Thursday, December 19, 2013

My thoughts on peace

Power Ranger, Halloween 2013
[This blog post is the text of a sermon I delivered on December 11, 2013]
Luke 7:36-39, 44-50
One of the Pharisees asked Jesus to eat with him, and he went into the Pharisee’s house and took his place at the table. And a woman in the city, who was a sinner, having learned that he was eating in the Pharisee’s house, brought an alabaster jar of ointment. She stood behind him at his feet, weeping, and began to bathe his feet with her tears and to dry them with her hair. Then she continued kissing his feet and anointing them with the ointment.Now when the Pharisee who had invited him saw it, he said to himself, ‘If this man were a prophet, he would have known who and what kind of woman this is who is touching him—that she is a sinner.’ … turning towards the woman, Jesus said to Simon, ‘Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave me no water for my feet, but she has bathed my feet with her tears and dried them with her hair. You gave me no kiss, but from the time I came in she has not stopped kissing my feet. You did not anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with ointment. Therefore, I tell you, her sins, which were many, have been forgiven; hence she has shown great love. But the one to whom little is forgiven, loves little.’  Then he said to her, ‘Your sins are forgiven.’ But those who were at the table with him began to say among themselves, ‘Who is this who even forgives sins?’ And he said to the woman, ‘Your faith has saved you; go in peace.’
In our reading tonight, Jesus and a Pharisee, a religious insider, are eating dinner and this “sinner” interrupts. She has not kept God’s law in some unknown way and she is not “our kind of people” – according to Simon, the Pharisee.  He says to himself, “‘If Jesus were a prophet, he would have known who and what kind of woman this is who is touching him—that she is a sinner.’” Oh – the disdain!

He saw her, deemed her unworthy, and was blind to the hospitality she showed Jesus (that the he himself had failed to offer).  Instead, the Pharisee drew two neat little boxes and put himself in one – the good guy – and put her over here as “the “other”.  We too reveal our oh-so-human self-absorption, and get in the way of building peace, by creating divisions like the Pharisee: “There’s me, who is worthy – and there are the others”.

Sometimes, when we have commonalities – we come from the same family, the same town or same religion, we draw a little bigger box around our own – the “like us” box but then we still set up a little hierarchy, with “me”, “us” and “the others”

You see this in the media, our cities and our families. Red states vs. blue states. Liberal vs. conservative. We’re Lutherans, they’re not. We recycle, they drive a gas guzzler. Even ducks and beavers are opposed.

We know this, but we still fall into our habits of seeing the world in terms of “us” and “them”.

Keeping all of this in mind, I would like to connect this passage in Luke to my own story.

This year I realized that I am transgender. I am willing to answer any questions you may have, but the short explanations is that even though I was born female, I now identify as more male. I’m one of the guys.

Part of this journey has really taught me first hand how we try to put people in boxes to label, understand, and sometimes judge them.

Very briefly, let me explain three concepts used to understand gender identity.  For each one, they were previously thought of in terms of two opposites, instead of a spectrum as we now see them.

There is the continuum of biological sex (our chromosones, hormones, etc), which goes from male on the one side to female on the other.

Next, there is gender identity – the interior understanding of one’s gender – which goes in varying degrees from man to woman.

Thirdly, there is gender expression – the outward appearance and roles by which you show your gender, and we each fall somewhere on the line between masculine and feminine.

This last one, gender expression, is where we can sometimes most easily see ourselves in a continuum rather than polar opposites. Maybe you are a woman, but you don’t like to wear dresses, which our culture may define as feminine.  Maybe you are a man, but don’t like sports, which culture may define as masculine. Maybe you are a woman who likes to work on cars, or a man who likes to cook. Gender expression is very heavily culturally defined by what is expected, typical or considered appropriate.

One place we see a strong enforcement of gender expression is in children’s toys – with the pink toy aisle and the blue toy aisle. There are other places we can see strong cultural messages for appropriate gender activities. Examining these can show us where we build barriers and turned people into “the other”.

First there is the question, “are you one of us,” in settings where people are excluded based on gender. Another question is “are you fitting into my expectation of how men or women should act?”  Like the Pharisee, we may say “sinner” if someone does not follow our own rules, if they are not “like us”. We may judge, insult, or even hurt the other, enforcing cultural expectations of gender. We see bullying and intimidation against those who are different, and this is one of the ways the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender communities are alienated or harassed.

At one level, you may hear statements such as “boys don’t cry” or “oh – a woman driver.”  For me, I get funny looks and hear comments about my clothes or hair that make me uncomfortable while in the women’s restroom. My friends have been the victims of gay bashing, most recently this Halloween. As the gender expression enforcement becomes extreme, people are beaten up or murdered for defying expected gender norms.

So connecting this with our bible passage tonight and the theme of peace – am I trying to say that I, as transgender, put myself in the position of the outsider, of the sinner, who in our story receives forgiveness and accolades from Jesus?  Oh, that would be so easy.

No, I have to admit it. I am the Pharisee. And I can give you a vivid example.  A friend has stopped speaking to me since I came out as trans. They have shared with others that they are embarrassed and offended by my public displays of male identity.

And I judge them.  I mean, they are closed minded and I am the righteous one being discriminated against, right?  Right?

The tricky thing about this is that every one of us is the Pharisee at some time or another and has drawn lines in our lives where we are “right” and “righteous” and the other is a “sinner”. Where does each of us do this in our own lives?

So I am the Pharisee, and you may be too. But all is not lost! Look what Jesus does. He dines with the Pharisee and the sinners. He accepts the hospitality of each. He points out to us the gift of connection that we miss when we create these divisions.

Jesus models servanthood, reconciliation and restoration within our communities and across borders. Jesus loves us each one of us and calls us to do the same.

I still have work to do to break down the boxes and barriers that I build up between myself and various categories of “those other people,” so that I can truly be a peace maker. Thankfully, like he did for the sinner at his feet, Jesus also forgives our sins and helps us begin each day anew.

This advent, let’s reflect on where we set up walls of separation for us vs them and see with new eyes those to whom we can offer more hospitality, more grace, and more love.

May God give us strength and patience in this discipline, and may peace abound in our families, in our communities, and in our world.

Amen. 

Saturday, October 5, 2013

An Odd Duck


AIDS Walk Portland 2013
Psalm 27:1 "The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear?  The Lord is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?"
This week has been another of those hermit times for me. Questioning my gender identity is not easy. It is not always fun to be outside the norm, to be different than people's expectations and hopes for you. It still stings a little when I remember being called an "odd duck" some years ago. Sometimes, especially when I have more questions than answers, I prefer to stay home and spend time thinking and resting, and retreating into TV cop shows and action movies. My therapist gives me explicit permission for these breaks, and they are both needed and helpful.

