Wednesday, September 23, 2015

A new look, a new name, a new blog

I've blogged as Reverend Mom for ten years now.  When I started, I was working part-time and staying home with my two daughters.

They are now almost 19 and 16.  One is a sophomore in college; the other is a junior in high school.

When I was in college, a professor of mine who knew I was going to seminary called me the irreverent reverend.  It's time I owned those early roots of my call to ministry.

It's time for a new name:  Irrevrent

Go check it out.

I hold many things in reverence, but I try not to take myself too seriously.  Plus, believe it or not, I have a wicked sense of humor.

It's time to lighten up AND get serious at the same time. 

Tuesday, September 08, 2015

Letting ourselves be seen

Mark 7: 24-37
New Ark United Church of Christ, Newark, DE
September 6, 2015

            Every now and then the gospel writers allow us to see Jesus being fully human. Not just flesh and blood. Not only loving, compassionate, sad, or forgiving, but angry, tired, cranky, impatient, and stubborn. Not only determined and surrounded by crowds of people but wanting to hide and have some privacy, like any parent of young children scrambling for the bathroom and locking the door. Here he’s losing his cool, letting loose with an ethnic slur, holding on to an old prejudice, backing up, trying again, and allowing a sigh to escape his lips as he loosens the tongue and opens the ears of a deaf man. All without social media coming down on him like so much fire and brimstone. Just human. No more, no less, and without shame.

          Being human is something we allow more for ourselves than we do for others, and even then we skimp on the grace. In the Star Trek universe, Captain Kirk said to his half-human, half-Vulcan first officer, “Spock, you want to know something? Everybody’s human.” To which Spock replied, “I find that remark…insulting.” It’s hooray for our side when our humanity shines through our compassion, forgiveness, justice, generosity, acts of great courage and small kindnesses. But when we’re scared or scarred (or someone else is), when we do something stupid or hurtful (or someone else does), we shame others and ourselves, and we shrink the circle of grace.

          Letting ourselves be seen, all of who we are, our goodness and our meanness, our gifts and our flaws or somewhere in between, requires that we be vulnerable. Author BrenĂ© Brown defines vulnerability as “uncertainty, risk, and emotional exposure”. These are the very things we try to avoid on a daily basis because they can make us feel weak. And yet following Jesus is full of uncertainty, risk, and emotional exposure. Or at least it was for the disciples. Lately, the Christian church has become notorious for its certainty, risk-avoidance, and emotional martyrdom.

          It’s not easy for a church to allow itself be fully seen; it’s not easy for we who serve the church to allow ourselves to be fully seen, with our gifts and our flaws, our goodness and our meanness or somewhere in between; to be authentically human. I wonder if this is one of the reasons why we don’t like prayers of confession, why words like ‘sin’, ‘savior’, and ‘salvation’ disturb us, why it’s difficult to listen or deliver a message like this. We’re the proverbial Eve and Adam, naked before our Creator, yet clothed in our shame.

          Shame is something we all have; we fool no one but ourselves if we say there is no shame in us. When someone shames us, we feel as though we don’t belong, that we are unworthy of belonging, and we experience disconnection from others. When we shame another human being, in effect, we are saying they don’t belong, that they are unworthy of love and connection. When we are vulnerable (and when are we not), we are at risk for shame and disconnection.

          And yet, vulnerability is also the wellspring for joy, creativity, connection, courage, love, and the ability to be open, authentic, to be fully seen. Being vulnerable is like walking a tightrope without a net. Still, the church is called to be the net, that place of safety and trust, with appropriate boundaries, so we can be vulnerable without fear, without shame, with our whole hearts.

         We’re called to be the net, but let’s be honest; we don’t always behave that way. Sometimes we let people fall through. Maybe we’re one who’s let someone slip by or we dropped them. Maybe we’ve been one who’s fallen through. Maybe it’s happened more than once, yet we still keep giving church a second chance, feasting on the crumbs under the Table. Maybe there are times we feel alone in a room full of people who profess to care about us. There are some who are not in church for these very reasons.

          Feeling disconnected, feeling alone in a faith community is probably one of the worst feelings, and we can feel shame because of it. How do we speak of our loneliness to people from whom we feel disconnected?

          In the two healing stories from Mark, both the woman and her daughter and the deaf man were outsiders; she, a Gentile, and he, because of his speech and hearing impediments. Jesus would not have met them had he not traveled beyond his homeland, walking a great distance. God calls us to have the courage to allow ourselves to be seen, to bridge the distance, to make the first move and reach out to one another with our whole hearts.

            We make it so complicated; we place such high expectations on ourselves and on each other. Jesus said it doesn’t get any more complicated than this: to love God, to love one another, to love ourselves. Everything else hinges on these three things. It’s all about connection and staying connected to each other, especially when it is difficult. For it is love and connection that make it possible for us to be fully seen, fully authentic, fully human, and ultimately realize, we are also fully divine, each one of us an image of God.

         The Rev. Bob Degges, of Bethany Christian Church in Fort Washington, MD, proclaimed in a recent newsletter, “God has created people as mysteries, not as problems to be solved.” You, me, every living soul, we are wondrous, human mysteries. And here at this Table we meet again and again the mystery of mysteries. Christ has died. Christ is risen. Christ will come again. The One who was fully seen, fully vulnerable on the cross can be fully seen in you and me and the gospel lived out in our lives. Lord Jesus Christ, open our lives. Amen.

