All of It

I have not reflected theologically in quite some time. Most of the theological structures that I had in place failed me magnificently over the past 2 years. I prayed a lot. I begged for revelations, affirmations, and prophesies, none of which came.

So I am reevaluting everything. All of it. Everything involving faith and spirituality. I am starting completely over at the basics and trying to unlearn my expectations and assumptions. I am not trying to force myself to fit into any systematic theology; I am letting it all fall into place slowly, organically.

So this is my second deconstruction. I went through my first during my freshman and sophomore years of college when I left my fundamentalist upbringing.

That was a decade ago! And I thought I was lucky because I got my great deconstruction done early in my life. But no. A surprise round 2 is upon me.

Something I was able to really feel and celebrate soon after my first deconstruction was how holy everything around me was. I was experiencing so many things in my college years, and it all felt sacred. Late nights with friends. Laughter. The music we made in choir. The plays and musicals we performed in theatre. The theological study I was engaging. Traveling to another country. Chapel services. Conversations in the dining hall. The songs of the crickets and the frogs at night. The way we all took care of each other in our dorm rooms when tornados were touching down nearby. It felt like the Divine was everywhere! The whole earth was full of glory. All of it.

Of course, over time this bliss has faded. I experienced hardship the year after I graduated college. Then in seminary I worked extremely hard and was focused on success. I had beautiful spiritual moments there as well, but I was pressured to follow a ministry path that didn’t fit me at all and pressured to conform to a particular theological framework to satisfy my ministry requirements. I lost a lot of essential parts of myself. I thought I had to sacrifice them to do the right thing of being faithful to seminary and ministry.

This was all bound to fail. In college I was allowed to be fully myself, for the first time ever. In ministry and in seminary I went back to being what others wanted me to be in line with a particular religious ideal.

Now I see that a second deconstruction was inevitable.

As I am reclaiming the parts of myself that were forced to be dormant, I have realized that some of the ideas I had after my first deconstruction are coming back to me.

I am wrtiting and putting my art in the world. That is holy and sacred. The great blue heron I saw a week ago while I was alone in the woods near the lake was a holy moment. The butterfly that grazes my face, the old man sitting on the park bench excitedly describing all the birds he has seen around the lake, the dog that approaches me for a pat and walks with me for a while, the choir I sing in, laughing with coworkers, these moments, this world is full of the Divine. All of it.

Ungrateful is okay.

It’s Thanksgiving. So we give thanks. Supposedly.

Christians, all Christians but especially evangelical Christians, capitalize on this holiday to talk about how bad we are at giving thanks to God and how we need to do better. The church often trumpets about how we’re never praising God enough, heaping guilt on someone receiving chemo and not simultaneously erupting in praise or shaming someone who can’t make ends meet for the month and not bursting out in song when their electricity is cut off. Apparently, an attitude of gratitude gives you the strength to persevere.

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That may work for some, but please, for God’s sake (yes, I mean that literally), stop telling people how they should suffer! If someone wants to weep through physical therapy as they have to relearn to walk and they can’t summon gratitude, then it’s never, ever your responsibility to correct them and direct them to do so!

DO NOT start a sentence with, “Well, at least you…” They don’t need to have a change of perspective to see that “someone always has it worse.” Listen, but don’t give advice. Encourage people when they go to therapy. Stand by people when they have mood swings from their depression medication. Cry with them. That pleases God so much more than demanding they constantly give thanks when they see little to give thanks for.

God doesn’t stand over the stranger, the orphan, and the widow and demand that they forsake their tears and praise God. God gets down on the ground and weeps with them.

So if you’re struggling with gratitude this Thanksgiving, it’s okay. Don’t pile more guilt and shame on yourself because your sighs are too deep for words. If counting your blessings doesn’t cheer you up, then don’t worry about it. Just survive the day, take the next step, and take care of yourself. Don’t wound yourself more by living up to the religious expectation of unabashed praise. It’s okay not to be okay, even on Thanksgiving. God is patient, and God would rather have genuine gratitude over “fake it until you make it” praise.

