Lenten Graces–Second Sunday in Lent

“If Abraham, by what he did for God, got Got to approve him, he could have certainly have taken credit for it. But the story we’re given is a God-story, not an Abraham-story. What we read in Scripture is ‘Abraham entered into what God was doing for him, and that was the turning point. He trusted God to set him right instead of trying to be right on his own.”  ~Eugene H. Peterson, The Message, (NavPress: Colorado Springs, 1993) Romans 4:1-5

It seems exceedingly difficult, this text. There is the message that there is some inherent goodness in our being who we are over and above all of our anxious human doing. (It must an important lesson, we read it over and over throughout the Bible, starting with Genesis.)

It seems nearly impossible to those of us living in a consumer-driven commercial world. This notion that you can not do anything to earn all of what God has to offer. It’s an affront to American culture and a reversal of the American Dream.

We can do nothing for God’s approval, nothing to gain merit or entrance into the Kindom* of God. Paul is commenting on that old struggle between works and grace.

It is a difficult text, but an important one as we move through the Lenten season reflecting on how we long for a deeper connection with God. As we give up the barriers to our spiritual life, give up our creature comforts, or as we take up practices we hope will enable us to walk closer to God’s will, we are very much consumed with the  doing aspect of living out this text.

There is something about grace which the post-modern world seems intent on annihilating. We are told if we work hard we will have all we need; that has not been true since 2009 and possibly before. The idea that we get the material goods we deserve based on our hard work in the world is roughly equivalent to the 1980’s notion that neon colors were fashionable. 

The NRSV words verses 2 and 4 as  “For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. … Now to one who works, wages are not reckoned as a gift but as something due.”**  Here, Paul seems to come down squarely on the side of grace.

Paul’s teaching in this text brings memory to my mind many of persons I interacted with as a hospice chaplain. At some point in life we all reach the stage where the most we can do is simply exist. [This is particularly true for persons with dementia and the other brain disorders associated with aging.] At some point in our adult lives we may need others to feed, bathe, and clothe us just as we did at life’s beginning. Being is a form of Grace. Being as Paul reminds us is all God asks of us is to do. Some religious and mystical traditions insist that there are spiritual lessons which can only be learned in the later stages of life. I know that as I spent time with persons who had become too ill to care for themselves towards life’s end, I learned that how they continued to interact and how they continued to teach others was through a subtle way of being who they were as they were in the world. It is a way of being that trusts and relies on God.

This way of being ourselves and being in the world as we find it is a type of trust and type of remembering that in the end it’s not about us. There is certainly our part, but in the end it is God’s story. Perhaps being us enough to discern God’s story from our own is the ultimate Lenten practice. Learning to accept grace~practice that.

*”Kindom” is a well-known feminist respelling of Kingdom designed to highlight the mutual relationships in the Kingdom of God rather than the hierarchical relationships of the patriarchal system; see the work of A. Isasi-Diaz and Rosemary Reuther.

**from http://bible.oremus.org/?passage=Romans+4 [on-line] accessed, March 15, 2014.

Over Thinking: First Sunday in Lent

Genesis 2: 15 The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to till it and keep it. 16And the Lord God commanded the man, ‘You may freely eat of every tree of the garden; 17but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall die.’

Much has been written on the tree of Good and Evil. I believe I have even blogged on it before. But in this season the text appears afresh. As I look at the full lectionary for this week of Lent these are the lines that stand out to me.

Sometimes, I wonder if our post-modern world has taken all the beautiful gifts that God has given to us and analyzed them to death. That is not a slam against science or inquiry, I believe both are important. Science is helps us understand the things we can not see, things that may be to tiny for us to touch or to big for us to comprehend. Last Thanksgiving my husband and I took a trip to Monterey, California we drove through the Carrizo Plain, a geological wonderland where you can see the fault lines of the earth on the surface of the ground. On the plain is what is called “Soda Lake”, it is essentially a lake of baking soda and I found it fascinating. The place is a natural wonder. When we arrived at Monterey we went to the famous Monterey Aquarium and again I found myself in awe at the complexities of nature, and even more in awe of the One Who Created it all!

