Sunday, November 22, 2009

a beginner's sermon

John 18:33-37
"Then Pilate entered the headquarters again, summoned Jesus, and asked him 'Are you the King of the Jews?' Jesus answered, 'Do you ask this on your own, or did others tell you about me?' Pilate religed, 'I am not a Jew, am I? Your own nation and the chief priests have handed you over to me. What have you done?' Jesus answered, 'My kingdom is not from this world. If my kingdom were from this world, my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jews. But as it is, my kingdom is not from here.' Pilate asked him, 'So you are a king?' Jesus answered, 'You say that I am a king. For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listend to my voice.'"

My twelve week old son, Jonah, is starting to notice his world.

When he was born, we’d have to put our faces four inches from his in order for him to see us. He’d sleep all the time and only cry when he needed to eat.

Now, he stares. He can focus on things twenty feet away. When we wind up his Winnie the Pooh mobile, he kicks his legs and shakes his arms, and smiles in anticipation of the music and turning figures. He follows the spinning of the fan blades on the ceiling, and cries out in excitement at the Mylar balloon we tie to his leg. We watch him work: trying to find his hands, hold his head up, swallow when he nurses. He is suddenly intense: he can go from joy to screaming in an instant. When he is happy, his smile floods his whole body, and when he is upset, he becomes rigid, flushed.

And suddenly, my husband and I find ourselves experiencing the world anew. We cheer when he gets out a good burp, smile at a full diaper, talk about how much he’s eaten that day. We track his eyes, trying to find out what has him so mesmerized, so focused. We can almost see the synapses firing.

For Jonah, every moment is full, intense. Even when he’s sleeping, he’s sleeping hard.

I think that it is really appropriate that we observe Christ the King Sunday the Sunday just before Advent, the Sunday before we begin preparing to celebrate the entrance of Jesus as a tiny infant king into our world. Remember the three magi, who come to pay homage to the infant Jesus as king.

So I encourage you to hold on to that image of Jesus as an infant as we think about Jesus as King.

Our passage today places us, not in the quiet midnight manger, at the beginning of a savior’s life, but at the end of Jesus’ life, at his end days full of conflict, drama and turmoil. Jesus is confronted by Pilate, a man who, historically, cared only about political power, and would as soon kill a Jew in order to keep the so-called peace as swat at a fly. And Pilate is pulled out of bed in the middle of the night to pacify a raucous crowd, demanding the death of Jesus. The crowd wants Jesus dead. Or maybe, more accurately, the crowd is drawn into a drama created by men of power who want Jesus dead. But these politically and religiously powerful men are so caught up with themselves and their law, that they don’t have the courage to condemn Jesus themselves. They don’t even enter Pilate’s house in fear of “ritual defilement.” And, according to their code, they can only administer the death penalty through stoning, and they want something more humiliating, more dramatic to punish this one who threatens their carefully choreographed social order. A crucifixion would be the ultimate rejection of Jesus by the Jewish leaders. In a way, they are saying, you are no Jew, deserving of a Jewish death; rather, you deserve the death of slaves and lower classes, the death of one who stands outside, on the edges, death by crucifixion.

But Pilate needs a “reason” to crucify him. High treason is the only crime worth the crucifixion sentence. After all, the Romans, too, have their rules and codes to abide by. So Pilate asks, “Are you a King?”

And Jesus responds with ambiguity, but Pilate, like the religious leaders who want Jesus condemned, wants things clear cut, boundaries clearly defined. Pilate lives in a world of absolutes – he obeys instructions; he carries out the law, not unlike the religious leaders who brought Jesus to him in the first place.

But Jesus wants to talk about Truth. Not the law, not codes or social boundaries, something messier, more complicated, muddled. Jesus isn’t interested in Kingship or political power or labels. Even when his life is at stake, Jesus wants to talk about the Truth of God.

Throughout the Gospels, when Jesus speaks of the coming kingdom of God, he doesn’t call God king, but Father – God ruling not as a typical, tyrannical king, but as a loving parent.

The Israelites of the Hebrew Scriptures wanted a king.

They, like us, had difficulty relating to a god who is a loving Father, and instead wanted a King, someone to tell them what was right and what was wrong, someone to set out clear boundaries and give them all the answers. Talking of Truth is so messy, so much more complicated, than having someone just tell us what to do. But 1 Samuel 8:7 tells us that “Israel’s demand for a king was in fact interpreted as a rejection of God.” And all through the Hebrew Scriptures we see that the prophets know that God is the only one who can be a true, good king, because God does not want to be a king in the conventional sense. But the Israelites still insist on having a human king; someone to tell them who they are, what to do, where to go. God wants to talk about truth, to get in to the mess and the mud, to be in relationship, not rule over us as if we were wild horses needing to be broken. Unlike the reign of humans who want to constrict and manipulate, God’s reign is the reign of a good parent. God doesn’t care about human power, only relationship. And that’s scary, and complicated, and frustrating, and so freeing.

But, for some reason, we humans think we need kings. We want to be directed, guided, told what to do. God is invisible to most of us, and we need the concrete, the reality of flesh. King David tries to be the best kind of human king possible. We see this in our Psalm reading for today:

“Psalm 132 asserts the remarkable piety of David. According to this text, David pledged his utter devotion to Yahweh, such devotion that David made it a primary pledge of his monarchy that he would remain unsatisfied until Yahweh’s ark was adequately housed. […] The ark as “dwelling place” and “footstool” is taken to be the throne on which the invisible God sits. The ark is indeed a vehicle for “real presence.”

Housing the presence of God – the ark – is David’s primary pledge as king. He promises to be devoted to God and to give God a place to be.

Unfortunately, we often try to house God in a different sense. We try to put God in a box, to define who God is and what God wants. We can’t handle the expanse of Truth, so we try to create boundaries, borders lined with cement bricks and barbed wire, in order to deal with a God that we can control, understand, hold in our hands.

But if we take this idea of housing the presence of God to mean that we welcome God with true hospitality, then we have something different indeed. David defined his kingship as one whose primary role was to invite God in. This becomes one of the most important roles of a pious king. The king should house the presence of God.

But the Temple is destroyed. The Davidic line, essentially, ends.

The Jews are in exile. They must follow the rules of an alien empire. And maybe it’s because of the oppression that they’ve suffered, or maybe because of the many years that have passed, or maybe because they need physical freedom before they can have spiritual freedom, they forget David’s primary goal. They, and we, forget that the role of a king is to house the presence of God.

