Tuesday, November 19, 2013

I am going to throw a party

Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding.
- John 2:3

The jury has ordered Frank Schaefer to be suspended from ministerial duties for 30 days. At the end of the 30 days if Frank Schaefer cannot agree to follow Discipline in its entirety, he must surrender orders.
I am going to throw a party.   I want it to be a place where people sit together, eat together, geek out about John Wesley, make potluck jokes, and never consider self-editing the gender of anyone’s love or spouse.  

It’s going to be in a brightly lit room on a warm night.  People will come in out of the cold, warming their hands in mugs of hot cider. More and more people will come in, welcomed by the radical hospitality of long hugs and noisy appreciation.  Those walking by will look in and see all the glowing faces, and, if they are exceptionally brave, know that by knocking on the door they will be welcomed with open arms too. 

All of us will be every inch ourselves and glory in that great gift of being alive, being lovable, being loved, and loving in return.  The cold chill of shame will be forgotten in the warmth of this home. 

I know that some of you will not take me up on this invitation.  Instead you’ll be clutching a book you and I both think is holy, but in different ways.  You’ll march away from my home.  My heart will be sad at the empty spaces around this table, wishing that the ones I love wouldn’t be left out in the cold.

And when the moment comes, we’ll all gather together in one room.  We’ll break out the bread and the cup and we will gave thanks to the one who created us, the one who taught us to love, and the one who brought us together.  All who wants to partake will be offered it, without hesitation, without qualification.  Bread, wine will be offered with dignity and compassion. 

You see, this isn’t my party, and this isn’t my table. 

And because this isn’t my party, and because it’s not my table, it won’t stop.  God’s invitation to come on in and participate in the work of love never ends.  

Those who think they define United Methodist might throw us out of the label, but they can’t throw us out of this party.  They might try to drown out our singing with their shouting, but they can’t overcome the party.  They might try to distract me or scare us from our love and our gentleness, but they can’t stop the party. 

I am going to throw a party.  Do you want to come? 

Monday, May 20, 2013

The First Baptism

Of course it would be a baby baptism. 

Until yesterday morning I have held precisely two babies.  Last year during communion at First a baby was placed in my lap.  The one before that took place approximately a fourteen years ago at a family reunion.   Each of these times I was handed a baby while I was sitting down, with a lap, and a nearby adult to hand off any disasters (crying).   

So when I realized that my first baptism would be “simply” a matter holding an infant, pouring water over his head, and standing up in front of an entire congregation in a confident and holy manner, I may have lost some sleep.  I’ve been praying the same thing for weeks: “Don’t let me drop the baby, don’t let me drop the baby.” 

Yet when I met the baby, I immediately relaxed.  He was a curious child and smiled a bubble of joy as I peered into his carrier.  I practiced holding him and we both realized this was a bit scary, but he was willing to work with me.  The pastoral calm front was well in place.  

I offered him a finger and he held fast and bobbled it through the whole prelude to the baptism.  The congregation was distracted with giggles and joy – as it should be.  When I put the water on his head “I baptize you in the name of the Father,” I stopped for a moment.  I lost my ability to speak as I held this wonder of a new life and performing one of the most sacred acts of my church.  

He turned back at me and made eye contact with large eyes.  They said: “This is new, this is weird, this is kinda … AWESOME.”  He clapped his hands in the baptismal water bowl, sprinkling it all over me. 

Ah.  Remember my baptism and be thankful.  Thank you God. 

“I baptize you in the name of the Son.  I baptize you in the name of the Holy Spirit.” 

And although I wanted kiss this wonderful, patient, giggling, splattered boy on the head, I said a small prayer instead:

You know kiddo, it’s a big family.  There are more than your fair share of embarrassing uncles and hard family secrets.  Despite that I want you to  know that God loves you - absolutely, thoroughly, ungrudgingly, unconditionally loves you.  I hope you will help join us in the work that God has laid out before us, by loving your neighbor and working to bring about justice, peace, and hope for all.

Yet, even as I say this I realize that your work has already begun.  You’ve given such joy to me and to this congregation through your excitement.  I cannot wait to see what beauty you will bring next. 

