Monday, December 31, 2012

Goodbye 2012

Matthew 28:5: "But the angel said to the women, "Do not be afraid; I know that you are looking for Jesus who was crucified."

How often I am stuck on the bad news of the past instead of seeing the good news of the present!  Grief, regret, loss... these can interfere with my ability to celebrate the moment and be grateful for the blessings in my life.  Do you have that happen to you?

At one point, in the middle of my faith crisis, when I was dropping out of seminary and facing a bad bout of depression, I felt like everything I had held onto was slipping through my hands, leaving them empty. This made me want to clutch more tightly to dreams that had faded. That was a normal grief response, but it made it harder to see the good things that I did have in life.  Life is so much better  now, and I have done a lot of healing.  But sometimes, I still look around and see what I don't have, rather than how full and wonderful my life is.  I see the crucifixion and the grave instead of the empty tomb and Easter resurrection.

So.... as I say goodbye to 2012...

I say goodbye to holding on to that which I do not have.  This way my hands will be open to receive life as it comes.

I say goodbye to jealousy and resentment when friends have what I long for.  This way my heart is free and light.

I say goodbye to regret for my life not turning out as I once thought it would. This way I can rejoice in the awesomeness that life has brought me on my non-traditional, vagabond, adventuring journey.

Dear friends - thank you all for your friendship and love. You are freaking fantastic.  Here's to a 2013 where we can live boldly and love fully!

Gracious God, it is sometimes hard to let go of dreams of things that we thought we should have.  Help us to open our hands to receive the abundant blessings in our life that we may not see are already there. Thanks! and Amen.

Social Anxiety Catch 22

Romans 8:35: "Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or sword?

Do you ever have that moment of social anxiety where you've said the wrong thing or let your insecurity slip out?  But then you can't take it back without making a bigger deal and drawing more attention to it?  Your insecurity is pleading for reassurance.  But it only makes you feel more unattractive to reveal this need?

I hate those spin cycles.

Me: "Did I say the right thing?  I think I just hurt his/her feelings / sounded uncool / revealed too much vulnerability."
Anxious me: "You'd better double check to make sure they still like you."
Reasonable me: "I'm sure everything is fine. Just chill out."
Anxious me: "THIS IS HORRIBLE!"
Me: "I'll find a way to be cool / nice / say the right thing again.  It'll be ok, Anxious Me."
Anxious me: "AAAAGH!"
Reasonable me: "Could I at least get a cupcake?"

And so it goes.  It doesn't happen all time, but I'm guessing I'm not alone in negative or insecure self talk.

So tonight I just have a simple reminder to myself - and to all of us.

You are loved.  You are wanted.  You are needed.  You are enough.

The answer to the question in Romans 8:35 above is no one and no way.  No one and nothing can separate us from God's love.  Period.

God of love, We can sometimes feel unworthy of love, from our friends or from you.  Please remind us that we are loved and wanted just as we are - bumps and scars and faults and all.  Nothing we can do will make you stop loving us.  Thank you.  Amen.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

What would Jesus do with his lotto winnings?

Luke 4:18-21: [Jesus said], "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has appointed 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." And he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. The eyes of all in the synagogue were upon him. Then he began to say to them, "Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing."
Last night, sitting around the hot tub, we went around the circle and answered the question, "What is our biggest fantasy?"  It wasn't quite like the world peace scene in Miss Congeniality, but a pretty standard answer was to win the lottery.  With oodles of cash, we could alleviate the financial concerns of our friends and family, travel, have fun adventures, and make a difference in the world.  I think it is a pretty common dream.

Good friends, pre-lotto win

In Luke 4, Jesus is just beginning his ministry and goes to the synagogue in his hometown of Nazareth. He stands and reads a passage from scripture that very much includes social justice and liberation in addition to personal transformation. Jesus gave a detailed "world peace" answer, and adds the radical statement, "Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing."  The local people are pretty excited about it and want him to do some of the miracles and teachings he has done elsewhere.

WWJDWHLW?  (What would Jesus do with his lotto winnings?)  As the story unfolds, Jesus actually pisses off the folks in his hometown.  He tells them that his ministry and God's plan of salvation extend beyond the bounds of their community. Their response? They try to drive him off a cliff.  His message was that God's vision of who gets in on the lotto winnings of God's transforming love extends beyond their friends and family, and beyond their desire to control the distribution. (see The Hospitality of God by Brendan Byrne for more).