If the world we live in is so amazing, I have to wonder about all the people we live around. I know we live in a twenty-four hour news cycle that always seems to be negative. It is a cycle that fuels our fears of “the other”–the immigrant, the person of a different religion, the person who speaks another language or has different speech, the person who looks or moves through the world in a different way, and it seems like there has been an intentional effort to separate ourselves from those who experience reality differently then we do–the ones who live with mental health issues.

God created the world and the people in it and called all of it “good”. Isn’t that our story? As I come to these lines of scripture today, I find myself wondering if God wasn’t also telling us don’t over analyze it just go with it. Over and over again God tells people to “go”, “let go”. Jesus tells people “follow me”. We are never asked to analyze or judge. We are asked to accept, to go out and work with what we find. This scripture is a warning to us that if we over think things we may lose the ability to be and act appropriately in the world. It is a command to not stigmatize, for when we do we lose something of ourselves.

This Lent as I reflect on my ministry, and my journeys into the world, I want to examine if I have always been as open as God has called me to be. I want to work to undo the over-thinking. I want to work against the stigmas that separate us one from the other and to live into the prayer that Jesus offered in saying good-bye to his followers…”that they may all be one”.

Ash Wednesday: Lent, Sin, and Liberation

Joel 2: 1-2, 12-17

Joel 2 12 Yet even now, says the Lord,
   return to me with all your heart,
with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning; 
13   rend your hearts and not your clothing.
Return to the Lord, your God
   for he is gracious and merciful,
slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love,
   and relents from punishing.  

The season of Lent is upon us again. It is the season of introspection, reflection, repentance, and ultimately forgiveness. Of course what tradition calls us to reflect upon in this season is our sin.

Sin, we all know what it is. Theologically, much could be written about what sin is, and who is responsible for it at which times. Its seems I read several books explaining this in seminary. Practically speaking, however, we know that sin is it is the difference between “right” and “wrong”. Despite all the clamor of theologians, “sin” is a basic concept we apply to explain the breaks in our relationships with other people and with God. It should be a simple thing, right, I mean we teach children to get along so they don’t have fractured relationships, right?

Perhaps sin should be a simple concept. Alas sin has never been a simple concept–whether we are talking about the notions of sin and purity in the Hebrew Bible or what sometimes seem to be convoluted discussions of sins of ancestors and forgiveness of sin in the New Testament.

Discussing the nature of sin, however, is important. Particularly when we want to welcome and include people with disabilities and persons with mental health concerns in the lives of our congregations. For centuries, and still in some regions of the world today, disability and mental health concerns were attributed to the result of unreconciled sin. For centuries humanity confused theology for science. There are scriptures that do equate disease with sin, we should not ignore those scripture but wrestle with them. There are also scriptures that assure that disease is not the result of sin (read Job).

In this scripture from Joel, the prophet is calling for repentance. However, the prophet is also teaching and reassuring us that God is “gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, and relents from punishing”. As a woman with disabilities there is great liberation in hearing from the prophets that God does not punish, much less inflict disability, and that indeed God waits for all of us “rend” our hearts and turn to God. There is a time to wrestle with the hard scriptures to search out the meaning and nature of suffering, this is not something I shy away from. However, as I start my Lenten journey of searching myself for what I can do to bring forgiveness and healing into the world, the God who is “gracious and merciful, …abounding in steadfast love, and relents from punishing” seems like a far more welcoming travel partner  to me then a God who may break my leg in retribution if I trip along the way.

Advent 2013, Day 1: GO

So #rethinkchurch is doing a pictorial Advent calendar…ok I’ll play along, as the Spirit moves.

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This photo is one I took on the Ecumenical Pilgrimage for Peace that was a part of the World Council of Churches General Assembly in Busan, South Korea last month; this was departing the train, in the rain, in Seoul for the busses and the next leg of the journey.

