Thursday, February 28, 2013

Theology Thursday: Preparation

Preparing space.  Space in my heart.  Space in my relationships.  Space in our house.  Space in my work.  All for a baby girl. 

Never in my life, have I prepared so much for what is about to happen. Probably because it so profoundly affects this little person that has been very steadily growing below my heart these last 9 months.  And I want to do it right.  I do.  I want to plan.  And before you laugh at me or tell me that planning goes out the window with a baby… resist the urge.  This is all I know to do. 
By the way, 9 months is a long time.  It is a marathon.  

After I get home from meetings I spend my evening organizing things, like that drawer in our bathroom that collects junk.  Then I worry about labor.  Quickly I realize that my greatest worry is about the greater task of parenting: what if I screw this up??  I will. I know I will.  What if I give her a complex?  Oh, I will.  I know I will.  

Next, I go in her room and organize her lotions and bows and toys because it is something I can control, something I can get right.  Then another question comes to me, what if I can't answer her questions?  I won't be able to all of the time.  I know I won't.  OR worse what if I can't protect her?  I won't be able to all of the time.  I know I won't.  

On the brink of being someone's Momma (any day, really), I am both in awe of my body and this little life that grows so rapidly and in fear of my ability to actually do this.  Because its for a lifetime, and that is a really long time.  Its a million marathons that keep coming, and I want them to… I want to cherish her.  I want to show her things.  I want her to ask questions I have never thought to ask. I want her to love living her life! 

The best thing I can do now is prepare, organize, obsess, worry...knowing that God so lovingly prepares for our place in the world and then so fearfully allows us to live in it with very little control of what we might grab a hold of… even if it is clean, organized, and child proofed.  

Which leaves me full of an anxious joy and brimming over with anticipation as we prepare to meet our little one. Come soon, sweet girl, we already love you more than life itself. 
Loving you is something I know we can do. We already do…so much.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Wildcard Wednesday: Lenten Homily

"I'm Sorry: Easy to Say, Harder to Be"
Church Street UMC
February 20, 2013

Psalm 51:1-10

I'm the oldest of 5 children.  Some would say this makes me "bossy," I like to think I am "directive" and "helpful." The youngest, Haley, who is 11 is absolutely the baby and all that means.  She is delightful, full of life and wonder, and spunk… but, being the baby to 4 older siblings means that she cannot, under most any circumstance say the words, "I'm sorry."  We have wondered-- is this a pride thing? Is this a youngest thing?  Is this a stubborn thing since she is at the end of a long line of stubborn women? 

Several years ago now, I was home from seminary and visiting with my family when Haley got into trouble.  I have absolutely no memory of what she did to be in trouble, but I will never forget the aftermath, which is funny and pitiful all at the same time.  Haley was about 5 years old at the time, and whatever she did my Dad was not going to back down until she simply said two words, "I'm sorry." He carefully explained why she was in the wrong and owed an apology, she glared at him, frowned, and turned her face toward her shoulder. No remorse.  Finally he attempted a positive spin on the expectation of an apology, "if you would just say I'm sorry, then you can go back to playing and we can move on." She refused.  Red in the face, eyes turned from his gaze.  So, he picked up one doll from her baby collection and said that baby would be exiled to the garage until Haley could do what she needed to do… as soon as the baby doll left her room she cried out with a primal scream, as I would imagine any real mother would do at the sight of her baby being taken away--wait, scratch that--she screamed as if the baby was ripped from her tender lovin' arms.  it was a tense moment for the entire house as we hid in our respective corners. Ten minutes later, he went back and calmly said, "Are you ready?" Still refusing, Dad gently carried a second baby doll through the house to the garage, now turned dungeon, and an even louder cry erupted from her little 5 year old body…baby doll 3…4...5…approx. 14 baby dolls later…and everyone else's nerves completely fried she climbed into my Dad's lap, hugged his neck, and mumbled "I'm sorry."  

