Saturday, December 24, 2011

Shepherding Our Incarnate Hope

Every year it’s something different.  Sometimes it’s Mary—wondering about giving birth in the middle of some strange city, with a husband she barely knows.  Sometimes it’s the manger scene—the smell of hay and cows and crying babies. 
This year…this year it’s the shepherds.  In the nativity scene on my piano, they are almost as beautiful as Mary—always looking lovingly at the baby lamb they hold in their arms.  They’re calm and serene, contemplating the wonders that have taken place.  We love to see them, when they’re little children dressed up in their daddy’s robes, traipsing down the center aisle with staffs made of duct tape and smiles that light up their faces.
But, really, shepherds were pretty awful people…no one liked them—they were the beggars of the working class…they pastured their sheep on other people’s lands, in essence stealing the grass under their feet.  They were away all night, leaving their wives to fend for themselves—giving themselves the description of dishonorable and unreliable.  And, my guess is, they were anything but beautiful and serene—with faces weathered by the wind and clothes worn for days and weeks at a time.  And yet, yet…it was to these ones to whom the angels sang:
“Do not be afraid.  For see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people:  to you is born this day in the city of David, a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord.”
            I’m trying to imagine this…you’re hard at work—doing what you can to survive—doing what you’re called to do; maybe you’re preaching a sermon to a bunch of hope-filled faces; or you’re sitting at a desk making a phone call; or you’re in class listening to a lecture; or you’re guiding planes to their destination; or you’re stocking shelves or driving to your next appointment—when suddenly the skies are filled with angels from on high, bidding you to put down your phone, to stop your typing, to cease your preaching, to strain your eyes toward heaven.  And what you hear is far from an ordinary birth announcement.  And surprisingly enough it’s not the angels proclaiming, or the arrival of a Savior that knocks you over, but this time you hear that your baby has been born.  Your baby.  Because in case you missed it—To you is born this day in the city of David, a Savior.  To You. 
            It would have made much more sense to hear what we always hear:  “Mary and Joseph would like to announce the arrival of their new bouncing baby boy—Jesus.”  And the shepherds could have send a nice card and some well-wishes and gone back to tending sheep.  But apparently when God enters the world, even birth takes on a whole new meaning, and instead of getting nine month to prepare, those despised shepherds discovered they were parents in the wee hours of the morning.  And so what did they do?  Did they shake their heads: “I’m pretty sure the angels must be talking to someone else?”  Did they wait a few moments, trying to figure out if indeed that was God talking or the strong ale they had just consumed?  Did they try and analyze or discuss or disregard…
            Nope…they ran.  They hiked up their dirty shepherd robes, used their staffs for leverage and ran…because when you’ve just been told your baby has entered the world, there is nothing more you want, then to hold him in your arms.  When you’ve just been told hope has flesh, you have to grab hold of that promise and never let go.
            Can you hear them?  Can you hear the heavenly chorus of angels?  They are singing their song once more.  “To you…to you is born this day in the city of David, a Savior.”  To you, is born a baby…to you is born God.  I vote…we bypass voting and discussion altogether and instead…we hike up our robes, use our staffs for leverage and run…run to our baby…and hold him close…because today hope has a body; today a promise has been born; today we have heard the angels.  And clinging to the One born this day, seems to be the only thing we’ll ever need. 

Monday, November 14, 2011

I hesitate to begin again...

Well, it's back to this crazy weight loss journey, that has been going backward for a very, very long time.  There are reasons (I started a second job, got a pretty bad case of tendonitis and bursitis in my shoulder, broke my foot...), but really those are just excuses.  I still could have eaten the right calories, and not buried my sorrows and loneliness and stress in chocolate. 
When I started 18 months ago, I had a goal in mind:  be at goal weight by 35th birthday.  I was so angry at myself for not getting there (missed it by 30 pounds), but instead of keeping moving forward...well, you know what happened.  And, I simply cannot stop beating myself up for it...I can't stop thinking "why start, I'll just fail again."  I don't want to go out in public because I know people's first thoughts are "crap, Sarah--why did you let yourself go like that?!?!"  I'm tired of hearing myself whining, but I can't seem to just get going...
Anyone have a story where you failed and failed and failed and failed and then didn't?  I need help; I need a kick in the substantial ass--I need reminded why this is something important to do...i simply need help.
So, if you don't find me too incredibly annoying, would you mind sharing some thoughts or hope or grace with me!

