A Church Home

The church in which I came to the Christian faith was a small thing of jumbled additions on a tried-and-true brick Protestant sanctuary with mottled-glass windows and a plain, wooden cross.  When I was there we worshiped mostly in the fellowship hall, which was less a hall than a multipurpose room with a kitchen off to one side and some classrooms on the other.  I learned to make noodles in that kitchen.  I learned Scripture in that room.  When I worked for that church as the secretary, I helped keep the classrooms stocked.  I knew every inch of that building, that church.  It was home.

I recently learned, indirectly, that my church no longer exists.  The building is still there, though it’s been totally redone inside.  It’s still a church, even, but not the church I knew; it has a different name, a different pastor, a different worship style, a different congregation.  I have the feeling that, if I went back, almost no one would recognize me—nor I them, to be honest.  My home is gone.

Every year at my annual conference (which, for all the non-Methodists, the yearly meeting of representatives of all UM churches in a geographical area to hash out things like theological stances and budgets and delegates to the global General Conference; kind of like a state’s House of Representatives), we close churches.  Every year.  Part of this is because Methodism in its heyday put a church within walking distance of everybody, which just isn’t necessary now that we’ve invented things like cars.  Part of it is that the UMC, like every other mainline denomination, is shrinking in this post-Christendom world and we can’t fill all the churches anymore.  Every year we as a governing body lament the loss of another church, and I’ve always been kind of skeptical of it because I see the bottom line of why we do need to close that church.  My logic kicks in.  My sentiment checks out.

When I found out about my old church, though, I understood in a whole new way why people lament the closing of their churches.  It has nothing to do with the reality of too many bills or not enough congregants or pastors who are spread too thin.  It has nothing to do with the fact that there’s another church a mile away and it’s not a real inconvenience to merge a couple of parishes.  It has everything to do with the fact that that was home.  That was a building whose every inch you knew, whose walls held huge portions of your life and memories that made you who you are.

churchWe often remind ourselves, as the Church, that the Church is the people rather than the buildings, and that’s good.  We should be careful not to get too attached to the structures such that we spend all of our time maintaining them instead of maintaining the communities around them.  God didn’t live among us to teach us how to repaint a narthex or replace a boiler; God lived among us to show us how to grieve with the lonely and rejoice with the healing.  The people are the Church.  But I think that sometimes we fail to see that we humans get attached to stuff whether we’re supposed to or not; we are incarnate creatures seeking safety and belonging, and even those of us with oodles of wanderlust want a place that offers that to us when we are too weary to keep going.  We are all, in our own ways, looking for home.

So I grieve the loss of my church, of my home that I haven’t even visited in five or so years.  I grieve it the way we grieve a favorite childhood playground or our grandmothers’ houses that always smelled of mothballs or our best friend’s basement where a thousand sleepovers told secrets to the walls.  We sentimental saps grieve the things that shaped us when we outlast them because we forget, for just an instant, that we still hold that shape without them.

Perhaps, Reader, I’m speaking too much for you.  Perhaps you don’t have that sentimental bone in you; perhaps you are self-aware enough to hold the million selves you’ve been before without the external aid of a building or place.  That is a gift; that is a sorrow.  Just as sentimentality is a double-edged sword, a lack of sentimentalism has its own benefits and losses.  Very few of the emotions we silly, sentient skeletons have are purely one thing or another.  Being human is hard, so I wouldn’t expect any piece of what makes us human to be uncomplicated.

In any case, as I sit on my yoga mat on the floor on this Saturday morning, I am aware of having lost my church—and I am aware of others having found one, in this new congregation, and I rejoice in the people who will learn to make noodles and learn Scripture and find the Jesus that is in every structure and no structure at all.  Blessings on the new church, and the new Church of people who go there.  I am aware of the new churches I have found that have become home; of my home here in The Wicket Gate with the beautiful stained glass windows that make the pews gold on Sunday mornings, and of the place where my heart lives back in the Land of Pilgrims where the rafters creak with the wind like a chorus under the many, many prayers that sanctuary holds.  These, too, are places that shape me, and these, too, will someday become unrecognizable to me, and I to them.  And I will grieve, then, too, because the Church is the people but my church is also a building where I felt safe, and where I belonged, and that is perfectly okay.  God is not bound to the Temple, but God resides there, and we who have lost churches know the holiness we found in that Presence.

