Sunday’s coming…

I don’t know anyone who hasn’t gone through some difficult times in their lives. For some that’s caught up in the loss of a loved one…for others loss of a job…or a faith crisis…or anyone of a myriad of things that can send one into dark places.

About 2000 years ago, there was a community that went through another difficult time. The one they had followed…the one who challenged the status quo on behalf of the poor, the dispossessed, the “other”…this one who came in unconditional love had been taken by the authorities…beaten…crucified…and buried. His followers didn’t know what the future held–for themselves but also for what he believed and taught. Was this the end?

We know the story. We know that his death was not the end–but the middle of the story. We live the end of the story by the way we live. It is our responsibility to keep his teachings and actions alive…to stand with and for the poor, the dispossessed, the “other”…those the status quo would call “less than.”

We know that when they laid him in the tomb…and they went through the dark days of mourning…we know that Sunday was coming…the day of resurrection!

And so, for all who are in dark places…for those who wonder if the church is dying…if there is hope for the future, I would simply say this:

This is not the end. Sometimes we have to go through a time of death in order to come out on the other side into the new life that is beyond anything we can currently imagine. This isn’t to say that it’s easy. It’s not. But Sunday’s coming…!

 

Advent 4…

I did not get my article posted yesterday for Advent 4…but we are still in that week.

There were valid reasons for my delay. We had extremely cold and bitter temperatures…we had ice and snow…I had a graduation and a nursing recognition ceremony to play for…and our musician at church got sick and I needed to cover (and also take a couple of other responsibilities in the service as well)…

Valid reasons…but also in many ways a response to the theme and focus yesterday.

Our them for Sunday was “Emmanuel: God with us”…and we celebrated the emphasis of love.

“God with us”…God meeting us where we are. But it’s not just God doing that.

We meet each other for ministry where each person is.

Sometimes that means playing the organ for a celebration of a life activity, such as a graduation. It’s an opportunity to acknowledge all the hard work someone has put into that accomplishment.

Sometimes that means allowing someone else to take the time they need to recuperate.

Sometimes it just means being aware of what’s going on in someone else’s life.

And sometimes it’s pretty easy…sometimes it’s not.

Love isn’t particularly difficult when someone is lovable. But when someone is angry…or upset…or smelly…or any of the other myriad of reasons we don’t really want to have anything to do with them, it can be difficult.

But there’s a lovely poem by Christina Rossetti that I think catches up the theme…and the challenge…of this week:

Love came down at Christmas,
Love all lovely, Love Divine,
Love was born at Christmas,
Star and Angels gave the sign.

Worship we the Godhead,
Love Incarnate, Love Divine,
Worship we our Jesus,
But wherewith for sacred sign?

Love shall be our token,
Love be yours and love be mine,
Love to God and all men,
Love for plea and gift and sign.

Prayer

Our congregation (Open Arms Community of Christ), in cooperation with GALA and members of the Welcoming Community Network (WCN) held a prayer vigil on the World Plaza at Community of Christ Temple on Friday night, June 17.

While we were not touched directly by the shootings in Orlando, we have many friends who are part of the LGBTQ communities and who have been shaken and made afraid by the shootings.

We recognize that action needs to be taken…that far too often we say “Never again”…but do nothing to make those words real.

However, we are also a people of faith who believe in the power of prayer. And so Friday night, we gathered together…at a place where the world is laid out before us…at a place dedicated to peace, reconciliation, and healing of the spirit. We hugged each other…we worshiped together…we remembered the names of those whose lives were lost…and we prayed–individually (leaving written prayers on a prayer wall) and as a body.

I was privileged to offer the prayer for the body. These were my words last night, and they continue to be my words today…and for the future.

Oh, God…

There are so many names! So many families left in shock and despair. So many hopes and dreams left in ruins…

And we wonder…what can we do?

We gather together in this place dedicated to peace…healing…reconciliation…as a community in pain. So many have lost friends in the past and had begun to hope that things were changing…only to wake up to the news that hate had claimed yet more lives.

And we wonder…what can we do?

Sometimes what we can do seems so little. And yet, when we do small things with great love, we begin to heal…we begin to reconcile. We hug each other, remembering that you healed people with a touch…Give us faith that we can help bring comfort and healing into bodies and spirits that have been broken by violence.

