Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Leftover Love

I've been coming to terms, more and more lately, with the idea of how much things change and relationships shift and one day you realize that your world is permanently different than it used to be 5 or 10 years ago, and perhaps different than you ever dreamed it would be. 

At least, it is for me. 

There's not even necessarily a good or bad judgment to this fact, simply an acknowledgement of what is.  There are things that I will never again see, places I will never again go, and friends that I will never again see.  And I've been wondering, and struggling, with how to accept that and let go of it, to love and honor the past as blessings from God in that time and place, and not wallow in the sadness of "change". 

The hardest part, of course, is the relationships.  As my move away from Iowa and my home congregation becomes permanent, how do I let the people do I process the fact that individuals who were so important to me, are people that I will never share a cup of coffee with again?  As I leave seminary, how do I deal with the fact that people who have "made my day", every day, aren't next to me to count powerpoint slides in class or say something incredibly profound or smile at me from across the room?  As I become absorbed in a career, and more and more demands are placed on my time, how do I deal with losing those who re-energized me? 

I stumbled across this poem written by Hrabanus Maurus that has helped.  It has given me words to entrust all the people I love to Christ, to honor them as gifts, and to await the day when I will see them again.  I just love this:

Then live, my strength, anchor of weary ships,
Safe shore and land at last, thou, for my wreck,
My honour, thou, and my abiding rest,
My city safe for a bewildered heart.
That though the plains and mountains and the sea
Between us are, that which no earth can hold
Still follows thee, and love’s own singing follows,
Longing that all things may be well with thee.
Christ who first gave thee for a friend to me,
Christ keep thee well, where’er thou art, for me.
Earth’s self shall go and the swift wheel of heaven
Perish and pass, before our love shall cease.
Do but remember me, as I do thee,
And God, who brought us on this earth together,
Bring us together to his house of heaven.
~ Hrabanus Maurus

I also think part of the struggle for me is that I have no one and nothing to replace the people that I love, who have been part of my daily life.  Wesley Hill, writing for First Things, explores "Celibacy and Friendship 'After 30'", by discussing a New York Times article that explains how difficult it is to find meaningful relationships as a single adult.  He raises a lot of issues (and in the end, admits that he doesn't have it all figured out), but one thing that really struck me was the idea that, "a big part of what we celibate people are seeking isn’t just to be the recipients of sacrificial love but to be able to give it—we want to be able to make soup for someone who’s sick, not just have someone who will make soup for us when we’re sick." 

Yes, yes, yes, a thousand times yes.  Facebook is great, usually, and my phone works, as well as my writing hand.  And so I keep in touch (mostly) with the people I care so deeply about.  But they are now "phone friends", the kind that you want to spend three hours talking to, and so you put them on your to-do list until you can find three hours, and somehow, you never do.  They are no longer the friends that you call and say, "I'm headed your way, do you want meet me in an hour?" or "I'm bored, want to go see a movie?" or even "I haven't seen you in a while - let's do lunch on Tuesday."  And that happens.  But while the people I care so deeply about have been relegated to "long-distance friends", the space in my life has not been filled.  "Giving love" to those whom I care about, long-distance, is so hard, and I have no real recipients - or at least, that's how I feel.  The ones I love have not been replaced, they are simply missed. 

Yes, Christ calls us to leave home and family, and not put our hand back to the plow.  But it is also not good that we be alone.  And I just don't know how to balance those two right now.  Someone once said that "grief is just leftover love", which I think is a beautiful way of looking at it.  As I by necessity become more separated from so much that I used to know, I realize that I've got a lot of leftover love to go around...

Saturday, January 5, 2013


Good morning – happy Epiphany!  Today marks the end of the Christmas season – yesterday was the 12th Day of Christmas – and from now until Lent, we’ll be looking at what it means that Christ has come into our world – as a baby, and as our Savior.  Epiphany in its general sense – outside the specific day in the Church year – means a sudden realization, a flash of insight, the sort of experience that might make you say, “Eureka!”  It’s like what happens when a light shines in the darkness, and suddenly, it all starts to come together.

Which is what makes it a perfect word to describe the experience of the Magi that we read about in today’s Gospel.  A little background, first, on the Magi.  Even though we often refer to them as “kings” – the song, “We Three Kings”, the traditional King’s Cake that some people bake on Epiphany, artwork that shows them all crowned-up and royal-looking, in truth they were probably actually priests, from the Zoroastrian religion.  I won’t go into all the details of what Zoroastrianism is, but it is an Eastern religion, and the ancient priests didn’t do witchcraft or magic or sorcery, they were into astrology and dream interpretation.  

