Neighbors

I preached on the parable of the man on the road, and the Samaritan who cares for him this morning. The Gospel text is Luke 10:25-37.

When I was growing up, I was incredibly independent.

I could do it all by myself. Or at least, that’s what I wanted to be able to do. I could handle any conflict, any haircut, any style choice, any handwriting, anything, really, all by myself.

When I was ten. You name it, I had it DOWN.

Now, of course we know that was not true.

Spats with my sister always got me in bigger trouble than her, because she still, to this day, knows how to press my buttons the best. Haircuts might be a little skewed, slanted, or short, and so I might walk around with bangs that left me looking surprised for a month. My sense of style remains to be anomalous and quirky, and my handwriting is still illegible.

I had a sign over my bed growing up “get help” that was it. It was there to remind me that I didn’t have to do it all on my own. We celebrate independence as a virtue, but it can just as often get us into trouble.

Continue reading “Neighbors”

Drink from the Source

When my family went to California for a camping trip, we drove up the coast and down the center as we journeyed and saw new sights. One of our sights for a considerable amount of the journey was Mount Shasta. It stands high and clear over the landscape for miles.

We have mountains on the east coast. They are old and worn with age, and lie on the edges of our horizons, whispering of everything that they have seen. The Appalachians rise and fall throughout their imaginary boundaries of states, knowing that they stand as a more solid barrier for any who would try to cross.

The mountains of the west coast of our American continent are much more new. They stand as young teenagers, proud and jutting out, rising over the landscape around them. They also prevent the easy travel from one place to another, but they seem to have a practice of standing tall just because they can.

When you see to the mountains of the west coast for the first time, they take your breath away. They are new and impatient, at least compared to their older, softer, wiser cousins. They stand tall, daring anyone and everyone to come closer and see how much more foreboding and forbidding they can be.

Mount Shasta is one of these mountains. It is tall in the center of the north part of California, and even in June it has snow capping it top. My family went to see the mountain, and we got out and played in the snow in our shorts. We did not go to the top, but we were high enough on the mountain that we could feel the thinness of the air in our lungs as we tried to catch our breath.

As we drove down the mountain we stopped in to see one of the things that Dad had found in his research. The headwaters of the Sacramento River flow from Mount Shasta. And so we went to the find the source. As we arrived, there was a man there with gallon jugs filling them up to take home. He and his wife only drink water from the spring, not the city water. There were water bugs flitting around on the surface and flying in the air.

The water was gushing out. Cold, clear, rushing from the seam in the mountain. As my family and I knelt to cup the water with our hands, the air made cold from contact with the water met our bodies with a bracing coolness. We drank. Crisp from starlit nights, cold from snow meting on the peak, clear from filtering through the mountain itself, the water was pure. We drank from the source, and celebrated the moment.

Later, as I have told the story, I have said I drank from Sacramento River water. The River, especially close to Sacramento, is wide, lingering, muddy, carrying boats here and there along its banks. You wouldn’t want to drink it. It is too far from the source. It is dirty with the many miles it has travelled. It has flowed along its banks, gathering the stories from everyone and everything it passes. The river takes the impurities along its banks, and carries them downstream. It does its job at cleaning, rather than remaining clean itself.

At the source, however, the headwaters are clean. They gush out, seeming to come out of nowhere, and spring out of the mountain in a joyous celebration of freedom. This is the primary source of all the water that flows through the land, watering the crops, and providing for everything it touches.

The water is pure, clear, and refreshing. The image of the cold water gushing out of the spring reminds me of the Sprit of God. The Spirit of God rushes clean and clear out of the source, and refreshes all who touch it. Unlike the river, the Spirit does not collect the sediment of the land as it travels, but it does continue to supply a refreshing presence as it flows through us.

Like the man and his wife, we should be thirsty for the source of the Spirit. We can wait and let the river flow down to us, lazily running along within the banks. Yet the bracing, refreshing presence of God calls us to seek for the source. It is not always easy to find. But it is so much more rewarding when we have sought out the source, and find that we can wash ourselves in the ever new, always refreshing presence of God.

