A circle of womxn/women is forming this summer to create community and sacred space together. We’ll gather to connect over Shameless, the latest book from Rev. Nadia Bolz-Weber. This circle is an invitation to sip and snack with new friends as we discuss sex, sexuality, queerness, bodies, reproduction and the cultivation of a faith that might free, rather than shame, us.
We gather on Tuesday evenings from 7-9 pm from July 9-August 27. Meet outside Bright Place Gallery under the tent on the south side of the building. Look for the friendly women-types in the garden! Sips and snacks available (but always optional) from nearby Bevel Craft Brewing and campus food carts.
Suggested donation of $0-$80 for the round, including the book. Sign up by July 2 if you’d like us to order your book; otherwise, just show up! No RSVP necessary. Email email@example.com to sign up or for more information.
The book and our leadership emerge from the Lutheran tradition, but all perspectives are invited and encouraged. This circle is rooted in the Storydwelling community, and you can learn more about our welcome and our values here. Trans, non-binary, queer, lesbian, cis, hetero and all beautiful varieties of womxn are warmly invited. The more perspectives around the table, the more wisdom available to us.
Musician in Residence stipended position
$250 per week, approximately 10 hours a week
The Musician in Residence will be the curator and innovator of all things music for the Storydwelling community. Storydwelling is an ecumenical and affirming community of faith committed to love, liberation and relationship. We are rooted in the progressive theology of the Lutheran and Methodist traditions, and we long to explore the beautiful and creative edges of what is possible as we curate new theological vocabulary and spiritual imagination. We are committed to taking action for justice and peace in our neighborhoods and world.
The primary responsibility of the Musician in Residence is to craft new music for this community and to curate a tone and spiritual vocabulary that aligns with our values and commitments. We imagine the MiR working among us as she/he/they do the creative work of putting our commitments to music. These need not be master compositions; simple tunes and chants are our speed!
A secondary responsibility will be to lead our community in music at our regular gatherings and at special events, but these tasks should contribute to the creative work of the MiR rather than distract or consume too much time.
Of course, the MiR is welcome to be a part of our community in whatever ways feel right, but participation in all gatherings is not required. We are a community rooted in Christianity, but we love and honor all perspectives; in fact, the more perspectives the better!
Musical skill insomuch as one can craft new music for a community as well as lead music for a community
Willingness to cultivate the musical gifts of others in the community
Flexibility and adaptability
A sense of humor
Openness to exploring theological and spiritual language and practices insomuch as they connect with the community’s musical expressions
Availability on most weekends and some holidays
Story Dwelling expects all of its staff and community to commit to our core values:
Y’all means all: we affirm the identities, backgrounds, and perspectives of all people
God is a relational experience, and so relationship–rather than doctrine or dogma–is of primary value; we cultivate relationship through listening and sharing our stories.
Faith is intentional: curiosity, wonder, awe are encouraged and cultivated.
We steward sacred texts: of our scripture(s) and the sacred texts of our lives and stories.
Out of relationship, we take hopeful action for justice and peace.
This is a part-time position. Compensation is a stipended rate of $250 per week with the expectation of working 10 hours/week, recognizing that some weeks will require less time and some weeks (Christmas, for example) will require more time. The position will begin August 1 and end December 31.
This position is brand new and will develop and adapt as community and musician need it to. If all goes well, there is a good possibility of this extending beyond December 31 and becoming a permanent staff position.
If interested, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org to set up an initial meeting. Please send a sample recording or video that shows you “in your element” musically. Applications accepted on a rolling basis until position is filled.
Storydwelling is committed to providing equal employment opportunities to all qualified individuals and does not discriminate on the basis of race, color, ethnicity, religion, sex, gender identity and expression, sexual orientation, national origin, disability, age, marital status, veteran status, parental status, documentation status or any other basis prohibited by applicable law.
People of color, people with disabilities, and people of diverse sexual orientations, gender expressions and identities are encouraged to apply.
Each year, the church calendar invites us to spend a week reflecting on and embodying the cycle of death and life that is human existence. The calendar calls this Holy Week.
Friends, all days are holy; none more holy than another. But this week is meant to be a remembrance: of a life lived in G-d–the rabbi Jesus–and of all of our lives lived in G-d/Source/Mystery.
Our invitation is to spend a week in intentional reflection and celebration together through music, storytelling, hiking and feasting. During these holy days, we remember and acknowledge that the world crucifies those who resist, those on the edges; crucifies the edges of our own stories and lives. And yet: we trust this is not the last word. When we gather together, we remember how true it is:
life wants to live.
This evening gathering invites us to reflect on the shadow side of our human lives and the Love that was and is crucified in solidarity with crucified people and communities in our world. We gather at one of our homes for an out-loud reading of the story of Jesus of Nazareth’s betrayal and execution, blended with the music of Brandi Carlile. You can expect to gather for about an hour with singing, prayer, candles and a campfire. All are welcome. Send us a quick note to receive the address.
As Holy Week invites us to reflect on life and death, we commit to acts of hopeful resistance as our kin and neighbors seek life in a death-dealing world. The ability to drive legally is a core everyday need for Oregon families. The Oregon legislature has the opportunity to pass House Bill 2015 this legislative session, a bill that would help ensure that all Oregonians can access a license to drive and have
a legal way to identify themselves. No family should fear being separated for driving to work, school or their house of worship. Our elected officials need to hear from us! Join us for this town hall at First Presbyterian in Bend to hear stories about how equal access to roads would strengthen our community.
This is the celebration of Easter, Storydwelling style! The Easter vigil is the oldest form of Easter celebration, and it is a night of stories. Yes, the stories in the Bible are unbelievable. But on Easter eve, we reclaim them, tell them, honor them. These are old wives’ tales and we get to love them into something more powerful than any textbook. We begin the evening outside around the campfire and then we spend the next TWO HOURS telling stories from the Hebrew tradition, singing and doing art together. This is more coffee house than it is “church service.” The evening culminates with a big celebration: Preaching! Wine & bread! Champagne! It’s all here. Yes, this gathering is long, but there are treats and activities for families all along the way. Absolutely all are welcome. Thanks to Nativity Lutheran for letting us use the space! We gather in the prayer garden on the east side of the parking lot.
Join us for an Easter hike to the top of Lava Butte (https://www.hikespeak.com/trails/lava-butte-hike-newburry-nvm-bend/)! We’ll meet up for an outdoor adventure to fill our lungs with Life and walk with footsteps of persistent Love. All are welcome. Bring a lunch or some snacks with you to enjoy at the summit with breathtaking Cascade views. We’ll bring the champagne! What a way to share in communion on this sacred day!