Pushing Through with Queer Eye

I’m carrying a lot these days; this year has been a tough one. The first third of the year was miserable with leaving my toxic ministry and dealing with panic attacks. The middle has been full of rest, healing, and discovery. But this last third has almost undone all of the healing that I worked so hard for.

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I am grateful for those who have encouraged me and shared my ministry with others. Starting a new ministry with Tales of Glory means that I need help, and asking for help can be really hard. But I am also disappointed that I haven’t received as much help as I have needed and asked for. It’s discouraging and lonely.

I have made some tough decisions in regards to setting myself free from abusive situations, how to move forward, and realizing how that might (permanently?) affect my future. I am fighting off another cold (I had one just a month ago!) and we’re coming up one month of living in a hotel after our fire.

It’s hard not to be depressed. It’s hard not to lose my faith. It’s hard not to close myself off from others and completely withdraw within myself. Sometimes I feel as if I only have my husband and myself. Part of that is beyond my control. The other part might be my own doing as I retract from the world that seems to really have it out for me.

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On my sick day, I decided to go back and watch Queer Eye from the beginning. 5 gay men, known as the Fab 5, enter a person’s life to make them over on the outside and makeover their home, but also reach deep to boost their confidence and self-image, work on their relationships, work on their professional lives, and truly bring out the beauty in each one of the “heroes” they work with. It never fails to bring joy and light in my life. But it was extra profound to watch these episodes that hit on so many of the things I am experiencing: loneliness, complicated family situations, struggling to connect to others, struggling with faith and theology, and even the grueling struggle of starting a business.

In one of the most recent episodes where they took Queer Eye to Japan, one of the Fab 5 named Antoni, who specializes in food, was watching some of the footage from one of their makeovers. They always watch footage of how their makeover has helped their “hero.” Antoni was openly weeping when he saw the hero and her friend embracing each other for the first time after decades of friendship, which they said was not common in their culture. He cried out, “Why does kindness always make me cry?!” Through my own tears, I laughed and said, “That’s all of us watching this on every episode!”

I have been knocked off my feet so many times just this year alone that I know there is no way to know what the future holds. I don’t really know how this chapter of life is going to work out for me. I keep scanning the horizon for a sign and coming up empty. What I do know is that Queer Eye is the microcosm of what the kingdom of God should look like. I am going to keep gathering these little pockets of joy and kindness to sustain my soul. Maybe my own faith and my own ministry can grow from there. For today, Queer Eye has kept my faith in God and in the goodness of others alive. Each day looks different, and each day I react differently as I stumble through; but at least for today I am pushing through with the small gift of hope given to me by the Fab 5.

Take a Breath

Getting a new enterprise going is tough. You have to go all-in because you know it’s all on you to succeed. I have been working on Tales of Glory since July, and I am starting to get traction with my work. However, I am hitting a bit of a wall. Burn out is real, especially after leaving trauma behind. But I am learning how to balance the time when I need to pause, take a breath, lean into healing, and start again.

 

I have had wonderful people reach out and encourage me. This encouragement has seemingly come out of the blue, but I believe that the Holy Spirit works behind the scenes when we are struggling. These messages people send me give me peace, and they soothe the pain and anger I have felt toward God, myself, and those who’ve hurt me. I have taken time to meditate, pray, and cry over these kind words. They heal me. But, the time I spend in prayer and meditation is time away from my work, and then I don’t accomplish what I had hoped for the day.

But I need these moments to heal. Healing is not linear and takes time. Also, I cannot minister if I refuse to talk to God out of anger and if I hold onto the suffering. Rage creates self-inflicted wounds. So I choose to pause, to heal. Instead of scolding myself for not meeting all of my goals for the day, I lean into the peace. I work through my anger or sadness. Then I take a breath. I let the love others show me and the love God is sending wash over me. I sit in the light shining on me. I can’t move forward in my work, at least not to its full potential, if I am not also on a path to healing. I cannot heal if I do not allow the space for it to happen.

