Friday Five: Take Five!

Deb writes:

Whoosh! My calendar is packed. And June is almost gone! There’s the old saying, “Bad luck comes in threes” but I’ve decided that “Busy-ness comes in fives!” So this week we’ll take things five-at-a-time. Tell me:
1. Five flowers you’d like in a bouquet or in your garden:

Ummm… I’m not good at knowing the names of things in nature. Something like this? And how strict are we on the “five” thing? I don’t really know how many are in here, but it seems five-ish.

vibrant-mixed-bouquet
2. Five books you want to read (or re-read):

Directly from the Amazon Wish List:

And the Mountains Echoed by Khaled Hosseini
The Invisible Girls: A Memoir by Sarah Thebarge
Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
The Girls of Atomic City: The Untold Story of the Women Who Helped Win World War II by Denise Kiernan
Fairyland: A Memoir of My Father by Alysia Abbott

3. Five places you want to visit:

Italy
Costa Rica
Malta
Turkey
Ukraine

4. Five people you’d invite for tea/coffee/beer and pizza: (I’m assuming this is a fantasy dead-or-alive thing)

Hillary Clinton is the “RSTNLE” of this question, but totally Hillary.
Melissa Harris-Perry & Rachel Maddow – I consider them one, not because they’re the same but because I can’t have one without the other
Angelina Jolie (we’re actually already best friends, she just doesn’t know it yet)
Jason Bateman – huge, huge crush since his Little House on the Prairie days. He’s just gotten better.
Wendy Davis – she’s kind of a rock star after her big stunt in the TX legislature this week

5. FIve chores or tasks you’d gladly give to someone else:

Paying bills
Car maintenance
Cleaning anything
Taking out the garbage
Filing anything

BONUS: A five ingredient recipe! (This is harder than it sounds!)

My favorite summer salad:
Mixed greens
Avocado
Cucumber
Watermelon
Lime juice

Done!

Holding Down the Fort

During my last year or so in San Francisco I did a lot of stuff to sort of keep my little church together while we were between pastors. I did a lot of the preaching and, as our church had to have an ordained person serve communion, I had to do a lot of recruiting of pastors in the area to come and serve communion for our community on Sunday evenings. The emails looked something like this:

“Hey, you know how you’ve been doing church all day at your own church? Want to come and do more church in the evening and say fancy words over our bread and juice? The upside is that we won’t pay you.”

When the new pastor (who is awesome & amazing & perfect for the job) came, she said to me, “Can I hug you? Every time I ask someone how to do something they always reply, ‘I don’t know. Tiffany does that.'”

It now appears that I’m in another situation where a fort needs holding. This is A LOT different than the previous situation in that I’ve only been at this church about 10 months. I’m not really in any kind of leadership, except that a sing some Sundays, and there are people in place to do most things.

Just the other day when I had my Reiki session I had a very strong sense from God that I’m to get back involved in worship in a creative capacity so I emailed the pastor and told her I’m ready to step up. At the right moment, apparently. We’re going to work on my role and what it’s going to be and then when an interim pastor comes in I can have things pretty well organized for them.

It’s time for me to get back into ministry leadership and I’m glad I was paying attention to those signals. I’m a little nervous because I’ve not been on the music side of things for a while now so I’m going to have to catch up. I also find it interesting that I’m doing the second of this type of transitions in a row. This could mean something.

Doing Justice

Isaiah 58

The Message (MSG)

Your Prayers Won’t Get Off the Ground

58 1-3 “Shout! A full-throated shout!  Hold nothing back—a trumpet-blast shout! Tell my people what’s wrong with their lives, face my family Jacob with their sins! They’re busy, busy, busy at worship, and love studying all about me. To all appearances they’re a nation of right-living people— law-abiding, God-honoring. They ask me, ‘What’s the right thing to do?’ and love having me on their side. But they also complain, ‘Why do we fast and you don’t look our way? Why do we humble ourselves and you don’t even notice?’

