The Silence

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There is a silence that stills and calms, that builds and creates. A stillness that makes space for the Spirit, for the self, for the tender work of undoing, for the plowing under of tired ideas. Yes, please. I want to sign on for that kind of silence, the one that opens and releases.

There is also a silence that kills, whether by intention or not, it kills. We went to a matinee yesterday and saw a truly magnificent film called, “Railway Man,” starring Colin Firth, Nicole Kidman and Stellan Skarsgard. Rarely have I seen such a powerful depiction of the kind of silence that kills than the one we saw in this moving true story about the power of forbidden memories to permanently cripple the human spirit. Only when he looks hard at the past is the railway man free from it.

The past few days, I have been brought low by a different kind of silence, this one the silence of neglect and privilege and a profound unwillingness to look at what is truly ugly in this world. On April 14, nearly 300 young women, living at a boarding school in Nigeria, were kidnapped by a terrorist military group, taken off into the night, most of them never to be seen again. The western news media, at least on our continent, was silent. 

There has been a lot of noise about Donald Sterling, some of it deserved. There has been a lot of coverage about the downed Malaysian airliner that will not be found. There has been a lot of deafening silence about these girls, the hope for the future, the brightest and the best. They were taken because they had the audacity to try and grow, to learn, to become fully human. They were taken because they are girls and therefore ‘deserve’ nothing better than to be sold on the open market. Until the last few days, there has been not one word about any of it.

And yet, we spend so many words on old men with foul mouths, on ‘beautiful’ people with way too much money and way too little intelligence. We — and I mean ME — don’t hear what we don’t like, don’t see what we don’t want to see, and try to protect ourselves from the terrible truth that humankind is capable of immense evil, and that such evil, left unremarked, will destroy everything and everyone in its path.

Yesterday’s matinee was a reminder that the underbelly must be looked at, reckoned with and walked through if there is to be hope for wholeness. So some of us are choosing to highlight this truth by doing a small act of . . . silence.

In honor of these young women, remembering that each and every one has a mother desperate for reunion, several of us who blog regularly will go silent on Mother’s Day. This blog is one of those, and it will not be accessible for those 24 hours. Instead, there will be a link to a magnificent post written by Deidra Riggs (and made available through the technical and empathetic abilities of Lyla Lindquist) which outlines why we’re observing this silence on this day. 

Silence in the blogosphere does not mean silence in our hearts, in our minds, even in our mouths. So, I encourage you to pray, to sign petitions, to speak the truth in love and bring these girls — and all those who are captive — to freedom, to home, to hope.

What a Woman Is Worth — Launch Day!!

The Big Day is finally here! A wonderful collection of essays, edited and organized by Tamara Lunardo, is releasing today on Amazon! I am honored to be included — in fact, to contribute the final piece in the collection — with a remarkable group of women writers, speaking to the truth that women matter. No matter how life has treated us, we matter to God and we matter to one another.

Here’s the beautiful cover of our book and at the end of this post is a shot of the back cover, too. As those of you who read here with any regularity will know, this essay was written quite a while ago! Almost exactly two years ago, to be exact. Lilly is now 4 years and 2 months old; in this piece she is not yet two. But the truth of who she is is always the same. Here is the first section of the final essay in this fine collection:
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Lilly is 22 months old, and a real pistol. Funny, charming, inquisitive, secure in herself and in the love of her family. She plays with us two days each week – one of the perks of grandparenting and retirement. And every time she’s here, I celebrate who she is becoming.

Last week, she climbed up onto my bed (where all good computer work is done in this house) and begged to see ‘pichures, pichures!’ So I opened iPhoto and went directly to her favorite event: her older sister’s 6th birthday party. Each time we look at this set, we scroll through all 90 photos, identifying as many people as we can, usually lingering longest at the pictures of the ‘happy cake-cake.’

Lilly has not quite grasped the truth that these ‘pichures’ she loves so much are only 2-dimensional representations and not actually tiny versions of the people she sees every day. Sometimes she will cup her hands next to the screen and say, “I pick her up! I pick her up!” puzzled that she can’t quite make that happen.

But one day last week, she surprised me with words that marked my heart in a powerful way. She surprised me with what she did understand. She saw a close-up of her own face. And she patted the screen gently, saying, “Oooh, that’s Rirry [still working on those L’s]. She so cute. I love her.”

“She so cute…I love her.” I wrapped my arms around her small body and kissed her on the back of the neck and said, “Oh, YES, Lilly. You are so cute and I love you, too. I hope and I pray that you will always be able to look at yourself in exactly this way. Always.”

What is it that happens to us between early childhood and adulthood? Why is it so easy for us to lose that clear, common-sense, of-course-I’m-loveable-it’s-just-so-obvious-I’m sure-you-can-see-this-too sense of our value, our worth, our intrinsic ‘rightness?’ And what, as parents, aunts and uncles, siblings, cousins, grandparents of girls – what can we do to foster an atmosphere in which little girls will always see themselves this way? When we look in the mirror at age 16 or 21 or 35 or 50 or 75 or 90, why shouldn’t we be able to see ourselves through eyes of love?

Is this not the message of the Gospel? Is this not the Truth that Jesus saw and taught and modeled and lived? That fundamentally, to be a human person is a good, good thing. So good that God chose to be clothed with our flesh, to walk through the steps of our life, to eat and sleep and laugh and cry, to connect with others and to spend time alone, to hang out with all different kinds of people and see each of them as interesting and important and valuable? Yes, I think so. . . 

To read the rest, you’ll just have to buy the book!

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“Love Idol” — a Book Review

 1920240_10201546237158689_345538548_nphoto courtesy of Diane Bailey from the Love Idol Launch Team

It’s been a big day! A good day for my friend Jennifer Dukes Lee. Her first book has been released, set free into the world to be read, savored, underlined, dog-eared, learned from and treasured. 

