The Things We Carry

Phoebe

 

 

+Ephesians 4:32 Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God has forgiven you.

In our family: we have a sweet, troubled, neurotic cat named Phoebe.

She licks her heels bare with worry.

She over-eats until she’s sick.

She howls in the night as if her world is falling apart.

When we found her, she weighed 3 pounds, and we were told she lost 3 kittens to starvation on the streets of Boston.

Yesterday, I found two socks and a slipper by the front door.

This is not the first time objects have appeared out of place. Phoebe has a history of dragging items around. Often, I find several soft, small things gathered together. Phoebe always digs through our dirty laundry or the bottom of our closets to find them. She then carries them around in her mouth and picks a place to nest with ‘her baggage.’

Every time I see these random items out of place, I feel compassion for Phoebe. Is she remembering her lost kittens? Is she simply having an anxious response to our absence?

We all carry around indicators of our past. Feelings and emotions buried deep. For most of us, the things we carry are invisible. I believe, if we had eyes to see- we would notice all sorts of relics from the past piling up around us- reminding us of times we hurt, or experienced loss, or felt vulnerable. It’s true for our neighbors, too.

Every time I come home to a pile of socks by the front door, I’m grateful to Phoebe for reminding me to live compassionately, to treat the people I meet with respect and understanding. Will you join me in this spiritual practice?

 

Phoebe 2

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Wilderness: Thoughts on our Long Distance Relationship & the Spiritual Task in an Uncultivated Place

wilderness

 

 

+Psalm 107: 4-6 Some wandered in the wilderness… hungry and thirsty, their soul fainted within them.  Then they cried out in their trouble, and God delivered them from their distress…

wil·der·ness: an uncultivated, uninhabited, and inhospitable place; a position of disfavor

+++

For the past month and a half, Andrew has lived in Memphis, TN and I have lived in Canton, Oh. I started serving a beautiful, joyful church here in January, and Andrew faithfully and patiently waits for his opportunity to serve a church here. We decided to live apart because we believe in being called to places of ministry- and- by January 1, I was called to Ohio, and Andrew still had a call in Memphis.

We talk throughout the day. We FaceTime at night. He visits every 2-3 weeks.

But still, living apart feels like wandering in the wilderness.

Andrew is my home, my resting place, and my tether to all that is close and warm and compassionate.

 In this vast, spinning world, I continue to realize, we really only have a handful of people in our corner. Out of the 7 billion souls wandering around this planet, most of us can only name a few who will show up for us, cheer us on, pick us up when we crumple to the floor, and take the time to notice our unique, charming, and strange idiosyncrasies. And it’s this small group of people in our corner that makes our corner of the world ‘home’.

In the past 49 days away from Andrew, I’ve begun to depend on some of the new faces I’m meeting at my new church. We’ve broken bread together, we’ve begun to open up and share stories with one another, we’ve laughed together and-we’ve even witnessed a few tears together already.

Slowly, I can see a path clearing in this wilderness- and it’s happening through relationships. I keep thinking about that image of the ‘beloved community.’ It seems like God’s promise of deliverance, of a light to our feet, the promise of making a way when there is no way—is rooted in a call to connection- to finding one another in our own private corners and making those corners ‘home.’

Maybe we are all called to cultivate, to make the uninhabited instead cohabitated , to make inhospitable places hospitable and welcoming. In other words- breaking down the thick branches in the wilderness to build nests, protective dams, or places we can all find a resting place, a tether to all that is close and warm and compassionate.

Maybe Christ was some sort of an eco-carpenter, using found objects in the wilderness and repurposing all of it to build the sustainable, beautiful beloved community.

At least for me, surviving in this thick wilderness, I am beginning cut a path through it, one friendship and fellowship connection at a time.

Mountain of Prayers: Reflections on the Beatitudes, the Sermon on the Mount, and the Big Questions

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+ Matthew 5:1-3 Introduction to the Sermon on the Mount: Now when Jesus saw the crowds, he went up on a mountainside and sat down. His disciples came to him, and he began to teach them. He said: Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven…

 

I remember the first time I saw people praying.

At age 5, on a family vacation in Sun Valley, Idaho- I fell and fractured my arm in several places. I spent weeks in the hospital for surgery after surgery. I heard whispers of ‘amputation’ or ‘skin grafting’ because of the severity of my nerve damage and swelling.

All around me, people prayed.

During those long days in the hospital, as I realized the fragility of my little arm- I would ponder ‘the big questions.’ I would turn to my mom and ask: where do all these prayers go?

I began to imagine a mountain of prayers- filled with all the prayers of our ancestors, the generations before us, the prayer of our neighbors from communities around the world- all piling up into a huge mountain of requests, supplications, concerns, joys and laments.

 I preached on the Beatitudes a few weeks ago- the first section of the Sermon on the Mount. Many lectionary-following ministers probably preached this text too.

