Thursday, December 22, 2016

Coming Back to Life

I gave up on poetry,
the cross country team,
the idealism of cloth diapers,
and the defiance of being
the flat-chested girl,
on the infant bird fallen
from the branch.

Now I have lists:
celery, milk, sage, pharmacist, therapy.

These are not the end.

But where is the girl
who loved anyway
who built cardboard tree houses
in the snow?

Sunday, December 11, 2016

“Mary’s Ramones, Clash and Sex Pistols Mix-Tape” Or, “You Are Not the Exception.”

Mary Visits Elizabeth. Mary's Magnificat.

Growing up Catholic and female, I thought Mary was the quintessential example of who I was meant to be. Meek. Mild. Wear pastels. Say, “yes, whatever you want, God, Dad, nuns, boy bands, magazine ads, Ralph Macchio.” Be quiet. Be humble. I wanted to be so good at this. If I was really good at this, I’d get the honor of crowning Mary with a ring of flowers - an eighth grade tradition of dressing up and processing down the center church aisle and singing a song and then putting this crown of pink roses on her head. It used to be that the eighth grade class would vote on who would get the honor. Usually, the most popular girl who had mastered the art of big bangs and light hairspray was the one who’d win the prize. 
         But for my year, the teachers decided to change it up a bit. We’d all get a chance to “earn” the honor. One ticket with your name on it for every “Mary-Like” thing you did. That year, I crowned Mary. My mom dressed me in this pink thing with flowers and puffy sleeves and pink tights and pink patent leather shoes that didn’t really fit. I started to cry as she pinned the flower barrette in my hair. It was torture.

My earliest memory, I think, is of me sitting at the bottom of our stairs. It was January 14. I know this, because the next day was my birthday. My mom came up to me and asked, “What do you want for your fourth birthday, Jennifer?” (I was ALWAYS “Jennifer” with my mom). I told her I wanted three things: 
1. I am not going to be four. I’m going to turn five.
2. I am going to get a Dukes of Hazard Big Wheel with the side brake.
3. I’m not going to be a girl anymore. I am going to turn into a boy.
And then my birthday came, and I got one out of the three things I wanted. 

I honestly don’t think I was suffering from gender dysmorphia. I think I just knew, even at almost-four, that boys got to have something that girls couldn’t. Was it just the cool toys? Was it the jeans and t-shirts covered in holes and mud? Was it because He-Man was way cooler than She-ra and her stupid flying horse? Or because Wonder Woman had to run around in her bathing suit all the time? Or was it something deeper, something I just felt, some kind of unnameable secret code that got you in to the recess soccer games or the special fancy bar with the briefcases and the business cards and leather stools in the airport? Some feeling that, somehow, boys had it better than I did. And Mary’s story always seemed to reinforce this idea. 

I have spent most of my life trying to be small. I was tiny as a kid. Always in the 1st percentile, sometimes not even on the growth charts at all. I still got piggyback rides in Junior High. My first drivers license says that I’m 4’11” and 75 pounds. As much as I bemoaned not fitting in with the other kids, I had a niche for myself - the small one. The tiny kid. The one everyone could pull in their wagons and had the smallest strike zone.  The one who never did anything wrong and her worst grade was a B- in handwriting. I thought, maybe, if I make myself so small, so good, people would see me. I’d find my own Horton to hold me close to his ear while I called out “help!”  I even joined the cheerleading squad, thinking that even though I hated the tiny skirts and the hair bows and the ridiculous tight-elbowed clapping, I’d at least be seen as I climbed to the top of the pyramid, as I was thrown into the air and as I prayed that someone would catch me on the way down.

