Sunday, December 16, 2012

"close your eyes."

Isaiah 61:1-11 ~ Visions of Peace & Liberty

Isaiah and the gang have returned home from exile to find things to be less than expected. The ruins, the oppression, and the return changed them and their relationship with God. So they're hungry for new words of hope and new visions of peace. They're desperate for an updated blueprint that acknowledges the transformation, the things they grieve, and the way forward.

On Friday, President Obama quoted part of my preaching text for today. He ended his speech about the terrorizing disaster in Connecticut by hoping for the One who binds our wounds and mends the brokenhearted. He ended with a call for holy healing.

This is the Advent story. While the wounds are real and remain, there is One who binds them. While our hearts continue to break, there is One who can dwell in our presence, mending the pieces into the semblance of a whole. My brother had a quote on his Facebook page shortly after the news broke and, this week, Mr. Rogers was my preacher: 

"When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, "Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping." To this day, especially in times of "disaster," I remember my mother's words and I am always comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers -- so many caring people in this world."
Isaiah and Advent are calling us to open our eyes to new visions of peace and celebration, but we have good reason to pause in devastation and fear this week. We have good reason to close our eyes instead. Because whenever I open them...

I see a teacher and a principal who lunged at the man, desperate to stop him and unable to end it.
I see a 27 year old teacher who hid her children in the classroom cabinets and the horror on her face while she waited for the man to kill her.
I see EMT workers rushing to set up a triage area, ready to be the Helpers and the Hope, soon realizing there was nothing to change and no one to treat. I see them packing up their gear and feeling as helpless like rest of us.

I see brave rescue workers tell children to "close your eyes, keep them closed", leading them to safety. I see that in order to move the blind, the least, and the little, they had to keep their eyes open to the direction through destruction.

Advent is our search for Christ and I hear him in the calm voices that shoo children into cabinets or lead them to the firehouse. I see Christ in the strong hands that secured the scene and the wise media outlets that resisted dramatizing and misinforming - instead respecting the humanity and grief.

We will see Christ in twelve years when the media again returns to Sandy Hook to cover a story about these 20 families and their celebration of what would have been a graduation day.  Christ will have been there the whole time, knitting those mothers and fathers and siblings together for strength and comfort.

It's hard to preach when things like this happen and you need a good sermon yourself. I floated through this morning, telling the truth about Connecticut and Isaiah, but also hugging little children, giving a homeless woman her first communion and receiving a Christmas ham from a parishioner. As I left the church parking lot I saw an East African immigrant pushing a shopping card down Pillsbury Avenue. It was filled with her children all waving to me, regulars in our nursery during ESL classes. Their mother's maroon abaya was rippling in the wind, showing her fierce biceps beneath their modest cover. She was holding them tightly and keeping them together this morning. Our eyes locked together in the universal language of motherhood.

I don't know what to tell you about Isaiah's new vision of peace - maybe because I'm not ready to open my eyes quite yet. And I think that's okay.  There is a time for open eyes and a time for keeping them closed. There is a time for jubilee and a time for weeping. There is a time for garland and a time for ashes. All of these good Advent things are true even if we’re not quite ready for them this morning. 

Like first graders being led down the hallway filled with destruction, I will keep my eyes closed until my teacher says I can open them. And thank God for the Teacher, who keeps watch on the days we need to close our eyes and bear only what we've already had to see. There will be other days for visions of peace - and they will still be present and true when we're ready to open our eyes. Promise.

Sunday, December 9, 2012


I dusted your baby book today, Jasper. 

That's further proof that this blog is my shortcut to memory preservation. Here I add a photo and write a few words about what you're up to these days. I have real intentions of printing these entries and adding them to your book someday. Just you wait. It will be a font and style inspired by Pinterest and it will turn out 28% as cool as the original idea. You'll love it, I promise.

You stayed home in Yack-Attack Land with your dad this morning - the poor guy caught it! I had a speedy version of the flu on Friday and felt just good enough to lead worship, but not good enough to serve communion bread. I awoke still achey, wishing I could pull the covers over my head and be selfish for the day. 

Not a chance. Not on a Sunday morning and not with several inches of snow on the ground outside! It was crisp, quiet, and beautiful. I relish Sunday mornings there is snow to brush off my car because the street is silent. Everyone else is tucked away inside. No one on this block needs to be somewhere quite yet. I imagine them drinking hot cocoa and reading the paper - that it's up to me to make a path and report back about plows and life further down Lake Street. 

I returned mid-afternoon to find neighbors out shoveling and building snowmen. I was tired, but giddy searching for my snow pants and your bunting while you finished napping. Then your aunt, uncle, and canine-cousin joined us for a sleigh ride around Longfellow. You were the Prince all bundled and starry-eyed. 

Remember that I spent much of my childhood in California, Jasper. When we moved back to the Midwest, I had to convince myself to like winter. I had to nod and smile through stories about the 1991 Halloween blizzard that I'd missed. (A major ballad for Minnesotans from my generation.) I had to learn to ski and layer clothing and deal with all this darkness. 

I was successful in tricking myself into loving this season. So today I desperately wished to impart a love for winter on you. As your nose turned red and your cheeks collected snowflakes, I watched your smile widen. It filled me with joy to see you that happy.

Your face glowed when we came back inside, too. You ran around in circles jabbering to Dad about your time in the snow. You rubbed your hat hair and guzzled water. You collected a few books and cozied up to me on the couch with a smile, still wide.

But what else about this season?
This winter you are starting to say more words - bus, truck, light, and duck just this week. 
You can put all the animal pieces in your sound puzzle by yourself. Then you give me a high five. 
We have a new bedtime routine thanks to your Big Boy Bed. You sleep with 85 stuffed animals, 12 trucks, an ab roller, 2 nuks, and your blanket. (Whatever, man.) 
You are open to more foods and I continue to be grateful for your love of fruits and vegetables. I've always been a big snacker, but you know how to make braided pretzel sticks fun. 
You nap for less than 3 hours now, but still relish that time alone in your room every afternoon. (What are you doing in there?) 
You color a lot - and you are trying to hold your crayons like me. 
You dance with fury and passion. There is a house band playing in your head and heart every morning at 7:30am. (I dedicate your poops to that band. It really gets things moving.) 
You are wildly affectionate. Hugs, cuddles, and kisses. When I ask for "loving", you wander over and nestle your head into my neck. You always relax for a minute and exhale with a soft, "mmm" sound. Thanks to this ritual, I will never forget your gentleness and sweet smell in the midst of rowdy, busy toddlerhood.
You like seeing pictures of "Baby Jasper". Sometimes I grab you and (using my best Julia Child voice) say, "When Jasper was a little baby, I used to cuddle him and sing Rockabye Baby..." I rock you back and forth like a newborn, your long legs dangling and kicking beyond my reach. You squeal and make cooing noises, happily giving into the snugglefest. 
You are funny. You are sarcastic and silly and sassy. You make lots of faces and crack yourself up. 
You are also quite bossy and moody. You are a toddler and you don't let me forget that very often. Everything's a big deal and emotionally urgent. (You act like me at age 13, which was not my finest year.) 
Today I preached from Joel. Some Jews have returned from exile and home isn't the way it used to be. And so God calls them home again. Give me your hearts, not your clothing. I want full custody, not weekend visits. Return to me and things will change - not the locusts or the sadness or the chaos. That remains and is real. But things will be different because I will be right there. I will ask you what you're longing for. I will wait there while you wonder. And I will listen when you dare to answer.

