Christian Belief

  • blogpic cheesepuffsRecently I went to visit Cheryl, who lives in a nursing home. She’s had a hard life and is much younger than most of the residents. On this particular day, Cheryl blessed me with wisdom I will never forget.

    We sat on her bed and I opened my portable “lunchbox” Holy Communion set so we could share in the Lord’s Supper. Cheryl had just gotten back from a group trip to Wal-Mart and was well stocked with two of her favorite items: Diet Dr. Pepper and cheese puffs. As I began to set up Communion, I realized I had forgotten to re-stock the kit; I had plenty of grape juice, but was completely out of Communion wafers. I asked Cheryl if she had any crackers or bread we could use instead. She reached for a bag and asked, “Can we use cheese puffs?” Why not? I thought; the wafer and juice become holy through the presence of the risen Jesus, not the elements themselves. Cheryl put two cheese puffs on the little plate, and then she said, “This will make all of the other cheese puffs I eat even more meaningful!”

    And meaningful it was—because she really captured the true essence of our “holy communion.” It’s not just that this particular meal made from grains and grapes is a Sacrament when joined with Jesus’ promise and his command to share it; the real point is that every morsel of food we eat is replete with the presence of God who created it, Jesus who redeems it, and the Spirit who dwells within it. Cheese puffs helped Cheryl make the connection from the Communion table to every table in a way that a Styrofoam-like wafer with a sip of juice may not. The next time I came for a visit, she asked if we could use Diet Dr. Pepper, so we did. Talk about being fed.

    [Written with permission from Cheryl]

    Photo Credit: getutz.com

  • Picture of a Corner Coffee Shop called The BridgeOne thing I love about the Holy Spirit is that you never know how and when she will show up! I expierenced a wonderful "God-sighting" this past Sunday as I led worship and preached at a coffeehouse-fair trade ministry in New Town St. Charles called The Bridge. The mission developer/pastor, The Rev. Libbie Reinking was doing a series on Creation and the theme for the day was water - Living Waters. Libbie saved this theme for me since I have worked a lot with image in the last couple of years as part of a new mission congregation by the same name (we ended the mission start due to my chronic migraines - you can read about our learnings here).

    The Gospel reading was taken from John chapter 4 where Jesus encounters a Samaritan woman at Jacob's well and offers her living water. I divided the reading into 3 parts – narrator, the woman and Jesus. As people arrived, a man, Derrick and his teenage daughter, Katie sat down and I asked the two of them to read the parts of Jesus and the woman. A little bit later, their wife/mom joined them. At the appointed time, Derrick and Katie stood up and did a beautiful job giving voice to the Scripture story.

    Before I could start my sermon, Katie's mom, Judi, interrupted me and said, "I just have to share something with you about this passage. Katie is adopted from Serbia and in the Eastern Orthodox tradition in that country, the woman at the well is named 'Svetlana', so Katie read the part of Svetlana from her home country!  And Svetlana is Katie's Serbian name!"

    This reading meant a great deal to them as a family and there is no way I could have known this! We were all "wowed" by how the Holy Spirit showed up, and I was able to use the name Svetlana in my sermon which followed.

    Later I read that Svetlana, which means light, is not only the name of this woman at the well, but that she is a saint in the Eastern Orthodox Church – St. Photina (from phos which is Greek for light). She preached the Gospel of Jesus, as did her 2 sons and 5 sisters. Under Emperor Nero (54-68 CE), known for his excessive cruelty against Christians, they were all imprisoned, tortured and martyred, but not before bringing many, many people to the light of faith in Jesus Christ, including Nero's daughter Domina. You can learn more about St. Photima here.

  • blogpic crucifixion sadaowatanabeYou never know what’s going to come to you when you pray and meditate. Prayer is really an adventure to explore what the Spirit might say, show or give you. I have been pondering one such prayer adventure from just before Easter  two years ago, when I walked a Labyrinth with the intention of meditating on the crucifixion of Jesus (a labyrinth is pictured at the top of this website).