I would love to win the lotto and help out my friends and family and make a difference in the world. But I am not generous enough to say that I would buy everyone I know a new house. That's a lot of houses!  Even with oodles of lotto winnings, I think there is still a feeling of scarcity and protectiveness that would lead me to not say yes to every request for money.  Not so with God's vision.

The vision of the kingdom of God is wholeness, and it extends to all. There is no scarcity of love.

I try to keep these posts short, but each question I start leads to seven more I want to discuss.  That is the advantage of doing many posts, there will be time to get to my other thoughts. But I want to mention one side bar here. This passage definitely pissed me off during my deepest faith crisis 2008-2009.  If this healing and transformation had been fulfilled by Jesus, why the hell is there still so much suffering?  It has been a long journey for me to accept the paradox of God's love and the great suffering in the world (as it is for many).  I will write more on that question later, but I want to acknowledge the tension here.  My short answer is that God's vision is for healing and restoration for all.  We are welcome in God's wide embrace, and we are called to offer that embrace to the world.  We are called to work for wholeness, reconciliation and justice.

God of love, You long for healing and wholeness in our lives, in our families, in our communities, and in the world. Your embrace extends beyond our desire to say who is in and who is out.  Help us to know that everyone gets a share in the abundance of your love, including us.  Help us respond to that love with generosity and grace, for ourselves and the world.  Amen.

Friday, December 28, 2012

A new take on Twilight

Luke 12:25 "And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life?"

Can you imagine if we could figure out how to add time to our lives by worrying?  If worrying lengthened my life, I would be practically immortal! Which gives me an idea, and I want credit for coming up with it first.  They should do a new Twilight-like series - but instead of vampires as the immortal sparkly beings, it could be worriers... also with sparkles?  [I'd pick different lead actors... no offense to my Twilight-loving friends].

Anywaayyyy..... Unfortunately, I excel at worrying - about my friends and loved ones, about social situations, about my job and my home.  I admire people who can roll with punches and let things go easily, but that has never been my strong suit.

Today's verse comes in a chapter in Luke where Jesus is talking to a crowd of people gathered "by the thousands, so that they trampled on one another" (Luke 12:1).  He talks to them about a variety of worries they have.  I can picture the scene, all of these questions and concerns being shouted from the crowd, with people looking for answers and consolation.  Jesus reassures the crowd how much they mean to God, "But even the hairs of your head are all counted, do not be afraid; you are of more value than many sparrows." (Luke 12:7)  He advises them to live generous lives with a "you can't take it with you" story.  Jesus is encouraging them to "strive for the kingdom" (Luke 12:31a).

I think Jesus is trying to help us orient our lives, which can naturally become balls of worry, or grief, or anxiety. If we focus on accumulating wealth, or carry stress about how we're going to get through the day, it can interfere with our ability to live with generous hearts. Jesus is not discounting the stress or worry we may feel, or people's day to day concerns, especially those who are hungry or homeless.  Instead, Jesus is calling us to let go of the worries of this world and focus on serving God.

Since I'm not able to make myself live longer by worrying about it, I will try to take a deep breath and roll with it.  I will look for ways I can help others rather than protect my own interests. I will try to risk social awkardness by speaking up for those who are excluded.  I will open up my pocketbook and give to organizations like my church and Cascade AIDS Project.  But mostly, I'm going to try to trust God - to trust that we are loved as we are, to trust that the lives we live are important, and to trust that we can make a difference in the lives of others.

And here's a picture of me - not worrying but still sparkly at AIDS Walk Portland, 2012 with the fabulous Svetlana.

Gracious God, thank you for reminding us that we are precious.  Help us to boldly choose lives of generosity and service, trusting in your care.  Watch over those who have very real worries about where they will sleep or get their next meal.  Please keep us all safe [and sparkly].  Amen.

New Years Resolution Thoughts

John 13:34: "I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another."

Awkward family photo night -- taken by
So, we're approaching the new year, and people are starting to talk about resolutions.  I've heard some really good ones already.  Last year, a friend made a goal to bring home zero plastic bags from stores.  She very nearly succeeded and greatly reduced their household plastic waste. She is brainstorming other resolutions to challenge herself to be more eco-friendly in 2013. Another friend wants to strive for a healthier life - financially, spiritually,  physically, and emotionally, and is pondering ways to achieve this.  I have many ideas and goals for the new year.  What about you?

