Monday, November 30, 2015

Acceptance of Imperfection: Advent 1.1

Acceptance.  Things you can change, those you cannot, and the wisdom to know the difference.  Scripture ties acceptance to gifts and therefore also to sacrifices.  Time, effort, emotion, resources all go into these acceptable gifts.  So to do time, effort, emotion and resources go into acceptance.  Whether it be self-acceptance, circumstance-acceptance, or neighbor-acceptance, none of these happen without intention.  

The heart of compassion is really acceptance. The better we are at accepting ourselves and others, the more compassionate we become. Well, it’s difficult to accept people when they are hurting us or taking advantage of us or walking all over us. 
This research has taught me that if we really want to practice compassion, we have to start by setting boundaries and holding people accountable for their behavior. -GoI, B2

Perhaps acceptance is rooted in examination.  Looking at our time, our talents, our resources with plenty of love, and an abundance of truthfulness.  Accepting that our time is both abundant and limited, that our talents lie with some things and not others, accepting that we live in a time and place of unbelievable resources, but that we may utilize them unwisely.  Unless we take the time to examine our feelings and naming our boundaries we cannot begin to be wise or healthy.  

For most of my ministry career I have had ample time to focus on Advent and make the preparations needed to encourage congregations to practice it.  This year was turned upside-down, and between congregational transition and new demands and duties, I had hardly the time.  Furthermore, it being on the heels of Thanksgiving travel, I was even less prepared than usual.  And the full realization of it didn’t land until Sunday morning.  Jesus is coming, better look busy! 

There were surprises in the bulletins and boxes left unfound.  It was a imperfect advent of Advent; but it was good and holy and blessed.  Learning to accept imperfect Sundays and other days isn’t something that will come easy.  I have to live myself into the imperfections, discover that love and hope and truth still flow no matter the things that seem like errors.  Advent continues, Christ will come. Furthermore, I find myself repenting of the years and years of judgy-ness of folks who didn’t seem to do much to plant lifelong formation in the practices of the church year.  Compassion and forgiveness and acceptance are deeply bound to one another.  Go Blue!

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Journey through Both.And: Gifts of Imperfection for Advent Introduction

The Wholehearted journey is not the path of least resistance. It’s a path of consciousness and choice. And, to be honest, it’s a little counterculture. The willingness to tell our stories, feel the pain of others, and stay genuinely connected in this disconnected world is not something we can do halfheartedly. To practice courage, compassion, and connection is to look at life and the people around us, and say, “I’m all in.” 
Brene Brown, Gifts of Imperfection

Advent is both.and time.  Dismay and promise. Confusion and safety.  Scarcity and satisfaction.  Fear and forgiveness.  It is dark and it is light, there is abundance and there is desperation.  Any day, any time, and it is especially right now, it is the season of Advent.  St. John of the Cross called this liturgical time a luminous darkness.  It is a night sky, electric with the glow of the universe and yet enough darkness to cause us to struggle to walk without harm. There is an approach to the liturgical advent that focuses on the tripping, the falling, the brokenness.  There is another approach that is awe and wonder at the justice that God in Christ is leading us into.  It is not a one or another thing, it is both.and.  We are to prepare to make Christ room by looking honestly at the absence of righteousness, and by bending our hearts toward holy abundance.

If you are just beginning an Advent journey through ‘the Gifts of Imperfection’ you deserve a few warnings. 
  • She will talk about uncomfortable things.  Like shame.  Real human shame that can lead to mountains of self-criticism and self-righteousness.  If you want to heal our personal and societal brokenness, then we must talk about shame and the numbing we use to ignore shame. 
  • This book is based in university level research, yet this research is shared in stories, and the invitation to journey more deeply through your own.  Every Advent journey calls on us “to tell our stories, feel the pain of others, and stay genuinely connected in this disconnected world.” 
  • Many of the personal stories in the book are focused on contemporary parenting and householding in a privileged setting.  Even when this is not our setting, we should find in her work and storytelling a more generous understanding of the social forces that are impacting all of us. 
  • She will occasionally use the dialect known as ‘Texan’.  This might include a few choice words, and you are invited to recall that forgiveness is an important spiritual practice. 
  • This is not an Advent, Christmas or Epiphany book, yet it is very much full of wide-eyed-compassion, it is very much full of holy gifts that you can use to better be Christ for the world, and it is awash in the whoa’s of Epiphany: enormous and intimate and impactful.  
Finally, it is a both.and book, it is both about our courage, connection and compassion on a personal level, and our courage, connection, and compassion in our congregations and wider community. Of all the gifts we discover this season, perhaps a new way of practicing love for our imperfect selves and neighbors is a holy gift of peace.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

A Brave Story: Christ the King

There are times when I skip to the last chapter of the book.  Perhaps, I have been slogging my way through, or maybe I am frustrated by the story or bored with the book, or even appalled.  So I skip ahead, I read the final chapter, and then I decide: Do I want to know the journey between here and there?  My life with novels is complicated.  If I have just read one that made my heart soar, I want another book, I want another delight, immediately. Yet I know, I cannot use any review or search engine to find that perfect new fictional journey.  There have also been times when I have read a book all the way through,  and I despise the ending.  I feel slighted.  I find myself resistant to starting a new book.  I grow growly and snarly and perfectionist and I think about taking a break.  

