Pentecost 2020

If you know me, you know I don’t usually shy away from speaking what’s on my heart. I have been heart broken these past couple of weeks, and this past week in particular. Our country is on fire, people are rising up to protest centuries of violence against black and brown bodies. These past couple of months have shown once again, when pandemic hits our country it is black and brown people who suffer more than white people do. My heart is breaking that some people seem to be more upset about buildings being destroyed and looted then black and brown bodies being looted. Is a bank really worth more than a human life? Does it even matter that it seems to be a small number of white people who are instigating and carrying out the worst acts of violence at these peaceful protests, despite the black and brown leaders pleading for them not to?

Our country is on fire and today is Pentecost, the day that the Holy Spirit came rushing through a crowded market place with wind and fire. I do not imagine that this was a gentle breeze with a few flickering, beautiful candles, no, this was a mighty wind with big flames. It had such an impact, that we say that was the day the church was born. We say that was the day that transformed all the people present. We say that was the day that changed everything. Fire and wind are two powerful forces, and together, they can destroy everything in their path. Those of us who have lived in Colorado for a while have seen this every summer as fires burn through our forests and we watch California burn every dry season too. Last year the world watched as Australia burned.

What is hard to remember while things are burning,  is that after the fire, when the ashes have settled, new life begins to emerge. Some seeds need the heat of the fire to open. These plants grow back stronger. The heat of the flames that swept through them gave them what they needed to open and to flourish. There is a swath of green in our country that is visible from an airplane. It’s the path of Sherman’s march. Sherman burned his way through the south. Now,  the trees and plants have grown back stronger and greener.

This country was founded by a revolution and a protest against the British Monarchy. We have seen people go to war in the name of something good and honorable. We have seen cities destroyed in the name of freedom and justice. These actions are often seen as the last resort of desperate people, the thing that people do when they feel as if they have exhausted all the other options. Four hundred years of oppression and violence seems like a long time.

So what do we do, people gathered together in a church born from a rush of wind and flames? What do we do as people who follow Jesus? The Jesus who invites us into a way of love?  We are called to respond in love. And When we ask “why are they burning things and breaking things?” we also need to ask “Why, when fully armed white men stormed into government buildings to protest being asked to stay home to help flatten the curve and to wear masks in public, law enforcement stood by quietly, but when black and brown people go out in the street, unarmed, to protest yet another public unnecessary death, police bring tear gas and plastic bullets to break them up” We need to ask what is this system that values property over the lives of so many of us? What is this system that tells us over and over again that black and brown lives don’t matter as much as white lives?

Those of us gathered in the name of Jesus and the Holy-Spirit-who-will-disturb-us are called to learn our history. We must listen to the voices crying out “I can’t breathe” and dig into the issues that are impacting us now and to stand in solidarity to witness the lives and the truth of those lives of our black and brown brothers and sisters. We must learn our history, listen to the voices crying for justice and mercy and respond in love.

The systems that we have in place are killing us, all of us, and we are called to change them. When we ask how do we do this, we don’t know the way! We do know the way. We know the way of love. We have promised to respect the dignity of every human being and to seek and serve Christ in all people. We are called to breath new life into the ashes. We are called to listen across the borders that have been designed to separate us, and to learn the sorrows and the joys of people we have been taught to fear. We are called to love one another truly, madly and deeply. We are the seeds that need the fire to bring forth new life. If we are willing to brave the fire and the wind, I believe that we are in the process of transformation. Something new and powerful and love filled can emerge if we are willing to be there to help birth it.

Palm Sunday Reflection

Palm Sunday is usually a day that begins with a parade- we start in our church parking lots, or somewhere else grand and everyone processes into the church singing a rag tag version of “All Glory Laud and Honor”. It’s festive and triumphant, we all wave our palms and sing loudly. By the end of the service, we have heard the passion and the mood is more somber, we are entering into Holy Week together. We begin the week prepared for what is to come.

Last week on one of my walks I thought about how the original Holy Week must have been a giant emotional swerve for Jesus’ friends. Imagine their week, beginning with the parade into Jerusalem. Yes, it was rather unusual and in contrast to the other triumphal entrance into Jerusalem, but it was still in front of a cheering, rowdy crowd. The disciples didn’t have the benefit of a passion reading to prepare them and get them into the mood for what was coming at the end of the week. There were signs if they were paying attention. Jesus kept trying to tell them what was going to happen but they were not prepared.

Their week went from the triumphant entry into Jerusalem to hiding from the authorities in the blink of an eye. Their Passover dinner took a turn when Jesus washed their feet and asked them to “do this in remembrance of me”. The next day Jesus was betrayed to the authorities by one of their inner circle and killed. Then they went into the upper room and hid.