The hike is on a paved road and is about 3.5 miles total (1.75 miles each way). Parking is at the Lava Lands Visitors Center lot. Bring a valid Northwest Forest Pass to park for free or cash to pay $5 for parking. Pets on a leash are welcome.
We’ll meet at the parking lot beginning at 10:30 a.m. and start the hike at 11 a.m. If you miss us, we’ll meet you at the top for lunch!
First, I must confess that over the past few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to “order” than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: “I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action”; who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait for a “more convenient season.” Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.
— Excerpt from Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s Letter from a Birmingham Jail
This letter has always been one of my scriptures: for the ways it makes me weep and holds a mirror to my face and invites me to gaze with love at our world.
Just as all good scriptures do.
I have beloveds who have lately said to me: “I want to be loving. I want to be compassionate. I want to transcend the lines that divide us–political, religious, ideological. But people keep disappointing me. They keep choosing compromise over me. They keep choosing religious doctrine over me. They keep choosing ‘peace’ over me.”
I invited our community to reflect this past weekend on where, how and with whom we are longing to “make room” for relationship. How our communal “womb” is invited to stretch and grow and be challenged for the sake of new life. I think it’s a good question: few of us can say we have learned to love others with perfect hospitality.
And yet: so many of us have already had to “make room.” To stand aside and let our relationships be more important than our pride, our dignity, our talents. We have already been making room for family members, colleagues, local governments, the wider culture to struggle with our sex or sexuality, our race, our age, our dreams and our visions. You name it, many of us have already learned to make room for it. Often, we have done it out of love. Often it is under duress and by force for the sake of survival.
I say “we” and “our” and yet am aware that Rev. King’s invitation is to me and folks like me: white, middle-class spiritual leaders. I weep when I read this letter, because that is the feeling of my womb being stretched. Room must be made in my mind, my actions, my energy, my body for the humanity and freedom of every single one of my sacred siblings.
Because we are accountable to our relationships. We (particularly people with power/privilege) can say or think or tweet or behave or vote or pray however we want, but we cannot do it without expecting some relational consequences. There is a line.
It need not divide us forever, it need not dismiss someone or banish them outside of a community or a circle or from our lives entirely. For what it’s worth, my theology, my Bible and my relationship with the Holy do not send folks to an afterlife hell.
But we must ask, expect and–when the time comes–require from our relationships speech, actions, and behavior that are loving, respectful and humanizing. And, dare I say, awe-filled. We are invited to be in awe of one another by the Spirit who dwells within each of us.
So, yeah, there’s a line.
Among the community that is becoming Story Dwelling, we have that kind of line. We expect justice-love from one another. We will not engage in debate about whether someone is fully human, fully beloved, fully justified (to use that oh-so-religious word). That means LGBTQ+ folx are not “them”–”they” are us. Leaders. Organizers. Collaborators. That means women and people of color and young people and immigrants and refugees are not “them”– “they” are us. We will not debate our marriages, our leadership, our giftedness. We may experience tension about how best to strategize; we may realize we have messed up and forgotten to invite someone to the table; we may struggle with our own feelings of guilt that come with privilege or feelings of inadequacy that come with oppression. We will struggle with those things. But we will not debate our worth or our liberation destiny. That is not what beloved community does. The same good reverend whose life we celebrate today teaches us that.
There is a line. It need not separate us. But it does need to be a loving boundary–a trustworthy, hospitable and strong-as-hell container–that allows for vulnerability and deep belonging and loving story-telling. We deserve that kind of womb, and our neighborhoods deserve faith communities that respond to that sense of belonging by working, pushing, conspiring– until all belong.
What if there are lots of ways of making meaning of the life of that first-century rabbi? What if we could explore the story and find the ways it has bearing our lives, especially on the eve of an election? Those are my thoughts as I walk the path. Special thanks to Smith Rock for the gorgeous backdrop.
The Bible can feel so…what’s the word I’m looking for? Wounding? Irrelevant? Unbelievable? Here’s my attempt at starting a conversation on how we can claim the Bible in its wisdom in ways that make us better lovers of neighbor and self.
This is the fourth in our series on disrupting, reclaiming and expanding parts of Christian language, tradition and ritual for our lives and experiences here and now.
You don’t get assassinated for preaching about love.
A Good Friday sermon in eight words.
But! It is the Easter season.
My technicolor hard-boiled eggs sit uneaten in the fridge (I’ll get to them…tomorrow) and our family has left town and I need to take a break from mimosas for a little while for reasons that should require no explanation.
It is the Easter season. Christ is risen.
It is the Easter season. Alleluias everywhere.
And today is April 4, 1968, and my call is calling me back to Good Friday.
(Except April 4, 1968, was a Thursday.
That’s okay: betrayal works too.)
You don’t get assassinated for preaching about love.
This is the conviction that lies underneath #whitechurchsilent. #whitechurchsilent is an online movement started in the wake of the 2016 election. It describes the phenomenon that occurs when pastors, leaders and congregations that are mostly white, that belong to mostly white denominations, that were started by white people, choose not to speak explicitly about the injustices and violence done to black and brown people in our neighborhoods and country.
Instead, we talk about love. Which is almost like not saying anything at all.
Which is why you don’t get assassinated for preaching about love.
Which is why I, and many of my pastor-preacher-minister-type colleagues are going to be just fine.
We are safe when we are being called to be bold.
Like the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., who was assassinated in Memphis on this day in 1968. For preaching about love–and how it cannot be decoupled from power and justice.
“We’ve worked hard to create a vision of King that is like a black Santa Claus,” says Charles McKinney, associate professor of history at Rhodes College. (I listened to his interview today on The Takeaway from WNYC; you can (and should) listen to it, too.) In other words, popular American culture memorializes Rev. King as someone who preached about love, and it has forgotten that he was called to Memphis to defend and affirm the lives of sanitation workers who were on strike, to challenge the city to give them a living wage. It was part of a campaign he was igniting to restructure the fabric of human life in the United States and to confront the reality of poverty.
You don’t get assassinated for preaching about love, remember?
Professor McKinney compares the popular culture version of Rev. King to Barney the Dinosaur singing “I love you, you love me”; he calls him “toothless.” He says we–and by “we” I mean corporate, political and religious forces who benefit (or at least remain safe) by promoting this sanitized version–have whittled Rev. King’s narrative down to one that is about love. The Hallmark kind. But the kind of love that King preached about was the kind of love that demanded we be in the streets; that demanded we work on behalf of and alongside the disinherited. It was the kind of love that got him killed.
So this is my commitment: to expand my imagination and my heart in ways that move me from safe to bold. To let you, my friends and neighbors, invite me into that transformation. It is not always easy to imagine what Rev. King’s work might look like in Central Oregon; at least three times a week someone tells me “how white” it is here. We can debate that informal (and changing) statistic, but the real question is: do we here in Oregon not still see the three main evils Rev. King was called to challenge?
