Tuesday, May 21, 2019

Coming through


May 19, 2019 – Mental Health Sunday




Last week I read an article about Borderline Personality Disorder. According to the DSM-V, in order to be diagnosed, a person must meet five of the following nine criteria:


Perceived or real fears of abandonment 

Intense mood swings, brief periods of severe depression or anxiety 

Impulsivity 

Unstable intense relationships 

Self-injurious and suicidal behaviors 

Chronic feelings of emptiness 

Inappropriate, intense anger and rage 

Unstable sense of self 

Dissociation and feelings of detachment



I then recalled that when I was about 26 years old I had been diagnosed with borderline personality disorder. I went into therapy after an engagement ended. The relationship brought up all the losses, the trauma, the loneliness, the emptiness of my childhood and adolescence, the issues of being an adult child of an alcoholic, and a lot of unresolved anger. I also started attending Al-Anon meetings and I began working with a spiritual director, an elderly Quaker woman who lived in Richmond, IN. Intervention was early, and combined with good community, this made all the difference. 



Because it is called a personality disorder there is a great deal of stigma about BPD. Up until a few decades ago it was thought to be untreatable. But as was stated in the article I read, clinicians are now regarding it more as a complex response to trauma, much like chronic or complex PTSD. 16 million people, about 5% of the US population, are affected with BPD, many of them adolescents and young adults. When we think of this more as an emotion management disorder as a result of trauma, we can understand and have compassion for those affected.



 
After reading the article, I then reflected on all of those who have suffered trauma at the hands of the Church. I recalled that many clergy and other church leaders regard themselves as “wounded healers”: they themselves had experienced trauma, found a sense of healing in the church, and perceived a call to minister to others. How many clergy and other church leaders have experienced symptoms of instability of emotions, thinking, behavior, relationships, self-image and gone unchecked? How many church members have experienced these? How many churches perpetuate a broken system of leadership and congregation inflicting trauma on each other? How many churches still can’t talk openly about mental health and getting help when it is needed? 



This church has its own history of trauma and conflict, having been created from leaving other communities of faith. You’ve had sources of conflict but you’ve also taken time to work on your issues. No congregation is free of conflict or difficult feelings but it is a sign of health when a church is willing to take a look in the mirror. 



Ironically, the Church itself was born of trauma: the death and resurrection of Jesus, followed by war and the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem, a few centuries of persecution, and then committed trauma against others with schism, crusades, inquisitions and violence in the name of true belief. One interpretation of mental health could be described as to how to manage, express and process the full range of human emotions without doing harm to ourselves and to others. The spiritual journey adds that even in the midst of uncertainty and loss, pain and fear, in the presence of chaos and evil, we are capable of compassion, mercy, and gratitude. 



John in his Revelation to the seven churches in Asia describes an apocalypse, a tribulation, an ordeal in which the people of God suffer a great deal of pain and trauma. God is in the midst of this as shepherd, as guide to the waters of life, as one who wipes away tears, who helps us come through. And when the forces of empire are no more, the fight against destruction and despair is over, wholeness and justice are restored and the earth and the heavens are made new.




 
What would a new earth look like? This isn’t a question for we who are privileged, we who have access to care and resources. What we would imagine would be very different from those who have been marginalized and criminalized just for being who they are, especially those who live with mental health challenges. From the website enfleshed.com in a reflection on this passage, “If young, radical, black queer activists imagined up a health care system - how different would it be? If seniors who immigrated to the U.S. with families got to dream about how public schools look in their community, how different would they be? If trans women, and single mothers, and rural women who farm, and young non-binary people were painting their ideal picture of a criminal legal system, how different would it be from what we have today?” God making all things new happens through the most vulnerable among us, along with our active participation in that love-filled liberation work.



 
Our mental health affects every system in which we are engaged. Every interaction, every behavior, how we think of ourselves—our abilities, our achievements, what we’re capable of doing—is impacted by the health of our body, mind, and spirit. Certainly no one has to be in perfect health in order to love one’s neighbor, in order to participate in this liberation work, but we do need to be able to be honest with ourselves and others when we need help from mental health professionals and from our community. 



So once again I asked my Facebook community, you who are living with mental illness, a new heaven/a new earth would be: The most frequent answer was acceptance not judgment. 

A new heaven/a new earth means the freedom to choose my feelings. 

A new heaven/a new earth means no stigma; less fear; freedom; opportunities. 

