Smears of Messiness: Ash Wednesday, Ministering, Mothering, and Loving

minister mother

Tonight we honor Ash Wednesday.

Big black streaks will be smeared across the foreheads of my church folks in the shape of a cross. We will whisper words with each smear: remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.

The streaks of ash are messy and unkempt to remind us of the physical, human side of our faith.

Ashes are scattered when we grieve. Ashes cover the heads of those who mourn like Job and Tamar.

Ashes remind us to cry out to God in our mess- like the Prophet Jeremiah and the prophet Daniel.

On all other days of the year- our churches are cleaner, more presentable. With our Sunday-best clothes, or smiling faces over coffee hour, or Good News messages that leave little room for the mess, the grief, the smears…

But life isn’t tidy or Sunday-best.

We all could use a few ashes from the church: to make room for our grief, our mess, our streaked and smeared human form.

On Ash Wednesday, we are humbled with the reminder: we are dust.

Motherhood is also humbling. The daily tasks of diapers and runny noses and nursing are tactile and raw and real. I am used to the mess. My sweet son needs to cry on my shoulder- often smearing tears and snot into my hair. He turns to me when he’s sick and the stains on my clothes tell the whole story.

Loving one another comes with mess: spit-up on the clean sheets, cheerios covering the carpet, crumbs in grandpa’s beard, lipstick stains from mom’s exuberance…

This is the truth for all of us- beyond our Sunday-best. The sweetest parts of life often come with smears, with mess, with streaks that stain our physical lives and remind us that we are living, knee deep in this chaotic, beautiful world.

Ash Wednesday is an important day.

Let the ashes smear on your forehead.

Let the church meet you with messiness.

Let your community come together all at once to say: we are dust and ashes and crumbs and lipstick stains- and that is the beautiful part of our human lives.

Dust is holy.

And God is present in the dust and crumbs. Amen.



Bringing a Child- A New Lens for Mark 10

Felix 4

+ Mark 10:13-16 People were bringing little children to him in order that he might touch them; and the disciples spoke sternly to them. But when Jesus saw this, he was indignant and said to them, “Let the little children come to me; do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs. Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it.” And he took them up in his arms, laid his hands on them, and blessed them.

I’m in my 7th week back at Community Christian Church after my maternity leave ended in October. I returned to the church changed.

In the last 3 months- I’ve learned a lot about having a child.

I’ve learned how to translate cries.

I’ve learned about love.

I’ve also learned that some of the catch phrases we say about children are just not true. For example, the phrase: I slept like a baby last night.

WHO thought that up?

That little phrase is usually spoken when someone sleeps soundly all night. Whoever coined that has never had a baby. Sleeping like a baby means getting up every two hours to eat, then play, then look at pictures, then crying yourself to sleep, REPTEAT UNTIL MORNING.

Then, there’s that story in Mark. I think it’s a misunderstood and misrepresented passage about children. People are bringing children to Christ, and he is taking them in his arms and blessing them. When we picture this scene, it’s easy to picture a peaceful, simple, beautiful moment of innocent little babies and children coming to Christ.

But then I had Felix. And I learned that bringing a child anywhere is NEVER simple or cleaned up or serene.

You practically have to pack 4 suitcases to get out the door. Not to mention, it seems to take 3 hours to leave the house with a baby. They need to eat, then sleep, then eat, then be changed, then be changed again, then you’re too tired to leave the house with them anyway.

If you do leave the house with your baby- and you arrive at your destination outside the house- no doubt- your child will either start screaming and disturbing everyone around you, or your child will have a diaper blow out, or spit up all over their outfit, or both.

Bringing a baby anywhere is not simple and sweet and innocent at all- it’s a NIGHTMARE.

There is ONE reason I am able to show up at Community Christian Church each day for work: I have help. Andrew is an equal, loving parent. Our friends offer support. Our churches are compassionate and welcoming when we need to bring Felix to a meeting or when he has a meltdown during a prayer gathering.

