The $10 In My Pocket

I have $10 in my pocket. It might as well be $1,000,000. I have that much of a clue as to what to do with it. It doesn’t seem like a lot of money but it is heavy with meaning and generosity

I’ve had a rough, well, let’s say year and a few months. I’ve been quiet over here because I am more of an internal processor when life goes south and in many ways it has. But in many ways, it’s pretty great. I am on the verge of a new chapter and over the last few months, I have spent a lot of time practicing the disciplines of trust, silence, meditation and prayer.

This morning I had the privilege (and I actually mean that) to lead worship at a service that is held weekly at Justa Center in downtown Phoenix. Justa is a day center for homeless senior citizens that is a ministry of the United Methodist Church. There were only a handful of people there but God was there, and the room was full.

The last couple of weeks has been pretty hectic for me, including an out-of-state job interview, final projects for a class, leading music at City Square and starting a business. I’m not going to say I phoned in planning the service at Justa Center, but it didn’t get my full attention until the night before. I had been reading the lectionary passages but nothing really struck me. As I went through past messages, I pulled out some thoughts on hope from John 20, which seemed appropriate as Thursday was Ascension Day and this was the last Sunday of Easter.

In John 20, the disciples have locked themselves in a small room, but even though the doors were locked, Jesus showed up. We talked about the importance of being hopeful and not allowing our perspectives to get small and trust that Jesus will show up. After the service, they asked me to do another song, so I pulled something out of my back pocket and sang for them for a bit.

It was so lovely and there was such a great spirit in the room. My heart was full and I was so happy to have been there. Then Nola came back into the room and pressed an envelope in my hand. She said had been blessed by the service and wanted me to have the donation she had put in the offering plate. She was thankful to have good news about possible permanent housing and felt God told her to give something to me. It was $10. A five and five ones. From an older woman who is in recovery, living in a shelter, one rung above homeless. I froze, thanked her, and then went to find the coordinator.

“What do I do with this?” I asked him. “I can’t take money from a homeless woman.” He said that she had felt very strongly that God wanted her to give that to me and that I should take it in the spirit it was intended, from a pure, generous heart.

So I have this $10 in my pocket. It’s the heaviest paper money I’ve ever had in my possession. I cry every time I think about it. I still don’t know what I’m going to do with it, but I am going to spend a lot of time praying and meditating over it. She is the woman who gave all she had. To a woman who has stuff and who just this week was expressing anxiety about being unemployed. I am humbled and thankful. Nola is not a lazy taker. She is a woman with a generous spirit despite her circumstances who wants to contribute and has a heart to worship God. I have been taught a great lesson and will use my $10 wisely.

 

A Global Apology

The apology is (usually) a powerful thing. Sometimes it falls on deaf ears, but when it is sincere and contrite and is met with grace, it can change the world.

I have been in conversations both past and recent about what the church has done to people in the name of the gospel and it just makes me so angry. It’s abuse. Grand scale church leadership abuse has been in the news lately but the smaller, subtler, more nuanced cases are what’s on my mind today.

A few years ago I hosted a group of folks from the LGBTQ community and World Vision in my home to talk about a partnership with the WV AIDS Village experience. I’m not sure that much came of that, but what did come of that was much more beautiful and fruitful than I could’ve imagined. As we were having our conversations, some of the people in the room began to talk about the pain and rejection they’d experienced at the hands of the church and as they told their stories, I looked them in the eyes and apologized. I apologized for their pain, the feeling that they were less than the rest of us, and the message that God couldn’t love them. They were shocked. They didn’t know what to do. They wept. It’s not that I was doing anything remarkable, just doing something that should have been done a long time ago, and probably should still be happening on a regular basis.

Recently I’ve dealt with people, specifically women, who are dealing with more subtle, insidious types of abuse meted out by the church. The tough part about this is that these women are the victims of a cultural view of Christianity perpetrated by people who think they are honestly doing the right thing. As progressive as some of my friends are, they’re realizing some of the misogynistic crap that has seeped into their own psyches. Some friends are just now realizing the bill of goods they’ve been sold and are running in the opposite direction.

I’ve been processing what I’ve heard and experiencing genuine sorrow on behalf of my friends who are so hurt and damaged by what they’ve been told by the church about who they are and about about who God is, and I feel my best response can come in the form of an apology. If moderate Muslims are constantly called upon to denounce the behavior of the craziest members of their group, then I can do the same.

I’m sorry that through the use of masculine language for God we told you that you were not quite made in God’s image. Language is the key to culture, and our language says that God is all things male, so since you’re not, you must be missing something. You must be less than. You must be destined to be a second class citizen in church. You must cover your head, be silent, play piano, teach only children and clean up after pot luck meals. Using masculine language for God limits God. It puts God into our more manageable, patriarchal cultural box but it’s not who God is. God transcends gender and we all contain the stamp of God’s image in us. All of us.