Years of oppression, sadness, and boredom can cause some of us to look for power however we can get it. We begin to look for a messiah who will come and give us the same kind of power that we see all around us – the power that tells us that success, money, intelligence, and “having it all together” is the only kind of power there is.

Doesn’t this happen to us all the time? We are so distracted by the “rules” and the everyday demands of the world that we forget relationships and start buying in to what we think will give us power? We start thinking that our lives would be better if we just had that new car, or if our debts could be paid off, or if we just got that promotion.

But here comes this Jesus. Jesus who comes to us as an infant. Jesus who breathes deeply, eats heartily, breaks the rules, stares with wide eyes, lives intensely. Jesus who got out a few good burps, who stared until people thought he was a little rude, and noticed things that were overlooked: the woman touching his cloak in the crowd, the man who couldn’t get to the water to heal himself, the political leader who was so wrapped up in power and following codes and rules that he scoffs at the idea of Truth.

THIS is our king.

So when we say that Christ is King, we are not saying that Christ is the one who binds us, who gives us rules and codes to follow, or the one who can demand our execution with the wave of an arm.

When we say that Christ is King, we are saying that Christ is the one who houses the presence of God.

The Temple that was supposed to house the presence of God has been destroyed. But Jesus rebuilds it.

Jesus rebuilds the Temple by becoming the Temple – the place where God resides. Jesus becomes King, not when he takes on power, but when he becomes a dwelling place for God. But, again, this looks nothing like the Hebrews’ or our idea of king – for Jesus refers to God not as king, but as Father.

Are we willing to become subjects of Jesus as King, by also inviting God into us? Are we also willing to become dwelling places for God? This is no boxing in of God, but an invitation to relationship. To acknowledge God as our Parent is to invite God in, and to invite God in, is to take on the role of king. Jesus invites us, too, to call God Father, and to create spaces in our lives where God may dwell.

John 1:12 claims that we are all children of God.

Jesus becomes the Temple, the place where God dwells. But we are also children of God, and we, too, may become temples, places where God may dwell. We then, become a kind of spiritual royalty, many “Davids”, and our goal is to make ourselves Temples, sacred places where God may dwell. We are no longer subjects of oppressive rulers and situations. We are freed to be rulers in the only way that matters, we are free to invite God into our lives, to become children of God. This freedom, and our ability to be dwelling places come as a gift from God. Just by being created by God, just by being infants in the hands of God, we can be vessels which invite the presence of God.

I try to remember this when I see the freedom and passion of my son. He lives completely, fully, intensely, and is truly a child of God. Jonah is a king because he invites the world in, invites God in, and although he doesn’t understand it, although he is often confused and frustrated by it, he is fully present to it. This is what it means to house God, to welcome God in, because he sees the magic and mystery in the everyday things of this world, and offers himself to it fully.

Jesus embraces the royalty, not on a warhorse through the main gates, followed by hundreds of soldiers and hired men, but on a donkey on a dusty road through the back door into Jerusalem. His triumphal entry is marked by palms torn from the trees, waved by poor peasants.

And remember what Jesus tells the disciples in the Gospel of Luke: “The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them: and those in authority over them are called benefactors. But not so with you; rather the greatest among you must become like the youngest and the leader like one who serves. For who is greater, the one who is at the table or the one who serves? Is it not the one at the table? But I am among you as one who serves.”

May we accept the gift that we are dwelling places for God, and may we respond to that gift as Jesus does, through humble service, and through living fully, completely, intensely. May the greatest among us become like the youngest. Amen.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Mark 12:38-44

“As he taught, he said, ‘Beware of the scribes, who like to walk around in long robes, and to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces, and to have the best seats in the synagogues and places of honor at banquets! They devour widows’ houses and for the sake of appearance say long prayers. They will receive the greater condemnation.’

He sat down opposite the treasury, and watched the crowd putting money into the treasury. Many rich people put in large sums. A poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which are worth a penny. Then he called his disciples and said to them, ‘Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the treasury. For all of them have contributed out of their abundance; but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on.’”

My greatest insecurity is that I don’t believe “right,” that I don’t have enough faith. I know that God isn’t up “there” with a scale or a giant chart, tallying all the good things I do and measuring them against all the bad things I do. But I cannot stop the cash register, the faith checking account that says “insufficient funds.” I come up short in the economy of faith every day. And I’m reminded of my poverty every time I step on my seminary’s campus, every time I long to be friends with someone more “conservative” than I am, every time I have to cross my fingers during the creeds at church. I try to find hope that my church is “a reformed church, always reforming,” but I still may never have enough coins of faith to get me through the doors, no matter how much they discount the admission fees.

But after the birth of my son, I can’t help but wonder whether or not this “economy of faith” is what Jesus talks about at all.

Just last week we had the raising of Lazarus as our Gospel Reading. Martha stops him from entering Lazarus’s tomb because of the smell of a decaying body, and Jesus says, “Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?” He sees Martha’s lack of faith, and raises Lazarus anyway.

Another favorite: The father of a boy who is possessed by a spirit, comes to Jesus and says, “if you are able to do anything, have pity on us and help us.” And Jesus says to him, “If you are able! – All things can be done for the one who believes.” And the father cries out, “I believe; help my unbelief!” Perhaps, Jesus comes not just to reward those who believe, but to help those who don’t.

When Jesus asks the paralyzed man at the pool, “do you want to be made well?” the man answers him, “Sir, I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up; and while I am making my way, someone else steps down ahead of me.” The paralyzed man doesn’t answer his question, doesn’t say, “Yes! And YOU can do it!” No, the man begins to whine, to give excuses as to why he hasn’t yet been healed – hardly an example of ideal faith.

Jesus heals the paralyzed man who is lowered through the roof by his friends, for “when Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, ‘Son, your sins are forgiven.’” It’s not the faith of the paralytic that heals him; instead, the faith of his friends is recognized by Jesus.

And even Jesus’ closest friends don’t understand his teachings. They don’t recognize him after his crucifixion. Thomas is famous for his struggle to believe.

For instance, when Jesus calms the storm, Jesus rebukes the disciples, “Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?”

And when Peter, walking on the water, begins to sink, Jesus says, “You of little faith, why did you doubt?”

The people in the Gospels who suffer from the poverty of belief are many, some notable, future leaders, others, simple, desperate.

We pray the “Our Father.” We often think of God as the perfect parent.

Would I love my son any less if he didn’t believe I existed?

