Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Haunted by Words

In a few more days, I head off to camp. This year, I'm a counselor and a keynote speaker for the high school kids. God help me. Seriously.

The curriculum is based on how we got the Bible; I'm spinning it a bit to be why we care about the Bible. There's lots of talking about story, as you can imagine.

At the same time, I'm prepping my sermon for the Sunday after camp, which just happens to be Pentecost. The story we tell each year is the coming of the Holy Spirit to the church at that feast, creating something knew. Pentecost is often called the birthday of the church.

In this weird place where I'm figuring out how to talk with high school kids about what the Bible is and why it matters and preaching the story of Pentecost, I realize how many words from the Bible haunt me.

I vividly recall sitting in a class on the history of my denomination when one of the other students turned and said with more than a little irritation, "Did you memorize the entire Bible?" Well, in the world where I grew up, memorization of scripture was a big freakin' deal. In a lot of ways, the goal was to memorize the Bible.

These words, though, linger in other places. As one of Jesus' early followers, Peter, explains what is going on, he quotes the prophet Joel, "'In the last days it will be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh, and your sons and daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams. Even upon my slaves both men and women, in those days I will pour out my Spirit; and they shall prophesy."

The first time I really heard those words was when Berenice Clifton, a character on the '80s sitcom Designing Women whose craziness was described as "an arterial flow problem above the neck," quoted them. The episode was called "How Great Thou Art." The topic was women in ministry, and she was fighting a Southern Baptist minister who was adamant that women should be silent in church. I took notes the first time I saw that episode, at least mental notes, and went flipping through my Bible to make sure all the things she was saying were really in there. Even though I'd read the Bible in its entirety a few times by then, I heard what I'd been taught; somehow, I skipped over what would become life-giving texts.

When, in college, we had to memorize a few passages of scripture for biblical survey classes, I more or less hugged the list of texts to my chest when I saw Joel 2:28 on it. Here were the words that I had thought were marginal words, and they were important enough to be tested on. It was a dream come true for this Bible nerd still trying to hear the possibility of call.

Now, ten or twelve years later, I'm preaching on these words, as I have before. And I can't shake all the times I have heard these words before. They haunt me. They are friendly ghosts for sure, but ghosts nonetheless. They bring back other times and places even as they invite me to new things.

My conclusion, at best, is this, "You're doing it right." From the Gospel architect Luke to screenwriters to my own teachers, "You're doing it right." For I'm certain these words will haunt me all my life as they have so many faithful before me. The words will push me to new places. The words will bubble up in moments of fear, offering assurance. Words that will do all those things--yeah, you're doing it right.

I'm so grateful for these words, these ghosts. Perhaps most of all, I love that I get to introduce others to these beautiful, haunting words.

Friday, May 23, 2014

Four Years

Today is the fourth anniversary of my ordination. The picture attached to this blog is from that day. Like most special occasions, people from all phases of my life were there. It was a churchy celebration for sure, but a wonderful churchy celebration. Preaching and packages and singing. Cute kids and lots of hugs.

In the middle of it all, me, with all of the craziness somehow swirling around me. Here were all the people from my many communities joined together to say, "God has called her."

For all the craziness leading up to that day, and all the hullabaloo that afternoon, I've never been quite so calm or so certain of something. The weight of the robe, the stole, felt just right. That remains true to this day.

I think back on those four years and wonder how to best measure them. There are so many ways to count.

Five baptisms.
Four funerals.
Two weddings.
Only God knows how many pizzas.
Three churches. 
Three states.
Four places I've called home.
Two weeks of camp.
A lock-in or two or three.
Somewhere around 200 Sundays in worship.
Bible studies--who knows how many.
Prayers--God knows that, too.

So many things still to count. So many things that could be named. All these things that are part of the ebb and flow of church life. Well, not just church life, all life. 

Because the best summation is to say that this has been my life for the past four years. There are certainly things in my life that are not church, but I mostly keep count in church time.

Four years later, I'm still glad that I responded, "Here I am."

Where shall God send me next?

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Love & (Gay) Marriage

It seems to be the week of striking down gay marriage bans. Oregon and Pennsylvania are the most recent. Other states--well, commonwealths--are fighting the fact their ban was struck down. Some are fighting with attorneys hired just for that purpose.

I'm happy that the bans are disappearing. I hope and pray that they all are struck down. I hope that some time soon, we realize this is a federal issue, too, not just a state one, if for no other reason than immigration is federal.

Yet, every time I see another headline about a marriage ban struck down, I keep thinking that it's not quite enough. Yes, same-sex couples can marry in that state. But they can do so only because a judge somewhere said, "You don't get to stop them." It might be a matter of semantics, but it's not the same as saying, "We think you should be able to get married."

