Do this and they will live

 

(sermon preached 7/10/16 at St John’s of Mound ELCA.)

Link to texts used today

I was standing in the self-help section of my local bookstore the other day. The shelves looked disheveled, riffled through. Brightly colored hardcover books, promising just a few habit changes will bring you success, make you lose 30 pounds, help you gain personal acceptance, help you be more productive, teach you how to slow down, how to empty your closet and fill your bucket. I saw how I could get over my anxiety, how I could quit smoking, how I could start working out, and why I should eat kale.  

Raise your hand if you’ve ever purchased a self-help book. It’s okay. You are in a safe place.

Raise your hand if you’ve ever purchased a book that promises, “You can achieve ABC in just 30 days if you XYZ.” Have you picked up a book with the author and his smiling face, nice looking suit, on the cover, inviting you to become a better you? There’s no shame in wanting to improve. It’s probably a good idea to want to increase your happiness, improve the quality of your life, decrease health concerns. If you’ve ever purchased one of these books, you’re not alone. In fact, the self-help industry receives $10 billion a year. I know I’ve contributed $128 this year to the cause.

My favorite self-help book experience, back when I used to work in a bookstore, was the customer who ordered 4 different books on how to declutter her life. I wanted to say, “I’ll save you $60 and help you declutter- don’t buy those 4 books.”

Our old testament passage is from the book of Deuteronomy and has been used in what is called the prosperity gospel. Often times, you can find prosperity gospel books in the self help section of the bookstore.

“and the Lord your God will make you abundantly prosperous in all your undertakings.”

The prosperity gospel teaches that God wants you to become wealthy and that he has prescribed a way for you to become wealthy. If you follow his commandments, you will be rewarded with good things. A nice home, a nice car, honor roll students, a golden retriever that walks nicely on leash. Your success is God’s way of putting a gold star on your report card for life. But this is taking the verse out of the context it was written in. It’s essentially making the bible a self help book.

But the bible isn’t a self help book.

The bible is a story of how God is madly in love with the world and goes extra lengths to make that love abundantly clear.

This text was written to a displaced and oppressed people. These people were slaves who just recently experienced their emancipation from Pharaoh. And if there is any correlation between the release of the Hebrew slaves to the emancipation of slaves in the American South, their ultimate freedom didn’t come immediately. African Americans are still fighting for their fair treatment in this country. And technically, they were freed 153 years ago.

Our old testament text for today was a sermon Moses gave to the people of Israel, after they had wandered the desert for 40 years. He brought them together and said, “We had this old way of life, enslaved, then wandering. Now we are going to establish ourselves. God has given us his word, he has given us the Law, and we are now going to put down roots. Things are going to get better.”

This isn’t a promise that God is going to make these people rich. This isn’t a verse we can take out of context and say that God is going to reward us for going to church and being good little Christians. This is a text that identifies who the people of God are, who God is, and that this God is a God we are in relationship with. Even more, this text is binding us together. All of the “yous” in this passage are plural.

“You all will prosper.”

“The commandment is near to you all.”

The Israelites, and even us today, are all in this together.

This week, our gospel text is a very well known story, that also reminds us that we are all in this together.

A lawyer comes up to Jesus and asks, “What must I do to gain eternal life?”

Jesus responds with another question, “Well, what have you read in the law and how do you interpret it, dear lawyer?”

The lawyer responds by quoting Deuteronomy chapter 6, verse 5, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might. And love your neighbor as yourself.” Jesus confirms that the lawyer knows what he’s talking about. He says, ‘Yes, do this and you will live.”

Wait.

Do this and you will live.

I want that. I want to live.

The lawyer wants to live, too.

The lawyer asks Jesus, “So, who is my neighbor?”

If this is a matter of life and death, I need to know who my neighbor is.

 

Jesus tells a parable. There was a man who was beaten and robbed and left for dead.

A priest notices and walks on by.

A Levite notices and walks on by.

Then a Samaritan notices, and was moved to compassion. He used his own money to patch the man up, to get him a safe place to rest and to heal.

 

Jesus asks the lawyer, “So, who acted as a neighbor?” The answer was obvious.

But the lawyer had asked, “Who is my neighbor?” The answer is implied, the man left for dead is our neighbor. He is our responsibility.