Do I love my son less because he doesn’t really know me?

When he cries out to me in his hunger, do I make him profess that there really is milk before I nurse him?

The story of the woman with the two copper coins can be about how God can make small things great, or about how God can create greatness where there is none. It can be a story of the mustard seed, that when planted, yields great fruit. But for me, today, this story is about how God’s economy is not our economy. Contrary to what many CEOs and conservatives might argue, God is not a capitalist. There is no exchange of goods when we enter into a relationship with God. I used to think that one had to believe “right,” to “profess Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior” in order to be “saved.” But that is only continuing with the language of an exchange of goods. “God, I give You my belief, if You’ll give me salvation” (or security, or money, or whatever) – a quid pro quo.

Some people come before God with shopping bags full of faith. And oh, how I envy them. They are rich in belief; they live in mansions of security and assurance and closeness to God. But I am so grateful that there are those stories of people who come to God with empty paper bags, and God heals them anyway. Jesus invites us, even in the poverty of our doubt. He says, “Take up your mat and walk.” He says, “Come here, touch my side, feel the wounds in my hands, experience me, even in your doubt.”

Simone Weil: “We must only wait and call out. Not call upon someone, while we still do not know if there is anyone; but cry out that we are hungry and want bread. Whether we cry for a long time or a short time, in the end we shall be fed, and then we shall not believe but we shall know that there really is bread. What surer proof could one ask for than to have eaten it? But before one has eaten, it is neither need for nor particularly useful to believe in bread. What is essential is to know that one is hungry…”

And really, the bag is not empty. God just counts with different currency. The faith is there because the hunger is there. It’s there when I doubt and struggle and worry. Faith is like the air we breathe. And our faith is there because we need to breathe. When it is there, and we realize it, we are grateful. But when we don’t, we still keep breathing.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

The Weight of the Earth

Matthew 14:22-33
Just after the miracle of feeding five thousand, “Immediately, he made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds. And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up the mountain by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone, but by this time the boat, battered by the waves, was far from the land, for the wind was against them. And early in the morning he came walking toward them on the sea. But when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were terrified, saying ‘It is a ghost!’ And they cried out in fear. But immediately Jesus spoke to them and said, ‘Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.’
Peter answered him, ‘Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.’ He said, ‘Come.’ So Peter got out of the boat, started walking on the water, and came toward Jesus. But when he noticed the strong wind, he became frightened, and beginning to sink, he cried out, ‘Lord, save me!’ Jesus immediately reached out his hand and caught him, saying to him, ‘You of little faith, why did you doubt?’ When they got into the boat, the wind ceased. And those in the boat worshiped him, saying, ‘Truly you are the Son of God.’”

These sorts of miracle stories are always so hard to relate to children. It is so easy to fall into the “God can give us everything we need” or “God is always there when we call out for God” or “With enough faith, we can do anything” fallacies. The truth is, there will be times in these children’s lives, and there have been times in our lives, when we’ll go without, we’ll feel alone, and when we’ll be utterly helpless. It would be unfair to these children to express to them that this is what this story is about. Faith isn’t about guarantees, or the ability to defy the laws of physics; faith is about the bumbling character of Peter.

Poor Peter. He always gets a bad rap for being the terrible faith example. He’s always saying the wrong things, doing the wrong things, speaking and acting without thinking. He’s the over-exuberant one, the one we’d like to duct-tape to the boat until he comes down from the clouds, until he’s ready to be a realist, until he’s got some doubt and fear like the rest of us. But the thing is, we need Peter. And we need to hear how Jesus interacts with Peter. We need to know that God’s grace is big enough for the human likes of Peter, and even big enough for the quiet ones who sit back and watch Peter fumbling around. We need Peter’s sheer audacity, and bravery. He’s brave not because he gets out of the boat, but because he is willing to fail, is willing to be caught, and is willing to test the Grace of God. We can learn from Peter because he shows us how to rely on the hope that God will make something of all of our bumbling, fumbling, flailing, and questioning, even when the earth seems to disappear right from under us.
So for the children, I tell them that we are like tulip bulbs. I showed them a bag full of them, and without telling them what they were, asked them what they thought they were. Some said, “onions,” “garlic,” “turnips,” and expressed that they weren’t very attractive things at all. Just as Jesus had the hope that Peter’s faith would grow enough to lead the Church, so do we have faith that when we plant these “ugly” bulbs in the ground, if we wait long enough, something beautiful will come up. We might need to wait through the deep cold, the darkness and the sludge of Winter. We might need to wait a long time. But God promises Spring. Peter shows us that we may be imbeciles when it comes to our faith, but with enough hope, with some waiting, maybe with some hard times, we will emerge from the sea, or the ground, or the failure, as faithful, hopeful people.

This miracle isn’t about our ability to do what God does. It does not show us that if we only had enough faith, we, too, could walk on water. Sure, we can do extraordinary things, but not because we are Christians who have it all together. It’s is true that, for some people, God’s light and encouragement has shown up just when they needed it, just when they thought they were about to drown. God can make us capable of doing miraculous things. But some of us are as ordinary as Peter. We are lucky to remember to brush our teeth in the morning, or to put the gas cap back on the tank before we zoom off, late, for our next appointment. Some of us have felt so lonely that we are at the bottom of the ocean. Some of us have felt the silence of God as heavy and rough as a wool blanket.

Even Jesus needed to be buried in a tomb , to wait, to feel the silence, to grow into the Christ, before rising again. (In whatever form that may have been). Sometimes, we, too, need to feel the weight of the earth upon us, in order to grow into the fullness of faith that God intends for us. This waiting may be in the form of us blundering around, trying to say and do the right things, or it may be in the silence and loneliness, or it may be in our failures. But with time, God has the power and offers us the grace to turn us into something beautiful. Maybe I can remember this when I plant my bulbs this Fall, and if I can't, maybe I will, in time.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

A Reflection from Confirmation Sunday

God’s Faith, Our Faith

Have you ever read the Sermon on the Mount all the way through, in one sitting? It’s not long, only a few chapters in Matthew. The first time I read it with sincere attention, I found myself suddenly wondering if I was a Christian at all. The demands seemed too great. The requirements to be a true follower of Christ seemed impossible.

