Saturday, December 26, 2009

They sang an Easter song after my Christmas sermon...

For most of my life, I have followed the liturgical calendar. Over the years, it has come to add an orientation and meaning to my life in deeper ways than the secular calendar.  I love the start of the Christian year (Advent), which is more than a full month sooner than New Year's Day.  In this four week time, I relearn the old story told by prophets and gospel writers, about the promise of a Savior.  This time period becomes a pilgrimage, as I once again take a spiritual journey to Bethlehem, remembering the birth of the Christ Child.

The church I currently serve doesn't follow the liturgical calendar.

This has made that inward trek to Bethlehem more difficult, especially when preparing to preach. During Advent, the preacher resembles a tour guide, telling the stories, introducing the cast of characters,  and pointing out the sites so that people can make their own journey to Bethlehem.  But this year there was no tour, no discussion of John the Baptism (or Joseph or Mary or Elizabeth or Zechariah), no angel visitations, no census requirement.

So I approached my sermon hoping to find that point of intersection between the old story and today's story, hoping that there, in the midst of it, we all could get a glimpse of where Christ was being born in our midst.  To help with that experience, I had asked that the song "O Holy Night" be sung after my sermon.

Imagine my surprise--and dismay--when I ended my sermon and "I Know that My Redeeemer Lives"--an Easter song!--was sung! I wanted a CHRISTMAS song, not an Easter song!!!

We have extremely gifted soloists at Glide, and even though I was upset over this unplanned song, I was drawn into music and felt my heart open to the words of the song:

Well I know my Redeemer lives
I know my Redeemer lives
All of creation testify
This life within me cries
I know my Redeemer lives                (lyrics by Nicole C. Mullen)

I was trying hard to bring people to the Bethlehem manger, but isn't the real message that Jesus still lives? You don't have to go to the manger, because eventually he'll come to you.  From the cradle to the cross and beyond, whenever we experience new life, new hope, new love, Christ comes to us. 

They sang an Easter song after my Christmas sermon, and it couldn't have been more perfect.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Dancing Our Way to the Manger

Celebrate God all day, every day. I mean, revel in God! Make it as clear as you can to all you meet that you're on their side, working with them and not against them. Help them see that the Master is about to arrive. He could show up any minute!
Philippians 4:4-7 (The Message)

Sometimes, when our eyes and hearts are open and on the lookout, we see the Gospel take flesh before our eyes, and we know deep in our bones that the story isn't some made-up fairy tale offered as a placebo for a spiritually starved people, but the real-honest-to-God-Gospel-truth experienced by a spiritually starved people for other spiritually starved people. In this we learn that the Good News really is good news.

Last week I went to my favorite Christmas season activity: The Dancealong-Nutcracker, performed by the SF Lesbian/Gay Freedom Band.  This show, where young and old, the graceful and...well, the not-so-graceful, don tutus and dance our hearts out.  I never fail to be inspired by the show--each year it allows me to enter into the old story of Jesus' birth in new ways. One year, in particular, stands out in my mind.

 The show had all the exuberance of previous nutcrackers.  This year, however, during one of the numbers, the children, all donned in tutus, sat waiting expectantly for a ballet lesson. Out came a drag queen in tutu, ballet slippers and tiara.

Clearly, this prima donna wasn't quite what the children had expected.

As Miss Diva ran through the ballet positions, you could see the children trying to figure out who this one was. She didn't quite fit in any of their already carefully crafted social constructions. They sat and stared and furrowed their brows and squinted their eyes, trying to make sense of it all. Clearly, Miss Diva was no ordinary ballet teacher.

Miss Diva seemed oblivious to their confusions, or maybe she was keenly aware of the cognitive dissonance her presence had created, but she just kept calmly, gently, reassuringly laying out the dance moves. Then, she motioned for the children to stand. For the first time in the entire program, the children were shy, timid, and hesitant. They still weren't sure what this ballerina was all about.

The first notes of the "Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairies" sounded, and Miss Diva stretched out her arms and began to dance. The children slowly, cautiously, followed her. Glide, glide, dip, glide, glide, dip. Miss Diva did a spin, and the children followed. Miss Diva did another spin and once again the children followed. Then, Miss Diva smiled a most loving smile of apporval, and the children smiled back their own approval.

Miss Diva danced across the room, and the children followed behind her like a colorful cape, flowing together to the music. Then Miss Diva leapt in the air, and 50 tiny heads bobbed in response.

Sometimes, when our eyes and hearts are open and on the lookout, we see the Gospel take flesh before our eyes, and we know deep in our bones that the story isn't some made-up fairy tale offered as a placebo for a spiritually starved people, but the real-honest-to-God-Gospel-truth offered to a spiritually starved people. In this we learn that the Good News really is good news.

Before my eyes I saw the children's suspicions fade as they mirrored Miss Diva's every move. Smiling, laughing, giggling, sharing in the sheer joy of moving together to the music, they had been transformed by their encounter with this one who had at first seemed so strange. I found myself both laughing and crying, seeing once again Christ taking flesh and dwelling amongst us once again.

Two thousand years ago the Hebrew people were watching and waiting for signs of God's coming. But so few recognized those signs even when Jesus stared them right in the face. Jesus came and offered to teach those around him a new way of living--and even dying--but people kept scratching their heads in disbelief, "Who is this?"

How could a humble carpenter with such radical ideas be the Messiah, they wondered. And as they stared in disbelief, watching his every move, some were able to recognize both the signs and the possibilities, and began to move with him. Together, Jesus and his followers danced joyfully , passionately through the land, inviting others to join in the steps.

Thank God there have been followers throughout the ages who have kept that joyful dance going--unexpected ones who have risen up to lead in the steps when our lives and hearts have turned to stone and we've been unable to join in. Faithful ones who have risked it all to continue the dance even when it has been dangerous to do so. Foolish yet wise ones who keep poking us to join in.

Advent is the opportunity to prepare ourselves to join in the dance, to embrace the good news, to share in the sheer joy of faith. For as Christ was born 2000 years ago, Christ continues to be born in our lives. Watch and wait. Christ comes in the most unexpected ways and places, even as a drag queen at a dance-along nutcracker. Say yes to the invitation to join in the joyful dance.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Too Little, Too Late?

Rick Warren, noted evangelical and pastor of Saddleback Church, has finally denounced the anti-homosexuality bill pending in Uganda (the topic of Warren's refusal to denounce the bill has been discussed in an earlier blog).  I do believe that if this bill passes and lives are lost as a result, Rick Warren and other Christian Right leaders ought to be held accountable.

