Tuesday, January 27, 2015

There Is Grace in Rat Park.

John 5

5After this there was a festival of the Jews, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. 2Now in Jerusalem by the Sheep Gate there is a pool, called in Hebrew Beth-zatha, which has five porticoes. 3In these lay many invalids—blind, lame, and paralyzed. 5One man was there who had been ill for thirty-eight years. 6When Jesus saw him lying there and knew that he had been there a long time, he said to him, “Do you want to be made well?” 7The sick man answered 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.” 8Jesus said to him, “Stand up, take your mat and walk.” 9At once the man was made well, and he took up his mat and began to walk. Now that day was a sabbath. 10So the Jews said to the man who had been cured, “It is the sabbath; it is not lawful for you to carry your mat.” 11But he answered them, “The man who made me well said to me, ‘Take up your mat and walk.’” 12They asked him, “Who is the man who said to you, ‘Take it up and walk’?”13Now the man who had been healed did not know who it was, for Jesus had disappeared in the crowd that was there. 14Later Jesus found him in the temple and said to him, “See, you have been made well! Do not sin any more, so that nothing worse happens to you.” 15The man went away and told the Jews that it was Jesus who had made him well.

I have an overdeveloped sense of guilt. 
Maybe this comes from my Catholic grade school roots. Maybe it’s just from my serotonin issues. Or that it’s Always February in my brain. Or I have a case of the Mondays. Maybe I just absorbed all the spankings and yelling and timeouts that came to my troublemaker sister. But I have this uncanny ability to be able to figure out how to make everything my fault. Morning gridlock traffic? It was me. Hungry homeless kids? I didn’t do enough to stop it. U2 comes out with a series of mediocre albums? It’s because I am a fairweather fan and haven’t truly appreciated them since The Joshua Tree. 

Is it grey and gross in Pittsburgh at the end of January? Somehow, Eeyore and I worked together to staple big gray wool clouds up into the sky. Whatever it is, I’m sure I can figure out a way to blame myself for it. 
And when I DO screw up, which isn’t rare, my guilt is totally out of proportion with the crime. Just the other day, I missed an appointment. For no good reason. It just slipped my mind. And, it was the SECOND time that I’d missed this appointment. 

I was so upset with myself that  you would have thought that I had thrown away those plastic can holders without cutting them first or thrown my Starbucks coffee cup out of my car window on the highway while idealistic teenagers in bright orange vests and United Way t-shirts were stabbing at litter with those spear things.  You would have thought that I’d just been caught torturing puppies or clubbing seals. I missed an appointment, and I felt like I deserved to be hung for treason or at least sent to solitary confinement and fed prison loaf for the next 57 days.

Ok. True confessions. Appropriately, this was an appointment with my therapist… 

So I sent an email. And this is what it said: 
crap crap crap.
i'm so sorry.
send me the bill.
i'm so so sorry.
And you can’t see it, but I was even too ashamed to use capital letters. And then for the next 48 hours, I proceeded to contemplate things like bridges and exposure and bottles of aspirin. I trapped myself inside of my guilt-ridden brain, alone, beating myself up every moment.

And then she emailed me back. And she said, “There is grace.”

There is grace.

There is grace.

Grace didn’t exist for me. Grace didn’t exist until those words were said. “There is grace,” she said.
For me, in the midst of my overdeveloped, out-of-proportion guilt and shame, there was no such thing as grace. It didn’t exist. 
Everything I did was weighed down by the guilt of my screw up. I drank my coffee, guilty. I took my shower, guilty. I changed my son’s diaper and dropped off my other son at preschool…guilty. 
I had locked myself in a cage of guilt. Alone. And for a ridiculous reason - I’d missed an appointment. I’d inconvenienced someone. I’d made a mistake and now someone thought poorly of me. It was the worst. I was the worst. 
And then she said, “there is grace.” 

And it wasn’t just that she forgave me, or was willing to reschedule, or wasn’t sitting on her therapist couch stewing with her Jenn-shaped voodoo doll and contemplating ways she could plot her revenge.

She’d made an ontological statement. A statement that was true. Real. A statement that defied my doubts simply because it was spoken into existence. A statement that became true as soon as the words were said out loud.
See, the grace didn’t exist until there was a speaker and a hearer. A voice and a receiver. A narrator and a narratee. A connection. A relationship. And she chose to speak the grace into existence. 

