Sunday, September 18, 2016

Carnival Church: The Outrageous Steward and our Practice of Being In Tents

Not the german carnival.
Colored lights and striped tents filled the open spaces on a fall evening.  There was that ride like a top, that lifts up with swiftly spinning swings.  There was a contraption with pretend wild animals to ride.  Oh and bumper cars, there were bumper cars.  Neighbors wandered, children begged for a treat.  An open sided carnival, free flowing with the neighborhood, one could come and look and smell and taste, while someone else could ride and play and dare.  

Small carnivals would appear from time to time in our west German neighborhood.  It was an easy walk from our off base duplex, around the corner and up the hill to where the usually barren field would be transformed.  I can still find in my memory scent notes of what is not an American carnival sensation,  a mystical kind of lightly sweet,  mixed with cloves and ginger and maybe a hint of licorice.   Some of the people who wandered there may have felt lost, some may have worried about what tomorrow would bring,  and so they wandered up the hill and let the lights and the music be a balm for a moment.

Jeremiah is no carnival clown.  He can grasp he will be soon be wading in the debris of imperial marches.  His name in recent centuries became a noun: jeremiad.  To speak a jeremiad is to publicly bemoan and lament the conduct of life among your people, your leaders, your neighbors.  “For the hurt of my poor people I am hurt, I mourn, and dismay has taken hold of me.  Is there no balm in Gilead?  Is there no physician there?”  

Perhaps you recall that Jesus’ contemporaries had a hard time placing him in a useful category.  Is he a prophet?  Rabbi? Wonder-worker? Carnival act?  Jesus embodied Gods life and intention for the world.  His proclamation in word and deed is authentic love.  An experience of something wholly different than the everyday plastic existence that makes life dull and fruitless.  Whomever it was that could have possibly written the ancient version of Forbes,  he is long forgotten.  Whatever that person might have advised, it is dust,  having been a flat, plastic and predictable idea of security.  The living word of God is not going to be so flat or conforming.
Post harvest wheat fields near Pomeroy, Washington
No one seems to think that Jesus’ words about the good shepherd are an agricultural lecture, so why do we get so bent out of shape about these next words?  I think it is because this subject pokes at our deepest insecurities.  Yet Jesus isn’t really talking about earthly accounting of deutchmarks or denari.  I ask you to take a second and ponder: what is wealth to God?  Hope.  Justice.  Forgiveness.   Grace.  Resurrection.  What is wealth to God?  The prophets say that it is NEVER HAVING TO HEAR THE CRIES of any of God’s beloved creation ever again.  

Looking at the parable,  what are the items of wealth that become free flowing forgiveness?  Oil.  Oil in the ancient world is heat, it is light, it is cooking, it is cleaning, it is healing. Oil is the deliverer of those balms of Gilead, and in a dry land, oil is as precious as water.   And you know about grain.  Grain is nourishment for bellies, and it is straw for mats for burdened bodies.  Wealth for God is measured in love, calculated by free flowing compassion.

If this lesson has advice about any human venture,  it is perhaps about the adventure we call being church.  A carnival knows it is temporary, when the duty is done, the tents come down, rides pack up. There is a thread of query in the Old Testament, wondering if maybe we were better when we were with God in the wilderness, wandering together in our permeable tents.  Building of temples and churches changes us, changes our relationships with each other and with strangers.  Dwelling in tents may have better reminded us of the truth that the past is dust, and the future is always in motion.  The only thing we have to be sure of is we are God’s beloved, right here on this shifting sand, with these strangers and neighbors and friends.

We have spent a month praying through our hopes and fears, resentments and anxieties.  Before we bring it down I want to point out that there are empty clips where unnamed prayers rest.  There are open spaces where the free flowing grace of the Holy Spirit is transforming us as we pray.  As I let the cards rise I read of both sadness’s and gratefulness.  What struck me most clearly was worry about what is to come, and a desire to be more effective proclaimers of Good News.  

I once served with one of the most effective Episcopal congregations in the country, and it was rather like a circus or a carnival.  Like many of the most effective congregations I know of, they have a footprint, but their mission is as unbounded as festival music or pleasant carnival smells.  The good news comes and goes and flows freely.  The second thing I know about effective congregations is that they don’t invest most of their time or energy in 20 years ago or 20 years from now.  They are fixated on the present day, of being incarnate gospel centers for teaching and healing and shelter in their neighborhoods today.  They PRACTICE being CHURCH AS IF WE DWELLED IN CARNIVAL TENTS.