Their rhetoric, camouflaged with theological language, has spawned too many hate crimes against glbt persons.  While they are learning that their language of intolerance is growing increasingly unacceptable in the United States, they have discovered that they can export a stronger version to Africa. 

What amazes me is these leaders do not make the connection between their rhetoric and gay-bashing.  Doesn't Warren realize that when he says that homosexuality is "not the natural way" and therefore is not a human rights issue, he is providing moral fodder for the anti-gay sentiment that gave rise to the bill in Uganda?

Several years ago, the Reconciling Ministries Network was holding its convocation at one of United Methodisms holy sites: Lake Junaluska, in North Carolina.  The Institute on Religion and Democracy wrote to United Methodists, urging them to protest the meeting, using inflammatory language to rile people up. And it did. More and more conversative United Methodists, including Good News joined their battle cry, denouncing the presence of a meeting that would include glbt United Methodists and allies at Lake Junaluska.  But conservative United Methodists weren't the only ones to join in the protest. Guess who else heard the invitation to protest, and were only to happy to help?

The Ku Klux Klan.

KKK encouraged their membership to come to Lake Junaluska to protest the RMN conference, whose theme was "Hearts on Fire." The KKK changed the title to "Queers on Fire."

The IRD, Good News, and other right wing organizations should not be surprised when their hate-filled messages are taken to heart and used by extremists groups. Once you demonize a group and label them unnatural and devoid of rights, the next logical step is to rid the world of such rubbish. We have seen evidence of this cycle of dehumanization and genocide repeated throughout human history.

While Warren may have finally spoken out against the Uganda bill, I just wonder if it is too little, too late. Can he really have an impact? He has already sown the seeds of injustice--can his recent words tear up the roots he has planted?

What would be happening in now Uganda--and throughout Africa--if he had preached a Word of loving all God's children, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity?

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Advent 8: Growing the Family Tree

Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a Son, and shall call his name EMMANUEL, God with us.
Isaiah 7:14

This is the season when I am acutely aware of the geographical distance between me and my family of origin: both sisters live in the south now with their families, my Mum spends part of the year on Long Island (where I was raised) and in New Orleans with one of my sisters; Uncle Howie still lives in Nova Scotia, in the town where he and my Mum were raised; my dad and his family live in Washington state, and assorted cousins, cousins, and more cousins live throughout the northeast and Canada.
But at this time of year, I long to see them, to have a meal together, to share a game of cards (a nightly family activity), and most of all, to laugh with them.
A pastor’s life, however, requires that I stay put for the holidays. Between Thanksgiving and Christmas, I participate in a ministry decathlon of special services and events which, by the time I cross the finish line on December 26, leaves me filled spiritually but depleted physically and emotionally. As a result, even the lull between Christmas and New Years is not the greatest time to see family, unless they want to watch me nap!
This longing for family connecting is perhaps why I cherish putting up the many nativity sets I have collected over the years. Whenever I travel, I look for a set that reflects the culture of the country I am in. I have sets from Kenya, Mexico, Israel, and France, as well as sets from some of my favorite places in the US and Canada. I take my time setting them up, holding Mary and Joseph in my hands before setting them down on a shelf. I try to imagine them as they were 2000 years ago, wandering far from home, Mary beginning to enter labor with no loved ones present to assist, no familiar things around her to comfort her.
Once Mary and Joseph have been placed, out come the other pieces: shepherds, kings, peasants, and assorted animals all gather around them as the baby Jesus is laid in the midst of them. The nativity set becomes whole, all the characters connected, as the awe and love they share for this God-gift unites them in love.
This always becomes an object lesson for me, reminding me that no matter how far I am from my family of origin, in this season I remember once again how my family extends beyond my genealogical chart. New branches keep getting grafted on as the God-gift of love keeps helping me discover brothers and sisters I didn’t even knew I had. As we all pause in this season to make our way to the manger once again, may we all discover new family members who are made one with us through the one whose birth the angels sing.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Advent 4,5,6,and 7: Too Many Fires to Put Out?

Be still and know that I am God.
Psalm 46:10

I have always found Advent one of the richest times for spiritual growth. So much of the season has signs and symbols which beg us to stop and ponder. Unfortunately, this week I had a hard time responding to the begging and didn’t do much stopping, and even less pondering.

I have learned from experience that NOT stopping and pondering can be disastrous. In 1992, I was invited to take an appointment in a local church. The appointment came at a surprise. As much as I love parish ministry, I had moved into campus ministry in 1985, and assumed that my local parish phase of ministry was over. Imagine my surprise when a district superintendent of the Cal-Nevada Annual Conference asked me to take Bethany UMC, in San Francisco!

I was worried that I had forgotten how to “do” parish ministry and pushed myself very hard those first few months of the appointment. So hard, in fact, that I wound up skimming on my spiritual disciplines in order to “do” more ministry.

Advent came and I thought I would take up the spiritual practice of lighting the Advent wreath every morning and have a short devotional before diving headlong into my day. Even before the first week was barely over, I began to grow distracted with the practice, finding more and more things that begged my attention as I prepared to head to church.

One day, I cut too many corners trying to pack everything in I needed to get done. I flew out the door to do an early bit of grocery shopping before heading to church. When I returned, I opened the garage door and thought I smelled smoke. I immediately thought of my 92 year old neighbor whose house was connected to mine, and worried that she had left something burning on her stove. As I went up the steps, I saw smoke—her place must be on fire! I grabbed a phone and dialed 911. I was put on hold (!) and as I waited I heard crackling. I turned into my dining room and saw that the table was in flames. The fire was in MY house! And there, at the very center of the table, was the culprit: my Advent wreath, now with all the candles melted down into the table…

God is so funny. Just the week before I had bought fire extinguishers for the parsonage, so knew exactly where it was and quickly put out the flames (five minutes later the phone rang. It was the fire department asking why I had called).
I learned a lesson that day. When God puts a sign or symbol before you, you had better stop and ponder, before it becomes a burning bush/dining room table!

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Advent Day 3--Speaking the Word

We couldn't be more sure of what we saw and heard—God's glory, God's voice. The prophetic Word was confirmed to us. You'll do well to keep focusing on it. It's the one light you have in a dark time as you wait for daybreak and the rising of the Morning Star in your hearts. The main thing to keep in mind here is that no prophecy of Scripture is a matter of private opinion. And why? Because it's not something concocted in the human heart. Prophecy resulted when the Holy Spirit prompted men and women to speak God's Word.
2 Peter 1:19-21 from The Message

I will never forget when a seminary student visited Ecumenical House at San Francisco State University, where I was a campus minister. He took one look at our bulletin board, filled with announcements about all sorts of justice issues, protests, and symposiums, and proclaimed, "I want to be a campus minister so that I can say whatever I want!"

