Love & (Physical) Distance

Dearly Beloved,

This week, I have been holding the tensions between the continued need to practice physical distancing, to wear masks, to stay at home and our deep longings to be together. I am at once grateful that people are beginning to be able to connect in person with family and friends and also deeply concerned that the spread of COVID-19 will pick up once again. I realize that people’s lives are at stake in this tension.

There is so much desire to go back to the way things were, and yet, there is also the opportunity to move forward to something new. As Nikki so eloquently expressed in her email to us yesterday, there have been some incredible gifts about worshiping virtually! We have had visitors from Florida, Estes Park, Virginia, Los Angeles, Pennsylvania and even Great Britain. We have had people share their voices and gifts in ways they may not have been comfortable doing in person. The last three Sundays, my sermons have each gotten over a hundred views on Facebook. Our air is cleaner. Inequalities and injustices have been brought to the front of our awareness. We have reached deep into our pockets and hearts and bank accounts to give not only to our church but to support our neighbors desperately needing assistance. How do we hold onto some of these positive shifts? How do we continue to make our worship accessible to those who may not be able to leave their homes or travel the distance to join us in person? How do we continue to cultivate the spirit of generosity that is flourishing among us?

As a congregation, we are not particularly oriented towards social justice (though many of our members are) and yet, during this time, we have practiced justice. By ensuring that all of our staff continues to be paid — this is a justice issue. By our gifts to support those in financial need — this gives a nod to the early church practice of holding all things in common to make sure that everyone has enough. No, we’re not sharing everything, but we are giving of our extra to make sure that everyone in our community has enough. That’s justice. As Cornell West so brilliantly put it: just is [simply] what love looks like in public.

With peace and love,

Thandiwe

Present Now – Advent Reflection

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Psalm 90:1-2

 

Lord, you have been our dwelling place in all generations.

Before the mountains were brought forth,

Or ever you had formed the earth and the world,

From everlasting to everlasting

You are God.

 

Bright eyes take in all the world. Tiny hands wave and reach and hold. Feet kick and push. This tiny person has entered into the world and nothing will ever be the same again. No, I’m not talking about baby Jesus, though I’m sure this would all apply to him as well. I’m talking about my infant daughter, Cora, long awaited and much beloved.

 

This Advent season I have discovered that life with an infant is life lived in the moment. Where once I spent a lot of time thinking about the future – making plans for my education, family, and career or simply for the upcoming year in my work – now, I take care of THIS moment and only this moment. Really, it’s what I can manage.

 

I live now. From one feed or sleep or dirty diaper or load of laundry to the next. My infant daughter’s immediate needs overshadow all else. As do the immediate delights of life as her mom – her grip on my finger, the new-baby smell of her head, her bright eyes holding mine, the weight of her body in my arms, the intimacy of feeding her, a coo, a smile, even the crumpling of her face right before she cries.

 

Time exists now: in this moment. This moment is all we have of eternity, of everlasting to everlasting. This moment. This is it. And it is so very much – so rich and full and precious.

 

“Lord you have been our dwelling place in all generations…. From everlasting to everlasting you are God.” God is our dwelling place now. Mine and my daughter’s. My mother’s and my grandmothers’. Yours and your parents’ and your grandparents’. In this moment and in every moment God is God – loving and grace-filled and merciful.

 

This Christmas, may you be pulled into the moment to live now and to know God’s everlasting presence as your dwelling place, your home, your sanctuary. Now and forever. From everlasting to everlasting. Amen.

Grief, Grace and Gratitude

img_0392

How easy it is to get caught up in the busy-ness, the doing, the decorating, the cooking, the sending, the buying, the eating of Christmas. Now don’t get me wrong, I love each of these parts of Christmas –- setting up the Christmas tree and hanging decorations, making home-made sugar cookies and drinking egg nog, writing and mailing Christmas cards, searching out gifts that I hope will be just right. I love and cherish each of these traditions.

But (and there is a but) these traditions and practices take time and if I am not careful, I let them take over. I feel anxious about finding the perfect gift, sending all the cards out in time, ensuring I have enough cookies to give all my neighbors, and wanting my home to look just right. Instead of making time and space in my life to welcome Christ’s love and presence, I fill my time, I fill my home, I fill my thoughts, leaving no space empty. Frantically trying to get everything done, I forget the one thing that is most important -– listening for God’s presence in my heart, in my life and in this world.

This year, a personal loss has brought me up short, and other things have fallen away. My husband and I, after two weeks of excitement, joy and anticipation, had a miscarriage. Just shy of seven weeks pregnant, I had known about the pregnancy for two weeks, and now, already, it was ending.

I have found that Advent is a wonderful time to be pregnant and a terrible time to have a miscarriage –- all the talk of conception, pregnancy, anticipation and birth serve as constant reminders of this so-intimate loss. Being a pastor further complicates things, for I have a particular role in sharing words about conception and birth, speaking messages of hope and anticipation, proclaiming the joy and delight of the good news of Jesus’ birth. Loss is always painful, and this loss has been particularly painful for me this Advent season.

