Giving Tuesday for Advent Week One

Advent may very well by my favorite season, and this year I know it will be especially hard for me to celebrate in the midst of everything being uncertain and uncomfortable and unknown. So I decided to create a daily liturgy for my family, with short scriptures and prayers that are words that my kids are familiar with. And, in the spirit of we’re all doing hard things, and can’t someone help, I’m sharing them here (and on my instagram).

One of the reasons is that I remember reading some of these scriptures when I was a child, for advent. The very scent of a lit match is a holy moment for me, and I want to create that same space for my children.

So, here is what I am teaching my kids:
Peace that tends to necessary work and cultivates space for flourishing life.
Love that surprises expectations and reconciles with enemies.
Joy that embraces those who sorrow and creates possibility.
Hope that recognizes the current situation and imagines generative futures.

I’m wondering if one of the ways that I can comfort my children is in saying that I am worried, disappointed, and frustrated, too. And that our emotions and feelings and thoughts are all valid and true and important. And that the way through isn’t to cover these things up, but to move through them.

This feels like work that we can actually sink our teeth into.

And I’m working to have the scriptures that I’ve chosen do some of this work. Because the gift of scripture is that anger, frustration, fury, disappointment, sadness, grief, joy, happiness, longing, and fulfillment all exist in this book breathed into being through a complicated past.

Life is complicated now. So it’s helpful to know that complications are not new.

If you want to follow along with our family, here are the readings and prayers for this week. (all scripture translations are from the Common English Bible translation)

Advent Week 1
December 1
Isaiah 2:4 CEB
God will judge between the nations,
and settle disputes of mighty nations.
Then they will beat their swords into iron plows
and their spears into pruning tools.
Nation will not take up sword against nation;
they will no longer learn how to make war. (CEB)

God of peace, teach us how to plant peace
in the midst of conflict.
Show us how to grow healing, forgiveness,
and love in the world around us. Amen.

December 2
Jeremiah 33:15-16 CEB
In those days and at that time,
I will raise up a righteous branch from David’s line,
who will do what is just and right in the land.
In those days, Judah will be saved
and Jerusalem will live in safety.
And this is what he will be called:
The Lord Is Our Righteousness. (CEB)

God of direction, help us learn when we are wrong.
Point us towards the difference
between winning and living in justice. Amen.

December 3
Psalm 25:4-5 CEB
Make your ways known to me, Lord;
teach me your paths.
Lead me in your truth—teach it to me—
because you are the God who saves me.
I put my hope in you all day long. (CEB)

God of truth, guide us towards you in all that we do.
Save us from the lies that work so hard
to keep us from you and your love.
We want to learn, God, teach us. Amen.

December 4
Psalm 80:4-5 CEB
Lord God of heavenly forces,
how long will you fume against your people’s prayer?
You’ve fed them bread made of tears;
you’ve given them tears to drink three times over! (CEB)

God of comfort, you are with us when we are sad.
Help us feel you in the midst of our tears. Amen.

December 5
Psalm 80:6-7 CEB
You’ve put us at odds with our neighbors;
our enemies make fun of us.
Restore us, God of heavenly forces!
Make your face shine so that we can be saved! (CEB)

God of healing, restore us when we are broken,
shield us when others laugh at us,
and help us see ways you are working
to mend the world. Amen.

I’ll post the next one on saturday.

Surprise!

I delivered this sermon for Shiloh United Methodist Church, Granite Quarry NC for Reign of Christ Sunday November 22, 2020. See this link for the video recording and to hear me singing.

1 For the beauty of the earth, 

for the glory of the skies, 

for the love which from our birth 

over and around us lies. 

Christ, our Lord, to you we raise 

this, our hymn of grateful praise. 

3 For the joy of human love, 

brother, sister, parent, child, 

friends on earth, and friends above, 

for all gentle thoughts and mild, 

Christ, our Lord, to you we raise 

this, our hymn of grateful praise. 

Surprise me!

Rebel has a game she likes to play at mealtimes when she is getting seconds, thirds, or fourths of what she is eating at the table. She will ask for the incredibly specific request for her food, check that us parents have gotten it right, and then hide her face or body at the table, and say: “Surprise me!”