The Good Samaritan went above and beyond what is nice.

Last week, as I walked into work, I stepped around a man passed out on the sidewalk. That was nice of me. I checked to see if he was breathing. That was also nice of me. But I didn’t get him breakfast, or take him to an AA meeting, or offer to pay for a hotel so he could sleep it off in comfort. Nope, I just walked around him and thought to myself, “He’s not my responsibility.” I wonder what it would have been like to be moved to compassion so much that I would have been compelled and unsatisfied until that man on the sidewalk was safe, healthy, and sober.

You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might. And love your neighbor as yourself. Do this and you will live.

This past week, two more men were left by the side of the road.

Well, when I say, “left by the side of the road” it makes the events sound too passive.

Alton Sterling and Philando Castile were shot and dumped on the side of the metaphorical road by those in power. They were left there and they died. They were left there by a system that says, “My life is more valuable than your life.”

Many white people filed by clicking their tongues, saying, “Well, they had it coming.” They walked by the man in the ditch and said, “Well, the officer was just doing his best.” White people walked by and said to each other, “What was he doing with a gun, anyway?” The white people sighed and said, “Well, he was just black at the wrong place and the wrong time.” The white people shook their heads and walked on. Not one of them stopped.

No one said, “Oh! You’re black! Let me protect you from this system.” No one said, “Let me surround you while the storm of racism threatens to destroy you and your family.” No one said, “I believe you.” No one said, “I believe you when you say that injustice happened.” No one said, “I believe you that he shouldn’t have been killed.” No one said, “I believe you that you are scared that this might happen to you or your sons.”

Self-help books seem to make our problems all about us. I gained these 40 pounds, so I need to lose the 40 pounds. I want to be a better person, so I’m going to become a better person. But self help doesn’t go far enough.

The more I think I’m responsible for myself, the more I am isolated, and my neighbor is isolated. The more I think my neighbor is responsible for himself, the more he is going to be isolated and the less likely he is going to receive help. My neighbor is my responsibility. Your neighbor is your responsibility. We are responsible for each other.

The first step of solidarity, is to say, “I believe you.”

We can’t stand by and say this is just a black problem. That people of color need to help themselves or read a book, or change their habits, or become a new you, or become white. We, as white people, can’t sit in our safe houses and safe cars and only offer our thoughts and prayers to those affected by the violence in Orlando, in Baton Rouge, in East Tennessee, in Minneapolis, in St Paul. We can’t just sit here and think about it and pray about it. This violence is happening to our neighbors.

And our neighbors, the safety of our neighbors is our responsibility. This requires more action from us than just thoughts and prayers. Though thoughts and prayers are so needed right now.

As the Rev Dr Martin Luther King jr wrote as he sat in the Birmingham Jail,

“I cannot sit idly by in Atlanta and not be concerned about what happens in Birmingham. Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. Never again can we afford to live with the narrow, provincial ‘outside agitator’ idea. Anyone who lives inside the United States can never be considered an outsider anywhere within its bounds.”

Let me repeat Dr King’s poignant words, “We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.” So, when Philando was shot in St. Paul, we are indirectly shot. Our trust in the system should be broken, too.

Are you overwhelmed? Are you like me, just treading water and praying for inspiration? What can we do? Is there anything we can do? How can we dismantle this deadly system? Is it possible for us to fix it?

The Gospel should compel us to fix it. The bible tells us that with faith we can move mountains and it’s time to move this mountain.

Let me read our old testament passage once again for us today. This time, I will read it in the Common English Bible, to give us a fresher perspective.

 

This commandment that I’m giving you right now is definitely not too difficult for you. It isn’t unreachable. This mountain is movable. We can do this. But it’s going to take all of us participating- not a single person in this space can duck out.

You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might. And love your neighbor as yourself. Do this and you will live. Better yet, do this and THEY will live.

God has called us to be agents of peace. God has called us to protect those who are vulnerable. God has commanded that we be his protective arms around all his children, especially God’s children of color. And this isn’t too difficult for us. The word is very close. It is in our mouths. The word is in our hearts. The word is waiting for us to do it.

Peace, equality, hope, healing, dismantled racism, it’s all possible. It’s all at our fingertips. We have been equipped to make this change. God is very, very close to us. The spirit is in all of us and we are the answer to all those thoughts and prayers. God is using us as the answer to all those thoughts and prayers. God is calling us to make a difference. We will make a difference because God will answer our prayers and God will answer the prayers of our black brothers and sisters.

