A Season for Intention

In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, asking, “Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage.” 
Matthew 2:1-2

For everything there is a season and a time for every matter under heaven.
Ecclesiastes 3:1

One year ago this month, I was diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder, or ADHD. Since then, it’s been an interesting and challenging journey of self-examination and of trying to find an effective combination of therapy, meds, and management strategies to help me live well with a brain that doesn’t always do what I want or expect it to do (still working on that one…). Through this diagnosis, I feel like have gotten to know myself in a whole new way – to better know my strengths, like creativity, boldness, and empathy… but also to know my shortcomings, which sometimes feel too numerous to list.

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A Season of Radical Hope

In days to come the mountain of the Lord’s house shall be established as the highest of the mountains, and shall be raised above the hills; all the nations shall stream to it.. He shall judge between the nations, and shall arbitrate for many peoples; they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.
Isaiah 2:2,4

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.
Psalm 146:5-8

The wolf shall live with the lamb, the leopard shall lie down with the kid, the calf and the lion and the fatling together, and a little child shall lead them. The cow and the bear shall graze, their young shall lie down together; and the lion shall eat straw like the ox. The nursing child shall play over the hole of the asp, and the weaned child shall put its hand on the adder’s den. They will not hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain; for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the LORD as the waters cover the sea.
Isaiah 11:6-9

When John heard in prison what the Messiah was doing, he sent word by his disciples and said to him, “Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?” Jesus answered them, “Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them.
Matthew 11:2-5

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A Great Cloud of Witnesses

Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. Indeed, by faith our ancestors received approval. By faith we understand that the worlds were prepared by the word of God, so that what is seen was made from things that are not visible…

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God.

Hebrews 11:1-3, 12:1-2

Whenever I set out to write a funeral sermon, one of the first and most important questions I consider is: How did this person’s life point us toward God? Or, put another way, how do we know and love God better as a result of knowing and loving this person? Because all people were created in the image of God, each and every person, each life, has something to teach us about who God is.

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Called to Something(s)

For as in one body we have many members and not all the members have the same function, so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually we are members one of another. We have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us: prophecy, in proportion to faith; ministry, in ministering; the teacher, in teaching; the encourager, in encouragement; the giver, in sincerity; the leader, in diligence; the compassionate, in cheerfulness.

Romans 12:4-8

The image of the body with many members is an image that Paul uses often in his letters to talk about the body of Christ and the multitude of different gifts God gives to each of us as members of this body. It’s an image that comes up often in our life together as church, walking together in the way of Jesus. And it speaks to a gift from God of which Lutherans have a rich understanding: vocation. This is a theme that we are especially focusing on this year at St. John’s, through our worship life, stewardship, and Christian education.

A word like “vocation” may call many different things to mind. You might immediately think of vocational schools – job-focused education for practical occupations like plumbers, mechanics, hairdressers, and so on. Or vocation might take your brain to more churchy places – it comes from the Latin word vocare, which means “call,” a word that might instead evoke a job more like mine, where people wear schmancy robes and talk about God a lot.

In truth, however, every single one of us has a vocation – usually vocations! – to which God has called us: some kind of calling toward which we are drawn and for which God has equipped us. But, to ask the Lutheran question, what exactly does this mean?

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What We’ve Got Is Good Indeed

When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.

Acts 2:1-4

“When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place.”  There is some snarky, dad-joke-loving part of me that reads the beginning of the Pentecost story and thinks, “Wow, that’s amazing that they all knew to get together for a Pentecost celebration before they even knew Pentecost was going to be a thing!”* 

But of course, it wasn’t just coincidence that the first believers were all gathered in one place where the Holy Spirit could conveniently find them.  They were actually gathered to celebrate the Jewish Festival of Weeks, called Shavuot.  Shavuot is a celebration of the giving of the law to the ancient Israelites on Mount Sinai.  It takes place fifty days after the Passover – a week of weeks, plus a day – and “pentecost,” which comes from the Greek for “fiftieth,” takes its name from this fifty days, since Pentecost likewise occurs fifty days after Easter Sunday.  

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Have Mercy on Us

Every year we go through the great Three Days at the end of Holy Week, I find it speaks to me in different ways. Though I’ve heard these words a hundred times, each time I hear it, there’s some new detail, some new connection, that somehow makes the story new again.