In the seventies, some scientists did an experiment. They took a rat and put him in a cage all by himself. And then they gave him two water bottles - one filled with just plain old water, and the other, laced with cocaine. 
The rat went back to the cocaine-laced water again and again until it killed him.
Proof, they said, the chemicals in drugs are so evil, so addictive, that once we try them, we will be forever on a downward spiral of addiction until it kills us. Time for the war on drugs.

But then another scientist, a guy by the name of Bruce Alexander, came up with a follow-up of this experiment. He created a cage he called “rat park” - a place with the best rat food, great ratty tunnels to burrow through, fun, brightly colored rat-toys to play with, and a whole bunch rat-friends to live together. And, he included one bottle with plain water, and one laced with cocaine.
And wouldn’t you know it — the rats tried the cocaine water, but quickly gave it up, the majority of them rejecting it for the plain-old water and the toys and the delicious rat-food and tunnels and friends.

Alexander began to wonder, what if it isn’t simply chemical reactions in our brain that bring us down to our knees, that have us calling out to God in our despair, that have us contemplating cocaine water and bridges and exposure and bottles of aspirin? 
I mean, it has an impact. Serotonin is nothing to mess with.
But, what if it was our isolation? What if it was our cages we lock ourselves in, or feel we have been locked in by circumstances or fear or betrayal or the sins of others? 
What if we all had a “rat park” a place where our needs were met and we had other ratty-friends around us? What if we were surrounded by folks who speak the truth of who you are, and thus, bring the truth of who you are into existence? 

What if we heard, “there is grace”? That it exists. That it’s for you. That you’re surrounded by it all the time simply because you live in the rat park?

What if we had other rat friends who speak the truth of who we are - out loud - and then we are pulled out of our heads, out of our obsessions about how terrible we think we are, and into a world of the truth?

‘Cause if you’re just in your own head, you’ll still be hanging out at the pool in Bethesda, alone, for 38 years. 36 years, in my case.

It was the tradition that this pool would get stirred up by an angel of the Lord every so often, and there would be this mad dash of folks racing towards it, thinking only of themselves and their personal illnesses, and the first one to get to the pool would be healed of whatever ailment he or she had.

And here’s this guy hanging out for 38 years, waiting for his turn. Sitting around, waiting to get better. Sitting there alone in his own cage of isolation, waiting for healing in the way that he expects it to come.

And Jesus comes along and asks him what seems like a ridiculous question: “Hey, pool boy. Do you want to get well? Do you really want it? ‘Cause you’re just sitting here, alone, trapped in your own body, alone on your mat. Do you want to be made well?”
At first it sounds like such a ridiculous question. Of course he wants to get well. That’s why he’s been hanging out there for 38 years! 
And so the sick man answers Jesus, and gives him a whole line of excuses: “no one’s around to help me. I’m all alone. So by the time I get myself up and moving, someone else gets in to the pool ahead of me.”

I used to think that this guy should just get his head out of his ass and buck up. Quit your whining. You’re there at the pool, trapped, because really, that’s where you want to be. You’re comfortable there, on your little mat, with all kinds of excuses why you won’t get better. Mind over matter. Drag yourself out of the cage, stop drinking the cocaine water. Get it together, man. Just get better.

And the crazy thing is, Jesus heals him, even though he’s all whiny and helpless. Even though he’s alone and weak and only thinking about himself. Even though he has no idea who this Jesus guy is.

But I really don’t think pool boy is healed. Not yet. 

Sure, he takes his mat and he walks away. His legs work now. Great.

But when he is confronted by the authorities, he has no idea who healed him. Jesus has been lost in the crowds. Pool boy is still alone. Still isolated. And now he is in trouble. He’s doing something he considered miraculous - carrying his mat - but it is unlawful to do so on the Sabbath. He’s simply gone from lying down with a mat alone, to walking around carrying a mat, alone. And they ask him who told him to pick up his mat and walk and he has no idea who it was. 
He is still alone. He still has no community. No rat park.

But the true healing is coming.
Jesus comes back to find him. He declares to him that he has been made well. He speaks his wholeness into existence - not just because he can walk around now. Not just because he can carry a mat. But because he is back in the temple. He is back in community. He knows the name and the face and the voice of the One who made him well. He goes back to his community and tells them who it is that has made him well. The pool boy goes away and tells the Jews that it was Jesus who healed him.
This is the true healing. 

He is brought out of the cage of his own isolation, his own helplessness, his own addiction to his struggles and weakness and obsession with guilt, and back into the rat park. 

