Wednesday, October 26, 2011

the great shuffle

I looked back at recent posts and realized a lot of my writing lately has been about rhythm. Each morning since Jasper arrived, our chaos is held together by a singular goal - we've got to get out of here on time. Each evening we burst back through the door, my arms filled with baby, groceries, purse and mail. Usually I'm holding something in my teeth or Jasper holds the keys. Today I realized that I've always lived in this rhythm at work, which is why it seems so familiar at home.

Being the pastor in a small urban congregation means I ride two currents each day. I urge my people out the door - go serve, go share, go invite! This place is for a quick rest before heading back into the world. Grab some gospel and get out there!

All the while, I'm inviting strangers inside - come see, come taste, come receive! I know our doors are heavy and our liturgy is high, but there is something here for you. And you have something to share here, too.

Today I attended the Ending Homelessness Together Annual Luncheon downtown. One of our members is a community builder and invited me to sit at her table. We heard stories about Plymouth Church Neighborhood Foundation, projects we've supported and projects just getting started. Half the folks around our table were from St. John's, celebrating their call to go outside our walls and make a difference. It was an hour of my brain and heart celebrating with YES YES YES!

Late this afternoon the phone rang. It was a woman wondering about our worship services and Sunday school. She's looking for a church and lives in the neighborhood. Then, she admitted, she was standing right outside at the bus stop reading our sign. Come inside! It hadn't dawned on her, but her son did need to use the restroom and she was right here. We wandered around the building talking about church and her life and my life and every once in awhile her son would chime in with a comment about this funny building. Soon they left feeling welcome and eager to come back inside on a Sunday morning. It was fifteen minutes of my brain and heart celebrating the other current with YES YES YES!

That's what I do all day, most days. I do my best to inspire movement. I cheerlead. I point to God's commission. I connect people and try to relate with them. I remind myself and others that God is already working in rooms before we enter. I pray for the great shuffle out and in, out and in. And every once in awhile, when it clicks for a moment and I get to watch, I celebrate with YES YES YES!

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

thank you, autumn

my favorite things about fall

crunching leaves

the secular world speaks stewardship...
...sometimes even better than the church

the way jasper tugs at the ears on his monkey hat,
causing it to slide further down his face

walking by the river

every sunny day is a gift

scarves, tights, boots, sweaters

apples, sweet potatoes, squash

the earth smells sleepy

my birthday - and this year i felt really special

so much going on at church

coming home to the smell of a hard working crock pot

watching jasper discover wind and crisp air

holding matt's hand and leaning into him for warmth

Sunday, October 16, 2011

they were amazed

Sunday, October 16 ~ Matthew 22:15-22

Ugh. For several chapters now, Jesus has been slamming religious piety and pretentiousness while teaching in the temple and people are getting pissed off. The Pharisees send some of their religious students together with the far more political Herodians into the crowd armed with cheap flattery and an impossible question. You see, there’s no way Jesus could answer their riddle without committing major heresy against the temple or the empire – and they don’t care which way Jesus falls off the fence. They just want to be there when he does.

But Jesus is no fool. He can smell their charade from a mile away. It would be like answering a knock at your door to find John Boehner and Nancy Pelosi standing there hand in hand, smiling and saying, “Well, that’s a great color on you. And you smell so nice! Say, we just have a quick question for you since we care so deeply about the way we represent you personally…”

Gross. Jesus knows they’re hoping he’ll make a huge public gaff and suggest a tax rebellion against Caesar, but he’s not about to fall for it. So just as quickly as their question tries to divide our life into categories of allegiance and importance, Jesus blows their question out of the water with a radical word of unity. And they never see it coming.

The crowd gathered at this scene is not unlike crowds gathering today, anxious and polarized by leaders and issues. The Jews were feeling misrepresented and nervous about their relationship with the Roman Empire because a mortal leader playing god right in front of Yahweh, the one true God. It was a delicate balance everyday – nodding and smiling at the Roman Empire just enough to keep their basic rights to Jewish worship and culture. And everyday they wondered whether they were compromising or selling out.

I wonder if God had these kinds of moments in mind when the Israelites begged for a king of their own back in the book of Judges. God so desperately wanted the people to live set apart, operating differently and experiencing authority in a more radical way than their neighboring nations. But Israel pleaded and nagged God, convinced that having a king would mean more freedom and that it wouldn’t affect their loyalty to God.