In my hermit times, I mostly hang out in my bedroom, which is a comfy oasis. I switched bedrooms a week ago when two of my best friends moved in with me, and my new room now faces east. Today, I awoke to sun streaming into my bedroom. The coming rains in Portland make sunshine precious, and it felt like a gift to wake up to the light this morning.

The sunshine reminded me of a song I love, from the Holden Evening Prayer by Marty Haugen.  In the procession, there is a line about Jesus that says "Let your light scatter the darkness, and shine within your people here."

I do believe that the light of love, the light of God, can scatter the darkness in our hearts and in the world. When I remember this, I feel braver about heading out into the world as my own unique, non-conforming self. I look to the light and to God to give me courage and strength so I can go out there and be an advocate and an activist. I want to be the one dressed up in a lion costume holding up signs at AIDS Walk (as pictured above), and not the one hiding in my room.

Even though sometimes I need a hermit break, I am very grateful for the love and support I have in my friends, in my church, and in my facebook community. I do not take this for granted. For many people, coming out or living authentically results in being disowned, kicked out, beaten up... The world is a pretty amazing place, but it is also a place of violence, hatred, negativity, poverty, and destruction.

If you are living in a dark spot, may sunshine and love find their way into your life.  If you are living in the light, may you find a way to share that with others.  Let's spread love and strength and courage today.  Let's shine with love, hospitality, and acceptance so that everyone can live with confidence and joy.
God of light - you are my rock and my salvation. Give me the strength to be the odd duck you created me to be. Help me to share the light of love with others. Be with all who suffer in mind, body, or spirit, and remind them that they are not alone. Thanks, and Amen.

Friday, September 13, 2013

The Gift of Not Knowing

Bat n' Rouge Portland
Photo credit: Marty Davis
Matthew 28:20b "[Jesus said,] 'And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.'"
As many of you saw in my previous blog post, I shared that I identify as transgender, as more male than female, and that I go by either Laura or Leo.  I am so incredibly grateful for the messages of support, love and encouragement I received.  Words cannot fully express how much this has meant to me. Thank you.

Life is an interesting journey, and we never really have a full picture of where we should go or the decisions we should make. We do our best to hear wisdom in our own hearts and the words of our friends, to listen for the voice of God. But sometimes life is just a muddle. Maybe we don't know who we are or what to do with our lives. Maybe we feel lost.

I am in the middle of a journey of discovering who I am and how I can live most fully and true to myself. But I don't have all the answers. I don't know if I prefer to be called "Laura" or "Leo" - I like them both.  I don't know yet if I will do more than cut my hair and wear men's clothes. But that's ok. I don't have to know right now. It can be stressful to be in an in-between place, but I'm working on resting in ambiguity, on letting answers unfold in their own time. I don't want to rush, and I don't want to drag my feet. Surprisingly, I'm feeling pretty peaceful (most of the time) about this place of unknowing.

Life is not about knowing all the answers, or about finding out the end of the movie before it begins. I want to view life as an adventure! Thankfully this is not something we have to do alone. Many of you have expressed your willingness to come along on this adventure with me, even when it is mysterious or scary, and I do not take that for granted. I hope I am willing to go beside you in your adventure too.

And because this is a devotional blog at heart, I want to add that God is also always with us in this. No matter how dark or confusing life may seem, you are never alone. Sometimes that's hard to remember - I had it tattooed on my arm so I wouldn't forget. I am working on being ok with not knowing how things will turn out; I am working on trusting that God is always with me on this journey, no matter what.
God of mystery, Sometimes we just want life to be simple, but this world is so complex! Give us strength and courage when we are in stressful or in-between places, or when we are just plain frustrated by not knowing what to do next. Remind us that we are never alone, and give us the motivation and passion to be there for others. Thanks for being with us always. Amen.



PS - Speaking of life as an adventure, I added links to a few more of the YouTube videos by Andrew Shayde of the adventures of our friends.

Monday, September 9, 2013

Finding Leo


Killer croquet. Photo by Andrew Shayde
Romans 8:38-39: “For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord”

I have only posted a few times on this blog since the end of March and there is a very particular reason for this. I felt that I could not write publicly about what was really on my mind.

At the end of March, I had the startling, frightening, and liberating realization that I just might be transgender.  That was the beginning of a journey of questioning that has brought me to this place now – where I want to share more publicly about who I am.

I now identify as transgender: more male than female, one of the guys, in my men’s clothes and men’s haircut. Over the years, there were several clues I gave myself before my moment of realization, even the title of this blog.

Please feel free to ask me any question that you like. I can’t speak for the whole transgender community, just as I can’t speak for all Lutherans or all Oregonians. I’m on a journey where I am still figuring out who I am, so there is a lot I am learning too. But I don’t want to do so in private any more.

You can call me either Laura or Leo, the name I picked for myself.  I like both and am fine with either male or female pronouns (he/him or she/her). At this point, I appreciate the fluidity of having either option, so you don’t have to apologize if you say Laura or her, and you don't need to feel compelled to use Leo.

I am still attracted to men.  Gender identity and sexual orientation are different, so I can have a gender identity of male and still be attracted to men.  Here is an FAQ on transgender: http://www.hrc.org/resources/entry/transgender-faq

Here are a few of the reasons that I want to come out publicly as transgender:

1)      I want to be seen as who I am and feel that I can be authentic. I want to be myself in public as well as with my closest friends. I just want to be me.
2)      I am grateful for the LGBT people who are out and role models for the rest of us, giving us hope, and I want to be the same.
3)      I want to be able to blog and post more freely, without worrying that I will out myself.

I don’t know why I am transgender or why I didn't realize this sooner.  I know some people know from a young age, but that is not my story.  But I do believe that God is with me in this process and that nothing can separate us from the love of God, as I have tattooed on my arm.

I am so grateful for the words of support and encouragement I received from those I have already shared this with.  I am especially grateful for my friends whose love and humor ground me in this tumultuous and exciting journey.

It may be foolish to come out publicly right now, but I choose strength and bravery over being timid.  I am who I am – a child of God, a friend, an activist, an advocate, a goofball, and me – still me.


Thank you for listening.  Many blessings to you and yours.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Where Jesus Is

Defeat of DOMA Rally
Photo credit: PQ Monthly
Amos 5:24 "But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.."
Today we celebrated the end of the Defense of Marriage Act and the return of marriage equality to California. Woohoo!

It is awesome news, though there is still much to be done. Here in Oregon, we are gearing up for the ballot initiative to bring the freedom to marry to all Oregonians in November; 2014. For my part, I will be volunteering with faith communities to discuss why this is important.

Why does the freedom to marry matter to me?

It may go without saying that I am committed to work for the freedom to marry for all because it impacts my friends in very real way. My friends mean the world to me and I will advocate for them and not back down. But I also put energy, money, time into this effort because this is where Jesus is.

Let me explain where I'm coming from...

