Wednesday, February 26, 2014

The Arc Bends Toward Justice...


Kansas...Georgia...Tennessee...Mississippi...Utah...Oregon...
Hawaii...Arizona...these are some of the states which, in recent
months, have begun the push for "religious freedom" bills like
the one the governor of Arizona must sign or veto by Saturday.
"Religious freedom" is the title that the people sponsoring and
pushing these bills are hiding behind, once again waving the
flag of fear in the name of religion...when what they are really
doing is trying to legalize discrimination.

As I understand it from what I've heard and read, the bill in
Arizona would make it legal for store owners and businesses
to refuse to serve or deal with people whose "lifestyle" or
beliefs offend their own. But where does this stop? We have
long fought for racial equality, but what would stop an
Arizona store owner from refusing to serve a person of
mixed race because the mixing of races is against his "religion"?
What is to stop another from serving women because they
feel that a woman's place in in the home and not out in the
marketplace? The Christian/Hebrew bible is subject to many
and varied interpretations...so which one will be THE one by
which to measure this bill? And I still must ask, with regard to
LGBTQ people, how- unless they wear a SIGN declaring who
they are- is a shop owner or hotel owner or whomever to
know? Because someone "looks" gay? whatever that means.

As someone who considers herself to be a Christian, someone
who tries to follow the path and call of Jesus the Christ in
my daily life, I am deeply offended by those in the Christian
religious community who are trying to co-opt the title "Christian",
insisting that their brand is the only one, that their take on
the teachings of Jesus is the only game in town. I am offended
that those of us who take seriously the words of Jesus to love
our God, our neighbors, and our enemies...to welcome and
accept all people...to judge NOT, but to love...have been
shoved aside and virtually silenced by the stridently conservative
voices which oppose abortion but support the death penalty
and war...which...and even as I'm writing, a news flash came
on my screen, telling me that Arizona's governor has vetoed
the "Religious Freedom" bill in her state. Thanks be to God!
Perhaps the times they are a-changing after all. Perhaps all
that is needed is for good people to stand up and unite and
refuse to be silenced when wrong is being done. I can go
to sleep tonight will a joy-filled heart...one small step for
humankind has been made this evening.

Friday, February 21, 2014

Choosing Life...and Being Chosen...


CHOOSE LIFE…today’s reading from Deuteronomy, the voice of
Moses speaking to the people, sounds a little like the gospel of
prosperity being bandied about by far too many “Christian”
writers and speakers today-Joel Osteen and others like him…
those who tell us that following Jesus means we will be both
healthy and wealthy…And yet, Moses is actually saying that
in choosing life, the people of Israel would be choosing to live
in relationship with Yahweh…loving God and obeying the
commandments…  for that means life…which is a very different
kind of prosperity.

And then, along comes Jesus in Matthew’s fifth chapter…that
conglomeration of teachings called by us “The Sermon on the
Mount”. And it sounds like a laundry list of impossibilities to
me this re-working, this re-focusing of emphasis in the Law
of Moses, the Ten Commandments. Because Jesus takes them
and makes them harder to keep, more difficult to follow…
which somehow doesn’t seem very loving or accepting, does
it? And completely lacking in Good News.

 Jesus was speaking to the “crowds”, not just to the disciples…
he was teaching all who followed him as he traversed Galilee,
including the sick, the demoniacs, epileptics, paralytics- all
mentioned in the previous chapter…the broken and the
hurting, the needy and the seeking and searching. And
because there were so many, he went to a high place where
he could sit down and teach in true rabbinic fashion.

Beginning with blessings- the affirmation that they were all
beloved of God, even with their difficulties, sorrows,
sadnesses, brokenness- Jesus then progressed to the images
of salt and light- YOU ARE, he told them. YOU ARE…not,
well, perhaps if you get things right or maybe if you follow all
the rules and get your act together, but YOU ARE…blessed,
beloved, valued, carrying the light of the love of God within
your very being.

So what’s going on here? In this part of the teaching from
the mount? Well, the preface, the lead-in to this passage
was read last Sunday- though I think it should have been part
of this week’s reading- but I guess the devisers of the
Lectionary thought that would make this week’s Gospel too
long for the standing-up part- though there is no earthly or
heavenly reason, for that matter, why you can’t sit for the
reading of the Gospel, since the respect and reverence are
in how you hear it, receive it, and not in your posture while
doing so. But I digress…

Here are the verses which immediately precede today’s
reading:

 Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have
come not to abolish but to fulfill. For truly I tell you, until heaven and
earth pass away, not one letter, not one stroke of a letter, will pass
from the law until all is accomplished. Therefore, whoever breaks  or
annuls one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to
do the same, will be called lest in the dominion of heaven; but whoever
does them and teaches them will be called great in the dominion of
heaven. For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the
scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the dominion of heaven.

