bursting,
first thing, ready to anoint,
to touch, to care for
all we’ve lost,
all we love —
one last time,
or one more time:
and resurrection meets us here.

Or the next day,
or the next.

Confusing, at first.
Disorienting.

Those first breaths of new life
when we realize
that Love could not,
cannot,
will not
be contained.

Brothers and sisters,
with the women who come,
first thing, to the tomb,
we are a community
forged in returning, in love,
for the body. A community made
in the way of remembering
the One we’ve lost —
and there we are found
in water,
in bread and wine and neighbor.

It’s said that Christians are
Easter people.
Yes. I wonder if a more accurate
description is that we are
first thing in the morning,
early dawn people?

What does it mean
to be a community formed
on the way of grief?
It got me thinking, wondering, making promises —
it means we are a community
that can go anywhere.
We can enter tombs,
stand at the foot of crosses,
go to the centers of power,
sit by the bedside
or across the kitchen table,
get down on our knees
and wash some feet,
or carry the body into the tub
and bathe them, like their first bath,
every inch from head to toe —
because we’ve been there before
and we know that’s where death ends
and life begins again.
Resurrection always, always
meet us there.

Where are the bodies,
brothers and sisters?
Where are the tombs
in our streets, in our mosques,
in our schools,
in our neighborhoods?

Let us prepare the spices,
let us make our way…
God has already
rolled away the stone.

The razzel dazzels were right
and so were the women.

Christ is risen.
Christ is risen, indeed!
Alleluia!

+Amen and Alleluia!

Prepared for the people of Salt & Light Lutheran Church and Leaven Community, Portland, OR, Easter Sunday, March 27, 2016.

Christmas bodies. Christmas Eve 2015.

26 Dec

FullSizeRender-8

Luke 2:1-20

A friend recently wrote:
Why is it that Advent brings with her
the darkest days?

I couldn’t dispute that.
It is physically the darkest time
when we make our way
through the shortest day of the year,
and the longest night
before we greet the light
returning.

And, as I pieced through my Advent sermons
over the last few years, I noticed a pattern: bodies.
Their words are strewn with bodies — child bodies in Connecticut,
brown bodies — dead and alive and crying out —
on the pavement of Furgeson, MO,
and this year: homeless Syrian refugee bodies scattered across Europe’s landscape
seeking refuge,
and then the bodies of Paris,
Chicago, Minneapolis, San Bernadino.

As we gathered for worship this past Sunday
to look into one another’s lives,
to name the darkness pressing in
and lovingly, defiantly, light another candle,
everyone finding their seats, greeting one another
with a touch, a hug, a word or look of peace,
I got a gently sarcastic pat on the back from Karl Vischer:
There were no mass shootings this week, Pastor.
I’m wondering what you will possibly have
to preach on!

I know, I am not getting to the Christmas message
quick enough. We all got dressed up,
the kids are sufficiently sugared up
and the turkey’s waiting at home —
or, in my case, cheese fondu —
alongside a few more presents to wrap up and bow-tie.

Or, maybe there is no turkey at home
because there wasn’t enough left over
after the rent hike and the water bill and the car repair,
or someone — anyone — is missing from your
dining room table this year,
and perhaps you might long to linger here
for a few extra minutes
before you move on to the emptiness.
Maybe that someone missing is you.

So, let’s slow down
for one more moment
and remember the bodies,
for, the Christmas story — the Jesus one —
is also strewn with bodies. Real-life bodies.
Small ones, pregnant ones,
brown ones, young ones,
bloodied ones,
over-worked and underpaid ones,
rich ones, poor ones,
transient ones,
even sheep ones, and smell-like sheep ones!

Luke’s Gospel takes great care
to remember the bodies.
The Joseph-body: occupied and accounted for taxes and military.
The Mary-body: laboring and homeless.
The Shepherd-body: sleepless and afraid.
Even the Emperor-body: perhaps the one who needs the child the most.

And then, there is the earthen-body: present, receiving, bearing.
I know, this body may not take center stage in the drama,
But there is the field, the land
underneath the shepherds feet
that stretches out to embrace the breadth of the angels’ good news
and holds its ground to Bethlehem,
the stardust electrified with the star-song of heavenly hallelujahs,
and then, there is the cave, that’s right, the cave
that along with Mary’s arms
receives and bears the God-baby.

We often think of Jesus born in a stable;
however, I recently learned that in this part of the world,
the animals, and therefore the trough
would have actually been housed in a cave.
God’s life begins and ends and begins again
in the cradle of the earth’s body.