 

But you are to seek the place the Lord your God will choose from among all your tribes to put his Name there for his dwelling. To that place you must go; there bring your burnt offerings and sacrifices, your tithes and special gifts, what you have vowed to give and your freewill offerings, and the firstborn of your herds and flocks.  (Deuteronomy 12:5-6, NIV)

Advertisements

Screaming in Silence

I meant to update the Friday before last, as has become my schedule.  But then, as the first round of Kavanaugh news slithered through my day, I never got around to it.  And then there were the testimonies.  And the advancement.  And the protests.  And today will be the vote, and I don’t mind telling you that I don’t know when that is because it’s 10 o’clock in the morning and I still haven’t gotten out of bed because I can’t.

I have been doing a lot of grieving for my friend who died, and that takes energy.  And there have been a lot of other occurrences that have been emotionally draining in the last month.  But this—this blatant circus of partisan denial, this willful ignorance, this good ol’ boys club; I don’t have it in me to deal with that, really.  A very small part of me envies my friend for having bowed out before this happened, which is not good.

If you are not in America, Reader, let me summarize:  the current Republican president nominated a man back in July to fill an empty Supreme Court seat.  That man has since been accused, credibly, by several women of sexual assault.  A Republican Senate heard statements from the first woman to speak out and from the man in question.  The man’s statement was belligerent, childish, and emotional.  The White House then ordered a hasty and circumscribed FBI investigation that, likely, most people didn’t even read because it was released in the dead of night and lauded by the White House.  The mostly-male Senate voted to advance this man’s confirmation.  Today there will be a vote on whether to give this man a lifetime appointment to the highest court in this country.

I’m tired.  I’m tired of expecting more from my representatives.  I’m tired of how blatantly they don’t give a shit if ignoring the pain of others will advance their desires.  I’m tired of the constant news cycle that makes everything infinitely worse.  I’m tired of having to deal with the cowards who go online and attack women because it makes them feel righteous and brave.  (Which, by the way, if you want to fight me on my not-at-all-attempting-to-be-gentle summary of this mess, don’t.  I will eviscerate you in text and I do not care if you feel like God loves you better if you’re an asshat about this.  I am too damn tired to be kind and understanding.)  I am exhausted by the memories that I carry that have nothing and everything to do with this dumpster fire.

But the thing of it is, I’m also a pastor.  And I know that I am not the only one who’s tired in my congregation.  I know I’m not the only one with a mind full of pain, with a heart broken by the betrayal of those who are supposed to listen, with a soul cracking under the reality that I do not matter to those in power.  I’m also a historian, and I know that humanity has always been trash and this is not necessarily worse than any other time, not least because we went through this whole thing back in 1991 with Anita Hill and Clarence Thomas and the Senate confirmed that guy, too, because fuck women apparently.  So I know that I do not get to stay tired.  I know that I have to get out of bed, and put on real clothes, and pray with everything in me to have the strength to look my congregants in the eye tomorrow and help them bring their broken hearts to God because I stand on the promise that God was with Anita Hill and God is with Christine Ford and God is with all of us who are silenced.  God hears our screams and holds our tears and there will be justice one day.