A new heaven/a new earth means insurance carriers have zero copay for mental health care. 

A new heaven/a new earth means not being mistreated. 

A new heaven/a new earth means learning how to feel discomfort, when it happens, without engaging in harmful behaviors in an attempt to numb it. 

A new heaven/a new earth means education for the public so they can understand what people go through on a daily basis, because the struggle is real. 

A new heaven/a new earth means more animals because they love us unconditionally. 

A new heaven/a new earth means being able to show people, from the inside, exactly what it is we go through. That they could see what we see, and feel what we feel, just for a brief, safe moment. 

A new heaven/a new earth means no one traumatizing another person, which would eliminate my Complex PTSD and make for a healthier society in general. As long as we’re dreaming, we need to dream big. 

A new heaven/a new earth means workplaces being required to have good accommodations for those of us with mental health issues. Getting fired when going through a bad spell is a real kick in the teeth. 

A new heaven/a new earth means understanding that mental health is no different from physical health. If you have cancer, you go to the doctor, and your friends can't do enough for you. If you suffer from depression or anxiety, you get told to "get over it". 

A new heaven/a new earth means a reprieve from it for just little while; a safe place from myself. 



We need good mental health care, now more than ever. We live in a 24/7 news cycle; we can be aware of so many reasons for despair, multiple losses simultaneously. None of us can process it all by ourselves. We are more able to come through the ordeals of our lives when our community loves us, accepts us, advocates for us, and supports us as we are. We help build this new heaven, this new earth through our care for one another, through the choices we make, through our bodies, our lives, the work of our hands, how we express ourselves in relationships, when we speak up and tell the truth of who we are and we create safe spaces to do so, when we resist oppressive systems and fight for change, when we see each person as the dwelling place for God—for what is good, holy, and true. 


Amen.






Benediction – Mental Health Network of the UCC 



May the grace that says “you are not alone” encourage you. 

May the mercy that says “you are enough” comfort you. 

May the love that says “you are loved” embrace you and bring you peace. 

 Amen.

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

Doing the Jesus things

Acts 9: 36-43
New Ark United Church of Christ, Newark, DE
May 12, 2019 – Mother’s Day



Tabitha's Gift by Cody Miller




They had to move on without him. He had turned their world upside down. Jesus had led the disciples to a generous, justice-filled, compassionate, authentic, daring, fearless way of living, and now they had to do it without him. They banded together, formed communities of mutual care and sharing, met for prayer and singing and a meal, in the midst of which they remembered Jesus. They took their message on the road, eager to share their way of life with others who were lonely, those in need of healing, those who suffered injustice under the boot of the Roman Empire. In the book of Acts we read that this way of life had become contagious, adding thousands to their number, especially after Paul had given up his old ways of judgment and persecution and was now spreading Jesus’ word of love and forgiveness, resistance and restoration.



All of us have had at least one person in our lives who showed us how to live a generous, good and loving life by their own example. They were parents, grandparents, siblings, teachers, mentors, friends, professionals, authors, leaders, and at some point we had to move on without them. Author Diana Butler Bass tweeted the other day: “Had a conversation today about how to go on after a beloved leader dies. The upshot of what I said: ‘People die. Their work goes on. The word lives after death.’ When you think about it, that’s actually the core of Christianity. People die. The work lives on.” She went on, “Grief eventually turns toward creativity and renewal. It takes a while. But it does.”




It can be hard for us to not make it about the beloved leader or friend, to keep going with the work, the giving, the love—doing the Jesus things. It would be so easy to just stop, because the work, the giving, the love—doing the Jesus things—can feel that much bigger and more difficult without them. Now that Storm and Bill are among the saints, along with Beverly and Jack and Wally and Larry and Adele and Delma and Frank and others beloved of this congregation—all of whom would want us to not only keep doing the Jesus things but with also with joy—we may ask ourselves, how can we keep them with us? Grief and memory and relationship are often messy and unfinished, but they are also pathways to something deeper. American novelist Elizabeth Berg is quoted on the back of the bulletin: “I thought, the only good thing about sorrow is that is brings us down to ground zero inside ourselves, it reacquaints us with our best and truest self, and it releases compassion like some mighty hormone, and if there is one thing that is good for us it’s to have compassion, because it brings us together.”