This is a good text for the season of Advent. It gets me thinking about what I'm longing for.

I'm wondering about that now that the house is dark. My boys are in bed. The street is quiet again. Peace surrounds me and, though the aches are still there, and I realize that I'm longing for more of this.

Snow-filled days.
Sleigh rides and red noses.
My son growing to love the beauty of winter layers.
A place to return home in the midst of things that ache.

Monday, November 26, 2012


Jasper is not so sure about winter jackets. He puts up a good fight getting into them. He's wiry and strong and determined to remain in one layer come hell or high water. Sometimes I break a sweat before we're done.

It snowed this weekend. I arrived in Lindstrom on Thanksgiving Day wearing a flannel and cropped pants. No - it was so thin it doesn't deserve to be called a flannel. And Sperrys sans socks. Whoops. The rest of the weekend was spent further north and I had to get creative.

It's not that I dislike winter - I just love fall. Everything prior to Daylight Savings Time is precious and fleeting. So I resist between then and Advent One. Apparently, so does my son.

But if you can get us bundled up and outside, we're happier. We take it all in. We get quiet and point to the moon and smile. We're glad for the chill on our cheeks and our warm ears tucked away from the wind.

We are entering the long and dark season in which things get simple. As Garrison Keillor likes to say, "We're either in here or out there. If we're in here, we're just glad to be in here. And if we're out there, it's all about getting from out there to in here." That's life in Minnesota half the time. It means sweaters and slow cookers and wool socks and candles. It means shoveling and sledding and skiing and scraping your car. The stuff getting on your nerves or demanding your attention back in August is gone. Long gone.

Most people are tired of the phrase "fiscal cliff" and are taking a break from political sniping. We're stoned on turkey. We haven't completely given up hope in our Fantasy Football leagues. We are quiet for a little while before the pulse of Christmas Chaos starts pounding in our heads. For now it is just darkness - the call to resist, the call to surrender, and the palpable waiting that makes this time of year sacred.

We're welcoming a few new members at Zion this Sunday. It's New Year's Day according to the church calendar. It's time to dive into something new - to stake a claim on the future and whatever's coming at us. It's much easier to resist that new life when we're by ourselves - when no one is there to wrestle us into jackets and discipleship. And so we get together and claim allegiance to the beautiful and broken church that makes sure we're never alone. This is where our resistance meets peace - we receive an invitation to surrender to reality: it's cold and dark, but we've got to get out there.

So light a candle and grab your hat.
May this season make space in the noise for quiet.
May it pull you outside where you can point to the moon and smile.

Monday, November 12, 2012

get in where you fit in.

You folks are shy about leaving comments on this blog. My little statistics suggest that I have more than 200 regular readers, but usually it's a text message or an email. I love that quiet support. You reflect about the work I do or my silly kid or my honesty about the hard and beautiful stuff. And many of you ask how you can help. You want a taste of Zion. You gave a combined $1,000 toward the Lyndale Community Dinner after reading this post. You're part of this now.

We have two big events coming up in the Zion community and you can be a part of them! There's lots to do and, somehow, stuff like this always comes together at the end in wild ways. You seem to like that kind of story, so maybe you'd like to be part of one with me. Know that this manna and mercy is for you, too.

The Lyndale Community Thanksgiving Eve Dinner - November 21st 
We need all kinds of food delivered by this Sunday. Several medium sized turkeys. Dozens of 5 lb. bags of potatoes, dinner rolls, and cookies. Pumpkin and apple pies. Large tubs of Cool Whip. We need people to show up early to help set up. We need people to clear dishes during the meal and dishwashers back in the kitchen. We need people to come and be friendly. We need folks to play games with kids - because Lord knows kids are too squirmy to sit at the table for a whole turkey dinner.

The ZOOM House Christmas Party - December 13 
Did you know Santa Claus is a member of Zion? He is. Santa Dan wears red suspenders year round and, in his heyday was the premier Santa Claus of the upper midwest. Print, commercials, Southdale Mall - the works. He'll be there handing out gifts. We need salads and desserts and punch and kitchen helpers and games and people who like watching children feel remember, worthy, and loved. I can't wait because December 13 is my baptism birthday and I know this will be the world's best way to celebrate.

Both of these events will be held in Zion's Banquet Room. You park in the lot on the north side of the building and enter through the blue door. We're down the stairs - just follow the noise. And then you're in. Because if you come in the blue door - the least churchy looking door on the whole building - that means you're one of us. You belong. You're part of the glorious mess and the wide community of Zion.

But first, call Deana at (612) 824-1017.
Call my fearless Parish Administrator, who moonlights as the ZOOM Board Director. She has sign up sheets and all kinds of ideas about how best to help and give and participate. She'll make sure you get a cool job that makes you feel part of things - whether you live down the street or across the country.

These are just two ways to celebrate the season of generosity, but there are plenty out there. I just hope you get in where you fit in this winter. And when you do, send me a shy comment about what that looks like in your life. I want to hear your Banquet Room stories, too. Blessings!

Saturday, November 10, 2012

the village

I struggle with the balance of a good and busy life. The funny and defensive layers of this hybrid life ebb and flow. Right now I'm in a defensive place (with a side dish of shoulder-shrug).

I read this blog today. A friend posted it on Facebook and many women I admire had already commented. But I never just happen to read a blog. Being a working mom means a few things have to stop before I start anything spontaneous and personal. So I stopped chopping onions for beef stroganoff. I set aside the meeting notes I was simultaneously preparing. (Because, yes.  I do have a meeting with my music director in my living room on a Saturday.) I listened for Jasper's cough on the baby monitor to see if he would fall back asleep or not. And then I read it.

There are a lot of beautiful women in my life pregnant or in the adoption process right now. They're navigating parental leave and childcare and part-time employment options. And, while I'm usually quite chatty and the first to explode with my own personal opinion about their ideas, I zip it while they share.

I had some hurtful things said to me while I was pregnant.  A few people critiqued my plan and my vocations and the way we would go about paying for and arranging childcare for Jasper once he arrived. And that never really goes away. Partly because I still remember the exact words that meant well, but hurt badly. Partly because raising a kid means you will always feel judged - both by what people have to say directly to you and by people who make different choices and then imply that theirs are superior to yours. This is hard on women whose emotional armor consists of:

  1. A fierce commitment to multiple vocations
  2. Self-depricating humor
  3. Chocolate

I still watch Grey's Anatomy. I know. Matt would tell me to deny this fact instead of leaking it on the internet. And if watching the show isn't enough, I cried during the most recent episode. Meredith is a surgeon (an attending) and a proud mama. She's new in her leadership role and not used to the new level of on-call responsibility coupled with her husband traveling more often. She passes her potty training daughter off to friends and interns all day long - torn between mama guilt and the value of her other, also urgent vocation.