Jesus’ life and ministry offers an un-jeremiad. He laments the way we conduct the business of life.  Our gospel story isn’t about our currency or investments, it is about our generosity and fluidity.  He summons us into stories that jolt like bumper cars, and humor that makes us dizzy.  Jesus makes friends with what seems like crookedness and chaos and fills our flat lines with resurrection.  The number one thing I believe that this Gospel lesson demands is that the Christ figure here today is this outlandish steward!  This example who encourages the better part of us, and discourages anything that makes us smaller and less generous. 

Jeremiah and Jesus may have had deep divine knowledge of what came next,  yet you and I, we have no idea of what the next era will demand.  So we must trust that our longevity will only spring from being a captivating carnival of the good news.  Healing balm over here,  tasty joy over there,  wisdom to the left and new life to the right. 

I have two questions to leave you with.   
What outrageous spin in your life can make the gospel shine brightly today?  
And, what does the Christ carnival look and feel and smell like to you? 

Let us pray.
Gentle us, Holy One,
into an a deep breath, a letting go
of shriveling anxieties
            and dead certainties
so that, surrounded by the light,
            and open to the mystery,
We may be entranced by the simple,
and filled with the joy that is you,

In the name of the Holy Dancing Carnival Like Trinity, One God Forever and Ever. Amen.

September 18, 2016  St. Paul's,Walla Walla
Audio Link if Widget doesn't work

Prayer adapted from Ted Loder.

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

itty bitty green haired reblog

A small piece about PNEUMA.  You should come to this fabulous ecumenical conference for folks who know our call is to shape lives of discipleship.  And it is at the Bishop's Ranch..which is swell.

So is the reblog link.

And for the pool rat memories...  I would post photos from them, but we seemed to never take a photo of my kelp tone hair before cutting it off.  Kelp tone hair might be cool now.  Hmm.

Monday, September 5, 2016

epistles for a friend: say it in print

Hi there Daisy.

It has been cooler than normal thus far here in the Inland Northwest. I was never 'hot' at camp last week, which is amazing since it was July and it was quite warm there in May! Anyways, I have been thinking a good deal about our messages back and forth. I preach and teach all the time, I set goals for formation such as: guests will know the summer gospel well enough to tell it in their own words. I have deeper goals that go unstated, such as 'parishoners will know the difference between practicing Christian-ness and just liking it'.

Yet you have me wondering. How often do I make public personal 'I believe' statements? I was not embedded in this mystery we call the body of Christ, and now I rather am, and there are many reasons why. Yet do I say them, not really. So maybe that needs to change.

Still, our tradition, we also tend to do less of the 'this I believe' statements and more of the 'this is how we live it' declarations. Being an incarnate (in the flesh) focused tradition means we really intend that our actions speak louder than words. However, like you, sometimes we find ourselves in spaces where having the words would make us feel more grounded. We may know the creeds by heart, but that is hardly the words we need in a conversation with dorm-mates.

So here are a handful of 'I believe' statements about our tradition from my‘expert’ point of view.  I say them to set an example of the words of faith you have been steeped in, but may not have seen in print.  I also use I statements because I am speaking for myself and not the branch of church I have served and helped lead for 20 years.

  • I believe in God because I see purpose and beauty and creativity in the world that I am certain was not an accident.
  • I experience God as intention and hope that surrounds me and leads me in the higher ways.  
  • I believe in God when I know I need to say sorry to the ground of being for my brokenness and the brokenness the human race inflicts on the creation.
  • Sometimes I connect most to this trust in God when I am singing of God.  There is an Alison Krauss song that always brings me to that space where I know that I really do trust in God and God’s reign. It is not a head thing in that moment, it is a heart and soul place of deep connection.
  • I experience my relationship with Jesus as a strange friendship that called to me and drew me in even as I denied it was happening.
  • It did this through loving relationships in a community of imperfect practitioners who were Christ to me.  The liturgy, the meals, the ministries together, they soaked into me and changed me into his likeness too.
  • I feel that following through with the life prescribed at the conclusion of Matthew 25 (heal the sick, release the prisoners..) is more important to Jesus than any statement of faith I ever could make.   
  • I think that belief without doubt isn’t faith; it is stubbornness or laziness.   I should add the IMO, but IMO this isn't an opinion.
  • I don’t have an intellectual agreement with our creeds, I ‘believe’ them because I trust that the Trinity is at work in them and with us as fuel for the mystery of faith they try to frame.
  • I don’t believe in individual salvation because if I don’t love and care for strangers,  then I haven’t been saved at all.  No one person can be saved without the rescue of all.

