Tuesday, July 21, 2015

For These Saints

I know so many of the names scrolling on the screen. Two are men from the congregation I serve now. I planned and preached their funerals, actually. Yet, most of the names I recognize were never Disciples of Christ, at least not denominationally speaking. They were, most certainly, disciples of Christ, functionally speaking. Some, of course, were better disciples than others, or at least less crazy disciples. 

One was the father of one of my college professors. I only knew him well after he was the president of a seminary. He still tried to convince me to attend that seminary, though. 

Another was a legendary professor at my undergraduate institution. Let's just say the legends about him were not exactly favorable, but legends nonetheless. 

Another was the wife of an Old Testament professor. In between the leaving of one professor and the hiring of another, he came out of retirement to teach a class. 

A grandfather of a classmate. One of the little old ladies who was in assisted living when I led worship services there. If the city listed with the name was Johnson City or Elizabethton, Tennessee, the name was likely familiar. 

They're all people I remembered from a life in a different tradition, and a life very different from the one I lead now. There are so, so many twists and turns to end up in that auditorium, watching the names scroll across the screen.

Oh--and those names: in worship at each General Assembly, the Pension Fund of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) submits a list of names of those members who have died in the two years since the last General Assembly. There was a time when I could tell you the history in depth, but that time has passed. I know, however, that while the Pension Fund is Disciples of Christ, they offer their services to pastors in all of the Stone-Campbell Movement. I'm sure that's because the Pension Fund existed long before the restructure of Disciples of Christ that created a couple of different entities that were once one. Perhaps the greatest failure of that Stone-Campbell movement is that it splintered in to multiple groups at all. The tradition that valued unity, that hoped for unity, that prayed for unity, couldn't hold onto it, either. 

Yet, there is this beautiful confession at each General Assembly: these who have died are ours. They are ours as disciples of Christ if not Disciples of Christ. They are ours in their beauty and in their flaws. They are ours because because we are all the Church, even if our churches don't get along so well. Even in that brokenness of Church, still we can commend all of these saints to God.

For this beautiful gesture of grace in these names scrolling across a screen, I am deeply grateful. After all, the God who loves all, who created all, will surely welcome all in whatever comes after. Thanks be to God that we can recognize all our saints even in our brokenness. 

Thursday, July 16, 2015


I still remember that Maggie, two years older than me, called me "four eyes" when I was in school.

I know I was older than Kindergarten by then, because it did not cause me to totally rebel against going to school. Had I still been in Kindergarten, it would have. My grandfather paid me fifty cents a day to go to Kindergarten and not cry, after all.

My tiny elementary school closing after my fourth grade year was absolutely terrible. I can't help but think my life would have been easier if my new English teacher hadn't said to one of the other students, "The competition has arrived."

Middle school is a torture all its own. Gah. I don't even want to think about that.

On Sunday, we'll bless the backpacks of kids headed to school in the next weeks. Well, I'll be out of town, but lay leaders will bless the backpacks just the same. We're giving them luggage tags, bearing the reminder, "Love God. Love others. Love yourself."

We'd be crazy not to admit that school is hard for kids. It's hard for smart kids and not so smart kids, shy kids and outgoing kids. It's hard for all sorts of reasons.

And as we bless backpacks for these kids, I can't help but think of how often things are tagged #blessed or spoken of as blessed. I'm not much on hashtags in any form nor would I likely say something about being blessed. I do know, however, that the word is usually used for things viewed in a positive way. Something good happens. Someone good happens. Good. That's what blessed has come to mean.

These kids' backpacks will be blessed, though, regardless of how good or bad the school year turns out to be. They will be blessed because the church said to God, "Please bless this." The church said to God, "This tangible reminder of school and all that entails is important enough to warrant your attention."

We hope the kids will get good grades, have friends, and stay out of trouble. We know that won't always be true. That doesn't mean the blessing didn't take. The blessing is a hope that good things happen, but it's a confession that even if terrible things happen, God will still be present.

Contrary to popular usage, blessed is a state of being, not an outcome. It has little to do with whether what is currently happening could be called good by anyone on the outside looking it. We bless babies, and houses, and worship spaces, and cars, and relationships, and all sorts of things. We bless them because we confess that God cares about this, too. As Church, we know that baby is blessed even if she gets cancer. We know that worship space is blessed even if we can't pay the mortgage. We know that relationship is blessed even if neither person is sure it will continue.

Like many reign of God things, blessing is part of seeing differently, counting differently, knowing things are different. By being blessed, something becomes God's, even if there's no immediate evidence it would be called good.

That may be the best news of all. For many of us are just doing the best we can, trying to follow God, slipping up along the way, wondering where God is in all of these. That doesn't change that we are #blessed, called God's own. For that, thanks be to God.

Thursday, July 2, 2015

To the Trolls

"Don't feed the trolls," I told the other admin for my church's Facebook page. The trolls do not want to talk. The trolls just want to yell at someone. Trolls are always angry, it seems. The ones who email via the church website don't provide email addresses so we can contact them. Neither do they put return addresses on the regular mail they send. Trolls just troll.

The crappy part is, we'd often like conversations with the trolls. My congregation has this crazy idea that Jesus really did welcome everyone and calls us to do the same. Even if we're not too sure we'd like hanging out with the trolls, we believe Jesus calls us to hang out with the trolls.

I could tell you so many interesting things about communication from the trolls, but here's my favorite and the most often occurring version, "You(r church) need(s) to read X." X is always a Bible verse or set of Bible verses. Always. Verses from Romans and Leviticus are favorites for our trolls, who are usually upset about us welcoming LGBT people.

And here is my response to the trolls: what makes you think we haven't?

What makes you think we haven't read the holy writings of our tradition? Really? Do you think we skipped that?

It might be easier if we did, actually. If we skipped reading the Bible, we wouldn't know the texts support slavery, no mental acrobatics needed. If we skipped reading the Bible, we wouldn't be more than a little freaked out by all the violence. I mean, have you read Judges? If we skipped reading the Bible, we could pretend one man, one woman madly in love with each other is an accurate definition of biblical marriage.

We read the Bible, and we wrestle with what to do with the violence, the slavery, the sexism, and all the other weirdness of these writings handed down to us from worlds far different than ours. We read the Bible, from beginning to end, and go back to wrestle more. In fact, those of us who have had proof texts shouted at us to name our sin are often the ones who can quote chapter and verse. Trust me, this lady preacher knows all about "Let your women keep silent."

We've read it and we're still Christian. We're still Christian because there is Truth beyond all the things that give us pause. That Truth speaks to us, calls us to this place, and breathes abundant life into us. We're Christian because despite those verses you so want us to read, this faith has taught us to love more fully and deeply than we ever thought possible. It's almost like it's a miracle of the Spirit or something.

We live in the hope that God's reign is taking over at this very moment and that, somehow, we are participating in that reign. In that hope, we bury our dead and welcome our babies. In that hope, we give food to people whose bodies are hungry and share in the worries of those whose souls are hungry. In that hope, we see life instead of death, joy instead of sorrow, abundance instead of scarcity. In that hope, we look at the violence, the slavery, the sexism, the hate, the things in our world that are the most terrifying and the most horrible and we cry out, "God will redeem this."

That is our faith, dear trolls. And trust me, we've read that verse you mentioned.