Jesus has brought his disciples high on a mountain to instruct them on how to truly follow him. But if you read this list closely, this list is a Sermon on the Mount that is full of impossible standards:

He says:
If you break “even the least of these commandments, and teach others to do the same,” you “will be called the least in the kingdom of heaven…” “For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and the Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”
If we think we’re doing well for not acting on our anger, Jesus ups the ante by saying, “don’t even be angry.”
If you call someone a “fool,” “you will be liable to the hell of fire.”
Jesus gives us prison images: “Truly I tell you, you will never get out until you have paid the last penny.”
He gives us drastic imagery: Tear out your eye if it causes you to sin. Cut off your hand if it causes you to sin.
If someone hits you, you should turn the other cheek.
If someone takes your coat, you should give your cloak as well.
Give to everyone who begs.
And the very difficult: Love your enemies.

Towards the end, Jesus gives the disciples a complete impossibility. He says, “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”

We are left at the top of the mountain a little lightheaded, a little short of oxygen, and a little bewildered.

How often do we feel this way about our own faith journey? If you’re like me, all the time.

And I’ve seen this concern, this worry that they won’t size up, that they won’t know enough, believe enough, do enough, or be enough, that they won’t “be perfect as their Father in Heaven is perfect” in our own confirmation candidates’ questions and their concerns.

But if we stop here in the story of Jesus’ Sermon, we will be like the rich man who leaves too early to hear the grace. All he hears is that he must sell everything and give it to the poor, and so, he leaves, hopeless. Don’t walk away too soon, or you’ll miss it.

Jesus doesn’t walk away. Jesus doesn’t stop here. He gives us words of encouragement: Ask and it will be given to you, Seek and you will find, Knock and the door will be opened. Jesus tells us that when we walk with God, anything is possible.

Today, we celebrate that God does not leave us alone on that mountain with only impossible expectations. When we ask, seek, and knock, God will be faithful to answer our calls, to be there when we look for God, and to open the door for us when the way seems impossibly locked. Even when we feel the silence of God as thick as a winter wool sweater, God promises to be faithful. Sometimes, our faith is in the waiting.

Today, you have heard from these young people about the journey of faith that begins with what Jesus leaves for us on that mountain. Since October, and even since their baptism, these young adults have been actively acting, seeking, and knocking.

They have asked by meeting with their mentors, studying together on Sunday mornings, and asking tough questions at retreats.
They have sought by serving at the men’s shelter, packing coffee for Building New Hope, and, just yesterday, helping re-roof a home in the Hill District, and they have been meeting together Sunday mornings, and experiencing different ways of worship at the Baptist church, the Synagogue, the Hindu Temple.

They have knocked with their journals, their prayers, and with the Statements of Faith.

And when they asked for bread, God did not give them a stone.

Today we celebrate and witness the faith that God has given them, the faith that God has in them. We celebrate and witness the journey we are all on, and the journey that these young people have begun and have promised to continue.

We come to ask God for fish, for a feast of faith and love and hope. On this Confirmation Day, we ask for blessings on these young people. We seek the renewed hope that God will help us fulfill those tasks that seem impossible. We know on the door of God’s Grace, and long for humble encounters with the Face of God. And God will not give us a snake. God will be faithful to what we ask. And if your experience is like mine, we must hold on, we have to keep knocking, we have to keep searching, even when we only hear silence on the other side. Faith is holding on to the hope that God is faithful, even if we have to wait for years. May we stay, listening to God’s word long enough to hear the Grace, to hear that our journey of faith is what is important, and with God’s help, we too can embrace a faith that leads us to right actions, that we too can be recognized by others as children of God, a faith that gives us the courage to hold on, even when the path is not clear, even when God seems far away.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

A "low Sunday" reflection from 12/28/08

As many of you know, I’m one of eight kids. I’m third in the line, but that just means that there are four or five of us who all suffer from “middle child syndrome.” I was the kind of middle child, though, who tried to get her attention from always doing things right. I was always trying to gain praise by being good. This, however, backfired. Whenever I got an A on a test, ran a tough race, or learned a new skill, my parents’ response was always, “well, I knew you could do it.” Don’t get me wrong; my parents are great, and extremely supportive – especially as I continue to collect Masters degrees like Hummel figurines. But their extreme confidence started to wear on me a bit. What would happen if, heaven forbid, I got a B? What would happen if I slept in and missed the race? What would happen if I were – gasp – a human who makes mistakes?

My mom loves to collect these fancy figurines that go together to make an elaborate Nativity scene. She’s collected almost all of them. She has the three wise men, complete with camel, a donkey, the shepherds, sheep in various positions, and even an angel that hovers above the scene. But she also has these figures that, as far as I can tell, had no place in the original nativity story. There’s this kid with a fishing pole, a girl looking, somehow, both devote and morose, and a boy with a drum. And it’s to this boy with a drum that I want us to think about now.

We’ve all heard of the song, “The Little Drummer Boy.” And when I was little, I had thought that this Drummer Boy was an original observer to the whole Jesus-in-the-manger, star-following, wise-men worshippers gig. His story had been swept up, at least for me, into the greater story of God entering human history. But let’s think about this story of this boy for a moment. You’ve just heard what happens when you give a kid a drum and say, “go at it.” Here’s what David James Duncan reflects on this song:
“Here is some uninvited urchin, standing right next to the cradle of a newborn baby, banging away on a drum. Have any vindictive relatives ever given a child in your home a drum? Pa rum pah pum pum is an extremely kind description of the result. Yet, out of reverence and love, the unidentified “poor boy” marches up to the manger of the (probably sleeping) Christ child and bangs the hell out of his drum.”
The funny thing is, when I read this reflection from David James Duncan, this was the first time I’d thought that maybe this Drummer Boy wasn’t any good at his drumming. When I was little, always worrying about getting my parent’s approval, I had always thought that he was some drumming prodigy, some kid in a tux straight from the New York City Orchestra.

But what if he was just some kid off the street. Some smelly kid who turned his mother’s clay pot upside down and stole her best ladle when her back was turned? And what if God liked it?

Sure, this is just a story. There is no historical evidence that this Drumming boy existed at all. But I wonder what Mary and Joseph were feeling when they went to Jerusalem, with this tiny, diaper-wetting – if they had diapers then –, spit-up covered baby, and heard these old people saying how great he was? Maybe Jesus had colic and Mary and Joseph had had sleepless night after sleepless night. Maybe they were scared, as many parents must have been, that their baby was so weak that he wouldn’t survive his first year? And as is the custom for all good Jews, Jesus is brought to Jerusalem eight days after he was born. Now, picture an eight-day old baby. Wrinkled, maybe a little jaundiced, maybe he still has a bit of a cone head from the birth. Now picture an eight-day old baby after a trip on a donkey across the country from Bethlehem to Jerusalem. But here comes Simeon, stealing Jesus out of his mother’s arms, and starts shouting about how he’s going to save the world. And as if that’s not enough, out comes this old woman, Anna, who must have looked a little crazy - old, and fasting and praying all the time - who goes around shouting about the child to everyone she lays her eyes on.