3-5 “Well, here’s why:

“The bottom line on your ‘fast days’ is profit. You drive your employees much too hard. You fast, but at the same time you bicker and fight. You fast, but you swing a mean fist. The kind of fasting you do won’t get your prayers off the ground. Do you think this is the kind of fast day I’m after: a day to show off humility? To put on a pious long face and parade around solemnly in black? Do you call that fasting, a fast day that I, God, would like?

6-9 “This is the kind of fast day I’m after: to break the chains of injustice, get rid of exploitation in the workplace,  free the oppressed, cancel debts. What I’m interested in seeing you do is: sharing your food with the hungry, inviting the homeless poor into your homes, putting clothes on the shivering ill-clad, being available to your own families. Do this and the lights will turn on, and your lives will turn around at once. Your righteousness will pave your way. The God of glory will secure your passage. Then when you pray, God will answer. You’ll call out for help and I’ll say, ‘Here I am.’

A Full Life in the Emptiest of Places

9-12 “If you get rid of unfair practices, quit blaming victims, quit gossiping about other people’s sins, If you are generous with the hungry and start giving yourselves to the down-and-out, Your lives will begin to glow in the darkness, your shadowed lives will be bathed in sunlight. I will always show you where to go. I’ll give you a full life in the emptiest of places— firm muscles, strong bones. You’ll be like a well-watered garden, a gurgling spring that never runs dry. You’ll use the old rubble of past lives to build anew, rebuild the foundations from out of your past. You’ll be known as those who can fix anything,     restore old ruins, rebuild and renovate, make the community livable again.

13-14 “If you watch your step on the Sabbath and don’t use my holy day for personal advantage, If you treat the Sabbath as a day of joy, God’s holy day as a celebration, If you honor it by refusing ‘business as usual,’ making money, running here and there— Then you’ll be free to enjoy God! Oh, I’ll make you ride high and soar above it all. I’ll make you feast on the inheritance of your ancestor Jacob.” Yes! God says so!

Micah 6:8

But he’s already made it plain how to live, what to do,
what God is looking for in men and women.
It’s quite simple: Do what is fair and just to your neighbor,
be compassionate and loyal in your love,
And don’t take yourself too seriously—
take God seriously.

Yesterday the US Supreme Court dealt a blow to a basic tenet of our democracy, the right to vote. Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, passed in 1965 during the Civil Rights Movement, was a provision that required voting districts who had a history of racist policies to clear any changes to elections or election rules with the DOJ. In a 5-4 ruling, the court struck down Section 5 as unconstitutional. Ruth Bader Ginsburg delivered a scathing dissent to this decision, which included these more recent examples of racism at the polls:

“In 1993, the City of Millen, Georgia, proposed to delay the election in a majority-black district by two years, leaving that district without representation on the city council while the neighboring majority white district would have three representatives…DOJ blocked the proposal. The county then sought to move a polling place from a predominantly black neighborhood in the city to an inaccessible location in a predominantly white neighborhood outside city limits.”

“In 2006, the court found that Texas’ attempt to redraw a congressional district to reduce the strength of Latino voters bore ‘the mark of intentional discrimination that could give rise to an equal protection violation,’ and ordered the district redrawn in compliance with the VRA…In response, Texas sought to undermine this Court’s order by curtailing early voting in the district, but was blocked by an action to enforce the §5 pre-clearance requirement.”

“In 2001, the mayor and all-white five-member Board of Aldermen of Kilmichael, Mississippi, abruptly canceled the town’s election after ‘an unprecedented number’ of AfricanAmerican candidates announced they were running for office. DOJ required an election, and the town elected its first black mayor and three black aldermen.”

There’s the opportunity for Congress to step up and do something about this, but more importantly, we the people should do something about it. God values justice, fairness, support for the less fortunate and the oppressed.

Things are about to get real in Egypt. After their uprising in 2011 that ousted a dictator they held their first free election. Unfortunately, the election was stolen by radical Islamists by heading out into the villages 2 weeks before the election and giving out all kinds of free food and other stuff. Their candidate, now president, Muhamed Morsi lost the election in the urban areas. This “democratically elected” regime has not dealt with any of the country’s many issues, including an economy spiraling downward, a dramatic decrease in tourism, or the chaos that become reality after Mubarak was ousted. Now, the one year anniversary of Morsi’s inauguration is approaching and it will be a day of (hopefully peaceful) protests. The people are rising up and asking for democracy and justice.

