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Monday, July 31, 2017

If Jesus had a Facebook Account



Over the past few days, I have had a recurring thought: Everything is temporary.

This runs entirely counter to anything I want to be thinking, right now, in the midst of transition.  No one wants to consider the fleeting nature of everything when something wonderful has just begun.  We usually save this kind of contemplation for endings.  Yet here I am…

As it turns out, there might be some wisdom that comes with age and a couple of decades of ministry experience.  That’s the first thing I want to write about on this #MinistryMonday, but I have to start with the lack of wisdom that accompanied those early years when I set out to save the world with a wish and a prayer.

I think most of us imagine how life might be… at least sometimes.  I suppose I am something of an anomaly (surprise, surprise), but my daydreams have often included intense plans and details.  As soon as a viable possibility appears on my radar, I can build a life on it.  This is both a blessing and a curse.

In my early 20s (and beyond… and maybe right up until this morning, when it hit me like a ton of bricks), I didn’t understand the difference between attachment and permanence.  What a tragic flaw!   

Just statistically speaking, ministry assignments are not permanent, and they’re often far shorter than the average human being hopes.  Very early on, I made this connection and apparently (subconsciously) determined that I would only get attached if I found myself in a context that lent itself to permanence.  What a terrible mistake!  If we all lived like that, no one would ever get attached to anyone or any community. 

Nothing lasts forever.  For me, this drive toward permanence resulted in a few places that I love so much it hurts and a few more with which I never fully engaged.  I think I’m definitely having one of those “If I knew then what I know now” moments.  Live and learn.

Recently, this quote from Jim Elliot has resonated deeply (I honestly can’t remember if I’ve already blogged it.  If so, forgive me.  I have done an awful lot of writing on various platforms lately):

“Wherever you are, be all there.”       

What, exactly, does this mean?  Admittedly, I’m not 100% sure, but it must begin with relationship… with attachment… 

With all of this came a second thought (or maybe a question), and I feel as if I need to be exceptionally careful with it, because technology has moved and shifted our social contexts in ways none of us could have imagined when I started out in ministry: Who are my people?

This used to be an easy one to answer.  Our people were the ones we saw on a regular basis, in “real life.”  My very imaginative children used to play this game they made up, and there were actually three “worlds” of sorts.  There was real life, real life; real life, pretend; and pretend, pretend.  Depending on which mode they were in, there were different people and different scenarios.  As you might imagine, sometimes it was entirely dramatic play (see pretend, pretend), but sometimes they were themselves in their alternate reality (real life, pretend), and I think maybe “real life, real life” was actually real life… duh…  I found it endearing that they inherited the whole “daydream like it’s real” thing.     

Enter social media…

We don’t ever really leave anyone or any place, anymore.  There are things about this that I love.  The ability to stay connected with everyone who has ever been a part of our lives is phenomenal on so many levels.  But do we have the capacity for this?  Do I have the capacity for this?  I don’t know.

So, I started thinking about if Jesus had had access to Facebook when he was here on Earth in bodily form.  Would he have had a personal profile and a separate page for ministry related posts?  Would he have had an automatic feed of his blog and podcast that friends could use for cross-pollinating promotions?  Would he have been offended if Peter didn’t share his posts?  What about John?  What about Mary… or Mary… or Mary?  Would his disciples have joined a “closed” group, perhaps with additional “secret” groups for the seventy-two and the twelve?  As he went from one town to another, how well connected would he have been able to stay with each community?  Would this kind of pervasive interaction have kept Jesus from being as “all in” as he needed to be with the people who were literally in front of his face, or would it have served as a way to strengthen every relationship, appropriately, in a timeless sort of way?  Would Jesus have used Memes?  Wait… don’t answer that one…

Somehow this all comes together… this balance between permanent and temporary, between attachment and distance, between face-to-face and face-to-screen.  And I think one of the hardest things to work through is the fact that it’s all real.  We simply live in an era where our communication and connectivity is greater than it has ever been before… simply, but not simple.

L.

Saturday, July 29, 2017

The Weirdest Marriage Arrangement, Maybe Ever



If you want to read a story about a dysfunctional family, Genesis is your book… and Jacob is your guy.

Over the course of several weeks, we’ve been following the odd beginnings of Jacob’s life, from his birth moment, when he grasped his brother’s foot on the way out, to the stealing of birthright and blessing.  There are places in his narrative where we celebrate and other places where we stop to question, “Jacob, what in the world are you doing?”  When you take cultural context into consideration, I guess it’s not substantially different than the ups and downs that all of humanity experiences in everyday life. 

