Saturday, June 29, 2013

Camp & Holy Preparation

This post was mostly written after the 2012 camping season, but never posted. Since camping season is here, again, it seemed timely.

Can it really be weeks since I left camp? I've been meaning to write about it for that whole time. It just took this long to find the words.

This year was my first year directing camp, welcoming more than 50 kids who had just finished 4th and 5th grades, plus adults to teach, sing, play and watch over. I've never been to camp with another age group and I never really want to give another group a try. This age is Yes, the hormones are (sometimes) starting to kick in, but for the most part, they're fun, easy to entertain kids who enjoy just about everything about camp.

My most treasured moments in ministry are times of preparation, times a lot of folks would consider a necessary evil rather than a joy. Not surprisingly, camp follows suit. When I think of camp, I first think of nighttime.

It's the time of night when I'm getting ready for the next day, thinking of what needs to be done before then. Around then, the kids are getting ready for bed, but aren't there just yet. They're showering and writing in journals and talking in their bunkbeds, at least the girls; I don't know what the boys do when alone in the cabins. Usually, I'm walking around the camp, doing last minute checks and clean-ups. As I walk past cabins, I catch bits of conversations. I hear lots of laughter muffled by the walls. There, in the darkness, I pray some and think some before heading back to my cabin, where there will surely be many giggling girls wanting to do anything but go to bed.

The days before camp were marked by cutting cardboard and fabric, getting them ready for crafts. There was much shopping and calculating, working to make everything happen and stick to my budget, with a few fun surprises thrown in along the way. The glow sticks I found on clearance were pretty awesome, after all. They were days of packing and unpacking and loading and reloading, as were the days after camp.

And why? The question often haunts me. Why do this? Why work so hard and put so many hours into something that will be enjoyed for such a short time? It's not just camp, but so many things that I prepare for, and admittedly, over-prepare for. It might just be for me--the Type A, obsessive-compulsive person most know me as.

Except I don't think so. It wouldn't be such a life-altering, presence of the Spirit thing if it were just about me, just about making me happy.

Instead, I call it holy invitation.

As much as I wish there were descriptions of Jesus getting ready for his followers, there's not. Of course, there's the snippet or two--go find a donkey. Get the room ready. But nothing substantial. Even the prayers in the garden before his crucifixion seem to be for Jesus, not his disciples.

I wish the Gospel writers had told us more. It occurs to me, though, that maybe they didn't write about it because no one knew about those things except Jesus. No one was there to witness those things. No one bothered to tell or make up stories about those things. They seemed unimportant, maybe, especially compared with the people clamoring for teaching and healing.

Consider, though, how much of Jesus' ministry and teaching would never have happened if someone hadn't spent a great deal of time getting ready. What if the little boy's mother hadn't packed his lunch? What if someone forgot the wine or didn't bake enough bread when Jesus and his disciples celebrated passover? What if no one had bothered to open the synagogue or the temple?

In my heart of hearts, I don't think the invitation I offer is holy; I have the privilege of offering an invitation to the holy. I'm ready and put in lots of work because I believe people will encounter God in the place I am ministering.

Truthfully, don't I join so many priests who have come before me? Those who dressed in special garments and those who didn't. Those who sacrificed animals and bread and those who scoff at the notion. Those who slept in the sacred spaces and those who spent nights with their families.

So in the darkness of the evening and the darkness of the early morning, the hours when I do more work than any other, I remember: I'm getting ready. God's children are coming and God will surely meet them here.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

It's Not Spiritual

I have come to hate the phrase "spiritual journey." I'm not sure how it happened. Perhaps it reminds me of church advertising, striving to be relevant. Perhaps it reminds me of self-assured folks, trusting one day we'll all reach the right way, the one they're on. Mostly, though, I hate the phrase because my journey is not spiritual.

Yes, this journey is God-filled. The Holy Spirit shows up in times and places expected and absurd. But this journey is not spiritual. It is wholly, completely embodied.

If I only talk about ministry, only the things I encounter during my paid hours, let me tell you about this journey.

It is a journey of camp--of scraped knees and hurt feelings. It is a journey of bee stings and homesickness. It is a journey of s'mores and sticky fingers and water balloons and splashing in pools.

 It is a journey of youth groups--of volleyball and egg-soaked teenagers. It is a journey of pizza and doughnuts. It is a journey of torn pages and spilled drinks. It is a journey of fitting in and sticking out.

It is a journey of people in need--of unpaid bills and loneliness. It is a journey that requires food to eat and a place to sleep. It is a journey that means selling everything you own to pay for funerals, then finding a new home.

It is a journey of people frustrated with their bodies--old bodies that can't do the things they once did. It's a journey marked by women wondering what to do with their now pregnant bodies that look and feel different. It's a journey that means lifting less because of surgery and guarding closely the ones among us who are unsteady.

This journey is not spiritual.

This journey is marked by nights with prayers ascending in the midst of flour-covered hands and counters, preparing bread to feed strangers and friends.

This journey is always, always embodied, with all the dirt and mess and unpleasant things that come with having a body.

That doesn't mean this journey is unholy. It just means it's not something that takes place in a neat and tidy spiritual place.