And so this morning we have this story from the early beginnings of Christian community, in which a beloved leader, Tabitha or Dorcas, has died, leaving behind a group of widows for whom she made beautiful clothing. She is the only female disciple named as such in the book of Acts and yet she is not famous or well-known. Rather she loved well, helped to change the lives of those she loved, and was well-loved in return. What more is needed for a life well-lived? Out of her love and the generosity of her livelihood she raised up, lifted up these widows, impoverished women on the margins of society. Her work helped these women come alive again, evidenced by the depth of their grief and their reluctance to let her go. They send for Peter, hopeful that this is not the end of the story. We don’t hear his prayer, any lengthy plea from him for Tabitha to be healed; only a simple command: Tabitha, get up.



Get up. This is also our call. Get up, Church. Come alive again, Church. We take our saints, our beloved ones, and their gifts and their love and their example and we do the Jesus things. We tell their stories to remind us that there are still countless others fighting the good fight, people who are doing the Jesus things because they must, because life requires that they get up and come alive.



Like Shannon Watts, the founder and activist behind Everytown for Gun Safety and Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, who receives death threats to herself and her family when the NRA tags her in social media posts. Even though she is often accused by the NRA of being a paid lobbyist, all that she does is as a volunteer. She says, “I’m just a mom. And that’s why I’ll never give up exposing [their] deadly agenda”.



Or my Twitter friend, Mx. Kori Pacyniak, a non-binary pastor, a graduate of Harvard Divinity School with an M.Div. in queer theology, and a PhD candidate in queer and trans studies who is seeking ordination through the Roman Catholic Women Priests. Even as Pope Francis disavows any notion of a female diaconate and denies that the Church can or has ever changed its teachings, the Roman Catholic Women Priests boldly break with unjust canon law. From their website: “[We] are at the forefront of a model of service that offers Catholics a renewed priestly ministry in vibrant grassroots communities where all are equal and all are welcome. The voice of the Catholic people—the sensus fidelium—has spoken. We women are no longer asking for permission to be priests. Instead, we have taken back our rightful God-given place ministering to Catholics as inclusive and welcoming priests.”



Or Jeanne Manford, the founder of PFLAG: Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays, who was the first mom to publicly support a gay child and marched with her gay son in the New York City Pride parade in 1972, the same year the United Church of Christ was the first to ordain an openly gay man.



Or our own Rev. Traci Blackmon, the Associate General Minister of Justice and Local Church Ministries for the United Church of Christ, who not only resists but schools those who would remain ignorant to what it means to live in skin that is not white in this country. Last week Traci was flying from Cleveland, OH to Charlotte, NC, when the following happened:

“Standing in line to board.
I’m first in line.
A middle eastern man is second.
The line progresses from there.
Just before boarding a middle-aged white woman struts up the side of me politely saying “excuse me” as she passes.

“She then proceeded to position herself in front of me in line. To which I respond, ‘Are you flying first class this afternoon?’ And she smiles and says “yes.”

“I respond: So am I. I am curious, if you don’t mind me asking. What was it about me that caused you to presume I was not a first class passenger and therefore you should be in front of me.

“Her face reddened. So I continued.

“I thought perhaps it was my casual dress. I mean I’m wearing torn jeans and a tee. Perhaps you didn’t think a person dressed this way would be in first class. But then I noticed you’re wearing a baggy sweat suit. So it couldn’t be that. I’m trying to figure out what it might be.

“I just didn’t realize. I apologize,” as she gathers herself and prepares to move. And then she proceeds to get behind me.

“I look inquisitively at the Middle Eastern man. He shrugged his shoulders. So I said loudly: Sir, are you flying first class as well? I can’t tell by looking at you. But I assume since you are standing here with me that you can read and you are in the place you should be.

“Again. She gathers her bags, moves. And replies she didn’t know.

“A few minutes later. She comes back up to me to tell me how cute my shoes are. I imagine she realizes the error of her ways and wants me to know now that she indeed does see...my shoes.

“I tell you.
This crap is exhausting.

“But. Every. Time. I. Will. Teach. You!!!”

Traci ends with, “I don’t even like the whole first class thing. They gave it to me because of frequency. I ain’t paying for it. But I may start. Just as an act of resistance!!!” 




Marguerite de Valois, in the 16th century, wrote, “Love works in miracles every day: such as weakening the strong, and strengthening the weak; making fools of the wise, and wise [ones] of fools; favoring the passions, destroying reason, and in a word, turning everything topsy-turvy.”