Yet we need story, we are created for story.  New research shows that our brains light up when we hear a story.  All the places in our minds that we need to bind together for meaning making: stories do it.  Hearing a story is like a meaning making wish come true. 

Grace and peace to you from the one who is and was and is coming, and from Jesus Christ—the faithful witness, the firstborn from among the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth.   Look, he is coming with the clouds!  

Revelation was 3-d before there was a word for 3-d.    It is abstract storytelling art,  word pictures inviting us into God’s story.  The letter to the churches that we know as Revelation, it is written to be read aloud, written to be heard and written to be experienced. Revelation is surround sound, and it is absolutely not Morse code.  The main character in Revelation is Jesus Christ, The main plot is that God has made us agents in the story of his reign.  You could imagine this royal story following a route on a map, yet we know from our earliest days the route isn’t flat or straight. You could imagine God’s story as a Ferris wheel, or like the Godly Play circle of the church year, going around and around,  never ending.

To understand this message of God's reign made flesh in the life of Jesus we must see the world eschatologically, see things from the final perspective.  Of all the stories Jesus tells us about who he is, brother, friend, teacher, shepherd, gate, vine, bread, lamb, in the end we are called to know him as Christ the King.  We are called to enter the last chapter,  which is also the first chapter.  We are invited to experience the hope and heartbreak, invited to the truth that this is God’s story, and that it has a beginning, a middle, and an end.  Yet the thing about this end, is that it is not the kind of end that you can pin down.  Our conclusion is off of the page, off of the map, our last stop will be beyond 3-d, beyond now and then.    That last moment, every first moment, these are all in God’s heart, in Christ’s reign.

The gospel writers didn’t begin with creedal statements.  They began with stories, because we are wired for stories. They began with telling of Jesus’ reign by telling us of his life helping us to make meaning of what the destination is and our place in it.  Jesus’ quest is a story where love is everything.  Love is the setting and plot and the actors of God’s story.  The kingdom of God isn’t about a place or a time, it is emotions and actions    and relationships and responsibilities.  This reign of God, our plot line within it, this is impossible without love.  Impossible without forgiveness, impossible without refusing to be separated from those ‘outside’. 

It is Christ the King Sunday, the New Years eve of the church year.  A time to look back at the year gone by, and a chance to wonder about the way that lies ahead.  It is a quiet type of New Years eve and I cannot help but look back at this year’s journey. If it was a book, I would tell you I barely remember the first chapter.  More importantly, however, it is a multi-dimensional story of stories, of surprise, hurt and confusion and rising to challenges.  The tender stories of friends and strangers in the kitchen serving soup,  an unbelievable story of teens in the ocean on a sunny San Francisco summer day.  Everyday chapters that tell of Bible studies and Renovare and Godly Play wondering.  The brave epic of whipping up a cooling center in a heartbeat.  There is not one single story that will tell of how we have lived the quest      for the reign of Christ this year.  We are living the tale of Christ’s love, even when it is hard, and messy and you are ready to close the book.

This isn’t a fairytale, the violence across the world is unavoidable, the fear, hard-heartedness and shame runs loose in the streets here at home.  The not-yet of God’s reign is too loud and too close.  Advent is dawning, and Jesus is coming.  It is the time for daring hearts to rumble with a trying journey.  Time for eyes open, minds alert, time for people brave enough, in love enough with the story,  to follow our Lord and Savior into mystery of it all. 

There was one book I really wanted to give up on. It was a startling, and strange, and non-linear novel.  Because of its premise, I knew that reading the last chapter wouldn’t help.  I kept texting the good friend who recommended the book. ‘Really?  Should I keep reading?  This makes no sense.’        ‘Yes,’ she replied.  And the next time, yes she said, and again.  I was over halfway through the book before I began to get it, I was deep in the story before I found myself in the beauty and awe of the story.  I had to rumble with the novel,  I had to go through the disorientation and frustration.  I could not skip the middle of the story.  I had to read it with a friend.

Christ has already told us what the brave ending of this story is.  Now and then, there is only a love story. Love your friends, love your enemies, learn to love the rumble with the hardest parts.  The brave beginning, middle and ending is a love story.  Our text comes from the life of our beloved who is the soon to be newborn King.  

St. Paul's Episcopal Church
Walla Walla, WA