Tag Archives: thoughts for thursday

Thoughts for Thursday

This past Sunday they let me have the pulpit. I know, right?? x) Here’s what I said.

——

968781_10101191674536855_1751022478_nWhen I was a young girl one of my favorite times of the year was summer. Summer meant freedom from schoolwork, long afternoons playing with neighborhood children, and best of all: family vacation. We always went around the first of July, which coincided nicely with my birthday on July 8th. One year we were in Florida, I was about seven or eight, and we stopped at a local grocery store to get a birthday cake. My parents told them my name so they could add it under “Happy Birthday”, and an hour later we returned to pick it up.

On the way home we noticed something about that birthday cake: “birthday” had been misspelled as “brithday”. Raucous laughter ensued.

Ever since then when my family has gathered to celebrate my birthday, when the cake comes out we make sure it says “brithday”. My nieces and nephews are usually in charge of cake decoration, and so the story is told every year about why we spell Auntie Kathleen’s cake wrong.

Over the years this has come to symbolize something special for me; the nostalgia of family vacations, of riding in our minivan for hours, sleeping in hotels, and our favorite beach-side restaurants. When I eat that brithday cake I am remembering the times that my family came together to bond and become the cohesive family unit that we are today. I feel connected to that specific time and place, but also all of the times since then that we have come together around a misspelled birthday cake. And, hopefully, the times that we will in the future.

I’m sure you have stories like this too. Stories of family events gone wrong, or special occasions that everyone remembers fondly. Stories and traditions that are recalled when the family is all together and passed on to new generations. As members of the family of God, we also have stories that have been passed down to us; stories that link us with our collective spiritual family past, present, and future.

Today we read from Exodus. In that reading we learned about a very important event: Passover.  Although it seems to be a strange list of instructions it is, nevertheless, a text we can connect with because it concerns a celebration supper—much like my birthday cake, it too is a special meal with a special story.

To give some context to today’s reading, things in Egypt are coming to a head. The most terrible of all plagues is about to happen and the result will be a glorious exodus from slavery for a people who had been held in bondage for over four centuries. You’d think this would be a gripping narrative told straight through. After all, that’s what we do when we tell this story in Sunday school.

However, if you’ve never read Exodus chapters 11 and 12 in their entirety, you should try it sometime. What will immediately strike you is how this incredible portion of the Exodus story gets all but buried beneath lists of liturgical details and instructions. In Exodus 11 and 12 there are 23 verses devoted to telling the actual story of the tenth plague and the subsequent release from Egypt.

But nowhere in those 23 verses is this story told straight out and without interruption. In between those 23 verses are a whopping 52 verses of Passover instructions. The verses devoted to instruction outnumber the verses that tell the story two to one. TWO to ONE! Chapter 11 gives us pretty much a straight narrative, but then Exodus 12:1-28 is all instruction. Reading further we get a brief interlude of story again before chapter 12 concludes with another nine verses recapitulating the Passover restrictions, rules, and regulations with still more to come in the first 16 verses of chapter 13. History, it seems, is encased by religious practice. This text shows us that we need ways to remember important events. Specific ways. Simply re-telling the story is not enough—as humans, we need action. Some kind of physical way in which we can enter into the story. This is the truth that I want to lift up to you all today: commemorating important events requires us to not only remember but also to act.

Another way we can see the importance of this commemoration is through the new calendar that is created. So not only do we have physical instructions on how to commemorate an important event, we have a whole new orientation to life. The events reported in these verses represent a new beginning for Israel. At one time or another we have all had central and shaping events happen in our lives—like misspelled birthday cakes, a wedding, the birth of a first child or grandchild. These are seminal turning points, things you’ll never forget, events that even when you near the end of your life you will still be able to claim as key components that made you who you are. But even so, none of those events caused you to do something as radical as to tear up all the calendars in your house so that you could invent a whole new system of time-keeping with that day–the day of your child’s birth or your wedding day or the date on which you graduated college–that day would become New Year’s Day for you from then on.