And then I became an Evangelical Christian. And not the cool kind. And I was, finally, rewarded for being humble. (which is hilarious if you think about it…). The good Christian girls waited until they were married, stuck with their daily quiet times, met for Bible study before school, and were happy to be the last in line. 
And as much as I’ve become “enlightened” and “liberated” by my Women’s Studies May Term and my Feminist Theology and my feminist husband and my boys who love purple nail polish, I’ve got this passivity and submissiveness thing so deep in my bones that even when it looks like I’m rebelling and speaking out and being ornery, it’s still calculated, suppressed, forced into a patriarchal mold. And when I think about owning our identities and speaking out without fear and embracing our belovedness, I always take the back of the line. Typically, I have believed that I am the exception. 

Everyone who gets good grades is really smart, well, everyone except me. 
Everyone else is attractive and unique in his/her own way, deserving of intimate relationships. Everyone but me. 
All the people who pray the Jesus prayer and give their hearts to Jesus will be saved, except me. 
If you work hard and you put your mind to it, you can do anything. For everyone but me. 
All sins are forgiven, unless of course, you’re me and you’ve thought the things I’ve thought. 
Sure. God loves us all… all of us except me.
Grace is for the drunks and the addicts and the broken and the muddled and the manipulative, and the lonely, all of them except me.
So often, folks remind me of things that I have preached. They say that I need to take a dose of my own medicine. And I tell them, “don’t you see? What I preach is true for everyone —everyone, but me.”
And anyway, even if I’m not the exception, I could never admit it. That’s not humble. That’s not meek and mild. That’s not Mary. 

Yesterday, Jonah kept track of how many times he burped throughout the day. He made it to 30. And that got me thinking about all the things I do on repeat all day. And I wondered how many times I say “sorry” throughout the course of a day. How many times I take on the full responsibility of everything that is bad or wrong or hurting or confusing. How many times I refuse to believe that I might be wanted, that back in the day, I could have been a “catch,” that someone might want to buy me a drink, or that I had enough smarts to learn all the chemistry and bone parts and get that degree and become the pediatrician who saves the poor kids in Rwanda. 

It’s always bugged me that in Mary’s song, it’s like she’s boasting. “Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed.” She’s not being very humble about her humility. “You’re all going to think I’m the greatest!,” she says, “Look at me! God has done great things for me and I “magnify” the Lord - I can change how all of you see God, I can expand that box you’ve all placed God in.” She’s not gazing at the floor, averting eye contact and continuing with the wash. She is shouting that she is blessed. The Greek there is “makarizo” - which means “to bless,” sure, but literally, it means “to make long, to extend.” Mary is a fourteen year old peasant girl who has been made long, extended, expanded, made bigger, and singing out, “I am going to take up space!” 
This isn’t what Mary should say. The meek and mild mother of God should not assume her greatness among the generations. The powerless and passive Hebrew peasant girl shouldn’t sing aloud about the condemnation of the powerful and belovedness of the weak.
You can’t say that, Mary. You can’t say that all generations will call you blessed. You can’t draw so much attention to yourself. That’s so…bold…so loud…so assured. 
You should at least pretend that you’re the passive empty vessel, at least to appease the patriarchy, at least to convince the guys that you’re on their side so you can infiltrate them from the inside. 

You should say that you’re so humble, so much a pile of nothing, such a passive receiver, that God chose you to be Jesus’ mother. You’re supposed to be small. You're supposed to be quiet. You’re supposed to wear a light blue veil and pray as you sweep the dirt floors and live with grace and gratitude even in the midst of an oppressive government regime. 

        You’re supposed to give birth in a stable and not complain and never take the last donut and always refill the coffee pot. You should always be the one who settles the restaurant tab when you go out to eat with the Nazareth gang. You should let the boys answer the questions. You should never say anything unless you’re sure it's what's best for everyone. You should suffer. You should degrade yourself. You should think that the only reason you got the job or the degree or the relationship is because there was no one else around to do it. You should believe what the boys tell you about your body while running on the playground and around the track in gym class. You should hide your sexuality and suppress your creativity and teach yourself to say the right things and accept the world as it is. Right? Shouldn’t you? Isn’t that you, Mary?
Good lord. It’s as if I’d never read the Magnificat before. It’s as if I thought Mary and Elizabeth were whispering about “being in the family way” over tea in some 1950s sitcom and not shouting with loud cries and singing exuberant songs about God. 

