Tuesday, March 8, 2016

forehead jesus.

I am the mother of a five year old boy. It's a sweet spot because he is getting so long and brave and expressive, but he still scrunches into my lap or asks me to help fix his sock that got twisted up while jumping on the couch. He still lets me crawl under the covers with him before bed, where I hunker down for a minute in the darkness each night, listening to his restless wiggles give way to slow breaths.

Before I leave we always make the sign of the cross on each other's foreheads. "Come get your cross, Mom," he'll whisper through the silence. And I do.

Today he wanted to know more about the cross. "Why did Jesus have to die so we could live, Mom?" What a wide opening for a preacher! God reminded me that we only had 8 minutes left on the drive to school.

Well, we tried to get up to heaven for a long time. We thought we could be perfect all by ourselves and live forever if we tried hard enough. But it didn't work. It couldn't work. Our sin and mistakes and anger and fears kept getting in the way. So God decided to do it for us. God came all the way down to earth in Jesus. 

"Like Jesus the person who lived a long time ago or Jesus in the bread now?"

The Long Ago Bible Jesus. He was God just like God and a person, just like us. And because he was totally both, he made the perfect bridge from earth to heaven. He connected all the things that we couldn't connect. He taught us and loved us and then showed us how to die without being afraid because now dying isn't the end anymore. Since Jesus defeated all of the things that get in our way and then rose again, we are connected to heaven forever by the bridge he made with his body.

"Now are you going to talk about the bread?"

I can if you want me to.

"That's the Jesus we can't see, right? We can just taste him because he's with the bread to fill us up. Ugh. I like the bread, but I don't like not seeing him."

Yup. We can't see Bible Jesus with our eyes anymore, but we can taste him at Communion. He's in the way we love each other or talk to neighbors and strangers. He listens to our prayers.

"And he's on that tiny little cross I put on your forehead, too. Because that's where he died. On a wooden cross. And that's why he made a bridge. Because crosses are made out of wood so he had wood to make a bridge."

Yeah, okay. Then he saw a city bus with an ad for the Science Museum's Mummies exhibit and the conversation wandered through facts about Egypt, dinosaurs, and bubbles. When we got out of the van at school, he asked me to stop and used his index finger to call me closer for a cross. 

"There's a Forehead Jesus for your day, Mom. Because it can be a daytime thing, too, right?"

It's an all the time thing, buddy. Thanks.

By day the Lord commands steadfast love
and at night his song is with me, a prayer to the God of my life.
- Psalm 42:8

Saturday, January 16, 2016


We have big dreams for our little kitchen, but they keep getting pushed back because other projects come up and because adult-ing is hard. This weekend we cut the ribbon on a mini-makeover that will make this space more functional, but mostly just less ugly.

Layers of wallpaper were scraped and peeled away yesterday. Jasper came home from school and found the change horrifying. "What did you do to our kitchen? It looks terrible! Put the wallpaper back up!" He even fell to the ground like Sadness in the movie Inside Out, holding onto a fragment of the old paper he'd felt nothing for until this very moment. This dramatic effort only drew my gaze to the ugly orange linoleum and helped the prosecution's case in Change vs. Jasper Carlson.

Most of what lives on our countertops and shelves is still piled high on our dining room table. I refuse to put everything back because most of it needs to go away or find a new home. These rooms will be messy for awhile, which often feels like reason enough to leave everything the way it is.

Phyllis Tickle once said that God has a rummage sale every 500 years and purges everything that no longer serves the Kingdom of God. It makes sense. God keeps choosing to work through people and people are packrats - emotionally, physically, and spiritually. Zion has entire closets filled with silk flower center pieces we use once a year. There are Sunday School supplies from three decades ago still snuggled in the drawers of a huge armoir too heavy to move and to mysterious in origin to know whether we're "allowed to". Chucking stuff butts up against memories, memorials, and our human concepts of permanence. It's grounds for grief and disagreement. Letting go is exhausting because it can feel like failure.

