Garbage, Clutter and Boxes

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I’m posting on trash night, because this week, my Lenten purge is a bunch of garbage- literally.

I took a close look in the invisible places of my home. This led to some alarming discoveries:

-Expired hot sauce in the fridge
-Soy sauce packets
-Pantry items way past their shelf life
-medications from years ago
-too many hotel shampoo and conditioner bottles
-half a drawer full of orphan socks without a match
-cards from people I can’t even remember
-handouts from grad school that are no longer relevant
-coupons and junk mail from stores I will never go in
-cardboard boxes we’re hoarding for no reason
-Old crusty paint cans and paint brushes from previous owners of this home

This week’s purge does not serve anyone else or benefit any organization that we support.

But clearing out old drawers and cluttered corners of our house feels good.

It reminds me how important it is to create space in every aspect of my life. Instead of cramped cupboards and a full basement – I’m inching towards more simplicity. I’m longing for breathing room, and home seems like the best place to start.

By the time I leave the house tomorrow, our front curb will be empty again. Our old boxes and handouts and greeting cards will be recycled and transformed into new and useful items. The extra garbage that was hiding in the corners of our house will be picked up, giving us a new opportunity to start fresh, to limit the intake and outtake in our home.

These are the unglamorous parts of the Lenten purge, and yet, some of the most necessary.

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God’s Invitation

+ Psalm 130 Out of the depths I cry to you, LORD; Lord, hear my voice. Let your ears be attentive to my cry for mercy… God will redeem me from the depth of all depths… ***

The knot in my stomach this morning told me I was in that old familiar place the Psalmist called “The Depths.” My wandering mind gets me into this place from time to time. Usually, for me, I take a wrong turn into ‘the depths’ when I start to ask the impossible questions: What’s going to happen in the future? What can I expect? Where is God leading me? How is the world calling me to serve, to act, to minister?

Though these questions could lead others to dream, imagine, and hope- for me… these questions ALWAYS lead to “the depths.”

Before getting lost in this endless maze of worry and fret, I used the trusty “Phone a friend” lifeline. In this case, I called a wise, thoughtful, prayerful mentor. As the impossible questions began spilling out of my mouth- my mentor took a deep breath and said: “instead of looking for the world’s pitfalls, why don’t you start to look for God’s invitation. What is God inviting you to do in this glorious, blessed, wonder-filled life?”

So often, we are encouraged to focus on all that we lack. We listen to our heart’s longings from this place of scarcity and fear: what do I not have that I need? What could elevate my joy, my status, my peace, or my progress? But what if we lived in to the faith of the Psalmist before us and started to ask: God, I cry out to you- how will you answer? Where will your redemption appear? What will your invitation look like?

This summer, between cool sips of lemonade and long bike rides on the green-line… between late nights on the porch swing and weekend getaways- maybe we can all begin to look carefully for God’s invitation. Whether it comes as a young person in need of a listening ear, a sojourner in need of shelter for a night, a dreamer in need of encouragement, one who grieves in need of an embrace, or even in the form of a stomach knot- urging us to slow down, breathe, and rest… my prayer is that we all have ears to hear God’s invitation in the depths of our hearts- as we seek to live a life worthy of our calling here.

Creative and compassionate God, we know that you invite us into your vision through raging winds and loaves of bread, through moments of Sabbath through cool sips of lemonade, and more. You offer a rope to climb out of ‘the depths’ and sometimes it’s made out of the listening ear of a mentor, and sometimes it’s woven together in the words of the Psalms. For this and so many more blessings, we say Thank you. Thank you. Thank You. Amen.

***As Summer begins, I plan to pray through the Psalms. Today, I begin a new series similar to the “Glimpses of Grace” journey through the book of Acts, only this time, I’m searching for new prayers to pray, new ways to respond to God’s continuing work around me. So- welcome to my first post in the “Summer Psalms” series. Journey with me!

Memphis Girl Scouts

Girl Scouts

Invocation Prayer, May 13th 2013 Girl Scouts of Memphis Awards Ceremony

Gracious God, you have called each of us to live with courage, confidence, and character.
Thank you for the young women here who have answered this call.
Thank you for the ways our Girl Scouts have made the world a better place where the next generation of young women can thrive.
Loving God, through the work of the Memphis Girl Scouts, we have all seen the power of collaboration, friendship, and exploration. Help us all to be inspired by the continuing work of the Girl Scouts. May we all continue to search for wonder and adventure in the world.
As we honor the commitment each of these Girl Scouts have made to this organization, remind us all to seek our own commitments and responsibilities in our local community.
God, we ask you to bless this evening, bless all those who have done the hard work to bring about this celebration, and when we leave tonight, may we all be renewed by the faith and compassion and service that our Girl Scouts model, Amen.

