Tuesday, January 08, 2013

Samaria believed ...

" Now when the Apostles as Jerusalem heard that Samaria had accepted the Word of God..." Acts 8:14.

I got very excited when I read this passage yesterday.  It's this week's reading from the Revised Common Lectionary.

I remember when I took "Spiritual Formation" during my first two semesters in seminary.  It was here that I learned one of the great secrets of church -- the Revised Common Lectionary.  No really, I don't think I knew of the Lectionary's existence before then.  And in case you, too, have been living under a bridge, I will explain in abbreviated fashion that the Lectionary is a set of suggested readings that some churches (Catholic and Protestant) adhere to each week.  Typically, there is an Old Testament reading, a Psalm, a Gospel reading and an Epistle (or other New Testament reading).

I like simple, so I began using the Lectionary as the basis for my readings in the morning.  And I also preach from the Lectionary (a topic which deserves its own post).  (Which reminds me of the candidacy mentor who warned all of us, don't preach from the Bible; no one wants to hear that stuff.)

So back to the passage from Acts.  Holy Cow, the Samaritans accepted the Word of God.  That's a big deal.  A big surprise.  And I wonder why Luke didn't add something like, "And you know, it's interesting, because frankly, the Jews had written the Samaritans off years ago..."

I started to think what situations in my life are the equivalent of "Samaria accepted the word of God."  I found that yesterday, when I was feeling anxious or impatient or frustrated, this little voice in my head would say, cool your jets.  Samaria accepted the word of God.

And it reminded me that we serve the God of the Impossible.

Now then, years ago I would have used this verse and the little epiphany around it to start making a multitude of claims related to what God was going to do for me, making carefully formulated requests, convincing myself that they were indeed very likely to occur because Samaria had accepted the word of God, so anything was possible.  And though I confess that to some extent my mind is still leaning in that direction, today, "these days," it shows up more like, I don't know everything. (Heck, I hardly know anything.)

That fact used to terrify me.  I think I had invested a great deal of time and energy into being the answer lady.  Is it parenthood that causes this strange phenomenon?  Is it vanity?  Is it bossiness?  I think I have always been pretty bossy.  I can remember one of our neighbors saying to me when we were "tweens" -- "Tammy, you're so damn bossy."  (Ah, this also deserves its own post).

If Samaria accepted the word of God, if the unexpectable can and does happen, if God is up to things of which I do not have an inkling, if I am the world's worst predictor of the future ... I dunno.  That all feels very hopeful to me.

I don't have it all figured out.  Thank God I don't have it all figured out.  Now I can go back to learning and praying and expanding my mind and allowing God to stretch me.

This week I am taking a class in Dallas.  When I started seminary in 2010, the thought of leaving my family for any length of time to attend class in Dallas seemed like a deal breaker.  I knew it was inevitable.  And I couldn't imagine how I would be able to pull it off.  And here I am.

Samaria accepted the word of God.

So I think I'll see what other surprises God has in store for me today.  And I think I'll be thankful.

Wednesday, January 02, 2013

How do you apologize for being white?

I'm white.  I'm sorry that I'm white.  I don't intend to sound glib or sarcastic.  I say that because those of you who know me might think I'm heading that direction.

Today I sat in the first day of my Jan Term class -- Christianity in a Multi-cultural Society.  We watched a video called "Race" and I confess, I feel ashamed of mine.

And ignorant.

And I'm wondering, how do we educate all the white people out there about reality?  How do we discuss with them the concept of what Justo Gonzalez terms "guilty innocence?"  Our history books tell one story, but another exists, and to deny or distort the truth is a more heinous crime than the original lie itself.

How in the world could "scientists" publish 700+ page volumes on the inferiority (on a physical and intellectual level) of nonwhites and do it with a straight face?  How could the U.S. Government go to the homes of Apaches -- people the government forced to change their culture and aclimate -- and say to them at gun point, get out, you don't belong here.  All of this belongs to us.

I know we're talking about a couple hundred years ago, at the height of this nations slavery and western expansion, but ... ugh ... it bothers me.