But that’s not what’s here. That’s not her song. Her song is a song about how she is not the exception to the long line of Hebrew greats who fit the bill. She gets to hang out with the big guns, she becomes the godfather, she’s Don Corlione, she makes, or maybe accepts, the offer you can’t refuse - the offer to bear the incarnated one. She’s not the overlooked one. She’s not small any longer. She’s taking up space. And that’s how God wants it. That she is exactly who she is supposed to be — without apology. She is made great. She has a voice. She has brave words to say against the oppressors of her time. She proclaims that she is who she is because that is how God made her. And she claims that this is good. 

And I know we’re not Catholic. Please don’t mistake this as me saying that Mary is some kind of demigod or should be worshiped or added to the Trinity to make the…quadity? (Not that the Catholics even THINK this...) But I am saying that even today, even in our supposedly “liberated” culture, we have missed her. We’ve overlooked her. We’ve forgotten that she’s kind of a big deal. She's a badass. She’s so exceptional because she shows us all that none of us are the exception. None of us gets put in the corner. None of us is the wallflower. Not one of us gets to say that everybody else gets the love and the grace and the power, except me. 

And then she becomes the punk with the black eyeliner and the neck tattoos and the torn jeans and the anarchist agenda. 
She says, “Because of me - because of how God made me - everything is going to be flipped upside down. Because I’m the mother of Jesus, God has scattered the proud and brought down the powerful from their thrones. And God has lifted up the lowly, fed the hungry, and sent the rich away with nothing but lint in their pockets.” 
Mary is owning her power. Power given to her by God. She’s proclaiming a world changed. She’s positioning herself in history, in the long story of the Israelites full of powerful kings and warriors with their swords and their armies and sexual prowess and long hair. This is Mary refusing to deviate from that gift of God’s strength and power and grace and greatness. She’s not the exception to the history of powerful men; she is the culmination. She is the theotokos, the “God bearer” - the fleshy one who brings holy flesh into the world. 

And I don’t think it is just the women in this room who feel the need to channel a little Mary in their lives. 
We need Mary’s power today. In our lives, in our government, in our churches. We need to embrace the boldness of this song. Not the acquiescing passive one we were taught as kids. Not the false narrative that is meant to keep us in our place and in line and thinking that we have no power. We are not the exception. We are not the only nobody. We do not have to be small. Because if an unmarried pregnant punk of a peasant girl can be great, so can we. That is a gift God gives us all through the birth of Christ. You are not the exception to God’s love and grace and power and belovedness, no matter your place in life, no matter where you were born, no matter if you’ve spent your whole life trying to get small. You are not the exception.
Just remind me of this when I want to get small again, when I want to cower before folks I think are better than I am, when I don’t trust my own instincts, or when I let someone else take control of my feelings. Help me know that “The Mighty One has done great things for me.” Can you remind me that I am not the exception? And if you can’t, it’s ok. Because there’s always Mary.

Monday, November 21, 2016

Expecto Patronum

Luke 8 - The Gerosene Demoniac - read the text here!

Lately, I’ve been taking a lot of comfort in kids books and superhero stories. The fight against evil by underdogs with more heart than power. The unsurmountable odds finally surmounted. The good triumphing over evil, but not without a lot of suffering, not without a lot of loss and fear and struggle. These stories take you to the very edge of human existence, the precipice of what can be withstood, and you think they’re going to fall into the abyss, taking us along with them, and then, they don’t, we don't. Somehow, the good guy wins. The shire is saved. The mouse is triumphant. Lex Luthor is defeated and Luke’s dad gets to see him with his own eyes. And if you haven’t checked out Luke Cage on Netflix, well, you’re missing out - giant bulletproof black guy wears a hoodie and gets justice for his murdered friend and neighborhood peacemaker, Pop. All kinds of stereotypes brought into the light, and then torn apart. It. Is. Amazing.  