But they also lived in a part of the world – most likely Persia, what is now Iran – where there was some influence and knowledge of the Jewish religion – because of who had conquered whom in various wars, and who had been exiled to where, there were pockets of Judaism, and at least an awareness by local religious practitioners of what other religions were up to.  And so these Magi, the Zoroastrian priests, knew a little bit about Jewish prophecies of a Messiah.  And somehow or another, their astrological, philosophical religious tendencies led them to interpret the star that they saw in the sky as announcing the birth of this Jewish messiah they had heard of.  So they get on their camels, and they head west.  

Next question: how many Magi, or wise men, were there? We sing about the We Three Kings, but were there three?  Well, nobody actually knows.  The tradition of there being three comes from the listing of the three different gifts they brought…but that’s a Western tradition.  Eastern Orthodox Christians say there were twelve.  In any case, they came, and St. Matthew tells us that they brought gold, frankincense, and myrrh.  

Last piece of background information now, and here’s where I have to shatter a few illusions, unfortunately.  All the Nativity scenes we see, with the wise men all squeezed in around the shepherds and angels…they’re wrong.  The Magi, coming from Iran, were at least 1000 miles away from Bethlehem.  Realistically, we’re looking at at least a year, maybe more, from the time they would have seen the star, until the time they could have gotten to Bethlehem.  The shepherds were long gone, the angels were back in heaven, and Matthew reports that they went to the house where the baby was – I’m quite sure Mary was glad to have moved out of the barn by then… So if you’re out there right now, feeling a little unnerved about the validity of Nativity scenes, or like something comfortable has just been shaken inside you – well, that’s ok.  Deep breath.  When things that we’ve held on to for a long time are challenged or changed, it can be hard.  And I imagine that’s what the Magi felt, as well.  They were priests of a whole different religion…and yet, they saw this star…because of their religion…and the Holy Spirit gently tugged them towards it.  

I’m thinking that on that 1000 mile camel ride, they had plenty of occasion to be a little nervous, to wonder just what they were going to find, to question if they weren’t just crazy to be leaving behind everything that they knew and believed and trusted.  

And this is where we start to ask questions about other religions, right?  Because Christmas (and Easter, of course) put some pretty big claims out there about Jesus – about his kingship, and the nature of it, and how important it is.  Baby Jesus was born in Bethlehem, and that’s really important for Christians, but if you’re not Christian, then it’s not all that important, because, you know, other religions have their own special things going on, and good for them, you know, everybody should believe in something, right?  

Is it true that other religions are just “all paths to the same thing”, and we need to “find our own truth”, and “every religion is as good as the others”?  That’s what the world today wants us to believes.  That it doesn’t really matter what religion you follow, that they’re all basically the same thing, that it just comes down to personal preference about what makes you comfortable.

But the Magi would tell you, “No, not so much.”  

Because the Magi had a religion.  They were the leaders – the priests – of this religion. And while there are some similarities in Zoroastrianism to Judaism, so what?  There are some similarities between Christianity and Judaism, and Christianity and Islam, but we don’t celebrate their holidays.  We don’t do Yom Kippur or Ramadan, and we certainly don’t jump on a camel and go 1000 miles to see “an exciting thing” about somebody else’s religion.  

That’s nice for them, we say, and we wish them a Happy Hanukah, or whatever.  

The Magi say, “No, not so much.”  The religion they had, the God they worshiped, was not the same as the Baby Jesus.  And they knew it, and they took it seriously, and they recognized Truth – with a capital T – when they saw it.  This baby was the King of the Jews – that they knew – not the King of the Zoroastrians – this wasn’t their religion, they were under no obligation to worship him and bring him gifts – in fact, according to their religion, it would be heresy to do so.  They knew this was something different, something wildly different, and yet, they followed to where the star led, and they did the only thing we can do when we come face-to-face with Christ –they worshipped him.

See, it’s not really fair to conflate Christianity and all the other world religions – it’s not fair to Christianity, and it’s not fair to those other religions.  We don’t all believe the same thing, and we shouldn’t pretend that we do. 

This does not mean, of course, that we are allowed to be hateful towards people who are not Christian.  God has not abandoned those who practice other religions.  He doesn’t write them off as a bunch of heathens who have no hope, and neither should we.  God loves them, and cares for them – He died for them, just as much as he died for you and me.  And yet he wants them to know the Truth, and he will work to reveal that truth to them, just like he has worked – and continues to work – to reveal that truth to us.  He may work through other religions – just as he used the Magi’s penchant for astrology to lead them to Bethlehem. He may work through us – just as he used the Apostle Paul.  