At worship tonight, as I was reading the Passion story from John 18-19, a few verses near the end of chapter 19 grabbed my attention:

…they did not want the bodies left on the cross during the sabbath, especially because that sabbath was a day of great solemnity. So they asked Pilate to have the legs of the crucified men broken and the bodies removed. Then the soldiers came and broke the legs of the first and of the other who had been crucified with him. But when they came to Jesus and saw that he was already dead, they did not break his legs.

John 19:31b-33
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This Is How You Stand

There is an excellent article written by Rev. Barbara Brown Taylor that has been making the rounds this week. She writes movingly about this week’s gospel reading in the Revised Common Lectionary, in which Jesus laments over Jerusalem, wishing he could gather her people like a mother hen gathering her chicks under her wings. I quoted a lengthy chunk of the article in my sermon from this Sunday — but there was more I could have shared, so much more I would have liked to say if the sermon hadn’t gone in a different direction.

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A Season for Prayer

[Jesus] came out and went, as was his custom, to the Mount of Olives; and the disciples followed him. When he reached the place, he said to them, “Pray that you may not come into the time of trial.” Then he withdrew from them about a stone’s throw, knelt down, and prayed, “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me; yet, not my will but yours be done.” 

Luke 22:39-42

Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. 

Philippians 4:6-7

Prayer was absolutely crucial to the mission and ministry of Jesus Christ when he physically walked upon the earth. Throughout the gospel witness, there are mentions of Jesus stealing away to a quiet place in order to pray, often taking his disciples with him.  Here in these verses from Luke 22, we find Jesus on the very eve of his betrayal, arrest, and brutal execution fervently praying for God’s will to be done.  And Jesus continually urged his followers to be constant in prayer – teaching that is eloquently summed up by Paul in his letter to the Philippians, in which he urges them: Don’t worry about anything, but take everything in prayer to God.

I know it’s the sort of thing you expect a pastor to say, but prayer is absolutely central to the path of discipleship.  And I’ll be the first to admit that I mostly know that this is true because of how much I find myself struggling to stay centered and grounded when my own prayer life is inconsistent – which it usually is.  But prayer is central to discipleship for many reasons:

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All Aboard the Struggle Bus

It feels like I’ve seen an increase lately in posts from friends of mine who are struggling. The long months of winter in NE after the festive season is over tend to drag and leave everyone in kind of a blah mood.

If you are someone who is struggling right now — especially with addiction or trauma or mental health — let this be a reminder to extend yourself some grace. Healing is not linear. One relapse, one bad day, does not erase growth or negate the work you’ve done; it doesn’t automatically set you back to square one.

Be kinder to yourself. If it helps, imagine how you would feel and speak toward a dear friend struggling with the same issues and then direct that same patience and compassion inward. And, heh, if this advice sounds hypocritical to you, well, you might be right! I also struggle to have patience with myself in my own journey.

I’ve spent the last several years in therapy working on some complex PTSD, prompted by a series of anxiety attacks (pre-pandemic, if you can believe that!). I’ve struggled with depression my whole life and last month I was diagnosed with ADHD. I’m still recognizing and processing the many, many ways that this has made my life more challenging; I’ve been getting easily frustrated when I notice it derailing my day despite my best efforts; and I’ve been trying to keep myself from getting overwhelmed and paralyzed by the hoops to jump through to get appropriately medicated. I try to accept with grace that adequate self-care is more important than some measure of productivity. And I try to maintain perspective and remember that, at the end of the day, I am still me; and I — like you — am loved and worthy of love, kindness, and compassion.

It’s all a work in progress — but I’m still trying.

Let’s both keep at it. Deal?

Becoming New

If anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!

2 Corinthians 5:17

I was so grateful this past month to have a chance to get away for a little bit for some continuing education and time with dear friends and colleagues.  We all attended the Festival of Homiletics – an annual week-long preaching conference – together; and since we are all fully vaccinated and the festival was online only this year, we decided to rent an AirBnB and create our own little conference around the festival.  

We took turns planning and leading morning and evening prayer services; we created intentional times and spaces for processing and making meaning of the events of the last year; we cooked for each other and gave hugs, and we planned “cohort enrichment” events that varied from an evening of the great Lutheran pastime of beer and hymns, to a very nerdy birthday party for yours truly, to an emotional service of grief for a dear friend who was marking the second anniversary of her mother’s death.