We are called to seek the source. We are called to journey up the mountain to find the seam in the rock where the presence of God gushes out into the world. We could stay there. We could remain in the spring of water where the clear word of God rushes out into the world. But we don’t stay there. Instead we go out, sharing the refreshing presence of God with those around us.

When time comes for renewal we are called back to the source of life and joy in the Spirit. the Source refreshes us, and calls us to drink from the waters daily. But we don’t dwell there, and let it get stagnant. We allow the living water to flow through us, and renew everything around us.

The Spirit calls us to refreshing new life in the source. Will you come and be renewed?

We Are Yet Alive

The 2013 gathering of my Annual Conference begins this Wednesday. I will gather again with colleges and friends and other members and representatives of each and every United Methodist church in my geographic region. We will gather and sing. We will think of the Wesleyan songs, and ask each other “And Are We Yet Alive?”

And we are. Some of us have not survived from last year to this. Retired pastors have passed away, spouses and others have gone to join the heavenly chorus. But the room will be filled with living breathing bodies, celebrating that we gather together yet again.

The past year has been rough for some of us. Some of us have not been quite sure if we would be able to affirm the words of the song with total assurance. At some point or another in the year since we last gathered we have seen how the world is broken and hurting. Too many shootings and bombings and broken lives in the news keep our hearts and our souls hurt and weary. Simple disagreements have been blown out of proportion, and reminders of the broken world have kept us up at night.

We do not ride circuit on horses any more, but we still do gather together, thankful that we can once again declare that yes, we are yet alive.

Heartache and headaches have been visiting me more than I would like this past year. I am still grieving my Grandmother Janet who died in March. I am still figuring out how to best treat the migraines that I started having last summer.

But not everything is a heartache.

I am still serving two churches that are doing their best in their witness to the world. I will not be moving, and I am thankful that I have the opportunity to continue to build relationships with these remarkable men and women here in this particular place and time. I am considerably healthier now than I was a year ago, thanks to Spirited Life, my wellness advocate, and my support team. It no longer hurts to walk on my left foot. I drink more water and less soda than I did a year ago.

And now this week I get to go hang out with my friends again. One of the reasons I love Annual Conference is that all of my friends who are serving across the conference are all together in one place. It is like a family reunion for pastors. We rejoice together and join in the celebration that we have continued to be blessed to serve in this present age and time. We celebrate the way that justice continues to break out, and that we have been given the strength to deliver the prophetic message that can be tough and difficult.

We will join together, both laity and clergy, and at opening worship we will share the bread and the cup together, celebrating the fellowship of the table together. (Yes. I realize I said “together” three times.) We will have words of encouragement through bible study and words of teaching from Elaine Heath, and learn about a model of intentional community where she has found life. We will run and walk to raise awareness of Malaria prevention, and we will walk around the Lake where so many memories have been made and shared.

The business of Conference will happen, but the valuable part of conference is the time gathered under the trees, sharing conversations and stories of our lives of the past year or more. The sacrament is in the informal celebration and fellowship together, just as much as during opening worship and communion.

I will stand in support of those of my friends and colleagues who are being commissioned and ordained into the ministry of the church that we all serve. They will kneel in submission to being sent out, wise as serpents and innocent as doves. I pray that they will be shielded from evil, and preach the Living and Loving Word of God with courage and grace.

Eventually I will also be able to kneel and receive this charge; it is not yet my time to be on stage. But we all have been charged as a holy priesthood to go out and share this Gospel. It is the mission of the Church to teach and reach out in love.

This year we will be focusing on the words of Micah 6:8, to seek and do justice, love kindness and mercy and walk humbly with our God. These are words that I began to focus on over 4 years ago, and they remind me how much I need to depend on God and walk humbly through my work and ministry. I am excited to see and hear how we will be encouraged with these words from scripture this upcoming week.

For now I will work on packing my snacks for those long business sessions, and make sure that I have done everything on my list to prepare for this holy conferencing that we will participate in this week.