People on the bottom of the hierarchy of needs are easily manipulated because, let’s face it, if I didn’t know where my next meal was coming from and someone said, vote for my guy and I’ll give you all kinds of food, I’d jump on that train. Doing justice refuses to take advantage of the desperation of those who have little and gives them the respect owed a fellow human being created in the image of God.

Doing justice is about doing what is just. But it also means going beyond justice into grace and generosity. The Bible calls us to care for the poor and oppressed more than 2,000 times. It’s so important to God that our neglect of those who have less, more than that, our need to profit from them, prevents our worship from getting past the ceiling. Failing to do justice causes a schism in our relationship with God.

God has given us the job to end oppression. As Micah said, how to please God isn’t a big mystery. Do justice. Love mercy. Walk humbly with your God.

God and Gays and the end of Exodus International

A lot has been written in the last week about Alan Chambers and the end of Exodus International. Exodus is (or was) a “ministry” (and I put ministry in quotes because I don’t think it did anyone any good, ever) that claimed to rid people of their same-sex attractions. The “pray away the gay” method, if you will. When they first started, homosexuality was classified as a mental illness but a lot has changed and both science and society have caught up and evolved. Leaders of Exodus claimed to have been rescued from their homosexuality and gone on to marry people of the opposite sex and have lots of children, as if they had something to prove. However, over the last decade or so, the true damage of this so-called “reparative therapy” has come more out into the open and we’ve learned how many people were damaged by it and how many people chose to end their life because of it. Exodus has moved from saying (publicly) that they were curing people, to helping people deal, to helping people deal with UNWANTED same-sex attraction, to saying there will be gay people in heaven to shutting down. It seems an inevitable conclusion.

The amount of damage done by Exodus and similar organizations is incalculable. I will never know what it is to be told that I am damaged and some sort of creative reject and therefore must be alone for the rest of my life. I’ve had friends who’ve attempted this kind of therapy and they have pretty much left the church and/or all religion altogether. They’re still gay, though. Most of them in loving, long-term relationships.

I’ve always felt drawn to the gay community, especially compelled to show them that not all Christians are hostile toward them. I once heard Phillip Yancy speak in Berkeley and he said that he finds it interesting that the 2 issues that most concern conservatives are abortion and homosexuality. They both existed in Jesus’ time in much more egregious forms than we have today, and yet Jesus didn’t say a thing about it.

Anyway, Exodus. Alan Chambers has been their Executive Director for the past few years, and more recently he’s begun to make public statements that have angered his base and caused some of his more conservative supporters to drop their affiliation with Exodus. This week was the big bombshell when Chambers issued a long, honest, and seemingly heartfelt apology for the damage done by Exodus during its time. Later that evening he announced that Exodus as it exists will be disbanded and will re-form into a new organization that is focused on helping churches become safe places for gay people seeking God. I am hopeful, but mildly skeptical of the role and intent of the new organization. If you still think that gay people have to be celibate, then you’re still condemning them to a life of being alone, whether they want that or not.

Chambers is on an apology tour, starting with Lisa Ling’s special on OWN last week and Anderson Cooper. I’m really impressed with how he’s handling all this. He was confronted by some really angry people on the Lisa Ling show and he handled it well. He mostly just listened and he read his apology to them. Actually, he said he sees it as his job to listen and hear their stories. Some of them didn’t accept it but that’s going to be part of their journey. Chambers has been gracious and honest and I believe has taken on the weight of being the face of all of the reparative therapists who have wounded the gay community. This has to be really hard on him and on his wife. Say what you want about the fact that he’s married to a woman, his wife loves him and it’s got to be hard for her to see so many people focus their anger on him.

Chambers has said that he’s ready to start over if need be, scrap everything, maybe plant a church. You can certainly see that he’s a gifted speaker and has a pastoral heart. But dude, when you giggle about how great you are at decorating…

Here is part of Chambers’ apology. You can read the entire statement here.