So, John or I will get up, fulfill the request down to the smallest detail, and then place the plate back in the proper position, all the while she hides and waits expectantly. And then: “Surprise!”

And Rebel will emerge from hiding, exclaim in wonder, and say: “Yay! You surprised me! Oh thank you!”

I wonder at this practice of surprise. The excitement is genuine. The celebration is genuine. The joy is genuine. 

But it is exactly what our child asked for. It’s what she expected. 

Its valuable, this practice of surprise and joy and anticipation. 

I wonder though, as well, what it is practice for. What happens when what is delivered is not what was anticipated? Does the unexpected become the unwanted? 

Or is the surprise only good when it delivers good things? 

Perhaps it matters how much practice one has at surprise and disappointment. 

I wonder what the different groups in Jesus’ story today think about disappointment and surprise. 

Matthew 25:31-46 (NRSV)

“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left. Then the king will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’ And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.’ Then he will say to those at his left hand, ‘You that are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ Then they also will answer, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you?’ Then he will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”

This is the word of God for all people: Thanks be to God. 

Everyone is surprised. No one expects the one sitting on the throne to say what he says. 

Also, as a note, this entire collection of stories that Jesus tells about the Kingdom of heaven in Matthew 24 and 25 is about surprise and the people caught on either edge of surprise. This entire section is about people who will be surprised when they figure out that they either are or are not included. 

This story of Jesus stands as a conclusion to the stream of parables that Jesus tells as he attempts to teach his disciples about the Kingdom of Heaven. 

We read it sometimes as a parable as well, but it is more than that. In this story, jesus is telling us how to find, serve, and be present with him in our lives. 

I think we will still be surprised, but in his telling, I wonder if Jesus wants us to be a little more aware of how we act with the people around us. 

When was it that we saw you? 

What strikes me, especially in this reading, is that there are only two groups. Both are surprised. 

There are the ones who are surprised to learn that they have fed, offered drink, welcomed, clothed, and visited the Son of Man, when all they were doing was what they have always done.

The others ask the same question: When was it that we saw you? And didn’t take care of you? It is as if they are saying: Well Jesus, if you’d only let us know it was you, we’d definitely have done anything you needed. But we didn’t know it was you. 

Theres a lot of this, in the stories Jesus tells, the people who are caught out saying, “well, we’d have done it if we’d only have known.” 

But jesus is saying here, this is me telling you. This is your notice, you warning. This is how I am trying to make it so that you won’t be surprised. 

We will still be surprised. We are always surprised. Jesus is always surprising us. 

It seems that the two groups are saying these two things: the first says, “but, we didn’t do any grand gestures.” And the second group says, “But, we’d have done the grand gesture if we’d only known where to direct it.”

This Story is about recognition. 

We do not recognize jesus until Jesus reveals himself. We are surprised in the revelation, to learn that christ has been among us all along. 

Because, and here’s the thing that I noticed, finally, this year in my reading. There isn’t a third group. The hungry, thirsty, naked, sick, and imprisoned are not held as a third group. They are found in the midst of the two camps, among those who either cared or didn’t care for those around them. The least of these are found among those who serve. 

I imagine that in the telling, jesus indicates the son of man reaching out to encompass the whole group and saying, “Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.” 

And then in answer to the second group, “Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.”

And I imagine, the people looking around at their siblings and parents and kids and strangers and neighbors and enemies and friends and thinking about the number of times that they did something that surprised even themselves in their kindness, and knowing that those moments are what Jesus is talking about. 

Small things matter. Big things too, but the practice of the small things add up. Christ doesn’t order us to be perfect. Christ doesn’t even ask us to recognize him when we care for those around us. He simply says that when you cared, you cared. 

And it’s not that Jesus is asking to turn all of our relationships and all of our actions into a project to make sure that we “care for Jesus.” The people around us should not be a project or an task on our checklist to make sure we did our “Jesus thing” that day so we make sure we’re in the right group and we can get back to our lives. 

Jesus is talking about a practice of being with people so that we are generating the Kingdom of Heaven around us. Jesus is inviting us into a way of living our lives so that we are part of the kingdom of heaven, part of the Reign of Christ in the midst of our lives here on earth. 