And to be perfectly frank, and to expand the conversation a little more, even those of us who call ourselves Christian, well, a lot of us end up having our own sort of private religions, do we not?  What is thing that you most trust, and most believe, is going to get you through this life?  For a lot of people, it’s money.  If I just have “enough” – whatever that is – then we’ll be set.  If I just have a good job or convince the right person to marry me or get good enough grades or have the right friends or eat right and exercise or really stick to my New Year’s resolutions this time, then it will all be good.  And the problem with all that is that it’s just as far off the mark as your average atheist or Magi.  Being rich or having a good job or good grades has no more power to overcome sin, or death, or the power of evil, than any other world religion.  Eating well and exercising are good things, but they are not Truth with a capital T.  

But the good news is that God wants to work – he is working – he will continue to work – to lead people – all of us – to the Truth – the Truth of the baby in the manger and the toddler in the house in Bethlehem.  The Truth of the innocent man hanging dead on the Cross, and the Truth of the victorious God in front of the empty tomb.  The Truth that is different than all the other so-called truths, of all the other religions and “keys to success” in the whole history of the world – and that truth is this: that God has come to us. God comes here.  God comes down from heaven to be with us, to suffer with us and for us, to save us, to show us just how much he loves us.  And that is the fundamental difference.  Every other religion or “lifestyle choice” out there, when you get right down to it, is about how to climb the ladder to heaven, how to get to God, how to achieve wisdom or perfection or happiness – how to do what you have to do to save yourself or to never die or to fix the world or to earn God’s love.  

And the Truth –the Truth that only Christianity has, that only Christianity proclaims is the truth that “You. Can’t. Do. It.”  No matter how hard you try, no matter how much you want to, you can’t stop sinning, you can’t escape death, and you can’t overcome the power of evil in this world.  All of which would be very depressing, if it weren’t for the second half of that Truth – You can’t do it, but God can,  and God does.  

God does not just send a tiny baby – God becomes a baby – God the Father, God the Son – in order to be with us.  God does not write out a plan for fixing the world – ending sin, stopping death, and overcoming evil – that we are to follow, like a prescription from your doctor where you have to go to the pharmacy and you have to pick up the pills and you have to swallow them and you have to deal with side effects.  It’s not like that at all, actually.  God himself is the plan for putting the world – and each of us along with it – back to rights.  God.  Comes.  Here. 

That is the Truth of Christmas, and the Truth of Epiphany.  That is the Truth that the Magi encountered, and it is the Truth that caused them to walk away from all the old things they had believed and trusted, to rejoice greatly and to worship the Baby Jesus.  It is the Truth that asks us to do the same thing – to walk away from all of the other things we believe and trust – whether it’s other religions or money or a career or success or our own internal strength and power of positive thinking – to let go of it all as the thing you trust, because it doesn’t work, and instead to rejoice greatly and worship the one thing – the one person – that does – Jesus Christ, our Lord.  I hope and I pray that, just like the Wise Men, you know this Truth today.

In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit, Amen. 

Wednesday, January 2, 2013 the books!

1. What did you do in 2011 that you'd never done before? 
Got "drafted", got ordained, preached in sem chapel, served as the sis' maid-of-honor, started running, stared down a crazy lady and disarmed her with the power of prayer, learned about asbestos

2. Did you keep your New Year's resolutions, and will you make more for next year? 
Eh...I did alright on the yoga front, but then things got busy and crazy and it kind of fell off the map...not really making any this year.  I don't know, not that there aren't things I want or need to do, but making those things "Resolutions" just seems to tank them, I don't know...

3. Did anyone close to you give birth? 
Tim & Emma, whom I'm a horrible person and I forgot, Erin-the-bestie, Molly, no one else that I'm particularly close to

4. Did anyone close to you die? 
Again, no one that I was especially close to

5. What countries did you visit? 
I spent 2012 just chillin' in the good ol' US of A...

6. What would you like to have in 2013 that you lacked in 2012? 
I reeeaaaaalllly need a Churchstock-ish small group...

7. What date(s) from 2012 will remain etched upon your memory, and why? 
Ash Wednesday, because it turned out to be a really fantastic evening, the sis' wedding ('cause duh), ordination, Christmas Eve

8. What was your biggest achievement of the year? 
Le Breakup, which is kind of sad, but it really represents a strength and courage that I didn't know I had, incredible self-awareness, and the ability to make really good decisions, no matter how hard they are.  Also, getting ordained, and landing a job despite interviewing with a fever of 103 and being so ill I thought I might pass out while touring the building...learning about HAES...

9. What was your biggest failure? 
Not getting into Marquette.

10. Did you suffer illness or injury? 
Surgerized the endo, although it seems to be returning.  Gigantor sinus infection (see #8).