And the rat park isn’t Facebook. It isn’t texting or tweeting. It isn’t putting a status or blog post online or going in to a chat room and waiting for the waters to stir. It’s not getting trapped in your own head and thinking about how you wish folks could read your mind and notice how very much you’re struggling. 

The rat park is the place where you’re connected, where you matter, where you’re invested and invested in. It’s the place where your true value and worth are spoken into existence. Where someone speaks. Where someone hears. “See! you’ve been made well!” You’re back in the temple, back in the rat park, back in community. Go and be who you were made to be. Go and be in community so that you’re not isolated again, so that you don’t ever feel like your sippy cup of cocaine water or self-depravation or anger or helplessness is all that you have to go back to. Go and enter the rat park.  Guys - This is the rat park.

There is grace. Because it has been spoken in to existence, and because you’ve heard it. 
There is grace, because you’re not alone. Because it’s been said. Because you hear it. 
There is grace.

Thanks be to God.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Seeing Under the Fig Tree.

JOHN 1:43-51
43The next day Jesus decided to go to Galilee. He found Philip and said to him, “Follow me.” 44Now Philip was from Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter. 45Philip found Nathanael and said to him, “We have found him about whom Moses in the law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus son of Joseph from Nazareth.” 46Nathanael said to him, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Philip said to him, “Come and see.” 47When Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward him, he said of him, “Here is truly an Israelite in whom there is no deceit!” 48Nathanael asked him, “Where did you come to know me?” Jesus answered, “I saw you under the fig tree before Philip called you.” 49Nathanael replied, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” 50Jesus answered, “Do you believe because I told you that I saw you under the fig tree? You will see greater things than these.” 51And he said to him, “Very truly, I tell you, you will see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.”
As many of you know, my other work life involves the feeding of about 100 people twice a week across the bridge at Hot Metal Bridge Faith Community. It’s a crazy, eclectic bunch of people who come for a meal on Tuesdays and Thursdays. We get shut-ins and homeless folks. Drunks and NA regulars. We get mechanics and train riders and retired steel workers. We get atheists and agnostics and Bible-beating born-again Christians and old-school Catholics who are still shocked that the mass is no longer in Latin — let alone the thought that I am a female pastor. 

It’s usually great. I get in to these insane and slightly disgusting conversations about ingrown toenails and sciatica and the brilliance of the Bush presidencies. 

And I always end up getting in to these theological discussions with one-tooth-Bill. He claims to take everything in the Bible literally, and spends most of his time picketing - I mean praying - at the Planned Parenthood downtown. When he’s not telling me that he thinks I’m getting fat, I’m usually nodding my head, trying to listen, trying not to say something that will reveal how very little we have in common. 

But this Thursday was just over the top. After his updates about his newest anti-abortion sign, and a reminder about his literal biblical hermeneutic, he dove in. He was ranting about how he can’t trust anyone, and about how he won’t talk to certain people here because of their lifestyle and about how all he needs is God, and about how the rest of us are going to turn into a pillar of salt because we are living in a modern day Sodom and Gomorrah, what with all the Gays and the Tattoo Parlors on the Southside.

I just stood there. 
I stood there and I thought about how very wrong he was, and about how very lonely he must be, and about how he’s really hungry and is going to eat a meal provided by two tattooed gay men. 

He wears this long black trench coat. And another coat underneath. And under that is a maroon hoodie. And I wonder, whats behind all those layers of unkempt cotton and leather and polyester? 
What’s really there? Behind his one tooth and the platitudes and the prejudice and the serious need for a shower and a laundromat?

He’s my Nazareth. That backwards town full of hostile folks who are easily threatened. 

Nazareth in Jesus’ day is an unknown town full of unknown people. A nothing town. It’s not mentioned once in the Old Testament. It’s the backwoods. It’s out in the sticks. Farthest from the farthest suburb. It’s where there’s no public transportation or trash collection or internet access. Where they drink fracked well water. It’s where kids drop out of school in the eighth grade to work the fields or cook meth. 

And here is Bill, what I envision, with my sinful prejudice eyes, as my own personal Nazareth.

Ugh. What good can come out of Nazareth?

What’s the point of all this anyway? Is this anything? This work that I’m doing? This thing that we’re doing called “church”?
Is this anything?
Can anything good come out of Nazareth? Or Nigeria or Charlie Hebdo or Isis or Iran or one-toothed Bill? Or Pittsburgh? 

