Thursday, April 3, 2014

Lark

My quest to blog every day for Lent has not gone all that well, but I'm back to it as we prepare for Holy Week.


As spring continues to emerge after a cold and difficult winter, I've been listening to Josh Ritter's "Lark" a whole lot.

The chorus sings:

I am assured, yes
I am assured, yes
I am assured that peace will come to me
A peace that can, yes, surpass the speed yes,
of my understanding and my need. 



In the wilderness, it's hard to remember the trees that rustle as if to kneel and listen
Or the priestly green answers dressed in labyrinthine

I've had a hard time hearing the heartbeat of a lark, or a lark in my heartbeat. 

The chorus of "Lark" makes reference to Philippians 4:7 (the peace of God passes all understanding). The verse preceding states "Rejoice...The Lord is near." As Holy Week approaches, we grow closer to Jesus. He's coming to Jerusalem and the palms are rustling in anticipation.

The Lord is near. Rejoice. Peace is coming. Christ is coming.
Maybe soon I'll find the lark in my heartbeat.  

Thursday, March 20, 2014

What does freedom look like to you?

Early this year, I was challenged to find a word of the year. What came to me was freedom.
What does freedom look like to you? I keep finding all sorts of images that resonate with me. Here are a few:

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Still Beautiful: She Came Down

I was thrilled to be a guest preacher at First Christian Church of Georgetown, Kentucky this past week and I've posted the audio file of my sermon here, along with the most perfect photo from back-on-pointe!
It's 16 minutes long and I read the scripture (2 Cor. 4:7-12) within the sermon.
The major sources (other than scripture) that I used were Kristine Culp's book Vulnerability and Glory: A Theological Account, Amy Frykholm's See Me Naked: Stories of Sexual Exile in American Christianity, and I reference Carol Barnett's incredible composition "The World Beloved: A Bluegrass Mass" musically and verbally. 

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Preaching With a Broken Heart

Shortly after my most recent move, my long-time boyfriend and I ended our relationship. The very next week, I was scheduled to preach.
As a part of a multi-pastor church my colleagues graciously offered to step in and preach in my place, but I was stubborn. I decided that I wanted - no, NEEDED - to preach.

All week long I struggled with the gospel text. In between jags of crying, I tried to read commentaries but I couldn't focus. I made notes. And more notes. And more notes. But all the notes were just interesting facts I learned about the scripture and little questions to ask. Nothing substantial had come to me, and when I needed the gospel to speak to me I just could not hear a thing. As I stumbled, tired and exhausted, through the week the sermon still would not come. I had no idea what it would mean to preach the gospel on that text.

I read articles online. But mostly I just prayed. I prayed for my broken heart. I prayed for my ex. I prayed for my church and apologized to God in advance for what I knew would be a really crappy sermon. I prayed without words. With sighs too deep for any vocabulary I might be able to find.

Nothing.

On Saturday night I ventured out of my apartment in sweatpants and a baseball cap, trying to hide my puffy skin and red eyes. I got it in my head that if I went to Chick-Fil-A I would order some yummy food with a side of sermon inspiration (this has nothing to do with Chick-Fil-A's religious commitments and everything to do with their milkshakes and waffle fries). As I sat in the drive-thru line I called my mother. Surely, if Chick-Fil-A could not supply my sermon inspiration my mother could help me out. The first words out of her mouth were to ask about my sermon.

I told that I had basically nothing. And then she dropped a wisdom bomb on me. She said, "McKinna, I get that your heart is broken. But that relationship was for three years, and you've been working toward being a minister for thirteen years. This is your call. You have a job to do. Your job is to preach the gospel. So figure out what sort of gospel you preach with a broken heart, to other broken hearts, and you just preach it. Do your job."

So I got my waffle fries and a side of sermon wisdom and renewed call and went home. I opened up the lectionary texts, switched to the Epistle, and started writing. I wrote the sermon I needed to hear. I got angry at my ex, I used the anger to focus, and the words poured out. The text was from the letter to the Colossians, first chapter, verses 15-17 (CEB):

The Son is the image of the invisible God, the one who is first over all creation,
Because all things were created by him: both in heaven and on the earth, the things that are visible and the things that are invisible.
Whether they are thrones or powers, or rulers or authorities, all things were created through him and for him.
He existed before all things, and all things are held together in him.

In sermon writing, I was forced to find the gospel that I wanted so desperately to hear. I remembered all the times in the last 13 years that God had stood by me as God called me to ministry, over and over again. At a moment when I felt so empty and exhausted and wrung-out, God's word breathed life into my weary spirit. I wrote through the night until 3am, slept until 6, finished the sermon and preached it at 8:30am. My thoughts were scattered; I was scared to death that I hadn't written complete sentences. I briefly considered asking the senior minister to preach the sermon for me. I cursed myself for leaving my emergency anxiety medications at home. I cursed my ex. And I prayed.