Others are happy to oblige, but a mentor pulls her aside at the end and gives her a pep talk. "You're an attending now. You need a deeper bench." She hands Meredith her list of tested babysitters. Treasure. She's about to build a village. That will mean being vulnerable and asking for help and depending on a wider community and missing some really great stuff. It's not right for everybody, but it's right for her. And it will be right for her daughter, too.

Today Jasper is napping in the pack 'n' play in the basement so I can have a meeting upstairs. And he loves it - his basement den. Monday and Tuesday I will have to pry him from my body and leave him at daycare for 8 hours. That hurts, but not for long. I'm the parent who stands outside the toddler room faux-checking my email until he stops crying, then sneaks a peek at her happy little boy who's tears are suddenly gone. Within two minutes, he's moved on. He's playing with fabulous toys and exploring with friends and giving kisses away like candy in a parade. Once I see that resilience, I head outside ready to  do a little ass-kicking myself.

I miss him completely about two nights each week. I'm at meetings or the community dinner or recovery worship. I have to wait until morning to see his eyes - signs of unbound forgiveness and proof that daycare is actually really awesome. That's two nights excluding a social life, so I have trouble choosing time with friends and hair appointments over legos and bath toys.

Grandparents get Wednesdays and Thursdays. They are pushovers who specialize in snacks and field trips and building forts. He is cuddled and read to and they speak his language of grunts and nods. Every week these five people tell me that they are blessed by my child - they love this time with him and love me for making him. Yeah. You're welcome.

We have three clutch babysitters. I won't give their numbers to just anyone. They have saved my life on more than one occasion. They inspire me to put eye shadow and heels on. I want to look fabulous while I spend $12/hour in addition to whatever the heck I'm doing out of the house. I'm just glad I don't have Goldfish in my purse while I do it.

Our village is too massive to name here. There are brothers and sisters and godparents and friends and aunties who make this hectic life possible. Matt and I were both working on Halloween. Three households were willing to watch my Spiderman during the Trick or Treat hours. That's wide grace.

I choose the tears at daycare and the gushing grandparents and my sweet Fridays off with Jasper - just the two of us. I choose a career that means sudden hospital visits and a husband who travels, doing what he loves. That same career invites me to work from home when he is sick and a nursery filled with toys for him during next Tuesday's evening meeting. I choose this little house that bursts with love and fellow villagers seven days a week. I choose all of these things. I am blessed and a blessing. And so is Jasper.

I am still being helped more than I am helping other moms. Sometimes that is the imbalance that discourages me most of all. I am antsy to pass on all the mercy I've received in these first two years of mamahood. But I do believe that the very best help I can give a fellow mom is to be present as she's working out her own choices. I can listen well and I can celebrate the ones that she chooses. No concern. No devil's advocate.  No judgment.

And in a small way, I am becoming part of her village - cheering her on and making room for her to do some ass kicking of her own.

Now if you'll excuse me, my 1:00pm meeting just arrived.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

no thank you

The election is just two weeks away and I'm so ready for it to be over. I'm frustrated and apathetic about a lot of things on the ballot this year. But there is one question that does matter to me.

I care that words in our constitution regarding marriage remain untouched. I care about the state government staying out of people's bedrooms. I care deeply about making sure all people share the same freedoms and rights I enjoy. Call me a social conservative. Or don't.

Many Vote Yes ads suggest that the "traditional, Biblical" institution of marriage is being threatened. Sure. By drunk couples at chapels in Vegas and the rumble of judgmental whispers that encircle affairs and divorces. But, then again, it's always been threatened. Polygamy and rape and economic convenience and concubines and the shame that came|comes from infertility in a world that assumes kids are part of the family plan. For thousands of years, women owed their husbands children and, if they could not produce, a husband could have sex with his wife's friend/sister/servant instead. We watch Sarah suggest this to Abraham out of her own grief. Or how about that old Hebrew law that made widows marry their brother-in-law because single hood was virtually out of the question? I know - it was for the sake of her sexual, physical, and economic safety. But she was only broken and unsafe in that society because of a social system that counted her as dead weight without male kin.

Our relationships have never been black and white - they've been messy in scripture and history and politics and living rooms. So let's back up. Way up. Because when we pull particular verses out of the wider scriptural narrative, we can justify just about anything:

In Genesis 2 - before gender or sexual intercourse or anything besides "and it was good" - God says, "It is not good for the earthen creature to be alone." Because of what we know about God's creation and relationships, this sounds like a judgment against loneliness. A judgment about keeping people apart. A judgment for the sake of loving companionship. But if you wanted to discriminate against single people, it's just the ticket.

When God tells our ancestors to be fruitful and multiply, that's a command. Those are some of the first instructions God gives to humankind. But we don't legally punish people for being infertile, claiming that they are unnatural or out of God's order. America doesn't require that we physically check to make sure the marriage is consummated. We don't require men and women getting married to sign a document promising to procreate or adopt. We recognize that couples are families with or without kids.

The Torah is filled with loopholes about divorce and death and remarriage. They came into being shortly after marriage was born because we've never been very good at this commitment. We've always been broken and we're still breaking. And yet, we try anyway. We still believe that declaring fidelity and loyalty to another is worth the risk.

So it hurts when we read Mark 10. It's hard to hear the Pharisees grilling Jesus. We know that they're less interested in God's wide, forgiving love and more interested in tripping him up in our mess. We could use this text to outlaw divorce. And it pretty explicitly calls remarriage adultery, which is even harder to swallow. After all, this isn't an ancient law buried deep in Leviticus. This is Jesus speaking in public.

And yet we have pastors twice married. Politicians thrice married. Movie stars with exes that can number a basketball team. So why isn't this marriage amendment "protecting" marriage by picking on these things, by asking if marriage should only be recognized the first time around? One and done? No, of course not.

Two verses in Leviticus appear outraged about men sleeping with men, which is not exactly the same as a discussion about men making a loving, faithful commitment to men. Leviticus is also where you find laws about how long you have to wait to sleep with your wife after she gives birth or has her period. And both of these verses are dangerously close to Chapter 19, which is all about loving your neighbor.

And then there's the Apostle Paul writing to the Romans. Let's be clear - Paul isn't just anti-gay marriage. Paul's pretty apathetic and disinterested in straight marriage, too. He told the Corinthians, "Those who marry will experience distress in this life and I would spare you that". Paul was fairly certain that Jesus would be back any day and regularly reminded people that they didn't need to spend their last days flirting with men or women - marriage was only necessary for those with untamed libidos. (I've always thought it's ironic how much we quote Paul at weddings. I imagine him either RSVPing NO or sitting near the bar rolling his eyes during the electric slide.)

Jesus doesn't have anything to say about two men who love each other. Or two women. Or whether they can get married. But he does say an awful lot about ensuring safety and rights for the marginalized. He spoke out for the vulnerable and excluded all the time. All.The.Time.

Voting no doesn't mean that gay people can suddenly marry in the state of Minnesota. It just means we don't change our state constitution for the sake of excluding members of our community. It means we don't make decisions based on a fear of the future. It means we trust our children and grandchildren to make their own choices.