 

When the weight of your work is bearing down on you, and your mind or your soul needs a break, then take a breath. You may not cross everything off your to-do list for the day, but you and your work will be better for it. And if someone crosses your mind, reach out to them. Encourage them. The Holy Spirit may be working through you; you just may be an essential part of their healing.

Published Sermons!

I am sharing to let everyone know that I have published a book of sermons! “Who May Dwell on Your Holy Hill?” is the first in what I hope to be a long, fruitful, life-giving career in writing and publishing. For anyone who has enjoyed my blogs, I think you will enjoy my sermons as well. They can be used for devotionals (they aren’t too long!) or for other preachers looking for sermon illustrations or for anyone who simply enjoys scripture, theological reflection, and stories. And please feel free to share with your friends! You can order my book here:

Parson’s Porch

Living Easter

Easter is not over, it’s just entering its second week. It’s really easy to slip out of Lent, a time of discipline and fasting, celebrate the holiday of Easter and then move on. Especially after more shootings in California and Baltimore, Jesus’ victory over death seems to lose its savor. But as Atlanta Terence Lester based activist explains, when nothing seems to change around us, then we have to change our selves and our own communities. Our actions seem small, but they are a start. If more and more people were to be encouraged to be brave enough to keep trying, then change would be evident. This is how we live into the resurrection and keep the celebration going. This is how we live into the kingdom of God that Jesus spent all of his time telling us about. During the weeks of Easter leading to Pentecost, a time in the church when we remember the coming of the Holy Spirit with tongues of fire, I will be sharing practices I have adopted and other practices that can be used for change around us. This week I am sharing small, easy, practical things we can do in our every day life.

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  1. I don’t always have cash on me, and when I do it’s for a specific reason, so I can’t really afford to give it away. So when I am approached by people who are looking for money I try to carry something else on me instead: I carry a small water bottle and a snack, like a pack of crackers and a granola bar, so I can offer them something. Often people could use some sustenance. If they don’t want it, they don’t have to take it and I can wish them a good day. A compassionate interaction, even if our help is limited, can really change how we as a society see and treat people who are in need of help.
  2. Keep your change! At the end of the year you can roll it up, put it in the bank, and cut a check to donate it as a gift to a charity of your choice. Or my denomination has an initiative known as “10 cents a meal” (can also be known as “Pennies for Hunger or “Cents-ability”) where every 10 cents buys a meal for a person in need. People in our churches save their change each month to bring it to church to donate.
  3. It you have a few extra bucks to spend at the store and you’re tempted to get some canned food, first do a few minutes of research. First, find out what charities, shelters, kitchens, and other nonprofits are local to you. Second, go to their website and find out what they are specifically looking for. Often places like these are looking for feminine products, underwear, baby wipes, and socks. Find out their specific needs and try to fill those instead of giving cans of green beans and corn. Only donate those food items if a food pantry specifically asks for them.

These suggestions are just a small start! I am trying out all of them, especially the first one. If you think of something helpful, share it with others! Just make sure that you’ve done your research and that these acts are going to be helpful and not just seem helpful to make us feel good. It’s about making change, not a pat on our back for doing something. Next week I will talk about volunteering time. Let’s keep the resurrection victory moving in our daily lives this Eastertide.

Revelation 1:4-8
John to the seven churches that are in Asia: Grace to you and peace from him who is and who was and who is to come, and from the seven spirits who are before his throne, and from Jesus Christ, the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth. To him who loves us and freed us from our sins by his blood, and made us to be a kingdom, priests serving his God and Father, to him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen. Look! He is coming with the clouds; every eye will see him, even those who pierced him; and on his account all the tribes of the earth will wail. So it is to be. Amen. “I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.