Racism; militarism; poverty.
Those among us who are undocumented know these evils.
Those among us who are underemployed and unsafely housed know these evils.
How about #whitechurchbold?
How about #whitechurchlistening?
How about #whitechurchstandswith?
At Easter, I, alongside many others, celebrate the persistent life of the One who got assassinated for preaching about love that transforms the powers of the-world-as-it-is for the sake of justice on earth as it is in heaven.
May we listen to such bold calls and live by such bold examples.
This is the third in our series on disrupting, reclaiming and expanding parts of Christian language, tradition and ritual for our lives and experiences here and now.
In my first couple years as a youth pastor I worked with and for a self-proclaimed “boy’s club” in the South. My fellow youth ministers all went to the same all-boys school in Nashville and then had gone off to big SEC schools for college. They loved football, beer, Jesus, and teenagers. And they did their best to love me.
We were required to memorize scripture as part of our job. One such verse was John 14:21, “He who has my commandments and keeps them, he is the one who loves me; and he who loves me will be loved by my father, and I too will love him and reveal myself to him.”
Now… I don’t know if you were counting, but that’s five male pronouns and one male metaphor for God (Father), in one verse. I, as a woman, began to feel this twinge.
In response to the twinge, I looked up the verse in the original Greek (the language of the New Testament). In my endearing first attempt at understanding Biblical Greek, I understood that pronouns used were neuter, thus without gender (after having to take courses in Biblical Greek I realize I was mistaken, which is what happens when you use a free website for translation!).
So, I told my coworkers I would be using feminine pronouns. I was a woman, seeking to follow the commands of Jesus, and so I should use myown pronouns, just like they got to use theirs. And it wouldn’t be sacrilegious or ignoring the “authority” of the Christian Bible—it was simply a different interpretation.
Notwithstanding the fact that my translation wasn’t accurate, the logic still stands for me—why shouldn’t I be able to use my pronouns? They boys got to use theirs, why not me? Did Jesus really care which pronoun I used? What about Galatians 3:28, which we also had to memorize? It reads, “There is no longer Jew nor Greek, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you all are one in Christ Jesus.” If we are all one then why is it only “he who will be loved?” and not she or they?
Their general reactions to my usage of feminine pronouns fell in the vicinity of shifty eyes, discomfort, and “uh, okay?”
We then took our high school seniors to a Passion, a conservative Christian conference in Atlanta that states their goal as “…uniting students in worship and prayer for spiritual awakening in this generation.” I remember sitting in the Georgia Dome, listening to the likes of Louie Giglio and John Piper, talking about the love of our Father God. Chris Tomlin and David Crowder leading us in songs about “how deep the Father’s love for us,” our savior, the king of kings, the prince of peace, oh how He love us.
I felt this twinge, this pinch, get bigger.
Coming back to Nashville, I heard our pastors using Trinitarian closing for prayers and blessings—“in the name of the Father, and the Son and the Holy Ghost.” I realized that the Trinitarian litany was, at best, two men and some form of non-binary being.
There was no woman in the Trinity.
The men I worked with, they all planned on being fathers someday… they could get the epitaph Father that we so often give for God, whereas I could not. I would be a mother… and a Mother wasn’t what Christians called God. That was reserved for “Father.”
After life as a Christian since childhood, four years at a liberal arts college, and plenty of privileged world travel, I was struck by a deep sense of wrongness.
Feminist theologian Mary Daly once said, “If God is male, then male is God.” Through using only male pronouns for God and Jesus and the Spirit, we have deified the male gender. The language we use for God has been a participant and perpetuator of patriarchy, of hegemonic masculinity, and contributed to devaluing of any and all non-male bodies.
It would be like worshiping a redheaded God—imagine praying, “dear red-headed God, thank you for your strength and provision …” It stands to reason that the red-heads in the room might sit a little straighter, knowing they have a big thing something in common with the divine, whereas folks with all the other hair colors would begin to feel somehow less. The red-heads could think they were naturally strong, that they should be the providers, that they were more, better.
I felt like the Bible, the Church, the entire Christian community, were all telling me, overtly or not, that I was “less” because I was a woman. My “less-ness” had been blessed and made sacred by my faith, who saw me as less because of my sex and gender.
I couldn’t help but wonder at this point howthe hell I was supposed to fit into this religion, this world view, when I staunchly refused to believe I was less because of my chromosomal makeup, my self-identification, my body.
I have spent years, particularly my years in seminary, trying to figure out if I can fit in this thing called “Christianity.” There have been times when I have wanted to leave my faith almost hourly, due in part to this specific issue, and the trickle-down effects I see patriarchy enacting in the world.
But God, like the bully She is, just won’t let me go. Jesus, in and beyond all of his problematic “maleness,” just won’t leave me alone and I, for some unknown reason, can’t seem to walk away from my Christian faith altogether.
And in those same seminary years, I was introduced to feminist, womanist, and mujerista theologies. I learned about the writings of women like Elizabeth Johnson, Kwok Pui-Lan, Elizabeth Schussler Fiorenza, Delores S. Williams, Emilie M. Townes, and Ada Maria Isasi-Diaz, women who saw God as more than a white man, even going so far as to identify God within their own experience—God as a black woman, as a chica joven in labor, as a mother bear, God as, a God who entered into my own and experience and saw it, saw me, as holy.
I learned about the necessity of viewing all things in context. Any reading of the Bible is a cross-cultural experience, meaning we will almost always misunderstand things because we are outside of the context in which it was written. The story of the good Samaritan really doesn’t mean much, until you learn that the Jews hated the Samaritans because of centuries of betrayal and cultural hatred. The story of Adam and Eve totally changes when you learn that adam can also mean “humankind” and that chavvah (translated Eve) means “life;” that when God makes adam a helper, an ezer, that same word ezer is most often used as a word for God, when God comes and saves the Israelites from various catastrophes. In other words, the “helper”—ezer—is sacred, potent, a part of God herself.
The greatest lesson that I keep returning to in terms of our language around God is that everything, every epitaph or curse or name, everything we ever call God is but a metaphor. No words can encompass who and what and how God is. Thus, I believe, we must be deeply intentional about our language for God, especially in church, and we must notice who and what is left out in our imaginings of God.
Using feminine imagery for God has become a deeply healing experience for me. When I hear God referred to with feminine pronouns I am reminded that I am included, loved, seen by my God. I am reminded that I have been given much, that I have that “much-ness” in common with my Creator, and am called to now live in such a way as to love as God loves—radically, empathetically, strangely, beautifully. I am reminded that in truth all gender is false, merely a helpful (and harmful) categorization for people.
I am reminded that I exist within God, that God exists within me.