With all the despair and division and clear, outright evil going on in our world today, it’s nice to immerse myself in hero stories. Maybe it’s to escape. But it’s also to hear the old stories again. The ones that may not be factual but are certainly true. The stories that live beyond ourselves and inspire us to act outside of ourselves. These fantastical stories show the full potential of the world’s evil. And the full potential of humanity’s goodness. 

So Jonah and I have been reading Harry Potter every night, we’re currently on book three, The Prisoner of Azkaban. In this book, Harry has to fight off a giant glob of dementors - ghostlike figures whose sole existence is to suck out any and all the happiness in someone’s soul. And if given their ultimate punishment, the victim’s soul will be sucked out of him or her completely by a dementor's kiss. The victim doesn’t die, but rather, lives the rest of his or her life soulless, feeling nothing, experiencing nothing, a robot, a zombie, or those of us who get caught in the endless moebius strip of facebook, instagram, cat videos and snapchat. 

I think about these dementors when I read about this demoniac. It’s like the poor guy’s very soul has been sucked out of him. He has no community other than the dead buried beneath his feet and the legion of demons swirling in his head, sucking out any goodness or happiness or soul-filled-ness from this poor guy. 
He’s been thrown out of community. Shackled up. Castigated. Rendered physically and emotionally naked. Labelled unclean and sent to live in the most unclean of places, among the dead. And when he does break his bonds, he is thrown out into the wilderness. The place of destitution and desperation and complete disconnection from humanity. It’s out in the wilderness that Jesus meets the devil. It’s out in the wilderness that the Israelites encounter poisonous snakes and drought and famine and hopelessness for forty years. 
I don’t know how I feel about demons. I mean, I don’t think I’d want to start a time-share with one or anything, but all these stories about demons and the devil and evil - as if it’s disconnected from us, disconnected from the powers and principalities that seem to embody this kind of evil, that I can’t really say in all honesty that I “believe” in them. Like there’s some red guy with a pitchfork somewhere, or some ghoulish troll with warts and twisted fingernails that enters into our brains through our nostrils. Yeah. I just can’t get there.
But describe to me what demons can do to us, I can get on board with that. Because I’ve been on board with that. Feeling tormented and crazy? check. Feeling absolute despair and overwhelming hopelessness? Yup. Feeling like something other than the person I identify as “me” is controlling my thoughts? I could write that horror film script. Feeling so isolated and alone - no matter how much folks want to tie me down and make me stay - that I tear away my bonds and run out into the wilderness? Well, you can just ask the folks closest to me about that one.

I think maybe a dementor’s as good an image of a demon as anything else I can think of. And every time Harry encounters one, it causes him to relive the most horrifying moment in his life, when his parents are killed by Voldemort. His encounters with them are so bad that he blacks out, collapses, gets sucked so deeply in to the horror and sadness that he loses all sense of himself. That sounds about right. Sounds a lot like this poor guy banished to the edge of town to live with the dead and cry out his fear into the dry wilderness air. 
Maybe demons are a real thing. Maybe they just feel like they’re a real thing. I don’t know. But I know that demonic feelings might be the realest things I’ve ever encountered in my life. If you’re tormented by a demon, you can’t will it away. When it’s deep inside of you, you can’t wish or pray or shout it away. Sometimes something can distract you from it for a bit - alcohol, drugs, sex, shopping, but as soon as it ends, you feel it, louder and harder than ever. Closer. Colder. Even more ready to suck out your soul with a kiss. 
In my case, with good meds and good doctors and a VERY patient therapist and an awesome worshipping community and a supportive family, I’m able to lull that demon into an undetermined, uncertain length of sleep so I can tiptoe around it and get on with my life. 
But what if all of our demons get together, throw some sort of collective black-lite rave, cranking the bass up so loud we can hardly hear ourselves think, let alone talk to each other?