It's not as simple as "what the Bible says". When people feel pressure to choose between Team Bible and Team Love, something is wrong. Marriage has never been clearly defined, stagnant, or uncomplicated - in scripture or in history.

So before I vote, I'll read Mark 10 again. I'll remember the way the Pharisees try to trip Jesus up in the details of our brokenness. And I'll notice the way Jesus points back toward creation where God declared judgment against loneliness. Then I'll notice the way Jesus points forward toward the cross, where everything that needs to die will die. And where new life beyond ballots will prepare to rise.

Since I wrote this post, same-sex marriage became legal in the state of Minnesota. We voted NO and then we voted YES. And then the Supreme Court echoed that sentiment. Regardless of how we enter discussions about civil rights and biblical inerrancy and marriage, I hope we continue to do so trusting Jesus, who gets into the middle of the conversation and acknowledges our hard brokenness that comes with loving well in a messy, gray world.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

being entirely ready

6. We were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.

It's the season of gratitude at recovery worship. We're walking through the steps, week by week. Tonight was about single tasking - the act of becoming ready. This means all the stuff that happens before we ask God to remove our sins and shortcomings. This is talking about that quiet, honest, vulnerable space before we do anything about the realization that we are broken. It's the sixth step - right in the middle - and it's a hard place to be.

I struggle with being entirely ready because I'm a procrastinator. I'm always a little late. I get ready while I do other things in the morning and before I go to bed at night. I struggle to set aside time for this kind of readiness.

Ugh. And the way our culture defines "getting ready" is fraught with Land Mines. To Do Lists. Pressures. Deadlines. The notion that we can figure it out all by ourselves. The glossing over of ugly details that need to be faced.

James 4 suggests that being entirely ready means inaction while you admit stuff. "Lament and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned into mourning and your joy into dejection. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and God will exalt you."

I worked on being entirely ready today. And by "worked", I mean that I was honest about the way things are. I was vulnerable about how the exhausting chaos and brokenness of my work can be. I didn't try to fix things right away. I listened well - to myself and to others. I acknowledge how desperately I want some things and that I am ready to feel however I feel when they happen however they happen.

I buried a 97 year old beauty today.
I held the hand of a woman weeping about the friend she'd lost and the faith they share.
I listened while a teenager confessed dark and painful things.
I read a book to a squirmy 3 year old boy.
I lamented the fear in a man's heart when he told me gay marriage would devastate this country.
I joined dozens of neighbors for dinner tonight. We are now bound by chicken and green beans.
I watched members of my previous congregation serve this food, connecting two of my worlds perfectly.
I listened to others in the circle tell me what it means to be entirely ready and I learned.
I asked Jimmy* to lead us in prayer, even though I knew it would take him a long time to find his place in the Braille bulletin and he would read it slowly without inflection. It was time to wait while I was being made entirely ready.

Then I drove home under the glare of red and green lights on Lake Street, hazy in the mist of a rainy day that will mark the change in seasons. I inched from work to home, from the place where I am pastor to the place where I am Meta and Mama. 

I get 50 blocks every morning to become entirely ready. And 50 blocks each evening. It is good time set apart to lament, mourn, and weep.

But not only that. It is also for the lights in the darkness. It is time for the water that covers me, changing the seasons and moving me toward the next step.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

happy birthday, humble walk

Humble Walk Lutheran Church turned 4 years old today. My friend Jodi is the pastor there. And by there, I mean all over the West End neighborhood of St. Paul. They've had lots of homes in bars, alleys, storefronts, parks, galleries, and coffee shops.

I've been praying for Humble Walk for all four of those years. I've heard stories in text study from Jodi and read articles about Jodi's ministry. I follow the blog on her website and giggle when she makes posts on Facebook. It's clear that Humble Walk is a source of pride for her whole family of four. The girls believe in this church and so does her husband. Because of this, Humble Walk is like an extension of their hearts and home. Because of this, you feel confident about how welcome you are at Humble Walk long before you show up.

Today, I showed up. Finally. After four years of stories and prayer and awe, I walked through the door. And guess what? The first people to greet me were children. Six kids were in worship today and they were putting the finishing touches on decorations for the birthday party and worship service. They engaged Jasper right away. Their welcome was effortless and wholesome and very much why Jesus makes an example of children in Mark 10. Their faith can move mountains.

We sat by the guitarist and Jasper was totally enthralled. We ate Teddy Grahams and clapped when people acted out the story from Genesis 2. Jasper got comfortable and started walking around. He even colored on the Birthday Timeline that hugged the room, making his own mark on this church and the big Church.

He was feeling part of things by the time Communion rolled around. Jodi's younger daughter stood by her side with the other half of the loaf. Jasper watched closely - more closely than he's ever watched Communion - and when he saw the enormous, soft chunks broken off for people, he decided this was his kind of sacrament. His little big sister in Christ, only one year older than this little church, handed him a chunk that became three mouthfuls of bread. One bite went in right away and then he carried the other two around for a bit - one hand filled with soft wheat and the other dripping in a bread sponge of grape juice.

I stared at him closely while I chewed my own. I soaked it in - the joy that spread across his chipmunk cheeks that were filled with God's goodness. I will always remember that moment he opened his hand and demanded grace just like the rest of us. What a sinner! Yes, I believe the Terrible Twos are a beautiful time to join the feast. While I like to let parents decide when to start communing their kids and I do like teaching formal classes on it, I hate to see kids expressing curiosity and wonder only to be shut down or told no. The minute the table becomes anything besides a place of welcome, I get feisty.

I demanded bread in Kindergarten. I asked other people what exactly happened at Communion and none of them could give me a straight answer. So I told the pastor that I shouldn't have to be a certain age or know enough...because these adults all had different answers themselves.

And, Lord knows, it's not about the answers. It's about opening our hands for the great mystery of Jesus becoming present in the meal. It's about all those prepositions - Jesus is all over/under/around/through/between/in that bread and wine so that we can't taste the food without getting God's forgiveness and salvation, too. It's a wild and crazy promise that there's more to come.

Humble Walk is filled with mystery and prepositions and promise. Jodi wrote a little ditty for a free e-book called Renew 52 (p. 60) about letting the young and vulnerable set the pace of worship. And they really do. Tonight I watched Jodi preach and teach and shepherd and serve through the lens of these young people in unique ways. There's nothing separate or dumbed down or distracting about it. It's just a little church made of all kinds of people, building a framework for worship around their love and care for each other and Christ.

We'll be back. I can't help but worship where Jasper is drawn into a game of KungFu Ball, shakin' his booty to Johnny Cash, and confident that the body of Christ is given for him, too.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

so you're saying he has friends...

Jasper is a month into his new daycare routine. Mondays and Tuesdays are at my former congregation. It's an amazing daycare center we call "school" since he'll probably go to preschool there, too.

It's been a rough adjustment. He whines and clings during drop off, but they say he's having a good time during the day. He's learning to eat at a table and nap on a cot and play with other kids, but whenever Matt and I see him at the end of the day, he's playing by himself. He's interested in babies and older kids, but tends to keep to himself around other toddlers. As new parents, this makes us nervous about his social skills...and by us, I mean me.  In an effort to be the most awesome, laid back, and casual parent, I mentally micromanage this quirk of his while pretending it's no big deal.