In a culture where we do not apologize for who we are, or what opinions we hold, or how we behave, I wonder if we turn toward our shoulders avoiding God's gaze as God tries to soften our hearts with the humble reality: God is God, and not we ourselves.  And so, Lent is a peculiar thing to do… we willingly give up comforts or take on habits, as we meditate on the temptation of Christ in the wilderness and the incredible sacrifice of the cross.  And yet, more than ever, what we are really in need of, as individuals and a people, is to see that we are punishing ourselves with self-made dungeons, and in need of a good old fashioned "I'm Sorry" as we begin with Almighty God and go from there. 
 In Psalm 51, we are invited to join in with an ancient confession, that still rings true to our lives so many generations later.  We are all sinners, begging at the door of God's mercy.  We believe in God's steadfast love, and yet we are convinced that the door is closed shut when it comes to redeeming our situation, forgiving us of our sin… because we know what we have done or not done.  
We know that our marriage is broken beyond repair--or our friendship or our relationship with our child or our coworker.  
We know that the words we said will always hang like a cartoon "bubble" in mid-air without the humor and only the shame.  
We know what we did in secret, when we thought that no one was looking.  
We know that God could never love us, not really, not fully.  

Except, that if we would just open our stubborn eyes, we would see the door open and God beckoning us take the hand of Jesus out of the wilderness we banish ourselves to, beyond the heavy load of the cross, to the new life that no one ever thought possible except for God.  

So maybe my baby sister's problem is not that the words "I'm sorry" are hard for her to utter… maybe she's the only one that gets just how weighty those words are when they are meant from a broken spirit and a contrite heart.  Maybe the challenge for us this Lent is to say "I'm sorry" so that we can mean it, and allow ourselves to move on with the dawn of Easter morning.  

Take a moment… examine deep down… what do you know is too much to ask of God?  Go ahead, be honest, as God is already the searcher of our hearts, and in silence let's prepare ourselves to begin this journey of Lent with confession. 

Remember: In the Name of Jesus Christ, you are forgiven. Amen.

Friday, February 8, 2013

Theology Thursday: Ash Wednesday

Some reflections in preparation for Ash Wednesday... 

On Ash Wednesday, February 13, Christians across the world will go to their respective sacred spaces and have ashes mixed with oil imposed on their foreheads.  There is an unspoken rule that you don’t “wipe” the ashes off, so those same Christians will leave worship and enter into the world believing that they bear the mark of sin and mortality while everyone else wonders, “what’s the smudge on my banker’s head?” or “doesn’t that lady know her mascara got a little high?” 

Honestly, this is a strange thing to do.  Yet, it is not the only strange thing that Christians do to live out our faith.  Think about how strange it is that we share in communion which represents God’s grace, and Jesus’ body and blood.  How strange it must seem that we baptize with water... a glorified form of bathing in one’s clothes, or a baby in a fluffy white garment.  How strange it must be for outsiders to walk into our practice of reading from a really old book, and listening to the words of a preacher that claims to have an unseen connection to God.

So, why do this strange thing on Ash Wednesday?  And what can I say or do when I notice the awkward glances of the rest of the population? 

The ashes are to remember: like a locket worn around a neck with a picture of one’s beloved.
The ashes are to confess: like a scarlet letter that each of us wear everyday but usually only bear in the deep recesses of our hearts. 
The ashes are to proclaim: because being weird for the sake of teaching one’s soul a lesson from time to time is not the worst thing that could happen to us.  

I hope you will go, do this strange thing of having the ashes imposed on your forehead. 
I hope it makes you feel uncomfortable, like all you want to do is accidentally wipe it off.  
I also hope at some point you forget that its there so that you can remember when a cashier tries to give you a hand wipe to take away the mystery smudge.
I hope you know it is not a badge of Christian honor to make you feel better than anyone who has a clean forehead, but that you will recognize it is a sign of God’s sorrow.
I hope these things for me, too.  

May we spend the day reflecting on death and sin and the fragile reality of our bodies, so that our hearts might overflow with a strange sense of gratitude for God’s surprising gift of grace.  

If you are looking for a place to go and you're in the Knoxville area, Church Street UMC will have a "drop-in" opportunity to receive the ashes for commuters from 7:00-8:00am, a 45 minute service at 12:00pm, and again at 6:30pm, each opportunity is in our main sanctuary.  All are welcome.