Friday, November 11, 2011

It's Friday (and my sermon is done!)

This probably has never happened before.  But, I have a lock-in with 130 kids tonight; I will be miserable tomorrow, and this sermon is written.  Again, thank you to which helps me more than it should...but here it is (maybe even it will help some struggling pastor tomorrow!).

Usually I sidestep these parables…This is a really hard one, so let’s talk about something else…

However, the last time I did that, I was called out—next time, you’ve really got to help us understand what’s going on here.

So, here it goes…

I’m not sure of your reaction, but when we read this at text study, the entire group moaned—“not this one again”, and then Thursday at our bible study at the bar, I made the college kids help me out, and their reaction was exactly the same.  “I hate this one,” Carolyn said…”I’m so cautious; I hate taking risks, and I really don’t want to be sent to where there’s weeping and gnashing of teeth, just because I take what I’ve been given and protect it.”  Good point, I said…and really our discussion ended there…
So, obviously this is a hard one…because although the Master is not technically God, and all his actions might not be directly attributed to God, nonetheless according to Matthew—who is a very cranky gospel writer, by the way-- God obviously has the power to send us frolicking into the joy of our master or grudgingly into the outer darkness where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth (whatever that means)…so, indeed this is a parable about God…but it’s also not only about God, maybe it’s also about our understanding of who that God is. 

Let’s start here:  I absolutely adore my daughter—but when she was born, she cried nonstop for the first six months…and after awhile, when that exhaustion set in, Steve and I started talking about how she was obviously meant to be a middle child—she was exerting her will and independence, fighting with us before she could even move, making us stay up all hours of the night—and we began lamenting what she would be like at 12, at 16.  And for the longest time, we continued this—expecting that she would be difficult, arguing with her almost instantly, because those things we began saying as a joke to get us through her infancy, started to ring a little more true.  Finally, we began to see that the reason she was acting out, was because we were expecting her to.  And slowly, we began changing our own attitudes—looking for her compassion and empathy, seeing her smile, not as mischievous, but as welcoming—her conversations, not as challenges, but as inquiries.  And bit by bit, our relationship has changed…not so much because she did, but because I expected something different when I looked at her. 
You know a little about that too, I would imagine.  If not with specific people, with situations.  A job change might be a new adventure or a terrifying journey.  A conflict with a friend, might mean the gloves come on, or a way to deepen and connect more to someone’s heart. 
It’s more than pessimist/optimist thing, but a way that you view the world…and coming from someone who tends to view the world more negatively, I pray it’s something that can be learned, if not innate.
So, might this logic be translated into our image of God as well.  You see, servant number three, although he knew deep within his soul that his master was a harsh and controlling man—there is absolutely nothing to prove that this was so.  In fact, the first two, were called to enter into the master’s job, were given more gifts and responsibility and connection.   The first two reacted with diligence and service; the third reacted…or maybe refused to act…because of fear, because of who he understood this master to be. 
I’m going to stop here for a few moments, and I’d like you to talk with each other or outloud (you pick!)…but what do you expect of God?  What is your image of God and how God is going to act in your life and in the world?  How does ‘how you envision God’ shape your way of relating to God and to each other?  (GATHER IN GROUPS)
I would imagine that each one of you have a different understanding of who God is and what God does—and honestly that understanding probably changes, develops, even throws you a curve ball every once in awhile.  But, and here’s the most important thing:  we know most clearly who God is and what God does by looking at the person of Jesus.  Jesus, time and time again, shows us that sinners are redeemed; that the hungry are fed; the poor are gathered in.  Jesus shows us time and time again that God loves, and saves, and lives in us.  What kind of God do we expect?  One that looks exactly like Jesus—a man who loved the world, even to the point of death, and who rose again, so that each one of us might live. 
Sometimes I think that this kind of God, might even be one taking a risk for—I’m not always sure—but I do know that what I expect is often what I get—and burying my life in the ground gets me absolutely nothing.  So…how about together, we expect life for ourselves and for the world?  Because I imagine, that’s exactly what God’s got to give…

Saturday, November 5, 2011

A sermon written for me...