So all week I’ve been slumped beneath my own fig tree. Waiting for the Messiah to come, to look like a king or a prince or at least the next Neo-liberal-conservationist who invests in public schools and has really great hair. I’m waiting all alone under this tree for the Messiah - but only the one who eats locally grown organic kale and drives a Prius and makes a living fashioning beautiful teak furniture from trees that he’s sustainably grown in his back yard while entertaining young children with his arts studio on his front porch. I’m all alone, checking my watch for the fifty-seventh time, waiting for the Messiah to come and do and be and look exactly what I expect. 

And I drag my fig tree with me to another night of feeding hungry and ungrateful people. I avoid eye contact with one-tooth-Bill, because he might shanghai me into another conversation that makes me want to give up on humanity all together. 

But maybe it’s that damn fig tree that makes me remember that for homeless folks - the one thing they miss - it’s that no one looks them in the eye.
No one really sees them.
We might see their cardboard signs and their stained clothes. We might see their bruised knuckles and their callused hands. We see their laziness and drunkenness and poor choices. 

But we don’t see them. 
We walk by or over them. But we don’t look in their eyes. 

This isn’t anything, we think. And we keep walking.
Or. This is too much. and we keep walking. 
I can’t handle one-tooth-Bill’s ranting and hatred. So I come up with an excuse, and drag my fig tree along with me - ‘cause I know, if I just wait a little longer, my Messiah will show up any moment now. 

In the meantime, I wash the dishes and wipe down the tables and try to ignore one-tooth-Bill's ranting, and I wonder to myself, “Is this anything?” Can anything good come out of this? Where is this Messiah we’ve been waiting for?
I’ve got Nazareth-eyes.
 Eyes that can only see what I expect, eyes that can only register what I think I want. All the rest becomes invisible.
And then I feel invisible.

So often I feel so invisible in this work. You work your ass off to feed people, to give them a warm meal, a place to rest, a safe community to belong to, and they scarf down their meal and drop their dirty dishes in the bin and put on their coats and jump back on the bus. Gone. And then they come back, hungry all over again. 
Or you spend twenty hours thinking about a sermon, and in fourteen minutes it’s over, and people leave with balanced checkbooks and grocery lists and coffers full of daydreams. 
And I think that’s where all the “Is this anything?” comes from.
It comes from our feelings of invisibility.
Isn’t that why we’re so nasty and mean and judgmental - or passive aggressive -  on the internet  and in our cars and waiting in line at the grocery store? 
Our doubt about ourselves, about this whole God thing, comes from not feeling seen and heard and loved. 
Our ugliness and Nazareth-eyes comes from this feeling that no one really knows us, no one really sees us.

And then there’s Jesus.
Jesus who sees.
He really sees.

That’s what I think astounds Nathanael. 
It’s not that Jesus is clairvoyant or a miracle worker or a mountain mover.
So far in the Gospel of John, Jesus hasn’t done a THING to merit being called the Son of Man, the Messiah, the Anointed One. 
He’s been baptized. 
He’s met some people.
He’s traveled around.
There are no parapets, no trumpets resounding, no parade of elephants and soldiers and dancers and tapestries and sabers. 
There are no easy solutions for wars and violence and global warming and racism.
There’s just dust and sandals and fig trees. There are simply two eyes that can truly see things as they truly are.

“How did you know me, Jesus?” Nathanael asks. 
"I saw you under the fig tree." 

But Nathanael is seen. Is truly seen
And because Nathanael is truly seen, he gets it. Something registers. Something clicks. Nathanael doesn’t need floods or pillars of salt or resurrections or political insurrections. He just needs to be seen.

Nathanael is seen - and that’s enough.
“Rabbi! You are truly the Son of God!” he says. 
It’s enough.
It’s not just anything. It is something.
It’s everything.

There’s no miracle healing. There’s no prophetic reading of scripture. There’s no forefathers or lineage or parting of the heavens or multiplying bread or magic storm-stopping. There’s no miraculous resurrection or virgin birth. 
There’s just an encounter. A true seeing of another human being.
And that’s all it takes.
Jesus sees Nathanael - truly sees him for all that he is. He sees the holy and the good and the hopeful and the spirit in him. That’s the miracle. That’s whats so astonishing.

For Jesus, a fig tree is an axis mundi.
This is just a fancy term for what anthropologist Mircea Eliade calls a point that humans acknowledge as a “thin space” - a place where the division between heaven and earth dissolves, a place where God enters in, a holy place. An axis mundi is a place where the heavens are opened and the angels are ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.”

