The 18th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Are you imagining the horrible, helpless grief of refugee parents whose children are dying in the process of trying to get safe? What do we do with this kind of horror? How do we live in a world like this?  

This week, the news was catastrophic, and the lectionary readings were timely:
"Do not rob the poor because they are poor, or crush the afflicted at the gate;for the LORD pleads their cause..."
"Happy are those whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the LORD their God, who made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them; who keeps faith forever; who executes justice for the oppressed; who gives food to the hungry. The LORD sets the prisoners free; the LORD opens the eyes of the blind. The LORD lifts up those who are bowed down; the LORD loves the righteous.The LORD watches over the strangers; he upholds the orphan and the widow, but the way of the wicked he brings to ruin."
"If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food, and one of you says to them, "Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill," and yet you do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that? So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead."

As I joined the corporate confession this morning, I thought about our serving God in newness of life.  Surely being freed from our sin means that we are freed from the fear that drives us to hide from tragedy and pain in our world.  We are released so that we can roll up our sleeves.  

If Jesus heals, and we are the body of Christ, we can trust that God can and will use us to heal.  We weep with those who weep, and while we're doing that we get to work.  We don't have the strength to do it on our own-- God knows I feel utterly overwhelmed-- but the Spirit who lives in us and renews us is bigger than every news report I see.

It is our job to execute justice for the oppressed, to free prisoners, to watch over strangers, to feed and clothe the poor.  Not to imagine first-century Christians doing it, but to look for the needs around us now.  Not because we're earning our way into heaven, but because grace of God enables us to do the work of God.  My blood boils at the thought of someone watching my son get hurt and not reaching out.  My spine freezes when I think of him left starving, sick, or in the path of violence. I imagine God has a much stronger visceral reaction to the suffering of all those created with joy in God's own image.  

And if that's not the case, then God is not someone I want to know, and grace is not something I'm interested in.  If God is not liberating us for practical, visible love to every one of God's beloveds, then I think we're better off going fishing than being the church.  


Mandatory Waiting Period

Mr. M and I have a Mandatory Waiting Period in our house. No, it's not about the purchase of handguns (he's a pacifist, and I'm more inclined towards a crowbar and an Iron Man mask). It's a conversational waiting period. 

Years ago, we realized that when big topics come up, the wisest and kindest thing to do is to let my introverted husband mull them over for a few days. He comes back with insightful responses, calmed and more cautious than perhaps other parties might concoct. 

Recently, we decided that Mr. M is not the only one who needs a waiting period. Mine's a little different: I have to wait a few days before I'm allowed to argue with an idea

(pause for snickering)

It's damn uncomfortable. The suggestions I most want to fight are the gentlest ones: "Have you thought about talking to X?  I think they're really in your corner?"  "The Biscuit really loves you." "How about you go out with friends this week?"  I can fight absolutely anything, but absorbing kindness and grace, genuinely allowing them to sink in, is far harder. 

I'm taking the idea out of the house a little more these days. When I start to inwardly roll my eyes, I choose to wait a week.* This habit is changing the way I listen. Sometimes. When I'm willing. 

At its best, marriage (intimate relationships, period-- friendships, siblings) can be a safe incubator for all the terrifying growth that helps us become who we were created to be. Last Sunday was Trinity Sunday, and some of my very favorite preachers talked about how the wonder of the Trinity is that God's very self is intimate relationship, and that our call to holiness is a call to be loving, vulnerable, and connected. I've waited a week, and I think that's right on. 

*Sometimes I still think I'm dealing with an idiot a week later. It's growth, not delusion.


What I'm Reading: Where the Dead Pause and the Japanese Say Goodbye

I picked up Marie Mutsuki Mockett's book on a whim, grabbing one adult book along with my stack of Bob Staake-illustrated board books.  It looked exactly up my alley: investigating grief and loss with an eye toward the influence of culture.  Even better, it was described as being part travel-narrative, so I figured I had work reading combined with my favorite leisure reading, all in one go.

Mockett addresses her individual grief over the death of her father, while also exploring the corporate mourning in Japan after the Fukushima nuclear disaster.  I found the work she describes Buddhists priests doing in temporary shelters fascinating-- chaplaincy both similar and dissimilar to the work done in the West.  Her personal grief and pursuit of religious education felt to me very much like Eat, Pray, Love.  Both authors undertook internal work with a publisher's deadline, and the result for me in both cases seems self-conscious and too quick for deep processing.

The written images in the book are beautiful.  When Mockett describes festivals, traditions, temples, the word pictures are stunning.  It's very enjoyable, but by the end I wondered if it was colored by an outsider's idealism (Mockett is Japanese-American).

I'd recommend it, but it's not going on my resource list.


Pew Exchange

One of my goals for 2015 is that once a month, I will (try to) worship somewhere other than the congregation where I am member.  It's fortunate that I'm flexible with my yearly resolutions, because I am really not making it to church every Sunday as it is.  Still, this feels important.

The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King once famously said that 11 o'clock on a Sunday is the most segregated hour in America.  I think it's still true, and I also think that knowingly perpetuating religious segregation makes my life as a Christian duller, less interesting, less love-soaked, and smaller than it could be.  As I look for other communities to worship with, I'm thinking both about racial segregation and theological segregation.  What it means to be saved (or how much we desire salvation) depends very much on what we most long to be delivered from.  Jesus saves from many things, and if I believe in the whole body of Christ, in the entire communion of saints, then maybe I need to be witness that wide variety of deliverance.  Some churches will have an emphasis that doesn't meet my needs.  That's good.  It's good to be more aware of other needs.  Makes my God less small. Also: some churches will meet needs I don't know I have.  That's good, too.  Makes my heart a little bigger.

I can't bear to think that the Little Biscuit might grow up thinking that saints all look, think, and sound like him.  It's uncomfortable to take in disparate ideas of what it means to be Christian, but choosing to be uncomfortable is also choosing to respect and be formed by our sisters and brothers who practice in unfamiliar ways.  Because God help us when we think that only the familiar is holy.


Weekend Flowers

Monday is Hero Day

I realized a few weeks ago how badly I need heroes. A marvelous friend (one of the Bosom of Aunts) gave the Little Biscuit a copy of Despereaux. I picked it up at bedtime (needing to unwind, and having no ability to focus above a 4th grade reading level). 

I finished it that night. And wept. 

I am at my very best when I am a happy warrior. I am capable of long, repetitive days-- but I lose a bit of myself when I can't step outside the routine. 

But-- we need routine right now. Toddlers need stability and routine and kindness-- and a thousand repetitions of "Old MacDonald."  And I'm so, so grateful to be able to provide it. 

And so, to stay in touch with my own heart, I'm looking for the lionhearted around who inspire me-- fictional and otherwise, present and past. And with them, I feel again the excitement of the dragon-seeking quest. 

Who inspires you to climb into your steed and gallop off?