God Created Teachers

adopt a school

Invocation Prayer Offered at Memphis City Adopt-a-School luncheon, May 1, 2013

Loving God, we know that long, long ago- you created the teacher, and you said that she was very good.
You would send her out to shepherd the next generation of singers, dancers, artists, doctors and lawyers. You would send her out to plant seeds of wisdom and creativity and inspiration.
You would send the teacher out to bring transformation to every nation. But God, we know that you are faithful, and you promised that teacher that she would not do it alone.
You surrounded the teacher with strong administrators and strong principals and willing staff.
You gave her visions of partnerships, support teams and sponsors. You promised the teacher: collaboration.
We come together today, gracious God, to thank you for that promise you made to teachers everywhere.
We thank you for calling each of us to this partnership.
Give us all strength and endurance. Give us clear vision and innovation.
Help us continue to build bridges between the teacher and the community. May we all find inspiration through this gathering for the good work ahead. Amen.

Collective Scream

+ Isaiah 3:26 The gates of the city will lament and mourn; destitute, she will sit on the ground.

They say a collective scream broke out on the streets of Boston when two bombs exploded at the marathon finish line.

I imagine synchronized tears fell.

Simultaneously, hearts broke open.

Yes. In a sense we all gasped the same gasp and shivered in the same cold shadow of fear and disbelief as black smoke filled Copley Square.

Our eyes were already on Boston yesterday. Something about young and old, men and women, professionals and amateurs, wheel chairs and tennis shoes covering 26.2 miles… We all wanted to see this absurd, triumphant, multi-cultural jubilation unfold.

Marathons are so human. we’ve created this spectacle and sport that draws all types: competitive athletes and moms running off baby weight. Marathons attract high school cross-country stars and mid-life crisis victims. When we think of marathons- we think: they are innocent, benign, universal and community-oriented… Until yesterday.

The Boston marathon is the crown jewel. You must either qualify for the race or agree to fundraise money in order to enter. Professionals enjoyed a city-wide holiday to observe thousands of people running an unnatural distance just for the sense of accomplishment in it.

It should have been a day of too much Gatorade, paper cups littering our neighborhoods, and collective sportsmanship.

Instead, collective screams.

One more venue for terror, one less benign community gathering.

One more reason to fear, one less opportunity to trust each other.

One more city that laments and mourns, one less place of refuge and security.

News of the Boston bombings crushed my spirit. That city created space for me to fall in love, to find my first home, to answer a call to ministry, and to meet my best friends. Some of my most sacred moments unfolded in the hours I spent running along the Charles River and reading in the Boston Common.

I consider Boston my heart-home. A piece of me remains on those cobblestone streets. I owe that city a debt for the ways it shaped me and taught me to love, to trust, to grow, and to learn from my community.

My heart broke when I learned about the bombings because a place that once seemed untouchable and sacred to me is now marked by this new, hate-filled, fear-driven stain that is slowly changing our world forever.

I grieve for Boston and yet so many people have have deeper grief and sorrow. 170 people injured and counting… 3 dead- more may pass away. Boston residents woke up with a little less hope and a little less faith today.

I fear the grief will continue. More cities will be stained. Others will experience this sense of deep loss as their heart-homes become terror targets.

What are we to think in times like this? What should we hope for, and what can we pray? For me, in this confusing and dark time, this is my prayer:

Compassionate God, our hearts are broken in the wake of more violence and destruction. Boston is the latest city to sit on the ground in mourning and lament. Wrap your comforting arms around us. Draw us near to one another before we scatter in fear and suspicion of our neighbors. Remind us of the renewing spirit of hope that can rise out if any tomb or terror site. Stop us from turning our vulnerability into hardness. Hold us back from the dark shadows of judgement and stereotypes as we seek justice. Forgive us all for creating a world where children hear sirens more than alleluias. Transform our collective screams into cries for peace and tenderness on our streets again. Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayers. Amen.

Glimpses of Grace: Day 30

Dot
– Picture of Andrew, Sarah, and Dot: December 2011

+ Acts 20:7 On the first day of the week we came together to break bread…

The call came during our festival worship- sweet Dot was fading fast at the hospital. It was time to say goodbye. I jumped in my car as another minister proclaimed the benediction, and I drove out to the hospital to say goodbye. When I arrived, Dot’s husband sat at her side, holding her hand, whispering a prayer. Dot’s Children and Grandchildren filled the room. Friends began to gather in the hallway. Dot influenced so many people through her ministry and her compassion- and all the people she touched wanted to honor her and say goodbye.

An Elder from our church suggested that I serve communion to Dot’s family and friends as we gathered in her hospital room. So, we broke bread together. I remembered that Christ gathered with those he loved the day before he died to celebrate this farewell feast we call “The Last Supper.” The disciples ate and drank together to honor the life Christ lived, and with each bite of bread, and each sip from the cup, the disciples pledged to remember him. There we were, a group of Christ’s followers, gathered in a hospital room on a rainy Sunday… participating in this same feast. We broke bread to honor the life Dot lived. With each bite of bread, and with each sip from the cup, we all remembered Dot, who lived a life modeled after Christ. It was a beautiful Last Supper.