What he was implying was that he felt that pastoring a local church would muzzle the message he wanted to proclaim.  Campus ministry, at least through his eyes, offered him a free license to say what he wanted to.

I looked at him like he had two heads.

Preaching, offering the Good News, proclaiming the Word, is not saying what we want to say.  It is allowing the Holy Spirit to speak through us.  It is allowing sighs which are too deep for words to be filled with the breath of God and take shape as the Word.  It requires us to look at the world with open eyes and to have people in our lives who will challenge us to open our eyes further still.  With eyes wide open, we must allow our soul to be disquieted, to feel dis-ease, as we see this world, our communities, ourselves in all their flawed possibilities. It is then and only then that we can begin to bearers of God's prophetic Word.

It is never about saying what we want to say. It is about allowing the Spirit to birth the Word within us, and speaking it aloud. This can happen in a campus ministry, a local church, at your job, and in your family. Wherever we are in community with God's people, we can be bearers of this Word.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Advent, Day 2: Rick Warren, Pastors, and Politics

Why the big noise, nations? Why the mean plots, peoples? Earth-leaders push for position,
Demagogues and delegates meet for summit talks, The God-deniers, the Messiah-defiers:
"Let's get free of God! Cast loose from Messiah!"
Heaven-throned God breaks out laughing. At first God's amused at their presumption; then gets good and angry. Furiously, God shuts them up:
"Don't you know there's a King in Zion? A coronation banquet is spread for him on the holy summit."
Psalm 2: 1-6, from The Message

Rick Warren, who along with other evangelical leaders, has been courting African religious leaders with a strong anti-glbt message, has recently stated that he will not denounce a bill in Uganda that is getting world-wide attention.  The proposed bill makes gay sex a crime, with the minimum punishment being life imprisonment and the possibility of the death penalty if one has gay sex and is HIV+.  Warren, who has attempted to distance himself with Rev. Martin SSempa, a Ungandan pastor who has strongly endorsed the bill who has also appeared at Saddleback Church several times, has yet to speak publicly against the bill, stating that ""The fundamental dignity of every person, our right to be free, and the freedom to make moral choices are gifts endowed by God, our creator. However, it is not my personal calling as a pastor in America to comment or interfere in the political process of other nations."   Additionally, he added on Meet the Press, "As a pastor, my job is to encourage, to support. I never take sides."

I am sorry, but as a disciple of Jesus and as a representative of His Church, we are always called to take sides in the face of injustice and oppression.  When a country is contemplating genocide of a minority population, it is a sin for the Church (and that means you and me) to take a "hands off" approach and sit idly by. 

As one student said in my United Methodist History/Doctrine/Polity class today, to do/say nothing in the face of injustice is to already take a side.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Beginning the Advent Journey

Hallelujah! I give thanks to God with everything I've got—Wherever good people gather, and in the congregation. God's works are so great, worth a lifetime of study—endless enjoyment!
Splendor and beauty mark God's craft; whose generosity never gives out, whose miracles are God's memorial—this God of Grace, this God of Love.
(Psalm 111, from The Message)

It feels like the work of the Holy Spirit, that I am starting this Advent Journey, this walk to the Bethlehem manger, with a purple band encircling my right wrist. It was given to my colleagues and me when we attended a clergy retreat earlier this month.  The band is from A Complaint Free World.  The purpose is to help one stop complaining about things and instead act to change what one doesn't like.  We have been challenged to wear the band for 90 days. 90 days of no complaining! None!

This band has been very effective. Every time I have begun to complain about something, my left hand has instinctively reached for the band on my right wrist, and my mouth has closed shut! It has become a Pavlovian response! And my complaining quotient has drastically reduced.

Which feels like a good way to begin Advent, this four week journey of preparing ourselves and our world to welcome Christ into our world once again.  By reducing my complaining and increasing my praising, my heart feels like it is making room as I look for God's gift of love to be born in my heart once again.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Getting Gratitude

I love Thanksgiving because out of all the holidays, it is the least commercialized. Christmas has been turned into a shopping frenzy. Easter has become literally sugar-coated, with chocolate bunnies and jelly beans.

But then there’s Thanksgiving. Face it, marketing turkeys just isn’t very sexy. But it's more than that, you can’t manufacture and sell gratitude.

Gratitude is not forced optimism; it is not a denial of real pain and loss; it is not the power of positive thinking. it is not a focus on the good things on life.

It is a posture and a prayer.

Albert Einstein once said, “There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle.”

Thanksgiving invites us to live our lives as if everything is a miracle:

The sky as dusk descends
The birth of a child
The community that comes together when there is a loss
The taste and texture of a perfectly ripened strawberry
People helping people
The abundance that is revealed when we share
The amount of light a single candle gives off in the darkness
The opening of one’s heart to love after it has been broken
A warm bed on a cold night

Thanksgiving invites us to remember the miracles that are waiting to be discovered in each and every day we are given, and to uncurl our fists and open our hearts to accept them.  That's how gratitude grows in our lives.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Whose Table Is It, Really?

It has been sobering to read about Roman Catholic Bishop Thomas Tobin banning Sen. Patrick Kennedy from receiving communion. Tobin has justified his action by stating that Kennedy's political positions--specifically around reproductive rights--go against the teachings of the Church and therefore he should not receive communion.

I hesitate to call this a pastoral act, because there is nothing pastoral about refusing someone access to communion. The communion table does not belong to the Roman Catholic Church, it does not belong to Bishop Tobin. It is Christ's table.  Can Bishop Tobin be so presumptuous as to speak for Christ about who can come to the table?

Communion is a means of grace, meaning that God works through the sacrament to impart saving love that has the power to transform human lives.  To politicize the table and withold this means of grace from someone is a form of ecclesiological cruelty and spiritual violence. 

In 1996, I was a participant in a Reconciling Ministries Network worship service held at The United Methodist General Conference.  This service celebrated the ways that God works through all God's people, regardless of sexual orientation and gender identity, and provided spiritual support for those who were working for the full inclusion of all people into the life and ministry of The United Methodist Church.  I was one of the communion servers.  Hundreds of people came to the worship service, and as I offered the bread and cup to one worshipper after another--many co-workers in the movement for justice as well as many I did not know--I found standing before me, with hands outstretched to receive the communion elements, Mark Tooley, the director of UM Action of the Institute on Religion and Democracy (IRD).  The IRD is a right-wing thinktank based in Washington, DC that has stirred controversies in primarily three denomonations: Presbyterian, Episcopalian, and United Methodist. The IRD criticizes the churches' social witness, particularly around lgbt rights, women's reproductive rights, and environmental justice.  The IRD tactics seem like they have been written from a page of international espionage, and in fact, Mark Tooley is a former CIA analyst.