One true phrase about babies: it takes a village.

I’ve been thinking about this story from Mark when people are bringing children to Christ, and I see it differently now.

Consider the scene: folks bringing their children to see Christ. This means they were loaded down with baggage. This means it took them 5 hours to finally get out the door to see Christ and likely, their babies were screaming their heads off as multiple people try to calm the little ones.

I can see why the disciples were upset. It was a nightmare!

But Jesus says: let the children come to me.

Think about it: to get to the kingdom of God, we have to come like children.

What does that mean?

It means we come with our baggage. It means we come and it’s messy. It means, we cannot do it alone. It takes a village.

The only way we are going to reach God’s hope is if we remember we must come, baggage, messiness and all- which is good- because that’s the only way I get anywhere these days.

40 Days Broken: Thoughts On Ferguson, Good Friday, and God’s Light


In 4 months, we’ll have a son. A little boy! A bright, lively spirit that I imagine will be loud, adventurous, wild, curious, tender, rebellious, and deeply loved all at once.

8 months ago, another mother lost her son 557 miles from where I live.

In Ferguson, Missouri on a hot August afternoon, Michael Brown was shot by a police officer. Michael: another little boy- a bright, wild, rebellious and deeply loved all at once little boy-was shot at just 18 years old.

Different accounts about what happened to Michael Brown swirled. But somehow, that renewing and truth-telling commandment from God to love your neighbor as yourself was lost in the midst of a police chase after an afternoon convenience store robbery.

Somehow that deep and old commandment from God found Exodus and repeated by Christ in the gospel of Matthew that thou shall not kill… was broken in the midst of a young black man standing with his hands up, OR charging a police officer- who can say? But 12 shots were fired and a mother lost her son 8 months ago.

As I prepare for motherhood my joy and hope builds- but there is still a small whisper that reminds me: mothers are losing their children every day.

Tonight, we reach the end of our 40 day season of remembrance. On Good Friday, we come to the cross: another place where a mother lost her son.

On Good Friday, we are asked to bear witness to this pain.

We are called to go to the foot of the cross with Mary, a mother who lost her son. We are called to stay at the foot of the cross with Michael Brown’s mother as she grieves her son. We are called to go to the foot of the cross with all mothers who have lost children.

Good Friday reminds me that perhaps the world must be broken open first, to let the light in.

It is not difficult to see the broken pieces of the world around us. We live in a world where mothers still lose their sons and where 1 in 9 people go hungry each day worldwide.

We live in a world where 150 million people are homeless or live in refugee camps and temporary housing.

We see these 40 day cycles of brokenness throughout the Bible, and throughout the world today.

In the book of Genesis, God sent rain for 40 days and 40 nights in the great flood of Noah. Water filled the streets and spilled into everything. In 40 days the world was destroyed. (Genesis 7:4).

In the 40 days after Michael Brown was shot, protesters and swat teams swarmed in Ferguson, and tear gas filled the streets- spilling into everything. In 40 days, the shrine to Michael Brown was burned down, and the town was nearly destroyed.

In a world where God’s people were wandering in the desert- homeless and living in refugee camps on their way to the Promised Land… Moses spent 40 days on Mount Sinai with God in the book of Exodus. Here he received the 10 commandments that would build the moral backbone of the world.

In a world where 150 million people are wandering- homeless or live in refugee camps, we must remember that during a roughly 40-day fall Habitat for Humanity season in any given city, groups of people construct over 15 houses for families in need, building the backbone of communities.

In 1 Kings, Elijah spent time speaking to God about shifting power, about rising up so that people would be brought back to God. He spent 40 days and 40 nights walking to Mount Horeb and it made a difference. (1 Kings 19:8).

In Selma, Alabama in January 1965, Martin Luther King spent time speaking to God’s people about rising up so that they would gain equality and voting rights. For just over 40 days and 40 nights, the people of Selma planned to walk together to Montgomery and it made a difference.