Yet that is exactly what God tells Moses would be true for Israel. At the beginning of chapter 12 God tells Moses to create a brand new calendar with that day and that month being the equivalent of January. In other words, God is doing an act of new creation. In some way God at least sees what is happening to Israel as re-making the world. History is going to start over right here and right now. That’s why the events themselves are so encumbered with instructions on how best to remember the events forever.

Never underestimate the power of memory, or how God himself may use memory to make us part of something. Our collective memories have the power to bind us together, not only with each other but with generations past, present, and future. To this day, when observing the Passover, the Jews don’t say, “We remember this night how God led those people long ago out of Egypt and through the Red Sea.” Instead they let memory hook them into the divine narrative by saying, “We remember this night how God led us out of Egypt and through the Red Sea.” Another way of putting this is: History is what happened to others, memory is what happened to me.

By the act of remembrance, we become something we would not otherwise be. We become that people. That story becomes our story. When we remember the sacred story, when we connect ourselves to that narrative, we become part of the very act. The act of commemoration links us to the past and to the future; to what God has done, what God is doing, and what God will do to free us from our own bondage.

***

Retelling a story is simply not enough for us. As human beings we need action as a way to enter into a narrative, and one of the ways we can do this is through prayer. As many of you know I am the campus minister for St. Paul’s at MTSU. Last week we had our second annual Semester Blessing here in the nave. It is a tradition that I hope will continue on as I believe it is important to ask for God’s blessings and to remember the blessings that we are already experiencing. Gathering to pray for the school year, for the faculty, staff, and students, is a way in which we connect our faith and our life—it is an action that reminds us that God is with us and God is working within us, as well as the community around us.

So what does all this mean for us? How does this apply to our lives? Well, Passover remains the central celebration in Judaism, but in Christianity we have the Eucharist. Passover meant liberation for the Hebrew people, liberation from slavery and deliverance to the promised land. The Eucharist also means liberation for all who partake, freedom from sin and freedom from the world. You have the blood of the lamb on a doorpost in Exodus and the blood of Christ in a cup in the Gospels. Both are stories of salvation, and both are commanded by God to be remembered in very specific, active ways.

In a few minutes we will celebrate the Eucharist. We will tell the story of Jesus’ last supper, in which he brought us into a new relationship with one another and with God. It is open to all who remember that Christ our Passover is sacrificed for us. But simply telling this story is not enough—we need action, something physical to connect us to Jesus and the disciples and that Passover feast long ago. When you come forward to receive the bread and wine, what’s happening for you? Are you distracted by the world, or are you fully present at the altar rail? When we come to receive the bread and wine this is, at least for me, a very holy moment.  It is holy because it is when I enter into the act of remembrance—when WE enter the story. We remember what God has done, is doing, and will do in our lives. Amen.

Thoughts for Thursday

Or, A great way to start your Thursday.

Times have been rough lately. All the stresses and pressures of life building up, personal woes and hard times falling on dear friends. And then there are other things to consider, like the events in Ferguson and Iraq and Africa. Not to mention the debates going on in social media about whether or not to drown myself in a bucket of ice water for charity. (Which I still don’t get… shouldn’t we like…. pay money to see someone get ice water dumped on them? like, if we raise $10,000 then Lebron James gets it? I just … am not getting it. I can give money, with or without ice.)

So with all of these thoughts and digressions swirling around in my mind the last week, I was clicking through my rounds of social media and came upon these gems on the YouTube. And I fell in love, instantly and passionately. A friend posted them on Facebook and I absolutely cannot get enough.

They are just the right mix of nostalgia, positivity, good beat, and great clips.

Sometimes I need a little something to remind me that it’s not all bad; that the Holy Spirit is working to bring peace to this broken Kingdom. These silly remixes put a smile on my face, lift my heart, make me laugh, and bring joy. And while those previously mentioned stresses and sad things are still there, they still exist and they aren’t going away–I feel like there’s still hope.