Jesus is issuing a warning…telling all those who are listening
that being in relationship with God is not about keeping the
letter of the Law- the scribes and the Pharisees do that, and
do it very carefully and self-righteously. No…loving God,
revering God, honoring God is about going beyond the letter
of the Law to compassion and justice and totally radical love…
which Jesus goes on to spell out even more fully in NEXT
WEEK’S Gospel-
TURN THE OTHER CHEEK, GO THE SECOND MILE, GIVE
ALWAYS TO THOSE IN NEED, LOVE YOUR ENEMIES, DO
GOOD TO AND PRAY FOR THOSE WHO HATE YOU.

And the yardstick…the measuring rod…is not our human
values but the very values of God! Now I can’t speak for you,
but I know this scares the be-Jesus out of me…yet Jesus is
making it clear that this following-him thing is no walk in the
park- that it will not be easy. Okay, an occasional hour or so
in church, prayers here & there, some money in the offering
plate once in a while, a few cans of food periodically for the
Crisis Center or homeless shelter, and, hey, we’re home free-
or so we like to think, to believe. Because to hear Jesus…TO
HEAR JESUS in the depths of our hearts, to take him
seriously, to really feel the call to walk in his footsteps- well,
it should bowl us over. It should have us quaking in our boots.
It should take our breath away. It should- so why doesn’t it,
I wonder?

This past Tuesday evening I went with several friends to hear
ELCA pastor Nadia Bolz-Weber speak at Wait Chapel on the
Wake Forest campus. I had already read her book- and will
be reading it again, I’m sure- I had been following her blog,
and so I was eager to see and hear her in person. After
reading a bit from her book and talking a little, she invited
questions so we could be in dialog with her. One woman-
I suspect she was clergy- asked if there were any doctrinal
or scriptural matters which particularly bothered her and,
after a brief silent but pregnant pause, Nadia replied, with
deep conviction, “All of it. I am bothered by all of it, every
day. My angst about faith is not existential or metaphysical.
It is situational, and I struggle with it every day of my life.”

My eyes filled with tears as I heard a sister in the faith, a sister
in ministry, acknowledging that this following Jesus thing, this
being a Christian thing, is not an easy endeavor…was not
meant to be easy…and that she does it always with fear and
trembling. And it is NOT simply about believing the right way
or saying the right words or having the theology down pat or
knowing the liturgy by heart or…NO! It is about LIVING out
the call of Jesus the Christ in our liveswith our lives…
loving God because God first and always and ever loves us…
and loving others and our world because of that love…to show
our immense, life-changing gratitude for that love by feeding
the hungry and sheltering the homeless and visiting the lonely
and praying for our enemies- NOT to gain anything for
ourselves- NOT FOR A REWARD or stars in our crown, but
simply/ and not so simply- because this is what it means to
BE A CHRISTIAN…to follow Christ.

I can remember- as a teen-ager- when anyone would ask me
if I were a Christian, my reply would be, “I’m trying to be.”
Somehow, with the infinite wisdom of my teen-aged self, I
knew that this Christianity thing would be a journey, a
challenging journey, often of one step forward and two steps
back. And so it has been- up hills and down into valleys,
through thick and thin, in good times and bad, sometimes
believing fully and faithfully and other times stumbling along,
clad in doubt, in the light and in the darkness…a long and
arduous journey which continues day by day by day to this
very moment. But always, ever- even when I had trouble
seeing him or recognizing the reality of his presence- even
when I had troubled believing that I was worth his loving
care and concern and attention,  Jesus was there with me,
loving me through it all, picking me up, dusting me off, calling
me by name and letting me know that I am not in this alone.
And neither are you! 
              And that, THAT, is the GOOD NEWS!   Amen
       

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Thank You, Nadia...A Heart-Changing Evening


I spent last evening listening to the remarkable Nadia Bolz-Weber
read from and talk about her book- plus field questions from the
audience in a way that was open, genuine, self-effacing, and
thoroughly, totally Lutheran. We are of the same "tribe", she and
I...though we came to it in completely antithetical ways. But I so
resonated with her statement that Lutheran theology resonated
with her own experience...that its hallmark of grace, of its balance
between law and gospel, of its insistence (coming directly from
Martin Luther) that we are each and all both saint and sinner ring
true for her- as they so for me. And I loved her emphasis on
"doing theology in the first person"...speaking of God and speaking
of your life together, with honesty, being just who you are.

