Sunday, August 24, 2014

Why I won't do the ALS Icebucket challenge, but I will let my daughter....

I've been watching as more and more of my friends post videos of themselves dumping buckets of ice water over their heads in efforts to raise money and awareness for the disease ALS. I will admit that I have been somewhat disdainful of the phenomenon. Don't get me wrong: ALS is truly a terrible disease, and I'm sure folks with ALS and those researching it are thankful for all the exposure and the money that is being raised. But I personally don't like being peer-pressured into jumping on the ALS bandwagon. My husband David and I have a number of charitable organizations that we already support, and that is something that I enjoy doing--giving money to people to help in their endeavors. In fact, I see it as a part of our own stewardship and the giving of our resources back to God through organizations that seek to do good in the world in a variety of ways. Then I was challenged by three different clergy colleagues to do the ALS ice bucket challenge. Truly, I was just going to ignore you all, but then my 10 year old daughter came home saying that she really wanted to do it. My first thought was "Aha! A proxy for me!" But we began to have a conversation about it. I asked her why she wanted to do it, and she could not really answer that other than "everybody else is doing it." So I made her do research on ALS, which she did. She came back to me and told me what she had learned, and she said she wanted to do it and to give them a donation from her own savings. It was then that we had a real conversation about peer pressure, how it can be used and for ill, and how it's always important to make informed decisions about things rather than just doing them because everyone else is doing them. I felt good about her decision, and so I dumped a bucket of ice water on her head. (That was actually really fun!) But I'm still not joining the ALS icebucket challenge. I'm glad you all are doing it and that you have found some way to give to something beyond yourselves that you think is important. But for me, dumping a bucket of ice water on myself isn't much of a sacrifice, nor does it have much meaning (although I'm sure my children would think it would be fun to watch). Instead, I have signed up to give blood in a blood drive this Friday for the American Red Cross. I understand that there is a blood shortage, and giving blood is a way that I can give of myself, my time (one of the hardest things for me to part with), and to help save lives. In the meantime, you can see the video of my daughter doing the ice bucket challenge posted on my Facebook page, but we won't be tagging anyone to carry on after us.