But no, this journey is not spiritual.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Caesar Won

When I came to work one day last week, I found a man asleep on the patio. It's a gated area, so somehow, he knew how to get in. I assume he was homeless. Why else would someone sleep on the concrete on a day when it would be well over a hundred degrees?

I went to my office to figure out what to do, leaving him asleep on the patio for a bit longer. Eventually, I went out on the patio to talk to him, offer him some water, and ask him to leave. Asking him to leave was always part of the equation.

When I opened the door from inside the building out to the patio, I heard an unfamiliar grating noise. Chairs had been placed in front of the door, assuring that he would awaken if anyone opened it. Sure enough, he jumped up at the noise. The conversation that followed was anything but holy.

He wanted a ride to the hospital. He wouldn't believe I was the pastor. I didn't believe his claim that he was dying. I wasn't about to be alone in my car with him and I was trying to figure out why this clean, decently well dressed man was there at all. Soon, he was accusing me of badgering him and asking me to call the police. Finally, he refused to leave unless they came.

As I walked back into my office to place the call, I realized he probably wanted to get arrested. Doing so meant a cool place to spend the day--it's Arizona, it gets hot--and a meal or two. The only problem with this plan is that the last thing I wanted to do was call the police.

I'm still young enough that police presence is more unnerving than comforting. They're here about the party or the wayward friend or all those other things that 20 somethings do that attracts police attention. The thought of asking them to come wasn't at all appealing.

I also knew this wasn't an emergency that warranted dialing 911; therefore, I had no idea how to call the police. Google gave me the number; that was the wrong place, though. The church is on a county island, so I needed to call the sheriff's office instead.

Begrudgingly, I dialed the number for the sheriff's office, the very one where Sheriff Joe reigns supreme. As I spoke to the dispatcher, I heard the gate open and saw the man leave, but not before was looking through the window in my office to see if I was actually calling the police. The dispatcher said they'd send someone any way. I thanked her and hung up. By that time, the man was nowhere to be seen.

Still, I checked to make sure the doors were locked.

A few days later, I still don't think I could have done much differently. Still, I have this niggling thought day in and day out: Caesar won. Caesar got what belonged to God.

I let the story of my culture win, not God's story. My culture says that man might have been dangerous. My culture says I'm a woman, so I should be even more afraid. My culture says to call someone with a badge and a gun, someone who can remove the person who subsists at the margins of society. My culture says to mediate the help offered, otherwise "they" will come back and send their friends, too. Each of those sentences warrants a long discussion. It doesn't change the fact that, when I tell this story, Caesar won, not God.

God's story says again and again, "Don't be afraid." God's story says again and again the the marginalized, the poor, the ones crying out for help at the side of the road are the very ones who deserve compassion. God's story places the people at the margins of society at the center of God's story. God's story is one that knows people in need will stop you in crowds, dig holes through your roof, grab your clothing as you walk by. God's story knows all of the problems with saying yes. God's story says yes anyway.

Next time, somehow, God's story will win. God's story will be the one I tell. Next time, God will get what rightfully belongs to Her.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Only Here

I love the Church--the universal big C Church and the itty bitty local congregation. I believe it's holy community. I believe it is transforming.

And here's why.

This weekend I watched a young man, about sixteen, follow a man in his 80s to his car. The elderly man now needs a walker, is not as steady as he used to be, and the young man didn't want him to fall. Their relationship is beautiful, filled with love for one another. And no, they're not grandfather and grandson; they know each other because they worship together.

This weekend, one of the joys shared was a couple celebrating 62 years of marriage. And yes, the couple was celebrating. They are wonderfully, joyfully married to each other, continuing to honor the covenant they began so many years ago. 

This weekend, two young men stood before the congregation to be prayed over and blessed by all the congregation. Both graduated high school this year and will soon be headed to college. Their families are proud and celebrating, of course, but so is the woman who taught the kids in Sunday school and dreaded the questions she might get. An intellectually and spiritually curious 10 year old is a blessing and a curse. Celebrating with them are the other kids they've worshipped with and gone to camp with. The littlest kids looked in awe, wondering what could be so important that these teenagers stood in front of the congregation.

And that was just this weekend. On other weekends, who knows what might happen. Still, so often, I say, "Only here." 

Only in church will things like this happen. In a culture that puts olds folks in retirement communities and kids in school, where else will the two meet? Outside of biological family that might be scattered in all sorts of directions, where else? In a culture that is fighting about marriage, we too rarely see the lived example that has little to do with pieces of paper. I say, again, "Only here." Only in the holy, beautiful thing that is church.

It's an embodied, grounding experience like no other. If I chose to leave it, I have no clue where I might find a community that stretches and pulls me in such amazing ways. And for this I say again, thanks be to God!

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

One Year

It's true, more than a year has passed since my last post. The time lapse was not intentional; instead, it was the result of a difficult ministry that created a very difficult time in my life. So a year went by, with little to share with those outside, little dreaming about what could be, and mostly crying out, clamoring for a place where I could live my call to ministry and live all the dreams for what the church could be.

For the last four months, I've been in a new call, in a new home, in a new state. With the move came resurrection, so I start writing, again, as part of this new life.

And I start writing for the second time with the same conviction I had when I started: the church must change for the sake of people like me and the sake of the world.

And still I say, "Here I am. Send me."