Thursday, January 28, 2016

Show Up Anyway

I didn't want to go to church this past Sunday.

I realize that's a particular complication of my job; for most people, church is always a choice. For me, most Sundays, choice has gone out the window.

It doesn't change the fact that I didn't want to go.

Too little sleep had a lot to do with it. There's a good story as to why I got far too little sleep, but that's for another day. I'm not going to lie, preaching week in and week out takes its toll as well. Mostly, though, it was a flat-out, grumpy mood that came with plenty of internal whining, "I don't want to go to church today."

I did.

And here's what happened:

It was the first Sunday our youngest deacon, newly added to the roster this past fall, served. He took everything quite seriously. His mom's instructions helped him along. His hands were just large enough to hold the plate with bread out to people.

His work was made even more beautiful by the man who helped him. He has two young adult sons of his own, so I had no doubt he would know how to serve alongside the ten year old. He did so with beautiful grace and guidance. It was that beautiful reality of an adult who can let a child be a child, but gently coax him along to maturity.

A Iranian Sufi monk with whom I'd exchanged a few phone calls and emails called me on Saturday evening, to ask if he could come to worship. I said yes, so the self-described fat, Middle Eastern man with a beard showed up, and I gave him a few minutes to talk about Islamic nonviolence with my congregation.

I watched later as he asked to hug a woman when she told him he's the first Muslim she's ever met. She agreed.

We had lunch together. He asked me to order for him. Anything was fine. "Whatever comes from the creator is beautiful," he told me. So I did. And we shared lunch.

Those moments stick out as beautiful, unexpected glimpses of the Divine.

I was so glad I showed up after all.

Maybe even more true with God things than other things: show up even if you don't want to.

You might just be wonderfully surprised at what happens.

Monday, January 18, 2016

When the Urgent Wins

Yesterday, I preached about choosing to do the same things Jesus said he'd do. I think it was one of my better sermons. Who knows if I'd think that in a few weeks. The gist was pretty simple: when Jesus stood up and read the words of Isaiah in the gathered assembly, he set the course of his ministry. By doing so, he chose not to do a lot of other things that he could have done. We should do the same things to guide our lives and ministry together. This includes making necessary choices in order for that to happen.

Here's what he read:
     The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
       because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor.
     He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
       and recovery of sight to the blind,
     to let the oppressed go free,
        to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor. 

I genuinely believe what I preached. I usually do. On the worst day, I can at least say that I want to believe it, even if I'm not really sure.

But, oh but. Some of the earliest words of wisdom I received about ministry was, "The hardest part is finding a balance between the urgent and the important." I think that's probably advice about life.

The urgent is winning this week. Not even the work urgent, actually. It's my own personal crazy that is, decidedly, urgent. Yes, it's important, too, but the urgency is what throws other things into a tailspin.

I think the best summary is that the past few days have not been the best days of my life.

On Thursday evening, I got home from work and there was a piece of paper on my door. That's fine; it's how the office communicates most things. My lease is up in April, so it was notification of that and new rental rates. Either the office made a mistake or my rent will double if I stay in my current apartment. Add that to the list of unpleasant things to tackle with the office. If it's correct, then I get the even more unpleasant task of moving.

I haven't dealt with that, yet, because on Friday I left to go with the youth group to northern Arizona for a snow weekend. Some time in the night, my ear drum ruptured. This was after the pain of my ear infection woke me up earlier in the night. Other relevant information: I first went to Urgent Care for this infection on December 14, then December 17, then December 29, and thought it was mostly gone. Friday night, everything got worse. After we went to play in the snow on Saturday--an event for which I was needed as a driver--I left early to go to Urgent Care, again. The physician's assistant I saw confirmed a ruptured ear drum, gave me three versions of antibiotics and told me to see an ENT. He was kind enough to give me three different antibiotics than the three I received on December 17th.

This morning, I met a friend for coffee. The shop was crowded, so we ended up going somewhere else instead. When I dropped her off at her car, my check engine light came on.

Did I mention these haven't been the best few days of my life?

On Wednesday, I'll write my sermon in the waiting area at the car dealership while they fix whatever is wrong. Next Tuesday, I'll go visit my new ENT. Who knows what will happen in between.

So I'm sitting here, in the wake of lots of urgent things, wondering how on earth to handle the important. I'm wondering how on earth to manage what I actually think is the most important thing: following Christ.

