Sunday, February 24, 2013

it is not okay.

A redwood fell on Friday. He was a fourth generation member of Zion and too young. His son is too young, too. At twenty three, he has seen too much. He has watched both of his parents die in the living room. And that is not okay. That is what I screamed in my car on the way to the suburbs late Friday afternoon. That is all I had in me: angry grief and injustice.

It's is not just Lent at Zion. It is Lent with redwoods on the ground. Three deaths in three weeks, and Friday's is shaking us all up. I began worship this morning by making sure visitors and longtime members alike felt welcome to grieve and weep during the service. You don't have to know this redwood or this congregation personally - we're all grieving layers of things all the time - but you do need to know that you are all welcome at the table where we will feast with all of the redwoods you've lost. You do need to know that these candles lit are flashlights for the darkness and the Holy Spirit gathered each of us together this morning with something in mind - whether or not we can name that something.

I was too broken to preachy-preach this morning, but I eeked out a letter to Jesus. I stood in the pulpit, where I rarely stand these days, and read it with a shaky voice and watery eyes. I read it to people who wept with open confidence in their doubts. I read it to people who cried for all kinds of things. And it felt damn good. And then, tonight, I added the word "shitty" toward the end because that's just what it was missing.

Sometimes things are not okay. Jesus knows that in Luke 13:1-9 and gets into the thick of it anyway. Thank goodness.

Dearest Jesus,

I am having trouble writing a sermon this afternoon, but I am grateful for the reading before us.  Your are so feisty – teaching about all kinds of things that make us uncomfortable.  Two thousand years later, we still cringe at your criticism and warnings. You don’t water things down or pretend they’re easy…but you don’t give us clear-cut solutions and explanations either.

Still - thank you for going there.

I ache for this crowd gathered around you because we, too, are in the crowd.  Both communities have been struck by horrible tragedy – the sudden and shocking death of their own. The Galileans in the temple and Walter* are suddenly gone and we gather around you in shock, too stunned to articulate our questions, but our eyes and tears do the asking anyway.

How could this happen?
And how can we shelter ourselves and his kids and everyone we love from this kind of sorrow? How can we protect ourselves from this kind of suffering?
If you were a political spokesperson, you would mutter, “No more questions”, while pushing your bodyguards into the flash of cameras. But you do not back away from our grief. You do not turn from our broken hearts or our wobbly faith. Instead you lean further into the crowd and show us that you are acutely aware of the pain and injustice that’s piercing our lives.

So thank you for going there.

You hear our fears tangled up with this news of the Galileans and Walter – our fear of the evil in this world and our fear of an unknown and incomplete future. You name another horrific story from the newspaper – the Tower in Siloam fell without warning or reason and killed 18 innocent people.

You bring this up in order to deepen the context – to remind us that bad things happen to good people all the time and we’re never grieving just one thing. Life is filled with layers of sorrow and joy, brokenness and mending. For our sake, you pull the lens back to reveal how complicated and dangerous life is – both then and now.

But you don’t abandon us in the retelling of these disasters. After each story you remind us that no one is to blame. There is no room for the coulda/shoulda/wouldas that sneak into our heads and hearts. The injustice exists and death exists, but these things do not suggest that some people deserve them more than others…OR that some people can handle more hardship than others. They just happen.

And when they do you want us to get outside of ourselves as quickly as possible. You call people together at Walter’s home or a funeral, or a Sunday morning, or through a phone tree, or while you teach the masses. You call us out of our own overanalyzing and stewing and worrying - to be together.

“Repent.” Ugh. But not because we have caused bad things to happen. Not because we are more or less evil than another human being. Not because we are being singled out.

Repent also means to high-tail it into your arms, Jesus. Repent means to touch your cloak and get our hands on the life we have in you. Repent means we move from isolation into community – because in your arms we find each other.

Jesus, that is the only good news I have for the people of Zion today: that you call us to repent. And on a day like today, that doesn’t sound like enough gospel. We are the ones gathered around you in search of answers and explanations and do-overs. When current events, grief and loss, addiction and illness, abuse and unemployment overwhelm us, “repentance” never sounds like enough.

But you say it twice and you mean it. When we run into your arms, we find life and we find each other. You are in the midst of our real stories and our real pain, and you seem to believe that this is something worth saying – something worth trusting and doing.

So thanks for going there.