God, be with this child, and help him teach us more about this love, curiosity, and bravery he’s already got in spades. 


Tuesday, March 12, 2013

The Transformative Power of Praying for Kittens

When I was little I wanted a pet all of my own.  I prayed for a kitten, but my parents never got me one.  I prayed for kitten, but my parents would not be swayed.

We already had a cat, but she was a grown up cat and I wanted a kitten.  A nice, small, cuddly kitten with a pink nose.  I asked my parents for a cat, but they said no.  I prayed and prayed, asked and asked, but I still only got noes. 

I asked over and over, and one day the answer changed and I knew that I had an in to getting my cat.  Instead of no, they said I needed to show that I could take care of the cat that we had already.  So it became my responsibility to feed her dinner every night.  Even if I was tired.  Even if I didn't want to,  I still had to feed the cat.

Well one day the stray cat outside my grandparents house gave birth to kittens.  There was one kitten that was the color of cream.  He was a rascal and would pounce on his siblings.  Immediately I fell in love with him and said: "Please God, let me take this kitten home!"  I dragged my dad outside - he was the one who was holding out, in large part I think because he was the one who needed to clean the litterbox - but when I put my kitten into his hands the kitten instantly began to purr and nuzzled against him.  His heart grew three sizes that day and I took him home. 

I thanked God because I finally had my cat!

But then something funny happened.  That older cat, the one I showed that I was responsible enough for a new kitten? When we brought the kitten home, she started to follow me everywhere.  She began to sleep with me every night curled up on my feet.  She even would stick her cold nose against my leg, make me jump and get under the warm covers.  The kitten and I became friends, but the cat that loved me the most was the one that I had already. 

I got my cat! And my prayer changed, from please god to thank you God!

You see, my was  not the cat that I was expecting. And God answered my prayer for a cat all of my own, with the cat that I formed a bond with proving that I was ready for my own cat. 

But you know what, here's one of the amazing ways prayer works. Because I was praying for a kitten, I learned how to take care of the cat. Because I showed I could take care of a cat, I got to have one.  Sometimes we change and learn so we can have those things we ask God for all the time, because the things we ask for are important and big responsibilities.  So all those times we ask God to give us peace in the world all the time, we get more peaceful hearts to show we're ready for that peace.  Or if we ask for more love, our hearts become more loving.  And if we ask for a cat all of our own, our hearts open up better to the new cats around us, but also the cats that we already own.

Let's pray. 

God, help us ask for big things, like love and hope and kindness.  Help us ask for those big things, so we can have bigger hearts ourselves. Help us remember to ask all the time for these big things, so we know what is important, and can live our lives with those important things. 


--- This was the children's sermon for our March 9th worship service.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Praying for Wednesday

Our church set aside our sanctuary and some time to pray on election night.  It took place concurrently with a meeting and so the clergy at my church took twenty minute shifts over the course of the hour and instead of being bothered by the interruption, I found that I was grateful for the quiet on a frenzied night of meetings and election coverage.   The candles and white calla lilies from All Saints day still covered our sanctuary.  It was simple, pious atmosphere.  I felt called into a quiet sense of responsibility.  

While consecrating communion, I described the last supper this way.  
And on the night Jesus gathered his followers around him he brought different people with different ideas to his one table.  And we know that as the grain is scattered through many fields, it is gathered together in this one loaf, united by love. 
At that moment, I needed to hold on to hope for our country and our community.  Too often we think that a "house united" means everyone thinks the same thing, not that our differences are a gift that leads us into a better, stronger community.  Seriously people, we can't all be thumbs. 

Instead of praying for one outcome, I prayed for Wednesday.  I prayed specifically for the people that I know have different political opinions than my own, not because I was “praying for the enemy,” but because I felt called to bring light into the moments of a breach of community and hope for our future together.  My prayers weren’t that their mind be changed, but simply to hold them in love. 

I know in the bottom of my heart that the people on the other side of my thought-out and morally weighed political conclusions also do a great deal of soul-searching and heart-work for their stances.  I cannot assume that it’s out of ignorance or stupidity they have made their decisions.  I respect their judgment and I knew that I would accepted the new President if the election had gone the other way. 