If you are like me perhaps you get wistful each time you start off on a trip. I usually do have some trepidation before leaving no matter how excited I am. The Peace Pilgrimage was no different. All I knew was what time I was being picked up at my hotel, that I would be traveling by bullet train to Seoul, South Korea and then towards the border with North Korea, and that I would not return till the following day. Talk about not having alot of information…. I along with 1499 other pilgrims got on the bus to the train. We did not know if we were headed for the DMZ or the Peace Park until we got our train tickets. We had no idea where we were staying the night until after our day’s travel and immersion visit, and dinner, and an amazing cultural show. My word for that day was “vulnerable”; as I did not know if I was staying with a group or going to a host home by myself (a woman traveling alone in a country where she did not speak the language) until it was time to depart for where I would stay the night. It was an amazing day, all worked out well, all were safe and cared for even by strangers in a land where we may not have spoken the language. It was an amazing experience and our hosts had it planned in detail before we arrived, but I did not know that at first and I only discovered that because I overcame my fears and simply went to meet my bus at the appointed time.

It is not always comfortable when God calls us. We do not always know where we are going. Sometimes we may even wonder if God is speaking out native language or showing us in ways we would expect to understand. But God does call, and has called people throughout history, to simply “go” and the funny thing is amazing and unexpected things happen when people let go of their comforts and simply go when God calls them to do so. And the call may not always be implicit, it may be an unfolding of events, we may not understand it at the time. So this Advent what is it that you would rather do than what God is calling you to do? What would it take for you to let go and go forth? …It may be just be incredible beyond your wildest imaginings, of course you won’t known unless you go. Don’t worry God is already there.

Monumentally Mixed Day

Well, yesterday, was an interesting day! I wonder what the Holy Spirit thought of it? I wonder what the Holy Spirit did to relax at after such a day. A day of monumental gender justice equality. A day of monumental ecclesiastical politics mixed with hatred, fear, power plays, denial of justice, and human inequality. Yeah, what would any of us do after a day like that!

I had finished my day of chaplaincy and started the car for the ride home from the skilled nursing facility I had been visiting. That’s when I heard the news on the car radio that made me want to jump up and down. The Anglican Synod had approved a new rule to allow women to serve as Bishops!! It still has to be ratified but…Yes! That is wonderful! The first person to see the risen Christ, and thus become an apostle, was Mary…and now the church has decided that woman can hold ecclesiastical seats of power. Imagine that! Honestly I thought the news was so wonderful, despite my snarky inner dialogue, that I cried.

Later in the evening I sat down to check the news on Facebook, oddly there was no chatter about women being approved to serve as Bishops in the Anglican church. There was the news, however, that the Methodist Church in Pennsylvania had convicted one of their own Bishops for presiding at the marriage ceremony of his own son; the Bishop was convicted of showing the love of God in presiding over a religious ceremony because the two people being married to one another were men, and that is against Methodist law. It was an ugly act to convict a Bishop for celebrating love, particularly the love of his own child. It was an act of homophobia and hate to convict a man who had faithfully served the church for over twenty years for celebrating a marriage. It was an act of clergy abuse for the ecclesiastical structure to expect any individual clergy to choose the law of church over the needs of the clergy’s family. It was a power play to make an example of one clergyman and further the continuation injustice perpetrated towards an entire segment of humanity, a whole segment of the Christian church. I read this news in disbelief, how could the “powerful” and “influential” Methodist church do such a unloving thing?  I wanted to cry. I wanted to repent for having been confirmed in a Methodist church as a youth. I was ashamed for having been formed by a Methodist seminary. I was thankful to be ordained in the United Church of Christ where “no matter who you are, or where you are on life’s journey you are welcome”. I thought of Jesus and was sure that as throngs of people gathered to him, no one was ever asked about their sexual orientation before being invited in to the Master’s presence.

So there it was a monumentally mixed day–more liberation for women within the church and more discrimination against allies of GLBT Christians, let alone GLBT Christians themselves. So I sat there looking at the computer screen wondering how to react to it all. Because, really after a day of church news like that what does one do? Cheer? Mourn? Celebrate? Cry? I hope at the end of yesterday that the Holy Spirit had a glass of wine, or whatever spiritual energetic equivalent is available to her! Perhaps we should just all pray, pray that the Holy Spirit continues to guide the churches to justice and to peace for all people.