Thursday, September 03, 2015

Invite someone

Here's our new invitational video for the New Ark.


Share it with a friend!

Tuesday, September 01, 2015

Getting our hands dirty

Mark 7: 5-8, 14-15, 21-23
New Ark United Church of Christ, Newark, DE
August 30, 2015


            Hear these words from UCC pastor and poet Martha Spong, entitled “Dirty Hands”:

They smudge the screen,
leave prints on the doorjamb
with their unwashed hands.

I send them to the sink,
call, “Did y’all  use soap?”

But Jesus says, “Come. Eat.”

            Don’t we all have this rule in our homes?  Wash your hands before you come to the table.  Every time we use a restroom in a restaurant, fast food place, grocery store, or gas station we see the sign:  “Employees must wash hands before returning to work”.  Many places of business have hand gel or foam dispensers for their patrons.  Hospitals depend on it.  We really wouldn’t want any of these folks breaking this rule.  The scribes and Pharisees don’t sound that unreasonable.  Why is Jesus getting on their case?

            Ritual handwashing was more of a human tradition than a commandment from God.  Yes, there were purity laws regarding full immersion as a common practice, but this was mostly in Judea.  Handwashing became a way of imitating the mikvah bath and remembering that what God desires is a clean heart.  The Pharisees and scribes, however, seemed to be of the mind that it would be preferable for these unwashed disciples to go hungry than to eat with them and their dirty hands.  These power brokers have no desire to enable the disciples and their seemingly sinful ways.

            I want to talk about enabling when it comes to ministry and helping others.  I’ll begin with a story.  The week before we left for Pipestem, WV, church groups from Monroe, CT and Granby, CT left for their mission trip to work on the Cheyenne River Reservation in La Plant, South Dakota with their mission partner, Simply Smiles.  Most of their work focused around the community center: they continued construction on a large greenhouse and playscape area, as well as the interior of a new home.  

            The pride and joy of the week was a new archery range.  As part of his final project, an Eagle Scout led the construction of the range, including a platform and backdrop screen.  Both kids and adults went through a rigorous series of safety lessons, and before the week was out, the arrows were flying.


            While the kids were testing out their archery skills, Steven, one of men from the reservation, remarked, “Usually, when something like this gets built, kids would come and set fire to it.  There’d be nothing left in the morning.”  Worried that this might happen to the archery range, my friend Debbie asked, “Is that what’s going to happen?”  Steven replied, “Not now.  Five years ago, maybe, but not now.”

            People have asked my friends why they help those who live on the reservation.  If they can’t get a job or if their house is falling apart, why don’t they move?  If they drink too much or take drugs, why bother building them a safe, warm house?  If they’ve got diabetes and can’t eat right, why plant them a garden and build a greenhouse?

            The reason why the archery range won’t be burned down, but would have five years ago is because of relationships.  Five years ago people who came to help on the reservation were suspect.  Maybe they were do-gooders, come to feel good about themselves and their work and then leave.  Maybe they were going to tell folks on the rez how to live, clean up their lives, disrespect their culture.  Maybe it hurt too much to open up and hope again.

            Instead people on the reservation were asked “What do you need?  What would you like?  What do you want?”  So they built a house for a man who drinks too much and a few other houses.  Every summer there’s guitar camp for all ages, and everyone gets a free guitar.  On Wednesdays anyone can come to a community dinner or breakfast.  Each morning there’s a Walk On at the school track.  In the spring not only does the community garden get planted, but anyone who wants to can take a garden class and learn how to start their own vegetable garden.

            Even so, none of this guarantees anything.  Many folks still drink too much, abuse drugs, and use violence to solve their problems.  Some still take their own lives, unable to see any other way out of their pain.  My friends arrived the week after a 15 yr. old girl took her own life. 

            When we’re worried about enabling someone, what we’re really scared of is being vulnerable, of being hurt, being used, of not really being able to help someone, being powerless.  There’s an old proverb:  Love me when I least deserve it, because that’s when I really need it.  Love is not love when it involves a quid pro quo or an expectation.  Last night I heard a song lyric: “Did I make myself weak so someone else could be strong?”

            Worrying about enabling can sometimes disable ministry, and ministry is all about relationships—imperfect, human relationships.  Life and love and following Jesus—all of it is messy.  We’ve made and we’ll continue to make mistakes, but the mistakes are a sign that at least we’re trying.  As for being hurt, being used, that’s why we have Jesus so we can keep learning how to forgive seventy times seven, to forgive as we have been forgiven, receive our daily bread, ask that God’s will be done on earth as it is in heaven, lead us not to the time of trial but deliver us from evil.

            All of us have dirty hands on this one.  If we’ve loved someone, helped someone, we’ve left our share of grimy smudges; our fingerprints are everywhere.  What matters is our hearts, and what’s in our hearts when we’re asked to give. 

            We need to let go of the outcome.  We can pray this prayer:  “O God, you know what this person, this situation, this community, this world needs today.  You know what is needful for this person to do what you would have them do, to be the person you would have them be.  If I am needed, I am here.  I trust you, God.  Help them to trust you.  Thank you, God.  Amen.”

            Ultimately it’s about enabling God to do what God will do.  God works through connection and relationships.  And what God does is love, unconditionally, without limit, fully and fearlessly.  O God, use us to be a part of your fearless work of grace.  Amen.