I think the parable puts me over the edge though. I am standing in the crowd, confused and discouraged – and when you begin telling this story, my spirit soars, confident that this tale can decode the pain of this world and your word of repentance.

But it doesn’t. In fact, the story doesn’t even have a real middle or ending. The gardener proposes a deal to the landowner, but we don’t even know if he takes it – let alone what happens to the tree. We are left grappling once again – in between death and salvation, in between giving up and going all in.

Today I hope that you are the gardener. I hope you understand how vulnerable it is for us to be in this in between place – baptized and named by all the promises to come, but still suffering at the hand of injustice and death. I hope you are the patient one who believes there is something more than all of this – the one who will go to bat for us and surround us with good soil. I hope you are the one who advocates and calls us back to life when no one else sees the point - because you love us so and are really abiding with us. I hope you are caught in this parable without an ending, too.

And if you are, thanks for going there.

Thank you for being the one who gets in the midst of our lives even when there are no easy answers or quick fixes. Thank you for being the one who is willing to be present in faithful and quiet ways when we are out of strength and hope.

Thank you for being the one who calls us to repent – to run back into your arms when we are weary and angry and sad and all alone. When the stories of Galilee and Siloam and Syria and North Korea and SandyHook and Minneapolis wear us down, we have nothing left but questions in our watery eyes.

Your wide arms promise comfort and life and community.  I hope that is why you have gathered us here this morning: to hold us in this repentance. To rock us and soothe us and nurture this soil.

These are my prayers for your people at Zion and in Lyndale: That we will be gathered together for grieving and for good things – that we will repent into your arms while you, the gardener, get on your hands and knees digging around us. And, as your holy fingernails fill with shitty manure – the filth and the nutrients of this life – we will rest in your stubborn and everlasting care.

Thanks for going there. Amen.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013


Jasper is TWO today. So I'm having some selah moments. It's hard to say what I mean by that. Selah is usually found in the Psalms right after something important has been said about our relationship with God.
Time out.
Think about this.
Slow down.
Enjoy this moment.
Pick up an instrument.
Bask in the love.
Break your rhythm.
Give thanks.
Soak it up.

Today you are two, but we've been telling you that you're two for a week now. You take your own time coming around to things, so we've practiced with you all week: "Jasper, how old are you?" You'd grunt and hold up one finger. "No, you're two. Say two." Then your smirk would make way for a little voice, "Two". "Right. So how old are you?" You'd hold up one finger again. This is why we started a week ago. You come around to things slowly, but when you grab hold of them, you soar. This morning you told me that you are two. And then you told me again before you fell asleep tonight. selah

Yesterday I dropped you off at daycare. You were a little quiet and crabby, but I thought you were going through cantaloupe withdrawal - you'd had two big bowls for breakfast, but I drew the line at three despite your meltdown. Try some starch, kid. Three hours later, your teacher called and told me you were really sick with a fever. My plans for the day collapsed, as they often do. I weaved back the way I'd just come and found you sweaty and doted on by the girls in your class. "Ass-per sick. Ass-per go home wif Mommy." They blew you kisses and I scooped you up for an all afternoon adventure. Traffic. Ear infection. Co-pay. Two drug stores. Fits of coughing. A three hour nap on my chest replaced meetings and bulletin layout. I listened to your raspy breath grateful to be your pillow. selah

On Saturday we celebrated your birthday. Forty people joined the fun in the Fireside Room at church. What a great space for playing and catching up and sloppy joes and singing happy birthday. You wore the shirt I made for you - a shirt instead of a crown because I knew you wouldn't stand for a crown. Much has changed since your party last year. You helped host, gave hugs, and blew out your own candle. selah

Trains. selah

You clap at the end of Come, Lord Jesus. You say, "Amen." You get excited about coming up for communion and receive bread with confidence. You even eat your crumbs off the floor, which is theologically awkward, but really enthusiastic. Then you wave, "buh bye"and head back to your pew. selah

Last week we cleaned up at Target. Yummy groceries and you didn't demand to eat anything in the store. I did, however, end up with a giant Goldie pillow pet. Sigh. He completely blocked my view of you in the rear view mirror on the way home. I could hear you giggling and talking to him during nap time. Your imagination and hospitality are kind. selah

You have opinions about my hair. "No! Up, up, up!" I throw it up in a messy bun. "No, back, up!" I braid it down my neck and you smile with satisfaction. You are a very bossy stylist. selah

Your favorite book is Mercer Mayer's Just Me and My Dad. Dad makes every page a thrill. Together you find the spider and the grasshopper. You laugh at the bear that gets the fish. There are props, too. You have a little red camping lantern Dad pulls down off the shelf to light the pages. I can see the smile from behind your nuk and it looks just like your dad's. selah

Happy TWO, Jasper. And thanks for giving me joyful pause.