It had been over a year since I’d gotten to see any of my friends – some I hadn’t seen since we graduated from seminary! – yet in many ways it was like no time had passed; being with my friends was the same as it was before.  

But in many ways, it was also very different.  After fourteen months of isolation and struggle and anxiety and uncertainty, we didn’t want to take a single moment together for granted.  We were intentional about how we used our time – making sure there was time to learn together, to play together, to sing and pray and study and relax, to cry and eat and laugh and worship together, to watch and wait and listen for the Spirit stirring among us.  

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Arising Green

Now the green blade rises from the buried grain,
wheat that in dark earth many days has lain;
love lives again, that with the dead has been;
love is come again like wheat arising green.

In the grave they laid him, love by hatred slain,
thinking that he would never wake again;
laid in the earth like grain that sleeps unseen,
love is come again like wheat arising green.

Forth he came at Easter, like the risen grain,
he who for three days in the grave had lain;
raised from the dead, my living Lord is seen;
love is come again like wheat arising green.

When our hearts are wintry, grieving, or in pain,
your touch can call us back to life again;
fields of our hearts that dead and bare have been;
love is come again like wheat arising green.

Now the Green Blade Rises
Evangelical Lutheran Worship #379

Back in March, at one of our Tuesday text studies, some of my area clergy colleagues and I were talking about the end of winter – giving thanks for warmer weather especially after all the frigid cold we got in February.  However, a couple of my colleagues were a little less thankful that the warming temperatures were melting the sparkling white blanket of snow that had covered their yard – because what the melting snow revealed beneath was not very pretty.  Not only did it reveal the dingy, drab muddiness that is the hallmark of early spring, but it also revealed what a popular – ahem – rest stop their yard is for a number of the neighborhood dogs.  Put plainly, they were discovering that the end of winter had revealed a lot of crap.

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Heart Gunk

Create in me a clean heart, O God,
and put a new and right spirit within me. 
Do not cast me away from your presence,

and do not take your holy spirit from me. 
Restore to me the joy of your salvation,

and sustain in me a willing spirit.

Psalm 51:10-12

A couple weeks out of the summer, when I worked out at Camp Carol Joy Holling, a few of us counselors would get assigned to ‘work crew’ to do some of the more maintenance type jobs around the camp.  If you drew the short straw, this meant scrubbing down the fleet of camp vehicles – not only the buses and vans, but also the regular maintenance guys’ filthy pickup trucks.  You could easily spend a solid twenty minutes or more with a power washer on those trucks just trying to chisel off all the caked on mud.  It was a dirty, grody job – though I’ve got to admit that it was pretty satisfying whenever you managed to send a big ol’ clod of mud flying.  

It probably sounds kind of odd, but this is an image I think of fairly often in my prayer life.  Over the past couple of months, I have been cultivating a habit of praying at sunset every day, in different ways – sometimes meditating, sometimes journaling or drawing, sometimes singing hymns or reading scripture – the practices vary, but the time is always that half hour between sunset and nightfall.  Although I’ve managed to actually be pretty consistent about it, I have to confess that it’s often something I have to make myself do.  All too often I get to the hour of sunset full of stress and frazzled by a to-do list that seems bottomless, and I think to myself that I’m too busy to pause, that I must use that time to be “productive” instead.

But then I think of the old Zen proverb – “You should sit in meditation for 20 minutes a day, unless you are too busy; then you should sit for an hour” – and I think about power washing those grimy pickups.  I can imagine that many people, when they read the psalmist’s plea in Psalm 51 – “Create in me a clean heart, O God” – might think of being gently bathed as by a mother, or perhaps of the water washing over their forehead at baptism.  But I know my crusty old heart – and how much gunk can get built up in it, even over the course of a single day – and so I find it more true to my prayer life to imagine God power washing the gunk out of my heart instead, like mud clods off a truck.

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Festus Interruptus

While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.

Luke 2:6-7

Every year, I see the bright, sparkling lights and beautiful decorations starting to appear around this time; Christmas-themed variants of popular candies start chasing Halloween-themed candies off of store shelves; holiday movies start appearing by the dozens on Netflix; and it seems I hear the strains of Christmas carols just about everywhere I go.  This year especially, after such a long, dark, difficult year, it seems like folks started bringing out their holiday trappings even earlier than usual – small wonder, with so many of us stuck at home!  And while I am still – and will probably always be – a staunch defender of the season of Advent, I’m also feeling the desire for a little extra festivity this year myself.  I think it’s important this year to celebrate (safely!) in the ways we can, to distract ourselves and take a break from carrying all the stress we’ve been carrying, if only for a little while.

