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.