Please know that I am deeply sorry. I am sorry for the pain and hurt many of you have experienced. I am sorry that some of you spent years working through the shame and guilt you felt when your attractions didn’t change. I am sorry we promoted sexual orientation change efforts and reparative theories about sexual orientation that stigmatized parents. I am sorry that there were times I didn’t stand up to people publicly “on my side” who called you names like sodomite—or worse. I am sorry that I, knowing some of you so well, failed to share publicly that the gay and lesbian people I know were every bit as capable of being amazing parents as the straight people that I know. I am sorry that when I celebrated a person coming to Christ and surrendering their sexuality to Him that I callously celebrated the end of relationships that broke your heart. I am sorry that I have communicated that you and your families are less than me and mine. 

More than anything, I am sorry that so many have interpreted this religious rejection by Christians as God’s rejection.  I am profoundly sorry that many have walked away from their faith and that some have chosen to end their lives. For the rest of my life I will proclaim nothing but the whole truth of the Gospel, one of grace, mercy and open invitation to all to enter into an inseverable relationship with almighty God.

I cannot apologize for my deeply held biblical beliefs about the boundaries I see in scripture surrounding sex, but I will exercise my beliefs with great care and respect for those who do not share them.  I cannot apologize for my beliefs about marriage. But I do not have any desire to fight you on your beliefs or the rights that you seek. My beliefs about these things will never again interfere with God’s command to love my neighbor as I love myself.   

Reiki

Last Thursday I had my first full Reiki session with woman from my church who practices it in a unique and Christian form, without losing the original intent. For the uninitiated, Reiki is a Japanese practice developed in 1922 by Japanese Buddhist Mikao Usui. It’s a hands-on form of alternative medicine and has uses for all kinds of healing.

Reiki has a set of 5 Principles, or Commandments that are based in Buddhism, but are pretty universal. Here is Usui’s statement:

The secret art of inviting happiness,
The miraculous medicine for all diseases.

At least for today:

Do not be angry,
Do not worry,
Be grateful,
Work with diligence,
Be kind to people.

Every morning and evening, join your hands in meditation and pray with your heart.
State in your mind and chant with your mouth.

Some Christians might have issues with me or any Christian person using Reiki as a form of spiritual practice or therapy, but here’s why I don’t: I define truth as anything that God says is true. If you read those 5 statements, do they line up with what God says? Yes, they do. So frankly, I don’t care if Bugs Bunny said them. I think they’re true because God thinks they’re true and I found this session to be extremely beneficial.

 

Susan, my practitioner, did about 15 minutes of the hands-on (or rather hands-over) and then we did an exercise where she put a mat on the ground and in each corner, and image that represented four aspects of the person and I found objects that represented who I am and how I

She said I was primarily blocked in the creative/emotional area – duh. The finding objects and talking about who I was and what could be causing the blockage was an extremely helpful exercise. Some things that I discovered are going to be worked out and that I can’t write about publicly, but I did discover some important stuff about where I am.

1. One of the things that was stifling my creativity and emotions was the inability to fulfill who I believe I am to be, just because of space and financial constraints of living in San Francisco. Now that I’m in Arizona, what is that going to look like?

2. I need to get off my ass and get involved in worship at church. I emailed that to Erin and she and I are meeting this week. I’ve been holding back that nudging and I need to move forward.

3. I’ve got some conflict to resolve. Nothing major but there have already been good steps toward resolution.

4. A passion for Africa kept coming back, particularly a passion for the children in Africa. I don’t know what that means or how it will be worked out, but it’s there.

Already, God has given me some moments that confirm I’m headed in the right direction and has made some conversations happen that needed to happen. I’m feeling good about what I discovered and what’s to come.

Friday Five: Prayer of Silence (or not)

Jan writes:

At the beginning of this past week, I attended a conference on contemplative prayer entitled “Turning to the Mystics” at the 2013 Summer Institute at the Oblate School of Theology in San Antonio, TX. The speakers were James Finley, author and former novice of Thomas Merton; Mirabai Starr, author, translator, and speaker; and Father Ronald Rolheiser, author and president of OST. We were encouraged to regularly sit in quiet to come to realize our union with the Divine, who continually loves us into being.