Every cell, every molecule,
every DNA strand,

every stretch of land,
every stretch of water,
every stretch of skin
become God’s own
home.

I beg you: don’t skip the bodies this Christmas —
the dead ones, the lost ones, the broken ones,
the present ones,
the ones we don’t know what to do with,
your own.

I know these are the darkest of days
and it is hard to imagine
that this landscape of bodies:
your brokenhearted and grieving body,
your dysfunctional family body,
our divided and fear-filled human body,
our wounded planet body
could be the body clothes of eternity,
from which all healing and wholeness and shalom
will spring —
but that is the Christmas story
that stretches out the land
and electrifies the stars
and bears the baby-body
that will bear the whole world.

So, let’s stay just a little longer.
The turkey will wait.
The presents will wait.
The fondu will even wait.
There’s a table here
with bread and wine
to go around again and again
and no one is missing from this table,
no one — for every body can be found
at this table —
hewn from the earth body,
the birthspace of God.

Perhaps Advent doesn’t bring with her
the darkest days,
but she arrives
right on time
and finds the darkest days
to carry her in their bodies,
as she bears down
and delivers
the the light
into those waiting
arms of the world.

+Amen

In and out. Advent 2 (or 5, depending on how you count).

8 Dec

Malachi 3:1-4
Philippians 1:3-11
Luke 3:1-6

FullSizeRender-7

The third chapter of Luke’s Gospel begins
filled to the brim
with empirical noise.

In the midst of empire and more empire
and rulers and rulers and rulers
and priests and priests and priests
layers and layers and layers
of might wielding
and hierarchical death dealing

John cuts through like a knife —
John, son of Zechariah
and Elizabeth,
the unlikely one
whose very singular
and small birth
left his father speechless —

cries out
a lone voice in the wilderness:
Prepare the way of the Lord,
make his paths straight.
Every valley shall be filled,
and every mountain and hill shall be made low,
and the crooked shall be made straight,
and the rough ways made smooth; and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.

In other words:
everything’s about to change.

I wondered:
Did anyone hear him?
How did anyone hear him
amidst empire’s words of war,
so many words of woe,
that, to the life of the people,
meant so little?

This week,
I long not to preach,
to not search for words
in the arsenal of words
for that which is beyond all words.

Preaching feels too close to noise.

I long to be Jewish,
for those brothers and sisters have a way of writing God
that cannot be spoken —
for it is all vowels — YHWH —
only breathed.

That feels truer than true.

Surrounded on all sides
by layers and layers of impotent inaction
after weeks and weeks of mass shootings
and hours upon hours of blasphemous Trump loops
and Fallwell’s commentary on Trump loops

I long to just sit and breathe
with you all.

Words can be doorways
opening a way,
or hands reaching out in the dark
grasping for a way,
but breathing together
feels more honest.
Like, what I know about the great I AM is:
you and me and
in and out,
in and out,
in and out,

cutting our way
through the layers of
death and bullshit
back to God.

It seems I am also feeling a bit Buddhist today.

But really,
after weeks and weeks and weeks
of living in newsfeeds where violent carnage
is the new, strange and unsettling normal
and there is so much so much so much
to make you feel alien,
like you don’t belong to the world
and the world doesn’t belong to you,
I don’t want to tell you about the Breathing One
who changes everything.
I want to stand up here,
climb up on this pulpit
and hold up a mirror
so you could see yourselves this week
breathing together
and how the change
has already begun.

How you sang together,
how you came alongside one another,
how you fed one another,
and cried and touched and cradled one another —
despite the terror that was supposed to,
meant to, designed to
tear you apart.

I know it sounds simple
and small and insignificant,
like a voice crying out in the wilderness,
but it’s a start,
a radical, defiant beginning.

In the face of fear,
you made love,
you blessed a baby-almost-born,
you found one another in coffee shops
and across tables,
you watched one another’s children,
you drove one another to appointments.

Susan made the most amazing turkey soup
and Sara made curry
and Michael made bread.

Ali made music
and Angie made laughter
and Dory made prayer.

LaVeta and Dick schemed relationships
and Mira and Eric schemed neighborhoods
and Debbie and Eric and John schemed bathrooms —
cause we’re gonna need functional ones downstairs
as Scott and Cheryl scheme hospitality and sharing place
in the waves and waves and waves of displacement.

