What’s it all about?

Once there was a stable—a dirty, smelly, noisy place. Yet it was a holy place for those with eyes to see, because there God chose to come to dwell on earth with God’s creation.

Some saw…but many passed by, turning their eyes from the dirt, closing their ears to the cry of the baby—wishing the situation would just disappear.

Today there are still dirty, smelly, noisy places. Places where the poor, the dispossessed…the hurting…have found a home, even if only temporarily.

Many of us still pass by, turning our eyes away from the squalor and dirt…closing our ears to the cries of children—God’s children.

And when we do, we fail to see those holy places where God intersects with us.

We are so certain of our knowing where God is—yet God meets us in unexpected times, unexpected places.

So open our eyes, God, to see you in those unexpected places…those people we might want to turn away from…those situations we don’t want to have to deal with, that we wish would just go away.

Open our ears, God, to hear you in the mewling cries of children whose stomachs are empty…the anguish of parents who cannot provide…the cries of those who are abused, fearful of the future…those who have lost loved ones.

Then—only then—will we understand what Christmas is all about—the hope of a new world created when we truly allow God to dwell among us. Not just two thousand years ago, but now. Today…in this moment, this place.

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“You have to believe in yourself…”

We went to see the new Muppets movie last weekend. I love the Muppets…love the craziness…but also the messages that they share in their stories, messages that are so important!

I don’t want to spoil the movie for anyone who hasn’t seen it yet (and I’d really, really encourage you to go!)…but the story is a simple one. A rich oilman has bought the Muppets theatre to supposedly turn it into a museum, but he really plans on tearing it down to drill for oil underneath it. Walter–a young “Muppet” whose heroes are the traditional Muppets–overhears the plan while he’s inside Kermit’s old office on a tour with his brother and girlfriend, and they track down Kermit to see what can be done. In order to save it, Kermit has to pull the old gang together from the various places they’ve gone–and they have to do put on a telethon to raise $10 million.

Since this is the Muppets after all, there are all kinds of challenges.

At one point, Walter is encouraged to perform with them, and he’s terrified. But his brother tells him “You have to believe in yourself.” That’s so easy to say to someone else–and so hard to really mean for yourself.

There’s another song in the show that says “Everything you need is right in front of you.” If we only let our eyes be open…

Those two lines have stayed with me the last several days, partially (I think) because of another book I’ve been reading about living your dreams–and not letting someone/something else kill them.

And I’ve been thinking about a dream I had when I was in high school/college…a dream about being a writer and/or editor. It wasn’t a dream that got a lot of encouragement…it wasn’t a “practical” goal to aim for. So I put it aside–let it die, I thought.

But dreams that are an essential part of you never really die. Oh they may hide for a while…perhaps even a very long time…hide so deeply that you’re not sure they’re even still around. But they’ll find ways of continuing to come around.

My dream has pushed its way back up. I’m not sure where it’s going, but it won’t leave me alone. So I’ve started nurturing it again, trying to do what Walter did…to believe in myself.

“Feed my sheep”

Last night I was watching 20/20, and one of the stories really impacted me. You can read the story here, but you really need to watch it to get the full impact. To see little children just learning to talk sing songs about how “God hates the world” and to hear the horrible statements about how GLBT (and others who disagree with this “faith”) are going to go to hell…and the ease with which a family has disowned one of their children who questioned their teachings…

It was awful enough to watch on its own, but to pair it with a show we watched tonight really challenged me.

 A friend of ours loaned us a video titled Anyone and Everyone and we finally had a chance to sit down and watch it. It’s similar in some ways to the one we watched a couple of years ago (For the Bible Tells Me So) that provided the impetus for my husband to come out to me as bisexual.

They are both powerful movies–stories of people who have come out and the struggles both they and their families have had in learning how to live with each other with this new understanding.

But in the movie tonight, there was a statement by one mother that struck me in a profound way. She belongs to a faith tradition that is very patriarchal and demanding–one that has for years called homosexuality a worse sin than murder or rape. She was attending the funeral of a friend of her daughter’s (in a different church), and she looked up to see a stained glass window of Christ holding a lamb with the words “Feed my sheep” underneath…and she realized that all the grieving people who were there (herself included) had contributed to this young person’s suicide because this was a sheep they had not fed. In face, she said that he was a lamb who had starved to death…and she vowed to never be silent again.

“Feed my sheep.”

Not just the sheep who look like me…the ones I’m comfortable with…the ones with the same beliefs that I have. All sheep.

As this same mother pointed out, when some were trying to entrap Christ by asking him what the greatest commandment was, his response basically was that the greatest commandment is the law of love.

And that’s a challenge!