Yet there is deeper goodness to be found beyond these things.  Every year, in the midst of all the nice, shiny, pretty holiday things we love, we also read this story from Luke 2 – a story which, despite being depicted in countless adorable Christmas pageants, is actually not very nice or shiny or pretty at all.  More likely, it was dark and dirty and loud and crowded and confusing.  Back in Luke 1, Mary received an angelic visit, announcing that she will give birth to the savior of all humankind; she celebrates with her cousin Elizabeth, who is also expecting an angel-announced miracle baby; Mary and Zechariah both have musical numbers; it’s all very exciting.  

But in Luke 2, Mary and Joseph are abruptly forced to make a 90 mile journey from their home on foot while Mary is in her ninth month of pregnancy, about ready to pop, and she ends up giving birth in a strange city while more than likely holed up in a crowded house with her in-laws and all their animals.  It’s impossible to know what Mary had planned or envisioned it would look like giving birth to the savior of all humankind, but I’m guessing that this was not it.

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Hope and Longing

After this I looked, and there was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, robed in white, with palm branches in their hands. They cried out in a loud voice, saying, 

“Salvation belongs to our God who is seated on the throne, and to the Lamb!”

Then one of the elders addressed me, saying, “Who are these, robed in white, and where have they come from?”  I said to him, “Sir, you are the one that knows.” Then he said to me, “These are they who have come out of the great ordeal; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. 

“The Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of the water of life, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”

Revelation 7:9-10, 13-14, 17

One of the best decisions I’ve made this year was to take advantage of the Nebraska Synod’s Seeking the Spirit Within Spiritual Institute and start meeting monthly with a Spiritual Director.  Spiritual direction can sometimes feel a little bit like counseling, but what a spiritual director is really trained to do is to help you be attentive to where God is at work in your life and to help you strengthen that relationship.  (I highly recommend it!)

In our meeting this month, my spiritual director and I ended up in a really great conversation about prayer.  I confessed to her that prayer is kind of a mystery to me.  I definitely think it’s important to talk with God (rather than just about God), and I think that prayer often opens up our own hearts to learn and be transformed.  But I struggle sometimes when it comes to asking God for things in prayer.

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The Gifts of Gratitude

Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which you were indeed called in the one body.  And be thankful.

Colossians 3:15

Years ago, when I was still in seminary, I worked a part time job as a hospital chaplain in the northern suburbs of Chicago. I loved the work.  It felt like a holy privilege to get to walk alongside people through some of the darkest and most difficult days of their lives.  

One patient visit I still think about a lot was with a woman named Donna.  Donna was near the end of her life, dying of stage IV breast cancer that had metastasized to her liver.  I knew this would also be a challenging visit for me, because Donna, who was almost the exact same age my mom would have been, was dying in exactly the same way my mom did over two decades earlier.  She even had a daughter that was pretty close to my age.  And while Donna had made her peace with death and was more than ready to enter hospice care, her daughter was decidedly not ready for that.

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The Evil I Do Not Want

I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate… For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do…  For I delight in the law of God in my inmost self, but I see in my members another law at war with the law of my mind, making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!

Romans 7:15, 19, 22-25a

Martin Luther loved this passage from Paul’s letter to the Romans – which we’ll be reading in the lectionary coming up in July.  Luther was a man tortured by his own shortcomings and failings; fearful that he would never be good enough for God, he would sometimes even leave the confessional booth only to go right back in to confess other sins that he had thought of.  He identified deeply with the struggle Paul names here: despite his best intentions and efforts to be a model Christian, Luther kept finding himself giving in to sin and brokenness.  

It was in this struggle of feeling like he would never, ever be good enough that Luther experienced the revelation of grace.  He would never be good enough to earn his own salvation.  Yet he had been redeemed by Christ’s self-giving love, once and for all time.  He had been saved by grace through faith, apart from works, for the sake of Christ.  And this revelation actually freed Luther to start becoming the better Christian he wanted to be.  His focus shifted from being directed inward toward himself to going outward toward the church and the broader world, a change that enabled him to become a powerful voice of reform in the church.  This is the legacy that we, as Lutherans, inherit.  