Rather than grasping at words
that feel insignificant,
I’d rather climb to the top of this earth
and say: Pick your head up out of your numbing devices
and look! Because I know you would not see mobs,
but black and brown brothers and sisters, joined by pink brothers and sisters
risking their lives on picket lines
in Chicago and North Minneapolis
because love and justice and not one more…

Because I know you’d see justice hungry peoples
and borders opening up
and houses of faith opening up
and homes opening up.
And where you saw another brown-skinned brother
beaten or shot or left for dead,
where you saw doors locked and borders shut up,
and churches and mosques burning down
and neighbors shut out —
if you could stay there long enough to let yourself breathe with them
in and out
in and out
in and out
you would stop and weep and light a candle and start to scheme
because you would know we belong to one another.

It’s almost as if the One beyond words
is not beyond hands and feet
and head and heart and body
and you and me
and breathing
in and out
in and out
in and out.

I’m not gonna preach today.
You’ve already done that.
So, let’s just sit here,
you and me
and breathe
in and out,
in and out,
in and out
and stop and weep
and light a candle
and eat
and get on with the scheming.

Bell + Bell + Bell

In and out
In and out
In and out.

+Amen

Go dark. Advent 1 (or 4, depending on how you count.)

3 Dec

Gratitude to Barbara Brown Taylor (Learning to Walk in the Dark), one of my Advent companions, and this Leaven, Salt & Light Community who surprises the hell out of me every day and continues to walk with me in the dark.

Jeremiah 33:14-16
1 Thessalonians 3:9-13
Luke 21:25-36

FullSizeRender-6
To know the dark, go dark. Go without sight, and find that the dark, too, blooms and sings.
— Wendell Berry

These days my sermons come in the dark.
It could be in the dark of night,
or early morning.
I won’t tell you what days exactly,
but I am sure you can make it out
from what I am about to tell you.

They spend all week gestating.
In the news,
in my heart,
in between ancient words,
in and between your full lives.

Every week I mean to put them down
on the page sooner.
By Wednesday.
I mean Thursday.
Okay, Friday.
To get a long, full night’s sleep
before standing here, again,
but there is so much life to get at —
I will find more life to get at,
everything possible (the laundry, the dishes,
a phone call, conversations,
one more scroll through facebook)
before I sit down in front of the dim glow of my computer
pressing through the dark
that has found me once again.

And then the labor starts.

Perhaps that’s because that’s when labor starts.
It’s true. More women go into labor
in the dark, than during the daylight.
With both my children,
my water broke at night
after I was tucked into bed.

And, for me, sermonizing is a lot like labor.
Pain, and grunting, and pushing,
and cups of tea. Copious cups of tea.
And trips to the bathroom.
I’m not sure that fits into the metaphor
but those cups of tea
are a part of my process,
or God’s process with me.
But back to the metaphor —
moments, maybe hours,
of not trusting the baby will be born.
And, as its Advent,
we can safely say that that metaphor works!

And, there is another reason,
if I am honest, that the sermons happen
in the dark. One particular dark of the week.
Because, every time I go looking for God,
it seems I must go deeply
into the pain of the world.
And so I do the laundry,
and I make another appointment,
write a report,
return an email,
practice wearing Teflon one more time,
because that pain is big and wide and gaping
and just might swallow me up
and then the darkness of that last night sets in
and the contractions start.
They must start.
Night must come.

I sat with some colleagues over dinner last Sunday
and I confessed to them:
I fear that I am Pastor Debbie Downer.
That you must all brace yourself
with Prozac every time you come to church.
Op, here she goes again with the death and weeping and wailing.
I do, every week, sit down
and pray that THIS week, it will just be easy.
Light and easy — like, Jesus loves you,
throw in some puppies
and bunnies and it’s all gonna be okay,
no gaping wounds to fall head on into.
And, then, every week
there is a shooting
and a stillbirth
and cancer
and lay-awake-at-night-fear of not enough…

…and every week, Jesus shows up
in those ancient words:
in the belly of an occupied Palestinian girl,
across the table from groaning bellies
and hungry souls,
casting out the demons of sick systems
of racial profiling and domination,
on the cross of terror,
and to the weeping one
who just lost her beloved —
and I realize that to commune with God
we are going there.

As if we weren’t already there, really.

Afterall, this is the God of dead stumps
and forbidden wombs
and empty tombs.