“Love Idol: Letting go of your need for approval . . . and seeing yourself through God’s eyes” is now available at your favorite bookseller. I encourage you to pick up a copy — or three or four, for friends, family or small group — and read your way through Jen’s journey from perfectionist-people-pleaser, unsure-of-God’s-existence, to sold-out-believer, one-who-knows-she-is-loved.

This is a journey we all need to take, this way of grace, this road that begins with our desperate need to be seen, to be valued, to be loved. This road that can so easily lead to detours and dead ends, each one echoing with the voice of our enemy, the one who taunts and teases and tantalizes. It is so easy — too easy — to succumb to the demands of our shadow selves — the Inner Critic, the Sarcastic Belittler, the Over-Eager-Achiever, the Proud Performer — when all that is needed is the recognition that we are already loved, already accepted, already approved before we do anything.

It’s paradoxical, really. The simplest truth is the hardest one to believe, to live. And Jennifer wrestles well with the slippery edges of it all. Telling stories about herself, her marriage, her children, her past career and her current calling, she weaves in biblical stories and truths like the pro she is. Before she became a farmer’s wife, mom, and blogger, Jen was an award-winning journalist and her story-telling ability shines delightfully on every page.

All along the way, she casually drops in some great one-liners:

We all have two choices in times of angst or worry: raise the fist or bend the will.

Sometimes a face-plant into the dirt is the best way to humble the hurried and harried.

How do I take these brain-deep answers and make them heart-deep?

“Dear God, help me get over myself today.”

I doubt that even Jesus Himself would suggest bullet-pointed answers to life’s most pressing questions. He didn’t outline easy steps for us; He offered an easy yoke.

Personal strength is not necessarily a virtue. Neither is got-it-togetherness.

We tell each other that it’s safe to be authentic, but are we making unthreatening places for people to be less than perfect?

This is a book written for women, and that may be my only critique. Why? Because I think this is a message for everyone, every person who has ever dealt with an overwhelming need to be loved and approved, who has ever felt driven to perform perfectly, who has ever allowed fear and/or pride to be the controlling emotion behind every decision. And I know that men face these demons as well as women.

Whichever gender you are, wherever you are on this journey of faith, Love Idol is a rich resource for you, and I heartily and happily recommend it to you. 

An Advent Journey, 2013: Looking for the Light – Day Nineteen

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Until the time when we were mature enough to respond freely in faith to the living God, we were carefully surrounded and protected by the Mosaic law. The law was like those Greek tutors, with which you are familiar, who escort children to school and protect them from danger or distraction, making sure the children will really get to the place they set out for.

But now you have arrived at your destination: By faith in Christ you are in direct relationship with God. Your baptism in Christ was not just washing you up for a fresh start. It also involved dressing you in an adult faith wardrobe—Christ’s life, the fulfillment of God’s original promise.

In Christ’s family there can be no division into Jew and non-Jew, slave and free, male and female. Among us you are all equal.That is, we are all in a common relationship with Jesus Christ. Also, since you are Christ’s family, then you are Abraham’s famous “descendant,” heirs according to the covenant promises.

Galatians 3:23-29-The Message

Of the many good and great things wrought by the Incarnation, this passage in Galatians surely represents one of the most beautiful and most freeing. 

The Law is fulfilled, its purpose served. God has come among us and now, because of the birth and life and death and resurrection and ascension of Jesus Christ, we are — all of us — in direct relationship with God.

These three short paragraphs are astoundingly beautiful and profound, aren’t they? We are ‘at our destination,’ as Paul puts it: in Christ we are all equal, we are all family. No divisions, no higher or lower than, no hard-and-fast roles to play. We are ONE.

Is that not amazing? 

So why, I wonder, can we not live this truth and enjoy it? Why do we resort to finger-pointing, labeling, categorizing, sublimating, separating?

Maybe this is exactly why we need to celebrate Christmas every year. To remind ourselves of who we are – our own selves, and all the selves who worship around us, who write blogs out in cyberspace, who write books and pontificate and theorize and stigmatize. We are all one . . . IN CHRIST.

Hallelujah!

Mighty Savior, will you help us to celebrate who we are because of you? Please remind us of this liberating truth: we are equal in your sight. There is no racial, gender, or ethnic distinction that amounts to a hill of beans in the life of the kingdom. Not.One. Praise your name!

An Advent Journey, 2013: Looking for the Light – Day Fourteen

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Then Hannah prayed:

“My heart rejoices in theLord!
The Lord has made me strong.
Now I have an answer for my enemies;
I rejoice because you rescued me.
No one is holy like the Lord!
There is no one besides you;
there is no Rock like our God.

“Stop acting so proud and haughty!

Don’t speak with such arrogance!
For the Lord is a God who knows what you have done;
he will judge your actions.
The bow of the mighty is now broken,
    and those who stumbled are now strong.

Those who were well fed are now starving,
    and those who were starving are now full.
The childless woman now has seven children,
    and the woman with many children wastes away.

The Lord gives both death and life;
he brings some down to the grave but raises others up.
The Lord makes some poor and others rich;
he brings some down and lifts others up.
He lifts the poor from the dust
    and the needy from the garbage dump.
He sets them among princes,
    placing them in seats of honor.
For all the earth is the Lord’s,
    and he has set the world in order.

1 Samuel 2:1-8 -NLT

I am pretty sure I know why this section of Old Testament scripture is included in this series of Advent texts. And that reason will show up in tomorrow’s post: the Magnificat, the song of Mary, the one she sings to her cousin Elizabeth, a song of power and rebellion and a prophetic word about what was to come in the ministry, life and death of the baby she carried while she sang it.

As we’ll see tomorrow, Mary’s song sounds a little bit like Hannah’s; these two women are soul sisters across the centuries that stretch from the time of the judges to 1st century Palestine. 

