Bodies Broken Open to Love

28 Oct
Photo via Flickr user Ian Britton

Photo via Flickr user Ian Britton

I am in my last two months of pregnancy. My body no longer belongs to me. The baby who has taken up residence in my womb the past months is making him or herself known in a whole new way. I will be perpetually uncomfortable, absorbing internal blows, adjusting to weight gain, rubbing sore feet, hips and shoulder blades. I will only sleep, I will be only as active as the baby allows. Someone else is calling the shots. All I can do is wait.

I have a joyful little boy running around, reminding me exactly how worth it the third trimester of pregnancy is. This resident alien is a person who I will fall deeply in love with and be in constant awe of. It will be the deepest honor to the its mommy. I keep reminding myself. It helps. It also helps that I know the pain and discomfort are productive, the consequences of generating life. Suffering that is a part of life and love make us better people in the end.

The temporary powerlessness of late pregnancy brings with it great compassion. Knowing that the pain and discomfort are in the service of life, I welcome the opportunity to be broken. It is good, for a season, that I don’t get my way. It keeps me from aligning myself as the center of the universe. This world is not about me. It invites me to contemplate people whose bodies are broken and not their own due to illness, abuse, or poverty, things that don’t bring life and love.

To bear another life in my body is messy. It’s beautiful. It’s annoying. It, maybe more than anything, teaches me about love.

Last week I had a conversation with a 7th grade boy about how we turn images of an angry God into images of a loving God. “What stories can you think of that show God as a lover?”

After a long pause he said simply, profoundly, “The crucifixion.” I took a moment to let the unexpected wisdom of this young man sink in and then asked him to say more. “God became a person, and that person, God’s son, died so that we could live. That’s love.”

Yes. On the cross, Jesus takes our broken humanity into his very body and dies a human death with all the pain, suffering and abandonment that comes with that. In do doing, he offers us his divinity so that we may know life. God points to this act on the cross and declares Jesus Lord. The cross is mess, beautiful, and teaches us about love. Life wins. Love has the final word.

This simple reminder that the cross is the true sign of God’s love was a gift to me as I waddle through my remaining days of pregnancy. May my manageable, baby-growing discomfort break me open to love better and may it invite me to contemplate the mystery of God’s love through the cross.

 

The God Trump Card

21 Oct
Photo via Flickr user Dwight Stone

Photo via Flickr user Dwight Stone

In part because I was lucky enough to receive an excellent theological education from grade school through seminary, I wince when I hear someone start a sentence with, “God says…” or even, “The Bible says…” Quoting the Bible does not mean quoting God, and even quoting the Bible has to be done with great care and reflection. These phrases can stunt conversation and dialogue, two things I’m in the business of promoting. I call it playing the God card, or throwing Bible bullets. The God card and Bible bullets are difficult for many people to argue, even though they so often used inaccurately.

Inevitably, during election season, the Bible gets dusted off to do the work of promoting person and political agendas. My instinct, backed by my deep respect of the Bible and its power to be used or abused, is to tread very lightly here.

Years ago, I had one professor who had been studying the Hebrew Scripture his entire adult life. He seemed to know God through his studies in a way I only dared to hope. He started the course by sharing some guidelines, some things to consider when approaching the sacred biblical text. I found it exceedingly helpful, so I put them in my own words. Every time I teach the Bible, now, I start out by sharing them, too. Students always seem to find it a helpful place to start. I find it a helpful place to come back to and revisit. I hope you do, too:

Be mindful of how who you are changes how you read the Bible.

The text is not the same as the interpretation of the text.

We are reading a translation, and every translator carries a bias.

No passage has a single meaning.

Reading the Bible is a cross-cultural experience. It was written in a time long ago, in a place far away.

Talking about the Bible with people who think and live differently than us will make the truth more complex, richer and more full.

The Bible contradicts itself and never attempts to be consistent. It interprets itself.

There is a difference between believing in the Bible and believing in the God of the Bible.

Reading the Bible literally is a fairly recent phenomenon.

There are several different genres in the Bible– poetry, myth, genealogy, law, parable– that deserve to be read with different lenses.

Not everything in the Bible happened, but that does not diminish the story’s truth.

Context is key. Taking a verse out of context limits the power of the passage. We must study the passage by looking at what comes before it and after it, by putting it into the context of the whole Bible, and considering the historical and political context the passage is set in. This takes work, challenging us to not just read the Bible, but study it.

Not every Bible passage is equal in its influence over our faith life.

The Bible does not have answers to all our modern-day questions.

O Anthiphons

14 Oct

 

o-antiphones-calendar-3

The O Antiphons are the Church’s prayer for the last days of Advent. Beautifully illustrated by Ansgar Holmberg, CSJ, each card has a visual and a prayer poem by Joan Mitchell, CSJ. The original antiphon and its scriptural sources on the back. Click here to view a sample.

Only $15.00 per set (price includes shipping!).
Order online today!

The Ladybug vs The King

14 Oct
Photo via Flickr user Devon Christopher Adams

Photo via Flickr user Devon Christopher Adams

I walked into a Bible college auditorium filled with undergraduate students to hear a man I deeply respect preach about restorative justice work. I walked in late, having mistakenly assumed that chapel happened in the chapel and not the main auditorium, but I caught the end of the last worship song before the message:

Behold our God seated on His throne

Come let us adore Him

Behold our King nothing can compare

Come let us adore Him!