We turn to christ’s reign and center the call of christ so that our lives reflect the kingdom being built around us. 

This is what it means to live as part of the kingdom of God. We inhabit the reign of Christ, here, now, in the midst of our strange world with the pandemic and uncertainty while we continue to face the unknown. 

I’ve been listening to a series of interviews that one of my professors at Duke is doing on a podcast called: Everything Happens. On each podcast, Dr. Kate Bowler has a conversation with a guest about how our humanity and our need for God intertwines and how we can all be on this journey of being human, together. One of her guests recently was Dr. Abigail Marsh, who has been studying empathy and the kind of people who take extremely altruistic actions, such as vital organ donations to strangers. 

Kate and Abigail shared a story of a person who donated part of their liver so a child could live: when the donor woke up from the surgery, he turned to his nurse and he asked, not: when will I be able to get back to work or when can I do the next thing on my checklist, but instead he asked: 

 “I just want to know, When will I be able to give blood again?” (KB)

There’s something different, Abigail says, about these people who give of themselves so deeply.

But the funny thing is that they don’t think they are anything but ordinary. They simply believe that we all belong to one another in a way that guides their decisions about themselves. They believe that “Everybody’s valuable, but nobody’s more valuable intrinsically. Nobody’s worth is intrinsically greater than anybody else’s.” (AM)

I believe that is what Jesus Christ is calling us to in this story to his disciples. 

Like the incredibly altruistic organ donors, the people who are told they cared for Christ are surprised they are different, they are surprised by the news. They cared for everyone as if they were caring for christ, and in so doing, they cared for christ. 

This I think, is what christ is calling us to in this story. We are called to be caught up in caring for those around us so much that we begin to build the reign of Christ around us. We build the kingdom of heaven around us in our daily caring for those around us. 

As we follow christ, the kingdom of heaven is reflected in our actions, in our words, in our lives. And we look forward to the surprise that Christ has in store for us as we look more and more with the eyes of Christ. 

When we begin to see the image of christ in those around us, when we recognize that each person around us is valuable and that they matter

I want to be part of this new world, a kingdom where the least matter. And so each of us have to work for change and become change ourselves and live into the change that is coming. Slowly. Inexorably. Invisibly, sometimes. But it’s coming. Keep watch, pray, wait, hope. 

The world changes. We change the world. 

In the name of the father, son, and holy spirit. Amen. 

2 For the wonder of each hour 

of the day and of the night, 

hill and vale and tree and flower, 

sun and moon and stars of light, 

Christ, our Lord, to you we raise 

this, our hymn of grateful praise. 

4 For yourself, best gift divine, 

to the world so freely given, 

agent of God’s grand design: 

peace on earth and joy in heaven. 

Christ, our Lord, to you we raise 

this, our hymn of grateful praise. 

Call to Worship/Opening Prayer:

With thanks, we present ourselves to you, O Creator,

With thanks, we celebrate your reign, O Christ, 

With thanks, we overflow with your presence, O Spirit. 

With thanks, we worship and adore you, O God. Amen. 

Pastoral Prayer:

God Who Sees,

Your creation points to you and your work, 

We are in awe at the wonders you have gathered for us, amazed by the gifts you provide, astounded by how you have chosen us as your children. 

Lord, we confess that sometimes we are surprised when we see people who seem out of place receiving your blessings. Help us to see those surprises as new revelations of your reign, that even the people that surprise us are part of your kingdom. 

Guide us to see everyone around us as expressions of your family. 

God, one of the hard things this year is the family we can’t see, the plans that we canceled, the traditions that changed, the holidays we missed because we stayed home. It’s hard to see these changes as anything more than losses and sacrifices. [I didn’t realize we’d cancel our family plans for this coming week when I wrote this.]

But God, in the midst of our losses, sacrifices, and cancellations, thank you for showing us what we care about. Even the things we haven’t been able to do have gained more value in their absence and pausing. We look forward to the time when we can embrace one another and be present fully, but until that time, focus us in the waiting. 

Help us to see those around us as parts of your family, rather than projects and obstacles to get to what we really want. Look into us, help us look with your eyes, so that we can see your children in the way that you see everyone, as precious, worthy, and deserving of your love. 