43289557_1277060152434331_5922446407226097664_nThe thing is, that day isn’t today.  And it won’t be tomorrow, when I face my congregants and their pain.  It won’t be the next day, when I have to talk to people who call this travesty a triumph because it paves the way for things they find more important, pouring tar over the bodies of those in their way.  I don’t know when God’s justice will come rolling like a cleansing river.  I don’t know when God’s justice will wipe away the tears of those weeping from the wounds of being unheard, of being mocked, of being forced, or forgotten, or used, or broken, or erased.  I don’t know when God’s justice will remake this fallen world.  But it will.  I cannot bear the idea that this world is left to our own devices, we stupid and selfish humans who cannot see the God-light in each other even when it shines like a fucking supernova because we are so damn scared that more of you means less of me when, actually, the infinite compassion of God holds open the edges of the universe itself to make room for the entirety of who God sees we could be.

If only we got out of the way.

If only we listened to someone unlike ourselves.

If only we held the pain of another to be real even though we can’t feel it.

If only we actually sought to treat one another as God treats us.

If only we loved like both you and I matter.

If only.

Faith is not built on “if only”s, though some people might characterize it that way.  Nor is faith built on certainties.  I know very little about God and God’s ways, in the concrete sense.  But I believe, in my bones, that God hears.  And God’s heart is breaking, too, and God is having trouble getting out of bed, but God will because there is work to be done and rivers to flow and justice to be brought and tears to be wiped away and hope, foolish and overwhelming and immeasurable hope to hold tightly because the darkness has never overcome, is not currently overcoming, and will never overcome the light.

To this I hold, with everything that I am, because it is that which gets me out of bed.  It is that which I will bring to my congregants.  It is that which I will take with me into every vote, and phone call, and moment of determined remembrance that my friend’s way out was not the better way.  “The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”

May it be so, in these very dark days.

 

And the Lord said: “I have surely seen the oppression of My people who are in Egypt, and have heard their cry because of their taskmasters, for I know their sorrows.”  (Exodus 3:7, NKJV)

In Hope for 2018

My Advent, Reader, was not much for waiting.  It was, in its own way, much closer the story than the sanitized ecclesiastical season we’ve since created (about which Interpreter had a marvelous sermon on Christmas Eve)—I did not cheerfully put up decorations and hold still, breathing in the presence of the Spirit.  I finished a semester, learned new ways to be frustrated with church, drove some 1,200 miles or so in a week and a half, and gathered the people who know my name to remind me who I’m supposed to be.

I’ve forgotten, you see.

Seminary—no, I can’t blame this entirely on seminary.  Well, divinity school; they are different, actually, though the difference is often more in pride than practice.  There are politics here, as everywhere else.  But here in divinity school I find that my soul is closed.  There are many reasons for this, some of which I’ve related to you and many I have not.  You may have noticed, Reader, in my erratic posting and my rather bleak entries that I’m not quite having the spiritual awakening I was perhaps hoping for.  And that’s the crux of it.  No matter whose or what’s fault it is, I was hoping for seminary—divinity school—to tell me how to live out this call, to teach me what it means for me to be a minister in God’s world.  It has not.

This breaks my heart, to be honest.  I am disappointed, which is a terrible thing to be.  But in being disappointed I’ve allowed myself to also become disillusioned and distant.  I will not survive the next year and a half as these.  I will not survive the next week as these, really, and so in this space where I didn’t finish my Advent series and I didn’t properly wish you a merry Christmas and I’ve not kept to the schedule I promised, I make my new year’s resolution:  to stop waiting for someone else to teach me my call.

I hoped for so much in seminary and here’s the thing:  hope is a stupid, idealistic concept.  Hopes can be broken, shattered, and lost.  Hope is an intangible idiocy that looks at what is and asks but what if; hope is something so often placed in other things and so rarely placed in oneself.  I hoped—but now I find myself having a dance party to The Greatest Showman soundtrack (go ahead, listen to it; I don’t care if you think it’s trite, it’s stirring and inspiring and outrageously full of the best kind of foolish hope) while I pack up my apartment to move yet again, the third time in a year and a half.  This doesn’t count the times I’ve moved for the summer, for Christmas, for whatever where I was just living in someone else’s space; this doesn’t count the fact that 3/4 of my things are tucked away in boxes back in the Land of Pilgrims, waiting for me to return and be a proper adult that doesn’t move so much.  I hoped for so much, and it hasn’t come true, so now I need to sit down with God and figure out where my hopes should go.