As Reverend King said, “Oppressed people cannot remain oppressed forever.” All humans have the desire and the calling to be free.

And those of us who are free- it is our privilege to bring about God’s freedom to all people.

It is our privilege to do God’s commands.

It is our privilege to put our arms around God’s black children and say, “We want to make this better for you. We will make this better.”

The Lord your God will help you succeed in everything you do.

We prosper because we are doing God’s commands, which are all about caring for one another and looking out for the outsider. This week, look for the outsider. Look for the men in the ditch. Look for opportunities to bring about healing into this world.

We have got to “Be the change we want to see in the world.” It is a matter of life and death. Do this and they will live.

Amen

 

Insolence of Communion

Jesus hung there, eyelids getting heavy.  Sweat dripping down his face, he moved to wipe, forgetting for a moment that his arms were immobilized.  His eyes stung.  His nose itched. Welts from the whips burned.

He strained against the nails.

His friends who had followed him up the hill, turned and walked back down.  No! Jesus called out to them, No! don’t leave me here.  Do something.  Fix this. Come back!  Get me down from here!

He strained, again, trying to push himself up- to get a better gulp of air.  It was getting harder.

He lifted his head and saw birds circling the hill, waiting for the flesh hanging on crosses to get dead enough to eat.  Dogs, catching whiffs of blood, lumbered up the hill to lap up the warm fluid.  Soon, too, they will eat.

No! Jesus called out- to someone, anyone.  No!  It wasn’t supposed to end like this.  No!  There was supposed to be a way out.  I asked him for a way out.

My god.  You forsake me.  All of you, you forsake me.

With his legs, Jesus pushed himself up, and he strained for the sky.  He took a big gulp of air, breathed in and out, sinking down again. The nails pulled at his wrists.  Blood trickled down his arms and down his side.

 

A bird landed.

 

A dog drank.

 

The sky was silent.

 

This is my body

Lent is a season of fasting. I’ve done it before- the fasting from chocolate, or caffeine, or sweets. I’ve even done the Orthodox Lenten fast- no animal products, no alcohol, no oil.

This Lent, I fasted again. But this time it was different.

I see posts from the media, telling us about the latest cleanse, how it will Change your life. “Gluten is bad, protein and fiber are good.” “Fat is bad, skinny is good. But not too skinny- that’s bad.” “What’s important is that You can change your life through what you eat, what do you don’t eat, and as long as you do a cleanse.” “Your body is dirty. You should be ashamed of your body, until you do a cleanse. Then you can love the new, clean you.”

There’s so much shame implied in the rhetoric around cleanses.

I, like all other women in America, struggle to be embodied. I, like many American women, hate my body. I tell myself that I have reason to- I’m too fat, too dirty, too ugly, too unhealthy, too this, too that.

This Lent, my fast was different. This Lent, I fasted from blaming my body for my misery. This Lent, I fasted from saying violent things about my body. This Lent, I fasted from examining myself in the mirror and wondering- “How can I get a new body?”

This is my body. I cannot separate my self from myself. This is the body that carries me from place to place. This body holds my experiences. There is nothing to be ashamed of.

As we approach Easter- the end of fasting, the beginning of the feast, I am comforted that we can hear a different rhetoric.

We hear those powerful words, the words that restore all things, “This is my body.”

The Earth will heal herself

Path to Beach

Humans are earthly creatures, formed from humus just like plants.  We use terms like “grounded” to describe perspective or insight.  We are earth.  When I am overwhelmed or stressed or simply depressed, if I take my shoes off, head outside and plant my feet and my hands firmly on the ground in downward facing dog, I return.

We flew over the Appalachians to get to my parents’ house on the coast of South Carolina.  I hate flying- humans were never meant to be that high above the earth, going that fast, hurled through the air in a giant, metal bird.  I looked out the window- the view from an airplane aloft offers a unique perspective.  The beautiful, old mountains rise up at their fault lines, the earth pressing towards the sky.  Soft mounds of trees cover the landscape.  Highways cross the mountains in big, startling gashes.  Developments and factories pierce the soft landscape.