The lyrics, and a large group of young people singing those lyrics, triggered something in me. I crossed my arms over my chest, looking down at my feet. The refrain repeated enough times to give me space to think about my thinking. The metaphor of God as king is popular and pervasive, but clearly that day it was an image that was standing in my way of worship. God as a man, a rich and powerful man sitting still was not working for me. I have not had any direct experience with kings, in that way the metaphor seems old and far away. My mind when tot the closest thing in my context– the image of a male political leader, sitting back comfortably while his subjects tremble– that image I can easily conjure up. I also have direct experience of everyday men, turning chairs into thrones, bloated with entitlement, expecting to be adored. Thinking of these men doesn’t bring me to a place of awe and wonder. Instead of opening me up, it shut me down. Instead of closer, God felt far away.

Just a day earlier, I presented a much different metaphor for God to a bunch of little kids during a children’s sermon. We were working with Psalm 23, and to make it real to kids, I focused on God being with us as we walk in darkness. Halloween is coming, after all. I proposed that luckily, our God isn’t afraid of the dark. Then I pulled out my son’s nightlight, a ladybug, whose shell has stars and a moon shape holes in it. You can choose to project red, green or blue light through the ladybug, and a colorful star-filled sky will appear in the darkness, filling the entire room. “Sometimes we wish God would just turn on the light and make the dark go away,” I said. “But I think God is more like this ladybug nightlight. God sits with us in the dark and works to make that darkness more beautiful.”

The contrast between a throned king and a ladybug nightlight is laughable. It initially strikes me odd that a genderless inanimate object is the more effective metaphor for God for me. In other ways, it makes sense. It’s close, comforting, and intimate. It’s harder to project this idea into our world because it, like the God as rock metaphor, only works as an idea. It infuses the nightlight with meaning, but there is no real risk of unearned adoration of the object. God as a towering male King works as a God metaphor for some, I’m sure. Today, I’m sticking with the ladybug.

Gospel Reflection for October 16, 2016, 29th Sunday Ordinary Time

12 Oct

Sunday Readings: Exodus 17.8-13; 2 Timothy 3.14-4.2; Luke 18.18

“Take up my case. Give me my just rights against my opponent.” – Luke 18.3

The widow in Jesus’ parable this Sunday is not asking for food and basic necessities. She is seeking her “just rights.” The word in Greek, ekdikeo, is not the usual term for justice but a word that means settling with an adversary. We have a widow with the means and moxie to take someone to court. When the judge finally acts, it is because he fears the widow will disgrace him.

This widow is a woman of voice and action who wants a judgment against her adversary and won’t be silenced. She is like the Mothers of the Plaza de May who have protested the “disappeared” in Argentina since 1977. This year the founder Hebe de Bonafini met with Pope Francis, who told her, “When I meet a woman whose sons were murdered, I kneel down before her.”

How is the widow in the gospel a model for Christians? What evils does the judge represent that Christians must resist? Who do you know who protests like the widow?

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7 Oct
Photo via Flickr user Donna S

Photo via Flickr user Donna S

The task was to dissect the story of the Israelites and the golden calf with high school youth. I went straight to jealousy, and we easily talked about coveting cool shoes, the newest iPhone, easily earned high test scores, raw hockey prowess or the attention of a particular person being given freely and enthusiastically to someone else.

What, though, does jealousy have to do with love? What does it mean that God wants our attention?

We talked about misplaced attention in our society, again with ease. We focus so much time on a particular kind of standardized test points-driven classroom educational success. We let our social media image and images carry too much influence. We take part in the build up and take down of celebrities. Golden calves everywhere.

The idols we have created, however, are metaphorical. I would argue this makes it easy to discuss what we have idolized and paid too much attention to without actually taking steps to dismantle the idol or build a new shrine. The world of actual golden calves and ritual sacrifices seems far away. We can say what we shouldn’t be about, but what, then, are we willing to stand up for?

I have a small, raised platform on my desk that looks like a candle stand. On it, I originally placed two votive candles. My spiritual director encouraged me to light the candles, each representing a baby I lost to miscarriage, whenever I felt sad. Lighting those candles validated my experience and honored the existence of the life that was indeed present in my body. I’ve added things over the years since, little trinkets that symbolize other things and moments on my journey. It is not a shrine or an idol. It’s a tangible place for me to go to honor who God made me, the path God put me on and thus the God who has walked with me on the journey with compassion and love.

In our worship communities today, distanced from ritual sacrifice where we are in no danger of constructing an actual golden calf, how do we take tangible steps toward giving our attention back to God? What can we build to show God our commitment to what God is all about in the world? What is worthy of reverence, time, attention and worship?

What would you put on your shine?

Gratitude

6 Oct

Gospel Reflection for October 9, 2016, 28th Sunday Ordinary Time

5 Oct

Sunday Readings: 2 Kings 5.14-17; 2 Timothy 2.8-13; Luke 17.11-17

Jesus asked, “Weren’t ten lepers cleansed? Where are the other nine?” – Luke 17.17

In Sunday’s gospel only one of the ten lepers Jesus heals returns to thank Jesus. The passage prompts us to practice gratitude to God and to one another. Being alive calls us to appreciate the Creator. Evolution deepens the story of God’s creative love in which we live. We see with eyes that have evolved over millions of years in creatures that sought light. Our stem cells contain the memory of God’s love unfolding. To be part of giving life gives parents their moment in the evolution of all that is. The birth of a child takes them to a place of awe and closeness to God. The child immediately breathes in the oxygen that plants and trees make every summer day out of sunlight. Our lungs tie us to the outside world we share with all that squirms, flies, blooms, and in each of us says than you. Our hearts tie us to one another.

What are 10 things you are grateful for today? Use the question every day.

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please visit the Sunday By Sunday page
to order a subscription or request a free sample.
Start a small bible study. Be a leader.
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