As We Forgive Others—Rev. Kelli

Rev. Kelli mugging at the marquee at church with her name on with "rev." painted in after the fact

Uh, that's "Rev." if you please...

Kelli just delivered her first sermon since being ordained in May. It was delivered at CCCPB on August 14th. Since it ran past YouTube’s 15 minute rule, it had to be cut into two, and at least at the time of posting, this is how we gotta do it. Back at YouTube, you can view it as a slightly more graceful playlist that will auto play in series.

Rev. Kelli looks at food insecurity in the time Joseph, a Hebrew in Egypt, and the dire situation in Africa (and lots of places) today, and introduces the UCC Mission 1 campaign.


Good Grief: Memorial Day 2010-2011

Today is Memorial Day, a day to remember those we have lost to war and those we have lost whom we love. I thought I would post a sermon in acknowledgment of the day. The following sermon “Good Grief” was preached at the Community Congregational Church of Pacific Beach on May 30, 2010. This particular sermon provided a context to speak to my congregation about our collective grief. I find it highly relevant a year later, so I am posting it here. For all those we have loved and lost…we remember on Memorial Day.

Fort Rosecrans National Cemetery

Good Grief

Lamentations 3: 19-30    John 11:1-20, 30-37

On May 5, 1868 General John A Logan, as the commander-in-chief of a veterans organization issued a proclamation that Decoration Day should be observed nation-wide.(1) Decoration Day is very traditional throughout parts of America. So traditional in fact that we don’t know when or where it started. It seems to have just appeared in multiple communities, perhaps as a corporate response to death. What we do know is that Decoration Day came to be celebrated throughout America around the end of the Civil War. It was a time, historically, during which the gruesomeness and numbers of human deaths not only seemed unparalleled in American history, but devastated communities because the war was so divisive. As General Logan sought to make Decoration Day a national event, May 30th was chosen specifically because it was not the anniversary date of a battle.(2)

Decoration Day has played an important role in American communities. As early as the 1880’s Decoration Day was also called Memorial Day in the South. This name change to Memorial Day in the South may have been a political one to accommodate people who also mourned Confederate soldiers.(3) So Decoration Day became “Memorial Day.” But I feel compelled to point out to you that to this day in the South, Memorial Day, in addition to being a day to honor those who died in the Civil War and World Wars is still held as a day set aside to remember and honor all those loved ones that the community has lost from its corporate life.

Some of you know that my father’s family is in the South. I can tell you that in rural Alabama, Memorial Day—and indeed the remembrance of loved ones who have died—is a bit different from it is here in urban California. Here we have large cemeteries in different regions of the city and often you have to go out of your way to get there. There, cemeteries are scattered everywhere throughout the community, and often they have no walls or fence— just acreage you pass daily on the sides of the roads.

As is common in that rural area, my own father is buried in the churchyard of the church closest to the family land. Many people visit the graves of loved ones daily or weekly. This is part of the Southern culture and expected of those who mourn. But even after mourning, there is a cultural expectation of remembrance.

My step-mother in Alabama makes silk floral arrangements and she will tell you that most of her business is done between April and May each year preparing floral arrangements that will decorate the tombstones of loved ones on the local celebration of Decoration Day and when flags are added to the graves to recognize Memorial Day. And yes, in parts of the South some people plan these arrangements out months in advance. To neglect to decorate the graves of your loved ones this time of year it is a serious cultural taboo akin to forgetting Thanksgiving and Christmas. In some ways all this effort of decoration seems strange. But in some ways, being adopted into my step mother’s culture, it makes sense and seems almost comforting to have a communal event remembering and honoring individual losses and creating public space for the needs of those who grieve.