They know an important truth about God, a truth that we’ve been uncovering in surprising places all along our journey toward the Light this Advent season. And that truth is this: God is in the business of upsetting the apple cart, of confounding expectations, of accomplishing justice/righteousness/salvation/wholeness in ways that often seem upside down and backwards to us.

But Hannah sings right into the heart of it all:

For all the earth is the Lord’s,
    and he has set the world in order.

So as I continue to look for the light, I am asking God to help me let go of preconceptions, of culturally bound ideas of authority and power and wealth. I’m asking to see what Hannah saw, what Mary saw, and to learn to sing a song of my own. A song of praise and thanksgiving to the God of surprises, the God who comes in small things and cares about those who are least in the eyes of the world.

Will you help me to sing with my sisters, Lord God? To honor their faith, and to join them in acknowledging that you, and you alone, are in charge of this earth. That even when it doesn’t look like it to me, you have, indeed, ‘set the world in order.’ 

31 Days of Giving Permission . . . TO READ, READ, READ – A Book Review & A Synchroblog

I am happily joining the synchroblog launching Addie Zierman’s wonderful new book,
“When We Were on Fire: A Memoir of Consuming Faith, Tangled Love, and Starting Over.” And so help me, I will, somehow, make this review fit the 31 Day theme I’ve selected.
(And I will probably do this same theme twice more, once on each of the last two Tuesdays of October, because I have had such a feast of reading the past few months. A veritable feast, I tell you!)

This particular idea has never been a problem for me – in fact, I have perhaps given myself TOO MUCH permission to read, read, read over the years (if such a thing is possible). But maybe you need someone to give YOU that permission – if so, please count yourself duly permitted. Because reading is one of the best ways I know to a.) widen your knowledge of the world and how it works; b.) broaden your vocabulary and your ability to dream artistic dreams; c.) take you to another world for a few minutes; d.) remind you that we are all part of something much larger, more wonderful, and more terrible than we know. So, welcome to the 1st of 3 reminders to give yourself permission to . . . READ, READ, READ. 

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I was a senior in high school,
and on my way to an early morning Bible study,
when I crashed my mother’s car and broke my tooth.
I was late to pick up my friend,
I drove my mom’s stick-shift-on-the-steering-wheel,
1950’s vintage Plymouth, which was always sluggish
at 6:30 in the morning,
I lived on a steep hill, which required me to make a turn to the left
as I crested the top of it,
and my books slid across the seat as I turned.

Naturally, I leaned over to rescue them,
and the next thing I knew, I had crashed into a parked car,
which crashed into a 50-year-old oak tree,
leaving the radiator steaming and my mouth bleeding.
And my initial, knee-jerk response?
Mortification that I was going to miss that Bible study. 

I am not a morning person.
I know it now and I knew it then.

But every week, I went to that Bible study anyhow,
because, I mean  . . . how could I not?
I was a Christian, for heaven’s sake.
And I was on fire.

I was a geek, too. Hard to reconcile ‘on fire’ with ‘geek’
but I pretty much rocked it.
And just about everyone in my class of about 500 knew
that I was an on-fire, geeky Christian, too.
I was taught to talk about it, to define it clearly, for myself and for others,
to not be ashamed.

I was also taught, both explicitly and implicitly, that my primary goal in life,
as a good, Christian girl,

was to meet a fine Christian man,
get married, have babies,
and volunteer with women’s ministries.

And we all know how that turned out.

Why is it, I wonder, that the church, and so many of its subsidiary organizations,
get and give such a garbled message?
We too often complicate the beautiful simplicity of the gospel of grace,
add on layers of dogma that were never part of the design,
and insist that others see the same rigid, box-like faith that we see.

There’s a lot of un-learning that needs to happen for many, if not most of us,
who were raised within the confines of an overly conservative,
mistakenly zealous version of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Addie Zierman has been a lyrical voice for that re-learning
for a couple of years now.
Her blog, “How to Talk Evangelical” has been on my top 10 list
for about as long as she’s been writing on it.
And her book is, in many ways, an extension of what you find
in that lovely space.

It is also more.
This is a memoir, a spiritual memoir.
But it is also a story of love gone wrong,
a sad tale of how “Christian” relationships can sometimes slip into abuse,
and how hard it is to recover from the garbage theology
we too often absorb in our ‘on fire’ years.

Slipping between 2nd and 3rd person narrative,
Addie tells a beautiful but painful story.
She writes movingly of adolescent earnestness,
life-long friendships,
moving into a healthy relationship,
then fighting to save it as depression
and churchianity take their inevitable toll.

She speaks honestly about using alcohol to numb the pain,
about stepping into therapy and finding Jesus there,
about her frustrating search to be at home in community.

Addie’s story is not my story,
but there are pieces of it that I know.
Something about my own family system made me wary
of catch-phrases, excessive cheeriness and simplistic recipes for anything.

Also, I did not have a boyfriend in high school,
a fact for which I give heartfelt thanks after reading about the boy
who manipulated and tried to control Addie during those tender years. 

But I do know all about trying to please.
I do know all about wanting to be the good girl.
I do know all about following the rules,
giving a testimony,
playing the role,
being on fire.

And I now know that there was much good intermingled
with the less-than; there was joy mixed in with the angst;
there was redemption, there was hope, there was. . .
and there is. . . JESUS.

And so does Addie.

I highly recommend this book to all who are struggling
through re-learning what they believe.
I highly recommend this book to all who have
done most of that re-learning for themselves,
but want to know what it feels like to
those who are younger.
I highly recommend this book to anyone who loves
lyrical, thoughtful, honest writing.

And I am honored to be part of this synchroblog
and to have received an Advance Reader’s Copy from Addie
and her publisher, Convergent.