I had read many inflammatory articles by Mark Tooley about church leaders I have long admired.  I have also been attacked by Mark.  So imagine my feelings when Mark appeared before me, to join in the communion meal. Here was one who, like Bishop Tobin, seeks to limit God's grace to an "in" group.  As he stood before me, I passed the bread to him, and offered him the cup of salvation.

That meal has made a huge impact on me. There have been times when I have wanted to demonize Mark for the pain he has caused me and others who disagree with his understanding of church. But I can't forget that Sunday afternoon service, and the meal we shared together.  I am reminded that Christ's table is large enough to include both of us, and that it can even hold the tension of our differences.  God is so great. At Christ's table, our ideological and theological differences are stripped away as we recognize around the table our sisters and brothers--children of God who struggle to walk in the footsteps of Jesus. We often mis-step, but at the table we are welcomed and fed so that we can rise from our knees and resume the spiritual journey, nourished by the grace of God.

Why would we want to hold anyone back from this meal?

Friday, November 20, 2009

The Act of Friending as a Means to Be-Friending

The word “unfriend” has recently been named word of the year by the New Oxford American Dictionary. “Unfriend” has made its way to the dictionary by way of Facebook and other social networking sites, in which you are asked to “friend” someone, making them a part of your Friends list. One unfriends someone one wants removed from one’s Friends list.

I admit to being a Facebook fan. As someone who is 3000 miles from her place of birth, Facebook has reconnected me to my past. I may no longer reside in the village of my youth, but Facebook, through cyberspace, has created a virtual village where my childhood friends, college classmates, colleagues, family, and current friends “live”. I feel known and whole in a way I didn’t even realize I was missing. The many pieces of my life have been brought together in a way that would be if I had stayed in my hometown.

Secondly, Facebook has demonstrated that we as a species can return civility to cyberspace. The internet had become a place where rude, catty, snarky comments could be posted to blogs, articles, and other sites anonymously. This anonymity brought out a meanness in messages that bordered on violent bullying. On social networking sites, however, you determine who will be on your Friend list and, therefore, who you will interact with. And most friends, even when we get on each other’s last nerve, communicate in ways that do not run the risk of ruining the relationship. As our Friends list grows to include our friends’ friends, civil conversation in cyberspace rises exponentially.

While the verb “unfriend” might be the word of 2009, I find the verb “friend” to offer greater hope and possibilities. As we learn to friend beyond our circle of acquaintances, as we develop bonds with friends of friends, as we add more and more people to our Friends list, we discover the power of be-friending. Be-friending enlarges our circle of care and compassion and helps us learn from those with whom we may disagree. In a mobile world where many have migrated to towns far from their birth, be-friending helps make the world our home and cyberspace our village.

Monday, November 16, 2009

You Have Now Entered...The Church Zone

Five years ago, when I became Associate Dean at Pacific School of Religion, I had the most jarring experience: I went to the movies on a Saturday night. It may sound benign, but as one who has spent more than 25 years preaching every Sunday, I felt like I had entered a new country. Who were all these people, and what were they doing out on a Saturday night?

Professional athletes have their training programs and plans to ensure readiness for a major event or meet. As a parish pastor, most Saturday nights of my adult life have been spent preparing for Sunday morning, preparing myself spiritually and emotionally to lead a congregation in worship. Friends knew not to ask me to a party (I would politely decline) and family never had high expectations of me (I was not the best Saturday dinner conversationalist). On the odd Saturday night that found me in a social setting, I was worse than Cinderella at the ball: if I wasn’t in bed by 9pm on Saturday night, surely my soul on Sunday would be as hollow as a carved-out pumpkin, lacking the spiritual substance to lead a congregation in praise of God. I usually left the party before most of the guests had even arrived.

So imagine my surprise when I went to a Saturday night movie shortly after beginning my position at PSR. People! Lots of people! People lingering over a late dinner! People going to the (gasp!) late showing of a film! There was a whole world happening of which I was unaware. Clearly, I had spent too many years as a cloistered clergywoman, so I did my best to get the most out of this “cross cultural” experience.

After four years of enjoying my Saturday nights unencumbered by the specter of Sunday worship duties, I have been surprised at how easily--almost instinctively--I have returned to this soulful activity upon my appointment to Glide Memorial United Methodist Church in San Francisco. It feels like a behavioral trait that is imprinted in my soul as I face weekly worship duties once again.

Having had some time away from this weekly ritual has given me a keener recognition of the pull and sway it has on my life. Now, as I feel myself drawn to its power (at around 5pm on most Saturdays), I can name it. I can also alert others who may have greater social expectations for me on a Saturday than I can provide. I simply post a status update on Facebook: “Karen Oliveto is in the Church Zone.”

Some friends scratch their heads and type back, “What’s that?” But there are others who know exactly what I am talking about. It is the tug of the Spirit that begs for attention. It is the mindfulness of the broken body that will gather in the morning, with all the pain, grief, tears, joy, laughter, wounds, betrayals and love that a community holds in common. It is the consideration of those whose legacy of faithful witness brought us to this place while at the same time wondering what we will bequeath to those who will follow after us. It is the discipline of wrestling with sacred texts, hoping to provide a word that will break these ancient stories open into the lives of those who will gather in the morning. It solicits from me a prayerfully intense posture as I consider the awesome, audacious task of helping others engage their whole selves in an experience of God. The Church Zone is the spiritual discipline required to do this work of worship and, in the words of the 18th-century theologian Isaac Watts, it “demands my life, my soul, my all.”

(this first appeared in PSR Bulletin, Spring 2009, Volume 88, No. 1)

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Why do the powerful always create a bridge of compromise on the backs of the vulnerable?

Why do the powerful always create a bridge of compromise on the backs of the vulnerable?

History is filled with examples of how those in power use the rights of the minority to create wedge issues, block progress, and derail justice.

The history of my own denomination is filled with instances when unity has come at the cost of those who are left out of backrooms, who don't have a voice or vote, whose numbers seem not really to matter.  Whether it has been the rights of African Americans--segregated into their own conference--or women--who lost ordination rights with nearly every merger--or gay men and lesbians--whose lives are deemed incompatible with Christian teaching, even when a study commissioned by the Church said that we cannot responsibly hold this position--unity has come at a high price. 