Now, as far as I can tell, Jesus has done nothing but be a baby at this point. He has no magic aura permeating from his skin that heals the sick; he has no telepathic qualities that call the sinners to repent. He’s a squirmy, fussy, probably still wrinkly baby, that has probably soaked through his diaper on occasion, and kept his parents up all night. Maybe Jesus has been so human, such a baby, that his parents, in the stress of being first-time parents of a newborn, have forgotten the unusual circumstances of his birth. Sure, they’re thrilled, as most new parents are, and they believe that they have the most beautiful, the most intelligent, the most amazing baby that has ever been born. But the thing is, I’m willing to bet, that all first time parents, who have conceived a child out of love, think the same thing. And they’re all right.

Why? Why are all parents right? Because of what delights God. Can you imagine God’s delight as God looked upon the baby Jesus? Think about your own face as you looked upon your child for the first time, or your niece or nephew, or your friend’s baby. What went through your mind? What might that baby have seen reflected in your face as you looked upon him or her?

My friend was talking about how he knew of his unconditional love for his newborn daughter. He was changing her diaper, and just as he was about to grab the wipes and the baby powder, she peed all over him. And he said he just laughed and laughed. He said he just couldn’t be more tickled about what she’d done to him. And maybe this is what I had been missing when I interpreted my own parents’ exclamations about how they always expect me to do well. Maybe, instead of mounting expectation after expectation upon me, they were just saying, “we’ve always thought that whatever you did, no matter how well you did it, you were amazing”?

What if we were to come to God just as we are, with our own natural gifts, with our pounding of drums, our hatred of paperwork, our nail-biting, our chewing with our mouths open, our inability to stick to a budget or balance our checkbooks? What if we were to come to God as an infant, to get back to where we knew exactly what we needed and knew exactly from whom to get it, and let God hold us, let God marvel at us with wide eyes and a huge smile, even as we make messes and cause sleep depravity? What if we remembered that no matter what our circumstances, no matter who our parents are, or what struggles we’ve gone through, that we were conceived in love? What if Jesus was the one who truly knew how much God loved him? What if Jesus knew exactly what God’s face looked like as God gazed upon him? Perhaps Jesus, then, is the one who can teach us how to truly realize that we are God’s children.

Friday, September 18, 2009


Things always seem a little more manageable when you can sleep in your own bed. Sure, it doesn’t have the convenience of a call button or the ability to prop you up to just the right angle, but it’s your bed, and its curves and dents fit your form just right.

The birth of my first child did not go as planned. Yes, I know that when having children, all your plans get thrown out the window, and things are never as you expect them to be. It’s like starting a project on your house. You think that repairing a hole in the wall in the kitchen will just require a bit of spackling, some primer, and a few coats of paint. But then you remember that the spackle takes twenty four hours to dry, and your paint brushes never got cleaned out from the last time you used them, and you can’t find your putty knife, you forgot to prime the walls before you painted, and the paint you got doesn’t seem to match, even though you know you picked out the right color. So, after three trips to the hardware store, you repaint the entire kitchen, get paint on the cabinets, go back to the hardware store for some paint remover, then spill the paint remover on the tile, requiring you to re-grout, and before you know it, an afternoon’s worth of work has turned into weeks, and a ten dollar repair job has just jumped into the hundreds.

I completely intended on a natural, low-intervention birth. But instead, I got an eight day stay at the hospital, complete with surgery, NICU visits, and a home heart monitor.

I was ready to scale a fourteener. I was ready for the switchbacks, the bushwhacking, the blisters and the weight of the heavy pack. I was ready for a mountaintop experience, ready to see for miles and miles from a snow-capped peak. Instead, I was airlifted just a hundred feet from the summit.

On Sunday, August 30th, I went to church like normal, but started feeling contractions during the service. Some of the women in the congregation noticed. But the contractions weren’t coming regularly, and I knew that some women feel these for days before anything happens. So we went home, and I went to lie down for awhile. And Dan was gearing up to mow the lawn. But after timing the contractions, and noting that they were picking up a bit – every seven to ten minutes or so – I called down to Dan to tell him that we’d better start packing.

Dan became a packing and cleaning machine. He vacuumed, de-cluttered, packed, and made peanut butter and jelly sandwiches while I started timing the contractions. All I wanted him to do was sit next to me and help me time them, but he couldn’t sit still. Finally, we were packed, and I decided to go for a walk. Of course it’s ridiculous to go for a walk without the dogs, so Dan harnessed them up, and we began our slow waddle around the block. The dogs had no idea why we were going so slowly, nor why I had to stop every five minutes or so to lean on Dan’s shoulder. But they knew something was up when we got back and Dan started packing the car. They know our bags, the frantic “we’re about to go on a trip” look on our faces, and they wait at the door for the moment when we call to them, “load up!” and open the hatch to our Jeep. Except this time, the dogs can’t come with us. Our wild dog, Meg, began to sense that something had gone awry with her plans to join us. And so, in perfect Meg fashion, she decided to sneak out the door as soon as Dan opened it to carry out another load. So my early labor was speckled with shouts of “Meg, Come!” throughout the neighborhood, as she decided that since she wasn’t coming with us, she’d might as well make her own adventure. We tried everything. We called her in high voices, enticed her with treats, even brought her food bowl out and shook the kibble inside, but it wasn’t until we tricked her to jump in the car that we finally got a hold of her and took her back inside.

The contractions were picking up. So I finally decided to call the doctor’s office and see what they thought. I hate telephones. I hate the awkwardness of the first greeting, the fear that you’ve interrupted someone in the middle of some important life discovery or an argument with his or her spouse, the feeling that maybe what you need from him or her isn’t so important, and the horrible pause that comes before finally concluding the phone call and saying goodbye. But I was having contractions and thought maybe someone else ought to know about it. So I called the doctor’s office, got scooted around from one answering service to another, and finally talked to a doctor on call, who told me to hang tight, and to continue laboring at home.