    I have often wondered, why so much suffering? There were ways to execute people even in the first century that didn’t involve this level of torture, of extended pain.  In the Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola, retreatants are invited to imagine themselves in the Bible story. I have pictured myself at the foot of the cross, with an overwhelming urge to push Jesus up and relieve the weight that pulls his hands and feet downward around the nails. As I held the image of his hanging in my mind’s eye and wound my way through the labyrinth, a new understanding came to me. It felt like it was so obvious, how had I missed it all these years?

    Jesus’ crucifixion—the whole bloody, messy, suffering process—offers us a male archetype of birth and creation. Jesus’ crucifixion can be viewed as the labor pains of birth—giving birth to new life, both to an eternal resurrected life after death, but also to a new existence here and now. Such a sacrifice and the new life that resulted brought resurrection into human consciousness with the possibility that we can live within a new reality on earth.

    Birth is a process of pain and blood, of dying to self, and of relinquishing control. This process necessarily means sacrificing oneself, one’s body, one’s self-focused plans and desires in order to make room for the developing life within. I thought it was funny when I was first pregnant, that I was rearranging my whole life, schedule and diet for someone I hadn’t even met yet. I found that birth itself works not by fighting the pain, by resisting the process and by conquering it, but rather by letting go. I needed to relax and enter into the pain, releasing my desire to dominate the experience so that my body was free to let the birth take place. This became easier during my second and third deliveries because I was more willing to trust my body (and the babies weren’t posterior with their spine against mine like the first one).

    Mothers experience that the only way to have any chance at new life is through dying to self, through menstruation and birth, through labor pains and hard work, through being fully present in suffering with immense love. Even if we have no children, women’s monthly cycle accompanied by blood and often discomfort, does not let us forget that the only way to bring new life is to participate in the creative life force within our bodies over which we have no power. In this way, women can be co-creators with God.

    Throughout history and in many cultures today, including our own, manhood is defined by aggression, by taking possession, by creating something new through conquering others to gain what one wants (Trump has become very skilled at tapping into this idea of manhood and American culture). Sadly, it should not be a surprise that our colleges still have a “rape culture” in which young (white) men feel entitled to take what they think is their due and not suffer the consequences either that their victims do nor that poor or men of color do (witness the Brock Turner trial outcome). A rape culture is a natural outgrowth of an environment that glorifies domination, aggression, barely-regulated gun ownership, and the demonization of perceived enemies. Of course some men feel entitled to take what they want, to use force to gain power, and see other people and the creation as instruments to be exploited for their ends.  The violence of rape and sexual assault is aimed at the very center of a woman’s creative power to bring life resulting in the horrific consequence of making her body a place of shame and death. In order deconstruct the rape culture, we need to offer an alternative vision of manhood, one we glimpsed when two men on bicycles stopped the sexual assault committed by Brock Turner. 

    Christians of every stripe have not stood up and said that Jesus offers another definition of manhood, of creative power, of relationship, community, and enhancing all life. Instead, we as Christians participate through male language about God, church structures and stained glass ceilings, the belief that men’s power to create lies in domination and the maintenance of their acquired power.

    Jesus came during Roman occupation and oppression—the epitome of this human model of creation through violent expansion. In order to birth new life, Jesus did the opposite:  he let go of domination and violence as a way to spread his message and bring about a new order.  Instead of military victory, the sacred presence of God came as one who dies to himself through pain and blood, embodying immense love and presence in the suffering and brokenness of the world. He conquered hurt by entering it, taking on pain rather than externalizing it to conquer others.

    Jesus’ death makes clear that for men to become life-giving co-creators with God, they also must die to the self and sacrifice their body, their self-focused plans, and their need for dominance and power in order to create something new. In John 12, Jesus said, Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. Like women, male creation and birth happens most powerfully through suffering, through the death of the ego, through taking on pain rather than lashing out and causing pain for others.