We’ve all had our own individual swerves, times when our lives are turned upside down; the death of loved ones, the loss of a job, a devastating diagnosis. But this year for Holy Week we are all living this swerve. We are living in a global pandemic and the whole world has been turned upside down.

It’s true that since January there were signs for us of what might come. We have heard of Coronavirus since the end of last year. By the end of February we knew that we needed to be more careful about washing our hands. Then, in one quick week in the middle of March, everything turned upside down and we had a global pandemic on our hands. People were dying not just in China, but in Italy, and now Washington State and New York. Governors around the country declared states of emergency and began asking people to stay at home to save lives. Is this how it was for Jesus’ friends? In one week it all turned upside down for them?

Holy Week has been so ritualized for so long. We practice the same liturgies and rituals which have great meaning for us. They are meant to draw us into the mystery of the last supper and the crucifixion, and they do. They are deeply meaningful. It will be strange for us to not gather in church with one another like we always do. These intimate rituals involving touch and closeness with one another are simply not allowed for us this year.

What if the invitation for us this year instead, is to lean into the swerve, to lean into our lives being turned upside down? We know that death isn’t the end of the story for Jesus and it isn’t for us as Christians. This week is an invitation into transformation. Transformation is never easy, almost always painful and never when we want it.

The original Holy Week changed the world forever, this one will too. It will be better for us if we lean into our transformations and lean into the profound depths of God’s love for us. God is ALWAYS in the suffering- that’s the message of the crucifixion. If we lean into transformation and love and remember that we are all suffering, the whole world is suffering, and have compassion and love for each other wherever we are on the swerve, we will get through this.

This year we will live Holy Week in a new way together. We may get a richer glimpse of what it was like for the original followers of Jesus. May it be a time of transformation for us. May we learn to lean into our fear and sorrow as we journey through it to the other side.

Plans B-Z = Love

Today is the 16th anniversary of my ordination to the priesthood. Sixteen years ago I never could have imagined today. I was supposed to be on sabbatical with my husband, we were supposed to be in Bath, England, enjoying a soak at the new spa there. That seems a long ago dream now. I can’t even imagine wanting to do that today. We were in Iceland when the WHO declared Coronavirus/Covid-19 a global pandemic and Trump issued his first travel ban. We were able to get on the last flight to Denver from Iceland. The last 10 days have been a mixture of grief and joy. We have spent the week cancelling the plans we took the last year to prepare. We also spent the week talking to our friends and family online a lot. We have walked around our neighborhood and met more neighbors this last week than we have in the 3 years we have lived in the neighborhood.

We had a grant that funded our travels and the foundation is encouraging us to try again for our sabbatical when things have been figured out. In the meantime we, like the rest of the world, are figuring out what daily life looks like. For a few more days we are still under quarantine from our travel time and when the quarantine is over, we will continue to stay at home with the rest of Colorado. The small difference is we will be able to venture out for our own groceries. We have been overwhelmed by the offers of help and support that we have received, and the sympathy people have for our grief, in the face of so much change and grief for so many people. We have laughed with family and friends in our video chats, and have talked with neighbors and strangers on the street.

Today, we are finally unpacked from the trip that we planned for a year to take. Our home offices are reassembled. We are leaning into this new way of life. We are learning how to “love-stream” church and friendship along with the rest of the world.

There are so many people responding with daily online prayer, beautifully crafted church from empty sanctuaries or cozy firesides. For every streamed service, I have asked myself, “am I doing enough?” or told myself “ I need to do that too”. I have struggled with the illusion that I have to be the “best-priest-for-these-times”. While texting with a friend over the weekend a lightbulb went off; all I am required to do, all any of us are required to do is: “Love the people I have been given to love the best way I know how.” That’s it. Love. Love each other. We all do that differently, and we all know how to love. When we let the fear and anxiety subside for a moment, love will shimmer through. Signs of love are everywhere we just need to look for them.

Love the people you are given to love in the best way you know how.

Reflection on John 9: 1-41

I was struck yesterday listening to and reflecting on the Gospel of Jesus healing the blind man how intimate and physical so many of Jesus’ miraculous acts are. Touch heals. I am reminded how when I was a first year seminary student I attended my first healing service. I was a little bit skeptical, but something compelled me forward for a healing prayer. I burst into tears when the priest put his hands on my head, because I realized I had not been touched by another human being in months, and in that moment something in me was healed that I didn’t even know needed to be healed. I am praying for the people I know who get their only physical contact when they come to church. In these times we have to practice social distancing to flatten the curve and it is the only way to perhaps save the lives of the very people who come to church for human interaction. So, how do we love one another and “touch” one another in a time of social distancing? Above are the questions I am living by these days. I invite you to pay attention to the second question. Who are you checking in on? Who are you connecting with?