So we turned on “Arrested Development” episodes. We called our parents and gave them updates. We wandered around, hiding clutter in closets and drawers, vacuuming, wondering what we were forgetting, swaying together during each contraction. I drank Gatorade and ate Jello from tiny cups.

I called my mom at around nine or so that night. I was getting more and more sure that this was it. Tonight would be the night we’d go to the hospital – the final stage towards Jonah’s birth, towards meeting him, seeing his face and his hands. In the middle of the call with my mom, I told her to hold on a sec. I was having another contraction. I set the phone down, called to Dan, and started our slow dance through the tightness of the contraction. After it was over, I picked up the phone and said, “Okay, that one’s over,” and my mom started ranting about how I needed to get to the hospital, about how quickly these things could happen, about how I didn’t want to get amniotic fluid all over the car seats because you’ll never get the smell out.

So I waited another hour.

Then I called the hospital, told them we should probably come on in, and waddled to the car. Dan drove so slowly, trying to keep our Jeep from riding like the truck it is over all the Pittsburgh potholes. We parked on the street and took a slow walk into the hospital emergency room, stopping a few times to sway and breathe. Jonah was coming. He was really coming. But I couldn’t really focus on that. I could only just focus on breathing through every contraction.

I remember thinking how calm the ER waiting room seemed. The nurse in triage took my blood pressure, offered me congratulations, and told me to wait. There were others waiting, too, for relatives and friends, maybe, and they watched football games and comedy reruns from tiny televisions mounted on the walls. I hadn’t been in a hospital for myself since I was in the fourth grade, in to get two layers of stitches in my left arm from falling into a window well while trying to escape my neighbor’s squirt gun.

After about ten minutes, the transport person came with a giant wheelchair. I asked if I really had to sit down, and she said, “Yes,” and that “all the women complain about it.” We went up to the fifth floor, and they put us in a tiny room with a bed, a monitor, and a bathroom. They took my insurance information from Dan, gave him a bunch of papers to fill out, and sent me to the bathroom to change into a hospital gown and get them a urine sample. I could handle the urine sample, the putting my clothes into the plastic hospital bag, the next contraction. But those gowns were far too complicated for me to handle alone. I called for Dan to come help, and together, with a total five masters degrees between us, we finally figured out how to align the snaps, tie the knots, and successfully put on the hospital gown.

The nurse in the maternity triage room stared at me in disbelief when I told her I didn’t want an IV, just a hep-lock. She said, “So… you aren’t going to want an epidural?” in a tone that might as well have asked if I didn’t believe in the sun coming up or the world being round. I said, “Well, I’m not sure, but I don’t think so,” and she left in the loudest silent disbelief.

They checked my dilation, and I was hoping for at least four centimeters, but was only three, and they did a final ultrasound to make sure the baby was head down. They monitored my contractions for about twenty minutes, and finally decided that yes, they were going to admit me. We landed in our birthing suite around eleven or so, and we entered with the television flashing the food network, a horrible irony in that I’d have nothing but ice chips for the next forty hours or so. But I jump ahead.

I was Strep B positive, so they started me on antibiotics, and once I was hooked up, we started walking the halls. But we didn’t get far, and I sent Dan for a pail. I was going to get sick. So much for all the eating I’d tried to do while laboring at home in order to help me through labor.

We headed back to the birthing suite, where we stayed, standing, rocking, breathing, for the next five and a half hours. Dan put Hem on the IPod, and the lead singer’s soft voice entered and left my consciousness throughout the night.

Dr. Meyer came in. He was relaxed, making jokes with me between contractions, and asking us about our lives, how we met, where we went to college, what we did for a living. Turns out, his wife went to Hope College, and was a student of Jack Ridl’s. So we shared our favorite William Stafford poems, and talked about how great Jack was as a teacher, and is now.

When Dr. Meyer checked me soon before midnight, I was at six centimeters, and in the middle of his check, my water broke with a snap. With that, I was tethered to the monitor for the rest of the night. Soon after, our doula, Lakeisha, came, and she held my hand, rubbed my back, got more ice chips, and rewet the washcloth every half hour or so. Lakeisha, the nurse, and the doctor, were calling Dan the “daddy doula” because he was doing such a good job supporting me through each contraction.

By 2 am, I’d been standing and swaying through my contractions for hours. And things were certainly picking up. The contractions felt like all there was in the world, and yet, when I looked up at the clock, I was surprised at how much time had passed. My legs grew tired, and they put me on the bed, on my knees, leaning against the propped up head of the bed. The contractions were getting stronger and stronger, and at one point, I asked for the epidural. Part of me didn’t think I could last much longer, but part of me just wanted to be convinced that I was almost done, that I could do this, and that I really didn’t need it. When Dr. Meyer came to check me again, I lay down in the bed, and did not want to move from that position. I held on to Dan’s hand in my right hand, and Lakeisha’s in my left, and swayed my knees and rocked my whole body, and pulled on Dan’s hand with mine, trying to breathe out every contraction, imagining my breath pushing away the pain, out of my uterus, down my legs, past my knees, through my feet. I’d found some kind of rhythm. Looking back, I’m amazed at how my body just seemed to know how to cope, had found a way to move through each contraction, with rocking, with breath, with sweat.

At 3:30, I was beginning to get overwhelmed. But I was also noticing some quiet looks from Dr. Meyer and from our nurse, as they stared at the baby’s heart monitor. Each time Dr. Meyer checked me, he said the baby’s heart rate would drop, something about a sensitive vagal reflex. I couldn’t focus on that. The pain was too strong to let in any panic about the health of my baby. Everything would be okay. It hurt too much not to be. Everything had to be okay.

Dr. Meyer kept telling me to tell him when I felt a lot of pressure, and then it would be time to push. I wanted to push so badly. I wanted to move from this phase of painful waiting. The rhythm was taking me over, swallowing me up; I had to break it down somehow, and soon.

Dr. Meyer checked me, and I was almost ten centimeters; I just had a lip more to go. I could see the summit, the trees clearing, the path thinning.
Around 4 am, Dr. Meyer finally let me start pushing. I did a round of pushing. I made a mess all over the bed. They made me do three pushes in a row. The third push was the hardest. But I could feel like something was happening, like my baby was moving closer to me. And I was worried about how much more this was going to hurt.

Dr. Meyer said I wasn’t quite ready for more pushing yet, so I labored a bit longer. Finally, he let me try again, and this time he said I was a really good pusher, and that I would be able to push the baby right past that leftover lip in my cervix. But there was still a distraction. The monitor.
Dr. Meyer called in the OB on call, and suddenly the room filled with people. Two residents, more nurses, all hovering around the monitor. Dr. Meyer had me push through one more round. I was getting desperate to rest, to get this baby out, to meet my child. Mostly, to get this baby out.