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Made in the Image of Love

Then God said, “Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the wild animals of the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.”

Genesis 1:26

The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with all of you.

2 Corinthians 13:13

Broadly speaking, the liturgical year is broken up into two halves.  The first half stretches from Advent to Pentecost and focuses on the life, ministry, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  The second half encompasses the long green season of Sundays after Pentecost and ends in late November with Reign of Christ Sunday.  This half of the liturgical year focuses on the church – the collective body of Christ, filled with the fire of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost and sent forth into the world to witness and serve in Christ’s name.

The verses above are taken from the first Sunday of this second half of the year: Trinity Sunday.  Trinity Sunday falls on June 7 this year, and I think it is kind of a fitting way to begin this second half of the liturgical year.

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A Spirit-Led Church, Even in Exile

Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of services, but the same Lord; 
All these are activated by one and the same Spirit, who allots to each one individually just as the Spirit chooses. For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ.

1 Corinthians 12:4-5, 11-12

We are coming up on the festival of Pentecost once more, on the very last day of May this year.  Pentecost is basically a celebration of the church’s birthday – born in a rush of Spirit in wind and flame.  That Spirit drew believers together in ways they never imagined – with people they never imagined! – and then sent them out on the wildest journeys to the far corners of the earth.  

As I was thinking about what to write for this month’s newsletter, I looked back at last year.  Pentecost was in June and I wrote a little bit about the history of Pentecost – as well as the two festivals that surround it, the Ascension and Holy Trinity – and its origins in the Jewish Festival of Weeks.  I wrote about how it is the same Spirit that unites us with the believers that came before us, and how each year, each generation, that passes through the cycle adds new layers of richness and meaning. 

I was thinking about last year’s floods when I wrote that, how all the flooding shaped the way we heard the promises of scripture – especially the story of Noah and the flood – how it shaped the way that we as a church related to our community and expressed our faith.  Yet as intense as the floods were, of course, they pale in comparison to how drastically the present crisis has upended our lives.

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Mary Stood Weeping

But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb; and she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying, one at the head and the other at the feet.  They said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.”  When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus.  Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?”

John 20:11-15a

Early on the morning of the very first Easter, Mary Magdalene stands, weeping, outside the empty tomb.  So much has happened – so much hopeful excitement, followed by so much sorrow, so much loss.  And now, when she has come to say her goodbyes to her friend, to her hope, it seems that the universe has added insult to injury and someone has taken his body, so that she cannot even mourn him properly.  

The worst thing imaginable had happened to Mary and the other followers of the Way – they had watched helplessly as the Roman Empire crucified their Messiah and Lord.  Their hopes for God’s reign were snuffed out.  

Yet God was not done.  

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Prouty’s Landing

This is a reflection I wrote back in 2015 during my time in CPE (Clinical Pastoral Education) – we were asked to share stories for story theology, and this is one of the stories I told. I came across it again recently and thought it might be good to share here.

One of the keystones of the camp experience at Camp Carol Joy Holling in Ashland, NE, is the series of “co-op activities” that all campers participate in.  These are physical activities designed to make groups work together, with the goal of increasing trust and building relationships.  They range from simple games with objects like tennis balls and foam pool noodles to the more demanding “Co-op Challenge Course.”

As a chubby eighth-grader, obliged to attend a week of church camp with peers who had bullied me off and on for as long as we’d known each other, I was not exactly thrilled about the prospect of us all doing physical activities together.  Still, there were were, one hot July afternoon, up in the woods on the challenge course, struggling to work together as a team.  We had already completed trust falls and balanced ourselves on a giant teeter totter and built a human bridge over an imaginary river of molten peanut butter.  However, the next obstacle in front of us was the most challenging we had yet faced.  Prouty’s Landing wasn’t much to look at – just a couple of 3’x3’ wooden platforms spaced 12-15 feet apart, with a rope tied around a strong tree branch in between, dangling down to the ground.  To complete Prouty’s Landing, everyone in the group had to stand together on one of the platforms and swing across to the other platform, one by one.  If anyone touched the ground at any time before everyone was across, the entire team had to go back to the beginning platform and start over again.  