This one’s my favorite:

Freshness is essential. Bring on the roasted potatoes!

Thoughts for Thursday

Depression is difficult. This is my story.

It’s insidious. It breaks things and hurts people and lives can be pulled apart by it. When I heard the news about Robin Williams on Monday night I was filled with a great sadness. Sadness, and a longing to have been there, to have helped. To cradle this beloved person in my arms and cry and listen and be there. That’s a bizarre feeling to have for someone I knew through a screen, with whom I never had any personal interaction with.

But that’s who I am at my core. I want to help, I want to be there, I want to serve. And one of the hardest lessons I had to learn is that as much as I want to fix things and make everything alright–it’s not just up to me and sometimes there’s nothing I can do besides pray.

I got married young and at the time my husband was not depressed. He had told me that he had clinical depression but hadn’t had an episode in a while. I didn’t really know what that meant–my experience of depression were those times I had “the blues”.. the kind of thing that going for a run or sitting on a rock by a stream or talking to God could help. In a day or two I’d be back to myself.

But this thing just crept in. It took hold in him and I didn’t know what to do. So, naturally, I read articles and books and watched movies and youtube clips and did anything I could to educate myself. We’ll fix this!  I thought, oh-so-naively. Therapy sessions booked, medications prescribed, and it’s all okay right?

Nope.

Fights began. Irrational, ugly, mean fights in which unloving things were said that hurt us both. They usually ended in both of us in tears, apologizing–but these fights will wear you down. I didn’t understand, although I tried so hard. I wanted to. It took me a long time to figure out that this is not just an episode–this is life. And when you’re that young and you have all kinds of bright eyed hopes for what your life is going to be, and then realize that in this current situation that life is impossible, it will break you. It broke me.

Things Fall Apart.

I tried. I tried for a long, long time. Therapy sessions fizzled. Medications were not refilled. Other, more harmful methods of self medication were taken. I numbed myself to the ups and downs to the point where it just didn’t effect me anymore.

I prayeda lot.

My husband was not a religious man and this ended up being a really difficult thing to overcome, especially in how we dealt with this depression. I turned to God and trusted that it would be okay. I frequently admitted that I cannot do this on my own and relied on my faith and my community to lift me up. He did not. If I could have gone to therapy and taken his medications for him, I would have. If I could have finished up those last semesters of college for him, I would have. I felt helpless and powerless and I can’t even begin to imagine all the things he was feeling and going through.

I’m not saying I did everything right. I’m not saying that you can’t help someone who is depressed–you can love and encourage and listen and be there. It’s hard. It will change your relationship to that person. He stopped wanting to change and get better and in order for me to live the life that I believe I am called to live, we had to separate.

It sucked. But it was also a good thing for both of us.

I don’t have much contact with him. I know he is re-married and they have a baby girl. I wish them health and happiness and I sincerely hope he has found it. I pray for him and hope he has peace in his life.

That’s all I can do, now.

Thoughts for Thursday

Come out of sadness from wherever you’ve been
Come broken hearted let rescue begin
Come find your mercy, Oh sinner come kneel
Earth has no sorrow that Heaven can’t heal
Earth has no sorrow that Heaven can’t heal

If you’ve been reading this blog for any length of time I feel like you know me pretty well. I love all things high church, Episcopalian, rubrics, liturgy, smells and bells, organs, the whole spiel. I’m staunchly traditionalist, let’s-bring-back-Rite-I, and it will be a cold day in hell when there’s a screen in my church.

I never went to another church, but I did go to some Christian schools growing up so I had a weird time in my youth where I didn’t know what was going on. I had two very different experiences of “church” and Christianity and they were so opposite. On the one hand I had my church, full of mystery and wonder and an old white haired priest and robes and organs. On the other hand I had contemporary worship music in mid-week chapel, pressure to “accept Jesus as my Lord and Savior”, and a bunch of other theology I didn’t really understand. Jesus during the week was different from Jesus on Sunday, so eventually I chose Sunday Jesus.