I mentioned podcasts in the last message (did I?). Anyways, speaking of listening...I recommend lots of podcasting with On Being, especially her interviews with musicians. The host Krista Tippett (who you should read up on), starts every interview with a question about the faith of childhood for folks whose fame isn't always faith based. Here are a couple to find the podcasts of: Brian McLaren, Joe Henry, David Isay,and the Mary Oliver one, and Yo Yo Ma, Indigo Girls, and the Brene Brown one, and the Rex Jung one (more cause I know him), and the Nadia, Rosanne Cash one, Jaroslav Pelikan, and because I am the church lady fan girl..Walter Bruggemann.

I know you have work and a life, however, the marvelous thing about these is that they are intended to be listened to. Take them to the gym, on drives, whenever. Let them be a gift to your questions and journey and desire to do well by the world.

Love, and Reminders to wear Sunscreen!

This series of epistles are rooted in actual replies to an actual young friend who found herself far from her faith home. Names have been changed to honor the beloved and the situation has been cloaked for the same reason. Still, while making myself sometimes feel like Paul writing to a distressed congregation, maybe it will do you some good too.

Epistles for a Friend: Episcopal Encounter with 'Other Christians'

Dear Daisy,

I have been thinking about your message, about how you are spending the summer with people you adore and respect, and who clearly love you, yet they sometimes make you wonder if you believe in any proper churchy ideas.  I have a sermon to write, and so I need to download a few thoughts and guesses for you so that I can focus and not get these two topics all mixed up.  So I am going to make a few guesses and share a few points. After I share a little ditty about tension. Which has a few words that are not camp appropriate. It is actually a mashup of two songs, but I love this guy, so here it goes.

I don’t recall I ever told you about my olden days, you know the ones in the 80's. For all except the end of my high school experience, I didn’t believe I believed in God at all.  The God thing didn't seem to be rational and I liked logical things.  I would have told you that I paid as little attention as I could to church or Sunday school until I got out of going (and worked in the nursery) at age 12.  

In the many years since I have discovered that I learned a whole lot more than I realized while I was ‘not paying attention’.  My antagonistic agnosticism, remember that I lived in South Texas for the end of high school, began to slowly dissolve through experiences that I could name, even then, as Grace.

Still, when I was your age I would have told you I was Episcopalian, but I didn’t know enough about Jesus to tell you whether or not I believed that he was anything more than an ancient teacher. I would have unlikely to have checked a box that said 'Christian'. That young person still hangs around in my self-perception, when I wonder what the heck I am doing pastoring people in their faith.  I admit that I still wonder regularly if I haven’t lost my mind, if I made up the holy moments I experienced, and I wonder if I trust in a fantasy novel. Yet I also know that such wondering keeps me searching (and healthy).

The most difficult tensions in religions are not between different ones, but within themselves.  I don’t have any investment in Hindu theological debates, however I care a whole lot about Christians who claim that Jesus is in favor of oppression or sexism or hatred.  You have stepped into this high tension place, not the oppression place but the tension of living together as 'one church'.  

The Episcopal tradition you were raised in has some rather different assumptions, foundations, and understandings of the who what and why of Jesus than your hosts this summer. My guess is that you are encountering people who talk God, Jesus, Spirit in ways that are quite dissimilar from the way you might use such names.  And I am confident that in a worship setting this distance wasn’t as evident.  I have known plenty of folks who love our liturgy, but they don’t know they have any holy imperative to take responsibility for their neighbors (which we teach and preach consistently).

Maybe you will find something you have been missing with the new friends you are spending your summer with.  Or maybe it is going to be like the hymn whose tune you love but whose words make you ill.  There is a gracious space of holy self-giving in that choice. I already recommended the book 'Searching for Sunday', and I want to suggest that again, and add a book that DOES NOT have an audio version, yet is quite elegant to read and look at, 'Tokens of Trust'.

Keep wrestling and thinking and conversing, and singing.  There is deep growth to be found in the act of performing the faith while asking big questions. I am proud that you can name that you are in a place of tension, and that you have asked for help rather than stewing in your discomfort. Rather like a more advanced yoga pose, you have to breathe into it, set your intention and listen. If you fall over, so be it. You can always get up again.

Peace and Camp Appropriate Hugs!

These two epistles are rooted in actual replies to an actual young friend who found herself far from her faith home. Names have been changed to honor the beloved and the situation has been cloaked for the same reason. Still, while making myself sometimes feel like Paul writing to a distressed congregation, maybe it will do you some good too.