advent-wreathAs I pack I’m finally cleaning the books and cards and pencil cases I’ve not touched from this summer’s violation, finding the pack of Newport cigarettes hidden behind the Toni Morrison books and the used Band-Aids stuck to the Garfield cartoon collections.  I’m reading all of these titles I haven’t even really been able to look at as they silently showcased yet more dashed hopes, and I’m realizing that I had so much to work with way before I ever entered divinity school.  God did not call me to school; God called me to ministry.  Don’t get me wrong, Reader, I don’t advocate for anyone who feels God’s tugging to set up shop and be a preacher on the spot.  I understand and support the levels of training and accountability that ordination tracks require.  I will finish this degree, and I will jump through the hoops, and I will learn from people and places that I never would have encountered otherwise.  But I don’t need divinity school to tell me that God is calling me by name, that God is reminding me who and Whose I am, that the wonder I had before I started this at the incredible majesty and absurdity of faith is still there, under the ash that is currently my hopes.

So I’m going to go drag out that wonder and do this for me.  I’m going to hope in great music and small victories and the people across the world who know my name and remind me who I am when I forget.  I’m going to hope in this new apartment even though I am so scared that my hopes for it will be struck down, too.  I’m going to stop waiting for divinity school to teach me anything and start learning it on my own, remembering the part of me that loves to discover and ponder and puzzle.  I’m going to spend time in places that are life-giving and not in places that aren’t, which means I’m going to be pretty scarce at school and pretty constantly at church.  I’m going to admit that I’m afraid of everything I just said I will do, and then do it anyway.

What that means for us, Reader, is that I’m going to take leave of you for a while as I go look for how to do all this.  I know that this sounds like a bad break-up letter and I’m sorry about that.  I’m not leaving this space forever, but I’m taking from now until Easter to look at what my life is and what both God and I hope it should be and measure how far apart those are.  And then, dear Reader, I’ll come back and tell you what might bring them closer.

Christ is born, Reader, and that is amazing.  But on this fourth day of Christmas that just means that we who knelt in that stable must now get up and walk to the empty tomb that changed everything all over again.  Have a phenomenal 2018; fill it with hope, dangerous and outrageous and wild, and let no one stop you from acting in that hope.  I’ll see you in Eastertide.

 

 

Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.  (1 Corinthians 15:58, NIV)

Advent Week Three: O Tannenbaum

This is definitely one of those songs I don’t think about much at Christmas because I hated singing it when I was growing up.  But it popped up in a service at church recently with decidedly Christian lyrics.  Usually it’s a song about the lovely evergreen that teaches us to keep going, life is ever-renewing, that sort of thing, but this new spin talked about the evergreen as God’s creation and celebrated “how richly God has decked thee.”  The tree, because it’s always around, served as witness to Jesus’ birth and reminds us of the miracle of that renewal as well as showing us how to stand fast in our trust of what God can do.  Okay, I can work with that.

snowy pine trees 1This is originally a German tune from the 16th century—at least, the music is.  The lyrics seem to be as scattered as the needles of such a tree at the end of the Christmas season (don’t tell me you haven’t found them hiding behind the living room hutch in March).  But they all agree on this being a loving serenade of the Christmas tree, the tannenbaum (which is German for “fir tree,” a name we retain even though most modern Christmas trees are spruce).  The concept of the tree as we know it has been around for a while but was cemented into the celebration of the holiday in 19th century England, mostly by the atmosphere that birthed and then celebrated Dickens’ A Christmas Carol.  Fortunately we no longer put live candles on the tree as the lighting instruments—lot of fires in flammable houses from that practice.

(It’s a little weird to have a song that celebrates the power of living via a tree that we cut down [kill] in order to put in our houses, but no one asked me.)