As a general rule, I don’t like industry or development if it means cutting down trees.  My dad pointed out the clearing of a lot near his house on the island.  Another million dollar vacation home was going up.  “This is good,” he said.  It means the economy is turning around.  But I saw the felled trees piled around the lot.  The palmettos lying flat, turning brown.

“Hundreds of people lost jobs when they shut down the three factories in town,” Shelley told me while we sat at a friend’s table in the mountains. I felt sad, when I thought of what unemployment does to families.

I’m torn.

There are plenty of abandoned buildings and already cleared lots that are not being used for anything.  And yet, developers are clearing out life-bearing trees and air purifying plants to put up homes that will only be used a few weeks during the year, and factories that will eventually be shut down.  Humans will move on to the next virgin lot to conquer, while a used and damaged land will try to heal itself.

Each day I run on the beach, the landscape looks a little bit different.  The sand moved during the night, the waves shaped the shore a few degrees in the other direction.  The sea buckthorn grew just a bit wider, the wild ageratum got a bit more fuzzy.  Different birds look for tiny crabs poking up through the wet sand.

The movement of the shore, the work of the ocean, the creeping of the Virginia vine, all remind me that the Earth will heal herself.  She is strong enough to outlive the violence of humans, and maybe, just maybe, this year, we will hurt her less.

Growing Hope Part 2: the spirituality of gardening

Greenhouse and flatsThe following post is an excerpt from a talk I gave last weekend at a women’s retreat.  

When I think about the condition of the Earth, the chemicals seeping into our water supply, the prevalence of cancers and drought, hope is not the dominant feeling.  I feel angry, I feel lost, I feel hopeless.

For me, gardening is more than just appreciating beautiful roses and wispy mountain sage.  For me, gardening is my practice of hope.  As I work in the soil, I am participating in hope, and ultimately, growing hope.  I garden because in the face of heartache and grief, and the state of the economy, and with humans destroying the Earth- the very place we come from, I have to do something.

I would like to share with you my doing something.

But first a poem from Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass, “Give Me the Splendid Silent Sun”

Give me the splendid silent sun, with all his beams full-dazzling;
Give me juicy autumnal fruit, ripe and red from the orchard;
Give me a field where the unmow’d grass grows;
Give me an arbor, give me the trellis’d grape;
Give me fresh corn and wheat–give me serene-moving animals,

teaching content;
Give me nights perfectly quiet, as on high plateaus west of the

Mississippi, and I looking up at the stars;
Give me odorous at sunrise a garden of beautiful flowers, where I

can walk undisturb’d;
Give me for marriage a sweet-breath’d woman, of whom I should

never tire;
Give me a perfect child–give me, away, aside from the noise of the

world, a rural, domestic life;
Give me to warble spontaneous songs, reliev’d, recluse by myself, for my

own ears only;
Give me solitude–give me Nature–give me again, O Nature, your

primal sanities!

I love this poem.  Whitman opens it up in a garden, or an orchard, in nature.  He paints a picture of rest and of hope.  Things grow and move and live in this poem.  He speaks of the beauty of fresh food, the peace of animals “teaching content.”  This image is powerful for me, as I tend to worry about the future.  But if you look at a herd of cattle, they are focused on one thing, munching on the grass right in front of them.

Then, Whitman puts himself into this picture of nature, walking in a garden- making a direct reference to the creation story in Genesis where God walked among that garden.

The poet asks for a life outside of the noise of the world.  He wants simplicity. He wants beauty. He wants peace.

And he becomes a part of nature when he says, “give me to warble spontaneous songs.”  He is now a bird, warbling in his own world.  Whitman celebrates the peace that is found in Nature.  When he reflects on nature, he is filled with hope and longing that only the earth can provide.

I would like to draw a connection between prayer and gardening.  And that connection resides in “hope.”

While I was planning a sermon series on prayer, I was having a difficult pregnancy.  I had developed a subchorionic hematoma around week 5 and had been hemorrhaging slowly for 7 weeks.  The baby was still developing and was healthy.  But then the bleeding picked up and the placenta detached and I lost the baby at 13 weeks.

Now, those of you who are moms are undoubtedly familiar with prayer.  From the moment you find out that you are pregnant or the adoption agency has a child for you, you begin praying for that little human, because you are terrified, and all you want is for that child to be healthy and happy.  And you don’t want to screw it up. I was no different, I prayed earnestly that this kid would survive, but she didn’t.