I had read her book, Pastrix, had been following her blog, had
even seen several of her talks via YouTube, and I must confess
that I had some reservations about this admittedly-unusual
Lutheran pastor. With all of the celebrity which she has been
achieving in the relatively short time she has actually been in
ministry, would this result in the rise of a "cult of celebrity", with
the "medium" taking precedence over the message? It was for
this reason, more than any other, that I wanted to see her in
person, to hear her, to experience her presence. And I am so
very glad I did. This is someone with whom I would love to be
friends...to hang out...to sit over coffee and have a great
discussion. This is someone with whom I think my grandchildren
would resonate...would admire...would listen to- not just because
of the tattoos and the hairdo and the jeans and boots (an
attraction, to be sure), but because of the genuineness of who
she is and how that comes across.

What I had not expected was the way in which her honest
talk, her obvious depth of faith, convicted ME...made me look
deep inside and ask myself some vitally important questions
about my own faith, about my own ministry. Nadia, I thank
you for the incredible gift that you are...for the honesty of
your reflections...for the way in which you delve to the heart
of whatever question you answered, of whatever issue about
which you write, sharing so deeply and unashamedly of yourself
and your faith. I came away determined to be a better pastor...
to let the reality of who I AM shine through in the way you
demonstrated last night. I have known this...believed this...but
too often, have forgotten it, let it get tamped down. Thank you,
again, my sister in faith, my sister in ministry, for giving so totally
of yourself to those of us who continue daily on the journey.
And God's richest blessings upon your ministry, your life.
I feel certain that you will continue to enjoy the journey.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Still Unplugged...

Week two of the internet-free experiment and I'm surviving nicely.
Of course, they've seen me at the coffee shop far more often
than they had in the past, but that works for me. And I am finding
that I really have far less need for being on-line than I had myself
convinced that I needed. Of course, I'm not a student nor is my
"work" on-line...and I can send and receive email from my phone,
so I am really connected all the time...even when I sometimes
would rather not be.

Which brings me to the retreat I'm taking part in this weekend.
Begins Sunday afternoon, actually, and goes until Tuesday p.m...
led by a wonderful, spiritual woman who I met many years ago
at my favorite retreat center, Well of Mercy in Harmony, NC.
This retreat is being held at a B&B in western NC and there will
only be seven of us in attendance, all women in ministry. Kathryn,
our leader, has chosen the title "In the Bleak Midwinter" for our
time together and, other than the three shared sessions, it will
be a silent retreat, something I relish. And in a recent email,
Kathryn informed us that cell phone service is not good where
we'll be, which leads me to believe that internet service won't
be, either, so...NO LAPTOP will go with me...a real disconnection
for three days. Three days of silence...of time to think and pray
and write and just be.

I know that silence frightens some folks, is very uncomfortable
for others, is totally anathema to still others. And even though
I live alone and am not immersed in human sounds much of the
time- other than those I myself generate- I am still often
amazed by the amount of ambient sound there is in my world:
the hum of the refrigerator, the rushing whoosh of the heat,
the traffic on the street, the chorus of neighborhood dogs...
all so omnipresent that most of the time I am oblivious. But
if the electricity goes out- as it did briefly about two weeks ago-
I quickly become aware that our world is indeed a noisy place
and I long for silence, the only sounds those generated by the
natural world...
Sunset on the Mara
It's one of the things I most loved about my visits to the
Masaai Mara in Kenya. At night, in addition to the plethora of

stars visible because of the lack of ambient light, the night
sounds were those of animals and wind. Human noises faded
away, stopped entirely, it seemed, and a feeling of time-
lessness, of endless space, enfolded me like a healing,
comfortable blanket, soothing my spirit and welcoming me
home. Yes, that is how it felt- like a home-coming...as if
my heart and mind and spirit had been yearning for this for
a long, long time. No, I can't explain it...I can only convey
the experience with my less-than-perfect words, because
explanation falls far short of the actuality of what I was
feeling, experiencing there and then.

And so I move toward the weekend with eager anticipation,
thankful for the opportunity to seek silence in a different
place, at a different time. What I will actually find is, at
present, a mystery...a gift to be opened only as the time
at the retreat unfolds. But I will enter into the experience
with arms and heart open wide to receive whatever comes...
thanks be to God.


Thursday, February 6, 2014

Just Another Ordinary Day...

With a brisk wind from the northeast, the temperature on my car
thermometer reading 36, bundled in a warm jacket and wearing
my lovely red gloves, I am amazed to see the daffodils in my
front garden are budding. How in the world, why in the world,
are they doing this when winter is still with us, when the still-
naked trees surround them with reminders that spring is not
yet on the horizon? Yet, what a hopeful sign they are, these
tender, early buds...a reminder that life and light emerges,
ever and always, from the death and darkness of winter. And
as I drove to the coffee shop, I found myself smiling with eager
anticipation of the gorgeous yellow blooms to come, bringing yet
more light and beauty and wonder and joy where for months
there has been only winter's gray barrenness.