Wednesday comes after a yearlong argument.  Our problems are still there --- a need for governmental income, more sustainable job creation, the ravages of a decade of war, and a climate that is changing with violent outbursts.  I also believe that it is a patriotic duty to hold on to our convictions when your officials disagree with us.  I hope that my conservative friends continue to hold us to standards of fiscal responsibility and respect for our institutions; I hope that my progressive friends continue to work for equal access to the benefits of living in our country. 


Differences do not equate with the face of evil.  An election going differently than your hopes is not a time to call for revolution or to threaten the lives of those who just became elected.  It is not the time to say that you disown your family because they voted for a different direction for the country.  This is the time to demonstrate to the world that we can move forward despite our strong, opinionated differences.  Democracy is not merely about having an election, but forging a future out of the results of the ballot box.  

I am holding all of us in the light, so that we can show that we are one, united in love.  I am a Christian who believes that we are called into unity, not to be the same, but to hold each other in respect and hope.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Can a Christian Woman Get a Hotel Room While Showing Cleavage?

Thunderstorms in Boston and Newark delayed my first leg of air travel home. I, like many other stranded travelers trying to get to Seattle, needed to find a place to sleep other than concourse benches. My journey at that point included 14 hours of travel time and knew I had at least another 16 hours before I would get home. I was frustrated. Exhausted.

As I approached the front desk, my dusty backpack and roller bag in toe, the clerk's eyes roamed over my body. From my face to my shoes, he slowly looked up and down, pausing in leering enjoyment at my chest each perusal over my body.

At that point I smiled. It was not a friendly smile, but a patented Pacific Northwest variety of smile that can easily be translated into "#$@* you very much." Only after I smiled did he acknowledge that I was at the desk.

His reaction was par for the course that day. I had made a classic travelling error. I wore a shirt that showed a hint of cleavage. The over shirt was sleeveless, see through material, with polka-dots. It also breathes well and is cool in the hot summer months, so I can add a layer of formality without sacrificing comfort. So when I was stuck on the tarmac for an hour in Boston in this travel outfit, I wasn’t sweltering. It’s a fun flirty shirt that is not enormously provocative, but makes me smile at the hint of curves that it shows when I wear it.

You see, I love my body. As a 25 year old woman who spends most of her year in Southern California stating how comfortable I am in my own skin is a startling revelation. I love the color of my hair and I am thrilled that I am inheriting my mother’s sparkling grey. I love the fact that only the right side of my face can curl into a sarcastic half smile. I love the gentle curve out of my stomach, because it means that I am healthy and have enough to eat. I love my mismatched feet. I even after years of awkward self-conciousness love that hint of cleavage.

This is not me speaking from narcissism, but an appreciative gasp of thanks for the miracle of my body. Thank you, God. Thank you for this body and the life that comes along with it.

This prayer is defiant. My body is not something that I am supposed to like. My native and corporate culture can’t sell me creams, make-up, and get thin quick cookbooks if I actually like my body as is.

As for Christianity? Historically, the body has been an embarrassing footnote to the theologies of spiritual salvation, an accident that needed to be conquered by true faith. And being in a woman’s body? Well that was an indication of spiritual unwholesomeness that is to be blamed for the whole sinfulness of humanity. So while you have Paul and Augustine praising women for their spiritual leadership and capabilities, you also have them suggesting that women need to cover themselves to not inspire lustful thoughts of angels or cause spontaneous erections in men. I shouldn’t be so proud of my womanly curves, I should hide them so I do not invoke any hint of sexuality.

Wearing a shirt that even remotely suggests my body is feminine means that I am now allowed to be viewed as a sexual object. This is probably why the clerk at the desk felt that it was acceptable to ogle me. After I handed over my identification and credit card, the clerk walked over to his manager. “Should we let her have a room?” he audibly whispered to his supervisor. The clerk kept a raised eyebrow pointedly directed at my chest.

The supervisor looked over at me and smiled broadly. “I think so. She has an innocent face,” he said to the clerk. “But if we have a loud party we will know where it started.” He chuckled inviting me to share in the joke.

Half way through my journey, exhausted and frustrated, I had just been called a whore. I flushed in anger, embarrassment, and gratefulness that I had a place to sleep that night. I swore that I would never wear that shirt again.