We went around the room today and introduced ourselves, answering several questions that the professor posed.  One of them was, what do we hope to gain from taking this class?  I said, to learn more and be more sensitized to issues related to race and culture so I'm not the stupid white lady.  (Chuckles all around, but I was serious.)

I know how I am bothered, how anxious I feel when my children fight; when they say hurtful things to each other; even when they attack each other physically.  I try to imagine what God thinks of the way his creation treats one another.  And it's not like the atrocities of centuries past are gone.  They are still here.  They have different names, that's all.

I can imagine doing a sermon series at my congregation entitled, "God loves us very much and we have behaved badly."  But I have no idea how that would be received.

I know much of this goes back to my previous post about host/guest roles.  What is a predominantly white congregation to do ... a study on, "Here's the way history really went down..."  Everyone in the room could make a somewhat legitimate claim that they didn't treat "them" that way -- it was other people.  Yet don't we need to acknowledge it on some level?

God made us all different.  We rejoice in the diversity in creation when it comes to species of plants and animals.  We say, isn't God amazing in the way God has imagined and envisioned creation?  Yet when it comes to the human race, we see diversity, we see differences, and we immediately start the calculations in our head to determine how we stack up.

To welcome the stranger -- surely there's more to it than helping "them" too acclimate and/or acculturate.

I've heard it said that the true meaning, the true essence of agape love (unconditional love) is to like the other person; to choose to like them.  Is that the beginning of welcoming the stranger?  Or at least a significant component?  And on some level, shouldn't we resolved, "I don't want things to be this way any more?"  Shouldn't we say, "Please forgive me for being white?"  And shouldn't we mean it?

Tuesday, January 01, 2013

Serve or be served...

I posed this question on my facebook page.  I was a little put out that no one responded to it.  So I'll put it here, too.

Jesus says of himself, "The Son of Man came not be served, but to serve."  And of course the Apostle Paul writes the great passage in Philippians 2:6-7 that Jesus, "6... who, although He existed in the form of God, (C)did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men."

So here's the question ... are Pastors always to serve and never be served?  I don't mean be served as in "Hey, somebody peel me a grape."  I mean be served as in, be ministered to.  You see I'm reading this interesting book on hospitality right now that insists that the most condescending thing a person can do exhibit an unwillingness to be a "guest" -- reflecting an unwillingness to recognize someone else's capacity to help us.  This particular author (Anthony Gittins) is being quoted in a larger work by Christine Pohl about hospitality. 

She makes a profound point in one chapter about the role that marginality plays in providing hospitality to others.  In other words, when we are already in a position of one of the marginalized or we place ourselves in that position (aka taking a vow of poverty, etc.), we obliterate the power structures that exist between those who offer aid and those who receive aid.  What a great concept!  And I found my mind exploding, wondering, how can I speak to this idea to the people on the various ministry teams I'm involved in?  And what would this look like for me to fully embrace it?

My mind answered itself by considering a woman named Katy.  She is a resident at a nearby homeless shelter.  Actually, she has graduated to an apartment complex featuring more independent living.  And she has her own transportation.  She answers phones in the church office once a week.  She also now types up the weekly prayer requests.  At first I sort of saw myself as "helping" her by asking her to help me.  "See what a kind person I am, allowing her to feel valuable; to feel she is making a contribution."  And now I confess that it has progressed to me legitimately saying, "Man, this woman is saving my butt every week by typing all this stuff for me."  Suddenly, I don't have the upper hand in the power structure.  Suddenly, we are equals.  Why?  Because I am being served.

This leads me back to this idea of whether Pastors should be served.  In some respects, applying the arguments of Christine Pohl, a Pastor who allows him/herself to be the recipient of service or ministry is, in many respects, fulfilling the ultimate in servanthood through kenosis; the self-emptying Paul refers to in the Philippians passage.

How is it possible to be servant while being served?  I get a headache trying to hold on to my understanding of this idea.  In insisting on always serving, I fall short of the kind of kenosis, the kind of humility that says, "I am in need; serve me."  Thus in always insisting on being a servant, I somehow fail at being a servant.

Pretty interesting stuff (well, to me at least).  I suppose some people might read this and say, "Geez, Tammy, get a life!"

To which I reply, thank you, that's exactly what I'm working on.  