Through homelessness and wandering, through long walks to Mount Horeb and Montgomery Alabama in search of redemption, through water and tear gas flooding streets, through mothers for generations grieving the death of their children dying out of order… at the foot of the cross and on the streets of Ferguson…

In Lent, we remember that God shows up and brings hope at the moment we are broken open.

Good Friday is a night to remember that God’s work often begins with a death- and rises out of the midst of 40 days of brokenness.

But soon, we will encounter the empty tomb. Soon, we will be reminded that a light shines in the darkness, and the darkness can never overcome the light.

4 Things I Hope the Future Church Teaches My Son

baby in church

4 months from today, we will be waiting, moment to moment, for our son to be born. I’ve already started to imagine what he will be like.

I imagine he will love hot sauce, like his dad.

I bet he’ll be a homebody like his mom.

I hope he can sleep through anything like his dad, and I hope he can sing like his mom.

Whoever he is, I hope our son loves The Church. But what will that mean for him?
What will the church teach him if he goes? And, what is it that Christ calls us to be in the world?

As I think about The Church this Holy week, these are the 4 things I hope the future church teaches my son:

1) Do not get swept away by duty, or expectations or the ‘shoulds’ of life, instead, when something speaks deeply to your heart, when something tugs at your soul- follow it, pursue it, and never look back.

When Christ went looking for his disciples, he didn’t look among the religious leaders or outwardly ‘religious’ people- those who were already praying in public or preaching in synagogues. Instead, he went looking for people who still had the ability to dream. He went to the sea shore at dawn, and he encountered young men- probably in their teens or twenties- and he said: ‘drop your nets and follow me.’

With that- these young dreamers dropped their fishing rods. They left behind their duties, their obligations, the jobs that their parents probably said they should do or that their parents expected them to do. Why? Because something deep within them cried out and spoke to their hearts.

I don’t think God wants a world full of people living by the word ‘should’ instead, God wants a world full of people that know how to listen to their hearts.

I believe God desires passionate dreamers. I hope the church teaches this to our son.

2) Allow yourself to be amazed.

Jesus called disciples who were willing to witness the mystery of God and be amazed. The disciples were not convinced that they knew all the answers. Instead, they followed Christ with a spirit of discovery and awe.

Christ cleansed lepers, he restored a girl to life and healed a woman who was bleeding for 12 years. And though his disciples wondered, questioned and examined what they saw- they remained open to the mystery of what God can do.

God wants us all to remain open- not convinced that we know all there is to know about God, but instead, ready to encounter God’s renewing spirit in the world.

I hope the church teaches my son to remain open-minded.

3) Invest in tenderness and service over dominance and power.

My son is coming in to a broken world. Women are abused by their husbands. Wars break out over territory and resources. Children are hungry. The poor are getting poorer, the rich are getting richer. The planet is slowly dying due to our abuse and negligence toward the environment. Churches all over the place are preaching the gospel of hate, not love…

It’s enough brokenness to make anyone outraged.

Young men are often the ones encouraged to foster aggression, dominance, power, and control in the world. They are encouraged to play with fake weapons and engage in violent video games. They are peer pressured to live dangerously, to appear to be strong, emotionless and sometimes violent.

But Christ models an alternative form of masculinity- a gentle, tender, compassionate approach to living and loving the world.

Followers of Christ are invited to show vulnerability and see the humanity of others- not erase it.

I hope the church teaches my son to be a gentle, compassionate, and grace-filled person.

And finally, most importantly, I hope the church teaches my son this:

4) Everyone you meet is made in the image of God

Every single living, breathing human being is made in the image of God. Everyone you can imagine is loved deeply by God.

And yet, so many churches try to teach their members that there are insiders and outsiders, sinful and saved, good and bad, accepted and reviled…

In Indiana, in the name of God, businesses are righteously excluding people based on their sexual orientation and this must break God’s heart.