But when it comes to Jacob’s marriage, things get more bizarre than they already were.  Welcome to Sacramental Saturday! 

For some time now, I have been claiming that the grace imparted in sacramental, covenantal marriage must surely be the grace that allows us to live an entire lifetime with one person without killing him or her.  Sounds harsh, but I’ve been married for almost 20 years.  Believe me when I say there are moments when we need that kind of grace.

Ironically, Jacob (who has been something of a master deceiver his entire life) meets his match when he finds the woman of his dreams.  That should be a funny pun, but it’s not, because his match is his future father-in-law… times two…

Here’s the short backstory:

Jacob works for Laban for seven years in order to marry Rachel (Laban’s youngest daughter), whom Jacob loves.  After Jacob consummates his marriage, he finds out it is Leah (Laban’s oldest daughter) in his bed.  I struggle with this detail.  Really, Jacob?  How did you not know this?  But whatever.  I guess it was dark.

Most people preach this passage with a “poor, poor Jacob” mentality.  A few people might also exclaim, “poor, poor Rachel.”  Several years ago, I finally heard someone lament for Leah.  The daily office picks up with the justifiable reason why, today, beginning with Genesis 29:31 that reads, in part, “Leah was not loved…” 

Leah gives birth to four sons.  The first three times, she believes this will cause Jacob to love her.  The fourth time, she praises God, and then she stops having children.  Never, in any of this, is there any indication that Jacob loves this woman.  Marriage used to be something different than we make it now, but I have to think the whole situation here kind of stunk for everyone involved.

And then it gets worse…

Rachel, who has been unable to have children to this point, gets so upset that she threatens Jacob, Give me children, or I’ll die!” (Gen. 30:1).  Taking a page from Sarah’s book… you know… the page about Hagar and Ishmael… Rachel provides Jacob with one of her servants and takes the two children she bears as her own.  Then Leah also provides a servant and takes a couple of her sons.

And then it gets worse… or maybe it just stays horrible, because at this point it is difficult to rate the degree of awful this whole thing has become…

Leah’s oldest son finds some mandrake plants one day, and Rachel wants them.  Leah says, “No!  You can’t have my kid's plants.  You already took my husband.”  Somehow I find this at least slightly humorous, but you have to remember that this family is serious about their meals (Esau… birthright… bowl of soup), and Rachel really wants those mandrakes. 

So… she trades them for one night of sex with Jacob. 

I’m honestly not quite sure how she gets away with this.  In the patriarchal culture of which they are a part, it seems backwards.  This is the only situation in Scripture that I can recall in which a man is sold into sexual slavery, by his wife… to his other wife…  I have no idea how the deal holds up, but Rachel gets her plants and Leah gets another baby, which she sees as a reward from God for offering up her servant to Jacob.

Leah subsequently gives birth to son number six and returns to her longing to be loved.  Maybe six sons will do what five could not.  And then there’s a daughter.

After all of this, “God remembered Rachel” (Gen 30:22), and she conceived a son of her own. 

End daily office reading for today…

What???

In the coming weeks, I am looking forward to doing some interviews with couples who have been married for various amounts of time.  I feel confident that no one will share a story quite like this one, but I also think there is much to be learned about expectations and the reality of marriage based on the experiences of others.  Stay tuned…
 
L.

Friday, July 28, 2017

Houses Made by Human Hands




How about a Ministry Friday?  No alliteration—I know, I know.  But, the past two weeks have been a nightmare for routine.  Not that I love routines, anyway.  Seriously, though, I have slept in so many different places and driven so many miles on various routes that I have often forgotten which house I am in… and sometimes even which state, although I might be able to reasonably claim it is always a state of confusion.

On Monday, I walked into a new office, in a new town, and officially began my new job as Director of Family Ministries, at a new church, in a new denomination.  That’s a lot of ‘new.’  Less than a month ago, I was blogging about marking time.  Today, I am deep in the throes of transition, and things have been so busy I have struggled to read the daily office, let alone write about it.  If you want me to be real; I actually forgot to eat one day.  True story.

And then I found myself, this afternoon, with just enough time and space to crack open my Sacred Ordinary Days planner to consider that God might be trying to tell me something through these daily office readings that keep coming back.