For my friends, I’ll see you at the Lake! And yes, we will celebrate that through all of the hurdles and roadblocks, we are yet alive to celebrate our hope and ministry of love.

Rural Thriving

I have days that I am extremely happy that I live a long way from a metropolitan area. I love that I only hear the sound of a car every so often. I love that there are more trees than houses. Really, I can only see one other house from my own. I love being able to go outside and see the stars. And if I drive to a field, I see them so clearly it moves me to tears. I love being able to watch the water level at the creek down the road from my house. I love the smell of the land being washed by the rain. I love that people know people, and that if you see someone at the grocery store, that you have a one in three chance of knowing their family, and a one in five that you know their name.

There are days that I complain. I fuss that I have to drive to get to a special grocery store for my special diet. I wish I lived closer to the places that my husband and I go to hang out with people our age. I plan out shopping lists according to weekly plans, and hope the plans stick. I dream of walking down a main street where I can get to everything by a short walk.

But those things are not all in the same place, and no one ever got anything from wishing it. Not to make an issue of sour grapes, but there are enough things here, where I am planted, that I am blessed.

I am blessed because we have a community of folks with gardens, and they are generous with their extra produce. I am blessed because I can take a walk down my street and everyone I see waves back at me. I am blessed because there is grace here, grace in abundance.

Sometimes, you could look through a telescope and wonder how it all works. I am not particularly fitted for rural living. Well, that is not completely true. I may not love all the parts about living in a rural area, but I do have plenty of experience. I have been able to thrive here.

It is not perfect. And I am not perfect. But I have found a home. I feel a part of this place. I will weep when we are called on to a different community to serve.

I have grown roots here. I didn’t expect it. I am not particularly good at setting out roots. I have places where I still need to work on drawing a foundation. But the roots that I have are surprisingly deep. It will make the ones that I continue to develop, even if they are along the surface, ever more stable.

I have put down roots, and I think I have finally furled out some leaves. I have worked at the buds of relationships, and my leaves are bright chartreuse. Eventually they will develop into the hardy green that shows that the entire tree is sustained. I look forward to the sustenance that I will derive from this land, this air, this sun: these people. Wait, and you can watch me thrive.

A Letter to an Unknown Sister in Palestine

Dear Heart, Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

No wait. Well, yes, grace and peace to you, but opening a letter with such a flagrant showing of my belief doesn’t really do much for the conversation with you if you don’t believe the same things I do.

Peace be with you. Because peace is something that we all desire. Peace. Peace in your heart. Peace in your home. Peace in your innermost being. Peace in your soul. Peace in your relationships. Peace in all the comings and goings of your life. Peace.

I feel the need to apologize for the angry, hate filled rhetoric that has filled the space between us. I know that I have not sent it out, but I feel that because I have not done much to speak against it, that I am actively participating in it. We can be such an angry, hate filled people sometimes. That goes for any group that I could be a part of: Christians, Southerners, Americans (and the fact that we call ourselves that, rather than residents of the United States, as if we are the only ones on the two continents), Pastors, Women, Ethnically White, Middle Class, Married, Heterosexual, Cis-gendered, Educated past High School, Employed. The list seems to never stop.

So many labels. I hadn’t stopped to consider how many labels that I had come to participate in. But, I want to speak past, or in spite of the labels. I want to speak as a sister. As a loved one, as a friend and as one who desires to hold a conversation and a relationship with you.

We will never get past the labels if we are not honest with each other. I am a listener. I am a prayer. I am a compassionate giver. I am a good hugger. I am a passionate singer.

And most of all, I want you to have peace. I desire that your nights are no longer filled with fear that the missiles will hit your house, or your parents house, or the houses of any of your loved ones. I pray that you will feel safe to let your children play like you used to. I want you to have a full, healthy life, that is complete and filled with love.

And so I wish peace be with you. And because of who I am, I pray that Peace will rest within you, and you will be comforted. Go in peace.