You can find this book here 

 

Midweek Service: Mary & Martha — With Our Whole Selves

I think I have recovered enough decent old sermons to continue this series through the summer. Each week, I’ll also include a photo of one of the stained or painted glass windows in St. Vitus’s Cathedral in the city of Prague. Most of these sermons are dated, a few are not exact, but I can estimate the time frame in which they were originally preached. This one comes from the two-year interim period while we searched for a new Senior Pastor AND engaged in a massive building campaign that had been on the books for almost a dozen years. Our worship center (we met in a gym for over ten years) and office complex had to be completed by a certain date or we faced the re-submission and approval process which in Santa Barbara can take years. It was a season of flux and transition. It was also a season of remembering who we were as the people of God in this place.

Made to Matter: People Who Partnered with God Sermon Series
Mary & Martha: With Our Whole Selves
 Luke 10 & John 11 & 12
October 5, 2003
Montecito Covenant Church

Let’s see. . . since we began our fall preaching series on September 7th – that wonderful morning when we broke ground for the project that is now unfolding all around us – we’ve spent our sermon time each week looking at such great biblical characters as Barnabas and Paul, the apostle Peter, those 3 boys in the furnace  described in the book of Daniel, and last week, another trio from the Old Testament, Moses and Aaron and Hur.

In fact, we’ve discovered a whole bunch of fascinating and encouraging guys to learn from over the past four weeks.  And we’ve learned some good and helpful things as we continue to discover what it means to follow God into unknown territory during this time of transition and change here at Montecito Covenant Church. But today, in just a tiny change of direction, I think maybe it’s time we looked at a couple of the women in scripture who partnered with God. Seems truly appropriate to do so today, in good keeping  with the theme of the morning, which has something to do with finding and maintaining good balance in our lives.

Greg has read for you a brief section of scripture from the gospel of Luke – the first story in the New Testament about a couple of sisters who were very important in the life and ministry of Jesus when he walked this earth.  Their names are Martha and Mary, and I believe these two women from a long time ago can help us wrestle with one of the most important truths we’ll ever need to learn as followers of Jesus Christ.

And that truth is this: when we choose to enter into relationship with the Great God of the Universe by means of the pathway God himself has given us – the pathway that Jesus carved out with sweat and blood and death and resurrection – when we choose that relationship, we are invited, we are taught, we are requested, we are urged to choose it with our whole selves – with all of who we are.

And in the process of living out that whole-self relationship, we are reminded by the Word of God, and by the life of Jesus, and by the mistakes and the successes of God’s people as told to us in Holy Scripture – we are reminded that living the Christian life with our whole selves is not a particularly easy thing to do.

And why isn’t it easy?

Because we’re a messy, sometimes thoughtless, sometimes frazzled, sometimes thoroughly distracted bunch of people.  Because we so often miss the point, get our priorities out of whack, allow ourselves to be hijacked by the culture in which we live, a culture that surely doesn’t go out of its way to encourage us to be whole people, living a life that is equally rich in activity and in quietness, in busyness and in stillness, in doing and being or – as Karen reminded us with her two hats earlier this morning – in acting and thinking.

Because sometimes, to be perfectly honest, we simply don’t get it.  We don’t see why we need to choose ‘the better way’ as Mary is described as doing in the story before us today.  In fact, we’re often not convinced that her way is the better way.  Why should we sit on the floor at anyone’s feet when we could be up and moving, bustling about, accomplishing something.

In fact, I’m willing to wager that a goodly number of you – if you were really honest about this – might agree with me that Martha has gotten kind of a bum rap over the years.  I mean, be real.  Haven’t you always heard this story told in such a way that Martha comes off as the prototypical busybody, A-type personality who’s a little bit dense when it comes to the ‘really important’ thing that Mary has chosen to do?

Sweet, pliant, passive Mary – praised to the skies because she sits on her rear while all the work is being done.  Be honest here, hasn’t that thought ever occurred to you when you’ve read or heard this story?  Well – here’s my ‘honest’ response to the story before us today – and this ‘honest’ take comes in somewhat equal parts from both my own thinking and wrestling with this story over many years and from some of the scholarly reading and reflecting that I’ve done this past week.  Here’s what I think about it all:

Martha is a trooper, in my book.

We’re told that she’s the owner of the home to which Jesus has come for dinner – and that’s a fairly unusual thing in 1st century Palestine – that a woman should be a property owner.  That makes her interesting to me right from the get-go.  And homeowner Martha has extended her wonderful gifts of hospitality to Jesus and she’s doing her hostess thing –  the good thing, the right thing, the expected thing.  She’s fixing a meal, she’s setting a table, she’s timing the meat and the side dishes so that nothing’s too hot or too cold when the food is spread.  She’s workin’ it – apron around her waist, sweat in her hairline, doing her darnedest to make things nice for the visiting rabbi.

And she’s doing it all by herself.

She doesn’t live here alone, you know.  She has a sister – undoubtedly a younger sister – one who seems to have sort of a ‘crush’ on Jesus.  There she is, sitting on the floor at his feet – just like she was a real student of his!  And Jesus is allowing it, even seems to be enjoying this conversation with a woman, treats her like she might have a brain in her head.  But nonetheless, she is just sitting there.

So I’m not at all surprised that our friend Martha begins to mutter under her breath all the while she’s stirring the pots and setting the table.  “I do, and do and do for you people, and this is the thanks I get???” And I am intrigued by the fact that she then proceeds to say those mutterings out loud, and directs them to . . .Jesus.  Not to her slack-off sister, but to the rabbi himself.  She’s no coward, that’s for sure.  She seems to feel sure enough about her own relationship with Jesus to speak the truth – to share her feelings and her concerns.

And here’s the kicker for me in this story – Jesus is really so kind to her with his answer.  Contrary to many interpretations of this little story, I don’t think Jesus is rapping Martha across the knuckles here.  He loves the fact that Martha is doing something nice for him, that she is welcoming him to her home with food and drink and festivity.