I hope the future church teaches my son to love and affirm his neighbors- all of them: gay, straight, Muslim, Jewish, black, white, male, female, transgendered… and more. Every single one- made in the image of God just as they are.

I hope the church teaches my son to love deeply, without reservation. To respect, protect, and advocate for his neighbors who face persecution and exclusion: because this is what Jesus would do.

A Letter to My Future Son on International Women’s Day


Dearest Child,

You will have women in your life. Not just because I’m your mom. Not just because you might fall in love with a woman at some point. Not just because you could have a daughter someday. You will have women in your life who will care for you, lead you and guide you through some of the most important moments you experience. She will be your doctor. She will be your teacher. She will be your minister. She will be your boss. May you always respect the women who surround you and may you find a way to advocate for their equal place in the world.

Women will also be shaping your life, behind the scenes. She will be the one who picked the fruit on your salad in the hot sun without a lunch break. She will be the one who made your clothes thousands of miles away in a factory without sufficient air circulation and wages too low to claim her independence. She will be the face behind the food bank that asks for donations and the international organization that begs for refugee support. May you never forget the women who work tirelessly so that your life is easier, and may you find a way to advocate for change.

You will witness women being harmed in your lifetime. She will be the woman who shows up late to work time and time again because at home- she is being abused. She will be the one accused of lying or trying to get attention when she painfully confesses that a colleague, or a stranger, or a politician, or a clergyperson, or fellow student on campus violated her. She will be the victim of war crimes. She will be the victim of low wages. She will be the victim of poverty. May you have eyes to see the harm still inflicted on women in the 21st century and may you have the patience to listen to their stories- so that together, you can advocate for their safety.

Today is International Women’s day. But most days, we rarely acknowledge the struggle that women of the world face to be safe, to be seen, to be heard, and to be equal. Whoever you grow up to be, I hope you will love many women in your life. More than this, I hope you put your love in action to continue to work for equality, so that all women of the world can experience the privileges that will come to you at birth.

The first woman in your life, Mama

When Your Pastor Has A Baby: 5 Things to Remember

BTP shoes

+Mark 9:36-37 Jesus took a little child and stood among them, taking the child in his arms, he said to them “whoever welcomes one of these little children in my name, welcomes me…”

It’s official: 2 Pastors in Canton Ohio are having a baby in 2015! What does this mean for our churches-or any church-when your pastor has a baby?

Here are 5 things I hope my church (and all churches with soon-to-be parent pastors) remember:

1) God has called your pastor to serve, and likely, this call is just beginning.

What will it actually be like for your pastor to have a baby? Is this the end to ministry as we know it? It’s natural for churches to have anxiety about a big change and a new addition to a pastor’s priorities. But children offer an opportunity for churches to grow together and for the church family to learn more about becoming the beloved community. I love serving Community Christian Church. I feel called to serve here well into the future. I believe my ministry will only be deepened and enriched as I become a mother. I am passionate about my vocation AND my family. I believe this is true for most ministers called to serve The Church.

2) Parenting and ministry go hand in hand, and often switch places.

To love, to nurture, to protect, to teach, to advise, to comfort, to listen, to stretch, and to build a family together… this could be said for ministry or parenting. Being a minister helps me prepare to be a mother, and becoming a mother will strengthen my gifts for ministry. I will do some of my best parenting from the church when I am serving as a minister- creating a safe, sacred place for my children to explore the big questions. I will be doing some of my best pastoral care from home as a mother- creating passionate followers of Christ in my children through tenderness and attention, & teaching them to love their neighbors and stand up for justice.

3) You will be the witnesses to this child’s life, and that’s an honor.