If this still seems foreign to you, I can liken the rituals of Decoration Day only to the cultural and religious festival of Dia De Los Muertos—Day of the Dead—that we in southern California may witness at the beginning of each November. Indeed, in some lore about origins Decoration Day there is a mention of a woman who wrote that decorating the graves with flowers should be held as a “religious custom of the South.” (4)

Mourning and grieving is not something we often talk about. Because we avoid it, some even say that observation of Memorial Day should be returned to May 30th rather than observed as a three-day weekend that serves more as the opening of summer than the national day of mourning and remembrance it was intended to be. We must admit that with all the commercial sales and BBQ’s and our beautiful beaches mourning and reflection is not something that we really want to do—not with summer coming! Indeed there are many reasons to be distracted from the reality of death.

Our text this morning, however, is one that speaks of the realities of death and is one that clearly shows us a religious custom of grieving. The eleventh chapter of John and its account of mourning leading up to the raising of Lazarus is a text packed with theological implications. There is the question of why Jesus waited two days rather than going to Lazarus immediately and why this seemed so offensive to Mary and Martha. There is the conversation between Jesus and Mary about who and what resurrection is—and its underlying debate about the existence of an afterlife that persists in the Jewish faith. There is the implication that discipleship means following Jesus even when the journey is potentially to one’s own death and then there is the whole issue of Jesus having control over life and death in what comes next in the gospel—the raising of Lazarus, which in the Gospel of John will be the last straw that leads the temple authorities to arrest Jesus.

However, it is the scene of mourning that is of particular interest. Not only are the sisters and family of Lazarus mourning, but community members and friends of the family have also gathered to mourn Lazarus. The Gospel of John is clear that Lazarus and his sisters were friends of Jesus. For Jesus is not sent message that Lazarus, but that he who you love is sick. Jesus is part of the community of friends and family who join in the mourning. It was part of the religious and social customs of the time not only for others to join in the mourning, but for this gathering to continue for a week. Jesus arrives on the fourth day (of mourning). And in one of the most profound moments of the narratives we have of Jesus’s life we are told that “Jesus wept.” (verse 35)

He simply wept for his friend Lazarus. And the grief of Lazarus’s sisters.

Before the gospel account gets on with its important points of drawing parallels between the raising of Lazarus and the resurrection of Christ or illustrating that Jesus has power over death or even suggesting that God is about to do a new thing, never seen by humanity, it proclaims that even the Son of God pauses to mourn and to grieve.

It is a gospel lesson that we may do well to relearn in this twenty-first century. Too often in our fast paced world the once-natural processes of life and death are rushed so production is not slowed and we don’t fall too far behind.

In some cultures it is normal to have an extended period of mourning when a loved one dies. But too often in our American culture, we get three days’ bereavement leave. According to tradition not only would Lazarus’ sisters have a week of mourning after the funeral but another month of lesser mourning and, depending on the relationship one has with the person who died, the period of mourning may last up to a year. To us this period of mourning may seem a luxury, but it may be necessary.

Before the Civil War, death was a common part of life. In the period following the Civil War, when Decoration Days were first established, the numbers of deaths society had to adjust to because of the war was uncommon and so required a new approach to corporate mourning.

As I read around and reflected on the grief in our text this morning, it was interesting to note that while pastoral care, psychology, and even biblical scholars agree that death is a separation of relationship that has to be experienced and in time readjusted to, that all these disciplines also make note of the fact that the sheer number of deaths in the World War I and World War II forever changed how we culturally approach the reality of death by making burials more industrial and less personal. Following the thousands of tragic deaths on 9/11 and the wars that have followed, some (scholars) seem to question how we might cope with all our losses. (5)

How we might ever cope with our grief is a good question. It seems clear that we can’t avoid mourning. It seems clear that a short bereavement will not fill our needs. The Gospel of John shows the human and divine Jesus pausing to mourn. Generations before us have set time aside for us to grieve and remember those who have died. Many religious traditions, including our own Christian seasons of Lent and Good Friday, require periods of mourning. Still, culturally we avoid mourning and deny death.