My graduate thesis in theology looked at Jesus in the gospel of Luke to try to understand who God is. At the time, in 2009, I was dealing with grief from a variety of losses, including the death of my niece, as well as a crisis of faith. I phrased the question as "Is God trustworthy?" and after research and contemplation (and time), my answer was "Yes."

My conclusion? God is wildly in love with humanity. God is always reaching out and drawing us into relationship with God and with one another. The bible is full of stories of love, hospitality, healing, and the restoration of community. This is how I want to live my life as well.

My understanding of who God is grounds my belief that the work for marriage equality is biblical work. It is a faithful response to God's love and grace. The freedom to marry is about healing and community. It supports love, commitment, family, and fairness. (I'm sure I'll be saying more about this as we get closer to November, 2014.)

With the prophet Amos, I long for an end to inequity and injustice. I join this prayer, and the prayers of many who yearn for marriage equality: "But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream."

Will you join me in this work?

God of love, thank you for the actions by the Supreme Court today. Give strength to those who deal with bullying, exclusion, harassment, violence, and discrimination  Bring reconciliation to those who have been torn apart by differences of opinion. Bring restoration to families who have suffered due to unjust laws. Bring justice and peace to all the world, so that all of us may live as equals.  Thanks, and amen.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

I Need to Remember

Nothing can separate us

Romans 8:38-9: "For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord."

First off, I realize that I haven't blogged since March 29th.  These last two months I feel like I've lost my blogger voice.  I'm not sure I have quite regained it, but hang in there... I'll be back.

But tonight I do want to share my new tattoo fresh from this morning.  It reads, "Nothing can separate us," a reference to Romans 8:38-9 (above).  I needed this written on me so that I would remember:
No matter what the world says...
No matter what anxiety or insecurity say...
No matter the lies that depression tells us....
Nothing can separate us from the love of God.  Nothing.
I like the use of the word "us".  When I look at this on my arm, I can imagine it is a reminder written to me from God, and that us means "me and God".  God wrote me a nice love note on my arm: "Don't forget, nothing will make me stop loving you."

But it also means "us" - as in you and me. Us.  

We are in this together, even though there is plenty that will try to rip apart any community: pride, jealousy, insecurity, trust issues, power issues, fear, etc...and we should do our best to try to build each other up, and not tear each other down.

Because nothing can separate us from the love of God. Not just me.  Not just you. And really, not even just us, but all.  Because there is no "them" in the family of God. There are no insiders and outsiders. That is good news for us, because it means we are not outsiders. It is good news for all of us, because we all belong.

God wrote us a love note:  "Don't forget, nothing will make me stop loving y'all."  (I'm sure sometimes God says "y'all.")

We don't have to be:
cool enough...
smart enough...
rich enough....
beautiful or handsome enough...
thin enough...
__________ enough....


We don't have to meet cultural expectations of how we should look, act or think.

We don't have to be perfect.

We don't have to have our !#% together.

Nothing can separate us from the love of God.  Nothing.

Thank God!

and thanks, God.

Friday, March 29, 2013

A Promise of Paradise - My Good Friday Meditation

Lincoln City 2013

Luke 23:39-43: "One of the criminals who were hanged there kept deriding him and saying, ‘Are you not the Messiah? Save yourself and us!’ But the other rebuked him, saying, ‘Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed have been condemned justly, for we are getting what we deserve for our deeds, but this man has done nothing wrong.’ Then he said, ‘Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.’ He replied, ‘Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise.’"
Two condemned criminals are dying alongside Jesus. Sometimes, in our own suffering, we are like the cruel criminal, mocking others, striking out in our pain. Sometimes we are the one who yearns for God, praying for a way out of our darkness.

In the midst of their punishment, one of them recognizes Jesus. “Jesus,” he says. He speaks his name with familiarity, with intimacy. Not “teacher”, or “Rabbi” or “my Lord”, but “Jesus.”

And he makes a request. He takes a chance. “Remember me when you come into your kingdom.”

The criminal knows he is not perfect, far from it.  He believes he deserves crucifixion. But he is bold and asks for a place in the kingdom.

What does he imagine that Jesus can do? This criminal had great hope. Jesus on the cross does not look like the triumphant leader expected in the Palm Sunday procession. The people mocked Jesus as the Messiah, but the criminal believed.

In the midst of his agony, this wrongdoer speaks to Jesus with boldness, with faith, and with hope.

And Jesus responds the promise of paradise: a promise of redemption, forgiveness, restoration, relationship with God.

We carry our own burdens of suffering and guilt. We long for connection, reassurance, and release. We may hurt others in our own turmoil. But we may dare to believe God offers us a new beginning, even in our pain and loss; that God is with us in our suffering.

May we be bold in our hope, take a chance on God, and ask Jesus to remember us. God says yes. The criminal called Jesus by name, and God calls us by name with compassion and mercy.

God says yes and pulls us into a closer relationship, a loving connection from which nothing can separate us, not even death. This is the promise to the criminal on the cross, and the promise to us today.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Rally in Red

Rally for Marriage Equality, Portland, 3/27/2013
1 John 4:7-8  "Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love."

I thank God regularly for June 10, 2012. On that day, I went to a barbecue in Portland. I didn't know anyone there when I walked in the door... but I was met with hospitality and humor... I gained friendships that will last forever... I was embraced with love.

Before that fateful barbecue, I definitely believed in marriage equality and justice for the LGBT community. But since that day, I have been so incredibly blessed by new friends and connections in the Portland gay community. You are my family. You have laughed and danced with me. You love and support me, even in my depression and anxiety. You show me beauty, faith and compassion. My life is so rich and full of joy for knowing you. I thank God for you (often!).

I went to the courthouse today in Portland with a sign that said "Another Christian for Marriage Equality."  I rallied with friends and strangers. I held up my sign and yelled "woohoo!" as cars drove by honking and waving in support. (I thought I was going to lose my voice!)

I stood up today because there are over 1000 federal rights that my friends have been denied because they love someone of the same gender. The same people who have shown me so much friendship, and in whose relationships I see such deep caring and love, are being denied basic rights that many of us take for granted.

I identified myself as a Christian on my sign because my religion has been used as an excuse to deny these rights, and I want to scream "No more!"  As I also mention in my Open Letter Regarding the Traditional Prom, I do not believe the bible justifies making lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people into second-class citizens or calling them sinners.

In the bible verse above, we are admonished to love one another, and reminded that God is love. When I look at my friends, I see love. I see love for their partners, love for their family and friends, love for this community of Portland. To deny the validity of this love is short-sighted and cruel. To stand up for marriage equality is the Christian thing to do. Jesus would have joined us in front of the courthouse. God calls our LGBT sisters and brothers beloved.

I rallied in red today because my heart and my life have been deeply touched and I cannot stand by and be silent any more. 

Will you join me?

