Monday, December 9, 2013

Scribble Out Loud has moved!

Thanks for visiting the blog! As of November 2013, I have switched platforms and will now be blogging at scribbleoutloud.wordpress.com. I hope you will keep reading at the new site!

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Drive-Thru Communion

Sometimes, as I'm hunting for a church home, what I really need is drive-thru communion.

This is what I mean by those words: I slip in just before the service starts, taking one of the aisle seats in the back of the church. Conversations bubble up around me, between people who have known each other for years; I stay silent. The service starts and I sing and pray with the rest of them, but I doodle during the sermon, and read the bulletin during the announcements. During joys and concerns I flip through the hymnal finding my next page.

When the time comes to pass the peace, I stay in my row. I shake hands with the people in front of me, behind me, next to me (if I'm not alone in my row). And then I sit back down, while the permanent parishioners wander in and out of every aisle, greeting everyone they know. At the end of the service, I slip out the side aisle. I shake hands with the pastor if there's not too much of a line, but otherwise I duck around the chatty folks and head straight for my car without stopping by the fellowship hour.

In short, I step aside from the community aspect of the service.

And I know this goes against everything that church is supposed to be.

This is not to say that I ignore people entirely. I greet people who pass the peace when they wander toward me. I smile at kids as they fidget in their seats or try to zoom past me after worship, the faster to get to the cookies. Lately, though, these brief interactions have been all that I can handle. Since coming to California I've been looking for a church home with varying amounts of success. I know I'm not alone in this. Juggling life transitions and coming into Most of my friends graduating from college have experienced something similar—in the midst of a church that's changing, and in the midst of a life that's changing, it can be exhausting.

For me, it's been tricky to make sense of what church means to me now, as an adult and not a child, as a wife and partner and not an ecclesiastical free agent. I've supported my partner in faith transitions and struggled with my own call to ministry. And I've stumbled into churches that were on the verge of collapse, found myself in the middle of turf wars that I didn't know how to fight.

I was tired. And so I took a "church sabbatical." I prayed the psalms alone in my room, and slept in Sunday mornings.
Source: khrawlings on Flickr

But after a couple of months of that, I started to get antsy. I started to crave the bread and the wine, the words and the music.

Learning about the Reformation and different views on the Eucharist, I remember hearing that this gathered community was one of the things many reformers insisted upon. A priest saying Mass alone in his room, they said, was not really Mass at all. If the bread and the wine hold meaning, if they hold something I need, then the gathered community is part of what gives them that very meaning. How can I come to be filled by the bread and wine but stay on the sidelines of the community?

Here we pray some prayers I've never heard before, and some I'm starting to forgetmy tongue tangles on the words I used to know by heart. And for other prayers just hearing them makes me feel like I've come home. "O God, our times are in your hand," I say, along with everyone else, while the birthday boy in a Transformers t-shirt scuffs his feet and trying to pretend that he's too cool for this blessing, with a smile flashing toward his eyes that belies his devil-may-care attitude.

I am part of community. I am held and I am welcomed. Even if I can't handle the next step right now.

That gives me hope: drive-thru communion is only a resting-place, it is not an end. It's not a place I intend to remain. Two years into this church-searching journey, I have some idea of what comes next: saying a shy hello to someone who looks young or friendly or welcoming. Wandering over to the fellowship hall, standing around the edges of conversations already begun, sipping my tea. Perhaps then I'll move to sitting down at a table, starting up a conversation of my own. This starts to open up the scary parts of communitybeing accepted, accepting, getting ready for expectations and the possibility of hopes broken or denied.

Right now those are still far off.

I'm dipping my toe into the waters. And if I stopped here, planned to sneak out the side exit every week—I'd be missing out for sure. But for now I remind myself of the feast that waits for me. I got up on Sunday and came to church. I received the bread and the wine, I sang the Gloria and the Doxology. I received the peace from people I've never met. Maybe my body will remember, next week or the week after. Soon I will come home.