While I do still dislike the song itself, I really like this new concept of its call to faithfulness for us.  The last stanza (in some versions) has the couplet “Thou bidst us true and faithful be / And trust in God unchangingly.”  Kind of a lot to put on a poor tree, but then the Old English poets wrote a whole thing about the tree that got made into a cross and its thoughts on the matter, so I guess just acting as example is fine.  (It’s called The Dream of the Rood, by the way, and is one of my favorite OE poems.)

Christmas, in the Christian faith, is so much about what God is doing—that’s part of why I like Advent because it’s about what we are doing.  We are waiting, preparing, hoping and dreaming and sighing and living into this ever-renewing promise of life and life abundantly.  Since I’m a person who puts her tree up as soon as possible (but not until after Thanksgiving, of course; mixing the holidays is a cardinal sin), I can definitely count this as an Advent piece.  Like the tree that stays patiently green while the snow and the rain rest on its needles, I wait as my living self in this Advent space for the Christ to be born—although I’m usually a lot less patient than the tree.  After all, I don’t live nearly as long.  (Just so you know, Reader, I’m sparing you from the tangent on Ents that’s going on in my head right now, so be glad of that.)  But I, too, am called to be “true and faithful” as well as green—vibrant, engaged, alive—in the winter.  (That’s a little easier for me than some considering winter is my favorite season, but I think we can both make the metaphorical leap to the wintry times when it’s a little harder to be green.)  I make zero promises as to the trusting “unchangingly” bit, but to return to the God Who has also decked me out pretty richly with the faith that this birth changes everything may be something I can do.

Especially when sitting in the lovely glow of lights on the Christmas tree.

 

Therefore, let’s draw near with a genuine heart with the certainty that our faith gives us, since our hearts are sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies are washed with pure water.  Let’s hold on to the confession of our hope without wavering, because the one who made the promises is reliable.  (Hebrews 10:22-23, CEB)

Seventy Times Seven

I truly did not mean for my absence to be a full three weeks, Reader; I’m trying to stay to the every-other-week model, but oh, the shit that has derailed me of late.

I’m back in the Wicket Gate, having yet again said good-bye to the Land of Pilgrims and marveled that my heart did not fall out of my chest.  And classes have started up again.  But the main thing that’s consuming my days is the fallout of having had a subletter this summer who not only was careless herself but left the door open—literally—to any and all who decided to wander in, which in my  neighborhood means rather a lot of drug addicts, prostitutes, and thieves.  So the last two weeks have been cleaning (as in I’ve-gone-through-three-rolls-of-Clorox-bleach-wipes and I-had-to-buy-gloves-for-this deep cleaning) and trying to figure out what can be fixed.  It’s been convincing myself that I can live with the burn marks now on my nightstand even after I dumped the drawers full of cigarette butts.  It’s been washing the walls and ceilings over and over again trying to get the smell of smoke to at least be palatable and not give me such a headache.

pain-blue-man-bent-overAnd it’s been grieving at the daily discoveries of what is lost.  There’re the concrete panics, like the fact that someone unearthed my social security card and now I have to deal with the possibilities of identity theft, but there are also the suckerpunches of what I can’t replace.  I can get a new pillow and new spoons and new towels, but I can’t get a new rosary blessed by the Pope from Italy from my parents’ visit to the Vatican.  I can’t get a new high school class ring.  I can’t get new notes from last year’s sermons at my church.  It’s not every camel and the death of all my children, but it is a deep and abiding loss.

I have been fortunate—immensely fortunate, more than I can express—to have a community here in my fellow students spring into action.  People have given me time, have given me a mattress, have given me access to their washers so I can launder the clothes that remain.  People have given me so much and that has been amazing.  But it doesn’t replace that which is lost, and it doesn’t cover the pain of it.