Because puppies and bunnies
miss God.
I mean, God does not miss them, the real ones,
or us, ever…
but just ask a woman who has lost a child
about puppies and bunnies
and “it’s all gonna be okay.”
She’d prefer you to weep with her,
thank you very much,
because heaven and earth have just passed away.
And, in weeping with her,
you’d meet God, too,
there in her heaving body
and the emptiness of her womb.

Because, to fall in love with God,
means to fall in love with the whole world —
every leaf, every limb,
every broken heart —
which means to walk through this world
a little haggard, sleep lost,
face tear-stained,
but awake and in love
and alive with every cell, every flower,
every soul,
with no shortage of beloveds
to invite over for dinner.

Ah, so many days I curse this preaching life,
which is really the Christian life,
which is really the loving and the dying and the living life:
but I wouldn’t give it up,
as if I could.
Because it means that after the emails and to-do’s
and social media binges,
after trying on the Teflon,
and playing with the god of shiny things one more time,
the dark will come, again,
and the labor will start
and the baby will be born.

And we will gather around the table
to fall in love
all over
again.

+Amen

An epic adventure.

16 Sep
Jessica Sanderson & Christopher Taylor, with the Columbia to preach!

Jessica Sanderson & Christopher Taylor, with the Columbia to preach!

4Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant5or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful;6it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. 7It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
1 Corinthians 13: 4-7

I know you considered this 1 Corinthians verse for today, and decided against it. I’m not sure why you made the last minute switch, but, honestly, I sighed with deep relief.

I have a confession to make: I have a bias against its inclusion at weddings. (I probably just offended about half to ⅔ of the married people here…so we are off to a good start.) My bias is this — that marriage is not always these things: patience, kindness, whatever the opposite of envious, boastful, arrogant and rude is — I guess that would be trusting, modest, humble, polite.

In all honesty, I needed to use the thesaurus to come up with that nice list, because in my own 9 years of wedded bliss, I know all too well the naughty list. The eye rolls, and the battle of wills, the needing to be right so badly that you will argue the point to the brink of no return, meanwhile you forgot what you were actually so convicted about while you were cutting your partner down to the size of a pea. And then there is illness, work stress, the pressures from the world, change, the realization over time that your partner isn’t exactly who you thought they were, the realization that you aren’t exactly who you thought you were….

So, if marriage is all of the nice list — cause “the bible tells me so” — then all marriages miss the mark, no matter what perfect picture people post about themselves and their life together on facebook, pin on Pinterest or serve or over cocktails. So what, we should just all skip it? Or, if we are already in it, walk away? This is why I don’t like 1 Corinthians for weddings. Cause it’s too easy. It’s a setup — for failure. You probably already have. Failed, that is, once or twice. And you are in great company!

But what if 1 Corinthians isn’t about marriage, but about love. And not LOVE — like lovey dovey love. Not about LOVE the emotion. Not love like that feeling you got, Chris, when you saw Jess all dudded up coming down the aisle, ’cause we know you are going to have to look at one another when you wake up with drool oozing out of the side of your mouth in the morning, and in that moment the love can feel a bit lost. No, the Love that St. Paul writes to the community in Corinth — a messy community attempting to do life together in a new way and finding themselves slamming doors and rolling eyes and on the brink of breakup, the world always seemingly against them — is a Love that passes all understanding, holding them – in all their messy, drooly, boastful glory – together.

This is no less than the Love that birthed the Universe, that ignited the stars in the sky and the life that has unfurled every since, that built these mountain giants, and carved out our sister River, that knew you before you were formed in your mothers’ wombs, that still holds your mother, Jess, in its silent memory, that has made the trek everywhere you have traveled to hell and back and heaven and back and meets you here, now. And today, that same Love of creation, compassion, healing and rebirth will embark on this epic adventure with you! I like that better. Not, patient, kind, humble, polite Marriage. Sure, sometimes. Hopefully more often than not…by the grace of God. But: Marriage, the epic adventure! It’s like the gnarliest rafting trip that you have ever been on, only gnarlier!

That is because it is the adventure into the heart — Class 6! An adventure into a discovery of divine love — in your partner, who will love you on days you do not feel lovable, who will forgive you when you do not deserve it, who will draw out your gifts, gifts you didn’t know you had, who will teach you things and lead you into waters you couldn’t go alone. And, even more arresting, a discovery of divine love — in you. For this is an adventure into loving in ways you didn’t know possible.