February daffies
Yes, I'm back at De Been, using the internet, since there are a
number of things I need to research...like the Opium Wars and
new recipes to try out on my friends and the status of my books
at the library and...well, you get the idea. After a rather restless
night- no, not worrying about anything, just one of those nights
when sleep is not rest-full- some meditation time and a lovely
breakfast of a poached egg and fresh spinach on millet and flax
toast, and full attendance to my morning ablutions...after washing
the dishes and putting the living room in order...after lowering
the thermostat to 65 degrees...I was ready to come over here to
spend an hour (or so) on computer tasks. So I figured I might as
well write a blog post to give you a glimpse into what my life is like
right now, as I download the latest book by Jussi Adler Olsen to
my Kindle. If you haven't discovered this Scandinavian writer as
yet, and if you're a fan of mysteries/detective novels, then I urge
you to check him out. This latest is The Purity of Vengeance. Isn't
that a great title? Makes me want to begin it immediately, but I
am in the early pages of the most current Jo Nesbo work, Police.
Nesbo is Norwegian and his main character, Harry Hole, is a
wonderfully fleshed-out non-hero.

Oh, my, the background music playing on the Pandora is now
"Georgia on My Mind" by Ray Charles. I love this place! I'll be
heading out shortly to do some errands: pick up the February
schedule at the YMCA; look for a birthday gift for my beautiful
daughter-in-law at my favorite gift shop, Just Be; pick up my
latest "holds" at the library; and, this afternoon, attend a
writing workshop at The Servant Leadership School in Greensboro.
And the music has switched to "Stormy Weather". Whoever
programmed this Pandora today has my undying gratitude.

Oh, I know...some of you may be wondering why I'm bothering
with this post. After all, it's about nothing in particular. But ask
yourself- isn't that just the way of human life? And if we can't
appreciate and cherish life JUST AS IT IS, in all its seeming
banality and ordinariness, then aren't we somehow missing the
point? It is a gift...every moment, every banal, ordinary moment...
a gift which will never come back this way again...a gift to hold
and yes, revere, for its very wonderful and precious meaning.
This is life...and I am thankful beyond words for this moment...
this place...these people...for this life.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Appreciating Wirelessness...


Day 2 of wirelessness finds me sitting at the DeBeen Coffee Shop,
a great, funky, neighborhood place, checking Facebook, sending
emails, putting items on reserve at the library...all of this amidst
lots of local high school and college kids. I just enjoyed a decaf
Red Eye and watched a wonderful YouTube video, laughing all
the while. And shortly, I'll head home to make supper and watch
the 6:30 news.

Can't forget...joined the "Mall Walkers" today, since our rainy,
damp, chilly weather has just not been conducive to outdoor
walking. I know, I know...that's just for old people...but I am
chronologically one of those, and I found it to be quite lovely,
in spite of the fact that our mall is mostly composed of empty
stores, since it has been purchased by High Point University.
The emptiness was highly conducive to meditation as I walked,
in the distant company of about 8 other people. Have to check
with the YMCA to see if they have an indoor walking track for
just such days as today.

I must confess to feeling just a little bit virtuous about this
whole internet thing, so I hope my friends will keep me both
honest and humble. I have to remember that it's early days;
who knows how I'll be feeling in another week or two? But
in the meantime, I'll be spending some time several afternoons
a week here at DeBeen, appreciating the ambiance, enjoying
the company, feeling part of the community of which I am
very definitely a part. Life just can't get much better than that.

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Linda...Unplugged...

On Monday, I'm taking the plunge...I'm getting rid of my home 
internet. No, I am not a total Luddite...in fact, I'm online far more 
than I care to admit. The reason is far more simple: I'm doing it 
to save money. Several months ago, I changed providers, reducing 
my bill by almost half. But since then, I've been trying to be 
brutally honest with myself about my finances...or more specifically, 
on what I spend my money and why. You see, I've decided this 
is a matter of values...of quite literally putting my money where 
my mouth is...or in other words, on what it is I SAY is important 
to me. And I've been discovering that home internet isn't one of 
those things.

Oh, I know...there may be days when I won't want to go to the 
library or Starbucks or DeBeen coffee shop (a great local place) 
to use their Wifi connections, but since I receive email on my 
phone, I won't be out of touch. And there is the added benefit, 
important to us seniors, (or so I've read) is that I'll be putting 
myself in regular social setting where there will be people of all 
ages, my favorite kind of setting. And I actually won't need to 
surf the net daily...or check Facebook...or post on my blog...
which should also give me the totally unintentional bonus of 
that most precious commodity- time.

It's sure to be a most interesting experiment and I'll write about 
it from time to time. Yet another change...yet another 
experiment...