I know. It really is no big deal. Until one day you husband picks up your kid and his day sheet says things like "aggressive", "needed extra attention", "took toys from another kid", and the kicker: "bit his friends".

His saint of a teacher told Matt not to worry - it was one day and probably just one bite.

I was in shock while I watched Jasper pull out all his toys in the living room. He did seem fragile and frustrated today. What am I supposed to do right now? What do good parents do when their kids bite other kids? Oh, Lord. A kid went home from daycare today with a bite mark - because of my kid! When I meet other parents at this Halloween party, will they know me as the mom of the biter? 

"Jasper, did you have a hard day today? Were you sad and frustrated at school?"

What am I doing? He has no idea what I'm talking about. Sigh.

I stewed and overanalyzed and thought about all my amazing friends and family members who bit people as small children. Then I had a glass of wine. And then, through the haze of my cabernet, I spotted the silver lining of this report card:

..."bit his friends"...

So you're saying he has friends...score.

Monday, October 1, 2012

i will never tell you.

Jasper Wade,

I ran across this picture of us today. It's old. In fact, I think I was still wearing maternity jeans even though you were 5 months old. I looked at this picture and thought about all the ways my body has changed since we met and started sharing space. I thought about all the ways you've changed and I've changed. And then, an hour later, I stumbled upon this article. What grace!

There are lots of things about my old body I miss. There are sleek and toned things about my shape that I remember fondly, within this shape that still looms 7 pounds heavier than I was before you came to be. Some people shed this stuff with ease, but I struggle to return to that magic number.

Blah blah blah. Who the hell cares? I certainly don't most days and that's why 7 remain. My love handles are so much more beautiful than that complaining. And so I promise you something, Jasper:

I will never tell you about the things I wish I could change about my body. I will never vent in front of you and a mirror. I will never say I'm ugly or fat or droopy. Not now. Not after more kids. Not on your wedding day when I'm deciding whether or not my dress will have sleeves. I will never tell you because I want you to know the truth: I am your mother and I am beautiful. I am strong. I move and lift and hike and walk and bike and wrestle with you. I am healthy and lovely and whole. I am the kind of woman you need to know as you grow. I get to help inspire your definition of beauty and that's a privilege.

I will keep moving and straining to melt that 7, but I will never deny you when you offer me a piece of peanut butter toast and it looks good. I will never shy away from sharing a watermelon with you or letting you bury your face in my soft tummy for comfort. God, I love that. I will never tell you things that detract from the wide and physical love I have for creating you because that is worth the soft parts of me that weren't there before.

Love, Mama

Thursday, September 20, 2012

and everything in between

Our festivities lasted awhile last night, so I didn't get around to counting the Recovery Worship offering until this morning. I smiled when I found a scrubby, crumpled one dollar bill next to a crisp, folded fifty. That's Recovery Worship for ya. And everything in between.

We celebrated the third anniversary of this scrappy service last night...and everything about it was scrappy, too. I was pretty doped up on cough and flu medication. I can't remember much of what I said during the devotional, but it probably didn't make sense. We meant to plant a tree next to the two from prior years, but my husband convinced me to "call before you dig". I finally did...just 12 hours too late and we were told not to plant until Thursday morning. Oops. So I dragged a 10 foot crab apple tree and its pot into church so it could still be part of the fun. (When you're a solo pastor, people just nod and smile when you say you're bringing a tree into the sanctuary. Such freedom to be an idiot.)

We had a slightly larger crowd than usual, so we gathered upstairs in the sanctuary. (Most Wednesdays we're a circle of 20 chairs in the fireside room.) A violin, viola, and flute joined us so we felt extra fancy. The pastor who founded Recovery Worship was there so we felt nostalgic and grateful, too. Then we had dessert and lingered for a bit.

I had high hopes for productivity today since I spent most of the week under the weather. But then life happens and you bump into people and you never get to the piles all over your office.

The doorbell rings and Joyce* comes in. She's a regular at the Lyndale Community Dinner and needs some help programming her new cell phone. The government has been giving out free cell phones to low-income Americans this year. It helps many connect with their case workers or seek employment during these tough times. Joyce has never had a  cell phone and she was overwhelmed last night at the dinner trying to get her address book set up.

"I rang the bell and I came here because I needed help and I didn't know who to ask so I came here." Deana and I shoot each other a look. That happens a lot at Zion. We are the default/backup/home base for many and that's an exhausting, beautiful privilege. It takes a minute to figure out the world's cheapest, smallest cell phone, but we do it. We authorize her voicemail and practice calling each other and quiz her about the features. And then Joyce is ready to take on the world.

All the while an eccentric friend of a friend is doing a photo shoot in the sanctuary. Wedding cakes. But it's not about the wedding cakes - it's about the rare Japanese flower toppers on the cakes. He and his wife are starting a little business in retirement and so, naturally, this is the scene in our sanctuary on a Thursday afternoon. I love it.

No time for warm fuzzies, though, because Character #213 in the neighborhood is ringing the bell and has a letter for me from his lawyer. We talk in the parking lot about his service dog and the community dinner and the rule he detests: a leash. According to the letter, "places of public accommodation" must allow the tiny pup to serve him without a leash. Because we do not legally classify as one of these places and I have a whole file folder on this case, I remind him that the church is technically private property. While he'd love to put me on his To Sue list, I'm not changing our rule.

This is not received well and the conversation continues a bit longer than it should. I am repramanded for being un-Christ like and having bullshit rules. (This is a good sign, believe it or not. "You're a bad Christian" guilt is usually the last jab.) Blessings on your day, sir.  At least "Apocalypse Doug" hasn't called the church office today, warning me about the sixth trumpet.

Later I wander into the grocery store and pick up a basket. Ah. Like I did in my single days. I even follow a twenty-something around for a bit as she chooses my old favorites: a 12 pack of Diet Coke and a stack of Lean Cuisines on sale. God bless her.

The list. Ah yes. The list says four things not found in the Single White Female aisle. And getting back on track, I run into the most beautiful and curvy black woman I've ever seen. She's carefully touching pears before putting them in her cart when I realize there's a tiny baby hiding in her cleavage. Like, still-wearing-the-hospital-hat-tiny! And so I cannot resist. I walk over, put my hand gently on her arm and ask, "How old is your baby?"

He's just six days old, snuggled in tight. Up close I notice how tired and shaky Mom is. "Six days! Wow. Momma, look at you! You're out at the grocery store! You're doing it!" I want to throw her a parade when her eyes fill with tears.

"I don't know what I'm doing. I'm so tired and I'm scared he's going to wake up and I'm going to have to leave a whole cart of food to go feed him somewhere. I mean, how do I do that? This is so much harder..."

So I put her pears down and I hug her. There is room for all three of us in her bosom. I march quietly in her parade until she's ready to wipe her eyes. "The most beautiful thing about this is how we do it even though things fall apart. You'll have good days and bad days and everything in between. But you're doing it! And that's so beautiful!"