Most pastors serve churches away from their hometown, and away from their families. They have been called into your community, and with trust and hope, they have invested in your church. It is my hope and my prayer that the church will see this baby as a testimony to our desire to deepen roots in Ohio, and at our churches. Our congregations will hold our baby more than our parents and family. This community will bear witness to the milestones and the growth of our son. Church members will be the trusted ones to teach our baby, to share in the love of our baby and to be our partners in the shaping of this little boy. We will all be intimately connected through journey in our lives. It is a gesture of trust for any pastor to welcome a congregation into their journey of parenting.

4) Churches have a chance to put their prayers into action by supporting the health of their pastor after the baby arrives.

Pastors need parental leave. Most pastors hope and pray that the church can structure a maternity leave that will not be a detriment to the progress and momentum of the church, and that will not be a detriment to the pastor’s growing family. I am working with the leaders of CCC to develop a plan for a maternity leave. We are engaged in research with other pastors and denominational policies so that we can devise a leave that will strengthen both me and the church. At Community Christian Church, I believe we can be leaders in this process- showing the world what it means to be a church that values women in ministry, and young families in the church- with this, the kingdom of God draws near.

5) The church is more than the Pastor, and all will be well during a maternity leave.

A church is a group of faithful, compassionate people. Prayer shawl knitters. Bereavement Meal cooks. Singers who make a joyful noise each week in worship. Children who remind us to approach our faith with wonder. And so much more. At CCC, we are already planning for some dynamic guest preachers to fill the pulpit in my absence. The leadership is also planning a retreat for Elders, Deacons, Trustees and Board members in August that will help the leadership continue to gain strength. Our Elders have worked hard over the last year, filling their toolbox with skills in pastoral care and leadership- and they are ready to invest deeply in their ministry responsibilities in my absence. Remember, the church is much bigger than the pastor!

I am confident that the church will remain strong and grow from this opportunity to welcome a new little Taylor Peck. I thank God for each of you and the ways you will be a part of my son’s life.
Much heart,
Rev. Sarah Taylor Peck

For more insight on this topic- I encourage you to read a post from my friend and colleague Rev. Erin Wathen, senior minister at St. Andrew Christian church- she encouraged much of my thinking on this topic and she beautifully articulated these points and more on her blog entry from 2013:

A Lot Can Happen in 40 Days

BTP best 2

+Mark 1:13-14 Christ was in the wilderness forty days…  [then] Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God…


We are going to have a baby. Our little boy is due around August 4th, 2015.

I have been absent from this blog for three months- and there’s a reason. I battled morning sickness most days-all day long, and when I wasn’t working at my church, I slept. But today is the first Sunday in Lent- and I decided to write again.

Lent is a holy season. We are all asked to invite God to work in our lives. To change us. To shape us.

Lent is a powerful time.

Over the years, I have given up meat or sometimes chocolate. One year I gave up sleeping in.

But what if we can do more in 40 days? What if God can work through us in profound, life altering ways?

Before Jesus began his public ministry, he went into the wilderness to pray. He took 40 days in silence. In this time, he was shaped by God and equipped for his ministry.

We observe 40 days of Lent so that we too, may be shaped by God.

As we begin this journey of Lent, I invite each of you to ask the question: what can God do in my life in 40 days?

The past 40 days of my life have taught me so much about what God can do.

It was a little over 40 days ago, on Epiphany, that Andrew saw our baby for the first time.

We went into this dark little room for an ultrasound, and the nurse showed us an image of the screen I will never forget: there was a gummy bear looking creature… the size of a grape.

Little buds where arms would form. Small lumps where legs would grow.

And then, in that dark room, we listened to our baby’s heartbeat- and it sounded like thunder- strong and bold and life changing.

This was the beginning of our new reality. We caught a glimpse of a tiny gummy bear sized promise. We heard the sound of a hope as bold as rolling thunder.

I study the development of our child diligently each night before bed. In the past 40 days- amazing things have happened.

In the 40 days: he’s formed tiny tooth buds, he’s gained the ability to curl his toes, to clench eye muscles, and to open and close fingers. He’s developed a unique set of fingerprints.