Seems like there’s a a big one going on right now — complete with a laser light show and all the ecstasy of Facebook fights and political division and the basement roaches of Naziism and Xenophobia and racism crawling out of the woodwork. The demons in our country have crawled out into the light. 

I’ve heard a lot of folks, including our current president, say that this isn’t the apocalypse. And I get what they mean. It’s not the end of the world…at least not until the envelope of nuclear codes is placed right next to a twitter account. But I think this is an apocalypse.

I think we all go through little apocalypses throughout our lives. They knock us to our knees. They shock us and terrify us and we don’t think there will be a day after today. We cannot believe that life will go on. 
And then, it does. 
We keep waking up. We keep showing up. We carry the pain and horror of our experiences with us as we just keep putting one foot in front of the other. 
See, “apocalypse” literally means, “a revealing,” and “unveiling.” Things that weren’t seen are now seen. There’s a death that is brought to light. And in our biblical tradition, these revelations shine a spotlight on the horror, and then takes us on a journey to new birth. 

Laboring to birth a baby for twenty hours. That’s an apocalypse. You think you’re going to die. You’ve never felt so much pain. And then by some miracle, it ends and there’s this prune-y, purple squished up crying baby that is the most beautiful thing you have ever seen. 
I think our country, the Christian church, our communities, are all experiencing some labor pains. We’ve been carrying the hurt and pain of all of our demons alone as we try to struggle to keep up with all the others whom we assume don’t have those demons, we’ve been choked and bound and made raw and naked by our demons, and we’ve been doing it all alone. As if the only thing that can hear us are the bones of the dead, so why cry out any more? Why not just join them. We go it alone, we’re cast out into the tombs, and so, naturally, we start to believe what the demons are telling us. Because in isolation, we can’t hear anything else. And then the division, the separation between ourselves and our demons starts to blur. Until we cannot see a difference any more. We are the demons. 
Somehow, we believed the narrative that we were the exception to love. We’ve all got impostor syndrome, we ate the jello and drank the kool-aid and accepted the narrative. Someone, somewhere, sometimes even our own brains, banished us to the tombs, shackled us there, broken and vulnerable until we couldn’t tell where we end and the demons began. And we lash out. We attack. We start to protect our demons because that’s all we have left to know of ourselves. 

Ok. I admit. I might be known to have a bit of a flare for the dramatic. Maybe you have no idea what I’m talking about. Maybe you’ve never had the fear of being lost or alone or the exception. But I’m willing to wager that any of you who have made it past the age of fifteen know at least a little bit of what I’m talking about. We get so scared and insecure about our own selves that we lash out at others - we become our own demons, supposedly for our own self-protection. 
So. Here they are. The Legion. Here we are. The Legion. So. What’s Jesus gonna do about all this?
Jesus walks up to the demoniac. He talks to him. He asks their name. He casts them out. He gives proof that they’re gone. He returns us to community. 
Jesus encounters us where we are, as we are. 
Jesus wants to hear our stories in our own words. 
Then the demons are named. Power is gained over them, because suddenly they are other. THey’re NOT us. They’re a tumor that needs to be cut out. A virus that needs to be killed. Once named, we are no longer tied to them. Because we’ve just found out that they were never us in the first place. Like velcro ripping apart, what once was one now has two separate identities. 
And because we will never fully trust our sense of self again, we need to see it. We need proof that the demons are really gone, outside of us, cast into the abyss. Jesus throws them into a herd of pigs. And off they go over a cliff. It’s tangible proof to this guy that they’re gone. And they can't come back. 
The othering of the demon from ourselves is painful. It’s terrifying. Because who will we be without our demons? Who will we be without our demons? Maybe the recreation of the self, separate from this legion, is the hardest, most difficult process of this whole apocalypse. The magnetic poles want to go back together. The velcro was made to stick. The loops need the hooks, and the hooks think they need the loops. But this is a revealing. An unveiling. A continuous cycle of revealing and unveiling. Of the sun going dark and the moon turning to blood and all the stars falling out of the sky, until the day of the Lord begins with a pink sunrise and giggling kids and political reconciliation and who knows what else. That’s the struggle of labor; you’re never really sure what you’re going to get. 
I believe Jesus really had no idea what he was doing on that cross. He just labored until what was birthed was the curtain torn in two, demons pulled from our psyches, legions thrown into herds of pigs so that we can be in our right minds again. Until we could return back to community. Find out about our belovedness. Freed us from our shackles and pulls us from our graves 
It’s an apocalypse. A naming and separating from the thing that we think is really us but is just eating us alive and tearing us from each other. It’s a birthing of a new thing. We don’t know what we’re going to get. But trust. Trust it’ll be the most beautiful thing you have ever seen. 

