Back Into The Wilderness

Last week was spring break. I, per the usual had a huge list of things I was hoping to get done. Mostly, all I did was nap. I slept for hours every day, getting very little done and being too exhausted to care. I wondered to my therapist and my friends if it was depression. I don’t think it is depression. I think it is grief. And not just grief but a familiar one.

My friend asks me how spring break was and I tell her I did little more than sleep. She tells me she is glad. She tells me that sleep is how the brain processes trauma. I am reminded how hard the last few weeks have been, and how I am working through a thing I have worked through before. In some ways this is good. I have done this thing, this kind of grieving so I know I can do it again. In some ways this is awful. I did not think this was a thing I would ever have to face again.

My husband was given a book once “They like Jesus but not the church.” I don’t know if we still have it. I do know we haven’t spoken to the book giver in years. Sometimes I wish I could be like the person in the title. I love Jesus, and I love the church. I think I always have, but sometimes I don’t much like the latter. Even when it is hard and painful and messy, even when we are busy disappointing each other, I still love the church. I don’t know how to do life without the church.

If you go back through my archives (please don’t, practice may not make perfect but it does make me a better writer) you can watch as I slowly back away, and then finally turn and run from an evangelical church that it was time to go from. I remember telling God I did not have the energy for church shopping, and God had BETTER give me a sign. That week Eastside Church put out their sign, Creative, Historic, Inclusive. That was all I needed. We were welcomed with open arms, I was affirmed in my gifts repeatedly, invited to preach, and then called from that church into the one I pastor now.

I know that most people in my generation do it, but I can’t imagine my life without a church. Even if I am all too familiar with the church breaking your heart. I left evangelicalism because as I grew and changed there wasn’t space for me anymore. Wasn’t space for a woman called to preach or a person convinced her LGBTQ friends weren’t sinning just for being whole. I was broken hearted by a church excited by my gifts but asking me to tuck parts of myself away as to not be so divisive And then, it happened again. The UMC voted (however closely) to exclude LGBTQ clergy and punish those of us who are affirming. The logical part of me knows that those who are telling me to wait for the judicial council, for the 2020 General Conference are the cooler heads that should prevail. But I am just. so. sad.

I showed up into the big tent called Methodism because it seemed like there was so much room. Room for my more conservative family who I still deeply respect in religious matters, my own growing liberal leanings, and my LGBTQ friends. I discovered that there was not enough room. I was faced with the reality that I yet again built a home in a place that my not want to welcome all of me, that there are those looking to make this tent much smaller.

I don’t know what is going to happen with the UMC. I am still faithfully pursuing ordination because I believe it is what I am called to do. But I am back in the wilderness again, the space where I am seeking and crying out. The space where I am depending on God for water, and manna, and my next right step. I only can go a little bit at a time and it all looks unfamiliar, and familiar simultaneously. It is the wilderness, yes. But I have been here before.

Last week I preached on the temptation of Jesus. I noticed, for the first time, that the Holy Spirit leads Jesus into the wilderness. I think sometimes the Holy Spirit leads us into the wilderness too. Not because we are bad, or wrong or need corrected, not because we have strayed from God, but simply because it is time. It is time for us to go into the wilderness once again.

After all, in the wilderness we re-discover God.

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Return to the Beginning

*I had the pleasure of preaching the joint Ash Wednesday service with Eastside and New Hope, because it was in the chapel of Eastside there was no good place to record. Here is a written version.

Joel 2:1-2, 12-17

1 Blow the trumpet in Zion; sound the alarm on my holy mountain! Let all the inhabitants of the land tremble, for the day of the Lord is coming, it is near— 2 a day of darkness and gloom, a day of clouds and thick darkness! Like blackness spread upon the mountains a great and powerful army comes; their like has never been from of old, nor will be again after them in ages to come.

12 Yet even now, says the Lord, return to me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning; 13 rend your hearts and not your clothing. Return to the Lord, your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, and relents from punishing. 14 Who knows whether he will not turn and relent, and leave a blessing behind him, a grain offering and a drink offering for the Lord, your God? 15 Blow the trumpet in Zion; sanctify a fast; call a solemn assembly; 16 gather the people. Sanctify the congregation; assemble the aged; gather the children, even infants at the breast. Let the bridegroom leave his room, and the bride her canopy. 17 Between the vestibule and the altar let the priests, the ministers of the Lord, weep. Let them say, “Spare your people, O Lord, and do not make your heritage a mockery, a byword among the nations. Why should it be said among the peoples, “Where is their God?’ “

I heard about the water walks in the way I collect most of my random knowledge, in my car on the way to some place or from another. They were highlighted on “Live from Here” these water walkers and I found their story profound, familiar, full of hope. 

Ojibwe Women take a copper pot to the beginnings of the Mississippi river . THey dip the kettle into the pure springs and they fill it to the brim. Then, they take that pure water and they carry it, they walk it 1200 miles until they are 90 miles south of New Orleans. 

They are always moving, the water is always moving, because the river is also always moving, and though they cannot always see the river, they travel a similar path, until they meet again at the end and the pour the beginning water back into the river at the end. It is a blessing to the river, that the river might remember where it came from and be purified.

They believe that the water can be healed by remembering.

They believe that the earth and the people can repair a relationship by traveling the same course.

In order to heal, the water must return to the beginning, and the people must remember where the water came from. 

Something bad has happened in the text for Ash Wednesday. We don’t know what but it isn’t good. Economic and ecological downfall are coming, the  people all know it. The prophet Joel does not say that God caused it. The prophet Joel does not blame the people. This dark event simply is, and the people are rightly terrified. (I got a lot from Wil Gafney’s very helpful commentary which is here.) And the Prophet calls the people to repentance. Calls them to remember who their God is and what that God calls them to. The prophet Joel calls the people back to their beginning. Return to the Lord with all your heart. Remember where you came from.

From dust you were formed, to dust you will return. Friends, today I am here to tell you that this too is good news. Because the dust was from the beginning. And in the beginning the word was God and the word was with God and God is love. That God who is love created you from the dust. Put God’s hands around you and formed you so perfectly that even now you carry the fingerprints of God, then breathed your very life into you. Put your hand on your chest. Breathe in and out. Feel the rhythm up and down and participate in the breath of life. Go back to the beginning and remember that you are made from love. 

Who you are called to be?

Who we are called to be?

Who we are called to become?

People of the dust, people who are shaped by God, remember that this God is love, and made you from love. Remember the God who is (as I was taught in Sunday school) slow to anger and quick to love. Go back to that place and confess that we have not always acted as though we were loved, we have not always thought of our neighbors as loved, we have acted in ways, and within systems that have not reflected a loving God. We need to repent, and we are free to repent because we know who we are repenting too.  We repent to a loving God

We do not repent to get something from God, but because we can, because of who God is. We can come together, we can rend our hearts, we can remember the beginning, and that can purify us.