Lamentations is one of the few books permissible for Jewish mourners to read. It is a book that chronicles the complaints and grief of the people following the destruction of Jerusalem in 587 BCE. Here we find an ancient doxology detailing God’s faithfulness, speaking from a time and place that seemed to its author the end of the world. It’s not just about faith, but there is something more in it. The word “hope” it uses (in verse 21) also means “expectation” indicating that even in the most dire of times we can expect God’s faithfulness. (6) Perhaps this was the source of the expectation Mary and Martha had of Jesus to come to Lazarus. Our modern expectation is not necessarily that God will fix all things to our liking but an expectation that God will come and be there in depth of our despair.

We never know when God may do a new thing. But we know God is present with us in our joy and in our sorrow. There is a wisdom we have been given which we may want to recall this Memorial Day, as we remember our personal losses, and as we mark the death of 1000 American soldiers in Afghanistan.

The wisdom of Ecclesiastes is this:

There is a time for everything…
a time to be born, and a time to die…
a time to weep, and a time to laugh,
a time to mourn, and time to dance…
a time for war, and a time for peace.

—Eccs 3:1, 2a, 4, and 8b

*** Endnotes

  1. “Memorial day” [on-line] at accessed On May 29, 2010.
  2. ibid.
  3. ibid.
  4. “Confederate Memorial Day” [on-line] available at accessed May 29, 2011.
  5. Gene Fowler, Caring Through the Funeral: A Pastor’s Guide, (St Louis: Chalice Press, 2004)
  6. The Broadman Bible Commentary. Vol.6. (Nashville:broadman, 1971) 216.

Thoughts on Being Ordained

So I have been ordained for nearly three weeks now. Some have wondered why I haven’t written about this sooner. Well there is the rub. Ordination, while often seen as a destination along the journey to that point, is really just a beginning—the beginning of the work of ministry; the beginning of trying to keep up with God. I was trying to keep up with God before, yes, but truly the last three weeks have been a whirlwind seemingly stuck on fast forward, as it’s going to be a while before things re-approach “normal” speed. God seems to be running a marathon with me as of late! And that’s all okay with me!

God is not only difficult to define or describe, but God is beyond all our definitions and expectations! Just when you think you understand God, God shows God’s self in ways and what you can not understand. God is ineffable. This is part of what I tried to convey in my ordination paper when I termed God a Trickster. I’m so glad Rev. Jerry Lawritson mentioned that in the sermon at my ordination. Ever hear of the yoke of Jeremiah? But, I digress. Or perhaps not.

There are some things about being ordained that I did not expect, and some moments in being ordained that carried great meaning. I’ll speak to the latter. I have to say that one of the unexpected moments of my ordination that continues to carry great meaning was the laying on of hands. I am not going to go into the politics of ordination here, but suffice to say that after all the trials one goes through in “proving” they can meet the requirements of ordination and early ministry, for me—particularly as a disabled woman, reared in poverty, who has been made to feel “less than” most of her life—to hear the congregation say “Yes she is worthy, let us ordain her” and then to see local clergy immediately get up, hover over and encircle me was overwhelming! It was empowering. It was a confirmation that boosted my confidence. And at a certain level it was also a great relief for here I was exactly where I had known for so long I was meant to be AND the community and the clergy acknowledged it! Even if, at the same time, it seemed at some level that it was late in coming, it truly felt meaningful, a moment of awe for me. It was not the confirmation of my call—for what human acts, no matter the ritual history or intent, can confirm the call of God? But it felt as if God was jumping up and down, celebrating because the community “got” the call. It felt like an act of God. And I still feel the awe.

Ordination is worth struggling for. I understand this now in a much more profound way. In churches where women, GLBT, persons with disabilities are not eligible for ordination, ordination is worth struggling for because the call to ministry is not a call of the Church, but a call from and an act of God. For my friends who continue in the ordination process, to friends who have newly received their Masters of Divinity and seek to serve, to the Rev. Elvin Harrison who seeks privilege of call in the UCC tomorrow, to seminarians with disabilities who faithfully struggle to follow their call when the possibility of ordination still seems a hazy dream come to oppress them from a heavenly land let my ordination be an encouragement to you…yes, your ordination is worth struggling for, especially when it seems it might require an act of God! God is with you.