God of love, thank you for the love that is abundant in our friendships and relationships. Guide us with wisdom and grace as we work for justice. Keep us mindful that your love extends to all, even those who don't agree with us.  Hold us all in your caring embrace. Thanks. and Amen.

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Drawn Into Relationship - Week 2

Holden Village, 2010. View from a Hike
Luke 22:24-27 "A dispute also arose among them as to which one of them was to be regarded as the greatest. But he said to them, 'The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those in authority over them are called benefactors. But not so with you; rather the greatest among you must become like the youngest, and the leader like one who serves. For who is greater, the one who is at the table or the one who serves? But I am among you as one who serves.'"
A quick synopsis of last week's class on my thesis....

Jesus shows us again that God turns our expectations upside down - our expectations of who is the greatest and what the kingdom of God looks like. By arguing about who is most awesome, the disciples are clearly missing the point... again. Jesus had just described his body broken and blood poured out in a gift of self-sacrifice, yet the disciples value the one who is “regarded as the greatest.” 

The image of a servant leader would have been striking at the table, where Jesus had literally served them bread and wine. The dining area is a place where hierarchy and status were strongly enforced at the time. To get more insight on the impact of Jesus' words, we look to Luke 14:1-24. There Jesus is also at a table, telling a parable about the kingdom of God. The story is about a wealthy man who is going to throw a great banquet to impress people who could reciprocate with favors and banquets (14:16) (See Willi Braun's analysis). His friends snub him for financial and economic reasons, so he invites two groups of social outcasts instead. The tale ends with the host renouncing his former social connections as he shares the dining table with the outcast (14:24). This is not paternalistic benevolence, but joining a new community - a conversion.

Our culture needs encouragement to reject the social pressure to seek status and wealth and choose the alternative way of inclusion and justice. Jesus calls us to this new way. In these verses, we also see a God who chooses to be with those who are not powerful. God does not participate in the hierarchies we create to demonstrate our faulty view of human worth. (That also means that our worth doesn't come from whether we succeed in these hierarchies!)

In Luke 22:24-27, Jesus announces that he works contrary to our expectations of greatness. We may look for God to come in power to overthrow systems that oppress and establish an earthly kingdom in which we, perhaps, may have a seat of honor. We make gods out of that which we idolize: money, religion, beauty, fame… and sanction them with the blessing or name of God. Yet God is not these idols. Jesus came as one who serves. God is at work through service for the kingdom of God, for the freedom of humanity from idolatry, poverty and exclusion.

God of service, It is so easy to want to be the best, and to want to climb the ladders of success in this world. Help us not forget those who are on the outside. Convert our hearts so all may dine together at your table. Remind us that we are precious to you, no matter what the world says.  Thanks, and Amen.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Lying Liars

Pumpkin carving party 2012
Isaiah 41:10 "Do not fear, for I am with you, do not be afraid for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my victorious right hand."

I woke up at 3:41 this morning with my heart pounding. I'd had a strange dream, though it wasn't exactly a nightmare. For some reason, though, I woke up freaked out. This happens to me sometimes. One of the demons I wrestle is anxiety. In the night, imagination fills in the shadows of the room, and of our worries. Just as the lamp can look like a looming monster, a normal thought in the day can grow to a giant concern in the nighttime of our fears.

One of the phrases I stumbled across in another blog was "Depression is a liar". I found this on Jenny Lawson's humorous blog, theblogess.com, and you can read more on this idea here, here and here.

Depression is a liar. Anxiety is a liar. Fear is a liar. Insecurity is a liar. They fill in the shadows of the room and amplify our worries. They make our weaknesses seem monumental and obscure our strengths so we forget them. They isolate us so we feel alone and our problems become overwhelming. We may even intentionally isolate ourselves because of these feelings. If we could flip on the light and see the truth!

If you are struggling with depression or anxiety, fear or insecurity.... these beasts are lying liars.  Please don't believe them! Yell at them if you need to, and show them the truth...

You are worthy... faults and fears and depression and all!
You are capable.... even if you're not perfect (none of us are!).
You are strong... you have strengths and gifts you may not even realize!
You are important.... you are needed!
You are loved.... as you are... no matter what.... even if you are struggling!

I love the picture that my friend Chadwick took of us at his pumpkin carving party (above). We both are striking a pose of attitude, and I'm looking at the camera with a look of "I'm not believing your bullshit." This is the look I want to take with those lying liars of depression, anxiety, fear and insecurity. Don't give me your bullshit. I am not going to let these lies derail my plans, my sense of worth, my hopes or my dreams.

At 3:50 this morning, I turned on the TV, which can be a nightlight for me. But then I turned it off again right away. Somehow, even though my heart was pounding in my chest, I knew that I was being lied to. I am going to be ok. The worries that seemed so unbearable are going to be ok.  I thank God for helping me find the truth in that moment of shadowy lie. That doesn't always happen, but last night it did, and I fell asleep again to wake up rested this morning.

If you are struggling with depression or anxiety, if you are afraid or insecure, don't let those beasts convince you that you are anything less than an amazing creation.You have been uniquely made and you are needed in this world. Last night I was able to go back to sleep without the TV, but sometimes we need help. If you need help, please reach out to your support network, find someone to talk to, and remember you are not alone in this. You are loved. You are needed.  

God of the day and of the night. Sometimes we feel so heavy with the weight of our worries or our depression. Lift that weight so that we may see the truth of your love for us, and that we are worthy and needed. Walk with us through the hard times. Help us to reach out to others. Strengthen us. Hold us. Remind us that we are loved, no matter what. Thanks, and Amen.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Drawn Into Relationship - Week 1


A path through the woods.... I cannot see where it will lead.
Holden Village, 2010
Psalm 10:1 "Why, O Lord, do you stand far off? Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble?"

On Sunday, February 10th, I led the first class at my church in a six-week series on the topic of my thesis. For those who could not attend but are interested in what we talked about... here you are!

We started by discussing the importance of the question "Who is God?" (also see my blog post here). This is an important question to consider; it impacts how we see and treat others, and ourselves. When I ask you to picture God, what words come to mind?

I wrote my thesis at a period in which I was having a crisis of faith. I could not understand how God could allow suffering, though I'm definitely not the first to ask this. My lament is an echo of the verse above from the psalms. Theodicy is a term that describes trying to reconcile an understanding of an all-present, all-knowing, all-loving God with the presence of suffering. It is a heavy question with no good or easy answer. Because of my doubts and frustration, I wanted to walk away from the church and my faith, but I was drawn back. This is why I titled my thesis "Drawn into Relationship."

After a year's leave of absence I returned to my studies. I was inspired to wrestle through my doubts by several theologians who went before me (some of their books are listed here).

Jewish writer Elie Wiesel and Lutheran pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer experienced the holocaust in very personal ways. Both were sent to concentration camps, and Bonhoeffer was hung at Flossenb├╝rg in 1945. For them, God is present, even in the midst of the horrors. God is with those who suffered and died, even though God didn't rush in triumphantly to "save the day." Bonhoeffer's theology can be described by the category of "political theology". (Just as there are different genres of literature, or areas of science, so it is with theology).