I took a couple of weeks off from the church and returned, tired, sad, and full of doubt.  I was angry and disappointed in God.  Prayer apparently doesn’t work.  God apparently doesn’t intervene.  And I was a pastor standing on a stage, in front of a flock of trusting people, filled with more doubt than I could bear.  And I had to preach on prayer for the next two months.

I could have backed out, I could have said, you know, let’s talk about something easy.  Let’s talk about love, or feeding the hungry, or something like that.  But I’m crazy, and anger fuels a lot of energy, so I marched forward, right into the doubt.  I used it.  I ended up preaching on doubt and prayer.  I made the claim that faith is not lacking doubt and that doubt is not the absence of faith.

Faith is forging on, in the midst of doubt.  Faith is a spiritual journey, a wandering, a commitment to show up, even when there is no certainty of what might lie ahead.  Prayer is a practice of that faith.  The commitment to forge on, even when the outcome is uncertain.

Gardening is much like prayer: a spiritual journey, a wandering, forging on in the midst of doubt, showing up when there is no certainty of what might lie ahead.  A willingness to plant even though there is the risk of drought, or fungal infections, or overzealous Japanese beetles.  There is no guarantee that garlic will come up in the spring or tomatoes will ripen by the first frost date.  But we still plant.

It is by no accident or coincidence that in my grief and doubt and anger and depression, I found myself in my garden, my hands deep in soil and compost.  I found myself there.  Pun intended, I am grounded in my garden.

So to explore this spirituality of gardening further, we must turn to a consideration of dirt.

I had a great-grandpa who used to say, “You gotta eat a pound of dirt before you die.”  I recounted that story to a friend in the 3rd grade.  My friend asked, “Why did he die?”  I replied, “He must have eaten his pound of dirt.”

I’ve asked family members why Grandpa Paul would say this.  No one really knows.  But this is the phrase that stuck with me since I was a kid.  “You gotta eat a pound of dirt before you die.”  Was Grandpa Paul making a statement about the finality of human existence?  Probably, he was German.  Or was he talking about our connection to the earth?  Maybe he was just trying to reassure me that it was no big deal that my brother tried to feed me mud pies.

We are generally freaked out by dirt in our food.  The news tells us that people die each year because of contaminated food.  The CDC and FDA have issued warnings and statistics about contaminated food.  Apparently, 1 in 6 people each year will get sick because of contaminated food.  Now, some of the contaminates are from manure or the water supply, but the instructions from the FDA to prevent food-borne illnesses is to wash the food before preparing.  Food with soil on it is dirty- it’s dangerous!  You can die!

I don’t want to undermine the importance of food safety.  e.Coli and salmonella and listeria are very dangerous.  The way our food is harvested, processed, and transported creates many opportunities for harmful bacteria and pathogens to grow and spread. And yet, my great-grandfather wasn’t that far off.  There is this thing called geophagy.

A study done in 2011 of 482 cases of human geophagy (eating dirt) and 330 records of other animal geophagy.  Scientists used to think that animals would eat dirt because they weren’t getting enough food or minerals to eat.  But apparently, geophagy serves a different beneficial purpose: staving off pathogens in the gut.

Now, of course, as I mentioned earlier, there have been reports of harmful pathogens occurring in soil, because of contaminated water, etc. so I’m not recommending we all go out and eat dirt, even though my grandpa implied that we should.

My point is we are generally grossed out by dirt. We really like to wash things, to sanitize, to make it clean, less dirty.  But we forget that we come from dirt, we find ourselves in dirt, and we return to dirt.   And this dirt supports all life.  There is something central to our existence found in dirt, in soil.  When I felt my most broken, I returned to my garden, to dirt, for healing, for hope.

In the Hebrew Scriptures we find an origin story that begins in a garden.  There are other origin myths with the idea that humans are formed from the earth.  A Chinese myth has humans being formed from yellow clay.  The Quiche-Maya myth tells a story of humans formed first from clay then from trees, then they were burned and covered in a flood- then they were human.  There is also an Australian myth where humans are formed from mud.