We know from so many other small stories in scripture that Jesus himself was a great host – a person who loved to welcome others and to provide for their physical needs.  And we also know that Jesus loved a good dinner party – had quite a reputation in some quarters as a bit of a party animal, if the truth be told.  So as he responds to Martha’s outburst, he calls her by name – twice.  “Martha, Martha. . .” which is a lot like saying, as the New Living Translation puts it,  “My dear Martha.”

Martha, my friend, one that I love – these details are killing you!  Let them go.  Just let them go.  I know your meal will be excellent.  I thank you for your care for me.  But . . . listen to me, my love.  All of this hustle and bustle is just wearing you out.  There’s more than enough for all of us to eat.  Come, sit down for a while.  Mary, bless her heart – she’s made a discovery today – a wonderful discovery.  She’s found the most nourishing thing to do today and that’s to sit and listen to me, to talk to me, to learn from me, to be with me.  Come, my friend.  You do the same.  We’ll all eat soon enough and we’ll love every bite of your beautiful meal.

That is the spirit of this brief couple of sentences.  There is no condemnation in Jesus’ words – there is just a little bit of gentle pushing, a tiny, very careful attempt at re-focusing Martha’s attention on the most important thing about the day – being with her guest.

It is basically a call to Martha to be a whole person, fully engaged with all of who she is in her relationship with Jesus.  Her generous service is welcome and gratefully received.  But the personal interaction is what is missing.  Sweating in the kitchen is leading to Martha’s being burned out and burned up.  She’s tired and she’s resentful – a deadly combination when it comes to relationship-building.

But . . . here’s what I don’t want us to miss here:  she tells Jesus about it!

She doesn’t just keep on muttering to herself, growing ever angrier and more bitter.  No, she unloads it on the Lord.  Now it is quite true she doesn’t get quite the response she thinks she wants!  She thinks she wants Jesus to make things ‘fair,’ to get Mary off the floor and into the kitchen.  But what she truly wants – and Jesus, of course, knows this – what she truly wants and what she truly needs, is to get out of the kitchen and down onto the floor  – right there with her sister.

When I am working hard – when I am working too hard, to be more exact – I can so completely understand what Martha is feeling in this story.  Especially if I’m working and someone else isn’t.  I did this with my kids when they were growing up, I do it with my husband and my friends more often than I like, and I’m increasingly aware that I even do it sometimes when I’m all by myself.

I see something that needs doing – a good thing, a necessary thing,  a hospitable thing, a thing that I know God would want me to do.  And I. . . bury myself in it.

I don’t look for the simplest way to do the thing, in fact I often get just a little bit hung up on doing it well enough that others will be suitably impressed.

And then, somewhere in the middle of it all, it gets twisted around somehow.  And in addition to wanting to impress others, I also want them to know just how hard I am working.

And not only that, I want them to feel badly about how just how hard I am working.

And not only that, but I can very quickly move into a really sad  ‘poor pitiful me’ mood and you truly do not want to be around when that happens!

Does this ever happen to you?

Well, let’s both learn a little something from Martha here.  The next time we begin this downward spiral that moves from doing something good and worthwhile, to overdoing that something for the wrong reasons, to feeling really sorry for ourselves while we’re overdoing, to blaming others and inviting them into our misery . . . let’s do what Martha did.  Let’s take our sad and hurt feelings directly to the one who will listen with compassion.  Let’s tell Jesus about it.

And let’s try to quiet ourselves just enough so that we can hear his answer to us, which is very likely to be one like this: ”My dear one. . . chill out.  Sit down a minute.  Be quiet inside.  Let me lead you with love to a better place, a place where all of who you are is invited and involved, a place where you can serve me in healthy, wholehearted ways and a place where you can simply be with me, as the prophet Isaiah said ‘in quietness and in confidence.’

Martha is not the villain of this piece.  She is the center of the story and she does learn a powerful lesson – at least we hope she does.  This story doesn’t actually tell us if that’s the case.  But the apostle John takes up these same characters in chapters 11 and 12 of his gospel – and there we learn that both sisters have learned something from this encounter with Jesus the night he comes to dinner.

Interestingly enough, Luke places his story about Martha and Mary right in the middle of a whole section of his gospel where he is talking about what it means to be a disciple, one who learns, one who follows a master teacher.  And these two women are there, without a lot of fanfare, just there – as disciples of Jesus.

John takes this truth even further in his retelling of a couple of very important events that happen just the week before Jesus dies.  Martha and Mary have a brother named Lazarus, John tells us.  And they are all close friends of Jesus and his inner circle of followers.  They live in a little town called Bethany, which is on the way to Jerusalem.  Word comes to Jesus and his crew that Lazarus is very, very ill.  Several days later, Jesus arrives at Bethany – and he learns that Lazarus has been in the grave for four days.  Martha hears that Jesus is near to the house – and in typical Martha fashion, she races out to meet him.  And she greets him with a grief-stricken accusation:  “If you had been here, our brother would not have died!”

And then she and Jesus engage in a really interesting conversation – a conversation of vital importance to all of the disciples’ growing understanding of who Jesus really is.  The result of their dialog is that Martha makes a wonderful proclamation of truth about Jesus:  “You are the Messiah,” she says, “the Son of God, the one who has come into the world from God.”

Martha nails it – she preaches it – she runs back to the house to tell her sister that Jesus has come.

And very soon, they both will witness the amazing miracle of their brother being raised from the dead.  Martha becomes the one who learns . . .and she also becomes the one who proclaims!  Martha is learning to be in relationship with Jesus as a whole person, with her whole self – her serving, action-oriented self and her thinking, learning, reflective self.

And what about Mary?

In the next chapter, Jesus is once again at the home of his friends.   And, once again, Martha is serving him dinner.  But Mary is not off in the corner sitting on the floor this time.  No.  Mary is doing something in this story – she is doing something amazing, something surprising – even shocking.