Some folks have, in a sincere and likely well-intentioned desire to help, asked if I’m angry.  No—I am furious.  I am horrified, I am enraged, I am wrathful.  I want to punch things until I can’t feel my hands, I want to scream, I want to harm her for the harm done to me.  The sorrow and hatred and pain and sheer outrage are coiled just beneath the surface of everything I do right now, and it is taking everything I have to avoid touching that surface lest the bubble break, lest I be overwhelmed by the immense power of those emotions and lose myself in them.

Because what would it gain me?  She is gone I know not where.  I don’t have the money to chase her through the legal system, though I have filed a police report and am certainly not shy about telling authorities anything I know of her information.  And I don’t have the time—I work two jobs and am taking five classes as well as holding two offices in student associations on top of the slow and painful reclamation of this space.  Vengeance just doesn’t fit on my schedule.

And vengeance it would be.  I know enough of this woman to know she has even less than I do in finance, support, sanity.  What good is blood from a stone?  And I’ve been wrestling most in the last week or so with the promise that “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord.

One of the many hard things about Christianity is that it demands that its adherents forgive.  This does not mean excuse.  The police report remains.  The crime of this remains.  It is not okay that this happened to me and I cannot believe that God would ever expect me to say it’s not a problem.  The grief of this is very, very real.  The shock of it is real.  The pain of it is real, and no loving God would ask me to pretend that any of that is dismissible as though my reactions don’t matter.  Jesus says flat out, “If your brother or sister in God’s family does something wrong, go and tell them what they did wrong” (Mt 18:15).  Forgiveness, if it is to have any value at all, cannot come at the expense of my emotional validity.

But it must come.

Over and over again, Jesus says to His followers that we must return to the relationships that hurt not because we are called to be doormats but because we cannot hold others’ sins close to us in anger and hate.  They will poison us, as surely as our own sins do—and we have our own sins.  have my own sins, to be sure, and I cannot ask God to forgive them if I am utterly unwilling to forgive another’s.  I cannot ask for the mercy I refuse to grant.

I am human—very, very human, and I am angry, and I am hurt, and I will take a very long time to get to anything approaching forgiveness for this betrayal.  But I must recognize that I have to walk that direction precisely because it goes against everything in me, precisely because I am so pissed that God would be cruel enough to ask me to do anything other than put spikes around my broken heart and never trust again.  Four hundred and ninety times I am called to forgive these people who are awful and deserve punishment.

May I eventually have the strength for the very first time.

 

Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, when someone won’t stop doing wrong to me, how many times must I forgive them? Seven times?”   Jesus answered, “I tell you, you must forgive them more than seven times. You must continue to forgive them even if they do wrong to you seventy-seven times.”  (Matthew 18:21-22, ERV)

Resurrected, Not Restored

My last official day of classes for my first year of seminary is Monday.

Thank God.

It’s been a rough year—an even rougher second semester—and I’m ready to switch into the next thing.  (Of course, the next thing is itself an exhausting concept:  I’m going to be basically a hospital chaplain over the summer, so I don’t know how much you’ll be hearing from me since I have to do 24-hour shifts every other weekend.)  I will be heading home more scarred than I came here to The Wicket Gate, metaphorically and literally.  I have grown older and in some ways sadder.

But I have also grown (hopefully) wiser.  I have met some amazing people and had some crazy adventures.  I have stepped into a new part of who I am.  You know how this goes, Reader; you know how change always comes at a price—or, as a great blogger (BeautyBeyondBones) put it:
BeautyBeyondBones change begets change

We are now in the season of Easter—yep, it’s not just one day.  Easter is 50 days long in the liturgical calendar because, well, it kind of took a while to catch on.  Jesus had to keep coming back and telling people yep, the rumors are true, I am no longer dead because let’s face it, Thomas wasn’t the only one who thought such a thing was unbelievable.  We have all of these stories about Jesus appearing to various people and them being surprised each time; I’m actually preaching on the road to Emmaus next week (prayers for such are welcome) because the Resurrection didn’t just settle into being an accepted reality on that first Easter Sunday.