You can call her “Rev.” now.

Kelli beaming with ordination certificate finally in hand.

One relieved girl!

We just got back from the festivities following Kelli’s ordination today—long awaited, and taking just a bit over six years since she was accepted to seminary in April 2005. You can imagine this is a huge victory to claim. After our dinner, she was wiped out, so here I am, ever the journalist for the family…

Held at the church where we both were born into and where we have been baptized and married in, this is a particularly notable day in the history of CCCPB, as Kelli is the only of that congregation to have started so young and followed the long and winding path of faith and formation, all the way to this point.

In attendance were members of CCCPB, Mission Hills UCC (where she interned), other churches in the local UCC Association, friends from United Methodist, Disciples of Christ, Unitarian Universalist, and Presbyterian worlds. Friends from the world of chaplaincy, poetry, and plain ol’ good friends were there to support her too. (A few of the ladies might not know it but they might be contributors to this very site, once the dust settles here!)

For the week, Kelli’s mom Kay Taylor was in town, and brought her autoharp with her. She sang a heart melting rendition of God’s Eye is on the Sparrow for the offertory in the ordination service. We just happened to have a mic on her too!

Over 100 images from the day are now on my Facebook page, and concurrent with all this, we are starting the WomenWhoSpeakInChurch page on Facebook too.

To save you a trip to YouTube, check these out:

Kelli in the midst of the clergy laying hands.

Laying on of hands, clergy and lay folks

Kelli looking sharp with robe and stole.

Kelli after being robed, and having just distributed the bread in her first communion

Kelli serving communion for the first time.

Kelli serving the wine at her first communion as "the Rev."

Off to dinner with MHUCC friends and mama Kay.

Kelli and a number of us from Mission Hills Young Adults, out to dinner to celebrate

Kelli's new chalice and plate for communion

Kelli's new chalice and plate for communion, made from solid stone from Pakistan

Thanks to Phil, Tara, Margie, and Amanda for heroic help.

Holding Fast to God: Lent 4

There is so much richness in the lectionary for this week that it is hard to know where to start. What strikes me in the texts for the third week is that both Psalm 23 and the story of the Man Born Blind (John 9:1-41) have very little to do with one another and yet in the end they both point us towards holding fast on to God even when that seems irrational and all else is seeming lost. In the depths of these texts I sense that there is a calm center—the welcoming of God, Godself—in the midst of the chaos that surrounds the central character of each text.

I doubt I will ever forget a seminary afternoon I spent in Psalms class taught by Dr. Kristin De Troyer, an amazing scholar and teacher! This particular afternoon we were looking at Psalm 23, and going through it line by line examining the poetic stress and how the word pairs worked to enhance the meaning of the text both in translation and in Hebrew. A text that has almost come to seem cliché jumped out at me. As Professor De Troyer took us through this text it became clear that it was not only not a simple text, but also that it was far from the pastoral text the images depict. This is perhaps one of the most familiar texts in the Western world. “The Lord is my shepherd…” The words themselves are so calming to even think. (Although I must admit that after encountering the Vicar of Dibley series I found myself giggling every time I heard the opening of this Psalm because it had become such a lead into comedy for me. But I digress…) However, as I think back to that day in seminary, in the long warm conference room, I think of how sad it is to me that this text is so misunderstood and so misused. As the professor unpacked the word pairings of the text and went through the images of the text with us in view of its ancient origins, it came alive for me in new ways. Professor De Troyer led us on a discovery that this text is one of flight and seeking refuge. The table which God is said to prepare in this text is not just a meal table, not a welcome table but rather the alter in the tremble where one might seek refuge—the one place that a hunted or chased person may find refuge, for no army and no official could lawfully seize a person who had to the ram’s horn on the altar of God. And not only is the text one of safety for the person in peril, but it is also one of vindication.