While I applaud the hard work on the part of many of our elected leaders to create health care reform, I am outraged that this reform comes at the expense of women's reproductive health care needs.  The Stupak/Pitts amendment, which restricts public funding of abortion, attacks a critical health concern of poor women who don't have the economic privilege of privately funded abortions.

Once again, the powerless must join together and confront the powerful, to name what is unacceptable and to seek justice.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Be Crazy...Good Crazy

Today, Rev. Dr. Joseph Lowery preached at Glide as a part of the 45th anniversary celebration of Rev. Cecil Williams' ministry at Glide.  It was awesome to have a living legend of the civil rights movement provide us with the Word.  And what a word it was!  Of the many inspiring things he said, one thing I have been pondering was what he said about how those who pour themselves out as agents of God's love and justice--the saints--are pretty crazy people. But--as Joe reminded us--just as there is such a thing as good cholestorol and bad cholestorol--there is good crazy and bad crazy.  Saints are good crazy.  Rush Limbaugh is bad crazy.  And Willie Brown, according to Lowery, is bad and good crazy.

I believe that the goal of the Christian walk is to be good crazy. After all, following Jesus is a pretty (good) crazy thing to do. It is a (good) crazy counter cultural activity which upsets the status quo as it makes the first, last and the last, first.  It is (good) crazy in the way we are called to love our enemies and offer forgiveness when we've been wronged.  It is (good) crazy to speak truth to power. It is (good) crazy to think of everyone, EVERY ONE, as our brother and sister.

So my new spiritual discipline is to be crazy...good crazy.

Friday, November 6, 2009

On Eagle's Wings

We humans have always tried to make sense of God. Philosphers and theologians help us with our God-talk and God-knowledge.  Anselm said that God "is that, than which nothing greater can be conceived."  Aristotle said that God was the prime mover. Gandhi said that all life comes from one universal source, and that Truth is God.  The Bible is a collection of written accounts of men and women and their life with God. 

We use all sorts of words to define who/what God is, so that we can enter into a relationship with this One: Rock of Ages, Breath, Fire, Burning Bush, Counselor, Bright and Morning Star, Bread of Heaven...what name helps you deepen your relationship with God?

For most of my adult life, the words I have used were "Cool, Rushing Stream".  During a time in my life when I felt most deconstructed (my first year of seminary, of course!), I ran to the mountains, for solitude and reflection, trying to figure out who I was now and who I was meant to be. As I hiked high in the Canadian Rockies, I came to a glacial stream, quickly flowing down the mountain. I sat by that stream for a long time, aware that if I were to return in a year, the stream bed would look different, due to the force of the water. The strong flow of the stream was picking up dirt and rocks and tree roots and plants from one stream bank and depositing them downstream. The stream was changing the landscape, right before my eyes.

I experienced an epiphany by that stream. This is exactly what God is doing to me! Moving the dead parts of me, reviving other parts, and giving birth to a new me! Instantly, I felt that "peace which passes all understanding" and I came down off the mountain a new woman.

This understanding of God has served me well, keeping me close to God through transitions and changes.  Recently, a new understanding of God has emerged for me.  I was on vacation in Mexico, and a man with a harness and a parachute (and a friend with a boat) asked if I wanted to parasail.  After much hemming and hawing, I strapped myself into the harness, and before I knew it, I was in the air. I vaguely remember digging my heels into the sand--this was all happening too fast!--but the parachute caught the wind and I was aloft!

There I was, suspended in the air, looking out at the water, the coast, the mountains.  Once again, I experienced that peace of God surrounding me.  I could have stayed up there forever...

All too soon, the ride ended, and I could see the spot where I was supposed to land. Slowly, I descended. Then quickly! But there was no fear as workers reached out to me. Strong arms eased my landing, and before I knew it, I was back on the beach, walking back to my beach chair.

This experience has helped me come to a new understandings of God: "One Who Lifts and Strong Arms that Hold".  For most of my life (and especially in my ministry) I have worked hard to make things happen. I have set goals and then made plans to meet those goals. I learned a new lesson, up there in the sky: it's time to let go and let the Spirit lead, and trust in those strong arms to reach out when things look bumpy.

Monday, November 2, 2009

The Bridge to Community

The San Francisco Bay Bridge reopened this morning after being closed for six days due to a part of the span that collapsed.  The bridge created chaos for commuters who rely on the bridge to get from one community to another.  I have been thinking alot about bridges and their importance in connecting not only communities, but individuals and families.  Whether physical, emotional, or spiritual, bridges are necessary if we are to span the chasms that lie between us.  Too often, we pass by the people around us, seemingly unaware of the ways we are connected to one another. We tend to see the differences between us as unbridgable, and thereby choose to remain separate.  We have seen the result of this disconnect in families that are at war with each other and in communities that are crumbling.

Too many of us are living lives filled with bridges that are in disrepair or breaking down.  Misunderstandings, harbored grudges, and wounded egos result in failed and failing relationships. What are the bridges in your life that you need to repair?

There is a hymn that I remember singing at every communion service of my youth: Blest be the tie that binds.  In light of the past week, I like to think of it as Blest be the bridge that binds...

Blest be the bridge of love, that draws us, soul to soul.

Blest be the bridge of acceptance, that sees our differences as gifts to be cherised.

Blest be the bridge of mutuality, that honors and respects the other.

Blest be the bridge of forgiveness, that heals our wounds.

Blest be the bridge of hope, that keeps our faces turned to tomorrow.

Blest be the bridge...

Thursday, October 22, 2009

San Francisco: A Sanctuary City?

San Francisco, being the city that it is, finds itself once again embroiled in struggle: the mayor vs. the board of supervisors, the City-By-the-Bay vs. the US goverment.  This time the issue is about the rights of immigrant youth.

For the past 20 years, San Francisco has been a sanctuary city, meaning that the city is on record as not working cooperatively with the federal government in the enforcement of immigration laws.  In fact, the city has reached out to immigrant populations to offer city services regardless of one's immigration status.

In 2008, when Tony Bologna and his two sons were murdered by a suspect, Edwin Ramos, who is an undocumented immigrant, Mayor Gavin Newsom unilaterally decided to change the sanctuary city ordinance and required local law enforcement officers to immediately hand over to US Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents suspected juvenile offenders, without due process which would ultimately determine their criminal guilt or innocence.

On October 20th, there was much cheering in the Board of Supervisors meeting, when, by a vote of 8-2, the city supervisors voted to restore due process for immigrant youth, thanks to legislation drafted by Supervisor David Campos.  In response, Mayor Newsom instructed city law enforcement officers to ignore the supervisors vote, and continue to hand youth directly over to ICE, prior to trial and proof of innocence or guilt.

I am in support of the restoration of due process for immigrant youth.