In the name of Christ, who can be found in the most unexpected places, we pray: Our Father…

The Edge of Hope

Sometimes it feels like I am holding on to hope with my fingernails. 

And that I’m slipping. 

And that the precipice is getting sharper and sharper. 

And I’ve started to bleed.

And hurts only to grasp at the lacerating edges of hope and feel so uncertain and not know if anything I will do matters. I fear holding on too much closely because I can’t tell if hope itself is doing the harm. 

Is it hope, or optimism, or fear, and I actually can’t feel the hope.

Does hope pierce my soul and release it, instead?

Or is hope an arrow shooting through the night sky and I lost my chance to grasp it when it disappeared into the mist around me. 

Or maybe. 

Maybe hope is the thing that is hovering around me as I grasp on the edge of this existence. 

Will it catch me? Could it, even if it wanted to? 

Maybe it isn’t hope that is cutting into my hands, but my desire to hold on to at least one thing that made sense this time last year, that now is ridiculous, pointless, impossible. 

Could it be that I am harming myself by thinking that hope has anything to do with the past? 

I’m tempted to compare my existence to those around me, to say that “I don’t have it that bad because we’re ok with money and we have a home and we’ve got a reliable job in the household and a stocked pantry, and a bunch of folks don’t have that.” And when my mind does that, I feel guilty for being lonely and angry and frustrated and tired and weary. But I am those things. And we can’t see our family. And we can’t go trick-or-treating. And I don’t risk going to shop for things that are outside of the essentials because even the pharmacy team can’t figure out how to wear their masks right. 

And so, I’m left with a sliver of hope, that maybe I will get to escape this season of despair, but really not knowing how it will happen.

— — —

The last special worship service that we had in person was Ash Wednesday, where we imposed ashes on our foreheads and said “dust you are, and to dust you shall return.” And part of me has not left that space. We began our quarantine in the midst of lent, and I do not know if it will be safe for me to return to in person worship until next year’s easter, or pentecost, or will the kids actually lose a full two years of worship. 

We don’t know. We don’t know, and so I don’t know how to grasp hope any tighter, if  actually holding it tightly is causing it to diminish like water or sand in my grasp. 

Perhaps I need to cup my hands like I am drinking from a fresh spring, holding a newborn kitten, or comforting a weeping child. 

Maybe it is that I think that my hands can do the only bit of holding, and I forget that I can embrace hope like a friend or a child or a child or a parent or a lover. 

Maybe my hands are not the right place for this holding. Or not enough, at least. 

What if I gathered hope up like one of my gangly squirmy children and let it sit for a while. Or embraced it like my lover. 

What if I need to be hope’s little spoon. 

I wonder what would happen if I allowed hope to embrace me, hold me instead. 

Can I rest in hope?

I’m unsure what to actually hope for that doesn’t feel directive. I can’t predict or conform the future to my hopes, and maybe that is why hope feels so ephemeral these days. I hope that my children are safe, that the children in my community whose skin is different than my own are also safe from the hatred of the fearful around me. But I want to look with better eyes than that. I want to hope bigger than that. 

But I don’t know if my hope can do any more than that right now. 

Unless. 

Here is the last thing.

I hope I can still find joy. 

Cultivate joy.

Dance in, breathe in, drift in, work in, sleep in, walk in, cook in, bathe in joy.

Not happiness, mind you. Nothing as saccharine or dismissive as that. 

But joy. Embodied joy. 

Thats what I hope I still spread and share and sing and soar in, even when it keeps getting darker. 

I hope for joy. 

Revel in the Revelation

My thoughts are jumbled up and caught in the midst of a deep knowing and a precipitous drop into a wild learning that I’ve been searching for these past five years. 

Everything has been layering into place to get me to here.

Right now. 

Revealing this. 

I’ve been taking lessons from my own body. Learning to trust it when it says yes, and no, and wait, and rest. Maybe everything was simply too loud, before. 

And now I’m listening for the gentle voice of my own being, created, good, and whole, and returning to fullness. 