Friday, June 01, 2012

All Some Wonder

All some wonder ... that's what it said ... I swear.

(You have to know your hymns to appreciate this post ... I'm just saying.)

So here's what happened.  I'm going to preside over a Memorial Service for the very first time on Monday.  It won't actually be at the church, but at the nearby homeless shelter.

And since it's at the homeless shelter, I have to come up with my own music.  Ah ... no problem.  I have an ipod and one of those really cool ipod stereos.

Of course, I have to print up a lyrics sheet too.  And that's when the Twilight Zone hit.

How Great Thou Art ... that was the hymn I needed lyrics for.  I had downloaded Loretta Lynn's version of it from itunes, so of course I googled "loretta lynn how great thou art lyrics."  Afterall, I wanted to get her version.

A myriad of sites popped up.

I clicked on the first one, blocked out the lyrics, and pasted them into the Word document I had prepared.  I read the lyrics and hummed to myself as I formatted the page.

Oh Lord my God ... When I in all some wonder ...

WHOA, wait a minute.  All some wonder?  That's not right, is it?

I googled the lyrics again.  This time, I went to a different site.  And there it was ... I'll be darned.  "When I am all some wonder."

Dear God, you can't tell me I've been singing the wrong words all of these years!

I panicked.  Then I looked at the words again.  What the heck is the theology behind God's all some wonder?

Is it like, "You know, we all need us some wonder ... all some wonder"

Or maybe, "all ... some ... whatever ... regardless of the number ... it's wonder!"

Since I couldn't make the theological connection, I reasoned that those words couldn't be right.

So I googled again.  This time I left the "Loretta Lynn" part off.  And then I thought, wait a minute, duh, I have a hymnal right here!  I flipped to the back, found "How Great Thou Art," flipped forward again ... and ... and ...


You know that feeling of "everything is right with the world?"  Yeah, that's how it felt.

All some wonder ... it's an interesting concept, but nowhere near as profound as Awesome Wonder.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

God, Change My Thinking

During the last 6 ½ years that I have been involved in ministry to women recovering from drug and alcohol addiction, I’ve had the opportunity to hear every story imaginable and see every human reaction to that story imaginable.

I see the women struggling to understand what God is “doing” in the midst of it all.  Some are convinced God has packed up and left town.  Others, on the opposite extreme, find a peculiar comfort in the idea that God has “sent” this situation upon them in order to “test” them.  However, recovering addicts are not the only people who pitch their tents at either of these two emotional and spiritual extremes.  For many of us (myself included), emotional reactivity is often the name of the game.

I remember the first time I heard someone speak to the idea of being emotionally high.  It seems that we can become addicted to our emotional reactivity.  One reason is that our emotional reactivity is so familiar and ingrained into our hard-wiring, changing it can be as challenging as changing which hand we use to hold our fork.

This brings me to my point.  To me, changing my emotional reactivity is about changing my thinking.  I am incapable of changing my thinking by myself.  I have to ask God to help me.  In fact, I make this request of God nearly every day.  In the spirituality class that I teach, I invite the women to “speak” their intention to God where this idea is concerned by getting down on our hands and knees, putting our foreheads to the floor and saying out loud, “God, change my thinking.”  I would guess that on any given week, between 35 percent and 55 percent of the women will join me in this exercise.  Some of the women find this to be the most enjoyable part of the class.  Others, for reasons that I do not know and do not need to know, find it impossible to pull themselves out of their chairs and join us in this exercise of humility.

“God change my thinking” can also translate to “God, keep my emotions in the middle.”  That not only means checking ourselves when tempers flare, but not going euphoric when something really good or exciting happens.  In either case, we are giving ourselves that “hit” that feeds our emotional addiction.

To borrow from 12-step language, if we truly believe that it's a good idea to decide to turn our lives and our will over to the care of God as we understood God, then this applies to our emotional reactivity.  This is an area that I want most of all to turn over to the will and care of God.

St. Francis is credited with writing a prayer that begins, “God make me an instrument of thy peace….”  I think that’s an excellent prayer for all of us to use in beginning our day.  Perhaps repeating it several times a day is helpful as well.  Likewise, not only do we look to God to make us an instrument of peace in the lives of others, but also within ourselves.  In other words, “God, teach me to calm myself down.”