    Perhaps this is why God came into human form as a male—we already had the female model of creation and birth.  Men needed to see that self-sacrifice rather than domination is the way to create anew. When we imagine Jesus on the cross experiencing the labor pains of birth while his mother, Mary watched, we behold two archetypes of birth. Mary gave life to Jesus through water and blood by surrendering to pain and a creative process beyond her power; Jesus gave birth to Mary’s eternal life through blood and water (from his side) by surrendering to pain and to a creative process empowered by God to end death and create a dominion of love.

    Such dying to self in order to give birth mirrors God’s own self-sacrifice in creation. God could have remained an infinite, unfathomable ball of energy and light, but instead, God exploded out into trillions of galaxies with billions of stars in each one. Creation is in itself, a self-sacrificing birth in a continuous and evolutionary process of dying and creating new life. God’s whole being was undone to create something new. God is always on the birthing table inviting us to create new ways to manifest eternal love and goodness in the world. Women, through the cycles of our body and the process of giving birth, have a glimpse into how we participate with our bodies and our choices to bring life as co-creators with God. We all need men to embrace their co-creative power to birth new life.

    Photo Credit: Crucifixion by Sadao Watanabe. Read more about his Biblical art here. 

  • blogpic Galatians3-28It was the fall of 1980 and I was a freshman in college. I wanted to become a Christian Education Director and grow up to be just like Joani, the Youth &Christian Ed Director in the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod congregation where we were members. I became very involved in Lutheran campus ministry at college, and one day, the campus pastor, just looked at me and said, “Why don’t you think about becoming a pastor?” Because I came from a denomination that does not ordain women, it took me a few minutes to process what he meant; once I understood what he said, it was a revelation and I saw a light above his head. That weekend I went home, so excited to tell my parents I had figured out what I wanted to do with my life.

    Did I mention it was 1980? Well, let’s just say, my parents’ reaction wasn’t the response I was hoping for. Women had only been ordained for 10 years in other Lutheran denominations and word hadn’t gotten out yet. Although my parents were highly invested in making sure their three girls and one son received a college education, having their daughter embrace this traditionally male role was a bit too radical. Like most of us when we bump up against the boundaries of Tradition and The Way Things Have Always Been, our reaction is to resist, to say, “no, that just can’t be.”

    I thought that maybe they were right, so I double-majored in Psychology and Political Science/History so that I could become a Psychologist or go to Law School.

    In the Gospel of John 12:1-8, Mary is bumping up against Tradition and The Way Things Have Always Been. What’s going on here doesn’t sound wrong to our 21st century ears, but in the first century, what happened at Mary and Martha’s house would have been the talk of town.

    For starters, Jesus feet have already been washed. Because everyone walked along the dusty dirt roads in sandals, foot washing was a customary part of hospitality before guests entered a house. The oxen, sheep, horses, donkeys, camels traveled the same roads, so their pungent droppings needed to be washed off sandals and feet as well. Mary and Martha would have already made sure this lowliest of tasks was done before their guests came into the house.

    So Mary wasn’t supposed to be showing up in the dining room at all, unless to serve. But Jesus had miraculously raised her brother, Lazarus from the dead, and Mary was overflowing with gratitude, devotion and love, so into the dining room she went.

    To make matters worse, Mary begins touching Jesus as she anoints his feet with perfumed oil. Men and women were prohibited from touching each other in public; in fact men weren’t even supposed to speak to a woman who was not his wife, mother or daughter.

    Scandal escalates with Mary’s hair loose and flowing which she uses as a towel. Because a woman’s loose hair was viewed as too sensual, it was taboo for a woman to have her hair unbound. We still see this in some religious cultures today—that hair should not only be bound, but covered.

    Finally Mary uses an extravagant nard worth an entire years’ salary to perfume Jesus’ feet. The Gospel-writer, John described Mary’s act as an “anointing” of Jesus. Anointing was reserved for kings, prophets or priests who were called by God for a special task, but such anointing was done by a male priest in Jerusalem—NOT
         • a layperson
         • not in Bethany where the poor and the sick were cared for
         • and certainly not by a woman.
    John offers us the outrageous idea that Jesus, the Messiah, the Anointed One, the Christ is being lavishly anointed for his journey to the cross by a poor, small-town, laywoman, who, in a moment of unbridled devotion, breaks through every tradition in the books.