She comes to Jesus at the dinner table, she opens a jar of very expensive perfume. . . and she pours it over his feet.  Then she loosens her hair – something seldom done in that time and place – and she wipes the oil off his feet.  The whole house fills with the sweetness of the perfume and Jesus commends her for this act of service, this act of love, this act of sacrifice.

For Mary realizes – as no one else seems to – that Jesus will soon be dead.  Maybe that’s something she learned while she was sitting at Jesus’ feet that day – who knows?  But somehow, in some quiet, open-hearted way, she has discovered the truth at the very heart of Jesus’ ministry on earth:  that he came here to die, for our sakes.  And Mary acts on that truth.  Like her sister, Mary becomes a whole-hearted disciple, one who relates to Jesus with all of who she is – her quiet, reflective self, and her loving, serving, acting self — her whole self.

And if we are to be in relationship with Jesus in this way – as whole persons, fully engaged in both service and silence, in both acting and thinking, in both doing and being – we must make space in our lives for both Martha and Mary.  Both gifts are needed, both parts of our selves are invited to the table.

Does the Martha in you tend to crowd out the Mary?  Do you too often find yourself buried by work, by good work, by God’s work . . . only to find yourself disconnected from God himself?  Then, as we come to this table today, invite Mary to join you.  Make a little space inside for listening and learning.

Or does the Mary in you find plenty of room for expression?  Are you able to be quiet easily, sometimes too easily?  Do you rely on your quiet nature too much sometimes, trusting yourself to be where you think you need to be spiritually rather than trusting God to fill you with power and strength so that you can also do the work to which he has called you?  If that is true of you today, then I urge you to create some space for Martha next to you at the table today.  Invite the more active part of yourself to fully engage in fruitful, meaningful service in Jesus’ name.

God has called us by name and we are his.  All of who we are is his.

Let’s take our whole selves to God in prayer.

Gracious and loving God, father of our Lord Jesus Christ and our Father,
we come to you today acknowledging our need to live fully for you,
to live as whole people in your presence and in this world.
Help us always to choose the most needful thing
of being with you to listen and to learn.
But also help us to use the gifts you’ve given us
to serve you and to serve the world.
We pray this in the name of Jesus,
who modeled for us a life wholly lived,
a life fully lived,
a life lived with passionate action
and with quiet devotion.
Amen.

The Gift of a Long Life — A Deeper Family

It’s the first Thursday of the month and time for my monthly post at A Deeper Family. And this one crept up on me, bigtime. Somehow, I thought the first Thursday was next week (duh!) and had set aside tomorrow afternoon to write this piece. Fortunately, truth dawned at approximately 9:00 p.m. for an essay that was due at midnight. 

With the grands at Shell Beach, one year ago this month.

 

Forty years ago, I was a stay-at-home housewife with three children under the age of five, wildly in love with my kids but often overwhelmed by fatigue and feelings of failure.

Thirty years ago, I had two teenagers and a pre-teen, served as an active volunteer in church and community, loved entertaining large groups of people in our home and was oblivious to the truth that this good, rich time of my life was rushing by me.

Twenty years ago, I walked across the stage to pick up my master of divinity degree from Fuller Seminary after four years of study, all that studying done while managing a small floral business in my home, watching each of my children move into committed relationships and becoming a first-time grandparent.

Ten years ago, I was nearing the midway point of my pastoral life here in Santa Barbara, discovering the harsh reality of death in our family circle for the first time, trying to balance (what is that, anyhow?) home and church, family and congregation.

Today, right now, I am retired from parish work; I offer spiritual direction from my home; I write on my blog, here at ADF, and several other places on the internet and in print; I have children older than most of the people I meet with or write with; I am married to a man I love deeply, a man who stays home most of the day because he, too, is retired; I am mother to my mother as she fades into the dim recesses of dementia; and I am Nana to eight grands, two of whom are college students, for Pete’s sake.

And at this moment, on a warm California evening, I am reading this list and wondering . . . who do I want to be going forward?

If I am blessed by continuing good health and even the moderate level of agility which I currently enjoy, I may live another fifteen, twenty, maybe even twenty-five years at the most.

What will these years look like when I stand there, in the future, and look back at now?

What do I hope for, dream about, pray for, purpose in my heart to do — or maybe more importantly — to be during however many decades remain?

Here, in no particular order of importance, are the things that rise to the top as I ponder that question:

Please join me over at A Deeper Family for the rest of this post . . .

Scandalous, Extravagant Love — A Sermon for the 5th Sunday of Lent

Scandalous, Extravagant Love
a sermon preached at Montecito Covenant Church
Sunday, March 17, 2013
by Diana R.G. Trautwein

(If you prefer to hear rather than read a sermon, the podcast for this will be available late in the day on Thursday, March 21, 2013 at www.mcchurch.org under “Resources”)

We’ve heard the word of the Lord from the prophet Isaiah and the apostle Paul. Now it’s time to hear it from John. Today, I invite all who are able, to stand for the reading of the gospel. And though I do encourage you to turn to chapter 12 in your pew Bibles, or in the Bibles you’ve brought with you today, I’d like to ask that you listen to it now. I’ll be reading from The New Living Translation.

Hear the good news from John 12:1-8:

                                   Six days before the Passover celebration began, Jesus arrived in Bethany, the
                                   home of Lazarus—the man he had raised from the dead. A dinner was  prepared
                                   in Jesus’ honor. Martha served, and Lazarus was among those who ate with him.
                                   Then Mary took a twelve-ounce jar of expensive perfume made from essence of
                                   nard, and she anointed Jesus’ feet with it, wiping his feet with her hair. The house
                                   was filled with the fragrance. But Judas Iscariot, the disciple who would soon
                                   betray him, said, “That perfume was worth a year’s wages. It should have been
                                   sold and the money given to the poor.” Not that he cared for the poor — he was
                                   a thief, and since he was in charge of the disciples’ money, he often stole some
                                   for himself. Jesus replied, “Leave her alone. She did this in preparation for my
                                   burial. You will always have the poor among you, but you will not always have me.                                 