Let’s begin with this one, used not long ago on another day, for another post:       
Genesis 29:9, “…for she was a shepherd…”

Although the original intent of this piece of information seems to have been to relay a literal fact, we often use this kind of language metaphorically in Christian circles.  I have come to love these five little words so deeply in recent days that I think I would have difficulty communicating the intensity of emotion attached to them.  This is incredibly frustrating for someone who loves to vomit feelings in print. 

What I can say is that one facet of my affection for this phrase comes simply from the word, “she.” 

I brought my family to work with me on Tuesday, and we had this moment when I was giving them a tour of the building and Miah (age 7) marched right up to the center of the platform in the sanctuary, turned around to face the (non-existent except for the other six of us) congregation, and shouted, “Teach me how to preach, Mommy!” 

The simplicity of this struck me with awe.  I have no idea if she will ever be called to vocational ministry, but I know for sure, if she is, she will never doubt the validity of that call because of her gender.  Thank you, God, for denominations that recognize your call to men and women, alike.  The moment was short, as Miah continued on her exploration adventure.  She thinks this building is a castle.  She is rather upset that she couldn’t find any unicorns.  I might have told her they are of the invisible variety…  So, thank you, also, for granting the necessary grace to raise imaginative, strong, non-conformist, passionate, compassionate, social action minded, inclusive kids (my girls and my boys) who love you and love people (and mythological creatures).

Then, there was Psalm 105 today.  I actually had a pretty good laugh over the selected verses.  This Psalm begins with praise, wonder, and covenant.  After that, we skip over the history of Israel, exile, and plagues.  We come back with:   

Psalm 105:45b, “Praise the Lord.”

I’m mostly thinking out loud on this, but I do question whether or not there is something to be said for occasionally leaving the pain out of the stories we spin.  Not always.  Not even often.  But maybe today.

The last Scripture that came into play for the purposes of the title of this post can be found in Acts 7, where Stephen speaks, introducing the recitation of Old Testament prophecy, by saying, “the Most High does not live in houses made by human hands.

And this part is probably intensely personal in nature, but I’ve been more than a little stressed out about where we might live here, and it was something of a wake-up call to remember both that the things we sometimes think we need might only be wants and that God has never failed us yet, even though God’s provision has often not looked the way we expected it to.

As if I needed this particular line of thought underscored (in bold, italicized print), there’s also this quote from Common Prayer: “Give me neither poverty nor riches, Lord: but bread for today, hope for tomorrow.”  Well, OK then.

Since we’re avoiding the suffering, let’s not stop to consider the continuing narratives of Jacob, Rachel, and Leah… of Israel… of Stephen.  These will come soon enough.  Six weeks ago, if anyone had told me what today would be like, I never would have believed it.  I’m fairly confident that’s consistent with my entire life and the history of the world, even for strategic planners.  I wonder what might happen next… 

L.

Monday, July 24, 2017

Smokescreen

I need just one more minute to lament.  I wonder how many more times I'm going to think that... say that... write that...

Silence.

L.

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Dysfunctional Rhythms



My intent for this post was to veer off a bit from proper sacraments and to seek to explore what it is to live sacramentally by establishing rhythms of life that lend themselves well to the practice of both sacraments and sacramentals.  Well, that’s a mouthful, and this is the part where I admit that the best I can do, today, is to speak to what rhythms might actually fall short of this goal.  It all started with the circus parade…

As it turns out, I write about the circus every four years, in July.  I had no idea this was a rhythm of mine until about three minutes ago.  I hope this is my last circus post, but I know how the cyclical nature of everything works.  In all likelihood, I will write about the circus in 2021, and that scares me a little bit, because I never would have guessed this would be a pattern.

We should be careful which things we allow to become habits in our lives.

Oh, bread and circuses, defined by dictionary.com as, “something, as extravagant entertainment, offered as an expedient means of pacifying discontent or diverting attention from a source of grievance.  The struggle is real.  It’s always so tempting to reach for whatever feels good at the time, but it’s better to develop disciplines that are legitimately transformative instead.

My posts (or ghosts) of circus past lean toward letting go, transition, discomfort, and responsibility.  Oddly, these are all rhythms that may be beneficial or harmful depending on the context.   Interestingly, I’m right there in the middle of them again. 

And so, there’s a good deal of self-reflection happening here, today.  But if you’re interested in some throwbacks (or just some super cute pictures of toddler Miah, because I’m throwing it all the way back to the Mommy blogger days), you could check out the evolution of my circus theology here.

May all your days be meaningful…

L.