    Judas Iscariot gives voice to the discomfort in the room. He pretends to care about the poor as he publicly shames Mary and tries to put her in her place with his supposed male superiority. If you have ever been belittled, shamed or mocked for any reason, you know how awful and uncomfortable Mary must feel.

    But then the real scandal and miracle of the story takes place! Jesus admonishes Judas, not Mary, as one would expect. Jesus puts Judas in his place by saying, “leave her alone!” “Leave her alone.” Mary will not be denied. In those 3 words, “leave her alone” Jesus receives Mary as an equal. Jesus is perfectly comfortable
         • being touched by a woman
         • with her hair down
         • talking with men
         • being active in her body and alive in her senses.
    Instead of siding with tradition, Jesus joins Mary in breaking down the cultural barriers between women and men, and embodies the radical equality in the Reign of God.

    The Apostle Paul affirmed this radical equality in the body of Christ in his letter to the Galatians where he wrote, There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.

    Twenty centuries later, it is still challenging for us to live in this radical equality that Jesus embodied—not only with women, but with lepers, prostitutes, tax cheats, and outcasts and scoundrels of every kind. Who are the outcasts today? Who, if they joined us at the Lord’s Table, would cause you discomfort and the urge to say, “no that just can’t be; that’s not The Way Things Have Always Been?”

    Perhaps your discomfort rises around people who are gay, lesbian, or transgendered. Perhaps it is with refugees or illegal immigrants who don’t speak English, or someone who suffers severe mental illness. Maybe it is with the very poor, who, Jesus reminds us, are always with us due to human greed.

    Just last week I was talking about this with a friend and she shared that it’s so hard for her to deal with people who are pierced and tattooed. I told her that God will probably put someone just like that in her life to help breakdown that inner barrier, enabling her to live in the radical equality and love of God’s Reign. These are just some of the people who need disciples of Jesus to stand up and say, “leave them alone!”

    I eventually accepted that my call to ministry was not a momentary delusion, and I did go to seminary. My parents went on a campus tour of the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago with me. My Dad asked the male tour guide if he was worried that women like me were going to take away his job. He still couldn’t quite see it.

    But then I went on internship and my parents visited on a Sunday when I was preaching. They came to the Communion rail, the dining table of our Lord. As I served them the blood of Christ, offering Jesus’ radical love and forgiveness, the barriers began to melt away. My supervisor told me that my Dad ducked out of that service before shaking hands because he was all choked up.

    On the Sunday of my Ordination in 1989, my parents had flowers on the altar of their Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod congregation as if to say, “leave her alone.” After my ordination service, my Dad gave out a “woohoo,” and popped open the first bottle of champagne.

    Heaven rejoices when, with Jesus, we move through our human boundaries and step into the radical equality in the Reign of God.

  • blogpic Thanksgiving2A Litany of Thanksgiving

    Howard Thurman - African American author, philosopher, theologian, educator and civil rights leader

    In Your presence, O God, we make our Sacrament of Thanksgiving.
    We begin with the simple things of our days:
    Fresh air to breathe,
    Cool water to drink,
    The taste of food,
    The protection of houses and clothes,
    The comforts of home.
    For all these we make an act of Thanksgiving this day!

    We bring to mind all the warmth of humankind that we have known:
    Our mothers' arms,
    The strength of our fathers,
    The playmates of our childhood,
    The wonderful stories brought to us from the lives of many who talked of days gone by when fairies and giants and diverse kinds of magic held sway;
    The tears we have shed, the tears we have seen;
    The excitement of laughter and the twinkle in the eye with its reminder that life is good.
    For all these we make an act of Thanksgiving this day.

    We finger one by one the messages of hope that await us at the crossroads:
    The smile of approval from those who held in their
    hands the reins of our security,
    The tightening of the grip of a single handshake when we feared the step before us in the darkness,
    The whisper in our heart when the temptation was fiercest and the claims of appetite were not to be denied,
    The crucial word said, the simple sentence from an open page when our decision hung in the balance.