He’s learned how to squint, to grimace, to frown, and to smile- he even started sucking his little thumb. Our son’s tiny joints began bending.

He transformed from the size of a gummy bear, to fig, to lemon, to apple and just this week- to the size of an avocado- 5 inches long. He now has tiny toenails on his toes. Taste buds have formed on his tongue, and by next week, he will have sweat glands in place.

So much took place for our little gummy bear in 40 days.

On Friday night, a small group from our church went to see the movie Selma. We watched painful scenes of young black men and women being beaten in the streets of Alabama because they longed for equality. And there are still many struggles for equality and justice around the world today.

I wonder, what kind of world will our son live in? What do I want him to learn about the human experience, and about how we treat our neighbors? This Lenten season, instead of giving up chocolate, how can I begin the good work of advocating for change, and striving for justice so that my son will never see kids beaten in the streets or gunned down in their neighborhoods?

Christ spent 40 days in the wilderness and when he returned, he was ready to change the world through his radical compassion, his prophetic words, and his courageous community building.

In 40 days, our son formed toenails and finger prints and began to swallow.

In January 1965, the Selma Voting Rights Campaign began. Almost exactly 40 days later, a group of activists marched out of Selma on Highway 80 toward Montgomery to protest. They were attacked with tear gas and beaten with nightsticks. The attack was televised and received national attention. The broadcast helped the movement gain momentum in Selma- and things started to change.

A lot can happen in 40 days.

What could this mean for you? How will you allow God to change you?

In this Lenten season, may we all invite God to inspire us, to move through us, to motivate us and to change us in ways we cannot even imagine. This is my prayer for all of you. May it be so. Amen.

Tonight: Remembering a Saint

Papa+ Matthew 23:1, 11-12 (The Message) The religion scholars and Pharisees are competent teachers in God’s Law. You won’t go wrong in following their teachings on Moses. But be careful about following them…Do you want to stand out? Then step down. Be a servant… if you’re content to simply be yourself, your life will count for plenty.

I remember hovering over a box of chocolates like it was communion with him. I remember when he would take his first bite- eyes closed, and say “very nice.”

Today is the anniversary of his death- and this is what I remember most about my grandfather.

Papa taught me how to approach a box of chocolates. “The square ones are always caramel” he would say. “The long, thin rectangles are often perfect toffee with a chocolate coating… but sometimes they are dehydrated, bland wafer crackers.”

We studied this chocolate like it was an art, we poured over our new box of chocolates each time we gathered. And if I reached for a thin rectangle for my one pre-dinner taste, hoping for sweet toffee, and I found a dry wafer instead: Papa would always let me put my half eaten failure back in the box and pick another chocolate… this is what I remember about Papa.

Growing up, he lived in Palo Alto, California. And I lived in Spokane, Washington. Door to door, we lived 906 miles from one another.

But we saw each other all the time. He would travel 906 miles to show up for my 2nd grade ballet recital, to see me graduate from 6th grade, 8th grade, and 12th grade- just so he could say “I’m routing for you. I love you.”

Papa had a PhD. He authored over 40 books as a professor at Stanford University. He traveled the world offering lectures to thousands of people about Africa, Europe, and American history.

But none of that mattered to me. What I miss about Papa are those moments over a box of chocolates, his dedication to our relationship through showing up and his love for me.

On All Saints Sunday this year, the lectionary scripture is from the gospel of Matthew where Jesus is talking about what really matters in life. He’s teaching about the importance of the humble, memorable moments we offer one another.

This is a message that means a lot to Jesus because his ministry and teaching takes place mostly outside of religious institutions.

I can vividly remember stories of Jesus healing the blind man by spitting in the soil and rubbing his eyes. I can picture the blazing hot day in the desert where Jesus restores dignity to the woman at the well.