Our kitchen is embarking on such modest, compromised change. We won't be knocking out any walls just yet, the cabinets can stay, and the fridge will continue to operate on its own timeline. I need this room to function better, but not so much better that it requires real death and resurrection.

But God is not nearly the cheap, lazy procrastinator I am when it comes to house projects. God gets real about these remodels and garage sales. God has big design plans and abundant resources. God is, quite literally, in the business of death and resurrection.

As the church changes and God starts tagging things for the sale, we have two choices:

Plan A:
1. Peel back some wallpaper.
2. Get completely overwhelmed.
3. Make the pain change all about ourselves.
4. Scale back the project and pretend it's a dream kitchen.

Plan B:
1. Ask God what we should be tagging.
2. Roll up our sleeves and say goodbye well.
3. Choose to see the bare closets and open spaces as empty tombs, signs of resurrection and promise.
4. Ask God what the Kingdom's design calls for next.

Kingdom God, change is hard. Distract us from our martyrdom and fear by making us useful. Move with us from death to life so we can peel with courage and tag with wisdom. Amen.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

this is the time.

this is the time
when things get loud,
when hope gets muffled and fears abound.

this is the time
when we gather together
heaping expectation and judgment and laughter,
hiding the longing, the ache and disaster.

this is the time
when we're fiercely surrounded
but feel lonesome
and foolish
or haunted, confounded.

this is the time
when we fill up our days 
and our stockings with kitsch 
and kitchens with glaze.

this is is the time 
when we trick ourselves 

since everyone else is filled up with cheer
while muted shame lingers right here.

but that is not Truth you precious, beloved:
we are all hiding, all longing, all living with judgment.
we are all breaking | wondering where we belong
and if there is room for us inside the song.

so listen well, Child: lean into the grief
and trust that you are not songless belief
you are messy and worthy -
made perfectly whole
by the One who rubs balm on the cracks of your soul
by the One who saves nations with love crescendos.

this is the time
the whole world is blue!
and Jesus is coming to make the pain new
to strip it of power
to banish all fear
so that life - life abundant - can boldly appear.

this is the time
for your blue to be known
and lived by a God who has hay on the throne
and sung by a scrappy church choir your own
and loved by the babe who makes blue his home.

this is the time.

Merry Christmas, Tangled Ones.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015


Fight. Freeze. Flight.

Did anyone else feel the pull last week? Terror rippled in cities around the world. As refugees trudge through a gauntlet of scraps and skeptical stares, handouts and hesitant hospitality, bombs exploded. And everyone felt the earth shake.

If I have to hear that ISIS “claimed responsibility” one more time, I’m going to throw up. When I use this phrase with my children, I'm suggesting the gathering up of both cause and effect, of premeditation and aftermath, of accountability that requires some vulnerability. Hospitals and schools list responsibility as a value cherished and taught. So when we use it to describe braggy terror, I get irritated and queasy.

Like many of you, I felt all of the fight, freeze flight feelings and they got jumbled up together. I wanted to run, but not away. I wanted to duke it out, but with proclamations of dignity and gospel in the face of so much fearful contraction. And I certainly froze: to weep, to listen, to wait, to hold breath with the world.

I’m still feeling all the feelings, but I know that news feeds are not what I need at the end of the day. They’re not what any of us need.

So on Monday I put my phone down and turned off the boob tube. I drove through the drizzle, taking side streets and underpasses, to a little bar in St. Paul where I knew there would be loud and wild hope. I knew there would be friendly strangers smooshed into a room singing important truths into being. 

This is what we need; to be gathered from the drizzly edges into belonging and song.

It’s hard to know what we’re supposed to do and where to start, but I think it helps to watch someone else in her element. I think it’s comforting to stand aside and notice the little ways someone else is redrawing lines and casting nets and adding chairs and saying, “Welcome”.

At Humble Walk’s Beer & Hymns, I watched Jodi do just that. She is the only pastor I know who also ushers. While musicians lead hymns and shakers are handed out and people shout out requests – “Will the Circle Be Unbroken?” Survey says, “No!” - Jodi is quiet and warm near the door. She stands just outside the room where curious onlookers might gather, where shy folks assume the chairs are all taken, where people loiter on the edge of solitude and belonging.