The Sermon on the Mount is the longest moment of teaching in all of Jesus’ ministry. This sermon stretches from Matthew chapter 5 through Matthew Chapter 7. Passages from this sermon are some of the most used and quoted pieces of the New Testament.

I love this scripture for all the sacred promises: those who mourn will be comforted, those who thirst and hunger will be filled, the peacemakers will be blessed and the meek lifted up… such a triumphant and incredible image of healing and wholeness in the world, and yet, it seems so distant and unrealistic.

I imagine piles of prayers for peace and safety and understanding rose up to the Mountain of Prayers from a high school in Philadelphia and a middle school in New Mexico. These two schools already endured shootings in 2014.

The talented, inspirational Philip Seymour Hoffman died from the fatal affliction of addiction last week. Thousands of prayers of confusion, sorrow, concern, fear, and anger must have been uttered since his death.

When I hear about the ongoing brokenness around me, I like to imagine a mountain of prayers…

When I study the Sermon on the Mount, I always linger in the Beatitudes. I love the hopefulness in it- blessed are those who mourn, blessed are the meek, blessed are those who thirst, blessed are the merciful and the pure in heart, blessed are the peacemakers, and blessed are those who are persecuted…

And yet- there are so many unanswered prayers. Christ describes a reality we have not seen yet, Jesus is preaching and teaching about blessings that we have not witnessed yet- he’s using kingdom language more than relatable language.

We know that crowds of people gathered in Galilee to hear Jesus preach this Sermon on the Mount. We read that when Jesus saw people gathered, Jesus climbs up the mountainside with his Disciples to recite the beatitudes.

But… Scholars and Geologists and historians alike cannot tell us what mountain Jesus climbed. Unlike the many passages that offer elaborate descriptors and footnotes- this passage is vague.

The scripture sounds almost like a fable or a once upon a time story at the beginning: When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him

When I try to make sense of all the brokenness surrounding us, and this beautiful passage that preaches into our living, breathing lives today, I imagine that Jesus climbed to the top of the mountain of prayers and preached: Dear Philadelphia, and Roswell, New Mexico, fear not. Blessed are the peacemakers, you are the Children of God and I will not leave you alone as you grieve.

Maybe Jesus climbed to the top of the mountain of prayers and preached directly to those of us reeling because of the death of our idols, our friends, or those struggling with addiction and Jesus said: fear not, Blessed are you who mourn, or you who are crippled with sadness or grief or fear-, Yours is the Kingdom of heaven and I will not leave you alone.

Perhaps Jesus climbed to the top of the mountain of prayers and preached directly to our very community and said: fear not, the illiterate will read and the hungry will be fed and the homeless will find rest before I leave this mountaintop.

And so, I hope we all continue to lift up prayers, deep hurts, confusion, loss and worry to that mountain of prayers, trusting that peace and hope will be restored by a present, persistent God who preaches the good news even today, in 2014.

Salt and Light

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+ Matthew 5:13-14 You are the salt of the earth… You are the light of the world…

Year after year, the whole world seems to turn and watch…

Millions of people seem to focus and pay attention to the Olympics- a dramatic sporting event that begins with the lighting of a torch…

I love the Olympics. Nations coming together with other nations. Young, bright success stories rise up from unsuspecting countries and shine.

An opportunity to dream, to unite, to strive, and to celebrate…

The whole world seems to turn and watch these games.

The games open with an elaborate ceremony: a light is passed from one person to another.

This year, Maria Sharapova- a tennis star- passed the light to a pole vaulter. A pole vaulter passed the light to a heavy weight wrestler who passed light to a gymnast- who finally passed the light to an ice skater and a hockey player- and they lit the Olympic Cauldron.

With the lighting of that flame: the Olympic games officially open.

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus says:

You are the salt of the earth. You are the light of the world.

What kind of blessing is this? What does it mean to be called salt, and light?

We do know this: salt was considered sacred, a commodity that was mined and treasured in Jesus’ time. And light is often a symbol for God throughout scriptures. But what does it mean to be called salt and light?

With both Salt and light: a little bit goes a long way. A little bit of salt, broken into tiny pieces reaches far and wide- the impact of salt is significant.  Similarly, a little bit of light changes everything- a tiny light can shine in the darkness and the darkness cannot overcome it.

But with both Salt and Light- neither one is valuable by itself. Instead- Salt and Light are valuable when applied to things. We add salt to melt ice, to flavor our food, to preserve, to change water and soil. Salt is valuable when it enhances and affects something else. And the same is true with light: we know light through what it touches, what it illuminates.

You are the salt of the Earth, you are the Light of the world.

Jesus is inviting us to affect our surroundings, to illuminate and to flavor our communities with the Good News of our redemptive and loving God. Christ is reminding us all that even when we feel small, we can have a big impact.

I believe we are all invited to be the salt of the earth: to change lives, to season them with grace, and God’s hope and God’s redemption. We are all invited to be the Light of the World: we too, have been handed a torch to pass, to share, and to offer to our neighbors.

As we pursue these blessings, eventually, the whole world might turn and watch.

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