11. What was the best thing you bought? 
A new couch.  (I guess?)  An alb.  Grace for the Good Girl.

12. Whose behavior merited celebration? 
Will, for toughing out the sheer insanity with me.  Katie E, for just generally being awesome and amazing, and advocating for me and Will when we couldn't do it for ourselves anymore, and for canting at my ordination.  Carrie Carrol, because she listens and cares. Mark Granquist - he cares *so much* about his students.  Bishop Zellmer, for drafting me.  Bill Tesch, for talking about Jesus.  Erik, for loving me.  Liz, for talking me through approval.  Luke, for entertaining me on Ash Wednesday.  Rachel, for introducing me to the Uptown Cafeteria and Support Group.  Erin for being so ridic supportive this fall, Molly for preaching the law to me when I needed to hear it. 

13. Whose behavior made you appalled and depressed? 
See, the thing is: if you want me to grab your ass in public, and then don't understand why I balk at that, I will automatically be appalled and depressed. 

14. Where did most of your money go? 

15. What did you get really, really, really excited about? 
The Boy, graduating, being ordained, Katie and Will's Magic Spreadsheet, the Olympics (including the US men's water polo team...), Christmas at the Capitol, my congregation *totally* rocking the Nunc Dimittis on Christmas Eve

16. What song will always remind you of 2012? 
"Tonight Tonight" by Hot Chelle Rae

17. Compared to this time last year, are you: i. Happier or sadder?  ii. Thinner or fatter?  iii. Richer or poorer? Happier, don't care (yay HAES!), richer (yay, job!)

18. What do you wish you'd done more of? 
19. What do you wish you'd done less of? 
Obsessing about dumb things/people.

20. How did you spend Christmas? 
Worship on Christmas Eve, then dinner with a family from church.  Made a figgy pudding on Christmas Day.

21. How did you spend New Year's Eve? 
Frozen egg rolls, Full House reruns, and lots of productive-ness for work.

22. Did you fall in love in 2011? 
I guess I didn't "fall in love" in the romantic sense...but I learned a lot about what really loving someone (a friend, a SO, a fellow Christian, etc) actually means, and actually feels like.

23. How many one-night stands? 

24. What was your favorite TV program? 
Hawaii Five-O, the Olympics

25. Do you hate anyone now that you didn't hate this time last year? 
Does it sound overly pious and gag-me-with-a-Christian to say, "I don't know that I really hate anyone, people just tick me off" ??

26. What was the best book you read? 
Grace for the Good Girl, and Freedom for Ministry

27. What was your greatest musical discovery?

28. What did you want and get? 
vocational clarity, the new worship "curriculum" by Chris Scharen, (thanks, Liz and Rachel!)

29. What did you want and not get? 
A mix CD, haha.

30. What was your favorite film of this year? 
Won't Back Down

31. What did you do on your birthday, and how old were you? 
Turned 31, had dinner and played Apples at Chatterbox with Liz, Rachel, and Bonnie. 

32. What one thing would have made your year immeasurably more satisfying? 

33. How would you describe your personal fashion concept in 2011? 
Balancing my personality with "dressy enough" for work...a little more into skirts

34. What kept you sane? 
God and my friends, pink wine, frozen yogurt, Grace for the Good Girl

35. Which celebrity/public figure did you fancy the most? 
Kirani James + Oscar Pistorius, Paul Ryan, Gabby Douglas, N.T. Wright

36. What political issue stirred you the most? 
The general idiocy of pretty much every elected official, particularly at the federal level

37. Who did you miss? 
Um, basically everyone.

38. Who was the best new person you met? 
Baby Malachi.  My new bishop.  Le Boy, at least at the time. 

39. Tell us a valuable life lesson you learned in 2012: 
Know yourself and your needs, and don't be afraid to advocate for them.  When you care about people, tell them. 

40. Quote a song lyric that sums up your year: 
"Well Done" by Moriah Peters

I'm headed down this narrow road
Chosen by the few
And all that I know is
You told me to follow You

I'm taking a risk and leaving it all
Not knowing what I'll go through
But I'm not alone
As long as I follow You

So when my life's a leap of faith
I can hear You say

Well done, well done
I'm gonna chase You, Lord
I'm gonna show the world Your love, woah
I'll run, I'll run
I'm gonna run this race
To hear You say well done

If people walk with me, talk with me, looking for truth
They're gonna find out soon
If they're following me then
They're gonna follow You

So let my life speak loud and clear
Lord, I wanna hear

Well done, well done
I'm gonna chase You, Lord
I'm gonna show the world Your love, woah
I'll run, I'll run
I'm gonna run this race
To hear You say well done

I'm so glad that I get to serve You, Lord
You're the only One I am living for, woah
I'm gonna run straight into Your open arms
I'm gonna follow You with my all heart, woah, woah

Well done, well done
I'm gonna chase You, Lord
I'm gonna show the world Your love, woah
I'll run, I'll run
I'm gonna run this race
To hear You say well done

I'm gonna run this race
To hear You say well done

Well done