I thought on that day, how strange it is to use the text of Psalm 23 as a text for the time nearing death. It seems to me that the context of death is the one in which Psalm 23 is often used. I remember thinking to myself on that day in seminary, that I would uphold the integrity of the poetics of the text and not use it in the context of death because in my class I was learning that really the text is more appropriate to the situation of the immigrant running from immigration officials than it is for the death bed! But such can be the arrogance of pure academic scholarship mixed with inexperience. As a chaplain I quickly learned that despite the meanings unearthed by the poetics of this text, the fact that this text brings meaning and comfort to people in various situations but particularly at time of great illness and approaching/at death cannot be ignored. As a poet, it first pained me to use this text in the context of illness/death. However as chaplain—and even as a poet—there is something more important than intent to tend to. There is always at the heart of all matters the meaning and care for others that must be considered. In my experience as a chaplain I have learned that even people who are not religiously affiliated will ask for Psalm 23 to be read at time of death. It has become easy, both for the scholar and the poet within, to allow my poet self to read Psalm 23 in the context of illness/death. This is true not only because it is caring to read something that has meaning to those who request it at these times, but also it is true because of the death/dying process itself. The death/dying process itself is one of letting go of all we love—be it things, people, places, and how we identify ourselves. In this sense the death/dying process is one of seeking refuge in the only place we have left to turn when all else falls away—God, or our understanding of the sacred. In some small way Psalm 23—which is really more about refuge from the world than death—is in a way one of the perfect and most simple texts to turn to for reassurance, whenever we need it, and often that is the time close to dying.

The paradox of this struck me this week as I taught Sunday School to the four and five year olds—and Psalm 23 was the text for the week. Here Psalm 23 was in no way connected to ideas of death and dying, there was no thought given the notion of fleeing for one’s life or seeking refuge, but rather the image of the shepherd became the focal point for discussions of care, compassion, and God’s love for us. It was a bit odd I admit for the hospice chaplain to be teaching Psalm 23 to a group who, God willing, will long outlive me. But it was also a moment in which I found wholeness. For, as we first learn Psalm 23 (particularly if we know what a sheep is only though books and we have to learn what a shepherd is) we learn that God is present with us at all times and that God cares for us through others who feed and tend to us when we are sick. There is omnipresence, we are never alone. God holds fast to us so we may hold fast to God.

By now you may be thinking that at the outset I mentioned this was also the case in the gospel for this week, in the story of the man born blind. Well it is. This is one of the “healing stories” in the gospel, and generally I find these complicated and problematic. This story from the ninth chapter of the Gospel of John, however, is one that important and liberating to a point. It is in this text that Jesus clarifies for all those around that sin is not the cause of disability for Jesus says “Neither this man nor his parents sinned, he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed through him” (John 9:3). This is very liberating to people with disabilities because it separates sin from disability, in the words of Jesus, and long before science would show this to be true. Rev. Dr. Kathy Black points out that this healing story is different than others found in the gospels because whereas other healing stories end with the person with disabilities being integrated back in the community, in the case of the man born blind Jesus’ healing of the man results in his being expelled from the community. (A Healing Homiletic: Preaching and Disability, Abington: Nashville, 1996, 72-73.) The blind man’s encounter with Jesus and his healing lead to controversy within his faith community. The man not only proclaims the work of Jesus to his community but he also calls Jesus a prophet! Like a good shepherd, Jesus seeks out the man when the community expels him and then the newly-sighted man accepts Jesus as the Son of Man. The healed man held fast to his experience of God, even when he faced losing his community because of it, and Jesus came to him there.

Whether we struggle with fault/blame, change, leaving, or how to approach the other this Lenten season let us hold fast to God with the hope that God holds fast to us as well.

Others: Lent 3

The Lectionary reading for the third week of Lent is John 4:4-42. It is the text about the Samaritan Woman at the well and her conversation with Jesus.

I want to start by thanking my former seminary classmate, the Rev. Alison Rainey English, for posting this video on Facebook. I thought this was a breathtaking retelling of the text, so take a minute and watch it:

This video reminds me that the art of biblical story telling is one that I have much respect for. It is an art that seeks to tell a story in a new way, to reach out and shake the audience into new awareness of what is being said, much like poetry does. Perhaps this is why this particular video strikes me. (There are other similar portrayals of this text.) It makes me take notice of the woman at the well and her story that became so much of the encounter with Jesus.