I’m sorry that you were told that your body exists to serve your husband. I’m sorry you were told (either explicitly or implicitly) that you really weren’t a full member of the community unless you had a husband. I’m sorry that you were told that faith was something to be endured rather than relished. I’m sorry you weren’t told that God has such crazy, irrational love for you that God can’t contain it and it spills over in the form of beauty, and friends, and great food, and art. I’m sorry that you heard that you had to work more than you could celebrate. I’m sorry you were told that the kingdom of God is something to be achieved after you die and has nothing to do with the world now. I’m sorry you weren’t told of the gospel as a loving, courageous person who restores the outcast to full spiritual participation. I’m sorry that God’s desire to change the world through the church was sold to you as a burden, an obligation, and only for the select few who were in the right crowd.

I’m sorry. I want better for you, for the church and for the world. I will support you. I will listen to you, pray for you, sit with you and walk with you as you become who you truly are. You are beautiful, you are loved and you are valued. You matter. And I love you.

Why Yoga is Better than Church

Recently I’ve gotten back to yoga after almost a year away and given my current ministry sabbatical, I couldn’t help but compare the yoga studio community to the state of the church. Not surprisingly, I found the church lacking. In this particular context, I’m talking about “church” as in my experience with more evangelical church and some mainline churches as well. I feel like this may be true of the majority of churches, but there are definitely some out there for whom this does not apply. Still looking for one of those.

1. The focus is on what you’re doing, not what everyone else is or is not doing. I was very fortunate to have Dr. Paul Hiebert as my uncle and got to spend time with him as a great guy who would play on the floor with me before I ever knew that he was kind of famous. In his book Anthropological Reflections on Missiological Issues, he proposed the idea of the “bounded” set vs. the “centered” set. In their book, The Shaping of Things to Come, Alan Hirsch & Michael Frost use this analogy:

If you are a farmer with a 3-acre ranch so to speak, you can build a fence to keep your cattle in and other animals out. This would be a Bounded Set. But if you are a rancher say with a huge amount of land and acreage you wouldn’t be able to build fences around your whole property. Instead of building fences, you dig wells. It is assumed that animals won’t go too far away from the well because their life literally depends on them not wandering too far away from their water source. Visually, it looks like this:
Bounded vs CenteredSet
Most churches are a Bounded Set. They are very clear, both explicitly and implicitly, on who is in and who is out. Many churches are all about looking externally at other peoples’ behavior. And if they don’t fit the list, they’re out. I guess since they can’t see the Holy Spirit (and, let’s face it, probably haven’t heard from Her in a while) they’ve decided She needs some help. Not so in the yoga studio. Everyone focuses on their own progress and development. The instructor will go around and help and make adjustments

2. It’s an environment of unconditional acceptance. Students are appreciated for where they are and the phrase “if it’s available to you” is used often. Everyone engages in each pose where they can. Pushing yourself too hard results in injury.

3. It’s a safe place to try stuff and to screw up. Doing things outside your comfort zone is encouraged. Perfection is never expected because it’s actually not even a goal. Each pose has another level, and then another level, and so on. All you do is move through each level and it’s just expected that you won’t get things right the first time.

4. It gives energy rather than taking energy.  The point of yoga is to give energy to those practicing it so that they can go out into the world to contribute positively. I know that churches say they want to do that, and many do. But many of them don’t actually do it because they’ve made it so culturally necessary to pretend to be more together than you are in order to fit in, and that’s exhausting.

5. Instructors participate alongside the students. Other than moving through the space to make adjustments to students who are risking injury, the instructor is practicing with everyone else. The instructor is ahead of the students, of course, but doesn’t make that a focus in the classroom. We’re all students, we’re all practicing.

6. Instructors encourage rather than condemn. All progress is applauded because all progress is positive. No one is asked to leave because they get something wrong. No one is publicly shamed. As a result, we all want to work harder. Study after study on positive reinforcement shows that when you offer positive reinforcement to someone you are guaranteed to get back positive behavior 100% of the time. When you offer negative reinforcement, you can get anything from the same negative behavior all the way over to positive behavior. You have no way of predicting the outcome. Churches should really read these studies.

7. The focus is on the benefits of yoga in all areas of life, rather than the benefits to the physical studio by you being there. Yoga instructors clearly tell us that what we’re doing in the studio is all about positively impacting our lives outside the studio. Churches rarely give us the tools to make a difference in our lives outside because they are so busy using all their energy and resources to perpetuate their weekly event and keep their buildings running. Churches need to make a real connection between saying you follow Christ and what it means to live like a follower of Jesus.

