Wednesday, July 27, 2011

The Kingdom of Heaven is Weird and Wild.

Sunday was our third week in the parables of Matthew 13. The kingdom of heaven is like a seed. It's like leaven. It's like a merchant or treasure. It's like a really big net. They are familiar stories, but sometimes when stories are familiar they lose their bite. Sometimes we peel right through them and forget to notice the weird stuff about Jesus and heaven and God's reign. And that's the whole point. I had two things to say about these parables on Sunday:

1. While we usually associate Jesus' parables with abundance, Jesus chooses imagery here that seems unsustainable and fleeting. Weird.

· A mustard bush grows wiry and strong like a weed, but at the end of the season it withers like every other annual, often turning to tumbleweed and dancing away.

· Hiding leaven in three measures of flour sounds sneaky and uses enough to feed 100 people. With that small bit of leaven, she ruins her whole supply instead of making only what she needed…and unless she’s planning a big dinner party we don’t know about, the rest will go to waste.

· The merchant doesn’t think twice about his kids’ college education, his mortgage, his retirement or how to care for his ailing parents when he sells everything for that silly pearl. What will he tell his financial planner…or his wife?

· And this net scoops up everything, taking the good the bad and the ugly before untangling and sorting its contents. But even good fish go bad. Whether they are sold for market price or rot in the sunshine, their goodness in and of itself is not eternal.

So much of what we believe about the kingdom of God declares longevity far, far away. But Jesus uses images that are signs of life and work in this world to show how God’s kingdom can come among us in a flash – that it takes shape in our priorities, our relationships, our jobs and our dreams. It can be recognizable one moment and then, because our context is always changing, it begins to stink and rot when we try to hoard it or forget to use it generously.

2. So while Jesus is calling us to keep our eyes peeled for the kingdom at work right here, this text is not content with a bunch of disciples merely reacting and waiting around feeling faithful. Jesus chose ordinary people and items for these parables because he wants us to know that our lives are filled with glimpses of the kingdom – our hands and feet and hearts are equipped by the Spirit just like this net, seed and merchant. Wild.

Through baptism we have all been claimed by heaven’s bizarre jubilation – a kingdom that breaks into our lives with little respect for our social constructs and it rarely manifests in responsible, frugal ways. God’s love is careless and wasteful and smelly and must be passed around for all to taste quickly before we have time to keep score or get scared or feel lazy. Because while these stories are two thousand years old, the kingdom can take these ancient truths and make them brand new everyday, shoving them in front of our faces so we, too, are inspired to proclaim their passion, urgency and foolish extravagance.

The kingdom of heaven is like an old man who waters and cuts and manages his lawn with meticulous care. And when it is perfectly lush and the envy of the block, he buys a Slip ‘n’ Slide, turns on the sprinkler and invites all the neighborhood kids over for messy, muddy water games.

The kingdom of heaven is like a small congregation that depends heavily on its foundation to stay afloat. And one day a man comes in asking for help with his rent money and instead the congregation uses their foundation funds to buy him a house.

The kingdom of heaven is like a bunch of Lutherans who make simple cardboard signs, each claiming one thing they believe and holding it for all to see on a street corner. Not because it's comfortable or because it's a synod sponsored event or because it will yield measurable results, but because discipleship sends them out to tell the truth to anyone passing by.

The kingdom of heaven is like a crowd of people who trust God so completely, they eat wafers that taste like Styrofoam and cheap wine from bottles with screw top caps week after week, believing with their whole hearts that Jesus is right there – forgiving and redeeming and untangling their good from their bad.

The kingdom of heaven is like a young man whose neighbor moved to a memory care nursing home, so he goes to visit her every weekend, holds her hand and lets her believe that he is the son she never had.

When Jesus finishes this proclamation of parables, he turns to the disciples and asks if they understand everything he’s just taught them.

And they lie. They boldface lie to Jesus with a word, “Yes”.

Jesus knows that every generation of disciples will be tempted to moralize and simplify these stories, forgetting their true purpose: that they reveal God’s spontaneous and backwards kingdom among us, signs of God’s life right here. And Jesus knows they can’t begin to comprehend how weird and wild the kingdom is – that his claim on all of us complicates our lives and our desire to see things as black and white.

But Jesus also looks at them with love, knowing that they say yes because their desire to understand everything is so great. They are hungry for this abundance that comes among them so quickly, that wastes if it is not shared. They long for a kingdom that breaks all the rules and calls them to break some, too. They say yes because each glimpse of God’s untamed adoration for the whole world stirs them up with nervous excitement…even though they do not understand how or why. And we’re right there with them.

Thanks be to God for sending the kingdom among us – heaven that rushes out through the pearly gates and into our lives with merciful demands and a call to spread weird and wild generosity all over the earth.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

on the road again

Things I learned (but already knew)
on this summer's road trip down the west coast:

1. Matt and I plan each summer road trip about nine months in advance. There's a lot of hype leading up to these two weeks away because our work schedules so rarely line up with time off. We both work some evenings. Matt works some Saturdays, I work Sundays. Clearing two weeks to be away together so far in advance makes us feel giddy about the plans we've made and the time we're securing for an adventure together. And that's always worth the hype.

2. We dream of buying a little land on a river or lake someday and having a simple cabin with bunk beds and an outhouse. After staying in yurts on the Oregon coast, we changed our tune. Now we want a yurt! It was a cozy way to spend a few nights. Jasper wore a warm hat and fell asleep early while we enjoyed dinner and an audio book at the picnic table outside. That simple "date" at the end of each day recharged our batteries - priceless!