Not giving up. Each of us, all of us being exactly who we are and serving exactly that way. Challenging systems and institutions of power. Loving unconditionally and fighting for the equality of those still vulnerable to threats of violence because of their gender, because of who they love. Teaching the privileged to open their eyes and see for the first time. Creating a more just world with what we have, making miracles with the ordinary so that others may get up and come alive.



This is what it means to do the Jesus things. This is what it means to get up and come alive. This is how we practice resurrection, how we turn the world upside down.










Benediction - © 2019 enfleshed


Friends, it is Love that called us here and Love that sends us.
May we go in the assurance that this same Love 

is working in us and through us and around us 
in miraculous and ordinary ways,
binding up broken hearts,
rising up against injustice and oppression,
and stirring up new life in places unimaginable.
Go in peace.

Tuesday, May 7, 2019

Community care

New Ark United Church of Christ, Newark, DE
May 5, 2019




The Great Catch by John August Swanson





Yesterday I heard the news of the loss of two spiritual teachers, giants each in their own way: author Rachel Held Evans and retired UCC pastor David Norling.




Rachel is what is called an ex-vangelical: she was raised a Christian in the evangelical tradition but left those roots, eventually coming to the Episcopal Church, with doubts, honest questions, an evolving faith, and an advocate for feminism, intersectionality, racial equality, and LGBTQ rights.
David and Priscilla Norling



David Norling was my pastor from when I was 10 years old, who helped me through a rough adolescence (sounds redundant, doesn’t it?) and encouraged in me a call to ministry. He was a passionate preacher with a heart for social justice and Boston College basketball.



When our spiritual heroes and friends die, especially those whom we love and are close to, it reminds us of our own mortality, how vulnerable we all are. We’ve just come through Lent, which tells us that we are all dust and to dust we all will return. Death is a part of life and yet experiencing a loss can feel like we’ve come unmoored, as if we have tethers gently holding us in place and now a few more have come undone.
Like astronaut Bruce McCandless who, 35 years ago, hovered 186 miles above the earth with only his Manned Maneuvering Unit, it can feel like the only things connecting us are what we have within our grasp: communication; a view of the world around us; people, our tribe, our community holding us in their hearts; something that gives us some security, helps us feel like we can get from point A to point B; and trust that this is enough.



So we can imagine that Peter and the other disciples are probably having similar feelings, uncertain of their future, disconnected from purpose and a sense of belonging to something greater than themselves. Especially Peter, living with the shame of denial and desertion. So they return to what is familiar, to fishing and water and the smell of the air and working with their hands and the comfort of being together with people so close, words are not necessary.



What feeds your soul, your spirit? What helps you feel connected? I asked those questions on Facebook and once again, there were not only numerous comments but people responded to other comments, being found in the creating of community and connection. 



Many people said music and nature. Others replied animals, especially their unconditional love for us. Some folks answered being with other people, especially serving others in any number of ways.



Self-care is a foundational spiritual practice but when it becomes our main source of care, it can begin to feel like “God helps those who help themselves”, which isn’t biblical or caring. Which is why we also need equal amount of another foundational spiritual practice: community care. Not only responding to community needs for care but the ongoing, regular practice of caring for community. We feed our spirits by being with and serving our tribe, and we are found in the creating of community and connection. And so Jesus says to Peter, “Feed and tend my sheep”, restoring Peter to discipleship, to belonging and community.




Rachel wrote in her book, Searching for Sunday, “This is what God’s kingdom is like: a bunch of outcasts and oddballs gathered at a table, not because they are rich or worthy or good, but because they are hungry, because they said ‘yes’. And there’s always room for more.” Whenever David Norling served communion to those who served the congregation, or to confirmands or to youth and advisors on a retreat, he would say their first name with the words “The body of Christ broken for you”, and he made sure he was always served last. We are the Body of Christ and individual members of it but always a unique whole, the one Body. God in Community, Holy in One.




The Best Supper by Jan Richardson
This Table, the family table, the kitchen table, the picnic table, Dining for Women tables, Hope Dining Room and Code Purple tables, reception tables, the potluck table, tables pushed together and meals shared, tether us and connect us to something larger than ourselves and our hunger. It’s more than what feeds us, but what feeds everyone.