I can remember these stories of Christ far easier than I can recall to you the words of his parables or the exact phrases from his teaching. I remember Christ out in the world, being the good news and the redemption through his hands on ministry. This is love, incarnate.

It’s less time talking, more time on your hands and knees with your grandchild sharing a communion of chocolates.

It’s less time tucked away in your office perfecting your professional efforts, and more time out on the streets, offering compassion to your neighbors.

It’s less time arguing you are right or putting down the people you love, and more time building one another up.

It’s traveling 906 miles to tell someone you love them instead of spending all your time trying to impress people you’ll never break bread with…

Deep down we all know what matters, what is remembered, what has an impact in the world because it has an impact in our lives…

Tonight, on the anniversary of my grandfather’s death, I am thinking about all of the loving, humble moments we shared… for this is the work of God.

Does Church Matter? A Reflection on Gathering

Photo courtesy of Salt Project video "Love", all rights reserved.
(Photo courtesy of Salt Project video “Love”)

+ Matthew 18: 20 For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them…

Just last week,  I was walking our dog Moses down our beautiful brick street. Above me there were clouds shaped like cotton candy. The crisp fall air had begun to seep in to the summer heat. The breeze on my cheeks awakened my soul. This moment- suspended in time- stuck with me. It reminded me of God.

This has happened before. Maybe it’s happened to you. You see a beautiful, dramatic landscape or a brilliant, bright sunset. You hear a quiet melody of a songbird… and you think of God.

God is certainly in these places. Everything that we see and hear and touch was made by God and God said the world was very, very good.

We can learn about God from the sea, the air, the earth, and nature.

In fact, sometimes the beauty of a sunset, or the vastness of a mountain range, or the sight of the ocean feels like enough of an encounter with God. And because of this… many people forgo church all together.

They call themselves “Spiritual but not religious.”

So why do we come to church?

At Community Christian Church this morning, 190 people gathered together to celebrate all birthdays in 2014, to sing “Amazing Grace”, to pray together, and to join the fun of a church potluck.

But what does any of this mean? What is the point of coming to church when God can be seen and sensed out in the world?

This odd, old fashioned place where people of all generations gather: to sing a few familiar songs, to be in a simple room with uncomfortable wooden pews, to follow along from opening prayer, to the breaking of bread, to the standing and sitting and standing again…

But really, does church matter?

I remember the Saturday that my grandfather died.

I posted it on my facebook status. Dozens of friends and family commented and sent their love. But it didn’t help.

It wasn’t until I walked into church on Sunday morning when a long time member of the church surrounded me with the embrace of a grandparent- that I felt comforted.

To me, in this place we call church… we have a chance to actually reach out for one another- to touch one another in times of grief and sorrow and confusion.

We’ve done this together already at Community Christian Church. We’ve gathered in times of grief and anxiety and loss.

In the days after a Malaysian flight went missing with 239 people lost, we gathered in the balm of our sanctuary to question and to grieve together.

In the very week that we baptized 5 of our youth, we learned that hundreds of young people in South Korea were submerged under water and never rose up again- in the terrible ferry disaster last spring. So we cried out to God together.

When news broke about Robin Williams wrestling the depths of despair and losing his battle with depression, we met in the church to look one another in the eyes and remind each other to hold tightly to this fragile, challenging, beautiful life- to lift one another up- to encourage one another to go on, to persevere.

In our gospel reading for today, Jesus is equipping his disciples for what they will endure. He is in the process of building the church. He foreshadows a time when they will feel alone, confused, and sorrowful when he journeys to the cross and leaves them behind.

Even though we can learn about God through creation and we can study more about God from the Bible alone on a beach- it is in this passage that Jesus reminds us “where two or three are gathered, I am among them.”

He’s preaching about the holiness of coming together, the sacredness of two people, or three people, or 190 people coming together and the face of God emerging there- the face of compassion, and grace, and mercy becoming visible and present.