This indeed is for tomorrow, but it's really for me.  Lots of quotes of an amazing little book a dear friend loaned me (thanks Brion.)...for someone who feels quite broken at the moment (figuratively and literally), I pray I too might someday feel that cradling from God I long for.
   (Not sure it's actually done, but for this time of night, will have to do...)

“Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.”       
There is a man named Jean Vanier who had a promising career in the British navy, and then after earning a doctorate in moral philosophy, a promising career as a professor…in 1964 felt called to invite two men with Down’s Syndrome to leave a mental institution and live with him.  That simple act in 1964 grew into the L’Arche communities—homes which bear witness to the reality that persons with intellectual disabilities possess inherent qualities of welcome, wonderment, spirituality, and friendship.  In the early 90’s, Vanier presented a series of lectures at Harvard, that were collected in a little book From Brokenness to Community.   In it he tells of his experiences living in the L’Arche community.
            “Our people are close to God,” he writes, “and yet they are so little and so poor.  They have known rejection and have suffered a great deal.  I am always moved as I hear them speak of Jesus.  When somebody asked one of our men, Peter, if he liked to pray, he said that he did.  So the person continued and asked him what he did when he prayed.  He replied:  “I listen.”  Then the person asked what god says to him.  Peter, a man with Down’s Syndrome, looked up and said:  ‘he just says, ‘you are my beloved son.’” 
            “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.”
            A story like that makes us smile—makes us catch our breath with its preciousness…but is it possible it makes us smile, because we want to hide what makes us uncomfortable.  What we want to hide is not just the pain and brokenness in Peter, but the pain and brokenness in ourselves.
            Because although it’s so difficult to admit, we are just as broken as Peter is.  We’re just a whole lot better at hiding it; so we bring out the make-up to cover up the blemishes, or the spanx to hide the jiggle.  We buy a little bit nicer car to hide the fact we’re really swimming in debt; or overlook the neglect from our spouse because we don’t think we deserve better.  We become angry and bitter and sad and lonely because it’s easier than opening up our hearts just one more time.  You know it…even if you hate to admit it.  You can try and hide it, but deep inside you know, you cannot do it alone…you’ve tried and time and time again you come up short…and time and time again you look in the mirror and see what you long to hide…you are indeed broken and hurting and are simply not sure what else you can do.   
            “Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”
Another story.   “Eight-year-old Armando cannot walk or talk and is very small for his age.  He came to us from an orphanage where we had been abandoned.  He no longer wanted to eat because he no longer wanted to live cast off from his mother.  He was desperately thin and was dying of lack of food.  After awhile in our community where he found people who held him, loved him, and wanted him to live, he gradually began to eat again to develop in a remarkable way.  He still cannot walk or talk or eat by himself, his body is twisted and broken, and he has a severe mental disability, but when you pick him up, his eyes and his whole body quiver with joy and excitement and say ‘I love you.’  He has a deep therapeutic influence on people.     
One day I asked one of the Catholic bishops from Rome if he wanted to hold Armando in his arms.   He did.  I watched the two of them together as Armando settled in his amrs and started to quiver and smile, his little eyes shining.  A half hour later I came to see if the bishop wanted me to take back Armando.  “No,” he replied, “no.”  I could see that Armando in all his littleness, but with all the power of love in his heart was touching and changing the heart of that bishop…was penetrating his barriers…In some mysterious way, in all his brokenness, Armando reveals to us our own brokenness, our difficulties in loving, our barriers and hardness of heart.   If he is so broken and so hurt and yet is still such a source of life, then I too am allowed to look at my own brokenness and to trust that I too can give life to others.  I do not have to pretend that I am better than others and that I have to win in all the competitions.  It’s OK to by myself, just as I am, in my uniqueness.  That of course, is a very healing and liberating experience.  I am allowed to be myself, with all my psychological and physical wounds, with all my limitations but with all my gifts too.  And I can trust that I am loved just as I am, and that I too can love and give life and hope.”
“Blessed are the pure in heart; for they shall see God.”
What if what it takes to see God, is to realize that you indeed are not God?  That you are hidden-ly broken, in all the ways Peter and Armando are visibly broken?  What if in holding Armando in your arms, you see yourself…and realize that as you cradle him, God cradles you?  That when you finally break into pieces in front of Jesus, that is when you are gathered up, knit into a new creation and marked blessed deep within your sou.?  What if a pure heart, is indeed your broken heart…a broken heart set free by that most amazing love of God…a broken heart set free to transform the world?