Yet we wonder…is it enough?

When we are afraid to speak out for justice, remind us that there can be no peace without justice…and that sometimes it only takes one person to give others the courage to speak.

And we wonder…is it enough?

In times like this, it is easy to be filled with anger towards those who bring violence and oppression. Yet you call us to pray for them…and it is in that praying that we see them also as wounded sons and daughters.

And we wonder…is it enough?

Loving God, we pray this day in thanksgiving for those first responders who brought immediate care for the wounded and hurting. We pray for comfort for those who mourn the loss of sons, daughters, parents, lovers. We pray for peace for those who survived…who still see the nightmare of those hours.

And we pray most of all that we will each of us find ways to be peacemakers in our families, our communities, our world. In a time when it would be easy to give in to the toxic visions around us that spawn cynicism, suspicion, and violence, may we choose to live in the reconciling, healing, saving vision of Christ expressed through Christ-centered community…a community where tears are shared when in pain, but also a community where hope can be found…a community that can live in such a way that the day will come when we can say, “it is enough.”

May we be that community, we pray in the name of Jesus the Christ, the Prince of Peace.
Amen.

Why not music?

I grew up in a generation that seemed to be surrounded by music…classical music. It was in concert halls, churches, movies…and cartoons.

Yes, cartoons.

There are some pieces of music that even now I can’t listen to without seeing the characters…

I didn’t know what the music was at the time, but I recognized it when I heard it in its musical context in concerts or on our FM radio station. And I think that surrounding of us with these pieces gave us an appreciation for music without it being forced on us.

Then things began to change.

I don’t remember what the name of the cartoon was (perhaps a Batman cartoon?), but I remember that there was no music…or at least, none that  I was aware of. Instead, there were word clouds: “Bang!” “Pow!”

It didn’t take long before that became the norm, and music was shoved aside. Not just in cartoons, but also in school as well.

And we’ve become poorer for it.

Music has become an “extra” far too often in schools…something that is first on the chopping block when budgets need to be cut.

And, at least in my own denomination, music–at least classical music–is often seen as something that might be nice but that doesn’t relate well with the “average” person (whoever that might be!). To sponsor a fine arts program? well, if there’s money in the budget, we might be able to do that…but what’s the purpose? Where’s the value?

There have been lots of studies that show that music (and the other arts) help children learn. They help us connect to other people…to the world around us…to the creative parts of who we are.

Music is a language…a language that helps us express emotions and feelings that we have no words for. It helps us connect to the Divine. It is a universal language, even if it is expressed in different forms.

And so…why not music? Why not…in our schools, our homes, our churches?

Music is the voice of the soul

Easter hope

In the darkest of nights
when hope’s disappeared
and the dreams that you had
seem lost and destroyed…
turn your eyes to the east.

The dawn will come…
unseen at the first—
then a lightening of sky
from black to gray…
and glimpses of pink
till the whole world explodes
in a sunburst of light—
Easter miracle of rebirth and new life!

It’s always the darkest
right before dawn…
but the dawn will come.

I know that there are many people who are wondering if the dawn will ever come…who are feeling trapped in the darkness of the time between. May you be able to find peace…and feel the love of the many who support you in prayers and warm thoughts.

 

Memory’s a funny thing…

I grew up as a PK (preacher’s kid). My dad was a fulltime minister in our faith tradition…so that meant church, church, church…and more church! Every time the church doors were open!

He did a lot of traveling as well, because from the time I was 8 until well after I was married, he was one of our denominational leaders, responsible for different geographic areas. That was before it was so easy to fly back and forth, so if he wanted to see his family during the summer (and if we wanted to be with him), that meant we traveled together. We basically would leave shortly after school was out and get back into town not too long before school started in the fall.

We spent much of that time traveling to and attending family camps–week-long camping experiences that incorporated classes, worship, recreation… Obviously, by the time the summer ended, my brothers and I were pretty well tired of the stories and crafts–we knew them by heart!

There are several memories of those summers. We often camped (tent!) on the way, because motels were expensive for as much as we traveled. We would help set the tent up and get everything ready for the night. We had a small cookstove that my mother cooked supper on for us. As a child I thought it was a marvelous adventure! When it was bedtime, all three of us kids would be tucked in our sleeping bags on our air mattresses, and Mother would read from one of the books she had brought along for bedtime stories for the summer. Packing up in the morning and getting everything ready for the road was usually not too much of a problem…except when it either had rained or was raining. Then trying to get the tent folded up and into the cartop carrier became much more of a challenge!