If you are thinking about someone, call them, send them a text or email. Check on a neighbor you haven’t seen in a while. When the flowers begin to bloom, pick some on your walk and leave them on a friend’s doorstep. How are you connecting? How are you being a healing presence in the world?

The Storm Outside

Rick and I are in Langaholt, Iceland, in a comfortable, remote hotel on the western peninsula of the island. It seems that we are the only guests and we have the whole place to ourselves, while winds howl outside, gusting up snow and keeping us inside. We have moved from our room to the dining room, back to our room to the sun room, back to our room to the lobby where we have the best view of the wind and snow working together to create new snow banks outside the front door. While this storm of wind and ice rages outside, the storm of corona virus rages on our social media and in our emails and the storm of indecision rages inside me. We are changing plans and deciding where we will land next. Each peak at the internet has another piece of news, another prediction and more appeals for people to self isolate and avoid large social situations. We are wanting to be faithful to one another and our hopes for time set aside for rest and renewal by the ocean and to being faithful to the wider community of people we will likely be in contact with as we travel. One way or another at this point, if we leave this hotel, we will be in contact with other people, either on an air plane, on a train, at a gas station, or at another hotel, and we are trusting that the people who work here are not bringing the virus to work with them. Corona virus is at home, corona virus is here in Iceland, Corona virus is where we want to be traveling. I am a seven on the Enneagram and I am used to making quick and easy decisions, and I definitely do not like not having a lot of activity to keep me busy and distracted from my thoughts on a normal day.This I already knew about myself. I am learning more about myself as all the storms rage: how hard it is for me to feel confident about any decisions I make while jet lagged and overwhelmed by so much conflicting information. AND, Right now I am grateful for many things, a warm safe place to be in the storm, an incredibly kind and loving person with whom to share this experience, and the presence of so many heart shaped rocks surrounding us in the dining room.

And: we’re off!

Rick and I have spent the last week packing and preparing the house for us to be gone, leaving notes for those who will be coming by to stay and check on things. We have had visits with neighbors and friends, and we’ve talked and read a lot about Coronavirus. We’ve decided that we are taking this adventure now despite the virus. We’ve packed the things that will help us avoid coming down with it: rubber gloves, anti-septic wipes and lots of Emergen-C. We have been dreaming and planning for this trip for a very long time. We don’t know how much longer Rick will be able to make a big trip like this and we are excited to explore the parts of Europe that will be open to us. There are so many people who helped us write the grant that is paying for our travel, and there are the many people looking after our home and our communities while we are away. We are grateful for the love and prayers so many people have been sending as we get ready to take off on this adventure. We’ll write more from the road! With love and gratitude, Rick and Rebecca

Exploring God’s House

Today is the second day of my first sabbatical in ten years. Thank you to the Lilly Foundation we are able to have the most amazing travel adventure while the congregation we serve has the chance to have their own sabbatical experience. Below is an excerpt from our grant application as a preview for what’s coming.
In her book, An Altar in the World, Barbara Brown Taylor writes: “[in scripture] God shows up in whirlwinds, starry skies, burning bushes and perfect strangers. When people want to know more about God, the son of God tells them to pay attention…to women kneading bread and workers lining up for their pay… The House of God stretches from one corner of the universe to the other. Sea monsters and ostriches live in it, along with people who pray in languages I do not speak, whose names I will never know… I can set a little altar, in the world or in my heart. I can stop what I am doing long enough to see where I am, who I am there with, and how awesome the place is. I can flag one more gate to heaven…instead of walking right past it, maybe even setting a stone or saying a blessing before I move on…” (pp.12, 13, 15). In our corner of God’s house, at Peter and Mary, we are blessed with a beautiful building and a corner parking lot in an urban neighborhood. A chain link fence, which we considered removing because it didn’t feel welcoming, has become integral to our most vibrant outreach ministry, a neighborhood dog park. Because we were able to see the fence in a new way, we now have a ministry which has created deep and meaningful relationships in and with our neighborhood. We plan to use our mutual time for renewal to stretch into new corners of the world asking, “What are we called to see in new ways now?” The congregation and Rebecca, with her husband Rick, will explore the world and our relationship to it primarily through the lens of photography in what we are calling The God Camera Project, using single use film cameras (God Cameras). We will ask the questions: “How does God see the world and where do we see God?” We will use film and book discussions to support our mutual renewal. While Rick and Rebecca (R & R) explore the vast house of God by travel and visiting with Rebecca’s family, the congregation will explore it by paying attention to the vast house of God closer to home.