She notes that I must have kids, too. And to make her feel better, I pull up my pants and show her the giant green bruise on my leg. "I ran into and fell over the bathroom baby gate the other night - totally wiped out." And then we had a good laugh.

The truth is, honey, we're all wiping out all the time. There's a little bit of everything every day. Sometimes we can hide it under cute trouser jeans or behind the grace of a hopeful outing. But don't be fooled. We're all in it.

Monday, September 17, 2012

oh geez.

Matt and I are watching the premiere of that new NBC drama Revolution. It gets you thinking about if/how you'd survive in a militia, rogue culture without any technology or energy resources.

Meta: "I always thought I'd be a gift to PTA volunteering opportunities, but I stared at the parent helper option list for a long time before finally checking Decorate Classrooms: Valentine's Day Party. Can you believe it?!?! I hate Valentine's Day. What's wrong with me?"

Matt: (Generous chuckle.)

Meta: "Everyone who survives on this show has a skill...something tangible they can share with community. I don't think I'd last very long."

Matt: (Smirk. Long pause.)

Meta: "Oh, shut up. That's why I married you. If the power goes out, you'll be my trump card."

Matt: "I really am trying to think of something! You have skills...I'll think of something. You were really good at being pregnant..."

Meta: "Gross, Matthew. I think I'd really shine as the parent volunteer coordinator at daycare. But, judging by the volunteer opportunities sheet I already received, I'd say that position is filled. And whoever she is, bravo. (Muttering.) Valentine's Day, oh geez. I think I chose it because it falls in between the chaos of Christmas and Easter on the liturgical calendar..."

Then my husband shot me a look that had two reads:

  1. Wow. Pretty sure the liturgical calendar reference does not help your case for survival skills.
  2. I love and claim you anyway.
Just another classy evening with the Carlsons.

Friday, August 31, 2012

one and a half.

Dear Jasper,

You are one and a half.

You don't say much with words yet, but you communicate well. This morning you found your shoes and brought them to me. "Would you like help putting your shoes on?" A happy grunt and nod. You crawled up in my lap. I put your shoes on, you got down, and you stomped around doing a little happy dance. "Now that you have your shoes on, do you want to go outside?" A happy grunt and nod. I guessed two things we might do outside before guessing right: a stroller ride. Great! Thanks for planning our morning.

You like all kinds of foods, but especially Ketchup. You saw the bottle on the table at dinner tonight and went for it well before we had a chance to order. Your dad is such a pushover. He started squirting it onto his finger and letting you lick it off. I suggested that others around us might find that less than hygienic, so I hid the Ketchup bottle after a few more squirts. The Rainforest Cafe must pay someone to walk around and restock Ketchup bottles because speedwalkers had dropped off three more bottles before I had a chance to stop someone and tell them about your Ketchup addiction. "We're good on the Ketchup front. I've been hiding them under the table because my son likes to eat it straight." And then I gave the lady a pile of Ketchup bottles and returned to my seat. Classy.

Last week you clapped with us at the end of Come, Lord Jesus and you were quite proud of yourself. You dance on command, love spinning in circles, and climb everything. I just ordered more foam shape books because you destroy those pieces with your teeth and by bringing them in the bathtub. I leave one of the books in your crib every night - this is probably why you're so attached. A book in your crib means you're able to entertain yourself for quite awhile in the morning before getting bored and calling out. I love that luxury.

Your animal noises include a horse (which is uncanny), a tiger, and a dog. You could live on yogurt and pretzels. Your favorite board book these days is Duck and Goose: How Are You Feeling? When we get to the "angry" page, you press your forehead against ours and look down - just like the characters in the book. The last page is "loving", which you look forward to. A big hug and a nuzzle noise for whoever reads with you!

We stopped into Lego Land tonight and your Cousin Tommy would be proud! You won over every employee with your glee for that bottom row of the Lego Wall. We were there for an hour and you couldn't get enough of the orange pieces. They gave us a big Duplo piece to take home as a souvenir. They know you'll be back!

You start at daycare on Mondays and Tuesdays next week and I'm so excited. You're going to love this place and learn a lot being around 19 other toddlers all day.

I could get out your baby book and write this all down, but I don't. I forget. I'd rather spend my daytime with you and by nightfall I'm browsing through pictures because I already miss your Ketchup smeared face. So I pull up this blog instead. It's one way to make sure I mark how lovely you are at one and a half. I'm in awe of you, Mister. Thanks for doing things your way. I am learning a lot about your perspective from that bottom row of the Lego Wall. It's awfully wide - filled with good things - and only the beginning!

Thursday, August 30, 2012

welcome to the shitstorm.

I go to a text study on Wednesday mornings. It's at a little Irish coffee cafe so beautiful you'd never guess it used to be a porn shop in its previous life. It's all the way on West 7th in St. Paul, which means I must really like these colleagues if I'm willing to wander that far east before a long day at work. And I do.

I've been pretty hit and miss with text study this summer. But Wednesday I showed up on time ready to be fed by a perfect latte and really smart friends. Every time I show up they fill me with Spirit words I can't get out of my head and heart. I need those words this week because this work has been extra raw. Good, but raw. And these preachers are in the thick of it, too.

The texts for this Sunday are about clean and unclean laws. Why do we do what we do? Why do we bitch and moan and judge other people for what they do? What is the point of getting together and being the Church if we look goofy while we do it and confuse more than we clarify?

In the reading from Mark's gospel, Jesus and his disciples are eating without first washing their hands. The Pharisees get grossed out and offended, so they bring it up. Jesus gets crabby, quotes Isaiah, calls them hypocrites, and tells them to back off.

You could stop right there and decide the morale is, "Be pious about not being so pious", but that's a lame sermon. So we wandered a bit further and noticed Jesus says 'Evil comes from the human heart'.

Weird. Super weird. Because we live in a culture where people say, "Follow your heart" if that's a map that makes sense...and here Jesus is saying evil lives there.

This is where things usually derail at text study and derailing is my favorite part.

We talked about the divisive political culture - the horrible slander and violent assumptions groups make about each other. The mudslinging is exhausting and there's nothing substantive about this season in American life. People in the pews are hungry from something more honest and communal...even if it turns out to be complicated.

We talked about helicopter parents sending their kids to school this week. So many of them have baptized their children into this crazy faith and yet the last thing they want is for their kids to need saving. They try all day and all night for decades to ensure that their kids will never, ever need saving. Like the candle that was once slid back in the box and packed in a keepsake trunk, they tuck away God's promises for sweet memories or extreme emergencies. They try to handle the rest themselves.

We talked about our love of infant baptism and all got a little bit jealous of Marc, who has one on Sunday. He can talk about this reckless world and all the hard things that might befall that baby girl someday. He can hold her in his arms and be honest about what's she's up against...but that she's not alone.

Then we wrote our own mock-baptism liturgy. "As a sponsor hands her a candle you should say, 'Welcome to the shitstorm, little one. Here's your flashlight. It can get pretty dark out there.'" (And then we sang Welcome to the Shitstorm to the tune of Welcome to the Jungle by Guns n' Roses. Duh.)

"Welcome to the shitstorm. Here's your flashlight." That's the truth! When we come around someone at the font, we don't pat them on the back and say, "Follow your heart". No. That would be dangerous and lonely living.