Then I stood up and preached the gospel I was called to preach. I did my job and the job healed me. The gospel healed me. The Holy Spirit moved and made my crappy, last minute sermon into a brick to build the Kingdom of God.Truly, in God all things DO hold together, even when your world is falling apart. And thank God for that.

[Now, I don't really advocate always preaching the sermon you, the preacher, need to hear. If you are your only audience then you might want to reconsider your sermon. But, maybe every once in a while it's okay. When our own lives are falling apart, when our hearts are broken, we are most succeptible to the gospel's healing power. I don't know why the actual gospel text wasn't speaking to me. I have a feeling nothing would have worked if not for my mom's stern and wise words. But when you're preaching with a broken heart, I do think it's necessary to trust that in Christ all things really do hold together. And worst case scenario, you preach a poor sermon. There are worse things, I hope.]

Photo credit: http://civa-artists.ning.com/photo/in-him-all-things-hold-together-colossians-1-17?context=user

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Follow up: What's at stake here?

I'm so grateful for the response that the last post inspired here, on facebook, and in some personal emails and fbook messages.

Considering my audience (mostly churchy types who, using Tillich's language, have an Ultimate Concern), your responses were totally right on. When one has an Ultimate Concern it's easy to lose one's self in the concern, worry, and work. To that end, we must also remember that God wants our well-being, and yes, happiness. Not everything must be at stake all the time. To believe that everything is at stake all the time - and that it is up to ME (singular) - is a form of ego. Many of you rightly pointed out that faith in God means believing that God is the One who will put all of our little efforts together. It's up to US, not ME, and God will assist our collective effort. And thank God for that.

My rant was more of an indictment of those who would rather distract themselves, change the channel, or avoid the hardness and heartbreak of being a person who gives a crap in a hard, hard world. For example: the girl in middle school who, lacing up her brand new Nike's, listened to me talk about sweatshops and the country her shoes were likely made in. Her response: "Well, at least they have a job. Not my problem."
[Granted: I was pretty obnoxious and self-righteous in middle school.]

Another example: Asking someone you love dearly what they want out of life and having them respond with a blank stare. There's more to life than just today? Like, a future? And maybe a purpose to life and our relationships? What a novel idea.

What can I do, then, as a pastor to folks like this? Folks who, when I'm being honest, are not that far from where I am some days. It's hard to care. It's hard to figure out how to address the many issues that confront us on a daily basis. Sometimes you just have to back away and binge-watch Buffy on Netflix.

But when you emerge from the Netflix/Buffy cave.... What then?

I am constantly thinking of Dorothy Day: "I wanted, though I did not know it then, a synthesis. I wanted life, and abundant life. And I wanted it for others, too." 

How do we find that abundant life for ourselves and for others? Or, since we're all incredible and individual creations of an awesome God, how do YOU find it? 

#reLent

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

A rant: What's at stake here?

In my line of work, I often ask this question of myself and others.

Depending on the situation, the answer is easier or harder to discern, but there is always something at stake.

Perhaps it is one's feeling of belonging to the church and therefore to God. Perhaps it is one's perceived value as a leader. Perhaps it is a measure of control in this one, tiny, area of life. Perhaps what's at stake is one's identity. Or happiness. Or integrity.

Perhaps the Kingdom of God is at stake. As I said, it's easier or harder, bigger or smaller, depending on the situation.

I repeat: there is always something at stake. If there's nothing at stake, you're doing it wrong.

What I mean is this: life is risky. A faithful life is especially risky. You're making claims about reality, eternity, and the way things ought to be. You're making decisions not just for yourself, but for others, and you're committing to live a life that benefits and serves people beyond your immediate family. In a faithful life it's not possible to say, "That's not my problem," or "I just can't deal with that." Whether the "problem" is in Syria or your backyard, it's up to you to make a difference.

[Caveat: This is not to say that one single person can solve ALL THE PROBLEMS. Sometimes you have to choose which battes to fight. And there certainly are situations in which one has no control, whether because you have no power or your power has been taken from you. But the fact that you can't necessarily make a difference doesn't mean that you can abdicate any and all responsibility, or that you then have license not to care.]

Perhaps another way to ask the question: For what are you willing to go to bat? What do you want or desire so much that you are willing to sacrifice and fight for it?

It's a sinful and sad reality that many cannot answer these questions. When asked, many respond with blank stares. "I don't know. What do you mean? Like, I want to be happy... Does that count?"

Every philosopher and theologian of all time rolls over in their grave whenever someone over the age of 11 says, "I just want to be happy." [Another caveat: if you're drunk and whining, you might be allowed to be awfully inarticulate and selfish. I'm talking about a real conversation, here.]

Happiness is certainly a valuable part of the equation. But happiness, in the proper sense, is a bit bigger than one individual life. For one's own happiness is in many ways dependent on the capacity and ability of others to attain their own happiness, and the capacity for society to sustain the happiness and wellbeing of the whole. If your own "happiness" depends on the slave labor of others, then that's not happiness. That's oppression.

So I ask you, what's at stake for you? For what are you willing to sacrifice? Dare I pose the existential question: What's the meaning of [your] life?