And yet, in this loss I have received such a great gift –- in grief, I have had to step back from my to-do lists and make space. I have had to make space for sadness and mourning, for unanticipated doctor’s appointments, for difficult phone calls with family and friends, for physical discomfort and fatigue, for ritual and for tears. And in that space, God has crept in, sometimes slowly and quietly speaking to me through the images of God’s wonderful and majestic creation that decorate the lab where I had blood work done. In the space that grief has opened, I have found God already waiting in the steadfastness of my husband’s patient love and care. In this space, God is present and known through all the love and support that my husband and I have received –- text messages, unexpected phone calls, bouquets of flowers, prayers for comfort and healing, rituals of water, light and oil, gifts large and small.

The truth is that God has always been there, waiting for me to make room, for me to listen, for me to say, “Here I am.” God didn’t give me a miscarriage to force me to slow down or make space. I don’t believe that God had anything to do with my miscarriage. Never-the-less, the miscarriage happened and in the midst of this loss, I have experienced God’s abiding presence and love.

A few days before Christmas, driving to work and listening to Colorado Public Radio, I heard Clare Dunn singing “O Holy Night,” one of my favorite Christmas carols. I sang the first verse out loud and clear, for I know it well:

O holy night, the stars are brightly shining,
It is the night of our dear Savior’s birth;
Long lay the world in sin and error pining,
‘Til he appeared and the soul felt its worth.
A thrill of hope the weary world rejoices,
For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn.

As I listened, I realized that part of what has happened this Advent, part of what has happened in this space that grief has opened is that my soul has been reminded of its worth. Driving south along the Front Range, I imagined what our world would be like if each of us knew more deeply our own value and worth. I was reminded that our value and worth exist whether we rejoice or mourn, for God is present with us, loving us beyond our wildest imagining all the time.

Then came the second verse, less familiar, and I simply listened:

Truly He taught us to love one another;
His law is Love and His gospel is Peace;
Chains shall He break, for the slave is our brother,
And in His name all oppression shall cease,
Sweet hymns of joy in grateful chorus raise we;
Let all within us praise His Holy name! 

Fall on your knees, Oh hear the angel voices!
O night divine! O night when Christ was born.
O night divine, O night, O night divine.

When we make space, when we slow down enough to know God with us, our soul feels not only its own worth but the worth of all others around us. We learn to love one another, and when this happens, the world is transformed: our interrelatedness shall be known, chains shall be broken, and oppression shall cease.

This Christmas season, in grief and gratitude, I find myself falling on my knees in need of God’s mercy and comfort and also in total awe and reverence for the One who has been waiting for me to make space.

I hope and pray that in this New Year, your soul may know its worth, that whether in joy or sorrow, you may know God’s loving presence in your life and that together we may continue to work for the end of all oppression. Thanks be to God and may all within us praise God’s Holy name! Amen.

img_0084

The Law of Love

clergy-with-standing-rock
Art by Minneapolis Artist

Written Monday, November 21, 2016

Perhaps you’ve seen photos or video footage of yesterday’s confrontation between Water Protectors and the police at Standing Rock, North Dakota. Water Protectors were trying to remove burnt-out police vehicles that are blocking the bridge north of the Oceti Sakowin Camp. This blocked bridge provides the quickest approach for emergency vehicles and medical care to those living at the Oceti Sakowin Camp. The Water Protectors and protesters were met with pepper spray, mace, tear gas, long range acoustic devices, rubber bullets and water cannons. All of this in freezing temperatures.  150 Water Protectors and protestors sustained injuries and over a dozen needed hospitalization.
Given this police aggression and violence at Standing Rock, I am afraid.

I do not plan to put myself in harm’s way and yet my Christian Faith compels me to stand on the side of justice and love. I do not plan to break the law and yet as a Christian I answer to a higher law than that of the United States government. I answer to God’s law of love. And this law of love is not always compatible with state and national laws. Its priorities are those of relationship, honoring the creation and human life not corporate profits, cheap energy, individual gain and the perpetuation of human greed. The law of love has a preferential option for the poor and the disenfranchised, the vulnerable and terrorized. Its central tenets are the interconnection of all of creation and the implicit value of every human life.

Living out our Christian faith and following God’s law of love is always a risk of some sort. At the very least, it calls us out of our comfort zones. Living out our Christian faith becomes a physical risk when the law of the land and those with power respond to faithfulness and loving resistance with aggression and violence. Living out our Christian faith becomes a physical risk when corporate profit, cheap energy, individual gain and the perpetuation of human greed are pursued at all costs. Living out our Christian faith becomes a physical risk when the law of love truly challenges the powers that be as Jesus did (and for which he was crucified) and as the Water Protectors at Standing Rock are doing now.