8. The encouragement is to make your life bigger. I’ve mentioned before that my spiritual journey has led my view of God to continually expand. So many churches don’t want their people’s views of God to expand because if it did, they might realize that what their church is teaching is crap. The need to make God small and manageable and dignified is rampant in all denominations, from conservative to progressive, Pentecostal to Presbyterian. In my opinion, you should run from anyone who claims to know how God behaves in any situation. God is good, but God is not safe. It comes back to the bounded vs. centered set. We don’t get to say, “God only acts this way, therefore you can only believe this about God.” Let God get bigger and things will get bumpy, but they will also be awesome.

Philomena

Yesterday my mom and I went to see Philomena, the film based on the true story of Philomena Lee, an Irish woman who spent 50 years looking for the son who was taken from her when she was a teenager. Because of lack of sex education and available birth control, there were a number of teenage girls who found themselves pregnant and alone in mid-20th-century Ireland and ended up in Magdalene Houses for lack of other options. Philomena was essentially enslaved in one of these houses from the ages of 18-22 where she worked in a laundry 7 days a week and was permitted to see her son for 1 hour a day until he was essentially sold to an American family and his mother never saw him again. Her son, Anthony, was never out of her mind for a moment as she left the house, became a nurse, married and had other children. On her son’s 50th birthday she tells her daughter about the existence of this son and that she’s always wanted to find him. Her daughter by chance meets Martin Sixsmith, a cynical journalist who has recently been sacked from a position in the British Prime Minister’s office. She asks him if he’d help her mother and he rather pointedly explains that he doesn’t do “human interest” stories. Sixsmith ends up changing his mind and the two end up on a rather winding journey to find Philomena’s son and resurrect Sixsmith’s career.

SPOILERS AHEAD

The journeys of these two individuals are somewhat disparate, as Sixsmith goes on this journey motivated by his atheism and his disdain for the Catholic Church and Philomena, a devout Catholic, goes to prove God’s hand in her experience. During the search for Philomena’s son, now known as Michael Hess, the name given him by his adoptive parents, Philomena & Sixsmith discover that Michael was a successful attorney who worked for Presidents Reagan and Bush 41. They also discovered that he died 8 years earlier. This is a heartbreaking moment in the film that momentarily derails Philomena’s resolve and she almost returns to England. Knowing that there are people she can talk to who knew her son she and Sixsmith continue to seek out people who knew her son and who could tell her what she wanted to know – did he think of her?

Philomena and Sixsmith finally get Michael’s partner Peter to talk to them and show them pictures. Philomena explained that he had been taken from her and that she had wanted to find him all along. It turns out, Peter and Michael had gone to Ireland and visited the convent where he had been born andin a shocking twist, learned he was in fact buried there. Their initial visit where they had been told all records were burned and no one knew anything of Michael was a lie. Philomena was baffled, as one imagines a naive believer might be, whereas Sixsmith was enraged, feeling justified in his disdain for the church. When they returned to the convent, he confronted the old nun who had been around when Philomena had her son and the nun was recalcitrant. She angrily proclaimed that these girls had gotten what they deserved. Philomena heard the commotion and interrupted, chastised Sixsmith for his rudeness and offered the nun her forgiveness.

I’ve recently been thinking about forgiveness and wondering if I truly have forgiven a couple of people. I’ve had recurring dreams about them in which they are trying to reconcile with me and I won’t have it. Then I’d feel guilty in my waking hours and trying to figure out what was going on and why I couldn’t let go of this. Turns out I’m ok. I feel like God said, you’re good and you’re being fooled. So my dreams, which have often been a tool of oppression for me, had once again been used to make me think I was not as far along on this journey as I actually was. That was a relief. Forgivenss is hard. Philomena said that when Sixsmith accused her of taking the easy way out. It’s not easy. But it is right. In that moment, Philomena was Jesus and it was beautiful to see.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rG3QP8foCvg

Strange Bedfellows – You’ll get that joke in a minute

Recently there have been a rash of state laws that are attempting to guarantee “religious liberty” to business owners who want legal protection when they want to discriminate against the LGBTQ community. Apparently, making a cake for a gay wedding means you are automatically invited to be in the wedding party, obligated to buy an expensive gift, and be first in the receiving line. I’m curious if the makers of these wedding cakes give their customers some sort of questionnaire regarding their lifestyle in case they are living together before marriage or involved in a poly-amorous relationship so they know not to make cakes for them either. I’m assuming this questionnaire includes questions about whether any potential cake-eaters gossip, lie, are disobedient to their parents, or cheat on taxes. Those people don’t get cake either.

These 21st century Jim Crow laws have brought out a lot of protesters from all sides and I’ve actually found articles that make me agree with Fox News contributors and Andy Stanley, of all people. The end, dear readers, is very near.

Kirsten Powers, the aforementioned Fox News person, wrote:
“It’s probably news to most married people that their florist and caterer were celebrating their wedding union. Most people think they just hired a vendor to provide a service. It’s not clear why some Christian vendors are so confused about their role here.”

Couldn’t agree more. With a Fox News contributor. I’m already freaked out about my next birthday and my job and what I’m going to be when I grow up, ministry-wise, but now, I’m agreeing with someone from Fox News. It’s a sign of the apocalypse.

Then we have Andy Stanley. He said: “Serving people we don’t see eye to eye with is the essence of Christianity. Jesus died for a world with which he didn’t see eye to eye. If a bakery doesn’t want to sell its products to a gay couple, it’s their business. Literally. But leave Jesus out of it.”

Seriously. An evangelical making sense? Again – the end. Near. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

There are also people who are using platforms to say that their religious liberty is being threatened. There are lots of pastors, mostly evangelicals, who believe their religious liberty is being threatened. It’s totally not. No one is going to take away their churches, make them say things in sermons or make them marry gays. They can still do/say/preach whatever they want without being persecuted by the government. Evangelicals cry religious persecution when they’re asked to treat people of all faiths fairly and when they are no longer in power. White male evangelicals are the worst about this. It’s highly disrespectful to the Christians who are actually being persecuted around the world.

I’m not exactly sure what these state legislators in KS or AZ are thinking they’re going to accomplish by bringing back pre-Civil Rights era legislation and allowing businesses to target the gay community. They will hurt the economies they’re trying to protect. They will limit tourism, commerce and incomes. They are pandering to the far right of their bases and will ultimately lose the middle and somehow, in a mid-term election year, thing that’s a good idea. The mind boggles on so many levels. The KS law has been abandoned but the AZ law is still in play. There’s a protest on Monday that I’m going to try to make, and I hope that our dumbass governor keeps her law-signing pen sheathed.

Update: Our two Republican Senators, John McCain and Jeff Flake have asked Gov. Brewer to veto this bill. As have Mitt Romney and a group of 3 of the state legislators who originally backed the bill. It’s a world gone mad.

May Have Also Left My Ministry Mojo in San Francisco

I’ve come to the conclusion that I’m going through a ministry mid-life crisis. Maybe it’s 20 years in ministry fatigue. I’ve just found that I don’t at all feel comfortable in a traditional church any more. I can visit, but at this point I don’t really want to be heavily involved. I am anticipating some major transition in the next few weeks (fingers crossed) and until then, I see myself on a sabbatical from all things church.

The thing that did it was the weekly newsletter from my church in San Francisco. I’m still on their mailing list, and I think I may even still technically be a member. Anyway, I saw in the newsletter that the church is doing their Ash Wednesday service in the 16th Street BART station in San Francisco and that’s sort of the straw that broke it for me. That’s the kind of thing I want to be involved with. No offense to churches that aren’t there, but that’s where I want to be. I don’t want to be preoccupied with buildings. I don’t want to be worrying about entrenched ministry teams not communicating with other ministry teams. I don’t want to be part of a denominational structure that hamstrings ministry efforts. I don’t really even want to be part of a church that talks about doing ministry in BART stations. I want to be part of a church that does it. I don’t want to talk about it. I want to do it.

I would think that there must be more disaffected church people around, here and in other places. How does one find them?

A Return to Traditional Values (No, not those), part 5

So, our system is broken (big shock) and the government is trying but not succeeding to help. Churches should be doing more, but aren’t (when was the last time your church took up a collection to help someone pay medical bills?). Non-profits are doing what they can. What do we do?

It’s easy to argue that we are in a system that rewards the industrious and wealthy and that we have to accept it. Give two people each $1,000,000 and in a year, one will be rich and one will be broke, it’s just how it is. In my view, these aren’t God’s values. This doesn’t represent the God I read about in scripture and it’s not anything like what I see in the life of Jesus. We aren’t called to be a slave to “the market”, but rather we are to care for the poor and fight against injustice. Yes, I guess I am calling for a redistribution of wealth, but not one that is mandated by the government, rather one that is demanded by people who believe that everyone has a right to the dignity of feeding their families and seeing a doctor.

I guess what I’m saying is that I see the whole traditional values conversation entirely differently than just outward behaviors that don’t match an inner reality. I believe that as followers of Christ we are to be continually re-made inwardly and that will change our communities, our cities and the world.

Isaiah 58 (The Message)
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!