But the OB doctor was skeptical. She was concerned about the numbers on the monitor each time I pushed. She strongly advised an emergency c-section. Dr. Meyer seemed to want to at least let me think that I had some choice in the matter, and asked me what I wanted to do. I asked if I could try pushing one more time. I pushed. Dan counted to ten through each push. Later, he said he was trying to count faster to help me get through each push. They had me pushing in rounds of three, and that third push through each contraction was incredibly difficult. But Jonah’s heart rate still dipped too far down, and suddenly I was surrounded by nurses and movement. I met the anesthesiologist, signed papers, and tried to keep breathing, while the nurses shaved me, put in a new round of antibiotics, had me swallow a terribly bitter antacid, and wheeled me away, without Dan.

They transferred me to the operating table, and in the middle of contractions, I was given the spinal. Dr. Meyer and the nurse held me steady, tried to calm me down, and coached me into the right position to avoid permanent paralysis. I was so grateful for them, steady for me while Dan was gone. Then I lay down; they strapped me in, put up the paper curtain, and they got to work. Around that time, Dan came in, in scrubs, and sat by my head.

It took about ten minutes – who knows – maybe more, maybe less, and Jonah was out. The doctor said, “Okay, a lot of pressure,” and out he came, all 8 pounds, ten ounces of him. She said he wasn’t coming out any other way. He’d had a tight cord around his neck. He cried for a minute, then calmed, and they put him in the warmer. I wouldn’t see him for at least another twenty minutes. It felt like I was listening to a television; the birth of my son as far away from me as the Nightly News or a “Seinfeld” episode. The thin paper curtain might as well have been a flat screen TV, or a fence with curling barbed wire.

Concerned about his heart rate, his breathing, and his temperature, they watched him for awhile. The first thing Dr. Meyer said was, “Who’s got the dimple in the chin?” “It’s my side of the family,” I said, “but we all call it ‘the butt chin.’” Dr. Meyer said, “Well, I wasn’t going to say anything, but…” and his comment helped keep my mind off of those overwhelming last fifteen minutes, helped me smile, helped form a small image in my mind of my son, a bridge across paper curtains, a crew of people in scrubs, numb legs, and a vulnerable, open uterus.

They let Dan come over and see him, but he didn’t get to cut the cord, that final act of birth that separates mother from child, and invites the baby to need what the rest of the world has to offer.

I didn’t get to feel his warm body against my chest, didn’t get to feed him right away, or smell his first life flesh, still wet with the both of us. I wasn’t the one who calmed him as he entered this world; mine wasn’t the first voice he heard. Our lungs didn’t breathe the same air; my finger wasn’t the first thing his tiny hand would grasp. Our eyes wouldn’t meet for at least another thirty minutes.

As they stitched me up, and watched my baby, I was puking in a tiny bin, held by a very kind anesthesiologist.

I should be grateful. I am grateful. They saved my child’s life. It was the right decision.

But I hear of so many instances when a C-Section wasn’t necessary, that instances of C-Sections have become increasingly more common, as many as one in three pregnancies, that I wonder if I should trust the doctor’s decision, if it was really necessary in my case.

A few days after coming home from the hospital, we saw a morning news report about a woman who was in labor at home for four days. The woman kept asking her midwife if this was okay, if this was normal, and the midwife encouraged her to just keep going. After her incredibly long labor, she gave birth to her dead child, the umbilical cord tied too tightly around the baby’s neck. The mother later said, “C-Sections are not the worst thing; I’d rather have a thousand C-Sections and still have my daughter.” When I watched that, I knew we’d made the right decision.
But there is still lingering pain and doubt.

Many parents have told me how strange it feels, to leave the hospital with this new child, like they’ve robbed a bank, or conned someone out of a winning lottery ticket. They tell me that, strangely, even after the sweat and fear and all that work, their child still doesn’t feel like theirs. And maybe if things had gone as I’d hoped, I’d still feel like this child is alien to me, still feel like I had nothing to do with the creation of this tiny being. But I can’t help but think that he’d feel a little bit more like mine, like I’d done something to earn him, to earn the chance to be his mom, if I’d just been able to get him out of me safely, and on my own.

Maybe that’s the big lesson. None of us can get in or out of this world safely on our own. Maybe I needed to fully experience the helplessness of a c-section in order to understand that it really does take a village to raise a child. But ever since I’ve been home with this new being, I haven’t wanted anyone’s help. I don’t even wake my husband up for midnight diaper changes anymore. When people hold him, I want him right back; no one else burps him right, no one else can feed him, no one else knows what he wants with each new cry. So much for a lesson out of this eight inch incision.

I’m still mourning the experience I wanted. I’m still angry that I didn’t get to experience all that I’d hoped. I get angry and sad when I read other women’s natural birth stories, about how amazing it was for them to experience the fullness of birth, the strength of their own bodies, and the huge emotional rush. It’s like they’ve been invited up to Mount Sinai, or to the Mount of Transfiguration, and I was left at home, in the valley, to sweep the dust off the front porch and wait for them to come home and tell me all about their sore feet from the climb, their dry mouths from the heat, their wide eyes from all they’d seen.

Jonah would stay in the hospital a total of eight days. First, they were concerned about an infection, then his low heart rate. He was fine; he is fine. A gorgeous, wonderful miracle. But I’m still weighed down by the experience we didn’t get to have, by the fact that Dan had to work the night they finally discharged Jonah and my mother-in-law was the one to drive us home from the hospital, that over and over those first days of his life, someone else kept stepping in to tend to him, to maintain his life, to save his life, and I was left behind.

Ultimately, the job got done. But how I wish it could have been more than a job, something more than checking a chore off a list. We got a beautiful result. But I’m still struggling to find the beauty in the journey on the way there.

Getting back into my own bed helps. Giving myself the grace to see that my body did a lot of work for nine months and fourteen hours, that my body still nourishes and enables this child to grow, is hard, but when I can, it helps. But how do I get to the resurrection of this story? How do I see the hope in what has already passed? In what part of this story can I be proud? Where in all this is my story? I’m so grateful for the birth of my healthy son, but I still mourn the loss of the experience I truly wanted.