    For all these we make an act of Thanksgiving this day.

    We passed before us the mainsprings of our heritage:
    The fruits of the labors of countless generations who lived before us, without whom our own lives would have no meaning,
    The seers who saw visions and dreamed dreams;
    The prophets who sensed a truth greater than the mind could grasp, and whose words could only find fulfillment in the years which they would never see,
    The workers whose sweat has watered the trees, the leaves of which are for the healing of the nations,
    The pilgrims who set their sails for lands beyond all horizons, whose courage made paths into new worlds and far-off places,
    The savior whose blood was shed with the recklessness that only a dream could inspire and God could command.

    For all these we make an act of Thanksgiving this day.

    We linger over the meaning of our own life and commitment to which we give the loyalty of our heart and mind:
    The little purposes in which we have shared with our loves, our desires, our gifts,
    The restlessness which bottoms all we do with its stark insistence that we have never done our best, we have never reached for the highest,
    The big hope that never quite deserts us, that we and our kind will study war no more, that love and tenderness and all the inner graces of Almighty affection will cover the life of the children of God as the waters cover the sea.

    All these and more than mind can think and heart can feel, we make as our sacrament of Thanksgiving to Thee, Our Father, in humbleness of mind and simplicity of heart.

  • Last year at a Women in Ministry retreat the leader asked us to spend about 12 minutes writing our response to this question, What is the image of God in your life at this time?  What I wrote became the basis for a Statement of Faith for my church leader profile.

    My image of God at this time in my life is a womb- a womb that holds the whole universe and all of its galaxies, a womb that holds heaven and earth, a womb that holds all of life and creation and cosmos within it.  God holds me, surrounds me.  Jesus lives in the womb of God with me; he holds me, and loves me more than I have ever known.  The Spirit blankets me with energy, color, peace, joy. The Spirit loves me.  All parts of God love and accept me, let me rest, be who I am and invite me into the future.  

    The womb of God carries all of evolution in its becoming, but doesn’t hold the judgments, mistakes of my past or humanity’s sin as its memory. God is liberation, releasing me from my burdens of self, ego, addiction, perfectionism judgment; God releases me to love others and serve others whom God holds, as all life is One.  I am part of God’s evolution and evolving self.  When I quiet my mind, I can hear God more clearly, feel more peaceful, and release anxiety. 

    I don’t need to carry the world, my worries, my family, or any burdens because God holds it all for me without my help.  God doesn’t need my help in holding together the universe, its people, plans, needs, or burdens.  I can be a vehicle of love and grace where God’s characteristics shine through me: womb-like love, acceptance, forgiveness, service to those in need, invitation into the future. 

    I’m letting go of a harsh god, like a critical parent living in my head criticizing every maneuver I make; my soul dies under this kind of god because I can never get it right, never be perfect. It’s a set up for failure because I can never do it well enough.  I am not faithful, disciplined, of pure thought, or right action. I carry this perfectionist voice in my head as if it’s real.  It’s a lie. How do I let this false god go?  How do I release this god? How can I not give this god power over my life and my mind? I can’t, but the only real, Living, Loving, True God can release me through Jesus.   

    The One True God releases and loves me through the gifts of Godself in creation: living waters, grains and grapes, people and communities, all mediated through the Son and Spirit.  God reaches me through the community of believers, the church of all times and places, with cleansing, nourishing, forgiving, uplifting, saving and sending grace.  Through God’s gathered people, I am touched by healing, upheld in prayer, strengthened in witness and transformed by the Word of God to follow Jesus more closely.  Together we share the message with everyone we possibly can, that violence and death have no power and no victory in this universe; rather, God’s creative essence, presence and life wraps around us in extravagant, lavish love and life forever.

     

    Photo Copyright: <a href='http://www.123rf.com/profile_pandawild'>pandawild / 123RF Stock Photo</a>

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