God, change my thinking.  AMEN.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

All over the map ...

It's been nearly a year since I have posted anything to this blog.  That's hard for me to believe.  That being said, I think we can expect this post to be all over the map.

This setting once served as a way or mode of expression.  Yeah, that's right -- I think the blog's subtitle is "processing the God stuff in my brain."  I've been thinking about this blog lately, and the other one I used to write on a regular basis as well.  There's a part of me that feels as if I should delete them both.  "I've moved past this stage in my life."  There's another part of me that wants to keep them, but doesn't necessarily want to write anything in them.  And then there's the third part of me that is trying to convince herself that I really could get back into the rhythm of writing a post on a regular basis.  Heck, if I can spell the word rhythm (admit it, this is one of the hardest words to spell in the English language), I can write a post at least once a week.

What if I combined the two blogs?  This one of course is called Just Enough Grace for Today.  (That is sounding awfully lofty lately; awfully churchy.)  The other is called Why So Serious?  I can answer that question for you.  Although my intention is to use that blog as an outlet for being silly, the truth is, I am entirely too serious for my own good.

If I combined the two blogs, what would I call them?  Just Enough Serious?  Why Grace?  Serious Grace?  Why So Serious Today?

Frankly, I don't feel like being so compartmentalized any more -- God blog here, silly blog there.  What does that say about my characterization of God?  That God is no fun?

Jesus certainly is depicted as a jovial, happy sort of a fellow.  Oh sure, the prophets peg him as fitting the bill of the "man of sorrows," but I'm just not buying that.  Yeah, I know he was sorrowful to the point of death in the Garden of Gethsemane and that his sweat poured down his face like blood.  But that was an isolated moment.  (Even Jesus should be afforded a moment or two of drama.)  In fact, I wonder if his ability to say, "... not my will, but thy will be done..." had just as much to do with Jesus being a good sport as it did being obedient.  (I have to tell you that typing that last sentence made me feel absolutely heretical.)

That brings me to an important point.  This blog needs to "listen" to my other blog.  This blog needs to hear my other blog saying, "Why so serious??"  Yeah, why do so many Christians get so serious about their faith?  Why is it that when I preach, I feel myself half-scowling on the inside?  Usually, I joke around with people, but when I climb into the pulpit, look out.  Here comes serious.  My preaching professor even said to me this semester, "You're quite dramatic.  How does the congregation respond to you?"  I think he meant this as a complement of sorts.  I think he was speaking to a certain intensity.  But really, I would love to find a way to lighten up just a little.

Maybe one way to work at lightening up is to seriously (there's that word again) begin looking for hints in the gospels of the sense of humor of Jesus.  (Or at least imagine it.  Certainly that's allowed.  Yeah, we'll call it "guided meditation.")  Returning to my earlier statement, I'll bet Jesus had a vicious sense of humor.  He would have to!  In fact, I wonder if Jesus was tempted to turn to the Roman soldiers who were scourging him and say with an obvious smirk, "Is that all you got?"

I wonder what would happen if all of us, instead of asking for strength and comfort and peace when we pray, asked instead for a kick in the pants.  "Dear God, please shake me up today.  Knock some sense into me.  Push me off my arrogant pedestal.  Make me laugh at myself.  Send 10 or 15 people who will make fun of me today.  Help me lighten up already!  Then perhaps I can speak more effectively of the joy that comes from living a life of faith."

I think I can open myself up to God changing my thinking in this manner.

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Big God Smack Down

I just read 4 blog posts by a friend of ours who has taken in a foster baby. She is very playful in her writing and has inspired me to be a bit playful as well; at least in the title of this post.

Today would have been a great day to preach. The passage was the story in Genesis 32 where Jacob wrestles with the man/God/angel of God (depending on your translation and inclination). Somewhere in the neighborhood of 20 years ago, I first related to this story of a person who tried to micro-manage God-breathed outcomes.