Easier said than done, I know. But in case you’re worried, Harry learns a spell that summons a patron. “Expecto Patronum!” he calls out. Which literally means “I await a patron.” And one comes. And it chases the dementors away.

Thanks be to God. 

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

It's been awhile, but, hey, who wants to publish my book?


Acts 11

Peter’s Report to the Church at Jerusalem

11 Now the apostles and the believers[a] who were in Judea heard that the Gentiles had also accepted the word of God. So when Peter went up to Jerusalem, the circumcised believers[b] criticized him, saying, “Why did you go to uncircumcised men and eat with them?” Then Peter began to explain it to them, step by step, saying, “I was in the city of Joppa praying, and in a trance I saw a vision. There was something like a large sheet coming down from heaven, being lowered by its four corners; and it came close to me. As I looked at it closely I saw four-footed animals, beasts of prey, reptiles, and birds of the air. I also heard a voice saying to me, ‘Get up, Peter; kill and eat.’ But I replied, ‘By no means, Lord; for nothing profane or unclean has ever entered my mouth.’ But a second time the voice answered from heaven, ‘What God has made clean, you must not call profane.’ 10 This happened three times; then everything was pulled up again to heaven. 11 At that very moment three men, sent to me from Caesarea, arrived at the house where we were. 12 The Spirit told me to go with them and not to make a distinction between them and us.[c] These six brothers also accompanied me, and we entered the man’s house. 13 He told us how he had seen the angel standing in his house and saying, ‘Send to Joppa and bring Simon, who is called Peter; 14 he will give you a message by which you and your entire household will be saved.’ 15 And as I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell upon them just as it had upon us at the beginning. 16 And I remembered the word of the Lord, how he had said, ‘John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’ 17 If then God gave them the same gift that he gave us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could hinder God?” 18 When they heard this, they were silenced. And they praised God, saying, “Then God has given even to the Gentiles the repentance that leads to life.”

There's a rumor going around. Those people have experienced God. Not just any god. “Our” God. They don’t worship like we do. They don’t wear what we wear or eat what we eat. They don’t mark their bodies like we do. They have questionable lifestyles. They don’t understand the rhythm of our worship, and they speak out of turn. 

So, Peter, head of the church, what are you going to do about this? What are you going to do with these uncircumcised Gentiles who eat profane foods?  
So, Pope Leo, what are you going to do with Martin Luther, who no longer accepts your theology of indulgences? 
So, Martin Luther, what are you going to do with Calvin, who might be taking this radical grace thing a little too far, who might be stepping too far away from the correct theology of the Eucharist? 
And Calvin, what will you do with Wesley, who’s taking this free will thing a little too far? 
And Church of Germany, what are you going to do with Bonhoeffer, who takes a stand against German patriotism and participates in a plot to kill Hitler. 
And white mainline churches in the South, what are you going to do with Martin Luther King, Jr. who demands justice while you stand on the sidelines? 
And Evangelical Church, what are you going to do with Rob Bell who says “love wins” and Nadia Bolz-Weber who leads a church that welcomes all LGBTQ folks into their church family? 