Liberation theology was sparked by political theology and the civil rights movements of the 60s. Liberation theology emerged in the catholic church in 1971 in Latin America out of the atrocities and extreme poverty present there. People of faith struggled with the question of "Where is God" in the midst of oppression, violence and suffering. The answer was "on the side of the poor." God's preferential option for the poor was traced throughout scripture and the numerous references towards giving to the poor, caring for the orphan and widow, etc. Jon Sobrino is one of the theologians I studied. He is a Jesuit working out of El Salvador. I can relate to his emphasis on orthopraxis (doing the right thing, caring for others, working for the kingdom of God) vs. orthodoxy (believing the correct doctrine). God doesn't rush in to save the day and end poverty and oppression; that is our job.

Black theology emerged in the United States as a means of answering the question of "Where is God" in the midst of the experience of African-Americans. James H. Cone is an influential theologian who argued that God is with those in exile, with those who suffer, and will never abandon them. Using the biblical story of the exodus as a starting point, Cone (like Sobrino) looked at the question of God from the point of view of cultural context. How does being black in the United States, or being poor in El Salvador impact how one sees God? Where we are in life, our experiences, whether we are subject to oppressive systems, all impact our understanding of God and our role in the world.

Me? I am a straight white female with a graduate degree and a decent job. I cannot theologize from the point of view of the Peruvian farmer or the African-American inner-city youth. I cannot claim to have the same experience of church as my LGBT friends. Cone warns me not to identify too closely with those who are oppressed, for then we miss seeing our own privilege and responsibility to act. However, I can talk about God from the perspective of a woman who struggles with depression and anxiety, who tries to manage my doubts and is frustrated by injustice.

Informed by theologians such as Bonhoeffer, Sobrino and Cone, and from my own context, and yours, the trajectory of class for the next five weeks will be to look at the passion of Jesus (events leading to his death and resurrection) in the gospel of Luke. We will be trying to see what the Bible tells us about who God is in the midst of our own context, be it from a point of crisis or calm.

I chose to focus on the gospel of Luke because it is my favorite. I love the themes of hospitality, restoration, and wholeness. I enjoy the story of the promises of God starting with Israel, finding fulfillment in Jesus, and going out to the ends of the earth. I love the emphasis on Jesus reaching out to the lost and the least. Do you have a favorite gospel?

To get us warmed up in looking at what the Bible can tell us about who God is, we looked at two passages in Luke: the Magnificat in Luke 1:46-55 and the reading from the scroll in the temple in Luke 4:16-30. Do these verses speak to you? What do you hear in them? Do you have a favorite verse that helps you understand who God is?

God of us all, We do not and cannot know who you are fully. There is so much we may not understand about the world, especially the presence of suffering. Stick with us in our questions. Hear us when we shout our angry frustrations at you. Draw us back into relationship with you, if that is what we seek. Help us to stand with those who are oppressed and work for justice, even if we don't all believe the same thing. Remind us that you love us all, no matter what. Thanks, and Amen.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Know What?

Valentine's Day 2013 at the petition signing party
for the Freedom to Marry campaign
Psalm 46:10 "Be still, and know that I am God! I am exalted among the nations, I am exalted in the earth."

My degree is in Systematic Theology. This is a fancy name for a field of study that asks questions like "who is God," "what is humanity," "what is sin", etc, etc.  It serves me very well in my software support career.  ahem.... However, it will serve me at church during the next six weeks in Lent.  Tomorrow morning I am going to start a 6-week series of Adult Ed classes at my church on the question of "who is God."

But is that a question we can answer? Psalm 46 tells us to "Be still, and know that I am God!" But who is God?  If we pay attention to some voices in the media, God is angry and judgmental, causing earthquakes and hurricanes because of our wayward behavior. These comments are exactly why this is an important question to discuss. The picture of a God who punishes is not the only understanding of who God is. It is important to discuss, because how we understand God governs our choices in how we treat ourselves and others. Not all Christians believe in a God who may punish you for not being holy.  And not all Christians believe in a God opposed to gay marriage.

This year, for Valentine's Day, I went to two different events to help kick off the Freedom to Marry campaign for Oregon: Oregon United for Marriage. We signed a petition to get a ballot measure on the 2014 ballot in Oregon to remove the constitutional ban on same-sex marriage and allow same-sex couples to marry.  It was a beautiful and exciting day, and long overdue. 

The first event I went to was a gathering of clergy and other faith leaders voicing their support for the measure. Several speakers shared the feeling of wanting to break the myth that people of faith are opposed to gay marriage. The truth is, that many, many people who believe in God also support the freedom of LGBT people to marry.  (My Lutheran bishop was one who signed the petition, and his letter regarding his support is here.)

How can this be?

As a person of faith who has studied scripture and theology (heck, I got a degree in it!), my own conclusion is that God is loving, inclusive, and compassionate. (See my post here about how I believe the bible does not support homophobia or anti-gay behavior).  I see scriptural support for a God who is on the side of the outsider, the orphan, the poor. The Bible is full of stories where God cares for those who have been left out, excluded, judged and condemned.

How I view God impacts how I act towards others. Because God's loves reaches beyond the boundaries, I want my love to as well.  Because God works for justice and wholeness in society, I want to as well. God calls us to step outside our comfort zone and care for others.

Because I want to work for justice and wholeness in society, I will be working on the Oregon United for Marriage campaign.  My understanding of who God is compels me to work for equal rights and to support loving relationships. What does your understanding of God lead you towards?

"Be still and know that I am God" is a call to pause and reflect on God's nature.  It is followed up in the new testament with stories such as the one of the man who crossed to the other side of the road to help someone in need. Jesus commanded us to "Go and do likewise." (Luke 10:37, the story of the Good Samaritan). I will be spending the season of Lent trying to be both in the place of being still to know God and of crossing the road to help those in need. I invite you to join me as I reflect on this.

God of love, Many of us have felt like outsiders, but not all of us are treated equally. Help us to work for justice for all, so that all couples may have the right to marry, all children may have the right to a good education, all people may have a safe place to live, healthy food to eat, and access to health care. Open our eyes to the needs of our neighbors so we may respond with love and compassion. Thank you for loving us with a love that extends beyond our comprehension, and beyond our desire to define and control it.  Thanks, and Amen.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Happy Valentine's Day!

New Year's Eve hug with my friend Tim
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."

Well, friends, it is Valentine's Day, and I would like to write you a love letter. In his Ash Wednesday sermon, my pastor shared one Lenten discipline of "set[ting] aside a regular time each day to express gratitude to God for five blessings." I like that idea and will modify that for my letter here.