When David and I visited the Harmandir Sahib or the Golden Temple in Amritsar, in the Indian state of Punjab near the Pakistani border, we were given a tour of the community kitchen or langar that serves a free meal to up to 100,000 people a day—all faiths, all backgrounds, everyone is welcome, no matter who you are. Every Sikh gurdwara provides a free meal after worship. Our Sikh guide told us that they do not call this community service but service to humanity.
When we care for and feed each other, it is not only a service we give to each other, but service to humanity. “Feed my sheep”, Jesus said. Just as we gather and celebrate at this Table every month, I’d like to see us form a monthly spiritual practice of eating a sit-down meal together after worship. A time when we can talk to each other, listen, laugh, feed each other’s spirits, invite others to join us, to be in solidarity with all who hunger for justice, acceptance, belonging, connection.



Spoon Hell by Stuart McMillen

There’s an old story of heaven and hell, in which both places have the same conditions. Everyone is seated at a table with a large pot of stew in the center of the table.  Everyone has a large wooden spoon about the size of a yardstick. The difference? In hell there is great suffering because everyone is starving as they try to feed themselves. In heaven there is great joy because everyone feeds everyone else and all are fed, all are satisfied. Our culture can often be a living hell, everyone out for themselves, fearful of scarcity. The Church is called to be heaven on earth, humanity is interconnected, with abundance not just for ourselves but for everyone. 


Spoon Heaven by Stuart McMillen



Let’s eat, Church, let’s eat, that we may be fed so we can love this world.



Amen.








Benediction – © enfleshed 2019


Jesus sends us from this place
To feed and to be fed
To tend and be tended to
To be in solidarity with one another
And to invite others into solidarity with us.
May we go in the assurance that just as God goes with us,
so too does grace.
Today and always.

Amen.

Wednesday, May 1, 2019

What a fool believes

John 20: 19-31
New Ark United Church of Christ, Newark, DE
April 28, 2019 – Bright Sunday 








What a fool believes he sees
No wise man has the power to reason away
What seems to be
Is always better than nothing
And nothing at all




It’s a song about a guy who wants to get back together with his girlfriend. When she agrees to meet him, he thinks she’s interested too. But she’s humoring him. There never really was a relationship in the first place, but he’s stuck in what seems to be, which is always better than nothing and nothing at all.



These days it seems that anyone who believes in something they can’t prove or provide evidence for is taken for a fool and the world comes down hard on them. Certainty is the name of the game, whether it’s religion or science. You can come down on either side of religion or science (yes it’s true/no it’s not) when it comes to certainty. Fundamentalist thinking, infallibility, I am right and everyone else is wrong, is not limited to religious belief. Neither is wishful or magical thinking or superstition. We say, facts are facts and there’s no disputing them. And yet there are folks who insist the world is flat, others who deny the reality of climate change to everyone’s peril, some who vehemently won’t accept that there are more than two genders, atheists who call believers fools and vice versa.



What a fool believes he sees
No wise man has the power to reason away
What seems to be
Is always better than nothing
And nothing at all




I was reminded recently that this really is the beauty of our country, of our democracy, that everyone has the freedom to think what they want and form conclusions and opinions based on how they view the world. And everyone also has the freedom and the responsibility to disagree, to put forth their assertions. The challenge is: how we do this without trying to win converts, without hurting each other, without destroying each other but actually remaining in conversation, in relationship, in covenant with each other. Evolution is hard work. Community is hard work.





In this morning’s gospel lesson, Thomas makes his friends work for it, for relationship, for belonging. I’ve always said that Thomas gets a bad rap. We hear his voice only a few times and only in the Gospel of John. And he always comes up on the Sunday after Easter. When Thomas says he won’t believe Jesus is raised from the dead unless he can touch his wounds, I don’t hear doubt but someone who loved Jesus, someone who wants to believe but maybe feels like he’s taken once chance too many. He can’t step out of the depth of his grief. He doesn’t want to be taken for a fool. He doesn’t want to be that guy in the song. (“Hey we met Jesus for drinks and he says he wants to get back together with you.”) Because it already hurts too much. And, being wounded himself, Jesus understood that and turned it into compassion.



But that’s what love does. It makes fools of us all. And sometimes it hurts. If it’s one thing we can be certain about, love will injure just as surely as it will heal. We all have our wounds. We all have complicated feelings when it comes to our families, our friends, our communities, our country, our world and yet we need to be brave fools for all of it as much as we need to be intelligent and wise. I don’t think we want a world based solely on the defense of facts because dreams come from another place, and I don’t know about you, but I’m not sure I know where that is. Hope comes from faith, the belief in something not seen, the substance of something not certain.