***


This post's been sitting in my queue for several months now... because by the time I revised it and got it ready to post, I realized it didn't quite apply to me any more. Drive-thru communion has slowly been replaced by coffee hour chats, potluck brunches, even Lenten soup suppers. I'm starting to talk about "my church" again. But I'm still thankful for people who welcomed me into the back pew and let me take things slow. And I hope in our conversations about the exodus of young adults from the church, we can make space for wanderers like me.

Friday, March 1, 2013

Singing the Refuges: Worship and the Interreligious Family

Source: Thoradin, via Wikimedia Commons

About a month ago, just like every Sunday, I slipped into the worship space just before 10am, bowed before the altar, and found a seat in the back row. I leafed through the service bulletin to take a look at what songs we’d be singing that morning. And after a few brief announcements, I joined in singing the morning’s first song.

I’m no stranger to “church-hopping.”  This was in many ways a familiar process for me. But on this particular Sunday, things were a bit different than I was used to. When I bowed to the altar, I faced not a cross but a golden statue of the Buddha. The song we sang was not a Christian hymn, but a chant.  This was my first visit to a Jodo Shinshu Buddhist temple, alongside my Buddhist/Christian husband, trying to make sense of our family’s interreligious identity.

Read the rest of this post on State of Formation!

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Lenten Discipline: Leaving Worry Behind

This reflection is cross-posted from a blog that my sister Kim has set up for her church in Hollywood. Check out more reflections here!


This Lent, I’m giving up my worries about money. If this sounds like an unspecific and unattainable discipline to you, you should take a look at my budget spreadsheet. This ridiculously detailed spreadsheet is left over from the years where I primarily worked as a freelancer, when paychecks were sporadic and varied in size. Keeping a careful eye on my bank accounts helped me plan for the lean months.

Now I have a steady job, with enough money to pay the bills, but I still find myself worrying about money. When my husband and I finish our graduate studies and look for more permanent jobs, will we find something that pays enough to support us as a family?

Of course, budgeting is not a bad thing, in and of itself. Neither is dreaming about the future. But I feel that both of these are taking me farther away from God and my trust in God’s provision. After all, I remember what Jesus reminded his disciples, many of whom had left behind their own jobs to follow him:

Photo via Google Image Search


“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life?” (Matthew 6:25-27)

So for the next forty days, my spreadsheet is off-limits. My husband will be taking care of the bills I usually pay. And when my usual worries about the future crop up, I hope to replace them with prayer. This Lent, I will try to live into Jesus’ words of comfort, as best I can.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Valentine's Day, Ash Wednesday, and the Lover-God

Happy Valentine's Day, all! I hope you're reading this with a glass of wine in hand and a box of chocolates within arm's reach...

Image via Stewart on Flickr
...unless you gave up chocolate for Lent. In which case you may be cursing the calendar that placed Valentine's Day right after Ash Wednesday this year.

The juxtaposition of these two days has got me thinking about the the tension I find in "celebrating" this season of penitence: the tension between sin and grace. Though Lent has only just started, already I've had countless conversations in person and online that reveal this tension. What are you doing for your Lenten discipline? Are you giving something up or taking something on? Are you choosing a discipline of asceticism and self-sacrifice, or whimsy and creativity, or compassion and service?

Valentine's Day certainly seems to push back against the self-sacrificial side of Lent. Today is a day about love, to be sure, but it's also a day about indulgence. Just think of the images surrounding this holiday: kids bringing home boxes full of Valentine cards and candy, lovers surprising their beloved with roses or chocolate or a fancy dinner. A stark contrast to yesterday's Ash Wednesday tradition, where many of us smudged our foreheads with dust and remembered our own mortality.

I have to admit, I like Ash Wednesday. I like the idea of original sin. And by "like" I mean "experience." I am a person made of dust, a finite creature who tries to do right but more often than not gets tripped up by laziness or fear or social structures. That's one of the most valuable insights I've learned from the Lutheran tradition: every time I show up to a Lutheran service and join the community in confessing "that we are in bondage to sin and cannot free ourselves," I feel the ring of truth in it. Just as I feel the ring of truth in Ash Wednesday's proclamation: "Remember you are dust, and to dust you shall return." 