So for this Friday Five, let us share about our prayer practices, whether silent or not:

1. How do you pray?

Hmmm….how as in what do I say or what I do? No matter – I shall make it my own! I pray in all different ways. Sometimes I beg, sometimes I listen, sometimes I joke, sometimes I’m angry. I figure just as long as I do it, I’m good.

2. How has your idea of prayer changed over time?

My idea of prayer has changed as my idea of God has changed. I’ve become much more focused on listening and less than talking. It’s become a true dialogue. Not a hearing voices dialogue, but a dialogue. I’ve also used yoga practice as a physical form of prayer and heard some great things from God during classes.

3. Do you ever sit in silent prayer? How does it go?

I have done and it varies. I try to keep pen and paper near so if I am distracted by thoughts I can write them down, thus releasing them from my brain and then I can sit some more. It’s spotty, though. Not a discipline I’ve developed. However, I’ve also seen the wandering mind as a kind of prayer and will often go with it and see where it leads.

4. Do you have any difficulties and/or pleasures in prayer?

I don’t currently, but I have had some difficulties. Especially when I’m mad about something. Otherwise, the whole pleasure/ecstasy thing has thus far escaped me. Not sure how that would go.

5. What is the best advice that helped you with prayer?

Apparently one of my friends said to another friend that she didn’t know the difference between praying and thinking. Or something like that. Either way, I think the best advice is that everything is or can be prayer.

Bonus: Share something about prayer or an example of a prayer you like.

Just yesterday, I read this:

God, of Your goodness give me Yourself, for you are enough for me. And only in You do I have everything. Amen.

– Julian of Norwich

And then I fantasized about decimating a chirping cricket with a shotgun, so I”m clearly a work in progress.

Psalm 19

I’ve been thinking a lot about creation lately. Kind of because of some great conversations I’ve had and kind of because of the dumbass in Kentucky who has some creationist theme park and is building a replica of Noah’s Ark. I don’t want to link to it because I don’t want him to get the traffic but suffice it to say, it’s there.
My pastor spoke about this in a sermon, partly because she’s from Kentucky, and partly because someone spending $23 million to build a replica of a boat is infuriating. The Bible isn’t a science book, or even a history book. It’s the story of God’s activity in the lives of God’s people. The need to prove your faith by forcing it to be scientific is kind of scary to me. I’ve written before that I don’t know how the world was created, and frankly, I don’t care. I wasn’t there. It’s fine. One of the things Erin said in her sermon was that one of the reasons she’s fine with the theory of evolution is that it’s more in line with God’s character, as far as God being continually in creation mode.
The natural world implicitly declares God’s glory – it basically just oozes praise. God created the world to enjoy it and for it to point back to God. In it, we can see God’s passion, creativity and beauty. It’s like the stained glass windows in medieval cathedrals that were meant to teach Bible stories to illiterate peasants.
God is always at work, God is always creating. Whether we are aware of it or not, we are all sitting in the midst of God’s creative activity. In my head it looks like me sitting in something like a garden or park and there things coming to being and moving around me and I am still in the middle of it, letting God work. “I’m not finished with this yet,” says God. And so I wait.
Psalm 19
To the leader. A Psalm of David.
The heavens are telling the glory of God; and the firmament proclaims his handiwork. Day to day pours forth speech, and night to night declares knowledge. There is no speech, nor are there words; their voice is not heard; yet their voice goes out through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world.
In the heavens he has set a tent for the sun, which comes out like a bridegroom from his wedding canopy, and like a strong man runs its course with joy. Its rising is from the end of the heavens, and its circuit to the end of them; and nothing is hidden from its heat.
The law of the Lord is perfect, reviving the soul; the decrees of the Lord are sure, making wise the simple; the precepts of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart; the commandment of the Lord is clear, enlightening the eyes; the fear of the Lord is pure, enduring for ever; the ordinances of the Lord are true and righteous altogether. More to be desired are they than gold, even much fine gold; sweeter also than honey, and drippings of the honeycomb.
Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable to you, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer.