23 December 2009

"Come," Thou dost say to Angels

“Come,” Thou dost say to Angels,
To blessed Spirits, “Come”;
“Come,” to the Lambs of Thine Own flock,
Thy little Ones, “Come home.”

“Come” – from the many-mansioned house
The gracious word is sent,
“Come” – from the ivory palaces
Unto the Penitent.

O Lord, restore us deaf and blind,
Unclose our lips tho’ dumb;
The say to us, “I come with speed,”
And we will answer, “Come.”

Christina Rossetti (1830-94)

21 December 2009

He will come like last leaf's fall...

He will come like last leaf’s fall
One night when the November wind
has flayed the trees to bone, and earth
wakes choking on the mould,
the soft shroud’s folding.
He will come like frost
One morning when the shrinking earth
opens on mist, to find itself
arrested in the net
of alien, sword-set beauty.
He will come like dark,
One evening when the bursting red
December sun draws up the sheet
and penny-masks its eye to yield
the star-snowed fields of sky.
He will come, will come,
will come like crying in the night,
like blood, like breaking,
as the earth writhes to toss him free.
He will come like child.

Rowan Williams, (The Collected Poems, 2002)
with thanks to http://lovebloomsbright.wordpress.com

31 October 2009

one year.


Today marks one year since mom's passing.  Thank you, thank you, thank you for all the love and support that you have shown Dad and I.  When I think of what community is, this is it. It's just people who you say "hi" to, or folks who live near you. It is the group that gathers around you during the hard times and lifts you up. it's the group that calls you to ask to you eat with them, and checks on you in little ways, just to make sure you're doing alright.

Thanks for being that community for Dad and I.

Here is a prayer from the UM Book of Worship. I thought I'd share it with all of you.


Everliving God,
    this day revives in us memories of loved ones who are no more.
What happiness we shared when the walked among us.
What joy, when, loving and being loved, we lived our lives together.
Their memory is a blessing for ever.

Months or years may have passed, and still we feel near to them.
Our hearts yearn for them.
Though the bitter grief has softened, a duller pain abides;
    for the place where once they stood is empty now.
The links of life are broken, but the links of love and longing cannot break.
Their souls are bound up in ours for ever.

We see them now with the eye of memory,
    their faults forgiven, their virtues grown larger.
So does goodness live, and weakness fade from sight.
We remember them with gratitude and bless their names.
Their memory is a blessing for ever.

And we remember as well the members
    who but yesterday were part of our congregation and community.
To all who cared for us and labored for all people, we pay tribute.
May we prove worthy of carrying on the tradition of our faith,
    for now the task is our.
Their souls are bound up in ours for ever.

We give you thanks that they now live and reign with you.
As a great crowd of witnesses,
    they surround us with their blessings,
    and offer you hymns of praise and thanksgiving.
They are alive for ever more. Amen.

27 October 2009

Curry Chicken Salad

It is a rare occasion that I make it to Whole Foods. This is mostly because, as a graduate student, my dollar goes further at other places.  But, it is fun to go look and pretend that one day there will be money to spend on the finer foods of life.

One thing that I really love about Whole Foods, however, is their deli section that seems to have a little bit of everything--most of which has a gourmet flair. One of my favorites is their curry chicken salad.  Here is my version.

The best part of this is that it is super easy to adapt to your taste. I've included what I used along with some other suggestions.

Curry Chicken Salad (for two)

  • 2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, boiled and chunked
  • 3 heaping tablespoonfuls of mayo and sour cream (I used fat free for both of these. If you don't like one or the other, then take it out and compensate accordingly)
  • 2 tablespoons (or to taste) good tasting curry powder
  • 2 prunes, diced (trust me on this, it is delicious)
  • crunchy type things (I used carrots and onions. You might like to use shallots and celery)
  • salt and pepper, garlic powder to taste
Mix chicken chunks with remaining ingredients. Chill for at least an hour (to help the flavors meld). Serve.

25 October 2009

Halloween Cat Cookies (Peanut Butter and Chocolate)

My mother, who died last October 31, was a baker. Every holiday had some baked good(s) associated with it.  She loved the fall, so Halloween had a couple of favorites. Here is one of her most beloved holiday cookies. The best part is that they are super easy to make and lend themselves to the creativity of children.

Halloween Cat Cookies

  • chocolate cake mix, one box
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/3 c. (or so) of water
  • 1 c. peanut butter
  • candy corn
  • red hots
  • sugar

Preheat to 350 degrees.

Beat wet ingredients together. Slowly add cake mix. (It is helpful to use a mixer of some sort--this can get pretty sticky and stiff!)

Roll dough into 1.5" balls and place on a baking sheet.  Top balls with sugar, then press flat with the bottom of a glass. Pinch ears onto cookies; press fork for whiskers.

Bake for 7-12 minutes, depending on your oven and the thickness of the cookies. Cooking too long can dry these out pretty quickly.

Decorate with candy corn eyes and a red hot nose!

20 October 2009

Spicy Beef Stir-Fry with Basil

Last Christmas, I decided that it was time to start improving my collection of cookware.  The previous Christmas (2 years ago), I discovered the joy of being adult a.k.a getting major kitchen instead of fun things for all major gift giving holidays.

So, last year, I decided to use this to my advantage. The majority of my cookware had been inherited from my two aunts from my Dad's side of the family.  Essentially, it was a collection of sturdy pots and pans and dated china.

I asked for new pots and pans.  Apparently, this set of a cooking shopping spree and Christmas morning, I awoke to not only some pots and pans but an apron, cook books, and yes, a recipe calendar.

This is one of the recipes (that I've adapted) from that calendar and one that, I have to say, I  really enjoy.  Add more red pepper flakes if you like to make it extra spicy, and keep the extra half of the lime around if you need to tone anything down (just in case, you know, by total accident, you know, you add way to much, you know, spice--not cause that happened or anything).

It is super easy and quick, once all the ingredients are prepared. Be sure to get everything ready before hand (even the rice, if you want to eat it with that. I might also suggest tofu noodles, like these).  Once you're cooking, you're cooking.

 Here's what you need to serve 2:
  • 3/4lb steak (flank or sirloin will be the most tender, round works too)
  • 1/2 c. loosely packed basil leaves
  • 1 tbsp. good tasting olive oil
  • 1 1/2 tbsp. minced garlic
  • 1/4 tsp - 3/4 tsp red pepper flakes, to taste
  • 1 tbsp of soy sauce + 1 tbsp of fish sauce (or 2 of either)
  • Juice of 1/2 lime
  • [opt] 1/2 bag of broccoli slaw (in the produce aisle, pre-made)

To cook:
Slice the beef as thinly as possible (across the grain).  Cut these slices into bite-sized pieces.

Wash and dry the basil; chop them coarsely.  [If you have time, toss the beef with the basil and touch of olive oil and marinate for an hour--if not, don't worry!]

Preheat wok or large skillet over high heat until it smokes (3-4 minutes)

Lower the heat, add oil. 
Quickly add garlic, stirring once or twice. Once it begins to color (which is pretty quickly), return to high heat and add the beef/basil mixture.

Stir quickly, add red pepper flakes.

Stir regularly, but not constantly until meat looses its redness (maybe a minute or two longer)

Add the sauces (soy/fish/both) and lime juice).  Add in broccoli slaw for extra crunch and veggies (opt). 

Stir. Serve.


18 October 2009

Delicious Pumpkin Muffins

I've realized over the past months that this blog has been neglected. Partly, this is due to lack of time. Partly it is due to all the theological conversation I get at school. That and, you know, tests and papers and presentations. Such academic joys as those. The other week, I stumbled on an old acquaintance's blog of recipes and fun. She inspired me to offer my own blog a face lift of sorts. Perhaps a little more fun and fancy.

So, to start: Delicious Pumpkin Muffins.

The base of these muffins is Trader Joe's Pumpkin Pancake and Waffle Mix (but I suspect any similar mix will work). They don't pile over the top in traditional muffin fashion, but the brown sugar/pecan mixture makes them some of the tastiest fall treats I've had in a long, long time.
Thanks to my friend, Mariah, for the idea!

Here is the recipe:

dry ingredients:
1c. pumpkin pancake and waffle mix
1/4 c. sugar
1 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. nutmeg
1/8 tsp. ground cloves

wet ingredients:
1 egg, lightly beaten
2 1/2 tbsp. melted butter
1/2 c. water
1/4 c. milk (I used skim)
1 tsp. vanilla extract
(opt) 1 tsp. sugar-free hazelnut syrup (here's the kind I like)

Brown Sugar/Pecan mixture:
1/4c. brown sugar
1/4c. pecan pieces broken up
1 tsp. ground cinnamon

Toss dry ingredients together. Mix all wet ingredients into the mix (except egg--we don't want the hot butter to scramble the egg!) After all ingredients are combined, add in the egg.

Pour batter into muffin tin.

Top with brown sugar/ pecan mixture.

Bake for 15 minutes at 350 degrees.

makes 8. (easy to double)

If you use the brown sugar/pecan mixture, it will sink into the muffin. It's a sweet surprise to a tasty fall treat!

10 August 2009

Roses, Late Summer

a poem by Mary Oliver

What happens
to the leaves after
they turn red and golden and fall
away? What happens

to the singing birds
when they can't sing
any longer? What happens
to their quick wings?

Do you think there is any
personal heaven
for any of us?
Do you think anyone,

the other side of that darkness,
will call to us, meaning us?
Beyond the trees
the foxes keep teaching their children

to live in the valley.
So they never seem to vanish, they are always there
in the blossom of light
that stands up every morning

in the dark sky.
And over one more set of hills,
along the sea,
the last roses have opened their factories of sweetness

and are giving it back to the world.
If I had another life
I would want to spend it all on some
unstinting happiness.

I would be a fox, or a tree
full of waving branches.
I wouldn't mind being a rose
in a field full of roses.

Fear has not yet occurred to them, nor ambition.
Reason they have not yet thought of.
Neither do they ask how long they must be roses, and then what.
Or any other foolish question.

10 May 2009

a motherless child

The choir I sing with at school is known for it's version of Wade in the Water. It is easily the most requested piece we perform. The song begins with my friend M. singing from the audience. The song builds as the choir appears from within the gathered people. Layer upon layer of music is stacked, one upon the other.

The basses start chanting--wade in the water, wade in the water. They're desperate for you to join them---"wade in this water," they seem to be saying. Next the tenors begin a Native American chant, reminding us of similar struggles of oppressed people. The altos come in next singing the words to the song: Wade in the water. Wade in the water, children. Wade in the Water. God's gonna trouble the water.

Soon, the choir is in a frenzy and the sopranos begin to wail. "I wanna die easy when I die. I wanna die easy when I die. Shout salvation as I rise. I wanna die easy, when I die."

Then, through it all, a single voice cuts the layers: "Sometimes, I feel like a motherless child a long way from home..." This particular lament ends, and all the other voices rush back like waves barely held back by a weak earthen dam. Suddenly, there isn't anything to do but sing and convince others that they, indeed, need to wade in the water.

At our most recent concert, the single voice lamenting its situation cut me like never before mostly because I've never been able to identify with it before. You see, this is my first mother's day as a motherless child.

A few years ago, I wrote this about my mom in an earlier blog post recalling some of my favorite memories of my mother:

But more importantly, I remember the little memories that give reason for the holiday. I remember waiting for mama to pick me up from Ms. Carrie's after she left work. I remember trips to Fayetteville--from Dunkin' Donuts to Michael's and seemingly every place in between, we seemed to own that place. I remember sitting at the upright in our living room and singing hymns that she loved and played (quite beautifully I might add). And decorating the house for Christmas--white lights. I always wanted multicolored. Little did we know that 7 years later, I would be the one pushing for the classic white while she would be arguing for the colored ones. I seem to recall visiting shut-ins with homemade cookies on every holiday. My mother has a way with older folks--she just talks and talks and they listen and talk..and somehow, everyone ends up on the same plane--I'm here for you and thinking about you. I won't forget you.

Today marked my first visit to her grave since her burial nearly 7 months ago. It was the first time I'd seen the granite marker with her name carved delicately under a band of flowers bordering the top. It was the first time my fingers had sifted through the grey gravel covering the earth she is buried beneath. After leaving some wildflowers, a picture of a postcard from postsecret, and a plant my dad had bought, I cried--for myself, for my dad, for my mom.

As my tears dried, I was surrounded by a warm breeze and I was reminded of all the good memories I have of this little country church. I remembered picnics under the huge oak trees and bare feet in the soft, country grass that faded into a sandy drive. It even smelled like I remembered it--like homecoming celebrations and old hymnals and prayers.

And the words of Jesus in the Gospel of John that I had read earlier in the day in front of the mother's day crowds at church came to mind: I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you (John 14.18).

One of the hardest things I've had to face in these past months is the sneaking suspicion that I'm part of a secret club that no one wants to be a part of, but that everyone eventually joins. I walk around wondering who knows what I now know: what the loss of a parent, of a mother, of a best friend feels like. My mom was all three.

But as time carries on, I start to feel a smile sneak onto my face as I wonder to myself who knows what else I know: all the good memories keep her alive and the promise that we aren't alone.

I'm not a motherless child. I am a child blessed by a mother who guided me, loved me, sheltered me and held me while she was alive. And I am child who continues to be blessed by memories and moments that guide me, shelter me, hold me, and remind me of that love everyday.

02 May 2009

Thomas the Believer

Another sermon, this one offered the Sunday after Easter at my home church Elon using the Doubting Thomas text.

During the months leading up to my first semester of seminary, advice was around every corner. Most offered well wishes and practical advice—try to make sure you get sleep, eat well, don’t forget to pray. This kind of advice might be categorized as nice advice—the kind that builds you up, reminds you to be nice to yourself. There was another type of advice that I received, however, that was more along the lines of warning. Mostly this advice came from retired ministers—none here (I think) and was along the lines of “don’t let them tell you that Jesus was a woman;” or worse: “don’t let them take the Trinity away from you;” or worse still: “don’t let them turn you into an Atheist.”

Well, friends, you can breathe a sigh of relief. While the gender of Christ has been discussed, the gender of Jesus has not been questioned and we do talk about the Trinity—maybe in a some non-traditional ways, but its there. Belief in God, well, that’s a different story.

Don’t worry. I still believe in God. The difference is, I don’t believe in the same way I once did. That’s not to say I believe more in God or any less in God, just that I buy it now—I can grasp the realness of God in a way I hadn’t before. I hadn’t quite had a wound-touching experience yet.

When I first arrived, third year students, those with one year left in their degree, had a plethora of metaphors to share about seminary. One said that during your first year they cut you open. Your second year, they pull everything out, and your final year, they tell you to put it all back.

Another third year told me: “It’s like the passion narrative: year one they crucify you. Your second year you spend in the tomb. Just when things get hopeless, you find yourself resurrected by your third year.” I thought that they were exaggerating. “I cant be that bad,” I remember thinking to myself “I mean, it’s Seminary.” They weren’t exaggerating. It is hard.

It’s hard because it’s demanding—pages upon pages on reading, books worth of papers to write. But you expect those things to be hard—It’s graduate school. But what I’ve found really challenging is that everything is questioned. Every time I walk into a classroom, what we may or may not discuss that day has the potential to fundamentally alter what I believe.

Our gospel lesson this week is about belief—about knowing and not knowing. It’s about wounds and proof. This week, we find ourselves still in the heart of the surprise of the Resurrection. Mary has returned to the disciples after her conversation with the risen Christ and has told them all about it. That evening, Jesus shows up again. “Peace be with you” is his greeting, and then he proceeds to show them his hands and his side. Thomas, the twin, isn’t there for this part. He misses it.

We all know this part by heart: The disciples tell him what they have seen, and he doesn’t believe them saying: “ Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side. I will not believe.” Jesus, of course, appears again to the disciples (this time with Thomas present), then turns to Thomas and tells him to touch the wounds. “Do not doubt, but believe.” To which Thomas answers: “My Lord and My God.”

It all finishes with one of Jesus’ iconic teachings (This is just like Jesus isn’t it—keep teaching even after death and Resurrection.) He says: “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”

What fascinates me about the way we relate this story is that we gloss over the whole first part of this passage to get to the verse that we think is most meaningful. What we remember about these verses aren’t the specifics of the story. What first comes to mind is Jesus’ admonition to Thomas. I say Doubting Thomas, you think…wounds, belief, but mostly Jesus saying to Thomas: Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe.

Belief is a funny thing. It’s a hard thing—hard to grasp, hard to understand, hard to do. So often we equate knowledge with belief. Before I came to seminary, I thought I knew a lot of things about God. But education, as American philosopher and historian Will Durant would say, is a progressive discovery of our own ignorance.

I’ve learned far more than I realized I needed to learn in my two years of graduate work. I’ve learned about historical councils and debates. I’ve done my far share of work on 20th century theologians and I’ll give you a tip: If the question is about Karl Barth, the answer involves Christ. But, unfortunately, Jesus isn’t the easy answer to all the questions that have arisen during my time at Emory. Knowledge isn’t always the answer.

We often refer to Thomas’ character in this passage as Doubting Thomas. It’s a phrase that we often hear in the midst of discussions when questions are directed toward pillars of our faith. It doesn’t carry a positive connotation. Being a “Doubting Thomas” means that you aren’t willing to believe as easily as should, that you need proof or knowledge that others don’t seem to require.

But what we forget is that Thomas isn’t asking for anything different than what the disciples had already seen. During his first appearance to the disciples on the Evening of that third day, John tells us that “Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.’” then “he showed them his hands and his side.”

It would be easy, as a seminarian, to preach an all too cliché sermon about the
benefits of asking questions—how we should give ourselves to theological inquiry. It would be just as easy to give a sermon implying that Jesus doesn’t want us to question our faith, but believe.

But, what matters to me today, is that Jesus did for Thomas exactly what Jesus will do for us—he gave Thomas a wound-touching experience. Jesus offered his own wounds of suffering as a witness to the resurrection. Wound-touching experiences then are the moments Jesus give us what we need so that we can believe. This doesn’t mean that Jesus gives us belief or faith, but it does mean that when we are desperate for something to hold on, desperate for something for us to put our fingers in—Christ is there holding out his hands or pointing to his side saying, “Touch here.”

Interestingly, the author of the Gospel of John never tells us that Thomas actually touches Jesus’ wounds. Sometimes, what we think we need to be able to believe isn’t what we need at all.

And here’s the thing, Thomas believed! “My Lord and My God” is his reply directly after Jesus offers him his hands and side. “My Lord and My God.” Thomas believed.

So often we pass over the things around us that act as beacons of belief—moments of natural beauty that point to God, stressful times that miraculously work out.
This past year I had an experience that pointed to God in the midst of extreme hardship.

The fact is that hard times make cynical minds—you like that? I came up with it myself—hard times make cynical minds. Belief is hard enough to come by when things seem fine, but throw in persecution, fear, disappointment and unknowing and belief seems nearly impossible. With the roller coaster of emotions that comes with Holy Week, it’s no surprise that Thomas didn’t want to believe his disciples. They’re making it up, he might say. Or maybe he simply dismissed them as crazy. Hard times make cynical minds.

Thomas and the disciples experience with hardship isn’t an unique one. We’ve all been through our own moments of suffering—our own crossless passions. And in the midst of the moments sitting with pain and hardship, we long for those wound-touching experiences that remind us of the promise of the resurrection. We long for moments where belief overtakes knowledge and proof.

As many of you know, my mother was diagnosed with stage three lymphoma last February. We made it through weeks of treatments to hear that much hoped for word—remission. We savored that word. Remission. We were going to be OK. It was a triumphant day--our own Palm Sunday, of sorts.

But, after Palm Sunday (as we experienced these past two weeks), you so often have to face death. After falling in the shower on a Sunday, she was taken to the hospital. Tests revealed that one tiny piece of the lymphoma that had remained in her brain had spread to the lining between her brain and skull. Her death was immanent.

Those five days that we waited for death in the hospital were the longest days I have lived. I have never been so heartbroken and so relieved as I was that Friday when the labored breath ended. It was a devastating moment, a shattering one that redefined my life.

But those five days taught me more about life and love and belief than any other experience I’ve had to date. Those days showed me the value of holding the hand of dear loved one. I don’t know if she felt it, but I believe she did. I sang songs to her. I don’t know if she heard them, but I believe she did. I prayed with her. I don’t know if she prayed with me, but I believe she did. I still don’t know any of these things for sure, but I believe all of them hold heartedly.

Toward the end of our stay in the hospital, I was singing to her. She had been unconscious for a few days, and we were simply waiting. I was holding her hand, and I began to sing: [sings] Precious Lord, take my hand. Lead me on, let me stand. I’m tired, I’m weak, I’m warn. Through the storm, through the night, Lead me on, to the light. Precious Lord, take my hand, lead me home.
A flicker of recognition ran across her face, and her eyes opened slightly.

I don’t know if she heard me, but I believe she did. Looking back, that moment pointed me toward faith—toward the belief in something that seemed utterly unbelievable. My mom had heard me. It was as if Jesus had walked in and said, “touch here. It’s going to be OK.”

The good news of the Resurrection doesn’t end with the empty tomb—it continues in the living Christ who appears and points us toward his wounds saying: touch and believe. Far more than what we need to believe has already been laid before us. It’s our job to claim our belief with Thomas: My Lord and My God.

16 April 2009

The Resurrection, a little late.

Yesterday I was crucified with him;
today I am glorified with him.
Yesterday I died with him;
today I am made alive in him.
Yesterday I was buried with him;
today I am raised up with him.
Let us offer ourselves to him
who suffered and rose again for us.
Let us become divine for his sake,
since for us he became human.
He assumed the worse that he might give us the better.
He became poor that by his poverty we might become rich.
He accepted the form of a servant
that we might win back our freedom.
He came down that we might be lifted up.
He was tempted that through him we might conquer.
He was dishonored that he might glorify us.
He died that he might save us.
He ascended that he might draw to himself us,
who were thrown down through the fall of sin.
Let us give all, offer all, to him
who gave himself a ransom and reconciliation for us.
We needed an incarnate God, a God put to death,
that we might live.
We were put to death together with him
that we might be cleansed.
We rose again with him
because we were put to death with him.
We were glorified with him
because we rose again with him.
A few drops of blood
recreate the whole of creation!

Easter Oration, St. Gregory the Theologian

10 April 2009

So they took Jesus; and carrying the cross by himself, he went out to what is called The Place of the Skull, which in Hebrew Aramaic is called Golgotha. There they crucified him, and with him two others, one on either side, with Jesus between them. Pilate also had an inscription written and put on the cross. It read, ‘Jesus of Nazareth, the Nazorean the King of the Jews.’ Many of the Jews read this inscription, because the place where Jesus was crucified was near the city; and it was written in Hebrew,Aramaic in Latin, and in Greek. Then the chief priests of the Jews said to Pilate, ‘Do not write, “The King of the Jews”, but, “This man said, I am King of the Jews.” ’Pilate answered, ‘What I have written I have written.’ When the soldiers had crucified Jesus, they took his clothes and divided them into four parts, one for each soldier. They also took his tunic; now the tunic was seamless, woven in one piece from the top. So they said to one another, ‘Let us not tear it, but cast lots for it to see who will get it.’ This was to fulfil what the scripture says,‘They divided my clothes among themselves, and for my clothing they cast lots.’ And that is what the soldiers did.

Meanwhile, standing near the cross of Jesus were his mother, and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing beside her, he said to his mother, ‘Woman, here is your son.’ Then he said to the disciple, ‘Here is your mother.’ And from that hour the disciple took her into his own home.

After this, when Jesus knew that all was now finished, he said (in order to fulfill the scripture), ‘I am thirsty.’ A jar full of sour wine was standing there. So they put a sponge full of the wine on a branch of hyssop and held it to his mouth. When Jesus had received the wine, he said, ‘It is finished.’ Then he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.

John 19. 16-30

01 April 2009

God Has a History of Moving

As is obvious by now, I'm taking a preaching class this semester. This sermon is on 2 Samuel 7.1-14a, otherwise known as the Davidic Covenant.

God has a history of moving. Did you know that? God has a history of moving. God moved in the flames of the burning bush and in the waters of the red sea. God moved in the breath that brought life to dry bones. God moved in the walls of Jericho and stirred in the heart of Solomon. God embraced Mary and challenged Joseph. God guided the disciples and raised the dead. God has inspired protests against war and witnessed to the power of non-violence. God has a history of moving. And, in this passage, God is concerned with doing just that—moving.

We’ve been talking about David a lot recently. We’ve heard the stories that tell of David’s anointing, of great victories in battle. Joshua just told us about David’s triumphant return to Jerusalem with the Ark of the Covenant—God’s holy throne. David returns as a war hero, but quickly changes roles into that of the priest. We see him officiating rituals and wearing priestly clothing.

But David is not a priest, he’s a king. And, starting with chapter seven, we see David acting like one. Basically, he starts making decisions. About God. There’s no doubt that his intentions were good ones. David wanted to give the Ark a proper place to reside—shelter, protection. And now, as king and savior of Jerusalem, he could do it.

I can imagine David feeling awkward and uncomfortable, living in such splendor while the Ark, the symbol and manifestation of God in the world was stowed in a tent. So he decided to build the Ark a proper “house” out of Cedar—a fine, fragrant wood.

David tells his plans to Nathan, a prophet in the King’s court. And Nathan sees no problems with David’s idea, offering the Lord’s approval. But that same night, we are told. That same night, the Lord moves. God came to Nathan and, in the first part of the oracle at least, David gets (as we might say today) told.

“When did I tell you to do this?” God asks. “Have I ever told anyone, since the Egypt days, to do this?” God then proceeds to outline to Nathan (and thus to David) all the good works God has done for David. God doesn’t stop with simply listing the benevolence that he has poured upon David. God keeps going, adding that the Lord will make David a house and will give David a dynasty. “I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever,” God says. “I will be father to him and he shall be a son to me.”

In this passage we find a tremendous promise to David, one filled with hope for the future. These are good things—lineage and blessing. The favor of the Lord. This oracle is often referred to as the Davidic Covenant—in this case, an unconditional promise God makes to his people through David.

It’s a passage that is formative for our faith and our world even if we don’t speak of it explicitly. As Christians, we point to this text as the foundation for the importance of the Messiah we call Jesus. In the world, this oracle is often pointed to as a reason to have a Jewish state—an issue that has long been a hotbed of debate around the intersection of religion and global politics.

But, what fascinates me about this passage isn’t these or other implications. What is fascinating is the way it all began. David sets out to take care of God. God, instead, takes care of David. In the text, as I’ve already mentioned, we hear that David is planning on making a “house” for the Ark. House could be translated as temple or palace. Either way, David wants to build a permanent place for the Ark—a place of protection and shelter and safety.

The history of the Ark is a colorful one. It was the symbolic throne of God that was so holy that if anyone touched it, they would be struck dead—even in attempt to save it from disaster as we heard in the scripture read at the beginning of class. Through out the Hebrew Bible we find mention of the famed Ark of the Covenant—of its shape and covering and adornments. Yet, even though we have some of these details, the Ark remains shrouded in mystery. While we have descriptions, none are thorough enough for us to get a true picture of it. We’re not even sure what happened to it.

But what we can be sure of is that it was held in high esteem. This was a revered part of the Hebrew faith, so holy that it was taken everywhere the people went. Holy enough, David decides, to have its own building. So, as we’ve heard, David wanted to do the logical thing—protect that which was important to his people. Keep the sacred safe, the holy protected.

But God refuses to be grounded. God refuses to be made immobile. The oracle asks David “Of all the times I’ve lead you and been with you, have I ever asked for a house of Cedar?” David, of course, knows the answer—no. God continues, pointing out that not only has God not asked for protection, but God was the one to choose and protect the people of Israel and David

The oracle Nathan channels is, undoubtedly, an intense one. It calls on the history of the Hebrew people, not just in recent times of success and triumph, but all the way back to its days of enslavement. God, as we’ve heard already, has a history of moving.

A temple or palace for the Ark, then, immobilizes God. Certainly God is not confined to human walls, but all too often the fault is ours. God’s ability to move in his people and in this world is independent of human attempts to limit God. We are the ones that keep people away from God. We are the ones who forget the ways God has moved in the past and ignore the ways that God is moving now.

But God doesn’t simply shun the protection David tries to offer. God turns David’s offer on its head. Not only does God not want or need David’s house, but God declares that he will make David a house. Here we find “house” carrying another meaning beyond palace or temple. Here, God speaks of David’s house, or dynasty—a royal lineage. David’s initial idea of securing the Ark is met with God’s intent to do just that for David—secure his lineage.

Attempting to secure God, of course, is no unusual occurrence—the faithful have long tried to save and protect God. The crusades sought to defend Christianity and Jerusalem against perceived threats from Islam. Airplanes have been flown into buildings in the name of God.

The struggle to protect God isn’t limited to religions fighting it out, however. We also find it in our own churches, our own communities. And I wonder, what are we scared of? What is it that heightens our fear and causes us to hold so tightly to the God of blessing and promise that we build societies and traditions that keep others away from God? Who or what are we protecting God from?

In the local church, it is often the fear of losing our Jesus that causes us to push others away from God. Churches struggle with using inclusive language, and not just because it’s hard to change old habits. They struggle because if God isn’t male, then what is God? Suddenly, the boundaries and lines that we’ve drawn around the Divine are blurred and that makes us uneasy. It’s far simpler to compartmentalize God than to expand our understanding of the Divine. The idea that God can move and inspire and create beyond what we know and experience is terrifying and awe-inspiring in one breath.

But, it seems, the terror overtakes the wonder, and so we don’t stop at simply limiting God. We also build fences around the people searching to find and connect to God.

For the past year, I’ve worked as the music minister at a small, country church dealing with the explosion of Atlanta suburbia around it. Church members are friendly and, for the most part, genuine. I like it there. It reminds me a lot of the church I grew up in—family oriented and kind. It’s comfortable, familiar. But there are reasons I left the church I grew up in, and reasons I struggle at this church too.

I came out as a gay man to my parents when I was 15. The years prior to that conversation were rough ones. I was raised in the South, in a geographic, social, and religious location that had very particular understandings of who and what gay people were. Namely, sinners.

I was terrified about how my parents would respond, but equally as scary was the thought of what my church might say. The people at church, it seems, never quite got it. I didn’t want to change them. I just wanted to be me.

I had been going there since I was four. They weren’t just distant old people at church, they were family. I wasn’t just another snot-faced kid, I was a son. For a long time, I was that kid. The one that couldn’t seem to do wrong. The one that all the kids were friends with. The one that the parents loved. The one that the older adults adored.

I couldn’t do wrong, that is, until they found out that I was gay.

There wasn’t any big revelation. More of a sliding secret that crept beneath the pews and into peoples ears. People started drifting away. Phone calls that once rang often to include me in non-church youth activities, all but vanished. And then, 12 years of church family seemed to be distant.

I wasn’t sure what was happening. The God they had taught me about, the God I knew, didn’t abandon me. Why did they? Why did they push me away? Weren’t they supposed to be the ones of all the people in my life to hold me close?

It was hard, and to be honest, I’m waiting for the same thing to happen at the church that employs me now. Hardly a Sunday goes by that I’m not asked if I have a girlfriend or why I’m not married. If I mention I’m hungry or that I woke up late, it seems, amazingly, that a wife would fix all of those problems.

And every comment and question along those lines is another block in the wall being built up around God to keep people like me away from God. Sure, it isn’t explicit, but I know what the implications are. Come out, and loose my job. Be honest about my reality and, suddenly not be good enough. Admit to being gay, and you just aren’t welcome here.

The sad thing is this: the outcasts communities create to protect God aren’t just because of hot-button issues. We exile those who think differently about how to pray or share the table or, as Mallory pointed out a few weeks ago, think different paint colors should’ve been chosen.

We’ve forced our only interactions with God into holy stone and wooden shrines filled with quiet agreement about the blessed poor and meek. Yet, as we’ve immobilized God, we’ve immobilized ourselves. We, like David, have decided that God looks better as cross on hanging behind the chancel, a symbol of God in the security of a temple, then out in the world. And because we listen for God an hour a week sitting in a pew, we miss the action that we are called to take. We miss God’s call to move.

But hear the good news: God, still has a history of moving. And, sooner or later, God’s movement will inspire our own. The movement and action that God leads through the Hebrew Bible is hardly dormant. It was in the streets of Memphis and Selma. It’s in the community’s efforts in the flooding Dakotas. It is in the banners calling for justice made by our own peers that hung from interstate overpasses. God moves now. God moves in churches that insist that God loves people regardless of race or sexuality or gender or ability or age. God isn’t finished moving and creating and inspiring, and this must awaken our deepest sense of wonder.

We must stop telling God what to do or who to be. We have to release God from the chains we’ve bound him in, and let God move. Our attempts to hold God for ourselves have been met with the same proclamation David heard millennia ago: I will hold You because I have chosen you. Do not tell me how to move. Instead, move with me.”

Thanks be to God. Amen.

24 March 2009

What are your thoughts on God?

For the next little bit, I'll be responding to questions my friend, M. asked me a week or so ago.

Well, M. Jump right to it. What are my thoughts on God? Well. To start, I would say that I have no idea who God is. For all the thinking and writing and researching and reading and praying and experiencing I've done (which is a lot and not all that much at the same time), I would have to say that I have no idea who God is.

But this doesn't mean that I don't have any thoughts on God. I do have some of those. Lot's really. Here are two.

(+) I think God is far beyond anything we can assign God to be. God isn't just not a male nor a female, but has the ability to be both and beyond gender at the same time. The same applies for all other ways that we label and chain God.

(+) I believe in a God of second chances and third chances and 9th chances and 47th chances. And, as Kierkegaard would say, This awakens my deepest sense of wonder and joy and is a great source of relief.

But, for some reason, I can't seem to find the words to express exactly what I think (mainly because that changes fairly regularly). So, here are some quotes that I find particularly meaningful in the way I think about God:

"For thirty years I sought God. But when I looked carefully I found that in reality God was the seeker and I the sought." - Abu-Yazid al-Bistami

"I had a thousand questions to ask God; but when I met him they all fled and didn't seem to matter." -Christopher Morley

"There is a sign of God on every leaf that nobody else sees in the garden." -Thomas Merton

"Sometimes--there's God--so quickly!" -Tennessee Williams

"I am often closer to God doing the dirty dishes than when listening to Bach or Mozart." -Henry Miller

"It is safe to assume that we've created God in our own image when God hates all the people we hate."--Anne Lamott

Of course, none of these are adequate. But, then, who could sum up God beyond all things in a phrase or a sentence? At the end of the day, I know nothing for sure, except that it's by God's grace that I can say that...

19 March 2009

old friends, hard questions

My friend, M., recently emailed me. She and I went to Elon together and, during my sophomore year, we would share a meal fairly regularly. I'd lost touch with her recently. We'd each moved to opposite corners of the States, and started school and, you know, life. But today I got a note from her. She included that she is working on a project for school and had a list of questions she wanted my response to--questions about God, the church, and being gay and Christian.

It's interesting because for as much as we talk about these things at school somehow we never get to the meat. We talk about what other people think. What tradition holds to be the case or which theologians carry a high Christology, but we never seem to get here. To the question asked in genuine curiousity: so, what do you think?

So, for the next days, I'll be answering her questions here with the caveat that I'm really just thinking out loud and reserve the right to change my mind. Jesus did.

16 March 2009

another day, another sermon.

In preaching class, we've been in our small groups preaching to one another on assigned texts. My text focused on a moment when the Jesus we see isn't the Jesus we're used to seeing found in Mark 7 Here is the sermon:

There is no denying it, this is a hard text. If we were reading through Mark, we would have just come off a few chapters of fun miracles--the feeding of the 5,000, Jesus walking on water, and so on. We've witnessed Jesus' ability to care for people in really pragmatic ways (I mean, he fed people--lots of fish and bread) and his desire to strengthen their faith.

We’re used to this Jesus—the Jesus who helps, heals, cares for. Last week’s sermons told focused on other stories of Jesus’ helping hands. We heard about demons being cast out and bodies being healed and children being brought back to life.. Sometimes, those who were healed didn’t even ask for it. The John 9 text we lived in for the first weeks of the semester saw that to be the case—the blind man was brought to Jesus, and he was healed. With out asking.

But here, in these words, we stumble on another Jesus. One that, if we are honest with the text, is a hard Jesus to deal with. The Jesus we know wouldn't turn people away. But here, in Mark 7, we see Jesus tell this syro-phoenician woman—a gentile--that He won't heal her daughter because she isn't a Jew.

The story has Jesus roaming around the northern coastal plain, near Tyre in what is modern-day Lebanon. Trying not to be noticed, he ducks into a house, yet, it seems, word is already spreading about his arrival. A woman, whose daughter has an unclean spirit falls at his feet.

This is the familiar part, the scenario that we see played out again and again in Mark. Jesus is walking, doesn’t want to be noticed, tries to keep a low profile, but those who need help find Jesus anyway.

But, we find out, this isn’t just any woman.

The text points out that this is a Gentile woman, of the syrophoenician race. This certainly wasn’t a surprise to Jesus. He knew where he was, and what kind of people lived there. Tyre was near the border of the land of Israel. It was no secret that Gentiles lived over its northern border, nor that Jews of that time were living in a Gentile world.

This woman who shouldn’t be even talking to Jesus because she isn’t a Jew, much less asking for anything because she is a woman, approaches Jesus and asks him multiple times to heal her daughter. In the Matthean version of the story, there is a little more interaction here. She pleads with Jesus, and he denies her twice. In the Markan scene, we are told that “she kept asking Him to cast the demon out of her daughter.”

In either case, the response Jesus gives is surprising to say the least. “Let the children be fed first, for it is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.”

I think it is probably safe to assume we aren't talking about our family pet here. This isn't a compliment. In fact, I'd say its mean.

Imagine--Jesus being mean? Not very Christ-like, eh?

Still, she doesn't give up. She responds: Yes, Lord. But even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master's tables.

And with this response, Jesus seems to do an amazing thing—he changes his mind. He tells the woman “For saying that, you may go—the demon has left your daughter.” She goes home, and finds that it is true. Her daughter has been healed.

This one woman’s faith in the crumbs healed her daughter.

What’s interesting about Jesus’ last words to this woman is that they don’t match the model. We’ve heard Jesus time and again through the gospels say ‘your faith has made you well.” But here, he is hardly as explicit.

Instead, he cites her response as the thing that saved her daughter, not her faith explicitly. Yet, it seems to me, it was her faith that inspired her to go after the crumbs.

That is where the gospel is in this story—in the crumbs, crumbs that have the ability to change people’s minds—even Jesus’.

But, here’s the thing about food—people like to hoard it, even the crumbs. Sometimes I hear these hoarders referred to as “half-way Christians”—folks who are so concerned about what THEIR gospel says to THEIR community, that when it’s time to share it with the world beyond, they fall short. Sometimes we call them, seminarians.

You know the people I'm talking about. They claim to believe in Christ, then push people away from Him.

Or they say they care about God's creation: "I recycle!" the say. But recycling only happens when it is convenient. You want to shout that Christianity isn't convenient--you don't get to choose it just when it happens to fit.

Better yet, they are the people who watch the church clock. "What do you mean we have to sing all six verses?," they wonder aloud. "We are supposed to be out of here at noon! We have to beat the Baptists to lunch..." or “I have a blackboard post to finish writing.”

Or those who mourn for the homeless population's reality, but when begged for a dollar, refuse to give it. "They'll just buy drugs or alcohol," the half-way Christian argues.

What about the people who sing of God's love for everyone, but really can't stand that black kid who came to church today wearing a baseball hat and low riding pants?

Or the ones whose words of love begin to go sour as attempts for inclusion merely bring an exclusion of another sort?

Or they squabble about the details--about who God loves more or who sins less or who got it first or who hasn't ever gotten it.

These are the people who hoard the crumbs, who desperately hold on to the way things are instead of looking to the way things might be.

And here’s the worst part is: I'm one of them. And, I suspect, at one point or another, you’ve had a moment of being one too.

But hear the good news of this story: Jesus. Changed. His. Mind. Jesus changed his mind. And we can too.

We can fling our arms wider to those who are desperate for crumbs of hope, peace, belonging, faith, love, all of those identifiers of the Christian faith. We can call people to us, look them in their eyes and see Christ whether or not we are the same color or the same gender or the same sexual orientation. In changing his mind, Jesus threw out the old, rigid traditions that separated people from one another and from God. He changed his mind, and healed her anyway.

Sometimes, however, we aren’t the ones with the minds to change. Sometimes, we are the ones frantic for the crumbs, for little bits of sustenance for the journey. Can you think of times that you were desperate for crumbs? I can.

The cold of Copenhagen was unrelenting. I had been there for 3 months, since January, and was beginning to think that winter would never end. I was an ocean away from home, my birthday was quickly approaching, and I had never felt so alone in my life. My time was consumed with study and reading and sleeping—hardly an adventure.