A translation of Acts 17:28 is this (as I now have taken Biblical Greek):
“For in Christ we live, and move, and have our being; for we, as the poets say, are children of God.”
We are children of God, expressions of our Creator, regardless of our chromosomal makeup or identifications—we all reflect our Creator, uniquely, especially, intentionally. And as such, we must talk about Her, about Him, about Them, with language and words that recall us to our inclusion, our belovedness, and the vastness of God.
This is the second in our series on disrupting, reclaiming and expanding parts of Christian language, tradition and ritual for our lives and experiences here and now. This gorgeous reflection comes to us from Leigh DeVries, associate director of the Bend Youth Collective, youth pastor at Nativity Lutheran Church and Bend Church, and a person who brings a generosity of spirit to all she does as minister, friend, colleague and partner.
I remember one evening when I was seven, sitting at the dinner table eating Sloppy Joes with my family, when my parents asked my brother, a sullen teenager preparing for confirmation, if he had the Lord’s Prayer memorized. He didn’t. I perked up: a chance to be smug. And so I recited that prayer aloud to my family and felt thoroughly holy.
That was one of the last times I felt “Christian enough.” Since then, things have gone downhill.
I have befriended, dated and been family to people who identify as atheists.
I do not hear many (really any) of the “bumper sticker” passages from the Bible as “good news.”
I have been mad since I was twelve that Jesus was born a man.
Could I go to church? Could I go to seminary? Could I pastor a community?
Would I be Christian enough?
Well: yes, yes, yes and probably; at least, enough for me to live my life dwelling deeply in the ongoing story of the Holy. Which is Christian enough.
And so it is very good and right and meant-to-be that I have landed in the Northwest, where we talk about what is gained and lost when we use words like “Christ,” “salvation,” “church,” “Lord.” We do not take anything for granted. It is all on the table, up for debate. What happens when we die, how we find healing and wholeness, what constitutes good and healthy relationship, how we are to respond to sorrow and terror in the world: these are the questions of our time (and perhaps every time). And words like “salvation,” recited in unison from our bulletins, do not offer me any comfort. Rather, I, and I’m not the only one, might prefer to gaze at the Three Sisters on a first-of-Spring day, like today. There is salvation there, but I might not call it that. I might not need to call it anything.
And that, my friends, is Christian enough. IMHO.
Is it just me, or is there something in the water that has led us to believe that there are benchmarks and litmus tests for what makes people Christian enough? This is a problem, because I–and lots of people–do not feel like we hit those marks. I also do not feel welcome in the popular U.S. American, white evangelical narrative of who a Christian is and what a Christian looks like and how a Christian believes. I do not feel welcome and I am also not particularly interested in conforming to it. You can’t fire me; I quit!
The thing is, it is because I am a Christian that I am a feminist. Not despite it.
It is because I am a Christian that I long for tables in our churches and our world that are big enough to hold everyone, forming bonds of relationship and love across differences in belief.
It is because I am a Christian that I want to stand in solidarity with the people Jesus stood with: children, women, the ones the dominant culture calls “the other,” whether on the basis of race, orientation, identity, documentation status or wealth.
I long for community that walks together as we cultivate new vocabulary, or reclaim old vocabulary (and maybe even creeds), to express how our relationships, experiences, sorrows, joys and transcendent experiences with the Holy intersect with the wisdom of sacred texts, ancient rituals, and the teachings of our ancestors.
I am not the first nor the last to spill some virtual ink on this subject. But I want to do it, and I want to invite the people I love to do it with me. Because this is vulnerable for me–it is vulnerable to wear a collar and say I don’t know exactly what happens when we die; it is vulnerable to preach from the Bible and also feel repulsed by some of what the Bible says; it is vulnerable to occupy the liminal space between identifying with a label and yet rejecting the baggage that label carries–and I don’t think any of us want to do it alone.
So welcome to a series of writings, poems, videos, and whatever else our Creative can dream up, all with the hopes of dwelling deeply in ways that disrupt–or at least get intentional about–what it might mean to be “Christian enough” here and now. By which I mean, what it means to be imperfectly and beautifully human. What it might mean to go from the pew to the mountain, and from the mountain to beloved community. What it might mean for us to gaze with awe at the Sisters and into the faces of our siblings, friends, and neighbors in Love.
I have all the time in the world for you. There is nothing more important than this.
I want to be the kind of pastor and friend who says this. I want to be the kind of neighbor and daughter and wife and colleague whom people know means it when she says it.
Someone said that phrase to me today in a training on suicide prevention, and she meant it.
“Everything else can wait. Put a pin in it. It’ll still be there,” she said.
Right now, we need to put a pin in it.
Whatever we are doing, it will still be there.
Seventeen people died in Parkland, Florida, yesterday, and, today at least, there is nothing more important than this.
I attended a suicide prevention training today. And I know suicide is different from homicide (suicide actually kills more people than homicide does), but the two have some common contributing factors: illness, isolation and access.
Oregon has one of the highest rates of suicide in the country. Nationally, suicide is the second-leading cause of death for young people (ages 25-34) and the third-leading cause of death for adolescents (ages 10-24). I am choked up just writing that.
And today at the training, I choked up listening to good people describe how so many of their [clients, students, patients, family members, children] couldn’t access mental health care because of long waiting lists. Illness.
I choked up listening to good, good people describe how so many folks, folks who haven’t yet reached experienced suicidal thoughts, simply need someone to talk to. Someone to listen. Isolation.
But I got angry at this statistic: Gun owners and their families suffer from suicide at a rate three times higher than those who don’t own guns. They are not sicker or more isolated. They have better access to lethal weapons. While we can debate whether guns cause suicides and homicides, we cannot debate that guns offer access. Guns are means to an end, and they are highly effective. There is little room for ambivalence or doubt with a gun. Access.
So I’m putting a pin in it. Rage can be productive, but it has its limits. I am in serious brainstorming mode about what moral people–spiritual people–of any background and persuasion can prioritize right now so that we can prevent more loss of life–more days of frustration and sorrow. Faithful response to the deaths of our fellow beloveds is necessary, political and spiritual.
Here’s what I’ve got so far:
Let your heart be broken by this. Every time. School and other mass shootings are now commonplace in the United States. That is not okay. We each carry the Holy within us; the Hebrew Scriptures tell us that God created humans in God’s very image. When we feel our hearts wanting to break, let’s let them. Then let’s use our sorrow as righteous fuel for what comes next.
Be in community. Listen to your neighbors. Create webs of belonging. Talk with other people about how to do that. We need one another when something hard happens: divorce, job loss, poverty & other forms of oppression, death. A national tragedy like a school shooting. I often take for granted that I have lots of people with whom to vent my shit. Not everyone has that. Put a pin in whatever you are doing. Tell someone that you have all the time in the world for them. This is how we can create resilient communities.
