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