Dear beloved friends,

You are a blessing to me and I am grateful for you. All of you - from all parts of my life.

You are unique and wonderful. Every one of you is a gift to the world with your different talents, insights and passions.

You make me laugh. Sometimes you make me laugh hysterically and I can't even speak. This is my favorite abs workout.

You have been there for me - with your encouragement, your acceptance, your hugs, and your killer dance moves.

You inspire me. You make me want to ride my bike faster, work harder, and live more fully. You inspire me to change the world to make it a better place.

You are generous - with your love, your smiles, and your dedication to a variety of causes and charities.

Thank you for being my friend. Thank you for being you. You are loved.

Happy Valentine's Day,

Love,
Laura

God of love, Watch over my friends and all the world. Help all of us to know we are loved with your extravagant and reckless love. Inspire us to share our love with each other. Thanks, and Amen.





Tuesday, February 12, 2013

An Open Letter Regarding the "Traditional Prom"

Posing with my mom at a Superbowl party, 2013
The news story about Sullivan First Christian Church makes me angry and I have to speak out.
Romans 15:7: “Welcome one another therefore, just as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God.”

[for readers, please see Dan Savage's blog about the church in Sullivan, Indiana to get some background and commentary on this church's plans to throw a "traditional prom," banning non-straight students.  I emailed this letter on 2/12/13 to the senior minister of this church, Dale Wise.]

Dear Sullivan First Christian Church,

I see in the news your plans to have a "traditional prom" in order to keep out gay and lesbian students. As a Christian, and a straight ally, I find your actions offensive. You claim to be following God's word, but I find you to be doing the complete opposite. 

1) Though I disagree with the interpretation of the very few biblical texts (6-7) used against homosexuality, there are two points that I would make about them:
     a) none of them were spoken by Jesus
     b) these very few verses are subject to interpretation, which is not the case for so many of the mandates from the Bible about loving others, not judging, reaching out to welcome the stranger, working for justice and providing for the poor. Verse after verse in the Bible admonishes us to act in love, which I do not see in your actions.

2) High school is hard. The national news is full of stories of bullying and suicide. Why are you deliberately working to set people as outsiders, especially in the really difficult teen years?  (PS - did you catch the parts of the gospel where Jesus repeatedly reached out to the people who were made outsiders by self-righteous religious leaders?)

I am sad for you. You are missing out on amazing friendships. You are putting into the margins and into the closet people that God made as incredible individuals. You are blind to the beautiful diversity of humanity.  

Did you ever notice how many beautiful things God made in this world?  There are not just two kinds of flowers, or two places to view a sunrise. God made nature to be abundant with variety and color and beauty.  It is this case for humanity as well.  God made humans as marvelous and unique creations. You are missing out on this beauty and wonder. God calls us to abundant life, and you are closing your eyes to this.

Paul asks us to welcome one another as Christ welcomed us.  Jesus went out of his way to reach out to those who were excluded. So I know Jesus is with those who have been left out of your prom. I'm standing with Jesus, and I'm standing with the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender students of Sullivan who have been the recipients of your bigotry.

Sincerely,
Laura Bancroft




Sunday, February 3, 2013

I had forgotten...

Dressed up for a cold but sunny training ride for Ride4CAP
Jeremiah 1:5-8 "'Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you to a prophet for the nations.'  Then I said, 'Ah, Lord God! Truly I don't know how to speak, for I am only a boy.' But the Lord said to me, 'Do not say, 'I am only a boy'; for you shall go to all to whom I send you, and you shall speak whatever I command you. Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you to deliver you, says the Lord.'"

Yesterday I went on the first cycling training ride of the season for my Ride4CAP to raise funds for the Cascade AIDS Project. With shining sun and clear blue sky, it was lovely to go out and ride with my team. A nice, casual 20-mile ride with delicious lunch... it was probably the best way to start out the training season.

But I had forgotten. I had forgotten about the beast that is the anxiety that can sneak up on me. I can't tell you exactly why, but on this casual, fantastic, easy ride, I fought a buzz of constantly present anxiety.  You would think that after having ridden multiple hours and miles, showing up to do long rides both with my team and on my own, that I would be calm and at ease on my bicycle. I wish.

Yesterday reminded me that riding my bike pushes me out of my comfort zone and can make me afraid. But I can't give up. It is too important for me to ride my bike to eliminate stigma and raise money for services to provide hope and healing for those affected by HIV. I believe this is one of the tasks to which I have been called. Like the prophet Jeremiah, in the verses above, I have excuses why it is easier not to do this work: it is scary, I might fall, I have to ask for money, people might get tired of me, etc, etc, etc.  But God knows our fear and our reluctance to do the work to which God has called us. In these verses, there is a promise to Jeremiah that God will be there to help, and that we don't have to do this alone.

We all have particular gifts and challenges. I believe each one of us has a unique way we are meant to make the world a better place. In the same way that Jeremiah was appointed a prophet, I am called to fight for an end of AIDS, and you are called to.[...]. It may be scary or difficult to contemplate these tasks, but we are not alone. This was true for me on Saturday when my amazing training ride leader motivated me to get out there, and my friend's excitement for the ride was contagious.  It is worth fighting through the excuses not to let fear win.  It is worth the effort to lend a hand for our neighbor.

God formed you in the womb to be the wonderful, unique, human being that you are today.  You are gifted, and you can make a difference in the world in your own marvelous way.  Let's support one another as we face the obstacles that prevent us from saying yes to the work that God needs us to do. Let's support one another as we deal with the problems in our lives that make us feel broken.

Gracious God, we may be trying to figure out what to do with our life, or we may be afraid of saying yes to the challenging work ahead. Help us to trust that you will be with us always, even when we mess up, or make excuses, or are scared. Remind us that you will never abandon us, and that each one of us can be a positive presence in the lives of those around us. And always remind us that you love all of us, no matter what, no exceptions. Thanks, and Amen.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Only kinda...

glitter-izing my bra for AIDS Walk 2012 to cover my top lady-bits

1 Corinthians 12:12, 26 "For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. ... If one member suffers, all suffer together with it; if one member is honored, all rejoice together with it."

The title of my blog is "One of the boys... kinda".  But tonight's post is called "Only kinda" because it is inauthentic of me to claim to be fully "one of the boys".  This goes beyond pointing out that I have lady bits and I'm straight. One difference is that I live as a person of privilege in the church. My journey has been rocky at times, I walked away from becoming a pastor and I almost quit going to church at all, but it is still a safe place for me. Not only is it a safe place, it is a place where I have been recognized as a leader and given positions with titles like President (though I still think that should come with a tiara). Unfortunately, my LGBT friends do not always have the same experience of safety, respect, and recognized leadership.

Why do I mention this? Because today, January 27th, is both a celebration and solemn remembrance.