As I discern how the law of love may call me to act at Standing Rock, I am afraid, yes. But that is not all. I am also inspired and filled with hope as I look to our Native American kin for wisdom, courage and guidance. I see in them the living Christ whose body was brutalized and broken and yet who continued to offer peace and forgiveness. I am uplifted by your incredible generosity, support and prayers. I am encouraged by my three travel companions. And I am sustained by the knowledge that God’s love and grace and power surpass my understanding.

Nothing, nothing can separate me or any of us from God’s love. God is with us. Thanks be to God. Amen.

Why Quiet?

Cultivating Quiet

Why cultivate quiet? It’s funny, I created this blog page quite a while ago, and then it just sat and sat. I had the name. I had the particular design for the page. I just had nothing to say. I’m pretty sure it was because of the name.

But then, obviously, something changed. A simple bicycle ride – the 11.5 miles I ride from work home – just before the sun set. As those who know me well will tell you, this is my favorite time of day. Not because of anything particular that happens, no. Instead, it’s because of the particular quality of light. It’s richer. The sun’s rays reach farther. The grass turns an emerald green, the fields of barley gold, and shadows lengthen as if, they too are grasping for all the day they can get.

cultivating quiet 3

My bicycle route runs basically a straight north-south line, and the mountains rise to the west grand as all get-out, the light turning them the “purple mountain majesty” of folk song. And they fade row upon row, until the back row is almost pink, pale against the sky, each line of mountains placed just so as if for just this moment. I turn and look. Gaze long and hard, flit my eyes ahead to the road, then turn and gaze again. It’s the kind of view that will drop your jaw.

As I watch, a hawk flying just my speed catches my eye. She dips then rises, taking her time cool and easy as I pedal furiously on my cycle.  Behind her, the sun is reaching long fingers of light out from behind the clouds. I imagine this is the sun’s favorite time of day, too. It has the power to change all things into beauty, breathtaking beauty. Those fingers of light catch thousands of droplets of water a sprinkler system sends out over a field, a fine mist of perfect crystals circling out and then back, out and then back. And then I’m past, pedaling furiously.

It’s funny to think that all that motion, all that moving, me pedaling furiously on my bicycle, gazing west to the purple mountain majesty, watching a hawk fly lazily along, catching sight of reaching sun fingers and glassy crystal water droplets, it’s funny to think that all that motion got me thinking about quiet.

But it did.

Even with all that motion. My mind was quiet. It was quiet enough to look long and hard. Quiet enough to listen to the world around me. To think – not about everything I have to get done by Sunday morning, not about the clean-up I need to do when I get home, not about the TV show my beloved and I are watching together, not about any of that. I’m thinking about what I see. I’m taking it all in. I am present. Right here in this moment. Right where my pedaling has brought me.

And that is what quiet is. It’s being present. In this moment. Listening. Looking. Being. Bringing my whole self. This is what quiet is.

Quiet is also a deep sense of peace and contentment. Not a “I’m so happy in this very moment that I want to jump and shout or drink a beer or drive through town with my music turned up” (though those moments can happen in the midst of contentment, too). The contentment is something deeper. It’s a sense of rightness with the world. And again, not that the world is all right. Because, hell, all you have to do is read the news to know that all is not right in the world.

This week, police officers killed two black men here in the U.S. The Washington Post reports that 509 people have been shot and killed by police in the U.S. in 2016 (this is lots of situations, people of all races, etc).  By comparison, there have been 2 such deaths in the United Kingdom in the same amount of time. 5 Police officers have been killed at a PEACEFUL protest march. All is not right in our world.

Muslims celebrating Eid al Fitr (the festival ending Ramadan) have been targeted in terrorist attacks in Saudi Arabia and Bangladesh among other places.

The number of displaced people and refugees continues to rise.

All is not right in our world. I cannot stand by or sit quietly. I cannot be complicit or silent. And yet. And yet. That is not the quiet of which I speak. This quiet is not the quiet of silence or complicity or duplicity or willful participation in the powers that divide us, in the powers that sell us fear and hatred, in the powers that would have me think that I have the power to help and teach you but not the humility and grace to receive the same from you. If we are to be a force for good. If we are to work to change each of these situations. If I am to face the racial bias that I have and the system of white supremacy in which I live and from which I benefit, if I am to truly see others, I need to cultivate quiet.

Indeed, I believe that in this quiet, I may meet the divine. I may be reminded of the good and beauty and love in the world. I may find myself inextricably linked to all that is and all the people that are. I may remember that I am inextricably linked to you, to the hawk, the mountains, the barley. In the quiet, I may grieve the injustices and know that truly the world is good and humanity is too.

So, won’t you join me in cultivating this quiet? We just might need it to change the world!

cultivating quiet 2

Blog at WordPress.com.

Up ↑