Glimpses of Grace: Day 29

+Acts 19:32 The assembly was in confusion: Some were shouting one thing, some another. Most of the people did not even know why they were there.

In Acts 19, an outrageous scene unfolds in Ephesus. A riot breaks out between Jews and Greeks. Some began shouting ‘Great is Artemis’ while others preached about the Holy Spirit and the ministry of Jesus. The spirit of this discussion came out of the desire for two communities to be understood in their religious differences. I believe in the importance of theological debate and inter-faith dialogue. In my opinion, we know too little about the beliefs of other religious communities. Because of our lack of knowledge, we often make generalizations or stereotypes about people of other faiths. And so, I support efforts to dialogue between religious communities.

But this scene in Acts 19 has nothing to do with theological dialogue. This riot reveals far more about our treatment of one another and our tendency to riot, fight, and debate without always understanding why we are so worked up.

Acts 19:32 could describe so many contemporary scenes: people fighting with other people, expressing anger, frustration, division, shouting, griping, and attacking… but not because of their convictions… instead, simply because we inadvertently tolerate bad behavior, and poor treatment of one another.

Perhaps we can all afford to tone it down, release our fists, open our ears first (and close our mouths)… avoiding riots and welcoming dialogue with those who are different than us. Who knows, we might even learn something…

Glimpses of Grace: Day 28

equality

+ Acts 18:9-11 One night the Lord spoke to Paul in a vision: “Do not be afraid; keep on speaking, do not be silent. For I am with you, and no one is going to attack and harm you, because I have many people in this city.” So Paul stayed in Corinth for a year and a half, teaching them the word of God.

This past week, many of my friends expressed their support of gay marriage as discussions about the legalization of gay marriage began in the Supreme Court. I stayed out of this public rally. I remained quiet as my colleagues and mentors and even my spouse showed their alliance to our brave brothers and sisters who fight for the right to marry. In my devotion time today- I read about God’s call to Paul: be brave, speak up, do not be silent… and I realized that I too, need that encouragement.

I see so much hardening in this world- too many wars, too much violence, too many hateful words said and attacks made. I think we all thirst for more images of love and tenderness, more expressions of commitment and faithfulness, and more gestures of compassion and grace. Marriage is hard. Two willing hearts must make promises to be present, loyal, gentle, and kind to one another for as long as they both shall live. I think every person on earth should take these vows- and mean it. In my community, I know so many people who love each other- and who try every single day to live in to love as a verb, as a daily commitment, as a spiritual discipline. The people I see bearing witness to love are men, women, straight, gay, young, old, mothers, fathers… and Children of God- every single one…

I stand on the side of love, wherever it springs up. I fully support every brave soul who longs to make a promise to God and another person to cherish and adore their spouse in sickness and in health, for richer or poorer, until they are parted by death. To me, the more we make these promises to one another, the more light we shine in the world. My prayer is that every person on earth has the chance to enter into this covenant. May it be so…

Glimpses of Grace: Day 27

Hymnals

+ Acts 17:22-28 Paul then stood up in the meeting of the Areopagus and said: “People of Athens! I see that in every way you are very religious. For as I walked around and looked carefully at your objects of worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: to an unknown god. So you are ignorant of the very thing you worship—and this is what I am going to proclaim to you. “The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by human hands. And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything. Rather, he himself gives everyone life and breath and everything else. From one man he made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands. God did this so that they would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from any one of us. ‘For in him we live and move and have our being.’ As some of your own poets have said, ‘We are his offspring.’

First Christian Church in Owensboro, KY burned to the ground this Lenten season. Two friends of mine pastor the church there. When I heard the news of this tragedy- I felt devastated for them. The fire destroyed their beautiful, historic sanctuary. Fire fighters crushed the stunning stone facade to put out the flames. Every pew burned. Every hymnal became a pile of ash. How on earth would First Christian Church in Owensboro move on from this? How would they survive the devastation?

Could they celebrate Easter without their sanctuary, their pew Bibles, and their particular communion table? This scripture reading from Acts came at a perfect time in my devotion as I reflected on First Christian Church in Owensboro this Holy Week. “… The Lord of Heaven and Earth does not live in temples built by human hands…”

Over the past few days, I witnessed the courageous leaders of First Christian Church live into the Hope that they proclaim. They have taught us all through their endurance. They boldly proclaim: we will go on, we will continue to be The Church, and God remains with us- no matter when or where we gather.

At the request of the pastoral staff at First Christian Church, I quietly took 2 red Chalice Hymnals from the Lindenwood pews and placed them in a FedEx box addressed to Owensboro, KY. We joined with dozens of other disciples churches in sending worship supplies to this community as they prepared for Easter. We participated in resurrection for First Christian Church. Now, tomorrow morning, this church will have Chalice hymnals of all different colors, marked with various inscriptions from Churches throughout our denomination. First Christian Church reminds me of the truth of Acts chapter 17- God is already nearer than our breath. We do not need our sanctuaries or our communion tables or our pew Bibles to prove that we are God’s people. Wherever we go, whatever we do, God is present among us.

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