The thing about these appearances of Jesus, though, is that He didn’t come back perfect and shiny and new.  He comes back with scars—“look at My hands,” He tells Thomas.  “Put your finger in my side.”  The Resurrection didn’t—and doesn’t—make the Crucifixion un-happen.

Which kind of blows my mind as a person of faith, actually.  We as Christians have built ourselves around the Good News (and boy howdy is it good news) that Christ is risen, that Death is defeated, that hallelujah the tomb is empty.  Every Sunday is a little Easter.  But our God is not a God of completely erasing that which is broken and painful and ugly; our God is not a God of sweeping things under the rug.  Jesus could well have come back in a body as smooth as the day He was born, hands no longer bearing the small cuts and splinter marks of life as a carpenter, eyes no longer crinkling with the first signs of age.  He could have come back with a perfect body.

But instead He came back with the marks of having lived, and died.  He came back with the white lines of scar tissue on His palms, with the thick and shining flesh across the holes in His wrists, with the gouged-out hole in His side.  He came back with a body that bore witness on every inch of the brown skin of brokenness, of pain, of horrifying violence, of sorrow and abandonment and misery.

He came back with a body that looked an awful lot like our world feels, honestly.

The difference, however, is that His scars were scars, not open wounds.  No blood poured into Thomas’ hands; no bones showed through the criss-crossed cuts on Jesus’ back.  One of the many miraculous and hopeful things about the Resurrection is not that Jesus fought death to be restored to pre-Crucifixion health but that Jesus won over death to ensure the reality of healing.  We who are Easter people follow a God Who knows exactly what it’s like to be broken into pieces and get put back together with the brokenness as part of who we are.

It’s not about it making us stronger—I’ll confess, I actually loathe the motto “that which doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” because I think it’s untrue and harmful.  (There are some things that happen that don’t kill you but you wish they had; there are some things that don’t kill you but maim you; there are some things that don’t kill you but weaken you from the sheer amount of emotional or physical blood loss they cause.)  Christ didn’t die so He could come back stronger, and I don’t think God is calling us to die to ourselves so we can be spiritually stronger like we’re in a weird Christian Gatorade ad.  The Resurrection, I think, is about showing us that we can be healed from even the worst of things—made not stronger, but whole.

kintsugi-225255b325255dThere’s an illustration that I’m pretty sure every pastor has to use at least once in his/her career about this broken/whole thing, namely kintsugi or the Japanese art of repairing broken pottery with gold-brushed lacquer.  It’s a beautiful metaphor, it really is, and it has everything to do with this resurrection that isn’t truly restoration.  What was broken is not remade such that it looks like no harm was done.  It is healed such that the harm is no longer the defining aspect, such that a broken Body can bring an entire world hope.

Happy Easter, Reader, for every one of the fifty days, and every one of the revelations, and every one of the moments Jesus tells us again, yep, still true; I am alive.  Peace; do not be afraid.

 

For I delivered to you first of all that which I also received: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures, and that He was seen by Cephas, then by the twelve.  After that He was seen by over five hundred brethren at once, of whom the greater part remain to the present, but some have fallen asleep.  After that He was seen by James, then by all the apostles.  Then last of all He was seen by me also, as by one born out of due time.  (1 Corinthians 15:3-8, NKJV)

Advent, Week Two: Peace

Comfort, comfort my people!
    says your God.
Speak compassionately to Jerusalem,
        and proclaim to her that her compulsory service has ended,
    that her penalty has been paid,
    that she has received from the Lord’s hand double for all her sins!

A voice is crying out:
“Clear the Lord’s way in the desert!
    Make a level highway in the wilderness for our God!
Every valley will be raised up,
    and every mountain and hill will be flattened.
    Uneven ground will become level,
    and rough terrain a valley plain.
The Lord’s glory will appear,
    and all humanity will see it together;
    the Lord’s mouth has commanded it.”