Saturday, October 15, 2011

Happy Pills Are Our Friends and I'm grateful for...

    It was November of 1994 and I was unsuccessfully transitioning to my first year of college away from home.  My first ray of hope was a campus pastor who said the words "clinical depression" (not the words crazy and hopeless, which were the ones going through my head); the second ray?  My doctor and "there's medication that can help you," and my love/hate relationship with Zoloft then Cymbalta, now Pristiq began.
   A number of times over the past 15+ years, I've attempted to break up with her--I can do this by myself!  Why can't I be normal?  If I were a better, faithful, follower of God, I could just pray my way out of it...and so I try. Maybe I can...and hide the damn things in the back of the medicine cabinet.  This last time, however, that we parted ways, was a result of poor planning, changing of insurance, and then the complete inability to function to rectify the situation.
   Seven days ago, the bottle ran empty, and the depression began.  The pills of salvation are back now; and are literally being clutched in my hands, so as not to lose them.  But, the six days in between were hell (I've tried to talk with my college kids about heaven on earth...and hell on earth--and now I've got some pretty clear examples of both)...Unless you've been there, it's hard to explain...but, that complete emptiness, and loneliness; having to answer Evelyn's "why are you crying again mommy," the ability to think in my head, there is no reason for this, but to feel in my soul that nothing, absolutely nothing matters--that I am worthless and a failure.
   For some reason this time I kept thinking about all those souls in the past who have experienced this--the 1800's come to mind--and didn't have a word to name their demons.  I wonder how many lost or took their lives because of chemicals that refused to be made.  I wonder about children who had to suffer because their mommy simply couldn't make them breakfast anymore, or about sermons that were never preached, or paintings that were never painted, or dreams that were never realized...
   Well, it's no longer 1800, and there is something that can be done; God has created and gifted some wonderful pharmaceutical manufacturers, and I am going to accept their gifts to the world.  My prayer is that no one needlessly suffers anymore--that no more tears are shed--that no more breakfasts goes unmade--and that if you know someone who needs them; and if you are someone who needs help, never...never be afraid to ask for it; because the world on the other side sure looks a whole lot brighter.
    So my list of gratitude for today:  1.  Happy Pills; 2.  Steve, who held me while I cried; and for 3.  Evelyn who said "it's okay, mommy; I love you anyway..."

Thursday, October 6, 2011

I wish I could believe it...

Maybe you've seen this picture posted on facebook...and the story that goes with it about women being beautiful in all shapes and sizes.  And honestly, I look at this woman and truly think she is beautiful.  But, I look at myself and I think there must be these scales on them (no pun intended); people tell me I'm beautiful (I have friends on this campaign, who tried to get Steve involved...), but I simply don't believe them.  And you know what I'm tired of?  My own complaining...indeed it does not make me happier; it's actually downright annoying; I listen to the words that come out of my mouth and if someone were saying them, I'd want to slap 'em (thank you to my friends who haven't done that yet).  But, so far, there simply hasn't been any amount of cajoling or forcing or convincing my eyes and my heart that the person in the mirror is worth any description other than stupid, fat, and ugly.  Now, here's the thing, before you all get freaked out on me...I'm in therapy; I'm at least trying to change that tape recorder in my head.  But, I've also decided I need an outlet again; so, I'm back to blogging; back to complaining; back to letting the world know my every thought. 
   And just to show you how crazy I truly am, I'm going to absolutely flip the tables and also start practicing something I've been reintroduced to:  gratitude.  Go figure.  Apparently, says these people, simply listing off the things you're grateful for just might change your perspective on the world (and maybe even on the one in the mirror).  So, here is gratitude list #1:  Steve
                                                              Elijah (gotta start somewhere, right...)
                                                              oh...and each one of you.