That is the sneaky part of sexism. It makes you blame yourself for the horrible treatment of others. I went to bed that night thinking that the behavior of the clerk was my fault for showing cleavage and standing out while I traveled. I looked at my breasts in the mirror and sighed at the unwanted attention the garnered yet again. I forgot that my body was a miracle. I went to bed without thanking God for this blessing.

The worst part of this story is that I forgot that my body is a gift. Sexism, and the theologies that stem from it, are in direct conflict of my understanding of God’s universally applicable love for us as God created us. Scripturally, there are many verses that uphold that a body as being lovingly created by God or in the image of God. Women are either explicitly mentioned, or can be read into verses that celebrate God’s creation. Many feminist theologies address this consideration of the body, and emphasize the importance of the feminine body in the face of prejudice or violence. It’s hard to remember this when you’re scared or frustrated, but the underlying and deliciously subversive message of these Christian's woman's depicitions of the beauty of the body is this: I am a child of God, made in the image of God and I will not feel ashamed because choose to travel in a shirt that makes me smile.

Monday, June 27, 2011

150 Posts

Last weekend was Annual Conference for Pacific Northwest United Methodists. It felt like a homecoming to sit in a large room with “my people.” Although I have loved and appreciated being at Claremont School of Theology, in large part because it refuses to let me rest on shortcuts, it was refreshing to not be constantly translating my understanding of Christianity or Methodism. Yes, there are places that we have to grow to be the best United Methodists we can be, but this weekend left me hopeful and excited to how we can move forward.

One of the highlights of the conference was the high involvement of Young Adults. We were everywhere! We were heading committees, leading worship giving addresses, running cameras, building labyrinths, and serving in dozens of other instrumental ways. It was so exciting to see how much we have made annual conference our own.

In her excellent Young Person’s address, Emma Donohew’s emphasized the need for our conference utilizing social media. “I know it’s cliché for a young adult to say this, but I will preach the gospel of social networking!” she declared. And she’s right. The future of “first contact” will be online. If someone wants to know what it means to be a Pacific Northwest United Methodist, the internet is the first place that a young adult will look. If we are to be relevant we must be online.

As I sat there I realized that I knew to use social media, but I have only updated my blog once in the past year. My challenge from Emma’s talk is not necessarily to preach the gospel of social networking, but to do it.

So. I am giving myself an accomplishable social networking challenge. 150 blog posts between now and the next convening of annual conference. 3 blog posts a week. And while I can visualize whole months in the future that will be difficult, perhaps this kind of journaling shall be my Wesleyan method for the next year. If I agree wholeheartedly that we should use social media as a form of outreach for the United Methodist Church, it’s time that I take the first step and model that affirmation.

Let's see what happens.

If you want to hear other excellent things that Emma said, here is the entirety of Emma's Address:
(It starts at minute 41)

Watch live streaming video from pnwumc at livestream.com

Blog #1 in Ruth’s Social Networking Gospel Challenge.

Monday, May 2, 2011

A Different Reaction

Once explaining how our actions affect God, a professor offered this story. On September 11th process theologian, Marjorie Suchocki planted bulbs in her garden. On a day that despair, death, and hatred reigned, she made a prayer of hope and took part in creating life, with sewing plants into the earth.

On this day that is intimately connected to September 11th, I ponder about justice, safety, and grief. I do not find joy in the death of an evil man.

And so, as so many celebrate this death, I will celebrate the things in which I find life:

I rejoice in the young hummingbird flitting from twig to twig in the tree overhead.
I rejoice in the domesticity of taking down and folding fresh laundry.
I rejoice in the feeling of accomplishment of finishing papers.
I rejoice in the bright color of my scarf.
I rejoice in the support of text messages from best friends.
I rejoice in clear mountains, sunlight on my face, wind dancing in my hair, smiling at a stranger, daisies growing out of cracks in cement, the taste of my coffee, and the scent of roses drifting over campus.

Here God, these are my offerings of uncomplicated joy today. Take these delights into your heart. And God, if I may, I hope the joy we find in these simple things will overwhelm us into deep, lasting peace and celebration of life.