Get political about this. Not divisive. Not righteous. Speak truth to bullshit. Be public about the ways you are called to live into your [moral, spiritual, religious, parental, medical, etc.] identity. Jesus says: You are the salt of the earth, the light of the world. So be that. Find out your congressional representatives’ position on common-sense gun laws. If your congressional representatives refuse to act in response to these shootings, and that includes amping up mental health funding in local, state and federal settings, find out who is running against them and when. Research those people’s positions. Give them money and vote for them and knock on doors for them. For folks who, like me, live in Oregon’s 2nd congressional district, know that Greg Walden is among the top twenty lifetime recipients of money from the NRA. He’s up for reelection this year. Just sayin’.
Let me know what other ideas you might have. I know the list can grow long, but this is what is coming to the surface for me today.
And, of course, I hope it goes without saying:
I have all the time in the world for you.
There’s nothing more important than this.
1 “Beware of practicing your piety before others in order to be seen by them; for then you have no reward from your Father in heaven. 2 “So whenever you give alms, do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, so that they may be praised by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. 3 But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, 4 so that your alms may be done in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.
5 “And whenever you pray, do not be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, so that they may be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. 6 But whenever you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.
16 “And whenever you fast, do not look dismal, like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces so as to show others that they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. 17 But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, 18 so that your fasting may be seen not by others but by your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.
“You are stardust and to stardust you shall return.”
These are the words I’ll say to whatever poor souls happen to ask me what I’m up to downtown today between 3 and 5:30 pm;
I’ll be poised, ready to give out “ashes to go,”
and Hershey kisses. And paper stars with inspirational words on them.
I’ll stick out like a sore thumb.
It will be the opposite of praying in secret.
Did I mention there will be glitter in these ashes?
I mixed them in as a sign of my intention to be an ally alongside the LGBTQ community,
mixed that glitter in in the tradition of other churches that have done so,
so that I might mark the bodies of my gay, lesbian, bi and trans friends with a sign of their mortality
but also a sign of their belovedness.
It will be the opposite of praying in secret.
In fact, most of what we do in our churches is the opposite of everything Jesus tells us in this Sermon on the Mount we ought not to do.
The robes, the confessional hymns, the big stewardship campaigns, the widely advertised classes on spiritual disciplines. If you are a church person, you do this, and you know what I’m talking about. We do this.
And we will all leave here today with a big ol’ ash cross on our foreheads, and we’ll go to work or the grocery store or, if you’re like me, you will go pick up a pepperoni heart-shaped pizza from Papa Murphy’s and just be the most obvious church-going Christian ever.
And then maybe someone will ask you what it means.
Maybe you’ll say it’s from church. Ash Wednesday. Have a nice day.
Maybe you’ll say it’s a sign of your mortality, of your sinfulness. Have a nice day?
Maybe you’ll say it’s a ritual you grew up with, and you don’t remember what it means.
There’s no judgment. That is usually the case with most of us.
No matter what you say, there’s a good chance that Jesus would call you a hypocrite.
You’re in decent company: I am literally going to be a standing on a street corner today, just like the scribes and the pharisees Jesus’ has so much contempt for.
The scribes and the pharisees were the “good Jews.” They followed the laws and codes of Judaism to a tee and had a sense that they were more blessed by God because of it. They thought themselves “more Jewish” than the rest.
And Jesus has a lot of contempt for this. He ministered with his disciples and those gathered on that mountain–folks desperate for a new way, a different reality, a true Messiah–and his mission was all about debunking the popular wisdom that the better you follow the rules the more blessed you are.
And yet we have gathered as good Christians, to do the public ritual that we hold dear. Something that makes us publicly announce our adherence to the codes. That separates us from everyone else with their clean faces.
I didn’t grow up with Ash Wednesday as a ritual, I grew up in a less-liturgical setting, but when I first stumbled upon the tradition it felt like yessssssssssss another thing I can do to be more Christian.
We will each reconcile our presence here, the ashes on our foreheads, in our own way.
I trust, and I choose to believe, that it is not all religious posturing. Not all hypocrisy.
Here is how I will make meaning of this day:
Meister Eckhart, a 13th century Christian mystic, once wrote: To be full of things is to be empty of God; to be empty of things is to be full of God.
For me, Ash Wednesday is a day for such a paradox.
Not a day when I add one more thing to my list of piousness, but rather the one day of the year when I am really clear, in a public way, about how human I am.
A day to take things away rather than to add things on.
A day to be less Christian and more human:
more honest about the shame that lives deep in me; the fear that comes from thinking I will never be enough.
More honest about the jagged vulnerability within me, the way so many things, especially love, feels risky.
More honest about how I often fear the day, hopefully far in the future, my husband will die.
How I don’t usually give money to folks who ask me for it,
how I have made embarrassing assumptions in casual conversation about people of color,
how I have sometimes not believed women who tell me their stories.
How I am bound up in systems of injustice that are destroying our planet.
How I keep on keeping on, adding more things–activities, TV shows, friendships, Target runs, another glass of wine–hoping against hope that they will be enough to keep the truth at bay.
The truth that I am just human.
From dust I came and to dust I will return.
I was guilty of just such a flurry of activity recently. One of my very best friends in the world is having her first child, her long-awaited baby. She is due next month.
We celebrated her baby shower this past weekend, and amidst all the busyness of life, I had overcommitted myself to bringing a vegetable tray, buying the champagne, planning the games and making the party favors. I did not really have time for all of that. It was tempting, as I scrambled to wash and dry the onesies for the decorate-a-onesie station to think: gosh, it’s just a baby.
Which is true. Babies get born literally every minute of every day.
It’s tempting to think: it’s just a baby.
And yet: it’s a baby.
One of God’s great affirmations that what God created is good.
We are just human.
And yet: we are human.
Literally made of bits and pieces of stardust, magical debris from cosmic explosions billions of years ago that continues to float through the air and land on Earth: on our corn, on our wheat, on our coffee plants. We eat and drink it and it becomes a part of us. Over and over, until we die.
At which point our bones become a part of the earth, co-mingling with all that stardust, and becoming a part of the soil and the plants and bread and wine we eat today.
We are made of stardust.
We are also made of one another.
We are human.
What a beloved thing we have been created to be.
The God who wore skin to be close to us certainly seems to believe so.
That incarnate God seems to believe that following codes and laws, being good Christians or good Jews; that is not where our blessedness lies. God came to us as a stardust creature, a human, and so I cannot help but believe that, when everything else has been stripped away, our blessedness is in our humanness.
The things that divide us– our religion, our attitude, our fear of loving the other for fear it might disrupt our comfort, might change who we are. Well, that is all so irrelevant when you consider the stars.