I have been pondering this text in part becuase it may be used in a worship service that I am helping to plan for a conference this summer. It is indeed a rich text, perhaps one that begs for the liturgical arts be present as witnesses to it. But this text is also one that comes up time and again when we talk about crossing social boundaries to invite others to our faith and to include them in worship. Here is a woman possibly outcast in her own society, certainly a woman who has seen her share of trouble, who is also a member of outcast group talking with Jesus. Jesus who does not shy away from her but engages in dialogue with her. Gail R. O’Day makes an interesting point by naming that while this woman is often seen in some immoral light because she has had five husbands Jesus does not condemn her for this but rather allows her to become an apostle by telling her people about him (Gail R O’Day, “John” in The Women’s Bible Commentary, Westminster: Louisville, 1992, 296). The truth is we don’t know much about the history of this woman before she meets Jesus. She may have been repeatedly widowed or part of a non-Jewish marriage that was based simply on a contract that could be exited at will–but we know what she does when she meets Jesus, that she unlike many in the gospels recognize Jesus as the Messiah, and we know she acts as an apostle after meeting Jesus.

It is precisely the actions of this woman in contrast to those of the disciples that strike me as a Lenten nugget in this text. This woman is outcast as a woman, outcast as a Samaritan, outcast by having a personal history; this woman is not only welcomed by Jesus but takes it upon herself to become an apostle. This Lenten season we have thought about fault and sin, about leaving and change, and now we are faced with a text that appears to lift up a person who would not be lifted up as a religious example as one who sees and seeks the truth. The woman at the well is the other who only seeks truth and love while being denied both by society. But all that changes when she meets Jesus. For Jesus reveals the truth to her, a truth that sends her back into her community, where she might to be listened to.

Could it be that the Lenten journey is one that not only calls us to examine our own actions but to also examine our social expectations to consider who we may be missing, and the truth they have to share, when we decide who is in and who is out according to our traditions? Jesus did not exclude persons; he always found a way to bring the other in. Perhaps this third week of Lent we are called to meditate on that part of the journey. The stories we could tell, and we still have so far to go!

Fault: Lent 1

Lent has taken many forms over the years. In the early Christian Church Lent was time of preparation for baptism. Lent has also traditionally been a time of penitence. To this day many Christian communities view Lent as a season of personal reflection on how to live up to Christian ideals. There seems to be a current shift in the observances of Lent with many Christians now using this time to intentionally take up spiritual practices and draw closer to God. Whether drawing closer to God, engaging in personal reflections, observing the practice of penitence, or preparing for new life, the scriptures in the Bible seem to be one of the foundations to which we, as Christians, turn during this season. For this reason, I will be attempting through out this Lenten season to offer some scriptural reflections on this blog and these reflections will be based on the Revised Common Lectionary (RCL) or feminist lectionary Women’s Stories from Scripture for Sundays and Festivals: Remembering the Women by J. Frank Henderson, which also follows the RCL while offering passages reflecting the lives of biblical women to be used when the RCL does not.

Perhaps I should not be surprised that the scripture for the first week of Lent, the season of repentance and reflecting on sins, is Genesis 2:15-17; 3:1-7 about Eve and Adam eating of the Tree of Knowledge in the Garden of Eden. It is a text often pointed to as proof of “Original Sin,” the “untrustworthy” or “evil” nature of women. If you are unfamiliar with this passage or would like to refresh your reading of the text you may do so here. It is a text that has long affected the relationships of men and women, particularly in the realm of religious understanding and authority. But what does it say to us in Lent, about penitence, about drawing closer to God, about living the Christian life today?