3. Living out of the car with an infant is hard. He's old enough to get bored sitting in the backseat on longer driving days. His sleeping and pooping got thrown out of whack. He was fussy sometimes and we were tired. But I am in awe of our teamwork on this trip. We did well taking turns without score keeping and waiting for the other to rebound before having a meltdown ourselves. A lot of things went wrong, but we usually got the giggles when things completely unraveled. I found myself watching Matt with Jasper several times each day, so glad that this is my family and that I get to be with a guy this good.

4. Jasper is awesome. This kid is flexible and funny and up for adventure. He loves watching traffic and met some firemen who turned on their lights and sirens just for him. He loves nature. He can be throwing a fit and as soon as we walk outside, he's completely taken by the trees, birds and sunshine. I smiled watching his eyes bug out at the ocean. He was consumed by the breeze on his face and the sound of waves crashing on shore. While so much about this trip was exhausting, he made it worth the trouble. I can't wait for next summer's adventure...and Jasper seems pretty jazzed too.

Monday, July 4, 2011

A Living Lutheran Creed

More than 350 church leaders are planning to participate and invite others to join in. Spread the word and let me know what you think! Is this something you, your family or your congregation would do? Why or why not?

Lutherans often describe their congregations with words like 'friendly', 'welcoming' or 'hospitable'. Super and probably true, but I consider this to be part of our Lutheran problem. These are lovely but reactionary descriptions of God's people. They all require others to make the first move.

It's hard to initiate - to meet people outside, to tell our story, to be proud proclaimers when our (spiritual) heritage prefers stoicism and quiet humility. But maybe it would be easier and FUN to practice making that first move together.

What if a bunch of Lutherans - I mean a bunch - all make signs stating something we believe in and all stand on corners in our neighborhoods on the same day at the same time? What if church and community leaders got people together with markers and pieces of used cardboard to talk about what we stand for and what our faith means? And what if we all got outside our walls at the same time forming a really, really big creed?

And what if people bump into it? People will drive by, see us and have all kinds of reactions. They might notice that we were holding messages of abundance in spots that usually scream scarcity or that instead of asking for money, we're just saying something that's true. They might be annoyed. Or they might be curious. We might be awkward. Or we might be awakened.

So I'm throwing it out there. Tell your synod office. Put it in your church newsletter. Make it your own - the idea is vague and that's the whole point. This experiment has just two goals:

1) To stretch us. Standing outside inviting other people to notice us because of our faith might feel scary or strange. We might draw a blank when figuring out what to write on our signs...and that might spark important conversations. But if a bunch of us try it together and then share our stories, it could be really really interesting. I'll make sure a blog or Facebook page is born so people can share photos and experiences - perhaps encouraging a second outing.

2) To many non-Lutherans, we are simply potluck people who listen to Garrison Keillor. Showing people driving/walking/biking by that we are more than a culture - we are people of faith - couldn't hurt.

So I propose a date for those who wish to join in. Saturday, September 10th (10am-noon CST). The next morning is Sunday and everyone will be figuring out what to do with the fact that 9/11 happened ten years ago. I can't think of a better way to be 'friendly' and 'welcoming' and 'hospitable' than by meeting people where they are the day before and reminding them that Church is a people and place where we hash this stuff out. Of course, any day will do.

Any takers? I sure hope so.
But if it's just me and my kid standing near a freeway ramp, that's still something.

Good Goo!

Geez. It's been a month since I've posted and I've got some Lutheran guilt about it. Until I remember that blogging isn't a "should". I write when there's time and while there's still the same amount of time, it's filled differently.

I love this picture of Jasper's first dip in the kiddie pool. That serious, sultry look comes out quite often and I like to think this is the perfect game face for summer. Minnesotans take summer very seriously. Everyone has their weekends booked by April and our sad, pale skin begins to fill with freckles and sun spots by July. We are aggressive about being outside. We talk to compete strangers with passion about the sunshine, proclaiming that each day in the 70s and 80s is just PERFECT and GORGEOUS. Our happiness is laced with anxiety because we know these days are fleeting and we have to drink it in.

So that's what I've been doing. Vacation Bible School and Lake Harriet Worship and long stroller rides and walking from my office to one of the many tempting lunch spots in Tangletown. It's all divine.

This weekend we went to my parents' lake place "up north" for a little R&R. As the weekend progressed, more and more family members appeared ready to eat well, mix drinks, soak in the sun and experience the new tube that gets pulled behind the souped-up pontoon. People, this tube has "ergonomic seating" for 680 lbs. worth of riders. Nearing thirty, I climbed aboard with the same goofballs I shared a much smaller tube with in the 1980s, ready for the drool to fly from my mouth as we were whipped around the lake. That first ride proved that summer is truly here.

We left the little trooper with family for 48 hours while Matt and I returned home to cram a season worth of work into two days. We painted the exterior of our house, killed weeds, cleaned the basement, swept the garage and got organized for our road trip coming up. My shoulders are usually covered in Jasper's saliva, but this weekend they were speckled with sweat and paint.

Sure, we missed him. But it was exciting to hear how well he was doing surrounded by family members who love him dearly and read his cues so well. And without the little bugger around, Matt and found new energy to check things off the list before ordering pizza and eating it out of the box with sticky, messy hands.

He's due back in about an hour and I can't wait to see him. His room has been quiet and I'm eager for an evening to reconnect. I'm ready to trade in my sweaty, paint-covered shoulders for his spit up and drool. Good goo, indeed.