I recently had a work evaluation, and one area I want to focus on this next year is “ministerial courage.” When I put that down, I wasn’t sure exactly where it was going to lead me, but I think I’m understanding…

Part of my calling as a minister is to feed God’s sheep. I don’t want any sheep to starve to death (either spiritually or literally) because I have been silent. God’s children deserve better than that–all of God’s children.

Thanksgiving…thanksliving

Earlier this month we had a staff celebratory lunch. For many this would be identified as a Thanksgiving lunch…but those who planned it titled it slightly differently–as a “thanks-living celebration.”

Yes, there were Thanksgiving decorations and a Thanksgiving menu. But thinking about it in terms of “thanks-living” made me ponder a bit.

How do I celebrate this time of year?

Is it just a time to get together with family–and pig out and watch football? Getting together with family is important…and so is the joy of eating together (but not pigging out!). But that’s not the only focus of Thanksgiving.

To think of it as Thanks-living means definitely acknowledging the blessings I’ve received…gifts of family, friends, shelter, food, a faith community… But it also means realizing that with those blessings comes responsibility–responsibility of sharing with others out of the abundance I have…whether that sharing is in the giving of food supplies so that others may have enough, giving financially to organizations that help others, making a commitment to share myself and my time…

May this Thanksgiving truly be a season of thanks-living for all of us.

Being an agnostic…

One of the definitions for “agnostic” in The American Heritage Dictionary is

  • One who believes that it is impossible to know whether there is a
    God.

I think that in a sense all of us who claim a belief in a Power beyond ourselves–regardless of whether we name it God, Allah, Adonai, or any of the other hundreds of names–is agnostic.

Why?

Because I know of no one who can absolutely say for certain that God exists.

I am not negating anyone’s faith. I know many people who have had powerful spiritual experiences–and I do have a strong faith of my own in the existence of a living God who cares for all creation–but by its very definition, faith is

  • Confident belief in the truth, value, or trustworthiness of a person, idea, or thing.
  • Belief that does not rest on logical proof or material evidence.

We live our entire lives by faith. Faith in others, faith in society, and faith in God. And that’s important.

But I think if we were willing to acknowledge that none of us will know until after we have left this life whether God exists or not, then we might be more willing to be gentle with each other’s beliefs…more willing to listen to each other…more willing to learn. And that’s important as well.

Too hot…too cold…

In the summer I sometimes complained because it got too hot. I don’t like it when temperatures get over 100 (or the heat index gets that high).

And now? Now I find myself complaining because it’s getting too cold–and winter hasn’t even arrived yet! Temperatures are mostly in the 40s-50s with some nights dipping down into the upper 20s or lower 30s. In a month or two, we’ll probably be glad to have those temperatures as daytime highs!

Yet I love the changing seasons…love the way the landscape varies as we move through spring, summer, winter, fall.

I’ve sometimes (casually) wondered what it would be like to be in an area where the temperatures were pretty much the same year-round, but there would be too much that I would miss. Watching the spring buds–when you see just a hint of green…and then seeing the fullness of the green leaves…changing to golds and reds…and then dropping off, to give a totally different perspective on the tree…

I do like the spring and fall temperatures. That’s when I’m neither too hot or cold (at least most of the time).

But all things considered, I’ll take the opportunity of grumping occasionally about the temperatures if it means I also get to enjoy the beauty of changing Mother Earth.

Knowing our history

I spent a mini-vacation the last few days at one of my faith tradition’s historic sites in Nauvoo, Illinois. There are two historic sites there–one that my faith tradition is responsible for, and the other for another faith tradition that shares common roots with us, although we have gone very different directions theologically.

Nauvoo is not a comfortable place for my faith tradition. There were some theological innovations developed there that we have never accepted (plurality of gods, polygamy, temple rituals). And because we are not comfortable with them, we placed all the blame for them on our theological cousins–and just didn’t talk about them ourselves.

But that doesn’t work.

History doesn’t stay hidden–and as the years have passed, evidence has surfaced that those innovations did indeed begin in Nauvoo and can’t be laid solely on the shoulders of later leaders.

150 years of silence is hard to break. But without breaking it, we can’t know the truth about ourselves–and understand who we have come to be…and why.

This isn’t limited just to my faith tradition.

It’s essential that we know our political history as well. Our country was not created in a vacuum, and we have to be willing to acknowledge our warts as well as our successes.

Both the founder of my faith tradition and the founders of our country made mistakes–sometimes major mistakes. Sometimes we’ve rectified those mistakes–learning from them and growing in positive ways. Sometimes we’ve tried pushing them under the rug in hopes that they’ll go away…but they never do. They find ways to rise again…and again…until we find ourselves willing to acknowledge and deal with them–hopefully in positive ways.