The great city of San Francisco has long been a city that knows how. Knows how to value its residents, knows how to honor diversity, knows how to advance justice, knows how to promote innovative thinking, and has historically known how to implement policies that bring all these elements together. Whether being a sanctuary city, providing health care for all, or extending domestic partnership benefits to gay and lesbian couples, this city has been willing to step up to the challenges of our day and find inspired ways to protect the vulnerable and ensure equality and justice for all.

Mayor Newsom's current policy related to immigrant youth does none of this. It has resulted in increased tensions between law enforcement and immigrant communities, it has torn apart families, it has wrongly detained innocent youth, and it has isolated young people from their families and communities of support and placed them in unfamiliar and unsafe situations.

This policy fails to live out our highest values as a city.

This City has always welcomed the stranger and embraced the outcast. San Francisco has provided a home to those who have no home, to those who have been cast from their homes, and to those who have to flee from their homes. Whether sexual orientation, gender identity, faith background, race, class, ethnicity, or country of origin, what has made San Francisco the great city it is has been the result of this ability to extend a home, a place of safety and belonging, to those who are often marginalized or oppressed.

Restoring due process to immigrant youth who are picked up by the police is consistent with this city’s historic tradition of ensuring that the marginalized and oppressed are not further marginalized by unjust policies.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Medical Marijuana and the Risks of Faith

I was glad to learn of the Obama administration's decision regarding medical marijuana, shifting resources away from the investigation and prosecution of medical marijuana users, growers, and suppliers.

In 1996, the California attorney general's office ordered that all medical marijuana dispensaries in the state be shut down.  Knowing that this would increase the suffering of those who relied on the drug to ease the pain of illness, several other progressive pastors and I were invited to turn our churches into medical marijuana distribution sites.  I was invited see what that would entail so went to an "undisclosed location" (or so we thought) to see how the drug was given out.

The following day, I woke up to grab the morning paper and read on the front page of the SF Chronicle: "Rev. Karen Oliveto is considering allowing her church, Bethany United Methodist Church in Noe Valley, to be used as a medical marijuana site." Oh no! I had made no decision, said nothing to my congregation, and now they were all learning this bit of "news" along with their Saturday bagel and coffee.

Needless to say, I was more than just a little nervous about what Sunday morning would be like. The first thing I did was apologize to the congregation and correct the zealous journalistic reporting. I then promised to send each congregational member a packet of information about medical marijuana and the legal risks involved. I also asked them to pray every day for discernment about what we as a community should do.

The following Sunday, we gathered after church to discuss whether or not we would become a distribution site.  One by one, members stood to voice their opinion: "Well, it is illegal...but what would Jesus do? Didn't he break laws if it meant relieving suffering or healing the sick?" "I wish, before my Harold died, I could have eased his pain with this drug. I hated to see him suffer so..."  "It is illegal, and we could lose our church assets if the government came after us, but doesn't God ask us to put people first?" 

It looked like we were coming to a consensus when suddenly Inez, one of the community's "grandmothers", raised her hand and stood. "Just hold on here a second."  Uh-oh, I thought. Here comes the controversy. "Do you hear what we are saying? 'Sure, they can come and use our building.' What's so Christian about that? We need to be here, when the sick come for their medication, and offer hospitality. We need to be here and love them as they receive the marijuana." So every Tuesday afternoon, an 84 year old woman would lead a band of church folks as they welcomed the sick into our building and helped them access medical marijuana.

It was a transformative experience for our community, one that we often turned to as an example of extreme faithfulness.  We are called to take great risks as a people of faith. In fact, if we aren't taking risks, we probably aren't being very faithful.  Because living our faith out loud is countercultural.  It is nothing short of revoluntionary activity.

I learned an important lesson from this experience.  People in the pews are hungry for a lived expression of faith that makes a mark in the world, that calls them to be their very best selves as individuals and as community, and that calls them to step out and risk it all as a disciple of Jesus.  The Gospel demands nothing less.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Where Have You Gone, Joe DiMaggio? To Colma...

When I was in the 2nd grade, my teacher required us to recite a poem by heart. The poem I chose got seared into my brain-I can still recite it without pause. It was a Robert Frost poem entitled "In a Disused Graveyard":

The living come with grassy tread
To read the gravestones on the hill;
The graveyard draws the living still,
But never anymore the dead.
The verses in it say and say:
"The ones who living come today
To read the stones and go away
Tomorrow dead will come to stay."
So sure of death the marbles rhyme,
Yet can't help marking all the time
How no one dead will seem to come.
What is it men are shrinking from?
It would be easy to be clever
And tell the stones: Men hate to die
And have stopped dying now forever.
I think they would believe the lie.

Looking over this poem, I realize it is a strange one for a 7 year old to choose to memorize! It is also oddly prophetic. Now, as an adult, I live in the only necropolis on the United States: Colma, California.

Colma has 1.5 million dead people, and 1500 living residents. My neighbors include Joe DiMaggio, Wyatt Earp, Levi Strauss, Emperor Norton I (one of my favorite San Francisco legends), and Tina Turner's dog (wrapped in one of Turner's fur coats), all buried here in Colma (there are 17 cemeteries--including Pet's Rest, the pet cemetery run by Glide member Phil C'de Baca).

I love walking through the cemeteries (my "parks"), looking at tombstones, reading the inscriptions, noting which graves are still lovingly cared for and which have been long neglected.  I am happy to report that my neighbors are fairly quiet, seemingly content in their final resting place.

Colma is also the backdrop of an indie film, Colma: The Musical. It is the coming of age story of three friends who recently graduated from high school. Living in that "in between" time of adolescence and adulthood, they must make a choice, to leave Colma and live, or remain amongst the dead.

Isn't this a life-long task? It is one thing to visit and remember the dead, it is another thing to reside in the past with them. I know too many people who can't let go of the past, of what once was, of the way things were.  Jesus said, "Let the dead bury the dead."  We must leave the cemetery and enter the land of the living, choosing life, over and over again.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Standing on the Side of Love

On October 11, I participated in the National Equality March in Washington, DC. This march brought together activists from around the country to call for full civil rights for lgbt persons at the local, state, and national levels.

I had the privilege of standing on the rally stage as Rev. Troy Perry offered an invocation. There we were, at the foot of the Capitol Building. I looked out at the tens of thousands of people gathered before us, saw tens of thousands more still marching in, and then looked across the reflecting pool and mall to the Washington Monument. I couldn’t help but think of the many millions of people who have stood here, witnessing for equality and justice. So many streams of justice-making, calling our country to be the very best it can be.