So why Bright Sunday? Why Holy Humor the Sunday after Easter, with Thomas and his heart worn out from love and risk? Hope also comes from laughter. Though it doesn’t say so, I can imagine Jesus and Thomas and the rest of the disciples sharing the knowing laughter of relief, like friends who have come through a battle they thought they would lose. Anne Lamott calls laughter “carbonated holiness”. When it lifts us out of ourselves laughter can be worship. Laughter reminds us to not take ourselves too seriously but to also dig deep and find the joy and the love that sustains us and holds us together.



After all…



What a fool believes he sees
No wise man has the power to reason away
What seems to be
Is always better than nothing
And nothing at all




Fools for Christ. Suckers for Jesus. And for Love. Amen.









Tuesday, April 23, 2019

The understory

John 20: 1-18
New Ark United Church of Christ, Newark, DE
April 21, 2019 – Easter Sunday 








            
While I was on sabbatical I had the good fortune to experience the onset of spring numerous times. In the four weeks I was in Arizona the weather and the landscape went from cold and about eight inches of snow to upper sixties, blooming ocotillo, barrel, and hedgehog cactuses, and desert golden poppies. As I made my way east from Sedona to Albuquerque to Amarillo to Oklahoma City to Little Rock and Nashville and Hendersonville, NC I saw budding and blooming trees, greening grass, and clumps of daffodils and other early bloomers. On a side trip to Atlanta with Glenna Shepherd I saw spring full-blown in late March: magnolias, azaleas, camellias, even a wild rose bush all in full bloom.



As I drove north from Hendersonville through Asheville and into the Pisgah National Forest, I witnessed the greening understory of the deep, mountainous woods. Early spring is such a tender time. How brave is the mountain laurel and viburnum and yellowroot, and wildflowers like spring beauty and bloodroot and trillium, and green plants like fiddlehead ferns and skunk cabbage when nights are still chilly and the threat of snow and frost is still present.



Anything can happen to that unprotected understory, those first green leaves and early bloomers. One year in Connecticut, on our annual Rosh Hashanah apple picking trip, as the kids and I rolled up to the entrance to the orchard we were told “no apples this fall”. Earlier that year in the spring, there had been a couple of very warm days and all the apple trees blossomed seemingly at once, the flowers fat with their nectar. All it took was a hard frost to freeze that nectar and render it useless. Every time I see the first tender green of spring I think of how much depends on those early few weeks.



And so it was during the third spring I witnessed that I drove through the Pisgah National Forest to Bakersville, NC to find my father’s house. I hadn’t been there since my father died in April of 1985 and I had come back to say goodbye in June after my sophomore year of college. I struggled to identify anything that might have been familiar: landmarks, towns, businesses. I began to cry as I drove up and down the hilly roads and really had no idea why. “Woman, why do you weep?” Memories of visits during summer break and school vacations came flooding back and the understories of our relationship. The tears just rolled down my face.



I questioned my motives. “Why am I doing this?” I knew I would not be able to find any sign of a grave on the property. Half of my father’s ashes were buried behind the house with only a simple rock to mark the space. My stepmother sold the house in 1990 and moved to California. The other half of my father’s ashes are buried in Norwell, MA, beneath a copse of pine trees behind the church where he got sober and started a crisis intervention ministry, the same church where I was ordained.




Why am I doing this? Why do I seek the living among the dead? My father isn’t there. Everything is so unlike how I remember it. It reminds me of invitations to visit the Holy Land. See where Jesus walked; visit the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the church which contains the both the site of the crucifixion and the tomb where he was buried; or the Church of the Nativity built over the cave venerated as the birthplace of Jesus. How could they know hundreds of years later where these events actually took place?



It’s only been 34 years for me and I can’t remember how to find my father’s house. Earlier in March I visited my brother in Tucson and we went on Google Earth to see if we could follow the road east out of Bakersville and find our way to the house. We had no address. All our dad had was a mailing address: box number #326A, Rural Route 4. We zoomed in and followed the road but we couldn’t be sure.