And that means, it is an adventure into vulnerability — into not always being right and reading the currents and learning when it is time to let go and trust, cause God forbid you try and control Love. An adventure into setting yourself up for failure and failing and learning resiliency and strength and the truth of renewal and rebirth — into setting yourself up for loss…the biggest loss. Because one day you will lose the hand that you now hold. But, sitting there by the bedside, you will be able to look back and claim the truth:

4Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant5or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful;6it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. 7It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

Jess and Chris, this is the epic adventure. And, be sure, you are riding the waters of grace.

So, I take it back. These words are good. They are the right words. Now it is time for the two of you to speak your words of promise to one another. May they bouey you each day when you wake and you climb into that boat together.

+Amen

There will be grief and… Pentecost 16

16 Sep
Bee and her GeeMee, my Mama.

Bee and her GeeMee, my Mama.

I am immensely grateful to be among a community of meaning-makers. In admiration and awe of my fellow Leaven summer discerners, my spiritual director Jack Kennedy, the gifts of Ignatian spirituality, and one of the most attentive humans I know, our intern Kelsey Kava. Thank you for teaching me to pray.

Mark 8:27-38
+++

This story I’m about to tell seems small when held up against Mark’s story
and Jesus’ gnarly, human hewn cross,
and words like suffering and rejection and killed
and the energy behind throwing words like “Satan”
in your best friend’s face.
This story I’m about to tell is not nearly political enough,
alongside Mark’s very political story.
It is definitely too safe,
maybe a bit too sweet.

But Jesus was being honest about vocation —
that call, the whisper, or downright demand, of the heart,
full of God, no less —
and this story is honest
and about just that.

It might be the ear muffed version of God’s end of the conversation.
The nice-ed, domesticated re-write
heavily soothed by my culture and my fear,
cut up into small bite-sized pieces for my beginner soul.
In fact, I am quite sure it is.
But, what of that voice I can hear is this,
and I trust this to be true.

And, I am quite sure this is a beginning.
Like, in the beginning, beginning.
Maybe that’s too much
for this divine spark on the flint of my small life,
but, that is our story.

+++

Matt, the kids and I returned from vacation East
with both of our families on a Wednesday.
Thursday evening we looked at a house here in Portland.
Friday morning we put an offer on that house.
Sunday our offer was accepted.
And, I told almost no one.

Matt and I lay in bed that night,
side-by-side, staring at the ceiling.
I’m kinda numb, he says.
Yeah, me too.
I think it’s just gonna take time
,
he says — ya know, to sink in.
I bet, I say.

A week later the inspection happens,
little of consequence is found,
we make some deals.
By then we have told most of you,
our friends here in Portland,
a few friends scattered across the country.
They celebrate for us.
We cheer.
Exclaim how we never thought this day would come.
I have still not picked up the phone
and called my parents.

A few more days go by.
We are 99% there.
It’s a Wednesday and I slide into my favorite tea shop seat
and look down at my phone.
I realize the date —
the inspection period is over.
Barring any unforeseen event,
the house is essentially ours.
(Or, the debt is essentially ours.)
The windows with beautiful light,
the sweet front porch, the backyard with all its potential fecundancy
(I love that word.):
food and flowers and sweet smells and afternoon sessions of soccer and batting practice
and friends that feed into evenings.
And, suddenly, I realize something: nothing.
There is nothing in my guts.
No flutter.
No dancing.
No celebration.
No joy.

And, I know what must come next.

I pick up the phone
and I begin a text
(yes, because I am chicken-shit)
to my parents, my brothers and their wives,
and to my soul sisters
who have seen me through awkward and heart-smashed-on-the-floor,
and scraping-myself-off-the-floor,
who have gotten down on their knees
and scraped me with me.
The friends who over the past eleven years,
never once cease to ask me
each time I visit
when I am moving home.

Today I am honest.
I tell the truth.

I have news.
Bitter-sweet.
We made the offer.
It was accepted.
We can’t believe we are giving up
any single day with each of you,
and we are staying,
because we need to
and we need to celebrate
but we can’t do it
without you.

And with each word
punched on that screen
it got blurrier.

Send.

And then the tears came.
Two weeks worth.
Eleven years from when I got in my car in Natick, MA
Berkeley bound worth.
Days birthing babies without my mother worth.
Days sending my Dad videos of his grandson’s first
piano recital, which doesn’t quite seem enough,
worth.
Pre-emptive tears for a day that may never come,
but may,
when we get a phone call
that someone is sick or worse
and we’ve given up all days with them.
There-are-no-more-days worth
of tears.