What is it about this country that causes so much division?  Why do we fear and hate difference? Why is it so hard for us to recognize the sacred worth of every person? Why don't we understand that none of us is truly free as long as some of us are oppressed? Democracy hinges on each of us standing up for the rights of each other.

There were many critiques from within the lgbt community leveled at this march: its timing, how it was diverting energy and resources away from local and state battles, how it was asking for too much too soon.  Needless to say, those outside the lgbt community had things to say against this march as well.

For me, I will always choose to stand on the side of love.  Because of my relationship to God and my commitment to follow Jesus, I can do no nothing less.  Love calls us to work for each other's liberation, to take a stand even when it is unpopular or inconvenient, to join together to mobilize love's power to transform. Love's imperative is always "now", never "not yet".  October 11th was the time, DC was the place, to stand on the side of love.

*Photos by Tyler Shaw

Thursday, October 8, 2009

The Quotable Bible

My first pastorate was in upstate NY, in the northern foothills of the Catskill mountains.  In a closet that was clearly long forgotten, I happened upon a most interesting artifact: a book entitled "The Quotable Bible". Someone had gone through the Bible and omitted verses, chapters, sections, entire books that were deemed "unquotable"! It was very interesting to read familiar passages and note what parts the editor felt was extraneous and what needed to remain in the text.

Well, according to the Huffington Post, another group of people have decided to go through the Bible in order to remove its liberal bias.  This has caused me to scratch my head and wonder what would be left!  Economic justice is one of the rallying cries in the Bible (forgive debts, share one's resources, do not hoard one's wealth but give to the poor...). Is this a liberal or conservative bias?  If these mandates are ommitted, what's left?

Is the love of neighbor a conservative or liberal bias?  Does healing the sick (even the sick without health care) reveal a liberal leaning?  Would Song of Solomon be considered a liberal celebration of wanton sexuality?  What would they do with that wild woman, the woman at the well?  What about Judges 19, which is a text some folks use to condemn homosexuality while overlooking the rape and dismemberment of a woman? Oh yeah, and then there's Jesus himself, who broke rules, overlooked religious laws, touched the untouchables, and hung out with outcasts. Conversative behavior or liberal behavior?

It is not just as simple as discarding the parts of the Bible we disagree with. What makes this ancient book a modern, living document are the tensions that exist within it.  When I read the Bible, I am challenged, pushed out of my own comfort zone, forced to see beyond my own limits and biases as I listen for God's Word.  The contradictions, the offensive and distasteful parts force me more deeply into text and tradition, into the story of faith, and invite me to participate in it.  To sanitize the sacred book robs it of its transforming power.  Why would anyone want to do that?

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

The Guy on the Corner

I share the corner of Taylor and Ellis, where Glide is located, with a remarkable patch-work quilt collection of humanity: staff, clients, congregants, tourists, the homeless and the strung-out.  After a year and a half, I've come to recognize the "regulars" and note the tell-tale signs of a tourist (it has less to do with their camera and everything to do with their clothes--most people come to SF expecting warm weather and wind up buying SF sweatshirts).

One man, in particular, is someone I always look for. Graying hair and beard and in a dirty white coat, he is a ghostly presence on the corner.  Sometimes I pass him, asleep alongside the building. Other days, he is sitting on a planter, talking to an unseen companion. Still on other occassions, he is standing in the middle of the road, shouting and gesturing like a fiery preacher.

Today, I realized he hasn't been around for a while.  We have been passing each other daily for 18 months, and I can't recall when I last saw him on the corner.  What was it about today that made me realize that he was gone?  How long has he been gone?

I don't even know his name.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

"Pastor, You Were Angry"

Today, someone came up after Celebration and said, "Pastor, you were angry."  I had brought to the attention of the congregation an email I had received before church.  Last May, eight of us from Glide went on a mission trip to Kenya. While we were there, we met with Rev. John Makokha, one of the few pro-glbt clergy in Africa.  He introduced us to a gay couple, who told us their story.  They told us how, in Kenya, it is against the law to be gay or lesbian.  One of them had, in fact, done jail time. The other had been fired from a bank because it was suspected that he was gay.

This morning, the email informed me that one of the men had been beaten in his own home. His partner was out of the house when the intruders--who were known to the men--broke in and began to beat him, telling him, between the blows, that he deserved to die.

Yes, I was angry in church this morning. No one should be subjected to violence because of who they are.  I was also extremely sad this morning.  We humans have such a hard time with the diversity found in the human family. Instead of embracing our differences as a mirror of God's greatness, we are frightened and threatened by it.  How can we learn to love the God-given differences that are found in our brothers and our sisters>

Friday, October 2, 2009

Why I Practice Sabbath-Keeping

I am troubled by the fact that I have to schedule times with friends at least two, if not three weeks in advance to fit into each other’s schedules.

I am troubled by the fact that so many kids today live lives that are as heavily scheduled as many adults.

I am troubled when couples tell me that they often don’t get to reconnect with each other until after 10 at night.

I am troubled when single people tell me they don’t have time to date.

I am troubled when folks tell me that their work load is so great that they have to make a choice between attending a church meeting or coming to worship (a side note: if work is that demanding, always err on the side of attending worship).

I am troubled that all these technological devices which are supposed to allow us to work anywhere have resulted in us working everywhere.

I am troubled by all of this because many of us are going through life terribly off-balanced.

We are overloaded, overworked, overcommitted, overanxious, overextended and overwhelmed, .

I recently read a book by Steve and Mary Farrar that described the contemporary American lifestyle that contributes to overload as deficit living. They wrote, “Overloaded people live in deficit—emotional, relational, or spiritual. When our checking accounts are overdrawn, we experience immediate stress and pressure, don’t we? It sets off an adrenal rush to find a way to immediately cover that shortfall. But where do you find a surplus when you’re already short? Where do you get money when you’re completely out?

“It’s also possible to get overdrawn in life. When we are overwhelmed, we find ourselves living in deficit—emotional deficit, relational deficit, spiritual deficit. We get overdrawn in our relationships and overdrawn with our kids. We run out of currency—the emotional and relational “cash” that it takes to live life well. And before long we begin to get anxious and panicky, because we think there is no way out.”
(from Overcoming Overload by Steve and Mary Farrar, Colorado Springs: Multnomah Books. 2003)

This deficit living is one reason why I try to observe a Sabbath every week. Sabbath is a time for me to unplug, keep my calendar empty, and do nothing that is even vaguely related to "have to" "must do" or "should do". Sabbath helps me breathe unconstricted, stretch my body and my soul, and relearn the rhythm of grace in my life again. Sabbath is a time of reconnection: with God, with those I love, with myself.

