Thursday, January 5, 2017

The Lord Is My Light...

“The Lord is my light, my light and salvation, in God I trust, in God I trust.” Thus begins one of the psalmists in a poem/hymn about facing moments when we feel assailed or set upon. Some of those moments come upon us suddenly while others creep unnoticed into our presence until we are engulfed.

Many years ago, I noticed that I had a tendency to have a good bit of difficulty with my life during the month of February. During one of my upper-class years of college, I made a declaration that February would not defeat me that year. I cannot remember any specifics about what I did differently. I think simply taking note of the darkening of my spirit helped me face it and keep from being overwhelmed.

It was not for many years that I ever heard about S.A.D., or seasonal affective disorder. Also known as the winter blues or blahs, and other names, it is believed to be partially caused by the lack of daylight hours and the tendency to be less active during the winter months. Some treatments involve sitting with source of bright light, and intentional increase in physical activity.

This week we will begin a series of services looking at our version of S.A.D., or Spiritual Affective Disorder, exploring some of the ways that we can engage with the light of Christ in common everyday activities that can become spiritual practices for us.

Friday, December 23, 2016

what we truly celebrate this season

Sharing what I wrote for a young adult friend facing a deep loss:

Back in college, I read a bit of Paul Tillich, a 20th century theologian, who wrote about God as the ground of our being. That image has stayed with me through the years. It has brought me hope through the losses in my life. 

I am sure you are aware that as a pastor I have been with many people as they have been dying, and I have walked the journey with others as they lost loved ones. I have also been there with my parents and my husband as they were in their last days here. It hasn't made it easier for me in some ways--I would prefer that they were still alive and well. I miss them a great deal. In other ways, I have found some peace because of that sense that God is not separate from any part of our existence. Or to put it another way, we are not separate from God in any part of our existence.

The deepest awareness I have is of a conversation (too shallow a word, but it will have to do for now) constantly, eternally unfolding, moving towards the other with great care/concern (again, too shallow, but the word love has been overused) for what is best for the other, and mutually receiving the other's care/concern for self, and moving towards the third with, and receiving, that same care/concern. This is my deepest sense of God--a mutual reciprocity, a reciprocal mutuality in community, seeking to ever expand that care, concern, and community.

This may seem too nebulous to offer comfort and hope, but where I find it is that God is always reaching out to us seeking to help us be able to know that we participate in that very mutuality. The ground of our being is that very thing--the ground upon which we walk, the grounds upon which we build relationships, the grounding of all our hopes and desires. Whether or not we are aware of this ground, it is the basis for our very life. Think of the sharing of the air we breathe, and further than that of the dust we share with stars that came into being first after the Big Bang, but since have collapsed or exploded. They still exist within us. The purpose of it all, the grounding of it all, is living, moving, being in mutual reciprocal relationship and community, seeking the best possible for the other, and receiving the same from them.

In that light, there is no way that I am ever separated from anyone, especially from those with whom I have the closest relationships. They are a part of me from the beginning, now, and to the telos--the end or purpose of all creation. As I think of my Mamma, Daddy, and Jeff, as they are now, they are standing closer in a way to ground zero, beholding with joy the very source of relationship and community in their own life, seeing the purpose and hope for all that has been, is now, and is yet to be. This doesn't mean that I don't miss them. I do. It does mean that there is no way that we will ever be truly separated.

This is what we are really celebrating at this particular season--that the ground of our being is not separated from us, and has chosen to live and move in the midst of us, and some day we will all know how much we are truly and deeply one community.

Thursday, December 15, 2016

There are stories, and then, there are other stories

A couple of Sundays ago, as we have been exploring how even an old tight-fisted, hard-hearted miser like Ebenezer Scrooge can find redemption, we took a look at how our memories can become fuzzy over time. The community of family and friends around us can help clarify what we remember, but there is a danger in blindly trusting a version of the story without checking it out.

Usually it is the victor’s side in a confrontation or war that tells the version which gets accepted as truth. Here in the United States, we have grown up with one primary story of how our nation was founded and expanded. That conventional account leaves out a great many of the darker details. The people who were on the “receiving” end of those omitted or de-emphasized events often experience further trauma as they try to reconcile their own stories.

Recently, I have had to work hard at reclaiming real stories from alternative versions offered by others. This is difficult work for me since my memories were challenged fairly often by my mother who said things “didn't happen,” or “didn't happen that way,” creating a tendency to doubt my own story and allowing it to be discounted, though never really forgotten. The psychological concept of dissonance describes what happens in a case like this. The person who experiences dissonance often seeks resolution or harmony by choosing to give assent or allegiance to the “side” put forth by the ones with whom she or he wants or needs to be accepted even if that runs counter to what he or she really believes is true. Correcting this tendency takes hard work and often creates conflict.

We have seen this at work lately in the world in our political system, in the very real case of the Dakota pipeline, in Black Lives Matter, and in so many other situations. In Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, as Scrooge confronts his memories, he begins to make connections in his mind with his behavior in the present. He begins to rue shooing away the caroling boy to whom the smallest copper coin would be a fortune, turning away the gentlemen who sought his assistance for the poorest, and treating his clerk so harshly. That he begins to regret his actions is important; he is not quite ready to go into full-on atonement, but cracks begin to form in the hardened armor of chains in which he has protected himself.

Where do those cracks need to occur in our own lives? Where do they need to be widened? What is the story that needs to be rightly told and known? How about the story of why we celebrate the birth of a particular baby so long ago? What if, instead of telling the story that the world was evil and needed to be overcome—keeping us at odds with the world, we tell the story of how God comes to remind us of what we have forgotten: who we are, whose we are, how connected and in relationship we are to be with all the creation?

Well, that's my story, and I'm sticking to it.

John 3:17

Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.