But for Jesus, the heavens ARE opened and the angels of God ARE ascending and descending upon the Son of Man right there by the fig tree. Everywhere Jesus looks is sacred, is the place where the Spirit is indwelling.

For Jesus, the boring ol’ fig tree on his way to Galilee is the place where true seeing happens, where an encounter with the divine occurs, where the heavens break in and God is here on earth. 

It’s a special kind of seeing that Jesus has. And as he truly sees Nathanael, Nathanael is able to see it too. 

And so, Jesus promises, you’re going to see a lot more fig trees. You think this is a big deal? My seeing you? You’re going to see everywhere. You’re going to find fig trees all over the place. And it’ll be like heaven has torn open, and the separation between this world and the next has dissolved, and you’ll see Jesus in all the places you never thought good would come from -- including in some angry lonely guy with one tooth who rants about how he he’s glad he won’t have to spend eternity with all those tattooed gay people. 

Can anything good come from Nazareth? Can anything good come from one-tooth-Bill? 
Come and See. 

Come and see and get yourself seen.
We’re all looking for the heavens to open and the seas to calm and the winning lottery ticket. 
And we get a fig tree.
A park bench.
A cup of coffee and an uncomfortable conversation with One-Tooth-Bill.
A highway overpass and a couple of dirty sleeping bags.
We get midnight panic attacks and toddler temper tantrums and folks cutting us off in traffic. We get missed appointments and broken relationships and unanswered questions.
But with the eyes of Jesus, they all become fig trees. They become axis mundis. They become places where the heavens can be torn open and the angels are descending and ascending upon the Son of Man. A place where you are truly seen. And a place where you can truly see.

Nazareth becomes the birth place of the Son of Man. 
The backwards stix of a town becomes the root of the tree where God’s grace enters in, where the division between heaven and earth dissolves, and where the one who truly sees and knows and loves us comes from. 

Come and See. 
Come and See.
Come. And be seen.

Thanks be to God. 

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Enter In - Or, Sometimes You Post Your Not-Your-Best Because It's the Healthy Thing to Do.

MARK 1:4-11
4John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. 5And people from the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him, and were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. 6Now John was clothed with camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. 7He proclaimed, “The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals. 8I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”
9In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. 10And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. 11And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”

Yup, you’ve got it folks! You’ve just tuned in to another episode of “What doesn’t make sense to Jenn this week?” 
Right along with when did it become acceptable to wear leggings as pants, and why are the Kardashians and Honey Boo Boo still on TV, Jenn has yet more things she doesn’t understand about the Bible. And this week is a doozy. It’s a veritable whirlpool of swirling, swarming, frothing questions. 
For instance: 
If this is baptism for the forgiveness of sins, why does Jesus get baptized?
Does he think he needs to be cleansed of some sin? Like a gossiping old woman at her weekly hair appointment, I want to ask, “What did Jesus DO?”
Who hears God’s pronouncement?
Who sees the heavens rip open and the Spirit come down?
Does this voice announce what has always been true about Jesus? Or does it suddenly become true now that it has been spoken?
What does Jesus think of all this?
What does it mean that Jesus is God’s Son? 
What does it mean to be baptized with the Holy Spirit?
Such a confluence of questions upon questions mixing with questions and frothing with doubts. 

This is where Mark chooses to start his gospel - his good news - with the confluence of a dirty vagabond from the wilderness who eats honey and locusts and wears a nit-infested camelhair tunic, he’s wandering around, straight from the wilderness, shouting that the end is near.  With the confluence of a muddy river and a crowd of sinful people who don’t want to be caught dead at the end still bearing all those sins, and a man who gets baptized whom we didn’t think needed to be baptized, and a buttload of questions.

Mark presses the fast forward button through references to God’s first creation, through prophets and psalms, through the Exodus and Elijah, to the end. The beginning of Mark’s gospel starts with a crowd of folks who are preparing for the end.

And they prepare by entering in to a moving river to be washed clean.
The end is here, Mark says, John says, his followers say, Jesus says, so let’s go to the river, the place where nothing stops moving, where nothing ever really ends, where things get churned up and mixed up and roll above and beyond and under each other.

Rivers are a force.
They can plow through mountains. They change landscapes. They overflow their banks and create new ecosystems. They gather up silt from one side of a bend and deposit it on the other. They change course and leave lakes behind. They twist and they turn and they keep moving. Sometimes at a slow meander. Sometimes as threatening rapids. 