You see, sometimes we’re thinking too big. We can feel the urge to fight or freeze or flight because the task is too heavy and the ache is too great. Then all the feelings get tangled up until we give up or give in.

But I (and perhaps you) am not called to fix everything or find the most ingenious solution to our nation’s foreign policy and immigration challenges. We are, instead, ordinary American citizens. We are people who belong to each other. We are folks who desire a greater good. And we cannot do that alone glued to our screens or hidden behind locked doors.

It is grace when we meet strangers near the door.
It is mercy to set up chairs before people need to ask.
It is Christ’s body when we gather to sing of a faith we cannot carry alone.

Promise me you will move through the drizzle toward the room in the back where strangers are already singing and setting up chairs. Promise me you will break from your lonesome discouragement and fright long enough to be together, seen by others and whispering into the chorus that all is not lost. Promise me you will stand at the edges and usher people in with welcome and warmth.

For in these kinds of gatherings, we truly "claim responsibility". We practice unity and relocate pieces of hope that inspire a multitude of tremors for justice, equity, love, and peace.

May this be your sweet gospel lullabye tonight, dear ones:

We belong to each other for the sake of the good.
So unclench your fear, lean in, and gather.
Make space and sing with shaky joy
For you are not alone.
We belong to each other for the sake of the good.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015


And God's hope does not put us to shame, 
because God's love has been poured into our hearts by the 
Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.  - Romans 5:5

My Hope has been feeling silly and ashamed lately.

It is hard to be hopeful these days. Syria. Racism. Guns.
Fear. Blame. Discord. Corruption. Poverty. Malice.
These things eat hope for breakfast.

Maybe you've been aching too. Maybe Hope has fallen to the bottom of your purse or it sits on your dresser without a proper home. Maybe it's stuck under your skin like a splinter that throbs because its being rejected by everything around it. I know the feeling.

But tonight my Hope is rising and I figured the internet might as well know.

I have been with a sick kid all day. His voice is is completely different when his throat is swollen. His head is hot and I can feel his heart racing when he wraps his long body around me and settles into my lap for a sweaty nap. All 36 pounds of Jasper are working hard. He is fighting and repairing and restoring. And then, from his sticky and chapped coma he mutters, "Mom, I am starting to start to feel a little better." I can hear his soft snores coming through the baby monitor upstairs. Resilience.

I drove back through Minneapolis to work and spotted neighbors picking up trash along the sidewalk where corner store wrappers like to gather in crinkled conversation.  I opened the door for a women who apologized for coming to dinner early, who was amazed by my simple welcome and the delicious scents that poured from the kitchen. I watched as neighbors and children made dinner together in the kitchen using both English and Spanish to mix ingredients and friendship for the sake of many who dine together on Wednesdays. I listened as Johnny gave me his order, guided safely to his chair by a sighted-stranger.

I was surprised to find a new mother from ZOOM House in the Recovery Worship circle, her son already wiggling with energy and asking me for chocolate. He was remembering the candy on Patty's desk from last week. We colored on the floor while folks prayed and sang around us.

I got up to uncover the bread and juice, which he could not help but touch. "Are we going to eat this?" he asked over the Words of Institution. His question unraveled this ritual into a conversation about Jesus' presence and enough and promise and sharing. He took the bite and sip with great eagerness.

Before they left, Patty found chocolate and I picked up crayons. Then his mother asked if she could come back on Sunday during worship and Monday during my office hours for communion. "How often can we have it?" she asked on their behalf. "Often," I answered. "If you are hungry and this promise is giving you hope, come often."

Today a heart beat quickly against my heart. Beauty was restored, welcome was extended, a feast was prepared, and a little one could not keep his hands off the bread.  There will always be heartache, most often when I am reading the news by myself and shaking my head; but when I lean in to struggle and feast with others, great Hope never disappoints.