Easter Prayer

 

Burst forth Christ Jesus! Just as you burst forth from the tomb on resurrection day so long ago, burst forth in our spirits renewing us to overcome the hold of death and decay. Just as the sun rays spill over the horizon on this new day, let your love spill out of our hearts over the world so that all may know that your goodness overcomes all evil. Just as the flower buds pop open, let our minds pop open to your divine mystery and the vastness of your kingdom. Just as the spring rains shower our thirsty soil, let your justice shower over the righteous and the unrighteous. Just as the temperatures warm the air around us, help us to share the warmth of inclusion that is your call to discipleship. Just as the grass grows lush and green around us, help us to grow as new creation while the old passes away. Just as the slumbering creatures awaken to stir the wild around us, help us to awaken so that we might do your work of loving the least of these. Just as the breeze sings through the trees and the rocks shout beneath the cascades of the waterfall, we sing your praises and shout in rejoicing. Burst forth Christ Jesus! Burst forth in our daily lives as the living God with us, reminding us that we have been set free from death because you are our victor over the grave. Amen.

Holy Saturday

John 19:38-42
After these things, Joseph of Arimathea, who was a disciple of Jesus, though a secret one because of his fear of the Jews, asked Pilate to let him take away the body of Jesus. Pilate gave him permission; so he came and removed his body. Nicodemus, who had at first come to Jesus by night, also came, bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes, weighing about a hundred pounds. They took the body of Jesus and wrapped it with the spices in linen cloths, according to the burial custom of the Jews. Now there was a garden in the place where he was crucified, and in the garden there was a new tomb in which no one had ever been laid. And so, because it was the Jewish day of Preparation, and the tomb was nearby, they laid Jesus there.

Remember Jesus.

Remember the 3 historically black Seventh District Churches in Louisiana.

Remember Notre-Dame.

Remember the Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem.

Remember Al Noor Mosque and Linwood Islamic Center in Christchurch, NZ.

Remember the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh.

Remember the people at the Mexico/American border.

Remember the separated immigrant families.

Remember the DACA recipients.

Remember Flint, Michigan.

Remember the people of color who are raising their voices against unjust killings, the broken justice system, the suppression of voters, gentrification, privilege, and equality.

Remember those in prison and those that our justice system fails.

Remember Columbine, Parkland, Sandy Hook, and all others. Too many others.

Remember those who died by suicide.

Remember those with us now struggling with depression, anxiety, PTSD, bi-polar disorder, schizophrenia, etc.

Remember the homeless, the impoverished, the unemployed, and underemployed.

Remember those who are constantly displaced by the affordable housing crisis.

Remember the LGBTQ+ community who are excluded from the military, adoption processes, and other discriminatory, violent acts.

Remember the rejected LGBTQ+ youth without support, families, or homes.

Remember the people who are living with, speaking up about, and fighting back against all forms of abuse.

Remember the women who are pounding against the glass ceiling.

Remember Venezuela.

Remember Northern Ireland.

Remember Yemen.

Remember Nigeria.

Remember Ukraine.

Remember our warming, suffering planet.

Remember these so that you might remember Jesus.

Good Friday

Psalm 22
My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from helping me, from the words of my groaning? O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer; and by night, but find no rest…  I will tell of your name to my brothers and sisters; in the midst of the congregation I will praise you: You who fear the LORD, praise him! All you offspring of Jacob, glorify him; stand in awe of him, all you offspring of Israel! For he did not despise or abhor the affliction of the afflicted; he did not hide his face from me, but heard when I cried to him. From you comes my praise in the great congregation; my vows I will pay before those who fear him. The poor shall eat and be satisfied; those who seek him shall praise the LORD. May your hearts live forever! All the ends of the earth shall remember and turn to the LORD; and all the families of the nations shall worship before him. For dominion belongs to the LORD, and he rules over the nations. To him, indeed, shall all who sleep in the earth bow down; before him shall bow all who go down to the dust, and I shall live for him. Posterity will serve him; future generations will be told about the Lord, and proclaim his deliverance to a people yet unborn, saying that he has done it.