The weeks I fail to observe Sabbath, I feel as if I am running on empty and out of sync with myself and God. By keeping Sabbath, I ensure that in my busy, overextended life I have made room for God. And God never fails to show up in the midst of my Sabbath to sustain me the rest of the week.

Do you observe Sabbath?

What difference does it make in your life?

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

No One Expects Nothing From a Pitcher

Tonight, my colleague Don Guest and I went to a SF Giants game. The game was a perfect place to reflect on our shared ministry, banter about the game, and just relax a bit. Watching the pitchers on each team strike out at bat, we both commented, “No one expects nothing from a pitcher.” The pitcher is usually the last person in the batting order because he is usually the weakest hitter. While he might be an ace pitcher, most pitchers are lousy at bat. So no one expects much when they enter the batter’s box.

Earlier in the evening, we attended Glide’s Speak Out. This is an hour of open mic. People from the streets, members of the congregation, and Glide staff have the opportunity to share what’s on their minds. It is an hour of powerful and honest sharing. Tonight, a young black woman shared a poem about how she exceeded society’s expectations of her. Raised in one of the poorest neighborhoods in SF, her skin color and class status placed her in a certain demographic. Her poem was a defiant yet celebratory self-affirmation about how she beat the statistics stacked against her: she did not become pregnant at 17; she did not drop out of high school; she did not wind up in a low income job; she graduated from college; she is now a web designer. She refused to let the weight of society’s expectations keep her from attaining her dreams.

Imagine a world where our children and young people are not pigeon-holed into boxes because of race, class, sexual orientation, ethnicity, but instead are encouraged to be their highest and best selves. Imagine a world where every child receives a consistent message that she is worthwhile, capable, creative, and beloved. Imagine a world where we really do expect the very best for and of each other…

Monday, September 28, 2009

Is Your Health Insurance Making You Sick?

When vacationing in Nova Scotia this summer, we were amazed, as we listened to CBC radio, how seriously the country was preparing for a swine flu epidemic. Every day, the radio featured lengthy programs on various aspects of the flu, from deciding at what point public events would be cancelled to detailed information on the transmission of germs. It was all there, including information on how schools were preparing for the epidemic (teachers were pre-recording class sessions, which would be televised to students in case of school closures).

Swine flu concerns even had an effect on churches: one Sunday, we went to an Anglican Church, and the priest said that, under direction from the national office, communion would not be received through intinction (dipping the bread in the cup). Also, a bottle of Purell was strategically placed at the altar rail. Instead of preparing our souls to receive the meal, we had to purify our hands!

Here is one person's view of communion in swine flu season:

While a humorous response to the possible epidemic, I am more fascinated by the relative lack of discussion in the US about Swine flu. When arriving in Canada, we found Purell dispensers at the airport, at the gym, at shopping malls...well, any place people gathered in public. There was constant discussion in the town square about how to avoid the flu.

It feels as if we in the US have barely started the conversation. But then again, consider the difference in health care: when the (Canadian) government is providing (and paying!) for health care, it has a vested interest in keeping people well, because then it keeps the cost of health care low. Prevention is paramount. In contrast, the privatization of health care in the US means that insurance companies want to have diseases treated because that is when they can make money. Treatment = profit.

Is your health insurance making you sick?

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Guilty Pleasure

I confess that one of my guilty pleasures occurs every Sunday morning on the way to Glide: I listen to the Mormon Tabernacle Choir on KOIT. I do feel guilty about listening in to what is being sung in Temple Square, particularly after the Mormon Church's contribution to the passage of Proposition 8 in California. And it feels like a lot of cognitive dissonance, listening to the MTC on the way to listen to the Glide Ensemble, hearing a message from the Church of Latter Day Saints as I am preparing to offer a message at Glide.  Could the two churches be any further apart, theologically and sociologically?

One of the reasons why I enjoy listening to the MTC so much is that I know many of their anthems.  I grew up in the Babylon United Methodist Church (NY) which had an amazing music program. I grew up marking my age with the corresponding choir I was in.  I didn't so much read the bible as a child and teen, I sang it through all the music we covered over the years.

So it makes me wonder: how is it that the same songs that the MTC and the Babylon choirs sang resulted in such different faith expressions? These songs became the bedrock of my faith, which calls me to participate in the liberating work of God's love. The music communicated to me a commitment to be in community with all of God's people, to seek release from all forms of oppression which place God's people in bondage, and to love and protect the earth in all its glory.  How does God speak through music in ways that lead us to such radically different actions in the world? 

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Finding Time

One of my colleagues from the East Coast asked me via Facebook, “How do you find time to blog.” Since this is only my second post, I guess I don’t know the answer to that question yet! But here is another reason why I want to blog and am hoping to turn it into a daily discipline: I miss preaching weekly.

When I left the local church to be the associate dean at Pacific School of Religion, the biggest grief I experienced (besides leaving a community I dearly loved) was preaching every week. Preaching offered me a lens through which to encounter the world. Throughout the week, I would grapple with the text, wrestling like Jacob with the angel, trying to find out where the word was taking shape and form as the Word in the world. Where was God at work, providing hope, grace, Good News? That’s what preachers get paid to do: to notice where God is at work in the world and to point it out to a group of people who gather each week, waiting and wanting to see and hear a little Good News.

Returning to the local church has meant I get to flex these spiritual muscles again. Our preaching rotation, however, means I only preach once every 3 weeks. That’s less than a weekend warrior workout! Whenever it is my turn to preach, I feel those flabby spiritual muscles groan. My vision feels cloudier than when I used to preach weekly. Where is God these days?

So my hope is that these regular posts will be a way for me to spiritually exercise. Being a Methodist, I hope to carve it into my day most methodically, like my daily gym workouts and prayer times. I figure if I can manage to box with my trainer regularly, I can box regularly with God as well.

Friday, September 25, 2009

To Blog or Not to Blog?

I have been wrestling with the question of blogging for several months. When you get to have a weekly public platform from which to air one’s thoughts, is blogging overkill? Preaching is such a privilege, because I get to share with a community my faith musings, my own wrestling with angels, the Good News I hear. And folks in the pews have two choices: to listen or leave (or nap, as some have reminded me!).

The more I thought about it, the more I became excited about blogging. Feedback on preaching is usually limited to “Great sermon”, “Thanks”, or “You really made me think” as people head out the door. There is little opportunity for in-depth conversation, or even to hear from those who disagree. Blogging, I hope, can be a way to engage in conversations in which we all might learn something from each other, even when we disagree, because it allows for us to have dialogue, back and forth (with no interruptions!).

At least that’s my hope.