In doing so I completely did a 180 on this other type of worship. I mocked it, openly, and reveled in how MY church was better, was different, was more holy. (I was a teenager, okay?) This attitude persisted as I got older, maybe a little more toned down, but when I saw so many young people flocking to more traditional churches after having such bad experiences with other Protestant denominations I felt justified. I felt smug. These aren’t particularly good Christian things to feel but I’m only human. And I’m Episcopalian for a reason, and I have chosen to stay Episcopalian for a reason. (many reasons, really, but that’s another post.)

So God does what God does best and sent me someone to challenge these elitist, smug feelings and it has been such a humbling experience. A friend from high school moved to my town (a friend who, incidentally, in my youth I would go to her very Baptist youth group with occasionally) and introduced me to this wonderful man who is SO involved in their church he rivals me in churchly enthusiasm.

And this has been one of the most surprising and beautiful things: when I visit their church, when I sit in worship with them, I am challenged. The judgmental feelings that come up have to be dealt with, because the more I sit there and listen to the worship team and read lyrics off a screen and hear the word of God preached so passionately from the pulpit, the more I realize that there is no “right” or “best” way to worship God. There are preferences, sure, but however people connect with God and with one another is a beautiful thing. And there is always something I can find to connect with.

The song I posted above was sung on a Sunday that I wasn’t at their church but kind of wish I had been. I really, really like it. And that’s unusual and weird and challenging for me, in all kinds of good and healthy ways. I’ve started dealing with a lot of that weird baggage I’ve been carrying around for a decade, and laying them down.

Thoughts for Thursday

Hear the Word of God to all who truly turn to him:

Come unto me, all ye that travail and are heavy laden, and
I will refresh you. Matthew 11:28

God so loved the world, that he gave his only-begotten Son,
to the end that all that believe in him should not perish, but
have everlasting life. John 3:16

This is a true saying, and worthy of all men to be received,
that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.
1 Timothy 1:15

If any man sin, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus
Christ the righteous; and he is the perfect offering for our
sins, and not for ours only, but for the sins of the whole
world. 1 John 2:1-2

(BCP pg 332)

****

Growing up in a Rite I church my priest would usually say all of those things after we had confessed our sins on Sunday morning, one after another. I think most people just pick one or two, but Father Marquis went through them all.

I’m not sure when I realized they were verses from the Bible. Maybe I was browsing the BCP one day, maybe one of the verses I had memorized for Sunday school finally clicked as a verse during a service. But I love how they fit together, and I know they are kind of paraphrased, but they flow so beautifully. This part of the service just felt so holy and special. The way he said them all, the way he wanted us to hear those words, and to be people who truly turn to him.

It’s amazing to me how language can shape an experience; how someone’s tone of voice and pronunciation and word choice can influence a situation. If you can feel someone’s sincerity, someone’s earnestness that you hear what they are saying in their voice, you pay attention. I felt that on Sunday mornings when I heard these words. (Is there such a thing as a holy timbre?)

It’s true in daily life, too. I can tell a difference on the other end of the phone depending on how I answer it. When I make my voice calm and soothing, when I’m cheerful and pleasant, when I try to convey that I’m here to help you, the other person on the end of the line is much more likely to respond kindly. If I’m flustered or upset or annoyed, if I let the stresses of the day get into my voice, people can tell. And maybe they’re not so patient with me, and the conversation isn’t as, ah… pleasant as it could have been.

Try it sometime, if you can. See how changing your voice changes the interactions you have with the people around you. It’s one of the ways we can show people they are loved–to let that love come through our words. You never know–it might make someone’s day or change the course of yours!