A voice was saying:
    “Call out!”
And another said,
    “What should I call out?”
All flesh is grass;
    all its loyalty is like the flowers of the field.
The grass dries up
    and the flower withers
    when the Lord’s breath blows on it.
    Surely the people are grass.
The grass dries up;
    the flower withers,
    but our God’s word will exist forever.

Go up on a high mountain,
    messenger Zion!
Raise your voice and shout,
    messenger Jerusalem!
Raise it; don’t be afraid;
    say to the cities of Judah,
    “Here is your God!”
Here is the Lord God,
    coming with strength,
    with a triumphant arm,
    bringing his reward with him
    and his payment before him.
Like a shepherd, God will tend the flock;
    he will gather lambs in his arms
    and lift them onto his lap.
    He will gently guide the nursing ewes.  (Isaiah 40:1-11, CEB) 

No justice, no peace!” we have heard many times this year.  “Peace” has come to mean “silence,” “acceptance,” “docility.”  “Peace” has come to mean not the absence of strife but the ignorance of it, the half-closed eyes that cannot or will not see it. The women of the Church do not want that kind of peace.

“Peace” is that which is often “passed” in church services, a synonym for greeting the others seeking peace in that hour.  Yet how often do we bring peace into a service, no matter our gender, in the heartache of a broken world?  How often do we have it to give?  If we are not at peace, if we are not still within our souls, how shall we pass anything but turmoil to our neighbors?  Shall we simply sit silent while greetings flow around us?  For women, the silence is both no option and the only option.  “Peace” is what many say as a way of saying, “stop talking.”  The chafing bonds of Paul’s injunctions spoken in a different time of specific context close women’s mouths in many denominations and they are told to be at peace, to have faith in this God-blessed structure.  “Peace” has become shorthand for a false tranquility that many women are told to feel so as not to be overly emotional, so as not to be disruptive, so as not to overturn the idea that women are somehow inherently gentler, more peaceful.

The Church must stop conflating peace with submission.  The Church, here in the expectant waiting of Advent with breaths caught in hope of all that the coming birth might do, must comfort its people, must “speak compassionately to Jerusalem” and to every city, to every nation, to every woman that “her compulsory service is ended.”  The Church must recognize that all are invited to see the glory of God, that there is neither male nor female in Christ, that the vision of the heavens is to see the valleys and the downtrodden raised up.

Peace is not silence.  Peace is not acquiescence.  Peace is not the status quo remaining unexamined or unchanged.  Peace is the active inclusion of the full body of Christ, peace is the ability to live without fear, peace is the solid truth that equity is part of God’s vision for God’s creation.  Eden was at peace when woman was included and valued; the false hierarchy of the Fall has no place in God’s heaven.  Peace comes when voices are raised to challenge the culture in which the Church exists, taking on the songs of the season like “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” because people of faith will not be complicit in the denigration of women’s choices.  Peace comes when male leaders, both lay and ordained, empower women within their congregations to speak God’s word as pastors, liturgists, teachers, and board members. Peace comes when we challenge the sacred texts speaking of sin and “she” in one sentence; peace comes when we teach and learn that women are not inherently more sinful than men no matter how many times female pronouns are attached to wicked cities or abstract ideas.  Peace is something that we make happen; it does not come on its own but requires our midwifery as the people of God actively birthing peace.

Peace cannot be a command from another who does not acknowledge the anger, the sorrow, the pain, the distance held within; peace must be a choice to be calm in our very souls because we actively decide to rest.  Peace comes as shalom, a wholeness of our very selves.  To the women of the Church, to the women of the world who wait in strife this second week of Advent says “peace” not as a directive but as a gift as yet undelivered.  “Peace,” it offers, knowing that peace has not come just yet, that action is still required though weary hearts are worn by the howling winds of all that is not peaceful.

May you find peace because you have chosen, in the full power of your own agency and value, to receive it as the gift of a God fully aware of all that is not at peace yet.  May peace, like hope, be your armor and strength.