The list of things that divide us is puny compared to that thing which unites us.
We are made of the same God-given stuff.
The same rotting bones.
The same stardust.
Stardust that walks around in skin to be one another’s neighbors, teachers, nurses.
Confidants, siblings; house-builders and taco-makers.
And all of a sudden, “us” and “them” has become “we.”
All of a sudden, we are a we.
A family of star specks.
We are so small.
So mortal. So human.
What very good news.
Remember: you are stardust and to stardust you shall return.
Sermon at Madras United Methodist Church, January 28, 2018
21 They went to Capernaum; and when the sabbath came, he entered the synagogue and taught. 22 They were astounded at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes. 23 Just then there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit, 24 and he cried out, “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are, the Holy One of God.” 25 But Jesus rebuked him, saying, “Be silent, and come out of him!” 26 And the unclean spirit, convulsing him and crying with a loud voice, came out of him. 27 They were all amazed, and they kept on asking one another, “What is this? A new teaching—with authority! He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him.” 28 At once his fame began to spread throughout the surrounding region of Galilee.
Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack, a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in.
The words of the late Leonard Cohen in his song “Anthem.”
Words of hope in a time of chaos.
Words of encouragement in a moment when it feels difficult to muster more energy.
At least, that is my situation.
I have been struggling with insomnia lately;
perhaps it’s my pillow,
or that I am known to check my email right before bed,
or that I carry excitement and anxiety in my body and my bones
as I and others begin to form a new spiritual community.
That is work that might keep one up at night.
And so Cohen’s words: that light comes from the hard, cracked places–
that feels like good news.
Cohen himself, a Jew from Canada,
said that that line was about resurrection.
And I dare say we have all known the cracked places:
the death of a parent,
the loss of a job,
the empty nest–
the everyday cracks and losses that accompany this human life,
and whose brokenness reveals some new grace to us.
Forget your perfect offering.
There is a crack in everything.
That’s how the light gets in.
Jesus’ first public act of ministry is in an encounter with man who,
we today might call “cracked.”
The people said that he was inhabited by demons.
We might draw a dotted line between demonic forces then and
mental illness now.
We might best understand this man in today’s terms as one
who wrestles constantly with pure evil.
a binding force that will not let him be free.
And yet he is not really broken.
This illness, this force, has so seemlessly taken over this man
that those around him cannot tell where one stops and the other begins.
Where human stops and demon begins.
He is probably someone in the community who people write off by saying:
“Oh, him, yeah: he’s cracked.”
His affliction and his self are united;
the man’s voice, the demon’s,
the demon’s body, that of a man.
They are one in the same.
Not so far from the writing off we do when we say, well:
he’s a felon,
she’s an druggie;
he’s a bum,
she’s a welfare queen.
Affliction and self are united in
the world as it is.
No one is better than the worst thing they have done.
No one is more whole than the most broken parts of them.
So many have accused the young women who stepped forward to
tell their stories of abuse as gymnasts at the hands of their doctor–
accused them of being in it for the money and the publicity.
And yet they have run the risk that whenever they
give an interview,
plan a playdate for their child–
“Oh yeah, she’s one of those victims.”
In the world as itis,
we are not able to discern where human stops
and affliction begins.
In the world as itwas, in the cultural-political situation of
Caperneaum and the entire peninsula
where Jesus lived and did his ministry,
people may have been like us: not able to discern where human stopped
and affliction began.
But the original hearers, those huddled around the table,
listening to this new story, the Gospel of Jesus Christ According to Mark,
were able to discern something else:
where human stopped and occupier began.
These are working-class and poor folks,
both Jewish and Gentile,
who knew well what it meant to be occupied.
They lived under the thumb of Caesar,
subject to high taxes and a life of hard physical work.
Their land was not their own.
They know what it is to be occupied by military forces.
So when they hear this story–
“What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us?”–
they hear military language.
They will hear it again several stories later when Jesus heals another man afflicted by demons.
The demons will call themselves “legion.”
What might be a personal story about the desolation of mental illness,
might also be a very political story about the desolation caused by military occupancy and
Which may not be so different from mental illness after all.
We know that undocumented people in this country suffer from depression and suicidal thoughts more than others.
We know survivors of sexual assault and domestic violence suffer from depression and suicidal thoughts more than others.
Fear makes us sick.
And, if I’m being honest, it makes us all sick,
whether we are safe and secure
or we fear each new day;
we are not all okay until we are all okay.
Both occupier and occupied suffer under systems
that do not let us see where
human stops and affliction begins.
There is a crack in everything–that’s how the light gets in.
And if there isn’t a crack there:
someone needs to make it.
We are reminded of this over and over again in Scripture:
as Jesus is being baptized, the heavens are “torn apart”;
as Jesus dies, the curtain to the temple is torn in two.
The Prophet Isaiah prays to God:
“oh that you would rend the heavens and come down,
that the mountains would tremble before you.”
There is a crack in everything–that’s how the light gets in.
And if there isn’t a crack there:
someone needs to make it.
You see, Jesus has come to do a new thing.
In the One wearing flesh, God making all things new.
Putting a crack in the system
that separates us from one another,
breaking open the system that makes us call one another names
rather than calling one another “beloved.”
God knows: that’s how the light gets in.
To the relational God–
the One who creates and calls us,
the One who heals and sustains us–
you are absolutely better and more beautiful than the worst thing you have done.
You are, without a doubt, more whole than the most broken part of you.
Jesus makes holy trouble in that temple–
puts cracks in the system–
for the sake of us all seeing that we are children of God,
when we are afflicted, and when we are at peace.
Your demons are but temporary.
Whether they occupy your body,
They say nothing about who and whose you are.
Your belovedness cannot be put into question.
The belovedness of that possessed man–
for Jesus, there was no doubt.
And so his act of healing was an act of
Breaking the lie that says we are how we act,
we are what ails us,
we are mere canvases on which unjust systems can paint
the identity they wish us to have: felon, druggie; victim, illegal.
Jesus’ healing act
was an act of breaking.
The man was shaken.
This is what “exorcism” can look like: for individuals and for communities.
What withdrawal from drugs can look like.
What hard years of therapy can look like,
what the back-breaking work of revitalizing a town can look like.
What it can look like for a community to reclaim its identity after the occupiers leave.
We are shaken to the core,
weak and weeping,
God storms in to those places
that are desperate for it.
That need to be splintered, shattered, burst.
God goes into those places in our lives
that are desperate for the light.
So that we might know that we are made to be beloved,
Sermon at Grace First Lutheran Church, January 21, 2018
14 Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, 15 and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.” 16 As Jesus passed along the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the sea—for they were fishermen. 17 And Jesus said to them, “Follow me and I will make you fish for people.” 18 And immediately they left their nets and followed him. 19 As he went a little farther, he saw James son of Zebedee and his brother John, who were in their boat mending the nets. 20 Immediately he called them; and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men, and followed him.