Thoughts for Thursday

firefliesFireflies
by Cecilia Woloch

And these are my vices:
impatience, bad temper, wine,
the more than occasional cigarette,
an almost unquenchable thirst to be kissed,
a hunger that isn’t hunger
but something like fear, a staunching of dread
and a taste for bitter gossip
of those who’ve wronged me—for bitterness—
and flirting with strangers and saying sweetheart
to children whose names I don’t even know
and driving too fast and not being Buddhist
enough to let insects live in my house
or those cute little toylike mice
whose soft grey bodies in sticky traps
I carry, lifeless, out to the trash
and that I sometimes prefer the company of a book
to a human being, and humming
and living inside my head
and how as a girl I trailed a slow-hipped aunt
at twilight across the lawn
and learned to catch fireflies in my hands,
to smear their sticky, still-pulsing flickering
onto my fingers and earlobes like jewels.
—–

I love this poem. Good poetry, I think, is honest, and it’s a peek inside someone else’s soul–a peek that also reveals something about the reader, maybe that they didn’t even know about themselves. Her vices are also my vices–some of them anyway. And it makes me think about myself, and what mine are, and how there’s something beautiful in sharing them with others.

Impatience is something I have struggled with my whole life. I have learned that for the most part patience pays off, like when you decide to re-heat pizza in the oven instead of the microwave. But when it comes to being patient with other people–waiting on someone else to do something or complete something–I struggle. It’s hard to slow my pace down to match someone else’s.

It has taken several not-awesome learning experiences to slow down, breathe, and let go of the thought that I’m in control. I am most certainly not and that is for the best for everyone. It’s hard for me to sit in that tension, that anxiety.

Recently my boyfriend went on an 8 day mission trip to the Dominican Republic. I missed him a lot, and the communication black out was hard for me. So impatient was I (and, also I just love surprises) for his return that I drove to the Atlanta airport (both of them.. ugh, Atlanta, why you so crazy?!) to meet him there. I stood in the arrivals area with my little sign positively WRIGGLING with impatience. His flight came in early so I was dancing around for 30 minutes, searching faces coming off the escalator. There were two little boys waiting for their father who exhibited more patience than me.

When their group finally did come of the escalator I didn’t see him. I went up to someone else that I recognized and I was like “Welcome back! Where’s James?!” I ended up completely missing him in the crowd because I was so impatient. He saw me before I saw him and I totally missed that fun little moment of surprised recognition. A small thing, but something I had been looking forward to.

I wish I had been able to calm myself down enough to patiently wait there. I wish I had talked myself down, breathed, and let things happen as they would. Hindsight’s 20/20, right? I can see why they say patience is a virtue.

As I continue my journey through (formal) discernment I’m learning more and more that I definitely need to cultivate patience in my heart, and to let God handle things. It’s really freaking hard, y’all. It’s not like I can just up and decide to go to seminary–other people, the church, are part of this. And I’m sure I will have many, many more opportunities to practice patience in my life, not just waiting at airports or for correspondence from committees.

All those Psalms about “wait for the Lord” make so much sense…

Thoughts for Thursday

Just this, today. I don’t know about you but I’ve had a rough week! I love Mary Oliver’s poetry and the peace it brings my soul.
Morning Poem

Every morning
the world
is created.
Under the orange

sticks of the sun
the heaped
ashes of the night
turn into leaves again

and fasten themselves to the high branches —
and the ponds appear
like black cloth
on which are painted islands

of summer lilies.
If it is your nature
to be happy
you will swim away along the soft trails

for hours, your imagination
alighting everywhere.
And if your spirit
carries within it

the thorn
that is heavier than lead —
if it’s all you can do
to keep on trudging —

there is still
somewhere deep within you
a beast shouting that the earth
is exactly what it wanted —

each pond with its blazing lilies
is a prayer heard and answered
lavishly,
every morning,

whether or not
you have ever dared to be happy,
whether or not
you have ever dared to pray.

from Dream Work (1986) by Mary Oliver
© Mary Oliver

Thoughts for Thursday

God Loves Everybody.

There is a house that I pass by every day with a handmade sign hanging from a flagpole. When I first moved to this area of town it was made out of a bedsheet and simply says, “God Loves Everybody.” I’m not sure if it fell victim to bad weather or if it got old and fell apart or what, but lately the flag that has been flying in front of this house appears to have been made from a bath towel.