And from the very beginning, from the very start of these rivers, before there were rivers, before there was rain and rapids and outlets that dump into the sea, before there were clouds that gathered and refilled the oceans, God hovered over the waters. The Spirit of God has been since the very beginning.  And there has been an ancient pull of these rivers that continues the cycle of water, gas, rain, and river, ocean, pond, lake, sea. The Spirit and the sea. Always together. Always flowing and colliding and hovering.

There is something very spiritual about rivers. All of the major religious traditions acknowledge this. In the Hindu Tradition, there is this thing called the Triveni Sangam. It’s the sacred confluence of three rivers - the Ganges, the Yamuna and an invisible river called the Saraswati. It is believed that all the gods come in human form to take a dip at the Triveni Sangam and expiate their sins. And so, anytime there is a confluence of rivers, the Hindus believe that it is an auspicious thing - that it is especially sacred. And yes, even Pittsburgh has a special significance because of its confluence of the Allegheny, the Monongahela, and the Ohio rivers. 

It’s the end of rivers colliding with the beginning of rivers in a forever dance of humanity, creation, Spirit. Endings and Beginnings. Things colliding. Getting churned up and mixing and rolling above and below and around each other. It’s a mess. And it’s sacred.

And John is shouting, “come! come to the river. because it’s the end. this is it. it’s all going to be over soon. come to the river, the thing that never ends, the place that flows and flows and has been here since the beginning of time, come at the end, to the beginning.”

And Jesus comes. Jesus enters in. Jesus starts his earthly ministry at the end. Around a bunch of people getting ready for plug to be pulled, the air to be let out, the coins to be placed upon the eyes of humanity.

Why does Jesus get baptized? Why does Jesus step in to that muddy river? Why does Jesus enter in?
Mark starts his good news by telling us that the end is at the beginning, and the beginning is at the end. And the answers are in the confluence of questions. 

Buechner says, “God himself does not give answers. He gives himself.” 

So here is Jesus, letting the waves of the river wash over him, and in this confluence of water and humanity and Jesus, something sacred happens. The Spirit that has hovered over the waters from the beginning of time enters in, and the division between the earthly realm and the heavenly realm is torn apart, and the Spirit lands upon Jesus like a dove. 
A clunky, klutzy, dove. Basically a white pigeon.
This is a sacred confluence of river, humanity, and Spirit, coming to Jesus to begin something new, but also something that has been flowing since the beginning of time. 
Mud and humanity and Jesus mixing and churning and the Spirit entering in. A beginning. And an end.
I’ve been feeling so much pressure lately to figure out a way to get this place to survive. What’s the secret formula, the magic ingredient that we just need to add or mix or configure so that Greenfield Presbyterian Church survives? What do we need to do or change or make so that we stay open one more year? How do we get folks in to this building, in these pews, their checks in the collection plate? If they only knew how cool we are, they’d come in droves, right??!!
God, what do we need to do, to know, to be, in order to stay open?
I don’t think I’m the only one who obsesses about this, am I?
So many questions.
And Buechner says, “God himself does not give answers. He gives himself.”

God enters in to the river. Into the muck and the mud and all the humanity.

God gives God’s self at the moment when we think it’s all over. 
God enters in to a rhythm that has been flowing since the beginning of time. Into the confluence of real stuff - of humanity and sin and water and cheap wine and everyday bread. 

I don’t think we need to change the core of who we are. I don’t think we need to be or do something that we aren’t or can’t just to survive. I think we need to enter in. I think we are already entering in. We are being who we are. And that will change us. And when it ends, just like all things end, it’ll be a new beginning. And I have no idea what that will look like. 

But when we enter in the skies will tear open, and we will hear God’s voice, and what we think is the end will become a new beginning. 

Let’s enter in and let the waves support our weight. Let’s open our hands and let the water rush between our fingers. Let’s enter in and see where the current takes us
Let’s enter in to the muck and mud of humanity. 
Who knows what it will look like.
Who knows whether it will be sustainable or practical or in a building with stained glass and a beautiful organ.
Who knows.
God doesn’t give us the answers. God enters in and gives us God’s self. 

Maybe we are at the end. Maybe this is the end and there is nothing to do but go to the river and enter in. Maybe. 
Maybe that will lead us to a new beginning. Maybe something new will start.
One thing I do believe, though. I think that when we enter in, we’ll hear the voice of God. We’ll enter something sacred. Something will open up and the Spirit will land.
Let’s give ourselves. Let’s enter in, and let’s see what happens. Let’s hear God’s voice.

Thanks be to God.