We didn’t do as much running yesterday. Mostly stopping, waiting.
Then walking a little.
It didn’t feel like marching,
but, in the tradition of those who have fought for civil rights for decades,
a “march” is the best word to describe
the gathering of 3500 people yesterday in Drake Park
at the now-annual women’s march.
There are many who wonder:
what do all those people stand for?
There were a thousand different signs. Signs for
chants of general outrage and determination.
One said: the situation is so bad, even introverts are here.
Another, held by a little boy, said: “future first husband.”
And yet another:
They tried to bury us. They didn’t know we were seeds.
There are many who wonder: what do all those people stand for?
Perhaps a better question might be: what do all those people hear?
I was there. So I can humbly say,
All those people heard a call.
And to march seemed like the best way, right now, to respond.
All those people heard a call.
And they needed to respond by
gathering together with others who had also heard it,
to talk, to laugh, to listen,
to be friends and sing a few songs together.
Sounds familiar to church people, yes?
The call you hear may not have brought you to the women’s march yesterday.
Maybe it did.
But maybe it didn’t.
But it did bring you here this morning.
To gather with others who also heard it,
and wanted to be with you to talk, to laugh, to sing a few songs together,
and to listen:
to the story of a man who also heard a call,
and in hearing it,
issued a call of his own.
Jesus begins his ministry immediately after his cousin John is put in prison.
In the news of John’s arrest, Jesus hears it: the call.
The call to proclaim a different reality from the one they live in.
They live in a system that would arrest a preacher who
threatened to break open the political norms
and break all the religious rules.
John was too dangerous; so he was put in prison.
And an invitation is issued.
And so Jesus knows his ministry will be an inherently dangerous one.
Jesus knows his ministry will also be an inherently responsive one.
Jesus’ ministry will be about call and response.
The piercing injustice of John’s arrest is the invitation; and Jesus responds by proclaiming the good news: “The time is fulfilled, and the reign of God is near.”
That proclamation issues the next invitation: “repent, and believe in the good news.”
This call and response way of life continues down the Galilean seashore, as Jesus sees fishermen at work. Bent over their nets, pulling in enough fish to eek out a living alongside their brothers, their fathers. The sight of their very lives; that is the next invitation.
And so Jesus responds with yet another call: “Follow me and I will send you to fish for people.”
And on it goes.
And that might be the best way to describe my ministry call here in Bend.
Officially, I have been called by the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and the United Methodist Church to curate a new spiritual community here, in partnership with our local congregations on the ground and our ecumenical and interfaith partners.
Unofficially, I am here to listen.
And to try and cultivate ways we might all respond together.
To invite people we’ve never met before into that.
And then to listen again.
Bend is inviting me. Inviting us.
Inviting us to listen to stories about
young people who have moved away from family,
working families who can’t afford to live here anymore.
Millennials and boomers alike who want to belong
and want that belonging to show them ways of making impact on this city.
Young immigrants who study and work to create a new future for their families,
and retirees with pensions who cannot figure out their purpose.
Gay and lesbian people who still fear hate crimes here;
business and city leaders who wish their workers and their waiters could afford to live close by to their jobs.
This is what I hear, and it invites me. Every single day.
These stories of our lives and our neighbors’ lives are a clarion call,
a shrill trumpet sound piercing our routine, or, better yet,
a big. green. light.
It shines in the darkness and it will not be overcome.
It issues the proclamation and the invitation: repent, and believe the good news.
Jesus and his followers probably understand “repent” in the way that their ancestors had– the ancient Israelites in exile in Babylon. This word, to them–Shuwb in Hebrew–meant to return, or go back. The invitation to come back home.
The ugliness of the world; the hardest parts of our own stories–
these can be the call. The invitation.
And in response, Jesus says: The time is now. God is near. Come back home.
Return to the one God has made you to be.
An invitation if I’ve ever heard one.
An invitation that sometimes makes people march.
Makes them sing.
Makes them come to church.
Sometimes gathers them in a room to share a meal with DACA recipients,
like the work we are doing with the Neighbor Love coalition.
Sometimes leads them to start a firewood ministry to help people heat their homes, like Nativity Lutheran’s program.
Sometimes causes people to wonder: why can’t people in Bend afford to heat their homes? Which is the question I and some emerging leaders are starting to ask in the process of community organizing.
And sometimes the “invitation to return home” guides people through a process of discernment so that they can prepare to call a new pastor that will lead them into the next invitation, the next response.
It never, ever stops.
From the first day of Creation,
to the awe-filled magi at the manger,
to the day when we return home to God for good,
God is always inviting.
And eagerly awaiting our response.
I know this to be a vulnerable way of life,
I am in the practice of inviting people
all. the. time.
To share their story over coffee. To deepen their financial investment in this new ministry. To make a practice of inviting someone else to coffee.
Because I have never heard of Jesus posting sign-up sheets, vaguely asking for volunteers.
It is always invitation, invitation.
Come with me, you, yes you, and I will send you to fish for people.
Invitation is vulnerable. Waiting by my email, by my phone, for someone to invite me more deeply into their life, for someone to say they are just curious enough about a new community of belonging and justice to walk with me one more step on this road.
Simon and Andrew, James and John: just curious enough about a new community of belonging and justice that they will drop their nets and take that next step.
Those invitations are vulnerable.
Whether it is asking for a new job,
or for a first date,
we have all experienced that vulnerability.
Because invitation is not really invitation without it.
And relationship certainly isn’t relationship without it.
And, in my experience, God isn’t God without it either.
If we have a God who is always inviting us,
then we know we have a God who eagerly anticipates our response.
And so we must have a God who is vulnerable for the sake of a relationship with us.
But we knew that already. We know the cross.
God invites you. God anticipates your hearing of your call.
And God never stops issuing the next, most loving claim on your life.
To come to church, maybe.
Most of all: to come home to the one God has made you to be.
Sermon at Nativity Lutheran Church – November 17, 2017
John 1:6-8, 19-28
6 There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. 7 He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. 8 He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light.
19 This is the testimony given by John when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, “Who are you?” 20 He confessed and did not deny it, but confessed, “I am not the Messiah.” 21 And they asked him, “What then? Are you Elijah?” He said, “I am not.” “Are you the prophet?” He answered, “No.” 22 Then they said to him, “Who are you? Let us have an answer for those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?” 23 He said, “I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord,'” as the prophet Isaiah said. 24 Now they had been sent from the Pharisees. 25 They asked him, “Why then are you baptizing if you are neither the Messiah, nor Elijah, nor the prophet?” 26 John answered them, “I baptize with water. Among you stands one whom you do not know, 27 the one who is coming after me; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandal.” 28 This took place in Bethany across the Jordan where John was baptizing.