The little old woman that lives there can often be seen lounging on the front porch in a lazy boy recliner, reading a book and/or smoking a cigarette, or sometimes just hanging out watching traffic go by. Sometimes I see her out wandering the neighborhood, this thin little woman with clothes that seem too big.

I met her once. I spotted her last summer at an event at our quaint little downtown square. I talked to her for a minute, and she revealed to me that she had a brain aneurysm. I hugged her. And every time I drive by her house I look for her, but sometimes all I see is that precious little reminder that God Loves Everybody.

I have no idea what prompted this woman to put that message out there by any means necessary, be it bedsheet or bath towel. I don’t know this woman’s story, just what I observe in my almost daily drive bys. I do know this: I am grateful to her. I am grateful for the reminder she gives me, that we are all God’s children and we are loved. She is an unexpected jewel in my daily drives, twice a day, and I need that.

So, dear ones, don’t forget that God Loves Everybody. May you preach it from the porch or wherever you are in your life today.

 

Thoughts for Thursday

“To forgive is not just to be altruistic, it is the best form of self-interest.” (Archbishop Desmond Tutu)

——-

I’m friends with Desmond Tutu.

Okay, so maybe we’re just Facebook friends, and it’s probably more like I’m friends with Desmond Tutu’s intern or social media coordinator or whatever, but still.

Recently he’s been posting about The Forgiveness Challenge.  It’s something he and his daughter Mpho recently started as part of a global forgiveness project. Your 30 Day forgiveness journey begins with a precious, precious video of Abp Tutu and his daughter welcoming you to the challenge, then realizing they messed up/it was awkward, and they look at each other and laugh together. I love the candor in that video, and the joy they so obviously share together. In the challenge you go at your own pace, and you can do several days at once if you wish.

I’m only a few days in and I am really intrigued by this journey. I think there are a lot of times in daily life we mess up, or overstep bounds, or do something to someone that we say “I’m sorry” for. And there are times when we are wronged, in big ways and little ways, and we say “it’s okay”. And sometimes, it’s not okay, but that’s how we try to express forgiveness. That seems incomplete to me. My hope in going through this challenge is to understand how to forgive and how to ask for forgiveness from others.

In the Lord’s Prayer we pray that God will forgive us as we forgive those who have wronged us. What would it be like if God withheld forgiveness from us the way we sometimes withhold forgiveness from others? Hmm…

Thoughts for Thursday: The Ascension

In light of the gospel reading from Sunday I thought I would repost this:

***

Today is the Ascension of the Lord.

One of my favorite things about this feast day is all of the amazing art and iconography that has been created to commemorate it. By far, Salvador Dali’s “Ascension of Christ” is my favorite:

I’ll let you feast your eyes for a second.

I love the ‘apostles’ eye view’ of this painting, the curled fingers, the weird looking egg crate thing in the background. There are actually several icons/paintings showing the “disappearing feet” of Jesus.

I’m pretty sure this lady and I are long lost BFF’s, since we both love travel, art, architecture, and old churches. She has a great post about several different pieces of artwork featuring “just the feet” and some background on how it got started.

When I first saw an icon/painting of the ascension that was just the feet I thought it was quirky and kinda cool. While I love the traditional icons and art as well there is something about the different perspective of the feet paintings that resonates with me. Maybe it’s that out-of-the-box, different paradigm, unusual angle thing, and I’m kind of out-of-thebox, different paradigm, and unusual. It’s nice to know that in the year 400 there were people thinking creatively and differently about their religious art.

***

Lastly, I want to share this passage from Ephesians with you. I want you to know that I mean every word of it and I hope you put it in your pocket today, pull it out every once in a while, and read it.

” I do not cease to give thanks for you as I remember you in my prayers. I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him, so that, with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe, according to the working of his great power.” (Ephesians 1:16-19)