Trying to pick a bible verse to write about tonight, I stumbled across Jesus' words in John 13:34. It seems to fit with a theme of making better choices for 2013.  Who among us couldn't try harder to be a loving person?  I know I can easily get caught up in negative thinking. We often can think less than loving thoughts, even if it is towards someone anonymous like the slow person ahead of us in the grocery store line or the neighbor whose noise interferes with our own sense of personal space. Maybe we are more frequently unloving if it is someone we know well and even love. In even our closest relationships, we can succumb to negative thoughts: "Why does she always do it *that* way- doesn't she know it annoys me?" or "He can be so selfish, why doesn't he pay attention to what I want?"  (For a great book that explores this further, check out The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis). A bible verse reminder that we should love one another will probably resonate with all of us in one way or another.

But Jesus also gives us a logic puzzle. We should love one another as Jesus has loved us. What does that mean?  I certainly don't buy into the idea of  Jesus as a self-righteous, judgmental jerk. As I see it, Jesus is the guy that reminds us of God's compassion for the widow, the orphan and the stranger. Jesus practices hospitality and welcomes the outsider. Jesus loves the people who mess up.

The love Jesus calls us to is a radical, life-changing, community-building, reaching-out kind of love. This is the way God loves us.  This love seeks to break past the walls we put up about not being good enough, or cool enough, or successful enough, or "enough".  We are enough, as we are, and God's love includes me, and you, and you (and even you).

So it is one thing to make a resolution to be more loving.  It is another thing to make a resolution to love one another in the outrageous and overflowing way that God loves us.  It's such a big commandment, we are guaranteed to fall short.  But the logic puzzle comes in again. God's love is bigger than our mistakes, so we can try again, knowing that nothing we can do will end that love for us.  This is something I want to reflect on  further in 2013 - the puzzle of being loved so radically and trying to love others in the same way.

Gracious God, Help us to know that you love us more deeply than we can imagine.  Help us to love one another more faithfully.  Helps us to remember that no matter how many resolutions we fail, we are yours and we are loved.  Amen.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

The Cowardly Lion

Acts 18:9: "One night the Lord said to Paul in a vision,'Do not be afraid, but speak and do not be silent.'"

So tonight I went to a Blazer game (we won - and got free Taco Bell Chalupa coupons.  what what?).  On the way home, my friends and I were skipping and singing "We're off to see the wizard...." (I'm not sure why, except that four people skipping arm in arm naturally leads to this song.  It's like one of Newton's laws of motion.)

Anywaaay... we were trying to pick which character we would be and I chose the cowardly lion. The lion is my favorite animal, and next year for the Portland AIDS Walk, I'm going to be a boy lion on the team Wild Wild Kingdom.  (Boy lions have manes, you see).  But as a theologian always looking for deeper meaning, I realized it is fitting that I picked the cowardly lion, because I do wish I had more courage.

The picture above (love!), shows me with my "oh yeah, I'm all that!" face, as I pose with (hot!) bestie Andrew Shayde. I definitely have moments when I feel I am courageous. It took courage for me to help lead the year-long process which culminated in a church-wide meeting (115 people!) to adopt our Welcome Statement that includes a specific welcome for people of all sexual orientations and gender identities.  It took courage for me to sign up for the Ride4CAP and ride my bike from Seattle to Portland, asking for donations for the Cascade AIDS Project for months. And I'm proud of that.

But I still identify with the cowardly lion.  Tomorrow I have a phone meeting in which I will need to be assertive, and that will take several deep breaths and I will probably be literally quivering with anxiety.  It makes me nervous to speak to those in authority, or to speak up to those who might be angry with me.  It makes me nervous to say something that may offend someone or make someone not like me.  It made me nervous to make this blog public and share my thoughts on faith on the internet.  I want to stay in my comfort zone where I don't rock the boat, don't face scary downhills on my bike, don't have to challenge power structures or risk confrontation.

"Do not be afraid, but speak and do not be silent."  This is the exhortation from God to Paul and to us. This is the life I choose, though it is scary and takes me outside of my comfort zone.