Our Christian story is full of rebels. Folks pushing the boundaries, questioning at the margins, arguing with the status quo.
It’s the pattern of the Christian Church, to widen our arms ever outward. To take steps further and further towards radical acceptance of all people. And Jesus taught this. But it wasn’t until Peter was faced with this question, “do I eat with these Gentiles or not?” that the Church  as a family, as the body of Christ, began that all-too-slow, but ever growing, ever cracking, ever widening, journey towards radical inclusion. Sure. It’s not happening fast enough, but it’s happening. With Peter’s decision to let the Gentiles come to Christianity as they are, and not as circumcised and kosher Jews first, the chisel pierced the rock of isolation and separation, and has been driving down further and further as time has passed. 

And I believe that it’ll keep cracking through that rock until it hits the end, and the rock breaks apart and everyone is welcome to the Table of Christ, as they are, as family. The cleft keeps getting deeper, separating the only thing that we must be separated from — separation.

This is the obvious interpretation of this passage. Radical inclusion. Keep this passage in your pocket, save it for whenever you feel left out or kicked out or silently judged. Because this passage is on your side. 

It’s about radical grace. 

What God has made clean, you must not call profane. Peter gets a vision of this sheet coming down from heaven and is told to “Get up” “Kill and eat.” And with this vision, Peter’s entire world changes. And I don't think God is trying to tell him that He hates vegetarians. The narrative that he’s lived in to his whole life is unraveled. The Jews aren’t the favorites anymore. We’re all in the same boat. We’re all beloveds of God. And contrary to some more conservative theological voices, I don’t think this passage is just about how God has given us permission to eat shrimp and cheeseburgers. Because immediately after this vision, three Gentiles come to Peter, and the Spirit tells him to not make a distinction between himself and these men - even though his tradition, his story, has told him to make this distinction his whole life. 
Immediately after permission is given to eat food, it’s implications are widened to give permission to eat food with people they weren’t originally allowed to eat with. Imagine how this must have rocked Peter’s world. 
It’s a true conversion. 
Sure, Peter has followed Jesus, has argued over who will be at his right side, has made stupid decisions over him, has denied him and then professed his faith in him once again, and then has left his home to travel miles and miles to lead this new thing called Church. 

But it’s not until right now that I think Peter really gets the fullness of the Gospel. And it’s funny, because Jesus, in body, isn’t even there. After all the concrete experiences with Jesus, it’s this weird nebulous vision that helps him finally get it. That helps him see the length and depth and breadth and expanse of God’s great love for all of us. 

And it’s so important that the story is told and retold to us one right after the other, almost word for word. We get Peter’s vision twice. We are told that Peter is told, that what God has made clean you must not call profane three times, twice. 

Peter gets this message three times in his vision, just as he denied Jesus three times, just as he professed his love for Jesus three times. Luke, the writer of Acts does not want us to miss this. What God has made clean, you must not call profane. 
What God has made clean, you must not call profane. 
What God has made clean, you must not call profane. 

This is a story of radical inclusion.

So I’m like, “great. What now? At Hot Metal, at least on paper, we do this radical inclusion thing pretty well, or at least we want to do it pretty well, we want to be radically inclusive, we want a bigger table with more place-settings and more acceptance and more connection. We’re all about bridges here. When it comes to inclusion, though I’m sure we falter, and there’s room for improving, when it comes to inclusion we are working it. And pat yourself on the back, Jenn, ‘cause you’re not one of those pastors who preaches judgment and morality from the pulpit. Your not like those pastors who are still standing on their deteriorating soap boxes to demand from you what you think is necessary to get in to the Kingdom of God and what screw-ups will get you kicked right out. 
There’s nothing new in this passage, for me, I accept everybody. You’re all in. Love wins. C’mon in. Well, that’s not true if we’re being honest, but I sure do want to accept everybody.