 

I once wrote an exegesis paper on Matthew 27 where I got called out for not commenting on Jesus referencing Psalm 22. Oops. This was an important lesson for me to learn about viewing events in scripture in a greater context. We often talk about how Jesus felt abandoned and was showing his “humanity” in this moment of crucifixion when he cries out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” However, if we look deeper, it’s more of a prophetic moment. The original Psalm chooses to allow trust to overpower the feelings of abandonment, having faith in God’s deliverance and that the poor will be satisfied. This is a Psalm of overcoming. Jesus was not crying out in defeat, but knowing that this moment was not the end.

This was a hint to those around him: God will overcome. A warning to those in power, an encouragement for all who fear. Unfortunately, the disciples had fled and weren’t there to pick up on the hope that Jesus was speaking. On Good (holy, pious) Friday let us dare to bear witness to the pain, and choosing to engage in the hope. Let us not flee or turn away, but stay present, keep working, and keep hoping in deliverance.

Maundy Thursday

Exodus 12:1-4, (5-10), 11-14
The LORD said to Moses and Aaron in the land of Egypt: This month shall mark for you the beginning of months; it shall be the first month of the year for you. Tell the whole congregation of Israel that on the tenth of this month they are to take a lamb for each family, a lamb for each household. If a household is too small for a whole lamb, it shall join its closest neighbor in obtaining one; the lamb shall be divided in proportion to the number of people who eat of it. Your lamb shall be without blemish, a year-old male; you may take it from the sheep or from the goats. You shall keep it until the fourteenth day of this month; then the whole assembled congregation of Israel shall slaughter it at twilight. They shall take some of the blood and put it on the two doorposts and the lintel of the houses in which they eat it. They shall eat the lamb that same night; they shall eat it roasted over the fire with unleavened bread and bitter herbs. Do not eat any of it raw or boiled in water, but roasted over the fire, with its head, legs, and inner organs. You shall let none of it remain until the morning; anything that remains until the morning you shall burn. This is how you shall eat it: your loins girded, your sandals on your feet, and your staff in your hand; and you shall eat it hurriedly. It is the passover of the LORD. For I will pass through the land of Egypt that night, and I will strike down every firstborn in the land of Egypt, both human beings and animals; on all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgments: I am the LORD. The blood shall be a sign for you on the houses where you live: when I see the blood, I will pass over you, and no plague shall destroy you when I strike the land of Egypt. This day shall be a day of remembrance for you. You shall celebrate it as a festival to the LORD; throughout your generations you shall observe it as a perpetual ordinance.

On Maundy Thursday we think about the Last Supper and Jesus washing the disciples’ feet. The Gospel of John is the text for today alongside of this Exodus passage. According to John the last supper wasn’t exactly a Passover meal, but just before the festival of Passover. So let us look at what is happening before the Passover is instituted and what the time before Passover might indicate.

God was about to change the lives of the Israelites who’d been enslaved for hundreds of years. God was going to pass through the land, claiming the lives of the firstborn in Egypt. This would be the breakthrough to liberate God’s people, and they had to be ready to move. Loins girded, sandals strapped, staff in hand, eat and run. It’s a time of anticipation, preparation, obedience, action, and trust in God. A new day, a new life, a new era is coming, and this time before Passover is the time to get ready.

In this time now, just before Passover, Jesus is gathering his friends and preparing them for his departure. Jesus girds himself with a towel. Instead of having the disciples have their sandals on, they are taken off so Jesus can wash their feet. They’re not on the run, but instead sit together with Jesus as he gives final thoughts and teachings. It’s a time of confusion, tension, and betrayal. A new day, a new life, and a new era is coming, and this time before Passover is the time to get ready.

On Maundy Thursday when we celebrate community meals, foot washing, and communion, let’s lean into this sacred time before the big event, the big holiday. In this moment let us prepare for what God is about to do in our lives, in our communities, in our churches, and in the world. Let us be vigilant to the movement of the Holy Spirit who might ask us to do weird, unprecedented things like putting lamb’s blood on the doorpost, or bending to wash feet. What seems strange now may be made clear soon. Take a breath in this uncomfortable pause to take a leap of faith and trust that something new is around the corner.