Thursday, June 21, 2012


I'm getting too old for this. Sweaty little people are screaming and singing and laughing and crying and learning and fighting and growing. It's beautiful, yes. But it's exhausting.

Zion is one of six - yes SIX - tiny congregations in urban Minneapolis that come together in hosting this summer day camp experience. It's a lot of work for everyone involved, but it's worth it. More than 40 kids have come together and relished being part of something bigger than their little Sunday school class or one little church. And being all together makes it all worthwhile.

Sure, we could farm them out to programs produced by larger congregations. We could hire Bible camp staff to come in and run it. But we don't because we're about something particular and unique.

Progressive and inclusive language is incredibly important with this group. They have GLBT parents and friends and pastors. We need leaders who know not to tie a red bandana around the arm of a little girl who lives in North Minneapolis...and so instead we buy bandanas that don't look like bandanas, lest they get misinterpreted in a nearby neighborhood. Our teachers know that a few of these kids live in shelters or have been homeless or don't know their parents. We are prepared for all kinds of kids - including those with major allergies, social challenges, and physical limitations.

This week is about water and baptism. We've already engaged the stories of Noah, Jonah, and Jesus walking on water with art, science, and games. We've heard each story several times and several different ways. They are washed all day - the songs, the prayers, the pool at the YMCA all wash them with words of deep love and acceptance. It's good to see them catching on.

Today was an especially important story. Today Jesus met the woman at the well. They were different for a lot of reasons. They shouldn't have been talking to each other or become friends. But they did. So I called up a little boy I'd grown to love. He's rowdy and naughty, but he has a fabulous smile and crawls into my lap when he's tired. We stood side by side and I told everyone that he's my new friend. We met this week and, even though there are lots of ways we're different, we've become friends.

Can you guys name some of the ways Anthony* and I are different from each other? He has short hair and your hair is long. He's brown and you're tan. You're tall and he's short. You're old and he's five! You're wearing glasses and he's not. You're a teacher and he's a camper. You're wearing sandals and he's wearing shoes. He's a boy and you're a girl.

All true. There are lots of differences.

Can you guys name some of the things we have in common? You're both smiling. You're both humans. You both went swimming. You're both at day camp. God loves both of you the same -

Yes! Lordy, yes. If we stop right there and don't learn anything else this week, yes. God loves Anthony* and me the same. And not in a watered down you-each-get-one-pretzel-so-there-are-enough-to-go-around kind of way. God loves us both a lot. Enough to pour Living Water into our midst. Enough to drench us with Jesus.

And so I was changed for the rest of the day. I had new patience for kids dripping with tie-dye hands and messy macaroni and cheese eaters and Chris* when he dripped GoGurt all over his shoes. All.Over. I had new compassion for the pace with which our youngest kids get dried and clothed after swimming. (It's like trying to get feral cats dressed, people. I don't know how the Octomom does it.)

And in the midst of the chaos I received their love. I listened to them sing new songs on the bus and make one birthday girl feel like a queen. An eight year-old broke up a fight with humor and grace. New friends gave each other hugs and I heard countless Thank Yous. And with every Splash in the pool and sink and bowl, they were getting it.

So on second thought, I'm not getting too old for this. That's impossible. The water is for everyone and it pulls us together in sneaky, subtle ways even though we're different. The water makes Anthony* brave in standing next to me while we become friends and become miracles together.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

stake a claim with me. and them.

The Vatican is ticked off at American Nuns for focusing too much on poverty and feeding hungry people when their primary concern should be crusading against the important threats like gay marriage and abortion. Sigh.

So nuns are pushing back. Or maybe they're just being perceived as pushing back. Whatever. The point is, they're still doing what they've always been doing - serving God and loving people in radical ways despite institutional pressures to conform and fall in line. And for some reason, the media is affected by this particular disconnect.

I keep reading articles about this issue and I'm especially fired up by some of the comments. Instead of being inspired by the nuns, people focus on their disgust for the Vatican. Some make wild statements about how they've lost all faith in the church and they're done with organized religion. It reminds me of people threatening to move to Canada when politics-du-jour don't shake out their way. Which means they are totally missing the point of this holy work and these beautiful women. Thus, I vent:

Dear Outraged,

Newsflash. The church has always been a little screwed up. Always. Since the very beginning two thousand years ago and among believers of every time and place. We don't get it. We do gross and defensive things. Even those in charge fall and fail. But that is not all we do!

Sometimes we get it right. Sometimes people speak out and change the status quo from within. Sometimes with live in strong tension with such grace that we are suddenly alive and vibrant as the body of Christ. We get angry and passionate and dissident because we believe that God and neighbor are worth the discord along the way. And we grow taller while our roots sink more deeply into the earth, grounding us in the great story of people getting it both wrong and right for generations. When we stick around, we become part of both the past and the future. It's holy.

So you can huff and puff and use the yucky tone from the Vatican as an excuse to give up on the church all together, but I think that's a lousy excuse and completely ironic. Nuns have always been second-rate leaders according to the Vatican. They've always been questioned and challenged. They've seen plenty that could have caused them to leave or give up on the church. But instead of bolting, they decided to stick around and cause change. It's harder. It's messier. But those who do are brave. They choose to remain shoulder to shoulder with people who love and frustrate them. They choose to work within an institution that will never be perfect, though it points to someone perfect. And for that, there will always be criticism.

Christ returned after the resurrection to call us together and prepare us for the Holy Spirit. He knew we'd mess it up and prioritize the wrong stuff along the way. He knew we'd get distracted and bossy and flaky in between great moments of faithfulness and good deeds. But Jesus didn't call us to get it all just right. He just called us to try. Together. Always together, lest we huff off and decide we could do better all alone. Ha!

So buck up. Put your big girl pants on and come back to the huddle. Not "spiritual" in theory, but in actually, communal practice. Darken the doors and show your face. Sure, the Vatican is here, but so are those nuns you like. And liberals and conservatives. And dreamers and doers. And rich people and poor people. We've got a little bit of everything in this big, crazy church. 

All we're missing is you and your outrage.

Hope to see you Sunday, 
Your Faithful and Failing Sister in Christ