The point is, many origin myths draw a strong connection between humans and the earth.  This common thread is important to recognize, especially in times of grief or stress or anxiety.  A returning to the earth can be helpful for healing, and can teach us hope.  Let’s take a look at the Hebrew origin story found in Genesis chapter 2.

On the day the Lord God made earth and sky— 5 before any wild plants appeared on the earth, and before any field crops grew, because the Lord God hadn’t yet sent rain on the earth and there was still no human being to farm the fertile land, 6 though a stream rose from the earth and watered all of the fertile land— 7 the Lord God formed the human from the topsoil of the fertile land and blew life’s breath into his nostrils. The human came to life. 8 The Lord God planted a garden in Eden in the east and put there the human he had formed. 9 In the fertile land, the Lord God grew every beautiful tree with edible fruit, and also he grew the tree of life in the middle of the garden and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.

Look at verse 7, “the Lord God formed the human from the topsoil of the fertile land and blew life’s breath into his nostrils.”  In Hebrew, this says, Yahweh Elohim formed ha-adam from a-far ha-adamah.  “Ha-adam” means, “the man,” this is where we get the name, “Adam,” and “ha-adamah” means fertile ground.  Ha-adamah is the rich soil that the ancient Hebrews would use later, after exile, to plant their vineyards in response to Yahweh Elohim’s promise of a future.  “A-far” is simply the topsoil as the Common English Bible translates it, and the NRSV and NIV have translated it as dust.

I found Hebrew a lot harder to learn than Greek, by the way.  The grammar and the spelling are far too inconsistent for me to keep straight.  And all the letters look the same to me.  And vowels are just dots.  But, one thing in Hebrew is very helpful: the shoresh.  That’s what you all were thinking, right?  “At least there’s the shoresh.”

The shoresh is a three or four letter root, or foundation, of most Hebrew words.  This root, or shoresh, forms the basis of many important ideas of Jewish living.  Not only does it form words, it forms ideas.  Off of these three letters, there might be a prefix or a suffix, sometimes both, sometimes multiples of each- that’s when Hebrew starts getting confusing.

Ha-adam and ha-adamah have the same soresh, alef, dalet, and mem.  (A, D, M.)  “Human” and “fertile ground” have the same root. Linguistically, in Hebrew, “human” and “fertile ground” have the same origin.  And in Hebrew thought, this is not on accident.  This common origin means something.

If we read the book of Job, one of my favorites because of all the despair and doubt and disappointment, we will again and again see the image of dust- from which ha-adam was formed.  When repenting or mourning, it was an ancient tradition to rub dust and ashes all over one’s body.  When talking about death, the phrase used in some Hebrew poetry, including the book of Job, is, “return to dust.”  In ancient Hebrew thought, humans came from the dirt and return to the dirt.  It is our origin and our destiny.

I experience this concept of origin and destiny in the garden.  This is why gardening is a spiritual practice for me.

I opened this talk by making the claim that there isn’t a lot of difference between gardening and prayer.  I garden because I need hope, but I also pray because I need hope.  There is this risk that prayer might not do anything but I still pray.  The act of praying didn’t save my baby, but I still prayed.  That’s all I could do.  I prayed because I needed hope.  And gardening might not save the world or the earth or stop agri-businesses from taking over, but I garden anyway.

See Growing Hope for more background on this post.

 

Just Row

This is my mom, an experienced rower, in the fog

This is my mom, an experienced rower, in the fog

“Worry is like a rocking chair.  It gives you something to do, but you don’t get anywhere,” Leslie’s grandma told her, who then told me.   But I like rocking chairs, I thought to myself, remembering the white ones outside of Cracker Barrel.  Back and forth. Back and forth, until our table was ready.

“Just stay positive” the doctors told me when I stopped in because I was spotting again.  “The embryo is measuring at about 5 weeks but the heartbeat is strong.  There is no need to worry.”

Can a woman have a mother’s instinct before she has a child on the outside?  Against my doctor’s advice, I sat down in that oh-so-familiar rocking chair.  Back and forth.  Back and forth.

Patti took me rowing last month.  It had been about ten years since the last time my butt had been in a scull, but there it was, precariously perched on a too-small of a seat.  “I think these boats were bigger ten years ago,” I called out to her.