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Choosing Your Fast

“Is such the fast that I choose, a day to humble oneself? Is it to bow down the head like a bulrush, and to lie in sackcloth and ashes? Will you call this a fast, a day acceptable to the LORD? 
Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of injustice, to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover them, and not to hide yourself from your own kin? 
Then your light shall break forth like the dawn, and your healing shall spring up quickly; your vindicator shall go before you, the glory of the LORD shall be your rear guard.”

Isaiah 58:5-8

February 2020 is already upon us!  And with it comes Ash Wednesday – the beginning of the long season of Lent – on the final Wednesday of the month.  Lent can be a really meaningful season.  It’s a season in which we are invited to gather up the burdens and worries and distractions we carry in our hearts, and to turn and lay these things at the foot of the cross.  It’s a season of repentance, a season to acknowledge our human limitations, to turn back toward God and let God’s way be our way.

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Incarnate Goodness

And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.

John 1:14

I still remember the first time I saw the movie Hairspray.  The movie, based on a musical based on a movie, is set in the 60s and follows the adventures of Tracy Turnblad, an outspoken and overweight young woman in high school.  Tracy is mocked and bullied by other students, but she never apologizes for her size; instead, she wins a spot on a local teen dance show and uses her influence at the studio to fight for racial desegregation.  She insists on being accepted as she is, and she fights for a world in which no one is discriminated against because of what their body looks like.  And at the end of the movie, she makes out with Zac Efron – what more could you ask?

I think I saw this movie in theater maybe three or four times.  I cried every time.  I can’t begin to tell you how profoundly moving it was to see someone who actually looked like me – a bona fide fat actress, jiggly arms and all – up on the big screen, as the protagonist of a movie.  And while the movie does show Tracy and other fat characters struggling with the stigma against their weight, their stories are much richer than this one detail about them.  And watching them, watching this movie, I felt truly seen for the first time.  I felt like someone else finally thought a story like mine was worth telling.

Continue reading “Incarnate Goodness”

Lighting Up the World

This is an Advent reflection I wrote for last year’s December newsletter.

The people who walked in darkness
    have seen a great light;
those who lived in a land of deep darkness—
    on them light has shined. 

Isaiah 9:1

When I was in middle school, my family took a vacation to the Wisconsin Dells.  It was a blast – we went on the duck boats and ate delicious fudge and had a great time.  But one of the things I remember most from the trip was the visit we took to Crystal Cave. 

 I was a nerdy child with an interest in geology, so I was already excited to see the cave, which goes down over 70 feet below the surface of the earth.  When we got down to the deepest, darkest part of the cave, our guide told us to stand still where we were and warned us not to move.  Then he turned off the light.  In an instant, the whole world blinked out of view.  There was not a scintilla of light; it was darker than dark down there.  I couldn’t even see my own hand when I waved it inches in front of my face!  

Then there was a rasping sound in the darkness, and suddenly light exploded into being, reflected and refracted by the thousands of crystals that festooned the cavern’s walls.  It was gloriously beautiful.  I looked to see where the light was coming from, and saw our guide holding it in his hand.  He had struck a single match.  That tiny light was enough to light up what felt like the whole world.

This, in a nutshell, is Advent.

Continue reading “Lighting Up the World”

Dancing Together

It occurred to me as I was working on an article for my congregation’s December newsletter that I could be more diligent about posting some of my non-sermon writings on here. A lot of what I write is still church-related, though not all. And I plan to start sharing more of it in the hopes that it will be meaningful for other folks to read.

In that interest, here’s a post I wrote a couple of months ago for the Nebraska Synod’s blog — I was asked to write about the theme of “walking together.” Enjoy!

Continue reading “Dancing Together”

A Painfully Candid Lenten Reflection

CN – anxiety, depression

Christians around the world began their observation of Lent yesterday on Ash Wednesday.  Lent is a season of repentance and return to God. It’s a season in which we confess that we have not lived up to being the people God created, redeemed, and called us to be.  We have not loved our neighbor as ourselves.  We have been neglectful in our care of creation.  We have been selfish and have hardened our hearts to the suffering of the vulnerable around the world.

We read the words of the prophet Joel, who implored his people, “Return to the Lord your God, for God is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love.” We are called to turn back to God with our whole heart, to experience God’s grace and love anew – not unlike the prodigal son returning home to his father’s joyous welcome.

Continue reading “A Painfully Candid Lenten Reflection”

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