I became thin, a veil to my own self, and rather than thickness I’ve built into this fullness, even as my milk runs dry and my tears run dry. 

From the thin place I entered, I have been guided to a place to understand my own theology of touch. 

I’m learning where the yes comes from. I’m learning more about how the yes has been closed off and told it was inappropriate and shamed and negated and gaslight and relegated to the smallest portion imaginable. 

But I am not settling for crumbs. 

There is more than enough to go around and I will help you get your enough while I seek my own. 

And I will listen to the gentle rhythm of the rain and my heartbeat and the wind in the trees and the rushing of the creek and I will dance with my whole self. 

Dance like my five year old and my two year old and dance like I’ve learned it already and like I’m creating a new kind of dance and there is only the true way to do it if you are dancing with the creator of the dance. 

There are no wrong steps if you are trying to listen. If you are able to say you are sorry. If you are willing to confess where you have been wrong and where you have hurt others and if you are willing to be contradicted with grace and learn. Learn. Learn. 

Then. 

Then we can move together and learn to hear our bodies together and listen to the voices that have been ignored out of ignorance that claimed it was innocent and now. Now we have seen that what is harmful is not holy, now that it has been revealed as the opposite of good, we can turn to the revelation and see. Actually see. 

And now that we see, we can help others see. And as we reveal our full selves, we dance and sing and twirl and party and circle around with joy and pleasure. We Revel. We cultivate this joy that cannot be denied or shut up or blocked out or dissipated or disappeared or ignored. Rather, we move, sing, embrace, listen, experience, breathe, and rejoice in this freedom. 

Nothing is created out of context, and I want to acknowledge that this is a response to what I am reading and hearing and listing to in this current time. Right now, my conversation partners are adrienne marie brown, Prentis Hemphill, Monica Byrne, Heather Willet Olsen, Kate Bowler, Sarah Howell-Miller, and Rose Eveleth. I wonder what I will learn next.

Good Enough

Its a little meta, but I am being good enough at having grace for myself. 

I’ve been listening to a lot of Kate Bowler’s Podcast, Everything Happens and her main point is that there’s no winning at life. She asks: what happens when you can’t “live your best life now” and really does a great job at deflating that concept in the first place. 

It’s really healthy for me to listen to. 

Because I’m not what I considered to be an over-achiever, and I really didn’t think that I was obsessed with perfection or anything, but because I picked up some messages along the way that excellence was the only measuring tool for accomplishments, and I also keep thinking I have to accomplish something or my life isn’t worth something.

Which is all shit, by the way.

I don’t need to publish a book in order to be a full person. 

I don’t need a raise to show that my call to ministry is valid. 

I don’t need to cook a particular diet of food to prove that I understand nutrition and all it’s facets, and I don’t have to get every new recipe perfect the first time I try it. 

I don’t need to spend at least three hours a day outside with my kids a day to be a good parent. 

I don’t need to attend every protest in a hundred mile radius to be a good advocate for justice.

I don’t need to lose those ten or fifteen pounds that I lost when I was significantly unhealthy and unable to care for my body well. (That wasn’t a healthy body… it just looked like it could have been. Or maybe what normative/opressive beauty norms say are right.)

I don’t need to have sex every night with my husband to be in a healthy, committed, romantic relationship with him.

I don’t need to keep up with twenty people and know how they are to the depths of their souls in order to have friendships and connections with my community.

Sometimes the pictures are misleading. (Scratch that.) The pictures can only ever show a part. And there are some things that will never be able to be captured in a photo still. 

Life isn’t a series of stills stitched together linearly to describe a progression. 

Life can be cyclical. Life can be dark. Life can be found in the quiet moments. Life can be found in an expression and glance exchanged over the dinner table. 

I think I feel like sometime soon someone is going to ask me what I want to do with my life, and I want to say, this… but… maybe with a particular thing added. But if I add something, it’s not because this, whatever this is, isn’t enough. It will be different. The balance will shift, an exchange will be made, and I will figure out a new pattern with the people I live my life with. 

And I want to begin what ever I start doing with the expectation up front that I am not trying to be perfect, but I am endeavoring to be whole. 

But first, I think I’m going to go eat another cookie and get another sticky hug from Roar.