Instead we give them a small flame and speak words of welcome. We promise that we're all in this together - no matter how weird and hard life gets. Baptism drenches you in waters that refresh for a lifetime. They are enough to carry you through every evil - every division, every disagreement, every judgement, every trial. They are enough because they call us together so our light grows brighter and breaks through the storm.

I drove west later that morning convinced that I am not alone and I am guided by much more than my own heart. I rolled the windows down and smiled with gratitude. I am in the thick of it with all the right people, a very faithful God, and a trusty flashlight that breaks through the storm.

Friday, August 3, 2012

where are we going?

There were lots of reasons I didn't need to drive north Wednesday night. First of all, it was Wednesday. It was 8:00pm. I was sweaty from another long and beautiful and exhausting evening at church. I had decided not to go to the Boundary Waters with my cousins this weekend. My husband's soccer season started that day, which means the "Meta Show" is not filming new episodes for awhile. It's Matt's turn to be engulfed by work - to come home late and sometimes bring work with him. I've had six months to focus on this new call and now it's time to get balanced.

I drove to Duluth. My kid wore pjs and chugged a bottle and then, as the sunlight faded, his light snoring filled the quiet car. I traded my sunglasses for the real deal and relaxed into the rhythm of I-35. So why was I driving north, anyway?

I still didn't know when I got there. At ten thirty, Mark and Beth came outside, eager to see little Jasper and to help me unpack my car for the night. These are my cousin's in-laws. And they're super hospitable and kind and wise and good at cooking. Their house functions as an underground B&B, filled with extra bedrooms that welcome weary travelers of all kinds. They loan out canoes and rope and maps to friends (and friends of friends) venturing further north. They put coffee on early and their pancakes are shaped like hearts. If you're Scandinavian, you probably take that for granted. You're used to vafler. But those hearts mean something, man. There's great mercy in breakfast that friendly-looking.

They pulled out old toys and Jasper was wildly entertained. And then I fell into conversation with Beth about motherhood and church and working and loving what you do and boundaries and rest and the village of loved ones who make it all happen.

It's good to listen to women who have done and are doing the things I hope to do. It's good to be in their homes, wondering about all those little choices they made that manifested a big picture over time - little brush strokes and consistent rituals that paved a relationship between work and family, the public and the personal.

I drove away from Beth and Mark's gaining confidence in my choice to take a day for writing and reading and conversation up north. A strange Thursday apart from the crossroads of August 1 in my life back home. I needed to discern and listen and research. A sweaty Jasper fell asleep as we weaved through the green streets of Duluth toward Aunt Gudrun's house. She and Geof and Laura and Vibeke had more to teach me about good roots and habits for autumn.

I've written about Gudrun before. She is an Earth Mother and a chaplain and a free soul who proclaims a sense of contentment in a world that's filled with dissatisfaction. Her statements are loud and joyful and they invite you to join her in this freedom. So I do. Sometimes I just invite myself up because I need a dose of this beauty. And then her daughter Laura comes over and the party starts. Laura brings an energy that compliments Gudrun's, filled with sass and compassion and the softness of motherhood. Vibeke is Jasper's age with bright blue eyes and a mischievous grin.

We talked about some of the same things I'd asked Beth earlier. I thought a lot about the habits Matt and I are forming in front of an increasingly aware Jasper. I thought about the way he whines and clings to my legs every time I put shoes on or jingle keys...because he's certain I'm leaving without him for a long day at work. I thought about how many times he was looking at me with glee yesterday, touching my cheek, and grinning widely as if to say, "We're on a trip, Mommy. We're just hanging out, you and me!" I thought about the way he's getting more comfortable at church - more friendly with members and familiar with the building. I thought about how often those worlds - Jasper and church - will blend and blur this fall. And I thought about how that makes me feel both out of control and totally fine. He'll come to some meetings or hang out during funerals or bring nursery toys into my office some mornings.

Here's what I learned this weekend.

1. Choices.
No. Women can't have it all. But we sure do have a lot of choices. And there are pros and cons to each of those choices. And whenever we make a choice, there are ten women and blogs and professionals lined up to critique that choice. So when you make one, own it. Live it out with confidence. And when you feel tempted to stand in line critiquing someone else's choice that's different from yours, stop. Think about why her choice makes you insecure about your choice. Then take a deep breath and pour a glass of wine and toast her for also taking advantage of the choice menu. I studied Women's Studies in college. I'm just now sensing the challenges and benefits of being a women in this time and place. I need to start owning them with grace and gratitude.

2. Rest.
I love sleep. And I love a lake rich with waves. And I love time away from my computer. And I love being around my kid when he's got a runny nose because wiping it after a big snot rocket is strangely satisfying. I need to take more "1 day vacays". Even if I don't drive anywhere. I need to get out of my routine because it surprises me with joy and seems to have the same affect on Jasper.

3. Matt.
I have a fabulous partner. Matt and I are so different in some ways, but our values align well. We co-parent in ways I'm very proud of. We both get to do what we love, so it's easy to support each other when it comes to weird hours and student loans. I'm ready to find balance so I can support him this fall like he's supported me this spring.

4. You know a lot.
There's a lot of goofy information out there about parenting right now. Like fad diets, people get really into this method or that method. They swear by it. It's universal. It's superior. (It's exhausting. It's divisive. It's overrated.) People have been parenting FOREVER. And the most lovely and bright and experienced parents I know all have one piece of advice that stands out: trust your instincts. When I don't, I regret it.  When I do, I gain confidence and balance finds me in the midst of chaos.

5. Good humor.
I have a dear friend with a newborn right now and she's rocking it. The truth is, she's so tired and stressed and beautiful and emotional and multi-tasking, she doesn't know that she's rocking it. We're both oldest daughters who like control. We expect a lot from ourselves. We've been called well rounded and take great pride in that. But that personality combined with a newborn is like a sucker punch in the face every three hours. Suddenly, nothing is done as well or as timely. We get self-conscious about the ways our relationships change and the dishes pile up in the sink. "Does it get better?" she asked. "I mean, when will I feel like myself again and able to do all of this?" My heart ached and I loved her even more. What a woman.

Sorry, sweetie. I'm not there yet. And we might never be. Our new life report card will include C+ and D- scores now and then. But you know what we can ace? Self-effacing humor. An increasing ability to let things slide. Supporting each other. 

One of Jasper's favorite books is called Be Happy. I think it's written for tired adults. "Make friends. Share what you have. Don't compare yourself with others. Never give up. You never know what tomorrow will bring. So have fun. And be happy about being you!" Each page makes me smile. Especially the, "Be happy about being you!" page. Because I am. I really am.

Sometimes it takes a drive north to regroup and move that content joy and gratitude out front.

This morning Geof and Gudrun and Jasper and I walked down to the beach. Geof threw sticks for Sally to retrieve (always in her own time) while Gudrun talked with neighbors. We stood on a wide open beach that filled quickly with their love and kind presence. The waves were rowdy and warm. Jasper grinned from behind his Nuk each time I swished his feet in the water and pretended to drop him into the foam. Our clothes were wet and he cuddled with me for warmth.