I wasn’t numb anymore.
It hurt.
It hurt so bad.
And, there I was, publicly making a scene,
blubbering, snot-faced over my phone
in that tea shop —
that nice, Ikea-clean-lined more-zen-than-real-zen
tea shop —
messy as all get-up.
But, I was happy.
I was so stinking happy.
Like, click my heels up happy,
raise the roof 90’s throw-back happy,
roger rabbit, meets the butterfly happy.

And, I did not celebrate alone.

My phone began to vibrate and jirate and jiggle and dance,
words pouring in on the screen:

Way to go, Meliss!!
We love you all!
Of course we miss you,
but we will come visit this Spring
in your NEW HOUSE!
Dope!

(That last line would be my brother Eric. He’s a little understated.)

More tears.
Tears of grief
and tears of joy.

Listening for and responding to God’s call,
the ear-muffed version or not, in our lives,
we are rooting more deeply
in this place we love so much,
where I am becoming very clear
that God has much more in store
for us here
and with that YES there is joy,
but it also means saying NO,
and that is loss.
The giving up of days.
Sacred days that I won’t get back.
And, I need to grieve those days.

So it is with discernment,
that is what we have learned in our Discernment Circle
this summer.
Laughing and crying and dancing
together in the affective movements
of the Spirit.

With every YES,
there will be a NO.

With new life
there will be death of the other or the old.

This beginner of the soul
feels for those disciples in Mark’s story.
Perhaps they are a little numb, too.

They don’t get it.

Mark uses the disciples
to create tension in the narrative
and between the narrative and the reader,
and to highlight the drama
and to put a fine point on where this is all going —
to the cross, but also to the empty tomb.
We know that as we read, the narrative makes sure of it.
But, the disciples don’t
and I find that to be an invitation into honesty:
that I often don’t get it either,
or I don’t trust it
to lead me.

They are following Jesus.
They hear the ear-muffed version
and they say YES, putting one foot in front of the other
behind Jesus,
playing the eager students,
even giving the text-book answer:
The Messiah!
And, then Jesus explains what that means, even for God:
that the YES,
also means a NO.
There will be loss.
There will be grief.
And, Peter tries to muffle Jesus,
tries to unhear what he just heard,
would prefer to go back to numb.
But, Jesus won’t let it go,
because what Jesus knows,
and longs for the disciples to know
and to trust is that that while a YES
means a NO, it also means a YES.
A divine YES
and that is big, like BIG BANG big.

For, what Peter, in Peter’s fear hears
Jesus preach about is a dying process.
But, what Jesus is inviting the disciples into
is a creative process.

It isn’t rocket science,
it’s actually, well, natural science (with a little good theology and meaning making
thrown in)
a truth that the earth preaches each day:
a divine YES sparked into the very DNA of creation.
When the earth dies in one season,
that NO prepares the compost-way
for new, abundant life the next!

It is a divine YES that Jesus sparks into the heart of each of us
through God’s own broken and on-fire heart!

I told you that my story was a beginning,
like in the beginning, beginning.
That felt big, like maybe too big,
but I don’t think so.

This particular YES, which also is a NO,
feels really BIG.
Like, Big Bang big.
Maybe because up until now
it never really felt like a sacrifice.
Move to Portland, stay a year,
okay, another one,
sure, three more —
I’m in my twenties.
I got time.

But this YES
is a YES to root deeper.
And, I’m no longer 25
or even 30,
and my parents have both had cancer,
a prostate and a flap of skin on the nose removed between them,
and they are suddenly looking a little more,
moving a little more
like grandparents.

Yet, this is the spark my parents wanted me to be sure of
when they presented me for baptism.
In a way,
they gave me this YES,
because it is the YES of their own hearts.

To root deeper also
means that we will fall even more in love
here, and when the winds of Spirit shift,
as she is prone to do,
it will be much harder to loosen ourselves.

But, it means falling in love.
It means taking the next step behind Jesus
into this city and its past and its future,
and into vocation — for me,
and for our family —
it means becoming a part of the creation process here —
the living and dying and new life process —
of this place, this community.
It means becoming more myself.
I really feel like I will be made anew, again.
We will be made anew, again.
It’s already started.
A beginning.

I don’t know what it will all look like,
what it will all mean.
I sense it might mean a few more crosses —
yup, taking off the earmuffs.

What I do know is this:
There will be love.
There will be pain and tears,
days and years and no-more-days worth.
And, there will be new life…and dancing!

+Amen.