It is a joyful day because it is Reconciling in Christ (RIC) Sunday in the ELCA (Lutheran church). Today we celebrate that God's love is bigger than our desire to build up walls. We rejoice that God loves, welcomes, and affirms everyone, no matter their sexual orientation or gender identity.  It is exciting because my church is now on the roster of these welcoming churches.

Today is also a sorrowful day because it is the International Holocaust Remembrance Day. The Holocaust was a period during which humanity's desire to have insiders and outsiders caused unfathomable cruelty and suffering. Gay men and lesbians were among those targeted, tortured and murdered, alongside Jews, political dissidents and others.

Why do I mention all of this here? For a few reasons.

First an apology. I am truly sorry that the church has excluded and vilified the LGBT community, at times even to the point of death. I know I am not personally responsible for all of the oppression that has occurred, but I am saddened, angered, and frankly, pissed off that any of my beloved friends have been made to feel less than worthy and less than whole. As Paul wrote to the Corinthians in the verses above, "If one member suffers, all suffer together with it."  I believe this to be true.

I also write this post today because as much as I fiercely love my gay and lesbian friends, I don't want to pretend that I understand all of your experiences. I have been humbled and blessed by the stories of your own faith journeys you have shared with me and I pledge to fight as long as I live for LGBT equality, inclusion and welcome. I am grateful for you and ask that you continue to be my teachers in my advocacy and activism. To quote Bishop Dave Brauer-Rieke who preached at our RIC service this afternoon, "the church needs you, and so do I."

We are all a part of the body of Christ. We are all beloved by God. No matter what anyone says. Period. The days on which we live out that exuberant welcome are truly a time to rejoice.

God of healing, Forgive us for all of the times we have built up walls against "outsiders", whoever they may be.  Heal the wounds, physical, spiritual, and emotional, of those who have been damaged by the church. Help us all to remember that we are in this life together, and your love extends to us all. Thanks, and Amen.

Monday, January 21, 2013

What's Your Super Power?

The Tooth Fairy and Genie at AIDS Walk 2012
(This post is inspired Pastor Robyn Hartwig's sermon today.  Thank you, Robyn!)

1 Corinthians 12:4 "Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit."

If you had a super power, what would it be?  I would love to be a super athlete.  Or possibly to be able to teleport.  What about you?

In today's second lesson (1 Corinthians 12:1-11), Paul is talking to the church in Corinth about how not everyone has the same gifts. This is a good thing. I am good at some things, but if I get caught in the trap of comparing myself to others, I have definite gaps. Let me give you a couple of examples... I am a clutz. I am directionally impaired. I stress out cooking for more than just myself. If God needed me to be a graceful, geographically-awesome, gourmet chef, then I wouldn't be any use.

But no! God has created a diverse world in which we have so many different kinds of people, and so many varieties of gifts. What I find amazing is that God can use my wacky sense of humor, my willingness to wear crazy costumes and my joy in riding my bicycle, all to make the world a better place. What a gift it has been to find a place where I can make a difference through the gifts that make me unique.

Frederick Buechner describes this as vocation. "Vocation is the place where our deep gladness meets the world's deep need." I won't lie, sometimes it takes some searching to discover our gifts and where they are most needed. Sometimes we go down one path only to find out that it is not quite the right fit (speaking from experience). But that does not negate the fact that each one of us has unique gifts to bring to the world, and that each of us is needed.

We do already have super powers. I've met many of you and see them in you: the gift for building community, the talent for making others laugh, the capacity for caring, the gift of critical thinking, the ability to navigate emotional conversations, to inspire, to organize, gifts for public speaking, for generosity and for loyalty. You are musicians, dancers, artists, and athletes. And that's just a start of the list of the gifts I see in you.

So here's the deal. You are loved. You are needed. You bring something special to the table. Just the way you are.

Creative God, You made us each so different! Thank you for making us unique, but loving us all with the same unconditional love. Help us to know we are loved. Inspire us to share this love with others. Help us to know we are needed. Show us how our individual gifts enable us to respond to the world's needs. Remind us every day that we matter. Thanks, and Amen.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

So Who's Greatest?

Luke 22:27: "For who is greater, the one who is at the table or the one who serves?  Is it not the one at the table? But I am among you as one who serves."

"A hero fell, but good prevailed."  photo taken by twitter.com/AndrewShayde
For New Year's Eve, we had a superhero birthday party with a photo scavenger hunt.  Here I am with my dear friend Mark posing for a picture as a fallen hero. Yes, I am so noble that I gave my life to save the planet. Or something like that.

The verse from Luke above is from the Last Supper after a squabble among the disciples about who was greatest.  This happens before Jesus' arrest and subsequent crucifixion. The struggle to be seen as the best is not unique, and neither is the story of someone dying for his cause or laying down his life for others. In history and literature, there are many examples of both power-struggles and selflessness.

I look to the stories of Jesus to help me understand who God is. The dominant culture encourages us to try to be the greatest, and to seek after the biggest and the best seat in the house. But this verse shows us that this climb to the top does not describe the way of God. Rather than showing up with a lot of power and pomp, God chose to enter this world as a servant. Jesus dined with the outcasts, the tax collectors and sinners, and advocated for the poor. Jesus did not seek power over others but worked for reconciliation and healing.

Where does this leave me? I want a God who enters the world and cleans up injustice with a mighty sweep of a powerful arm. And I want to be, myself, the greatest, top of my class, the one with the most blog views, etc. But God is not who we expect, and calls us to a life we may not have bargained for. Jesus came as a servant and worked for liberation, peace and healing. God calls us to do the same.

Unexpected God, You do not always come into the world in the ways we want. Show us where you are. Lead us in the life of a servant, following the example of Jesus. Walk with us today and always as we try to find meaning and belonging in our lives. Thanks, and Amen.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Not Even Wolverine

Romans 8:38-39: "For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord."

Wolverine attack on Halloween 2012
I'm sure Paul, the writer of Romans, would have also added "nor attack by Wolverine can separate us from the love of God."  He probably would have put something in there about Storm's long speeches too.  (In tonight's  picture, the part of Wolverine is played by the ever fantastic Andrew Shayde).

But seriously, the alternative title for tonight's blog post is "Why I Think Theology is Important." Hang in there, it isn't as boring as it may sound.

Theology is an attempt to understand who God is, and how we live our lives in response to that interpretation.  For example, if one sees God as angry, one may make life choices to try to appease God.  Unfortunately, people have used their definition of God to oppress, to discriminate  to wage wars, and to seize power. And truthfully, that pisses me off.

It is important to ponder and talk our concepts of who God is, especially in the midst of many voices that preach a God of hate or intolerance.  I want to add my voice of dissent to that kind of theology.  I understand God to be loving, accepting, and full of hospitality and welcome.  That belief dictates how I live my life.