There is something sacred about being community together. In community, we can expect Christ to show up.

In the embrace from a grandfather-figure on a day you grieve, in the harmony of your neighbor singing “Amazing Grace” next to you-despite the troubled world around us, in the power of saying in unison “Lord in your mercy, hear our prayers…” it is in these moments that we are in the presence of God, it is in these moments that Christ can be seen and heard and touched.

To me, this is why church matters. Why does church matter to you?

Resting in the Light: Thoughts on Faith & Suicide

RobinIf I make my bed in the depths, you are there… If I say, ‘Surely the darkness shall cover me, and the light around me become night’, even the darkness is not dark to you; the night is as bright as the day, for darkness is as light to you…. +Psalm 139

The curtain closed for the last time on Robin Williams this week.

Instead of taking a bow, he crumpled over a chair with a belt around his neck.

It seems that the darkness covered him… that he found himself in the depths…

I loved Robin Williams. I remember driving by his home in San Francisco as a kid to check out the T-Rex topiary in his front yard- longing for a celebrity sighting as we crept along his street.

I grieve the dad who dressed in drag to nanny his kids, the charming genie with 44 voices, and the bright red clown nosed doctor who spread joy and hope. But that was the only Robin I knew. He hid his sorrow well. Or, maybe I just didn’t look closely enough.

In faith communities, we struggle to talk about mental illness, depression, addiction, and suicide.

Church folks are known for smiling on the outside, singing things like “Kum ba yah” and offering cheap words in times of loss like “everything happens for a reason” or “God must have wanted Robin in heaven” or the worst: naming mental illness and suicide ‘a sin.’

These types of ‘faithful’ responses to mental illness and suicide embarrass me.

As a pastor, a counselor, a friend to so many who struggle, and a huge fan of Robin Williams- I want to offer a different perspective.

I wish there was a “Kum ba yah” response to ease the pain and chaos of severe mental illness, but there isn’t. Instead, it is a long, daily battle that we don’t always conquer. No amount of Hallmark phrases or cheap, shallow theology can make sense out of the tragedy of suicide.

In our faith lives, I think we struggle to name what we do not know. We fight against unanswered questions and unsolved mysteries. We like answers, so we offer them- even when they do more harm than good.

I do not know why darkness and suffering continue to capture people and communities around the world every minute. I do not know what healing and redemption look like or how long we must wait for hunger, violence, injustice, prejudice, mental illness, and suicide to end.

Often, this mystery angers me and challenges everything I believe. And I think that owning up to our anger and doubt and questions is sometimes the most faithful response we can offer.

I do not believe everything happens for a reason or that God orchestrates or endorses the brokenness around us.

Most importantly- in no way do I believe that those who struggle with mental illness are fighting ‘sin.’

There is no place for righteousness in the face of someone who is suffering. Instead of trying to make theological sense about the darkness of our neighbors, we need to be present with those who struggle- listening, loving, embracing, assuring and walking with them.

This is what I do believe: there are dark places in this world, and since the beginning of time- God shows up there first. At the dawn of creation, God hovered over a void of darkness and God’s spirit lingered over the deep (Genesis 1:2).

God shows up in darkness over and over again.

Scriptures tell us that as Job wept on a pile of ash in desperation, God was there. Gospels tell us that as Mary wept into the ground at the grave of her child, God was there.

As faithful people, we are called to do the same: to bear witness to suffering, to be safe havens and places of refuge for those who struggle.

When I remember Robin Williams, I know that God created Robin and said that he was very, very good.

I know that Robin must have suffocated in the darkness before his death, and I know that even that darkness was not dark to God…

And just as God hovered in the darkness at the beginning of time, God was there in that last moment, with that last breath, surrounding Robin with arms wide open, ready to usher him to a place with no more sorrow, no more struggle, no more suffering, and no more pain.

I believe God brought Robin to the light. May he rest in peace.

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