On the flip side, this emphasis on sin and self-denial can go too far. For instance, Amy Laura Hall points out in this article from a couple of Lents ago, that many women are already encouraged to deny themselves. They already internalize enough of a message of their own inadequacy. Eating chocolate, rather than giving it up, could be a reminder of God's overflowing grace: 
As a Lenten practice, in order to habituate toward the mean of temperance, some women, and perhaps some men too, might need to eat exactly what they fear, but should love, in order to open themselves to God’s blessing in their student kitchenettes.
Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Harvard-Smithsonian
Part of finding the balance between God's grace and our nature might be to remember that being dust isn't such a bad thing. My friend Beth points out that from a scientific perspective, we're made of stardust - the stuff that makes up suns and galaxies. We may be flawed and finite, but we have also been created with ultimate beauty and potential. 

I find another token of hope in the work of Sallie McFague (which I'm reading for a theology class right now, and it's blowing my mind just as much as it did three years ago). McFague looks for new metaphors that can represent God's relationship with the world. And one of those metaphors is the lover, the one who loves not in spite of but because of who the beloved is.
Lovers love each other for no reason or beyond all reasons; they find each other valuable just because the other person is who he or she is. Being found valuable in this way is the most complete affirmation possible. It says, I love you just because you are you, I delight in your presence, you are precious beyond all saying to me. In the eyes of the beloved, one sees a different image of oneself: one sees a valuable person. Perhaps for the first time in one's life one realizes that one might be lovable: to see with the lover's vision is to see oneself as lovable.
If God loves us as deeply and as truly as a lover does - ashes and all - maybe that love can help us see our own potential, our own beauty.

So this Valentine's Day, and this Lent - however you plan to celebrate - may you know God's love that sees you as you are, and loves the dust in you.


Saturday, January 12, 2013

Will You Come and Follow Me?

[For my "Episcopal Liturgics" course this term, we had to write a sermon on the Feast of Christ's Baptism from our own perspective as a future priest or deacon, or as a layperson. This is what I came up with, and I thought I would share it with you all. The sermon leads out of the sequence hymn, which you can listen to below.]



Will you come and follow me if I but call your name?
Will you go where you don't know and never be the same?
Will you let my love be shown,
Will you let my name be known,
Will you let my life be grown in you and you in me?

That hymn that we just sang: it sounds like a call story, doesn’t it? You might more often expect to hear it when we talk about Jesus showing up at the lake and hollering to Peter and James and John to come and follow him, to be his disciples. We don’t get that story this year—Lent comes too quickly for that—but we want to sing this hymn anyway.

We hear this hymn and we think of ourselves in the position of Peter and James and John by the lake, meeting Jesus for the first time, becoming disciples.

But if you think about it, the story we heard today is, in some ways, a call story. It is the call story of Jesus. Not that he’s been a wallflower up to this point—in the story as Luke tells it, we’ve seen his miraculous birth, we’ve seen him show up in the temple as a child and confound his parents, learn from the elders. But until now we have not seen him working as a prophet, as a teacher. This is the part where Jesus shows up and is called by name.
But—you’ll notice—he did not hear “Hey Jesus!” He did not hear that sort of name. Instead, we hear “You are my Son, the Beloved. With you I am well pleased.” And that’s what makes Jesus’ call story different from the other prophetic calls we have heard: Jesus is named as God’s Son.

That name happens in relationship. We’re not reading it this week, but right after today’s readings stops, Luke lists off Jesus’ entire family tree, through his stepfather Joseph: “He was the son (as was thought) of Joseph son of Heli, son of Matthat, son of Levi…” dot dot dot, all the way back to “son of Adam, son of God.” This whole series places Jesus in context, in relationship.

Because isn’t that how it’s done, when you’re meeting someone for the first time? When you introduce someone, or when you are introduced to someone you’re just meeting, that’s perhaps the most helpful thing aside from your name: who are you in relationship to? This is Susie: she’s Margaret’s mother. This is Tom: he’s Cati’s husband. Using those words places people in context: in the context of relationship. And that’s part of what is the most important thing God has to say about Jesus, so important that it must be shouted from the heavens so all can hear:
This is my Son,
the Beloved,
with whom I am well pleased.

And this is Jesus’ call, the beginning of Jesus’ ministry—he is named as the Son of God, in relationship.