Today's verse from Romans 8 is my favorite verse in the Bible, and tells us something of who God is.  It is a great reminder that no matter what, God loves us.  No matter what people say about who we are, no matter the success or failures we have, no matter our struggles with fear, depression, insecurity, alcohol, or drugs, no matter the names people call us...  that is *not* how God sees us.  Nothing can stop God from loving us like crazy.  Nothing.  Nothing.  Nothing.  Not even a wild Wolverine attack.

God of love, Sometimes it is hard to believe that you love us, especially when we hear voices of judgement.  Help us to know the depth of your compassion, and that you will never take that away from us.  Show us your love in our lives, especially if we have difficulty seeing it.  Please give us all big metaphorical hugs, and help us to love one another too.  Thanks, and Amen.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Reset button

New Year's Eve Super Hero birthday party
Luke 3:21-22: "Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus had also been baptized and was praying, the heaven was opened, and the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily form like a dove.  And a voice came from heaven saying, "You are my Son, my Beloved, with you I am well pleased."

Well, it looks like the whole "daily" part of this blog isn't exactly working.  But I'm ok with that.  I'm just going to start again and hit the reset button.  So here goes...  today's verses are a from the gospel reading today when Jesus has been baptized.

I love the picture above.  It is me "photo-bombing" the picture of two of my fantastic friends on New Year's Eve.  They were doing a superhero pose and I jumped in.  Bwahahahaha....

Life is full and busy and often full of surprises. On the downside, sometimes that means our plans are derailed or our goals aren't met.  (Of course sometimes, the surprises in life are wonderful and awesome, like the photo above)...  But sometimes we may feel like we keep falling short and make the same mistakes over and over.

That's where the reset button comes in. One of the things I like about being a Lutheran is that we talk about how each day we get to start over, remembering that God loves us.  We know we're going to mess up - being human means we aren't going to be perfect. But God loves us no matter what, and each day we begin anew.

Martin Luther is often referenced in this discussion, reminding us to each day remember our baptism.  Baptism is an outward sign that reminds us how much God loves us and that we have a home in the church and an identity as Christians.  But it is only an outward sign, because the love and the welcome exist regardless of whether water has poured over our foreheads. The verses above are spoken at Jesus' baptism, but you are also God's beloved.  Every day.

So tomorrow we begin anew, again. We don't have to earn God's love by being good enough, by meeting our goals or achieving success.  Every day we get a reset button as our own reminder that we can start over and try again, but God's love is constant and unconditional.

God of love,  Help us to remember that you love us, no matter what, no strings attached, always and every day.  Help us to love each other as a response to your love.  Please be with those who struggle with feeling unloved and surround them with your compassionate presence.  Thanks, and Amen.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Ah, happy...

Psalm 34:8: "O taste and see that the Lord is good; happy are those who take refuge in him."

Happiness, 2013, taken by twitter.com/AndrewShayde
So I'm sitting here, watching a British murder mystery (PD James, Devices and Desires) and looking at pictures of my weekend at the beach with my friends. I'm surrounding myself with images that bring me happiness (Yes, it's true, British murder mysteries make me happy.  But you know I'm not the only one). Yesterday I had a great spin class and today I had a good yoga class with a friend. Life is full of blessings.  But tonight I'm still searching to try to feel happy in the midst of feeling a little bit of a funk. (and not being effective at blogging with a mystery on TV).

Watching TV is not the best solution to cheer me up, but it's what I'm doing.  I think there are frequently times we try to cheer ourselves up with the less-than-best choice, causing us to spend too much money, drink too much, watch too much TV, eat too much junk food.  It is a completely human response to dissatisfaction or gloom, and so easy to do.

Reading Psalm 34, it sounds like the the writer has overcome some grief or depression and wants to share how God brings us out of gloom.  Verse 4 reads "I sought the Lord, and he answered me, and delivered me from all my fears."  I mentioned in another post that the psalms can express in poetic language our longings for the strength and healing that we do not yet have, or the reassurance that is not yet here. Not yet.

This psalm points us to a future we can hope for, when we find happiness in the Lord.  I would hope that in my funk and gloom I would turn to God and find consolation by reading, or blogging (without distraction), or reaching out to a friend.  Instead I surf  the internet and watch drama on TV, staying up way past my bed time and wishing I'd made better choices.  I don't have a good ending to this blog.  But I guess that's how life is, and sometimes we're just in a funk.

When I posted on Facebook that I didn't know how to end this blog post and was thinking of not posting at all, a friend suggested ending with a cliff-hanger.  I think that's actually very appropriate here.

So we will leave our blog heroine in a British-TV-induced brain-numbed state (laughing now to Vicar of Dibley) and let her go to sleep for the night.  Stay tuned until next time to find out what happens in her pursuit of happy and deep theological thought...

Gracious God, You are with us when we are in a funk and when we are happy.  You love us when we do the noble thing and spend time in deep thought on spiritual things. You love us just as much when we watch too much TV or otherwise choose the easy out. You long to deliver us from our fears, even when we don't know how to let you.  Assure us of your presence in the long nights and in the brightest day.  Thanks, and Amen.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Beautiful Wheels

Isaiah 52:7a: "How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of the messenger who announces peace, who brings good news..."

Ride4CAP 2012
Tonight I went to spin class for the first time in a couple of months.  It was definitely hard - and harder still because I haven't been pedaling for a while.  But it was worth it. I left the class in such a good mood!  Cycling is definitely one of my best anti-depressants, and showing up at class with the regulars and my favorite teacher helped.

Thinking about my blog post for tonight while spinning, the verse above from Isaiah popped into my mind.  I recently signed up to ride from Seattle to Portland (STP) and raise funds for Cascade AIDS Project (CAP) for my second time.  I do this for many reasons.  As I mentioned, cycling is my anti-depressant, and it also helps me stay in shape. And I've definitely written poetry about my bike and the love I have riding it.  But that's not what gets me to sign up for this ride, to train for the event and to ask my friends and family for donations to CAP.

Ride4CAP is my opportunity to put my faith in action, to preach, without words, the gospel of love and hospitality to all.  It helps me to have meaning in life knowing I am making a difference in the lives of others.  There are many ways to help, and this is certainly an awesome organization and cause to which I am committed. Tonight, I paraphrase the verse from Isaiah:
"How beautiful upon the roads from Seattle to Portland are the wheels of the cyclists who announce love and acceptance for all, who fight to eliminate stigma, who bring the good news of donations that provide essential services for those affected by HIV, who won't stop riding until the end of AIDS."
There's still time (not much, though) to join our team - to be a part of something bigger than yourself and make a difference.  And there is time until July 13th to donate to our goal.

God of healing, Thank you for the opportunities you give us to help others in the world.  Please help each of us to find our own unique way to share the good news of love and peace with those in need.  Please bless the work of Cascade AIDS Project and all those seeking to fight stigma and end AIDS.  Please bring healing and hope to those affected by HIV/AIDS, and remind them that they are not alone.  Thanks. and Amen.