37% Is Not Enough. 2% Is Not Enough…. Reflection on the WCC Busan Assembly #2

Women being underrepresented in the leadership of the contemporary Church is not exactly new. However, in my lifetime it does seem that women having leadership in the church has become more common. True, as any church pastor can tell you, women have always held power in the church for women, particularly older women, seem to do most of the organizing and grunt work that enables church fellowship–this is a type of power. But when I think of church leadership, I am thinking directly about the leadership of theological reflection, church messaging, and setting the priorities of church witness and social justice engagement and in these areas it has always been more of a struggle for women to be granted leadership roles.

One of the things that I learned during the World Council of Churches (WCC) General Assembly in Busan was that the contemporary global Christian church still struggles greatly to include the leadership of women, particularly theologically trained women. The work of the WCC is guided for the seven to eight years between assemblies by the Central Committee, which is comprised of delegates to the General Assembly. While the WCC strives for a 50%-50% quota of women and men on the Central Committee this has not been achieved. Why? Because, despite the aims of quotas, the Central Committee make up must reflect the make-up of delegates at the most recent General Assembly. Delegates to the General Assembly are nominated and sent as delegates by the member churches of the WCC. Women made up only 37% of the total delegates at the Busan Assembly, this means that only 37% of the Central Committee governing the WCC for the next seven years could be women. While the nominating committee did present a slate to be elected to the WCC Central Committee that was 37% women, the majority of those women seemed to be youths. While developing the leadership skills of young women is vitally important, it seems to me that counting youth in the overall all gender balance is one way to dismiss the theological leadership of women in the global church.

How can women become more represented in the global leadership of the churches? It is up to individual member churches/denominations of the WCC (there are 345) to design their own delegation to the WCC, the diversity of delegates will be reflected in the leadership elected to the central committee. Lay persons, youth, indigenous people, and persons with disability are also underrepresented in the church delegations to General Assembly, and thus on the Central Committee engaging in global church leadership. This means that the churches need to be more inclusive not only of women, but of lay persons, youths, indigenous persons, and persons with disability when selecting their delegations to the assemblies. The WCC asks churches to send delegations that reflect the diversity quotas of the WCC, but the quota seem to be just a suggestion.–I have to say that the delegation to the Busan Assembly from the United Church of Christ, in the USA, of which I was a member, did meet the diversity goals of the WCC. The UCC sent one ordained man, a lay member/female youth, and two ordained women one of who is also a woman with disability to Busan as delegates impacting the percentages which leadership coming out of the Assembly had to reflect.

The Assembly in Busan is now complete. The Central Committee which has to be carefully, and very politically, balanced as to church family, denomination, region, gender, ordained/lay, youth, indigenous, and persons with disability has been elected to serve until the next General Assembly. The numbers are not as balanced as desired, but General Assembly Delegates we were told that the slate was as balanced as possible. There was an effort to create the most balance, while still reflecting the demographics of the delegation of the assembly. I have to recognize that one of the Orthodox Bishops gave up his spot on the Central Committee so as to include a female youth representative; I wish others on the slate had followed suit to allow for more balance. The Church itself is a work in progress, still striving to show the world that “there is no longer Jew or Greek, no longer slave or free, there is no longer male or female; for all of you are one on Christ” (Galatians 3:28). So let’s be honest, in creating a committee to guide the ecumenical body of the global church…38% female representation in the leadership of the church is not enough; less than 5% indigenous representation in church leadership is not enough; 2% persons with disability representatives in church leadership is not enough! We have work to do, yet, to meet even the New Testament’s expectation of the church!

Rev. Dr. Sarah Lund Reflects on the 10th General Assembly in Busan

Women are busy doing the work of the church and seeing to the ministry of Christ in the world.  We thought you might enjoy this video of Rev. Dr. Sarah Lund reflecting on the 10th General Assembly of the World Council of Churches in Busan, South Korea. Rev. Dr. Lund is the Associate Conference Minister for the Florida Conference of the United Church of Christ.