We see this also in the passage from Isaiah, as God reaffirms God’s relationship with the people of Israel: “Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine.” God loves this people with a fierce and passionate love. And you’ll notice this is also a naming of relationship: “bring my sons from far away and my daughters from the end of the earth—everyone who is called by my name.” Because that’s what it meant to be people of Israel: people who lived by God’s name.

The Israelites of Isaiah’s day needed to hear that message—because they were in exile, cast out of their homeland, far from everything they held dear. God acknowledges that the road will not be easy. The fire and the overflowing waters in this text, it’s not an if but a when. God’s people will experience danger and suffering. But God promises to be with them during that time, to protect them.

So what does this have to do with us here today? As Christians,  we bear the name of Christ: we too are people who live by God’s name. We are named in relationship to God.
And getting called by that name, like we heard in today’s hymn, can be frightening. Being in relationship with God means we are called to love God’s world, in ways that stretch and change us so that we can never be the same.

That’s certainly what happened to Jesus, after this moment of call. Don’t forget what happens after Jesus’ baptism: he leaves the Jordan and is driven into the wilderness, for forty days of fasting and temptation. Stepping out of those waters is, for Jesus, the first step on the road to the cross.

Maybe that is why he needed to hear those words, to know that truth: that he was Beloved of God. Maybe that is our good news: that the voice that calls us to do the difficult work of reconciliation in this world—the work that fills us so we can never be the same—that same voice is the voice that calls us by name and says Fear not: you are my Beloved, with you I am well-pleased.

There’s a Lutheran preacher, Nadia Bolz-Weber, whose blog I follow, and whose sermons I love. In many of her sermons there’s a particular refrain she repeats, after she proclaims the good news of God’s love and God’s mission: “nothing else gets to tell you who you are.” Not the fiery trials and the overflowing waters – it is your identity as God’s beloved that stands at the very core of you.

That is sometimes a hard message to remember. Which is why we need to hear it again, and again. Each week we come to the table, to remember—in tasting the bread and wine we taste God’s presence, and God’s promise. We remind each other who we are, and whose we are.
And on some special days, days like today, we remember in a different way: we remember through the waters of baptism. Today on our way to the table, we’ll pass the font—and you’ll be invited to touch the water, remember your own baptism, and take a stone to remind you of it in the weeks to come.

Coming to the font with us today is Ellie H. Right now, we know her best in relationship: as the baby daughter of members of this church. But she will be understood now as a part of St X’s Episcopal Church—and part of the family of God. Right now she has a gift of smiles, strong lungs, an open heart. What her gifts and calls will be, we will not know until later, perhaps. But we know that Jesus needs them, that Jesus has a place for her and work for her to do, as a minister of the church of God.

For that’s what she’s becoming, what we are: ministers of God. Yes, even those of us without the collar. Like you, I’m a lay person myself. I’ve never stood before the altar and made vows of ordination. But I did make vows of my own: or rather, my parents made them on my behalf, and I turn to renew them every year. My vows to keep fellowship with the people of God; to turn away from evil; to tell God’s story in the world; to serve my neighbor; and to work for everyone’s dignity. My vows to believe, love, and serve: all with God’s help.

Later this morning we will stand and say these vows together. We will say them for Ellie, and for ourselves, and for this community gathered here today. Because we have been called by name, and as Beloved of God, this is our chance to respond, with love for the world God made.

We are sealed by the Holy Spirit,
marked as Christ’s own forever—
and nothing else gets to tell us who we are.
Amen.

Friday, October 5, 2012

See my work at State of Formation soon!

Just wanted to share some exciting news with you: I've been accepted as a Contributing Scholar at State of Formation, an interfaith blog forum for emerging scholars of many traditions. I'll be writing there about once a month.

I'll still be posting here regularly, and most likely cross-posting on both sites from time to time, but I'm excited to have another venue to connect with people blogging about faith and culture. Do check out the site: it's got some great articles that ask some of the same big questions I find so fascinating. (I especially liked this recent essay about why the latest scandal about "Jesus' wife" matters to women in ministry.)

Hope your weekends are starting out well!