For me, the pivotal part of the story is when the man/God/angel of God responds to Jacob's request for a blessing with the question, "What is your name?" Jacob answers "Jacob." Now you have to flip back a few pages in Genesis to appreciate this part; or at least this is why it resonates with me. If you look at the passage that records the birth of Jacob and his fraternal twin Esau (Gen. 25:26), we are told that Jacob follows his brother out of the womb, "grasping" at his brother's heel as he makes his exit. Apparently "grasps the heel" is a Hebrew idiom for "he deceives," which Esau confirms after Jacob tricks him out of his rightful blessing as the eldest and Esau replies, "Isn't he rightly named Jacob?" (Gen. 27:36).

As we continue to follow Jacob to the land of his uncle Laban and see the "tactics" he uses to influence the color of the lambs born to his uncle, which determines whether they will belong to Jacob or Laban, we understand that Jacob's "deception" is about acting on what he believes to be God's will; bringing it about by his own means. Let's face it, Jacob is a self-made man, but God doesn't need anyone's help to bring God's will about, and that seems to be one of the lessons behind this Big God Smack Down wrestling match.

I was reading a Melodie Beattie book this morning that confirmed much of the same thing ... that when we tell God what we want and need and then surrender those very needs and desires back to God, we speak the language of letting go. Conversely, when we pursue what we want and need as if our efforts are the only thing that will bring them about, we do nothing but exercise control, sometimes to the point of appearing a bit obsessed. Beattie's point is that in acknowledging what we want and need and then letting go, we are in essence saying to God, "...But you know what God? I don't want or need anything badly enough to have to be in control of receiving it. That the one thing I don't want."

This particular habit of giving God a helping hand is standard operating procedure for most humans. I think it has something to do with one of the biggest misquotes in Biblical history: "God helps those who help themselves." Far be it from me to put much stock in Wikipedia, but ... here's what that little website has to say on this pesky phrase:

The phrase "God helps those who help themselves" is a popular motto which emphasizes the importance of self-initiative. The phrase originated in ancient Greece, occurring as the moral to one of Aesop's Fables, and later in the great tragedy authors of ancient Greek drama. It has been commonly attributed to Benjamin Franklin, however the modern English wording appears earlier in Algernon Sidney's work. It is mistaken by many to be a Bible quote, however the phrase does not occur in the Bible. Some Christians have criticized it as actually against the Bible's basic message of God's grace.

(I know some people will cluck their tongues and roll their eyes to read a Wiki quote, so go ahead and Google it yourself and see the results. Bottom line, it's not in the Bible.)

Oh, but I digress!

Apparently, Jacob believed that God helps those who help themselves; or at least that God needed some assistance now and again. It is not until he had this encounter with the man/God/angel of God at the Jabok River that Jacob finally comes to understand that we all have the choice of wrestling with God or wrestling without God. For whatever reason, Jacob has decided that being a self-made man and being terribly clever and being willing to impersonate his brother, etc., to achieve ends that were God's anyways is not all that it was cracked up to be. "Sure, I know how to get stuff on my own, but God ... Ok, seriously, I really would prefer to have you in charge of the blessings." To me, that is what Jacob is saying or implying in this refusal to let go.

"Coincidentally" (I always put quotes around this word when speaking on spiritual matters), Richard Rohr wrote a post on his email devotional yesterday about this same passage from Genesis. Rohr writes, "When we struggle with God we always lose, and only later do we know that such losing was, in fact, winning. That is what we mean by 'falling upward.' Wrestling with God, with life, and with ourselves is necessary. The blessing usually comes in a wounding of some sort and for most of us it is an entire life of limping along to finally see the true and real blessing in our life."

Losing that is winning. Our Pastor said something similar in sharing a story of a man who is asked by a long-time friend, "Do you still wrestle with the devil?" Oh no, the man answers, now I wrestle with God. The friend replies, "Wrestling with God? How do you ever hope to win?" The man concludes most poignantly, Oh, I don't. In fact, I hope to lose....

Isn't it right that we are all named "Jacob?" Don't we all need to stop manipulating and controlling and live as if we really believe that God's ways and plans are far bigger and better than our own?

I know I'm not through with the Big God Smack Downs of my life. In fact, I'm relieved to know that God is always so willing to engage. In those moments when I resist hearing God's will, or am impatient for God to act, I need to start wrestling and hold on for dear life, until I resolve to lose.