Pretty much the only answer I can come up with is this: I'm still convinced the urgent can't win out over the important.

I'll work on that tomorrow.

Photo by Damien Roué, courtesy of PhotoPin, used under license

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Bowie, Rickman, and Waiting for Redemption

I'm not one of the people in deep mourning over celebrity deaths this week. I think it's a matter of age more than anything. I have vague memories of David Bowie in The Labyrinth, but like would be a strong word for me and that movie. By the time I saw it, it just seemed weird. I'm aware that might have always been the case, but the '80s style was too over the top.

It seems I just like the wrong genre of things for Alan Rickman. His face looks vaguely familiar, but a scan through his filmography reveals I've only seen one movie he was in. It's fine. I'm too old for the deep, unadulterated Harry Potter love. They're good books, but I didn't grow up reading them. I missed that by just a few years. Those are the only movies for which I can supply a good reason. Somehow, I've just missed the others, several because I was much too young to see them when they came out.

Mourning celebrity deaths always strikes me as a bit odd, at best. Don't get me wrong, when Julie Andrews dies, you'll find me sitting on my couch singing along to The Sound of Music through sobs. Well, maybe I'll just be watching the good greenhouse scene over and over and over and over. Still, I'll probably always be lower key about celebrity deaths than most people.

I do rather enjoy the immediate eulogizing, though. I say that sincerely, not flippantly. Before the age of social media, how much someone meant to someone was reserved for funerals and people who happened to be nearby. News spread a bit slower and there had to be a time and place to reveal one's thoughts. That time has gone, and now immediately, I know who loved Snape and saw a gif of all of David Bowie's hairstyles, both within a few hours of their deaths.

The same thing happens at most funerals. The pool of mourners is smaller, but they still share stories about the deceased. Funny stories and sad stories, with food and favorite music tossed in. Sometimes, the stories go on for most of the day. It's true of most people, even the person whom others struggled to like, much less love. That has always been, to me, one of the weirdest things; recently, it has become one of the most beautiful.

So, this person was a jerk. Everyone knew it. In their death, though, we want to remember something good about them. I'm sure there's a very good psychological reason for that reaction. I think there's also a theological reason for it: we want to confess that no one is beyond redemption.

I don't think that should be as difficult or uncertain a confession as it often seems. I think it would be even more powerful to stand at a funeral and say, "David was a jerk, but we loved him, and so does God." I want the confession that just because someone was terrible their whole life long doesn't put them outside the realm of God's love. (Hmmm, maybe I just revealed why I don't believe in hell.)

For Bowie, Rickman, the neighbor next door, the homeless man whose name no one remembers, the same is true: they are God's, redeemed or yet to be redeemed. And as I consider what story I would tell about why I believe that, I realize there is no story; there are many stories. This is the witness of Abraham, Moses, the widow of Zarephath, the woman at the well, Zacchaeus, the rich young ruler, Matthew, Paul, the woman caught in adultery, the woman who washed Jesus' feet--where would I stop? This is the witness of God's story with and among us. No one is beyond God's redemption.

Just because someone died does not mean the hope of God's love and redemption died with them.

So rest eternal, to all who died this week, whose name we know and whose name we don't. May God's light shine upon you, and grant you peace.

I cling to the hope this is exactly who God is.

Thursday, January 7, 2016

Holiday Hangover

I'm sitting beside a basket of koosh ball sheep and plastic coins. Stars cover the other side of my desk.  Under them, there's a pile of books and papers, to-do lists, and really, God only knows what else.

At home, it's much the same. Well, at home, it's kind of worse. Laundry is mostly caught up but there's not a clean glass anywhere. There are a few pizza boxes. A few more rounds of pizza and I could build a college style coffee table out of them. The empty champagne bottle from New Year's midnight toast is there, too.

Really, it's the physical manifestation of the holiday hangover we all feel. We're done with parties. We'd like our pants to be a little looser. We're still finding glitter in all sorts of unusual places. Some of us, by the end of the season, have gone from Elf to Grinch. Right now, we'd like at least five years before we do it, again.

All of that's ok. Maybe now more than days ago I like the promise of God made flesh and dwelling among us. I like the promise of God choosing holiday hangover time as much as the glitter and mounds of food time. I like that there's no expectation that God can't handle the messy. I like that God actually chose the messiness.

God remains here--doing, creating, imagining--among us.

For that, I am very glad. Because truthfully, I'm not likely to do dishes tonight either.