I rowed, sitting on that very small seat, my feet tucked into anchored shoe straps.  I slid up and down the boat, pulling the oars into my core.  The boat cut across the lake, with my back turned.  Occasionally, I looked over my shoulder to check where I was going.

Jesus said to the crowds, “Stop worrying about tomorrow, because tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.”

When I rock back and forth in the rocking chair, I look forward, not going anywhere, just rocking.  And worrying.  Because I’m a beginner rower, when I worry about my next strokes in the scull and look over my shoulder to see where I’m going, I lose my balance and rhythm.  The boat becomes unsteady.  Jesus’ words remind us to stay in the moment, in the day.

Soon after my visit with the doctor, the spotting turned to bleeding.  The bleeding turned to miscarriage.  My fears in the rocking chair were confirmed.  Again.

Those of us who worry, think we are doing something by worrying.  We think that if we worry enough, maybe things would work out okay after all.  Maybe there is something we could do. Isn’t there anything we can do? But, in the words of my doctors, “There is nothing we can do.” Just row.

I wish I were faithful enough, wise enough, hopeful enough, brave enough, to get back into the scull and to row without worrying about that next stroke.  But for now, I’m just in a rocking chair.

I might be a hipster

My friend Dan and I like to make fun of hipsters.  I mean, who really cares that much about irony after 9th grade English?  And what is with the whole patchouli scent thing?  It’s like Axe Body Spray for 21 year old Philosophy majors.  Just because you smell like a hippie den, doesn’t mean we can’t tell you haven’t showered in three days.  We know these things.  You’re a hipster. Not showering isn’t ironic.

But I realized today that I might be a hipster.  Maybe just a little bit.

And yesterday, I ate a falafel, with my fingers, standing up in the kitchen, while canning pickled tomatillos.  That’s pretty hipster of me.  Who pickles tomatillos?

On my way to meet my best friend for a run, I heard Nadia Bolz-Weber on OnBeing with Krista Tippett.  Now, here’s my deal with Nadia Bolz-Weber.  Everyone likes her.  She’s the poster child for emergent churches within the ELCA.  She’s got tattoos, she’s a woman pastor (gasp!), she is a damn good writer, and so on.  The ELCA got lucky with this one.  She has one helluva publicist and has marketed herself, her brand, consistently.

Just the other month, Nadia was a speaker at the Rethinking Evangelism conference at Luther Seminary.  The bookstore had a display for her newest book, where you could get a temporary tattoo of the book cover.  Oh gawd, I sighed to myself, rolling my eyes.  Really?  We are going to use tattoos as a promo?

The stereotypical Lutheran pastors (read: 60 year old white men with Swedish heritage working at a call in rural South Dakota) LOVED the whole temporary tattoo thing.

I have a few friends from Seminary who follow Nadia’s blog and get all starry-eyed and giddy when she comes to town.  My facebook feed periodically blows up when Nadia does something particularly poignant on the internet. In fact, a friend’s facebook status said this weekend, “Glued to listening to Nadia Bolz-Weber’s interview on OnBeing this morning.”

That settles it, I’m totally not listening to that interview.  Because I’m a hipster, who has a thing against popular stuff.

But I got into the car to meet my buddy for our run, and there Nadia was, on OnBeing, being witty and charming and pastoral and brilliant.  Daaaaamnit.

She said this thing that’s been brewing with me since.  She talked about how faith isn’t an individual act.  She used the Apostles’ Creed as an example.  One of her parishioners said, “You know, I can’t say the Creed because I don’t believe all of it.”  Her response was (and I’m paraphrasing), “Oh, none of us believes all of it. But there is someone here who believes that line, and another who believes another line, and so on.  So we are covered.”  She went on to talk about how American Evangelical spirituality has become so individualized.  But really, faith is a community responsibility.

To clarify, faith doesn’t mean “belief,” and it certainly doesn’t mean certainty of belief, like many folks might try to tell you.  There are lots of books out there about faith and doubt as if they are two opposing forces, but that’s a misnomer.  Faith and doubt very much go hand-in-hand.  Faith is an active pursuit in the midst of doubt, and probably truthfully, because of doubt.  That active pursuit happens in community.

I haven’t had much belief or even faith lately. I tell myself that I don’t need to go to church because I don’t really believe any of it anymore.  But I’m kind of thinking that this is exactly why I might need to go.

Faith is ironic like that.