11th Sunday after Pentecost--Proper 16A

11th Sunday after Pentecost--Proper 16A August 24, 2014 So many people are deeply unhappy. They walk around under this cloak of quietly burdened misery. Maybe they’re unhappy in their jobs or their lack of a job? Maybe they’re unhappy in their relationship (or lack of a relationship)? Maybe they’re unhappy under the stress of all that they have to do or that they don’t have enough to do? Maybe they’re unhappy because their health is failing? Maybe they’re unhappy because of regrets about the past? Maybe they’re unhappy because their hopes for the future continue to be frustrated? So many of us are deeply unhappy. In the gospel reading for today, Jesus asks his disciples, “Who do you say that I am?” And Peter, always impetuous, jumps out there on his own, and he takes a risk in his faith, in his relationship with Jesus. “You are the Messiah,” he proclaims boldly, even if he doesn’t really know or understand what that means. Peter’s story is an incredible story because it is a story of transformation. And in this moment in this gospel, we see that Peter has been and will continue to be so transformed that Jesus gives him a new name, a new identity. (We saw a similar thing occur several weeks ago when we read the story of Jacob wrestling with God.) And that is really what faith and relationship with God is all about—transformation. God loves us too much to let us stay in our same old worn out and broken lives. But transformation is scary. It’s risky. I don’t think it’s something that most of us naturally seek out. It often comes about in the crucible of hardship. And I think sometimes, we resist the transformation of God’s love into something deeper and fuller and richer in our lives, because we are afraid. We don’t like change. What’s the saying? “Better the devil you know than the devil you don’t..” And our playing it safe, resisting the transforming power of God’s love makes us unhappy. When is the last time, do you think, that you risked something in your faith, in your relationship with God? The thing about transformation is that it is not an end unto itself. Paul writes that we become transformed so that we can seek to discern the will of God. That’s the goal of transformation, the object of faith—to seek to discern the will of God. When is the last time that you sought to discern the will of God in your life, in your particular situation or relationship? Take a minute and ask yourself if you spend much of your life these days being unhappy? Might it be because of your answer to my previous question? We do not have to be unhappy. So much of unhappiness in people of faith is because 1.we actively resist transformation and 2. We do not seek to discern the will of God. Now, hear me carefully. Even if we do these things, it does not mean that we will always be happy. But it does mean that we will know and experience both joy and peace. I spent part of this past week at Gray Center with the Commission on Ministry, and one conversation that I had with a friend about happiness stuck with me. My friend was talking about how their family had vacationed at Walt Disney World this summer for the first time. He had resisted it for the much of his child’s life, but finally the whole family went. And he said it was the first time in a long time where he spent five days and was purely, utterly happy. He talked about how people would spontaneously break out into song in the streets ("it was like living in a musical"), and how he and his wife (perhaps jokingly) wanted to come up with some way to make their church services like that—to transport people to a place of happiness, out of the world, out of the cares and concerns of our lives for at least the time that they are at church Sunday morning. Wouldn’t that be awesome?! But what if we didn’t need the church or our Sunday morning worship to escape the cares of our real, everyday lives? What if we allowed ourselves to become so transformed, so in tune with discerning the will of God that Sunday became a time to feed our joy? So where do we start if we recognize that we are stuck, mired down in unhappiness? First, we have to recognize that we are unhappy, and we have to get to the point as they say in 12 steps recovery where we are “sick and tired of being sick and tired.” Then we begin to do the difficult work of recognizing how we have become conformed to this world and embracing the process of being transformed to discern the will of God. For most of us, this is work that cannot be done alone. We walk this way with spiritual directors, with conversations with clergy or close friends who are already deeply committed to the spiritual life. We do this work with good therapists. I have watched as Dave Wilson has walked with many of you and helped you in this process of discerning God’s will through seeking health and wholeness in your lives. And when you are willing to do the work, I am amazed at how the results of good therapy seem to border on the miraculous! If you are feeling physically unwell, then go to your doctor and demand that she or he help figure out what is wrong. The most important part, I think, is being willing to risk by listening to your own life, what it is telling you and how God is speaking to you in and through that. As I returned from sabbatical, I realized two very important things. First, judging by the amount that I slept while on sabbatical, I was incredibly sleep deprived. Second, in my unhappiness at my husband’s absence and in other things, I had not been taking care of myself. In fact, I was overusing both food and alcohol—being conformed to this world—in efforts to assuage my loneliness. Back to school time is a time in our culture which is filled with hope. It is a time when we eagerly anticipate fresh starts, a time ripe for making changes and being transformed. You do not have to continue to be unhappy. If you are willing and ready, God will transform you with the help of this community and others. Let us pray. Pour out your Holy Spirit upon us, O God, that we may be made uneasy within the comfort of our lives and that we might be emboldened like Peter, to proclaim you as Messiah of our lives and our world. Help us to not be conformed to this world, but to be transformed that we may discern and fulfill your will. Amen.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