Except there’s this one person I just can’t embrace. She’s just such a mess. The skin around her belly has never bounced back into its pre-baby version. She got an A- in Prophets and Psalms and could never figure out calculus. She leaves her wet towels on the bedroom floor and is far too willing to go to bed with dirty dishes in the sink. 

She gets so wrapped up in romantic love stories that her expectations for real relationships are completely unrealistic. She’s 37 and has never had a career, doesn’t own a suit, and has no idea what the difference is between a Roth and a Traditional IRA and how are those different from a 401K? Her kids love going to McDonalds and is constantly worried that her house smells like cat pee but that she’s gotten so used to the smell that she doesn’t notice it anymore. She still feels like that awkward, tiny, flat-chested freshman trying to figure out her locker combination, except she’s not so tiny anymore. 

Sometimes she says stupid things to people without thinking. Sometimes she’s so critical of herself that she misses it when someone else is really struggling. She takes a handful of meds every day and about 73% of the time, still thinks the world would be much better without her.  

I can accept anybody, drunks, addicts, abusers and walmart shoppers, even Nickelback fans. I can accept the mentally ill and the prisoner, the socks-with-sandals wearer, and the texting drivers who forget what a turn signal is for. 
I can accept anybody 
but myself. 

The sheet lowered down to me from the sky is full of high school drop outs and cheaters and gossips and racists, and fundamentalists and Trump supporters. It’s full of everyone, but me. 
To myself, I’m still the Gentile, on the outside looking in, feeling like it’s right and good that everyone else is sitting at the table passing the lemonade and the casseroles and the jello salad and I’m out here in the cold, watching through the window. Hell, I’ll even open the door for you as you reach to ring the doorbell, c’mon in, let me hang up your coat, come, sit down, you are welcome here. 

Am I really alone in this? I sorta don’t think so. Because if we all knew that we were welcome, that the radical inclusion included even us, then maybe we wouldn’t cut each other off in traffic so often, or yell at the telemarketers, or ignore the weeping woman at the bus stop, or want to build walls and send refugees back. Maybe we’d be better recyclers and we’d read all the books we’ve bought and get oil changes exactly every three thousand miles. Maybe if we knew we belonged, we wouldn’t be so afraid of those who seem so different from us. 

What would happen if you knew that you were welcome here?

What would happen if you knew that you were one of those who you thought were profane but God has made clean? 

Honestly, for myself I don’t know how to get there. I just hope that if I keep showing up, keep welcoming others, keep paying my therapy co-pay, then maybe, someday, I’ll have the courage to let myself in, to include myself amongst those made clean. Maybe I’ll have a vision where I’m sitting on that sheet coming down from heaven. Maybe I’ll be one of those whom God calls “clean.” “good.” “welcome.”
If I keep my toe in, if I keep showing up, if I keep participating, no matter how little, in this grand human story, then I might be an acceptable sentence, or noun, or conjunction, or punctuation mark in this messy human narrative. Maybe I’ll be part of the cleft in the rock of division. Maybe, when confronted by those fundamentalist, boundary-obeying, rule-following, original believers who have this Christianity thing all figured out, maybe when they criticize me for welcoming someone unlike them to the table, I can stand up to them like Peter did. 

Maybe, someday, that will give me the strength to let me enter the dining room and find a place at the table myself, maybe someday I can stand up to this destructive thing inside of me, and like Peter does, maybe I can share my story with others, value my own story, and then maybe the negativity and the voices in my head and the constant failure narrative that is the running film in my mind will be silenced, and I’ll praise God saying, “Then God has given even me - even me- the repentance that leads to life.”

For now, I know this is true. You are welcome here. 
You belong. 
What God has called clean, you must not call profane. 

Thanks be to God.