Monday, August 24, 2009

The protective power of a colander

Ephesians 6:10-20
"Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his power. Put on the whole armour of God, so that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For our struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Therefore, take up the whole armour of God, so that you may be able to withstand on that evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm. Stand therefore, and fasten the belt of truth around your waist, and put on the breastplate of righteousness. As shoes for your feet put on whatever will make you ready to proclaim the gospel of peace. With all of these, take the shield of faith, with which you will be able to quench all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.
Pray in the Spirit at all times in every prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert and always persevere in supplication for all the saints. Pray also for me, so that when I speak, a message may be given to me to make known with boldness the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it boldly, as I must speak."

This passage is a progressive children's director's nightmare. Or maybe it's my own neurosis. But as a previously "trained" evangelical, this passage brings up images of demons, the end of the world, "spiritual warfare" and rows and rows of New York Times bestselling novels that crowd out the quality literature on the bookshelves. And then, to make things worse, the way to overcome these horrible images, is through the materials of warfare: swords, breastplates, helmets, and shields. This passage reminds me of the "scripture bombs" that we so often throw at each other to prove who is going to hell, who isn't, how you can express your sexuality, how you should spend your money, Democrat versus Republican, spanking versus time-out, cheese burgers versus challah bread; the list goes on and on. Initially to the quick, undiscerning eye, through its images, we are at war, but who we are fighting is still undefined and open to interpretation.

I picture a child hearing this passage and thinking of monsters under her bed, ghosts that haunt the night, and little devils bouncing around her shoulders. And I picture a child believing that the way to fight these monsters, ghosts and devils is through the violence of warfare.

And maybe, for some children, they need to hear that they have the tools to fight off these creatures that may seem so real to them.

But, it seems to me, that, as usual, God's definitions of things are much different from ours.

As I get older, my images of evil have changed, but they are no less frightening than when I was a child and worried about what waited for me beneath my bed. The realities of terrorism, poverty, governments that can ignore the sufferings of their citizens, the instability of the economy, and the daily news of murders, drug deals, and authority failures are enough to make any of us want to run and hide, or step out of our homes with guns drawn.

So what are we to do? How do we equip our children with the confidence to know that they can face this world with strength and a sense of protection? We cannot put our heads in the sand, nor encourage them to do so. Children realize the horrors of this world much sooner and more intensely than most of us realize.

So this week, I armed myself for my children's sermon with a colander, a spatula, and a cookie sheet.

After asking the kids what they thought "armor" is, and what it does, I put the colander on my head, the spatula in one hand, and the cookie sheet in the other for my shield. I asked them, how much good would these do to protect me?

Obviously, the kids stated that these kitchen items wouldn't go far in protecting me from danger.

But maybe that's the point.

It's not the things that we think will protect us that will ultimately keep us safe. This passage shows us that what often makes us vulnerable is what will, ultimately, protect us. We are told "to be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his power." But think about it, how did Jesus protect himself, or his followers from the powers of domination, destruction, and evil? He made friends with fishermen, he ate with outcasts, and he was thrown on a cross, humiliated. We are told to "put on the whole armour of God," which consists of truth, righteousness, peace, faith, and a pair of comfortable shoes. We are told to "Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God." These are the building blocks of community, of relationship, of vulnerability, and of story-telling. These are the elements of faith that have gotten not a few religious leaders into a whole heap of trouble, and for some, it cost them their lives.

But what the kids need to know is that it isn't through "sticks and stones" that we are protected, but through being in relationship with others that we are protected. This doesn't guarantee that we will never feel pain, but it does promise that we will never be alone through it. When we tell our stories, open our hearts to one another, and listen for God's voice among us, we will experience glimpses of Grace that can lead us to places beyond hurt and fear and pain.

When we experience the monsters under our beds, the devils on our backs, and the ghosts haunting our hallways, we can know that we are armed with what we need to protect ourselves: our loved ones, our church community, the communion of saints, and the extraordinary and strangely graceful vulnerability of our God.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Seeing in the Dark.

Ephesians 5:15-20 - "Be careful then how you live, not as unwise people, but as wise, making the most of the time, because the days are evil. So do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is. Do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, as you sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs among yourselves, singing and making melody for the Lord in your hearts, giving thanks to God the Father at all times and for everything in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ."

Ok. So this is the passage that they give me for this week's children's sermon. Instantly, I am thrown back into my evangelical Young Life days, where all I wanted to do was sit in a circle in the sun, sing praise songs, and hope that that boy playing guitar - the one with the Jesus fish on his car and the hemp necklace - would marry me.

But now, I love beer. I love some good debauchery. I think God is Mother, too.

So what do I tell these bleary-eyed kids, dragged from their summer beds to attend church in the 90 degree heat?

All I can think of are owls.

I wonder why owls are thought to be so wise. Why, out of the marmoset, the dung beetle, the great blue heron, why are the owls the wise ones?
It turns out, at least one reason, is that in stories and folklore, owls are considered wise because of their ability to maneuver in the dark. Being nocturnal creatures, these birds are able to live out most of their lives in darkness, hunting, nesting, mating, being, in the time of the day that humans fear most. This is an uncertain time. A dangerous time. A time when shadows cast strange shapes on the sidewalks, and even our feeble porch lights and streetlights do little more than remind us that we are completely vulnerable against the dark.

And maybe this is what wisdom is: a way for us to see our vulnerability, our unlit paths, our questions and doubts, and still maneuver through them. We make the most of our time by living wisely - not as ones who know all the answers, but as ones who try to maneuver through the dark, seeing and not seeing, sometimes stumbling, sometimes groping, and sometimes actually leading others through our questions and fears and doubts - or maybe we don't lead them through any of it; maybe we just nest in the dark, go on an occasional night hunt, sometimes coming back with full bellies, sometimes just enjoying the midnight flight.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Children and Spirituality

So I'm the Director of Children and Youth Ministry at a small but growing progressive urban church in Pittsburgh. I had no intention of pursuing this kind of position two plus years ago, but here I am, working with children and youth and striving to do the best I can with what God has thrown in front of me, or rather, what God has thrown me in front of.

I spend a lot of time getting adults to volunteer to participate in events like Vacation Bible School, teaching Sunday School, and working in the nursery. But my favorite part of this job comes when I can let go of the organizing and people-herding, and teach something about what I hope to be true about God. So maybe that's what this blog will turn in to, a chance for me to share some of those moments with anyone else who might be interested, and write out my thoughts about this vocation, and hopefully, this will help me discern the next step that is right for me.