10th Sunday after Pentecost--Proper 15A

10th Sunday after Pentecost—Proper 15A August 17, 2014 It’s so good to be back with you! I had a wonderfully refreshing sabbatical, these past 8 weeks. I really enjoyed the gift of time to be with my family in a very intentional way (that I have never experienced before), and I return to you refreshed and energized and hopeful about our life together. While on sabbatical, one of the things that I did was to disconnect from a lot of what has been going on in the world. I didn’t really watch the news and only checked on social media occasionally. I’ve really enjoyed catching up with those of you I have seen and learning what’s been going on in your lives these past two months. But is has been a bit of a shock to my system this past week, in getting reconnected with the world around me—mainly through media and social media. As I’m sure you all know the internet has been abuzz this week with the news of Robin Williams’ suicide. His death was shocking and so deeply tragic. It seems that everyone has something to say (or write) about it. His poor daughter has been under attack, and others are adamant that this is the perfect time to raise awareness about mental illness and depression. Having been disconnected for a bit and then coming back into it all at this particular moment in time, I am struck by the stubbornness that colors much of the writings and postings about Williams’ death. Each person with a position is so very sure he or she is right, and then someone else comes along to argue. I was somewhat dismayed to discover some of this stubbornness in the gospel reading for today. Jesus encounters a Canaanite woman, and she starts shouting at him to heal her daughter. Jesus doesn’t answer her (it reminds me of what I do when my children are asking me for something I don’t want to do—I try to act like I don’t hear them and maybe they’ll get tired and go do something else). But she just keeps yelling at Jesus and his disciples until finally Jesus has a conversation with her. Both of them seem to be stubbornly dug in to their positions—Jesus isn’t going to heal her daughter and she isn’t going away before she gets what she knows he can give --until suddenly something shifts. And Jesus recognizes the woman’s great faith and gives her what she demands—healing for her daughter. We see stubbornness at work in the other readings for today as well. Joseph stubbornly forgives his brothers after they have sold him into slavery in Egypt, and he is able to step back from his own individual circumstances and suffering and to recognize God’s fulfillment of salvation for God’s people—“what you meant for evil God meant for good”. And then Paul gives us a glimpse of the stubbornness of God when he writes, “For the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable.” God’s people will always be God’s people, no matter what. And it’s comforting and hopeful to say and believe that God is going to redeem it all—our stubbornness, the suffering, the brokenness, the mean-spirited comments, those whom we have loved and lost to mental illness, depression, suicide. But what are we supposed to do in the meantime? What does it mean to have faith like the Canaanite woman? Faith like Joseph? Faith like Paul? What does that actually look like in our lives and in our world? I want to share with you two different things that I read this week that have spoken to me about stubbornness and about faith and about the long arc of salvation—where I have found the good news to be this week in the midst of tumultuous public conversation and a challenging gospel story. First, from SSJE-Brother, give us a word. Faith by Brother Mark Brown. “God’s vision of the new heaven and new earth actually needs the engine of our discontent, our dissatisfaction. We tend to see the individual brush strokes rather than the sweep of the whole canvas. But the eyes of faith begin to see the long arc. The eyes of faith even begin to understand how not only vague discontent but even suffering and anguish are part of this larger process.” This is what Joseph is doing in the Genesis reading for today when he is able to offer generously to his brothers both forgiveness and their place in long of arc of God’s redemption of us all. Second, a blog post by author and sociologist Brene' Brown posted this week. “Choose Courage”. "When confronted with news of a stranger’s unimaginable pain – a suicide, an overdose, a protest for justice and basic dignity – we have two choices: We can choose to respond from fear or we can choose courage. We can choose to believe that we are somehow insulated from the realities of these traumas and that our willpower or our strength of character makes us better than these displays of desperation and woundedness. When we seek shelter in the better than – safer than – different than thinking, we are actually choosing fear and that requires us to self-protect and arm ourselves with judgment and self-righteousness. Our only other option is to choose courage. Rather than deny our vulnerability, we lean into both the beauty and agony of our shared humanity. Choosing courage does not mean that we’re unafraid, it means that we are brave enough to love despite the fear and uncertainty…. The courageous choice also does not mean abandoning accountability – it simply means holding ourselves accountable first. If we are people of faith, we hold ourselves accountable for living that faith by practicing grace and bringing healing. If we consider ourselves to be smart and curious, it means seeking greater understanding. If we consider ourselves to be loving, it means acting with compassion. It’s difficult to respond to the tragedies of strangers – even those we think we know – because we will never have access to the whole truth. In the absence of information, we make up stories, stories that often turn out to be our own biographies, not theirs. Our choices have consequences: They make the world a more dangerous place or they cultivate peace. Fear and judgment deepen our collective wounds. That rare mix of courage and compassion is the balm that brings global healing. We have two choices. Let’s choose courage. Let’s choose to love despite the fear.”i In this world of individual opinions and judgments run rampant in the public, one of the most faithful things that we can do is to examine our own stubbornness when it comes to judging others. When we find ourselves slipping into thinking that we are better than, safer than, different than, someone else and thus arming ourselves with self-righteousness and judgment, we are invited to take a step back and do some self-examination. We can ask ourselves: What is it that makes me afraid in this situation? What are the assumptions that I am making about this person, this group that may be colored by my own story, my own prejudices? What might it be like for me to be vulnerable to this other person’s suffering and brokenness? How am I called to be true to my faith in this relationship? How might I practice grace and bring healing? How might I see greater understanding? How might I practice compassion? How might God be calling me to participate in God’s saving work by choosing courage? i.