Love, Mom

Friday, February 8, 2013

can i get a witness?

Luther Seminary's Mid Winter Convocation is one of my favorite rituals. Early every February, they host a conference that pierces a theological or practical topic it's grads (and other nerds) flock home for. I got hooked on convo as a student. We could attend free of charge and I loved squishing into the Olson Campus Center Chapel, nestled between great and tired leaders who were out there...leading.

I show up for these three days no matter the topic and without expectations. I just meno in the presence of others who miss school and love what they do. It's pretty great - even if the theme is lame or none of my classmates attend. There were a few things I really appreciated about this year's convocation, so I want to share them with you here.

1. Chris Trimble. Thank you for understanding innovation and business, but also having a keen sense of how the church works. I tend to zone out when business leaders assume non-profit/spiritual organizations need a big dose of corporate strategy, but I was grateful for everything you shared. You told stories we could and should relate to while also drawing out the unique features of an organization that's called to be about kingdom building - where numbers and pie charts are penultimate. You gave me a lot to think about and I've already ordered one of your books.

2. You never know who's going to show up. I ran into two pastors I admire greatly. Becca was the intern before me and Jeni was the intern after me. We all share a deep love for Sierra Vista - how it shaped us as women, leaders, and pastors. We reminisced and relayed much without needing words. It is good to be surprised by who shows up.

3. Morning Prayer. I've written about Humble Walk Church before. They are up to something and I am so glad whenever I see them in action. On Wednesday we were asked to write down our uncertainties and anxieties on a 3x5 notecard before putting them into the slots on a big, goofy looking box in the narthex. Just one 3x5 card?!?

The next morning we found the cards hanging from strings on the outside of the box. Jodi told us that this box was designed to move by the help of many - that it would be very awkward or impossible to move it all alone. So, like a crowd surfing mob from the 90s, we passed the box over our heads and around the whole sanctuary. While it moved we all got our hands on its weight and learned it wasn't too heavy. People pulled off cards at it came by.

The cards were gone before it got to my pew. Oh, my pew. We are young pastors filled with uncertainty and anxiety. We had poured our hearts onto those cards the day before and now there was no fear left for us. There were more witnesses than worries. There were enough hands and things were able to move.

I am proud of Jodi for convincing old Lutherans to crowd surf at 9:00am. She doesn't even have dreadlocks anymore, so people weren't just doing it because the uber-hip mission start pastor told them to. They did it because these days she's got a bit of clout as a leader. People know that she helps you experience things differently - she's gentle but firm about that every time.

I am proud of my friend Marc for suggesting that it be filled with ashes and passed around this Wednesday - dust sprinkled atop our heads from the box that holds our sins and sorrows. We like Marc because he is wise and always coming up with things that terrify people because they are so right on.

I'm glad for Jeni and Colin telling me about life as Pastor-Squared: pastors who are married to pastors. I confessed to Jonathan that I'm a hot mess and that my kitchen sometimes looks like a Cymbalta commercial - everything is always "soaking". Then he let me hold his baby, Elliot.

I am proud of my friends Kara and Joy for owning the ways motherhood and "part-time" work wear us out. I gobbled up their stories and their prayer requests. We laughed and drank coffee and I walked into the last speaker quite late because God was speaking in so many places on Thursday morning.

The Humble Walk hodge-podge band played a peppy version of "What a Friend We Have in Jesus", which was the greatest gift I received this week. I knew Zion would sing it today at Lorraine's funeral, and that rendition would have a different mood and lens.

I filmed the third verse of Humble Walk's rendition on my iPhone. I knew I'd need both versions this week - the tambourine and the organ. Together they would help me bridge the movement from tired wondering in the pews to being a pastor in the pulpit, confident about the risen Christ and the risen Lorraine.

Uff da. That's a big move.

And so I'm glad the witnesses outweighed the worries on Thursday morning. When that box passed overhead it felt awfully light and there were no burdens for me to grab. Just a pew filled with colleagues who also looked relieved to be swallowed up by such a great cloud of witnesses.