It's the difference between loving your neighbor and tolerating your neighbor. Guess what? Christians are called to do the first one, not the second one. Tolerance is the I-guess-I can't-stop-you response. Love is the of-course-you-deserve-this-too response.

Love is what's demanded of those of us who follow Christ. Not gritting our teeth. Not pretending it's not happening. Not skipping the questions we don't actually want to know the answer to. Love. As clear as Jesus ever said anything, he said, "Love your neighbor as yourself."

So for those whose weddings past or future include plenty of family and friends, a minister whom you love, vendors who don't look at you and your betrothed strangely or refuse to serve you, and everything tailored to who you are if you're willing to throw enough money into your wedding, remember, "Love your neighbor as yourself."

They deserve more than "Well, now we can't stop you."

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Water in the Desert

I'm incredibly fascinated by water in the desert. I grew up in a place with lots of water--rivers and ponds and spring rains that almost always caused flooding. My grandfather took us to play in caves; until I moved to Arizona, I never thought about dry caves. I think I knew they existed, but wet caves carved by water are the ones I know well. Crawling around in them always meant lots of mud and dripping and riding home sitting on plastic bags.

There's little drinking water most of the time in the Sonoran desert. Hiking means carrying plenty of water with you. Businesses all keep bottled water and hand it out freely. Here, even if you do absolutely nothing that causes you to sweat, it's recommended that people drink half their body weight in ounces each day. Yeah, that's a lot of water. 

Despite the fact that most all of our water is piped in and carefully managed, there are fountains all over the Phoenix area. They're in front of churches, movie theaters, open air malls and housing complexes. My church has one, too, beside the outdoor baptistry. The gurgling of the fountains always turns my head. It's such an unnatural sound here. Water is something noticed and not quite so easily taken for granted.

I think it's that way even for people who have lived here a long time.

On my morning drive today, as I neared the freeway, I noticed bottles of water setting on the median. People often stand near that spot and ask for food or money from the drivers of the cars stuck at the stoplight. It's my assumption that one of the people who regularly passes through there left them for the person who will appear later in the day. Of course, maybe one of those beggars left them for someone else. 

I'm constantly amazed, in this land of clean, readily available drinking water, that the desert brings out the need for water so fully. Echoes from the Bible always enter my mind: the Hebrews who needed Moses to strike a rock for miraculous water because water was that scarce; the words of prophets marveling at God's abundance, like water in the desert; Jesus standing with a woman at a well, talking about water. Here, no one has to tell us how much we need water. Thirst does that all on its own.

As I ponder the life of the Church, as so many ponder the life of the Church with me, and wonder how to communicate the relevance we know we have for the future, it might just be so simple: there is water that you can drink and never be thirsty again.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Inclined to Silence

Most people would be surprised to know that I prefer to be silent, especially people who know me from church world. The first time a seminary roommate accompanied me to church, she was incredulous: "Who is that person and what happened to my roommate?" That shift has to happen at church, given that I've been on staff some place for several years now. 

But I prefer living in a city because I can go unnoticed in coffee shops and grocery stores and restaurants. I can slip in and out with as much anonymity as I like. Usually, I like a lot. I confess, I've even shied away from the pizza place where I was going often enough that they recognize me when I walk in and already know my order. Anonymity. Silence. I like those things.

As someone who literally has a pulpit and in the age of social media when everyone who wants an audience can have one, I still choose silence a great deal of the time. There are several reasons why. A lot of the things people side up on are far more complicated than most make them out to be. 

I also consider a lot of things to be adiaphora. If you're not familiar with the term, Google it for the specifically Christian meaning. Mostly, it's a reference to how much I'm indifferent to. It's not that it doesn't matter to some, but to me, it doesn't matter much at all.

I won't start a list of those things because some day, one of them might move off the list of adiaphora to something I care about a great deal. I'd hate to dig myself a hole like that. 

The result of this inclination to be silent is that people know the handful of things I really care about. They've told me to stop talking about LGBT concerns and I've lost at least one very good friend over those debates. I've offended a few people talking about what the Bible is and isn't. I've confused people employed by food banks who are used to having to sell the notion of food insecurity by being able engage the topic and talk about subsidies and budget cuts and the like. 

My inclination to silence spills over into the church. There are often times I haven't addressed world events in worship that other pastors have chosen to address. It is a choice, though, not negligence. I actually pay quite a bit of attention to national and world news; I confess to skipping out on the local more than I should.

But what if the church, just my church, or the Church, the whole Church, chose just a handful of things to be worried about? What if we declared a whole list of things to be adiaphora and worried about the few remaining ones? 

I'm hesitant to say the Church should ever be silent because there are so many times we have been when we shouldn't have been. But I wonder what would happen if the many drowned out cries about so many things turned to a shout about just a few?