The Pharisee and Herodians sound self-righteous, convinced that the answer should be black or white, but even they are living in the grey. One presents a coin with Caesar’s face on it - something no one should possess inside the temple walls and a Pharisee shouldn't have at all. When they show Jesus the denarius, they prove that being faithful isn’t easy – and it isn’t black and white.

And so at first, Jesus’ answer seems simple. Give the emperor what he is due and God what God is due. And if we take his answer at face value, it doesn’t seem very radical at all.

But the gospel says the crowd heard and they went away amazed. And for that reason, we have to take another look. Therefore, give to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s.

Without any further explanation of what belongs to either party, Jesus leaves us to consider all the grey stuff about authority and allegiance ourselves. He doesn’t give us the answers or draw a line in the sand. He doesn’t fall off the fence onto one side or another. In fact, he doesn’t divide at all.

Maybe the crowd is amazed because, while the seal of Caesar on coins and doors and decrees and armor, they realize that God’s face is plastered all over creation – on everyone and everything – a testament to God's uniting power in this world.

Maybe the crowd is amazed because Jesus didn’t shun the empire or deem it evil. Sure, this empire will put him to death, but it will also fund new roads, thwart piracy and (accidentally) make it easier for the gospel to travel all over the world for generations to come.

Maybe the crowd is amazed because Jesus had the guts to name the grey places no one else was naming, the tricky space in between that wrestles for our time, our priorities, our checkbooks and our values. In the face of black and white, Jesus’ simple answer points to daily living that isn’t simple – the choices we make about what belongs to God and what that means for our lives.

And maybe that’s I should stop typing because Jesus didn’t lay it all out for the crowd – instead, he entrusted them to worship and life in the Body of Christ where, together, they would find out what belonging to God looks like day after day, week after week. Together, they would form one body with countless expressions of discipleship in the grey, each person experiencing giving to God in a different way and adding to the Great Story that never ends.

You have the face of God all over you – you’re marked with Christ, sealed by the Spirit and the gospel is causing unity in the face of all that divides you. And that's good news! May God bless you in the grey places of this week, guiding your recognition of all that belongs to God.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Hard but Good

Jasper and I took a quick trip to Chicago this weekend because my cousin Ross was getting married! While the rest of the family drove with our luggage, Jasper and I flew with just a diaper bag. Our trip there was so slick and he impressed all kinds of people with his travel savvy on Saturday morning.

Unfortunately, he was also developing a low grade fever and got passed around a lot. My Aunt Kris was going to babysit during the wedding, but we changed our plans when she had a last minute family emergency. My whole family was so flexible and accommodating - I was still able to enjoy most of the festivities and Jasper got plenty of sleep all day.

But Sunday was a different story. The poor guy was burning up and uncomfortable all night. I stumbled into the airport on 3 hours of sleep with a fussy boy in the front carrier. I loaded a plane and found my seat surrounded by people avoiding eye contact and leaning away from me and my crabby baby. I got the hairy eyeball from a woman reading a book about the beauty of Catholicism. She, ironically, rolled her eyes at me while reading a page that said, "God comes to us in the most unexpected times and places". I prayed for her mercy to no avail.

This was Jasper's sixth airplane ride and until this moment he'd been a total trooper. I think I'd become a little self-righteous about this fact and melted sheepishly as his wails filled the plane. I was alone and miserable on a precious Sunday "off". I wanted to cry, too.

When we got home, Matt joined us for a family trip to the Urgent Care. He was ready to see a doctor for the same crap. So we loaded the car with a tired mom and her two sick guys. As each hour passed and we moved from waiting room to waiting room, Matt and I exchanged shrugs, bad jokes and empathetic eyes. We had been looking forward to the afternoon for weeks - the rare blank space on our calendars this fall freed for football and relaxing. Oh well. It was good to have the band back together, even if we were spending that time with every sick kid in St. Paul.

While Jasper was sent home with an expensive and prescription-free "let's wait and see", Matt got some drugs and we were home by five thirty. I got Pete and Repeat set up with a bottle and clean diaper before getting back in the car and heading to my goddaughter's house. Time with Liv has fallen through the cracks a lot lately, so I wasn't about to call and back out. I needed time with a family I admire - a family who knows Urgent Care well and always lives to tell the tale.

I fell in love with the Enstads long before I got married and started my own family. I've watched the way Carrie and Chris compromise and find humor in the hard stuff, show the girls love even when they're exhausted and I adore their fierce commitment to juggling it all with honesty and grace.