I recently had occasion to re watch an episode of Bill Moyer’s wonderful PBS series Genesis in which Moyers, himself a pastor, gathers a variety of thinkers, artisans, scholars, and theologians to reflect on the major stories in the Book of Genesis. One of the Genesis episodes named “Temptation” addresses the Genesis passage about Adam, Eve, and the Tree of Knowledge. (And yes I must admit spending an hour listening to scholars discuss this was heavenly.) I mention this episode because in rewatching it I was particularly struck by two issues in the Adam and Eve text that I don’t think we often talk critically about: fault and relationship.

So often we approach this text with our tendency to idealize and analyze, and I wonder if in doing so we miss something important. We often imagine Adam and Eve in the garden with all their needs meet and without much worry. Perhaps it was ideal, certainly having all my needs met so I can simply be sounds ideal. But Adam and Eve were human. I have not lived as long as some people have but it does seem to me that one of the traits of our humanity is that if things get too easy we become bored; when we have too few challenges we wonder about new things, we strive to do something new, something to change the status quo although we always hope it will change for the better. It seems that some of that is a foot in this text from Genesis. Eve acts. If we ponder that without judgment for just a minute (go on, I dare you!) we see something different emerging from this. Steven Mitchell, in the Genesis episode comments that Eve is “the one who makes everything happen, who acts out of love for God, if God is wisdom.” (Genesis: a Living Conversation, New York: Doubleday 1996, 47.) In the text the serpent tells Eve “your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God knowing good and evil.” It is in some ways Eve’s eating of the fruit was a very Lenten act for it was an act to become closer to God, to “be like God”.

Yet, seeking to be closer to God can often change things in unforeseen ways. In the Genesis story, Eve took a human risk to do something different in order to become closer to God. But things did not work out the way Eve expected. There is in the text evidence that God told Adam not to eat of the Tree of Knowledge before Eve was a part of the story, Eve may not have had this command directed at her. Nevertheless, whether Eve defied God, as is often said of this text, or whether Eve was acting out of innocence (which seems a closer reading of the text) Eve’s eating of the fruit changes the relationships in the Garden. In Genesis, prior to this episode God is portrayed as walking in the Garden with Adam and Eve. Yet that changes after the eating of the fruit. In the Genesis episode Marianne Meye Thompson makes the point that after the fruit is eaten “they clothe themselves, as if to hide from each other. And they also hide from God.” (Genesis, 52). The text then is about human changes. Changes in human ingenuity, changes in human spirituality, changes in relationships between man and woman as well as between humans and God.

Our text seems to indicate that changes in ourselves also lead to changes in our relationships with others. One of the other things I have noticed about humans is that we don’t like change. Adam very much portrays that aspect of human nature in this story. For when God asks why they are hiding, why they know they are naked, Adam explains that Eve gave him the fruit to eat. God does not fall for it. God does not tell the pair that everything is going to be okay. Rather, God acknowledges the change in all their relationships that will take place, perhaps because of their acts, but also because of the change that has taken place in the man and woman themselves. Not only is change never easy, but in this case the change also brings about suffering. In the Genesis episode Elaine Pagles says of this text that “it insists that suffering has to be somebody’s fault.” (Genesis, 50.) As Christians we live with a tradition that (perhaps not originally) for many centuries has taught that this is a text that tells of how a woman brought sin into the world and how man was given power over her. Sin is a form of suffering. And yes this is a text that speaks to how suffering came about in the world. But woman did not bring suffering into the world. The wisdom of acknowledging suffering existed in the Garden, locked in the Tree of Knowledge, before Eve was ever there. Once that knowledge of suffering, once innocence, came out it could not be put back. There was change; change that required Adam and Eve change their relationships to one another. Once change is proclaimed, it is not always a pronouncement about the way things will be forever. We know this. As Christians, it becomes part of our being. For our teacher Jesus was always challenging the ways people related to one another, turning relationships upside down, inviting the outcasts—even the outcasts from the Garden—back in. Change is part of the Good News!

So, welcome to Lent. Whatever you seek to do this season whether penitence for sins or drawing closer to God through spiritual practices, be aware that such changes can have profound effects on all your relationships. And may God be with you on the journey.