The gospel of the Lord.

You may be seated.

I don’t know whether it’s the arrival of daylight saving’s time or the early beginning date for Ash Wednesday, but somehow, Lent seems to be flying by this year. I don’t often say that, you know. Lent sometimes feels endless to me, six long weeks of plodding my way through the wilderness, of not singing, ‘hallelujahs,’ of giving something up or adding something on, of getting ready for the events of Holy Week. But here we are: one week from Palm Sunday, on our calendars — only one day away on John’s.

This little vignette happens just before the triumphal entry into the city of Jerusalem. And Jesus is deliberately not in the city. Because at the end of the preceding chapter — the one in which Jesus commands Lazarus to, ‘come out!’ from the tomb, four days after the man died — there is a lot of buzz going on about him, and about Lazarus, too.

There were a lot of witnesses to this miraculous stripping away of the bonds of death from Jesus’ friend Lazarus. All those who came to help the sisters mourn — who were with Mary and Martha when their brother died — they saw what happened. And they were blown away by it. Many of them followed after Jesus — John tells us that they ‘put their faith in him.’ But a few, well a few of them went to the Pharisees. . .who went to the High Priests. . .who called an emergency session of the ruling council to talk about this remarkable feat.

And in the verses just before our story for today, Caiphas, the highest of the high priests, spoke these prophetic words: “It is better that one man die for the people than that the whole nation perish.” Apparently, this latest Jesus-deed was terrifying to them, so terrifying, that they immediately began to intently plot and plan for his death.

So Jesus removed himself from public view for a little while. In the meantime, the people who were gathering in the temple court, getting ready for the festival of Passover –they were looking for him, wondering where he was. And the high mucky-mucks? Oh yes, they were looking for him, too.

And Jesus? Well, Jesus went to a dinner party.

It’s interesting to me how often Jesus is eating dinner or somehow referencing food in the gospels. We’ve got parables about salt and yeast, and mustard seeds and banquets. Jesus miraculously feeds large crowds of people, he is criticized for eating and drinking with sinners and for not forcing his disciples to fast. He dines at Peter’s home, and more than once, at the home of the siblings we see today — Mary, Martha, Lazarus. And of course, he uses the imagery of the Passover feast to describe what his own death means. As Jon’s quote from N.T. Wright last week put it, “Jesus didn’t give his disciples a theory about the cross; he gave them a meal.”

So with all these pieces of background in mind, let’s look at this eight verse section a little bit more closely and see what we can glean from the story before us this morning.

The scene is a party, a party honoring Jesus. Maybe it’s a big thank-you feast, with Jesus as the honored guest, and Lazarus as one of his tablemates. Lazarus, the dead man brought back to life — yeah, that guy — he’s right there, eating and drinking and whoopin’ it up with the rest of the gang.

You’ll note that Martha — well, Martha is serving the dinner. That’s familiar information, if you’ve read Luke’s gospel, very familiar. You may remember that Luke talks about these sisters as two sides of one coin — one busy and distracted (that would be Martha), scrambling around to make and serve dinner; the other quiet and reflective (that would be Mary), sitting in the position of a disciple, at the feet of Jesus. And here in John, we think we’re hearing a snippet of the same kind of song — yet I see no judgment or critique of Martha’s role here.

John, you see, has already told us that dear Martha is no slouch in the theology department. She is the one, the insightful disciple, who boldly tells Jesus — even before he raises her brother from the dead — “I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, who was to come into the world.” Not bad for a worker bee, not bad at all.

So, the three siblings: Lazarus is at table with Jesus, Martha is busy carrying hot dishes in from the kitchen, and Mary?

Where is Mary anyhow?

Ah yes — once again, Mary is at the feet of Jesus.

But oh, my goodness, this is a brazen woman! In the ancient middle east, women did not enter the public dining space of the house when men were eating, unless they were carrying food, like Martha was. Martha’s presence was legit. But Mary’s? Not at all.

In fact, just coming into the room would have been offensive and questionable in that time and that place. But what she does next? The only word for it is this one — scandalous.

She takes an extremely expensive vial of perfumed oil, she breaks the top off, and she pours it all over Jesus, most specifically all over his feet. The very place where she went to listen and to learn.

Those feet that trudged up and down the long,
dusty roads between Jerusalem and Galilee.
Those feet that went into the byways of small country villages,
into the synagogues and the temple court,
into the homes of his friends,
up into the hills
and out onto the boats,
and across the landscape of the land
carrying the body of the Lord, the Teacher,
the Healer, the Beloved of God,
carrying him into the lives of the people of Palestine.

Those feet that Mary loved.

She poured this gift liberally, spreading its beautiful fragrance all through the house, infecting everyone gathered there with that scent, that scent of love and sacrifice and extravagance.

And then, she did the unthinkable — she untied her hair, and she leaned over those feet, and she wiped the oil right into all the cracks and crevices, anointing him with this precious stuff, this imported, expensive, strong, sweet stuff. Such an intimate act, and such a shocking one.

I don’t know if it’s even possible for us to grasp just how scandalous this was. A woman in 1st century Palestine could be divorced if she was ever seen in public with her hair down. To use it to wipe the feet of an adult male? Unheard of.

Mary’s act is a scandal. And according to Judas, it was also a disgrace, an ethical failure, a misappropriation of funds. A waste.

And Jesus cuts him off, right then, right there.

“Leave her alone!”

Down from the soapbox, Judas. Stop your moralizing and take another look at what’s really happening here. Do you see this woman, this friend, this disciple of mine? She is sitting right square in the center of God’s will, in the center of my life right now. Mary has been paying attention, really listening to me. And this generous gift she’s given? It’s the most perfectly appropriate thing she could have done: she is getting me ready, she is marking me, anointing me –not in the usual way, not in celebration, not to mark a festive occasion — but to prepare me to die.