Looking back as an adult, I marvel at the good humor and patience my mother displayed during those summers. I think I would have dreaded them…figuring out clothing needs, cooking needs, bedding…trying to keep 3 kids from getting bored…being a good ministerial wife…

I have many memories of those camps…but two of them particularly stand out…for very different reasons.

One of them was when I was a young teenager, beginning to notice boys. At this particular family camp, they offered a lifeguard course before the rest of recreation. I decided to take it, partially because it meant extra swimming time. (I never did do very well in the actual lifeguard requirements.) In the class there was was a boy who had a crush on me…and it was very definitely a one-sided crush! I couldn’t stand him! He was obnoxious…and I’m not sure how often (if ever) he brushed his teeth…there was food between all of them. He kept trying to be my partner when we needed one, and I would intentionally avoid catching his eye and try to partner with someone else. That was one camp I was really glad to see end!

The other memory goes back a number of years before that. I think I must have been about 9 or 10. At all of these camps, the mornings started with prayer meetings. I cannot remember where this particular camp was, although I can visualize what the chapel building looked like. The worship had been underway for a while, and I had sort of been paying attention…and being bored, as a child often could be. But I suddenly became aware that something significant was happening. Someone was sharing with our family a message that they felt impelled to share by the Holy Spirit. To this day I have absolutely no memory of what was being said…but I definitely remember being brought to awareness of God’s care and concern for us as a family. It was the first time I remember being aware of the power of the Divine to touch my life (although it was not the last).

I am grateful for all those experiences at those family camps now, although I wasn’t always at the time…and I enjoy being reminded of some of those memories. They have made me who I am and given me a firm foundation to have built on.

What is the future of the church?

This week, many of my friends received word that because of financial shortfalls due to a variety of factors (less investment income than anticipated, reduced giving, a graying population), their jobs were being eliminated. I know–this happens in businesses.

But this hurt even more because their positions weren’t just in a business. They were church positions–ministerial positions and support positions. The people in these positions have seen what they do as more than just a job; it’s been a ministry. Some of them will retire; others will (hopefully) be able to find other avenues where their giftedness can continue to be shared. But others, I’m afraid, may find themselves bitter and scarred. I know how that feels–I’ve been there, and only by the grace of God was I able to emerge on the other side.

My faith tradition isn’t unique in this challenge. There are others who are struggling with similar problems.

But it does raise the question…what is the future of the church?

I suppose in many ways it depends on how we define “church.” If we’re talking about hierarchical structures with strong organizations and institutions, I think there are going to be significant changes. Some of them I will undoubtedly mourn, but others can be exciting.

What is the church? Is it a group of people whose beliefs are pretty homogeneous? who meet together in a building once or twice a week and then go their separate ways? whose emphasis is on meeting budgets and using the most recent program emphasis that their denomination has created?

Or is it something more?

What if we began to see “church” more as a verb rather than a noun? What if we worried less about having the right beliefs and more about doing the right actions? Actions that protected the vulnerable among us…that made sure that everyone had access to food, shelter, clothing, and education…that worked towards restorative justice instead of harsh punishment? What if we focused on the things we have in common instead of the differences that separate us? What if we celebrated our diversity instead of fearing it?

In my own faith tradition, I think there will still need to be some institutional organization simply because we are a worldwide body rather than simply a group of congregations loosely knit together. But I think we will have to find new ways to organize that will speak to a world that often turns aside from denominational labels because of the ways in which many have been abused and marginalized by those who claim to be acting on behalf of a church.

I believe that there is value in meeting together with others whose spiritual journeys are similar to my own. We speak a similar language and can support each other in valuable ways.

But there is also value in meeting together with others whose spiritual journeys follow a different route from my own. That helps me to be reminded that what I think I know about the One who created all of us is incomplete. We can learn from each other.

I think that something has to happen. We cannot go on the way we are…for many reasons. And perhaps rethinking what “church” is will help those of us who follow the one called Jesus Christ to reclaim the foundation he laid…the foundation of love for all of God’s creation.