  • I pray for God to grant me courage and strength to speak the truth that God's love extends to all, without exception "regardless of ethnicity, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, age, physical or mental ability, education, income or family status."  
  • I pray for God to grant me the courage and strength to speak out against stigma for those affected by HIV/AIDS.
  • I pray for God to grant me the courage and strength to speak up when people are being mistreated, either individually or societally.  
  • I pray for God to grant me the courage to respond to those in need (the hungry, the homeless, those in violence torn Democratic Republic of Congo, victims of domestic violence, ....).
  • I pray for God to grant me the courage to speak up to those who are outside my comfort zone, for you never know what may come of the encounter.
In the Wizard of Oz, the cowardly lion doesn't lose his fear, but acts in spite of it.  I may not ever get over that shaking feeling when I'm standing up for myself or someone else, but I think it will get easier.  I will practice.  I think I will get better at it, regardless of what fear I may still have.  

And I still pick the cowardly lion because I want to dress up as a boy lion with a mane for next years AIDS Walk. (Wild Wild Kingdom, yo!)

Gracious God, grant us the strength to stand with those who may need to hear the assurance of welcome.  Grant us the courage to choose lives boldly proclaiming your love.  Grant us the compassion to speak out for those in need.  Amen.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Merry Christmas

John 1:5: "The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it."  NRSV

So hey, y'all.... I decided to start a blog as some sort of devotional.  On Sunday, one of my pastors encouraged us that 2013 could be the year we start spending more time doing daily devotions.  Several times I have started following a daily devotional and quit by the second week (if I make it that far). This time, I decided to *write* a daily devotion, which would encourage me to (hopefully) ponder spiritual things on a regular basis. I'm hoping that writing it as a blog will make it more interesting for me to continue. Plus then I get a page on which I can share links to my friends and I in a YouTube music video. (Caveat - life is busy and such, so I don't really have an expectation I can write and share deep thoughts daily.  But I'll try to get here often).

So here's my deep thought for Christmas night...

NOTE: In tonight's post, I want to be open in sharing my depression because I think there is value when we share our common experiences, in part because we realize we are not alone.  But please know that I am safe, and well. I have a wonderful support network and am seeing a psychiatrist. Also, my sad period has passed. But if you are feeling blue or depressed, please remember you are loved, please reach out to your friends and loved ones, and if you are thinking about hurting yourself, here is a list of international suicide prevention resources.

AND now for my deep thought... for reals...

The Christmas season can be hard for people who are grieving - it seems that Santa's elves must have a magic dust that magnifies sadness over the loss of a relationship, health or job, the death of a loved one, or the reminder that our life is not going the way we expected, planned, or hoped. Nationally and in our families, the times can be scary, especially with economic uncertainty, senseless violence, and a fear of the unknown.  I've been posting on my Facebook page a few posts about my own "Christmas blues" and have appreciated the encouragements and affirmations I have received.

Depression is a liar, as Jenny Lawson reminds us so well.  For me, once it lifted on Christmas Eve, I realized that it was as if a dark cloud had settled over me, magnifying my negative feelings. One night this week, I spent some time crying. I felt alone, but kept wrestling with that feeling because I thought that I should know that God was with me.  I kept reminding myself that God was present, but it was hard to accept.

At the candlelight service for Christmas Eve, last night, I still didn't feel terribly "Christmas-y", whatever that means. But I was struck by the verse in John 1:5: "The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it."  I was in front, as the assisting minister, when we all lit our candles and sang Silent Night.  In the darkened sanctuary were over a hundred small candles, which caused a beautiful glow. (But then I wondered about how authentic I was in worship when I was worrying about details related to presents and food.)

The good news of the Christmas story is that God chose to be with us in our human experience, and all the messiness that entails, even when our mind wanders or we cause drama or keep making mistakes. God sees value in our existence, even if we don't see that value in ourselves (or in those around us). God sees the beauty of each of our candle flames.

On Christmas Eve, I was reminded that we may not see it or understand it, but we are loved.  Capital-L Loved. I don't know the answer to the question of why God allows suffering, but I know that we are not alone. One of the names for Jesus is Emmanuel, which means God With Us. Even though our vision may be obscured by the dark lies of depression or the depths of our sorrow, we are not alone. Though the night seems long, please look for the pin pricks of candlelight.  What are the small ways you see the light of love or shared humanity in the other?  Maybe these pictures will help.

For me, on Christmas Eve, I tipped my unlit candle to the lit one next to me and my candle flame joined the rest of the church in lighting up the darkened sanctuary.  I want to share that light with those around me so that one day the whole world will know just how much we are loved, how valuable and precious we are.

May we begin to know, even on our darkest nights, that God's love is here. The first candle has been lit and the flame is being shared. The light of love shines in the darkness and the darkness will not overcome it.