To prepare Jesus to die. This scandalous, extravagant gift had one primary purpose: to mark the physical body of Jesus with the promise of death.

Kings were anointed before their coronation. Jesus is anointed before his death, which will be, as we now know, the opening of that final door to the Kingdom of God. The cross, that place of paradoxical humiliation and glory, of strange and wonderful, upside-down power, of scandalous, extravagant love.

“The poor,” Jesus says to Judas, “The poor you will always have with you, but you will not always have me.”

Mary and Judas stand in such stark contrast in this small story, don’t they?

Which one are you?
Which one am I?

My guess is, we’ve got a bit of both goin’ on. My guess is, it’s that Judas bit in us that keeps us from fully embracing the Mary side that’s struggling to be free. It’s the phony moral outrage that trumps the passionate embrace. It’s the self-righteous judgmentalism that supersedes the intuitive sensibilities. It’s the sneak thief that pushes the empathic encourager into the background.

It is Mary in this story who sees and tells the truth.
It is Mary in this story who makes her love for the Lord visible and tangible.
It is Mary in this story who pays attention to what’s really going on.

And it is Mary who is strong enough on the inside to do something scandalous, and extravagant and real on the outside.

And you know what I think? Despite John’s extra details about betrayal and thievery, I have a hunch Judas wasn’t all that different from a lot of us church folk. He was part of the inner circle, after all. He was privy to the private lessons, the extended discussions, the uneasiness of the disciples about where Jesus was headed. He was on the inside.

But he wasn’t paying attention.

Maybe he was too busy with his own agenda. Maybe he completely misunderstood who Jesus was. Maybe he wanted to control outcomes, to manipulate the Lord into doing what Judas thought was best.

Whatever it was, Judas was tied to a lie, unable, maybe even unwilling, to see the truth that was right there in front of him. Judas had not built an inner life that had space for empathy or insight or loving response.

It is Mary who is the model disciple in this story, the one who both listens to and acts on the commandments of the Lord. You remember those? “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, soul and strength,” and “love your neighbor as yourself.” And Jesus was both, wasn’t he? The Lord her God, and her neighbor.

Here’s the piece that we must not miss here, my friends. Jesus tells us that he continues to show up in our neighbors. “If you do it unto the least of these,” he says, “you do it unto me.”

Staying close to the heart of Jesus necessarily means staying close to our neighbors. Staying in tune with the God of Love means offering that love to others. Paying attention to what Jesus teaches brings insight, intuitive responsiveness, genuine empathy and acts of love.

Sitting at the feet of Jesus will always lead to pouring out the fragrant oil on those very same, very dusty, very real feet. They go together, two halves of a whole, two sides of the equation, two parallel, intertwined pathways leading to the same destination.

It is also true that sitting at the feet of Jesus may very well lead us into some scary, risky places. Learning to be in tune with Jesus could bring us to make a wild leap once in a while, to do the unexpected — maybe even the unacceptable, but oh-so-deeply loving thing. Because sitting at the feet of Jesus will always involve a shocking amount of wild and crazy love.

Because the feet that were nailed to that cross are the most perfect picture of Love this world has ever seen. And sitting by those scarred feet will lead us down, down, down into the very heart of our God, where we will know that love is, and always has been, the only answer that makes any sense of anything.

And when that happens, when that downward, deepening, true knowing about love happens — the world moves.

I tell you, the world moves.

Pray with me:

Oh, Lord — will you move the world through us?
Draw us to those feet of yours, help us to sit still long enough to listen,
to understand, and to experience your love.
Then send us out to pour scandalously expensive love on the feet of others.
And when we do, to see you there, to see your eyes shining back at us.
Help us to be you, and help us to see you.
St. Teresa used to say that you have no other hands but ours —
will you help us to give these hands, and these hearts,
and these feet to you, Lord?
To you. For Jesus’ sake. Amen.

Maybe you’re sensing today that pull inside,
that downward pull to the heart of love, the pull that will
always bring you to the feet of Jesus.
And maybe, just to sort of cement that awakening in your spirit,
you need to take a risk.
And dear friends, in this particular community,
sometimes the riskiest thing we can do
is to step out, in front of God and everybody, and just say, ‘yes.’
So Pastor Jon and Anna will be here in the front to hear your ‘yes,’
to pray with you if you wish prayer, to encourage you to let the Mary in you
come out into the light. We’re going to sing a litte, and you can come right then,
if you’re feeling especially brave; but they’ll both be here after the benediction, too,
so you may come whenever you wish. But, I say to you,
as kindly and lovingly as I can, if the Spirit is drawing you, come. 

Joining this much-longer-than-usual-blogpost with Laura, Jen, Michelle, Jenn and who knows who else I might think of. . .

 


MercyMondays150

My Mom – A Woman of Valor: Guest Post at RHE

My beautiful mom, picture taken by my sister-in-law, Sandy Gold, on Thanksgiving this year.

It is my honor to be posting in Rachel Held Evans’ series on Women of Valor today. Last month, I told you I would give you a link to this essay when it came up today, and I will do that in just a moment. 

I submitted two essays to Rachel about mom – one outlined her wonderful life with a list of facts and tidbits. The second, which you will find if you click on this sentence came pouring out of me after I had submitted the first one. This is the one I believe the Holy Spirit wrote in me and it tells more than facts, it tells truth in so much love. I love my mom more than I can even begin to put into words – she has been an anchor in my life for all of these nearly 68 years. So watching her fade into this fog has been agonizing on many, many levels. But she is THERE still and some part of her always will be. And all of who she is, her story, her present, her future — all of it is held safely and lovingly by the Shepherd she has followed since she was a teenager. Thanks be to God.

I invite you to read more at Rachel’s place today. Thanks so much.

P.S. I was wrong! This is not the last essay in the series. It will continue until year’s end. Such a wonderful list of valorous women!!