When I got to town (population 459 souls) I went to the Bakersville town hall, a little storefront near where the two main roads crossed. The person behind the desk directed me to the Mitchell County Register of Deeds, located down the street and around the corner. Over the course of an hour the clerk and I searched huge books of deed records to find who had last purchased the house. As it happens, the people who bought the house in 1990 still owned it. I googled their names and found them in the white pages. The house now had an address.



My dad's house, June 1985


But it still had a long rocky, bumpy dirt road leading up to it. I parked at the bottom of the driveway so that I wouldn’t startle the owners or damage my little car. When I got up to the fence, two dogs announced my presence. An older woman came out to meet me. I tried to look as harmless as I could.



I told her my father and stepmother built the house, that I hadn’t been back since 1985, and I wanted to see if it was still here. She apologized for the condition of the house, that they hadn’t kept up with maintenance in a while. I was just thrilled to find it still there. It’s such an odd house in some ways. The hot water is heated in large black-painted tanks behind the skylights in the roof. My stepmother had insisted on a kitchen with a cast-iron cook stove. All of the front rooms have sliding glass doors. It took my stepmother 5 years to sell it. The couple that lives there now were the only people who looked at the house. She said yes when I asked if I could take a photo. She apologized again and said that they love the house, that they love living there. I reassured her and said it’s like the Velveteen Rabbit, careworn and much-loved. I thanked her and looked at the house one last time before walking back to my car.


March 25, 2019




Like the season of spring and that tenuous understory, the resurrection isn’t always triumphant and joyous. It can take time. At times it can feel quite vulnerable and emotional. It doesn’t have to make sense. Sometimes we have to work at it, work on ourselves, have patience, be forgiving, and receive what is offered.



It doesn’t always happen where and when we think it will or hope for. Even when we give up on resurrection, sometimes it surprises us. And yet the resurrection isn’t just for us or about us and our lives. The story of one who is Love enfleshed, Love incarnate, is the human story. A story of pain and sorrow. A story of knowing and being known. A story of healing and wholeness and restoration. A story of justice and compassion. A story of cruelty, abandonment, rejection, betrayal and extravagant grace. A story in which death does not have the last word but rather it is the beginning of another journey. A story in which Love is made visible, real, unbreakable, resilient. A story that can take place anytime, anywhere, in any life.






Jesus is born wherever the vulnerable and marginalized are lifted up and liberated, wherever there is tender new life, whenever we encounter what is good and holy and true in the flesh.



Jesus is crucified whenever human flesh is abandoned in its suffering, wherever people can’t afford their healthcare, their heating and grocery bills, or a safe place to live, whenever queer or trans or black or brown flesh is disbelieved, disowned, dishonored, destroyed, discriminated against. Jesus is crucified when the earth and its creatures are abandoned in their suffering, wherever plastic chokes the earth, wherever water is not clean enough to drink, whenever a lifeform suffers because of human convenience.



Jesus is harrowing his way through hell when we fight for each other’s wholeness and bear each other’s injustice, when we make amends for our wrongs and forgive ourselves and others, when we restore even one who was unjustly accused, who suffered for their human rights, dignity and worth, when we move to restore the earth to beauty and balance.



Jesus is raised whenever hate and judgment have no power over us, when we let go of toxic thinking and behavior, when we celebrate and embrace our belovedness and that of all flesh, when we are freed from our fears and released to love.



Love is our understory, that fragile quality of being alive, in which we’re not sure what’s going to happen, but we know that love makes all the difference.




Amen.




Benediction – by Howard Thurman



Give me the courage to live!
Really live– not merely exist.
Live dangerously,
Scorning risk!
Live honestly,
Daring the truth–
Particularly the truth of myself!
Live resiliently–
Ever changing, ever growing, ever adapting.
Enduring the pain of change
As though ’twere the travail of birth.
Give me the courage to live,
Give me the strength to be free
And endure the burden of freedom
And the loneliness of those without chains;
Let me not be trapped by success,
Nor by failure, nor pleasure, nor grief,
Nor malice, nor praise, nor remorse!

Give me the courage to go on!
Facing all that waits on the trail–
Going eagerly, joyously on,
And paying my way as I go,
Without anger or fear or regret
Taking what life gives,
Spending myself to the full,
Dead high, spirit winged, like a god–
On… on… till the shadows draw close.
Then even when darkness shuts down,
And I go out alone as I came,
Naked and blind as I came–
Even then, gracious God, hear my prayer:
Give me the courage to live!