I was riding my bicycle home from school late one night when I passed the cathedral—the Church of Our Lady. I had been in it before. It’s a huge church, one that glows with white marble and the clean lines of Scandinavian design.

As I rode by, I noticed the church doors were open. So, I stopped, locked my bike and timidly walked in. All around the church were candles and silence. Every ten minutes or so, a prayer or psalm was sung to mark the passing of time. After a long quiet, a priest emerged from the front with bread and wine, and those there moved toward the front.

Danes, like most Europeans, are not very religious. They seem to have gotten it out of there system, but the small gathered community here seemed to pay no attention to the cultural mores of the day. They gathered in a semi-circle around the altar in the front of the church. Desperate for my own crumbs, I joined them.

The liturgy began. In Danish. But amazingly, I knew everything that was happening. These words spoken for millennia united us in Christ that night. The bread began to make its way around. To my right, a woman said offered it to me in Danish. I took it and offered it to the man to my left, in English. The cup was passed in the same way. We fed each other, sustained each other. And, if I’m honest, they gave me the crumbs, literally and figuratively, that I’d been craving all along.

You see, we’re all searching for crumbs from the table and we all hold bread for others. Christ challenges us to change our minds—to open them to those who we’ve shunned away from the table, and for us to acknowledge when we’re desperate to be fed ourselves. Think of how the crumbs sustain us, then imagine how the feast will feed us all. Thanks be to God.

27 February 2009

the return of the dog dooner, and john 9

So, it's been a long while since I updated the Dog Dooner Cafe. A lot has happened, in the past four months. Namely, Mom died. I'm not sure where November, December and January went, but I'm glad they're over.

I'm taking Intro. to Preaching with Tom Long and Gail O'Day this semester. One of our first assignments had us doing exegetical work with John 9 (the story of the blind man being made to see). All 144 of us then preached a brief, 5 minute long sermon on the text.

Here is mine:

The classroom was cold, which was a good thing. It kept my fellow Con Ed students and I awake during the two-hour afternoon sessions that had somehow been scheduled during prime nap time. I was in a group of chaplains. Half of us were stationed at a private hospital on the north side, and the other half, my half, had been placed at Scottish Rite Children’s Hospital.

At the start of our assignments, we jumped through all sorts of hoops—security checks and vaccinations. When our first day at the site finally arrived, we were given tours of the facility and an ID badge, then told to get to it.

“That’s it?” I remember asking. “You aren’t going to tell us what to do?” My supervisor responded with a pat on the back and those familiar words of encouragement “you’ll figure it out—you’ll learn better this way. Trust me..”

Two months later, I was frustrated. I kept visiting sick kids and their families, but still didn’t feel like I had a clue as to what was happening or what I was doing. This was confirmed by the overwhelming sense that parents were placing their hearts into my hands, and I could think of was “You know I’m 22 and barely passing Hebrew, right?”

At this particular group meeting, I was lamenting our lack of concrete direction. I came back to the same phrase: “I..I just don’t know what I’m doing.” Once I had finished my diatribe, with that statement, my supervisor was quiet for a minute. Then, looking me dead in the eyes, she spoke. “Jon, you keep telling me what you don’t know. Tell me, what do you know?”

I had to think about that. “Well, I know how to make people laugh,” I said. “And I know how to cry. And how to hug. And how to listen.” And soon, my initial denial of ability turned into a deep realization of the talents and abilities that I, indeed did have. Simple things. Sure, I couldn’t solve the world’s problems, but I could play Candy Land with the 4 year old who spent his days alone because his parents have to work.

The man who was born blind had a similar experience. He, being blind from his birth, happened to be in the right place at the right time. Jesus, making his way through Samaria, happened across this man. His disciples, seeing this man, asked Jesus why this man was unable to see, suggesting that it was sin which had blinded him. Jesus refuted their assumption, then proceeded to heal the man.

When word spread of the miraculous healing to the religious authorities of the day, they began to investigate the healing. After confronting the man who was born blind, the Pharisees sought out the man’s parents. His parents, nervous about the consequences of becoming involved with such a tense situation, point the religious leaders back to their son. “He’s of age,” they explained. “Ask him.”

The Pharisees approach the man once again, this time exhorting him to praise God, then exclaiming, “we know this man (Jesus) is a sinner.”

Here is the where things, at least for me, get interesting. The man has a few options. He could agree with the Pharisees and be in good standing with the religious authorities. He could deny that Jesus had anything to do with his healing. He could remain silent altogether.

But he doesn’t do any of those. Instead, he responds from his own personal experience. I can hear him begin to speak, slow and low, nervous and unsure about the new beauty he is able to see all around him. “Whether he is a sinner or not, I Don’t know.” A safe beginning, but he doesn’t stop there—he doesn’t let his reality end with what he doesn’t know. Instead, he exclaims: “One thing I do know. I was blind but now I see!”

Then, as the Pharisees ask more questions and begin to make declarations about God and Jesus and Moses, the man who was born blind but can now see calls them all to task: “You don’t know where he comes from, yet he opened my eyes. We now that God does not listen to sinners. He listens to the godly man who does his will. Nobody has ever heard of opening the eyes of a man born blind. If this man were not from God, he could do nothing.” Instead of being intimidated, he turns the question to them: What do you really know?

It seems to me that we often find ourselves in the midst of situations that are beyond our understanding. When asked what life is about, many of us answer: I don’t know. What is the Trinity? I don’t know. What is the difference between a claim statement, a focus statement, a function statement, and a summary? I don’t know.

The mystery of Christ is that we simply can’t know. I can’t tell you how the incarnation has influenced and continues to influence our lives. I simply don’t know. The beauty of the incarnation, miracles, teachings and resurrections is in their mystery. But there are things I know. I know that somehow, we meet him. That somehow, he impacts our lives and carries us along when we stumble and fall. And, that somehow, however unbelievable it might be, he can make the blind see. We might not know it all, but what we do know changes our lives.

So, it seems, it is our turn to answer. What is it that we know? I bet the answer will change our lives.