I arrived to find delicious chili and homemade cake. The girls had painted fall leaves and made cards for me, Matt and Jasper. We decorated the house for Carrie's birthday. Berit brushed my hair and they both danced and had meltdowns during the evening. It was perfect.

It always helps to watch Carrie with her kids. I have such love for her perspective and faith as a working mom. I channel her often when this parenthood thing gets tricky, calling on the strength and grace she's shown me. Toward the end of the night, Liv invited me to watch her play her violin, something I've been eager to hear for months.

But there was a catch. I could not act excited about it. She would not face me while she played and I could not clap when she finished. I remembered my own shyness about success and praise at that age and understood. We headed to the basement where Carrie could accompany her on the piano and I learned a great lesson.

Carrie, too, pretended it was no big deal. She gave Liv all of her attention without pushing any of the buttons that would shut Liv down or make her blush. As Carrie played the piano and guided her gently, something in my own heart clicked. I needed this scene of accompaniment to help me rise out of the day's ashes.

When Liv finished playing, I clapped twice. I'd forgotten the rules and my excitement slipped out for a moment. She's really, really good. And I was really, really proud. But then she shot me a look and I packed it away. No big deal. I'm not excited, but thanks for showing me. And we moved on.

Driving home I thought about Carrie's posture next to Liv. She was coming alongside her, not taking control of too much and letting Liv define her role. That's what the Spirit does with m e and that's what I needed to do with Jasper. I didn't need to fix the fact that he felt like crap. I wasn't a bad parent because his head was hot and he felt crummy. I'm not a doctor or a magician - I'm a mom. And that means I come alongside him, snuggling and kissing and helping him drift off to sleep until things get better. Watching Carrie do that, remembering that God was beside me and believing I could do it for Jasper redeemed my day off, my precious Sabbath day I thought had gone to waste.

When I came home, I crept quietly into Jasper's room and marked his forehead with the sign of the cross. Jasper, I love you very much and so does Jesus. His brow was warm and his light snoring filled the room with peace. I sat down in the rocking chair and closed my heavy eyes for a moment, basking in his breath and the darkness. It was a good place for a tired prayer, simple words and lots of gratitude. Gracious God, today was hard but good. You were there and looking back I can see all the kindness and hope, not just the heavy stuff. Thank you for the dancing and the meltdowns. See you tomorrow. Amen.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Nice Hair

Dear Jasper,

You are suddenly very busy. You eat oatmeal and fruit in the morning, arms extended like airplane wings and your eyes so focused on the spoon. Your thighs are growing because of these simple solids and they're a perfect spot for raspberry kisses.

You have great hand-eye coordination. It took you awhile to get interested in using your hands for exploring anything other than your mouth, but now you know how to use your thumbs and you can even turn pages in the books we read. You sit up so well and are finally getting antsy to move around. Any day now...

We all get the giggles a lot. You have a sense of humor and think all kinds of things are funny. Rubbing noses, popping out from behind a door, tickling, flipping you upside down and pretend snoring all make you burst into laughter and I love it.

Yesterday we went to Target and I decided to put you in the front of the cart. While I had to turn corners at 2 mph, you did really well balancing and your head whipped around looking at everything. You squealed with joy all the way through the produce section, especially when we picked up speed. I suggested you pace yourself and, sure enough, you were hitting the wall by the time we got to the diapers and wipes aisle.

While Dad was out of town last week, you attended two retreats with Mom. Mormor and Marma helped and we were all impressed with your flexibility. Three different beds in three nights! When we got home on Tuesday, Dad was so excited to see you. It had been too many days and I left you two to play until bedtime. You kept looking at him and shaking with excitement, reaching for his face. Pete and Repeat, you two. It was a happy night.

Believe it or not, you had your first salon haircut with Marma this week and it was prior to this picture of you at Target. Untamed! It has been confirmed by the pros - your hair is "unique" and "tricky". I love it. Every day it's different, as if the weather and your mood decide what stands up. It's sassy when you are serious and serious when you're sassy. I hope that cowlick never gives in.

Jasper, I write this letter in part because I feel guilty. You are so cool and doing so many new things but I haven't pulled your baby book off the shelf in awhile. So I've rambled here before I forget, pausing just long enough to tell the world how wonderful you are before you start growing and changing again. Sleep tight, buddy. See you (and your hair) in the morning!

Love, Mom