[The kiddos help us remember our baptisms]
Do you still feel a little sprinkling on your skin? I hope so.
That is yours. You get to keep it.
No one can take it away from you.
Which is the meaning of baptism for me.
You get to keep it. It’s yours forever, even after the desert air is drying it from your skin.
You get to keep it and remember it.
Though it’s barely there.
As there as the ice cubes in my cocktail.
As there as the snowflakes on my tongue.
But meant for you to keep.
So just try and ignore all of the rules we have placed on baptism, okay?
Like, in Lutheranism, you can only be baptized once, or else you’re doing it wrong.
And remember that Lutherans baptize babies but Baptists and Mennonites and lots of other folks wouldn’t dream of it. Darned if you do, darned if you don’t.
And, only in an emergency, when no ordained people are around, can one Christian baptize another.
And, oh yes, please remember that, in order to be a member with voice and vote in a Christian community, you must be baptized.
All of a sudden that sweet evaporating gift on your skin has become fraught.
“Why then are YOU baptizing if YOU are neither the Messiah, nor Elijah, nor the prophet?”
Fraught. Political. Exclusive.
We don’t understand fully what baptism meant to Jewish sects living in the first century; perhaps it was a ritual cleansing.
It seems to be more about alliances, allegiances and transaction.
John is faced by a group of powerful folks who clearly “own baptism.” They are the standard-bearers of religious experience. And “who,” they ask, “are YOU?”
When faced with interrogation, for we can faithfully translate “ask” as interrogate, John responds with his testimony: who he’s not and what he senses he’s here to do.
To the question, “Who are you?” John tells his own story.
He does not offer a new systematic theology of baptism.
He does not lash out against theirs.
He does not offer a program for how to fix this misunderstanding so that everyone will understand it the same way.
He witnesses to his own experience, his own story.
To the light that illumines all humankind.
That’s all he owns.
It is his forever.
Though the dry desert air sucks it from his skin.
And the religious standard-bearers insult it, fear it.
His story, on the tip of his tongue, just barely existing.
But it is his.
Besides the camel hair and the locusts we heard about last week,
his story is all he owns.
And he owns it.
I had to be taught how to tell my story.
It didn’t come naturally.
And I honestly didn’t think I had one to tell.
I grew up quite loved by my parents.
I had access to every opportunity.
I have a drive to be perfect and well-liked,
but it shared space with a suspicion that all was not well: with my soul or with the world.
I learned to tell my story from the knot in my throat.
And I had an opportunity to share parts of it on a recent trip to Cuernavaca with other Oregon pastors, as well as theologians and practitioners from Mexico and Peru.
I spent some time with a young man named Alberto, who does human rights work in Mexico City. He is my age–30–and in Mexico, it is great luck for a young man to reach the age of 30.
Violence from the drug war plagues his peers and his country.
This is a part of his story.
Meanwhile, my brother, too, is a part of the equation of the drug war. He has struggled with heroin addiction for most of my life.
And so Alberto’s pain and mine are different. I would never say that they are the same.
His pain is one of helplessness in the face of a violent, ruthless economy, a disregard for human life, and an apathy on the part of his government.
My pain is one of helplessness in the face of an addiction wrought by privilege, biology and deep spiritual wounds.
And so Alberto’s pain and my pain are different.
But they are connected.
We, all of us, tell our stories of addiction and incarceration;
violence and fear;
of power that silences;
of sexual abuse and harassment.
Our pain is different,
but it is connected.
And we can never un-know it.
Because we have shared our stories.
Though the desert air dries it from our skin,
we own them.
This is one of the foundational principles of community organizing:
that we live in the world as it is, but we sense there is a world as God dreams it,
and that the most powerful instruments we have in bridging that tragic gap
are our stories.
And when we learn our stories,
and practice telling them,
and listen to others’ stories,
we find have a bond of mutual investment in our shared liberation
from the forces of death and darkness
that threaten the livelihoods, the freedom and the joy of all people.
And that bond is powerful.
Stories are powerful.
And no matter how little or how much you or I may own in the world as it is—
a car, a house, a boat, a company,
our stories can build real power
if we “organize” them in a process of shared discovery and accompaniment.
Community organizing and the power of story are the ground on which we will cultivate a new spiritual circle in Bend: an ever-widening circle that builds spiritual and relational power for the sake of belonging, community and impact on the common good.
It will be a community where we celebrate God’s good gifts and where we roll up our sleeves to show one another our wounds. “Here’s mine. Where do you hurt?”
Organizing bonds us in that way.
But also propels us. Because we will then roll up those same sleeves to work and walk alongside one another as an act of healing and disruptive justice.
And this is inherently improvisational.
We know that faith life, activities of fellowship and service, programs–even the wood lot and food pantry: they are born of story and will change with story. They cannot and will not always remain the same.
Operating out of our stories is inherently improvisational.
Because I cannot anticipate your story, and you cannot anticipate mine.
And we will only know the work once we have walked alongside one another.
The first words that Jesus will utter in the Gospel According to John are: “what are you looking for?”—curiosity. Invitation.
Because there is no road map for this.
There is only a compass.
The Word alive in each of us. Our stories.
And no one else can own them.
How frightening for the religious establishment.
How frightening for the world as it is: the world that says what you own is what you are worth.
The world that says I have something, and so I will give you a little.
The world that decides who gets to bestow a baptism of worthiness on whom.
The John who baptizes testifies to his story–
shows the Pharisees the most holy thing about him–
and in so doing disrupts the system of holiness.
He prepares the way for the one who will not only disrupt but will offer a new way of knowing God:
a way that says, “These are my wounds. Where do you hurt?”
The one who will break down the narrative of who is servant and who is served.
The one who will speak in invitation rather than theology.
The one who will reveal that the most worthy thing about us, well–
You get to keep it. It’s yours forever, even after the desert air has dried it from your skin.
You get to keep it and remember it.
And tell it. And hear other people tell theirs.
And we get to walk lock step with friends and companions on a road of deep, wounded and joyful mutuality.
There are no rules, no polity, no partisanship.
No program, no script, no map.
Only a Word.
The Word was coming into the world–
was in the world–
and though the world
was made through the Word,
the world didn’t recognize it.
Though the Word came to its own realm,
the Word’s own people didn’t accept it.
Yet any who did accept the Word,
who believed in that Name,
were empowered to become children of God–
children born not of natural descent,
nor urge of flesh
nor human will–
but born of God.
And the Word became flesh
and stayed for a little while among us;
we saw the Word’s glory–
the favor and position a parent gives an only child–