This is why we came, Buddy. Now let's go home and see Daddy.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

a hammock

Two years ago Matt and I got in the car to drive north. His grad school friends were having a yard games tournament in Alexandria and we were due for some washer toss and bags.

But I was crabby and tired and highly emotional. I couldn't unplug from a bad work day and Matt finally told me to, "Reign in the hormones so we could have a good time."

We stopped at the Walmart in Sauk Centre where I bought a generic pregnancy test and two bags of beef jerky. (Classy.) I took one test on the way up, but was convinced it said NO. "That like the line where the line's supposed to be," I confirmed in the car. Then I ate a bag of beef jerky and bucked up for the weekend ahead.

We had a great time and ended up breaking the hammock, which was caught on film. When we got home, I took another test. Still hazy. So I ate the other bag of beef jerky. It was time to pull out the big bucks and get one of those fancy digital ones I'd said was, "for dummies who can't read a stick" a few days earlier.

Turns out I was a dummy. And pregnant. And now, two years later, Jasper joined us at the yard games tournament. In anticipation of the Olympic Games, we all sported costumes for a country of choice. Matt and I figured our chances were right in line with Sweden and Norway (summer games, not winter) and compromised on dressing as Scandinavia. (Our Viking hats got a little warm and were ditched early on.) Jasper joined us in the hammock and we didn't collapse this time around. Still, it's been nicknamed the Baby Hammock. If you lie in it, people yell, "Don't get pregnant!" But people didn't need that reminder. Bringing a toddler to a yard games tournament is birth control enough.

Happy Hammock Birthday, Jasper!

community is complicated (a sermon)

There is music and dancing and great joy as David leads the people of Israel to Jerusalem – the place God has designated for the holy temple and a home base for the chosen people who have come through the wilderness and into a kingdom of their own. And so a parade forms around the Ark of the Covenant, the cart that carries the sacred word of God and the very presence of divine authority.

It’s an ancient marching band of noise as royal David dances around like a fool and inspires others to do the same. They have much to be thankful for – including this faithful, new king who uses his power to point to God’s glory and grace instead of himself.

And then the lectionary leaves out a big, important chunk – right in the middle of this story. And you guessed it: they left out the confusing, violent part that makes us question God’s power.

On the road to Jerusalem, Uzzah and Ahio were in charge of guarding the cart when the oxen pulling it stumbled. The Ark tipped and teetered. And then it fell toward Uzzah, which put him in a lose-lose situation. According to the Torah, touching the holy Ark meant death. But Uzzah couldn’t bear to let the Ark fall off the cart. And so he reached out to steady it. He made a decision that reminded everyone about the wideness of God’s power – that it’s both incredibly merciful and incredibly dangerous.

So Uzzah gets zapped dead on the spot(!) and the parade fizzles out for awhile while King David figures out what to do next. Maybe he suddenly regrets never having read the passages in Exodus and Numbers that gave detailed instructions for the big transport. Maybe he’s grieving or second-guessing or hesitant to move forward. In a moment, his worship changes from foolish dancing to pensive discernment. So they mourn and pray and decided to take a break on the journey. They tuck the Ark safely into the home of an Israelite until God says it’s time to get moving again. But that instruction to keep moving forward doesn’t erase what’s happened. The dancing is different this time. The cart is careful and only the trumpet makes music when they enter Jerusalem.

I don’t blame the lectionary for leaving out these tough verses about God’s power and our struggle to obedience in complicated circumstances. It makes this ancient story awkward and challenging. But we can’t hear the whole story without that truth. We can’t welcome the Israelites to Jerusalem without also remembering how hard it was to get there. We can’t honor the power of God without recognizing how complicated it can be to believe and dance and welcome. Because all of these good things happen in community. And sometimes community is complicated.

In only a few months at Zion, you've shown me your deep identity regarding hospitality. Zion's mission statement hangs right here on the wall and I confess that I read it quite often. And I’m most influenced by the complicated beauty of the third pillar: We welcome diverse individuals. And do we ever!

All week long I am in awe of the diversity we welcome. Different languages. Different places of origin. Different income levels and sexual orientations and ages and expressions of faith and passions and abilities. We recognize all kinds of gifts in every single person who joins this wide community and busy building. And we don't just welcome in theory - we don't just open our doors and hope they come in and wonder why they don't - they COME. And often that wide, real welcome makes things harder and messier and more sacred than anything else we do here.

And while there are hymns about the joy in hospitality, the ease of inclusion, and our call to be people of YES, our experience of welcome is not always one filled with lyres and harps and tambourines and foolish dancing. Because when God’s power to heal in community is more complicated than simply, “Come on in, you’re welcome here,” the oxen can stumble and the cart can teeter.

We can hesitate, misinterpreting our call to hospitality as a call to be everything to everyone. We can worry, walking on egg shells, trying to control the uncontrollables. We can get really, really exhausted in between wilderness and the promised land, protecting something so sacred and central and familiar that we take it’s power for granted and instead hold our own hands up as if they hold that power – as if we can keep life from being messy and Arks from toppling over all by ourselves.

Many of you know that a few weeks ago these kinds of things came together in an intervention with a member of our very own community. He is loved by Zion and people here pray fervently for health and balance in his life. But in recent months, his unhealthy behavior has saturated the whole culture of Zion, interfering with the safety and worship of other members.

And while it’s much easier to avoid a confrontation and it seems much more inclusive to deem any firm boundaries out of line with that third pillar up there, it was time to name the truth and the hurt and the mess. It was time to admit that Zion cannot be his only place. We cannot enable forever, calling it merciful love or the Christian thing to do.

So instead we were honest with each other and about the wide power of God. We confessed the greatness of our love for him and our love for a healthy and safe Zion. And then we built new boundaries he thanked us for…because, “no one has ever cared enough to do this – to say all this and to want me get the help I really need”.

We were all moved because this was, ironically, the widest welcome he’d ever received – to be given consequences and told the truth. 

Still, that didn’t make it easy. And it certainly didn’t make us feel like dancing foolishly with instruments of praise. There was great pain in that moment of complicated community and the underbelly of “All are Welcome”.  We were marked by that afternoon, awash by the problematic grace that calls us together into these tricky relationships that are Church.

We’re a bunch of imperfect people who point to the one who is perfect…and for that, there will always be criticism. There will always be shortcomings and second-guessing and wondering. But we do know this much:

We’re fooling ourselves when we think God’s authority and might can be tamed by our steady hands or the decisions we pretend are black and white. Because the true power is God’s – wider than our strength (which exhausts) and our patience (which thins) and our boundaries (which get hazy and compromised).  God’s power to love and save is both beautiful and dangerous, rushing into the grey areas of life, to protect and preserve us, to free and forgive us.

And it calls all people together so we don’t have to go it alone or hold all the cards or be everything to everyone. There is great comfort in joining the parade on the way to Jerusalem. On the days when this call gets complicated and the dance changes and the marching band fades into the sound of just one trumpet, we remember the boundaries, the rules, the Ark that got us this far…and then we put our trust in the wide grace that fills the gaps between all that danger and beauty.

All that grieving and dancing. All that opening and breaking and mending.