Running on Empty

Can I just say this little light is not what you want to see go on when you’re stuck on the highway.img_1366

Sitting in bumper to bumper traffic, several miles from the exit, facing the quickly setting sun, the E-Light illumined my drive.  How could I be running on empty?  When I left, I had plenty of gas to get home.  Nearly 2/3’s a tank.  That’s more than enough.  After I stopped bargaining, I quickly shifted into Girl Scout mode.  I have my just-in-case tools in the trunk.  I have gloves, scarf, hat, and even an extra pair of clothes.  My cell phone was fully charged.  If needed, I could pull over as the car ran out of gas.  Now, I know that the E-Light means you actually have 1-2 gallons of gas left.  I knew I had approximately 7 miles to go until I could get to the easiest Turkey Hill.  I was pretty certain I could make it.

But still–how could this happen?  I am such a good planner….

In the moments of standstill, I mediated on the dashboard light.  Yes.  I am indeed a good planner.  I had everything I needed for this journey when I started.  And yet still, it was not enough.  Even with the best plans and best preparations, the E-Light goes on.  Even with the hardiest self-care and the most robust meditation practice, the E-Light goes on.  I was running on empty. That’s just how some (most) journeys are.

I’ve intellectually known this reality for a long time.  After all one of my mantras is the Louisa May Alcott quotation: I am not afraid of storms for I am learning how to sail my ship.

And yet when I’m sailing through a storm or sitting in traffic and the E-Light appears, I feel fear.  Fear that usually gives my mind a multiple choice brain game:

a.  What did I do wrong? b.Why can’t I prevent these things from happening?  c.  What can I do differently next time to prevent this from happening?  d.  All of the above.

These questions do not help me sail my own ship.  These questions do not remind me that running on empty is part of the journey.  If it were a matter of developing a more strategic traveling plan, practicing more meditation, or a  committing to self-care more deeply, the E-Light would never go on.  Sure I get depleted.  But I’ve learned how not to run myself that low.  No–this little light of mine was not a lesson in try harder; do better; think harder.

As I continued to meditate on the dashboard lights, I breathed deeply.  In.  Out.  In.  Out.  During an exhalation, I realized if worst came to worst, someone could bring me some spare gas.  All I needed to do was call.  Deep breath in.  Thank you God…today I have people to call.  A litany of names ran through my head.  That is why I do not need to fear the storms.  Not only can I sail my own ship, but I am not alone in my boat.  Sometimes it takes the E-Light to surrender and remember, we were never meant to have enough gas to make our journey totally on our own.

Dance in the Hurricane

Thursday night the African American Episcopal Church in Lebanon had a vigil to pray for and with their sister congregation, Mother Emmanuel. A colleague and fellow UCC pastor went to the vigil both to find a space and place to share her own grief and to offer support to a community reeling from the surreal reality of the week. This pastor is not new to being in difficult situations. She’s not new to standing up and speaking out in places that might put her in danger. She’s not new to knowing that following Jesus can and does include risk. However, she had a new experience Thursday night. During a time where all gathered were invited to speak, A young white male stood in the back and said these simple words:
I was hoping that I would find a gathering like this tonight.
Chills ran down this pastor’s spine.
FEAR
FEAR followed by a barrage of what ifs
Could be’s
And back up plans
She shared with me it was her first time she truly tasted lethal fear. Lethal fear in a place where you should never have that feeling. Lethal fear that now seems reasonable after the massacre in the South Carolina AME Church.

It turns out that her fear was not founded. This young white man was looking for a community to grieve and lament with. This young white man was upset about the shootings. It might have been otherwise.

Fear can fuel otherwise.

Fear is a powerful emotion: it quickens the heart; heightens the senses.
Fear transforms the body. In a life or death moment, it gifts us with super human strength. It is a very real and necessary emotion for survival.

Over the course of a lifetime, living in a sea of fear corrodes the body. It chisels away at the immune system, strains the cardiovascular system, and eats away at energy and vitality. Fear, though necessary in some moments, can take the human out of humanity. If unchecked, fear can divide people from themselves, their families, friends, and faith.

Fear is a potent feeling that when worshiped leaves little room for
Rational thought
Love of neighbor
The bigger picture
Hope for a different tomorrow
God.

Fear convinces us that we are in our boat alone.
We need to take care of it ourselves.
Anything different from us or our plans is to be tamed, controlled, condemned—and in some cases even killed.

But fear–life or death, lethal fear is indeed potent.

It is that kind of fear that Mark first writes about in today’s Gospel passage. The disciples in the boat weren’t just afraid. They weren’t just unsure. They feared for their very lives.

They disciples ask Jesus–
“Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?”
That’s fear.
Life or death.
Lethal fear.

“Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?”

I imagine in addition to being afraid; they were angry. After all, it was Jesus who told them to get in the boat. It was Jesus who decided to take a siesta below board. With Jesus in the boat, they shouldn’t have had to worry about storms anyway, should they? That’s what having Jesus in your boat means, right? A map to sail a smooth course. A guarantee to glide to the other side without storms. I know I have heard a lot of Christians talking about the power of having Jesus with them.
The power of Jesus to Save. Rescue. Fix. Cure.
Except in this story, Jesus is in the boat—and they sail into a storm.
Except that following Jesus—for the disciples and for us—often means sailing into the hurricane rather than away from it.
Except for some people the storms don’t seem to stop, and their ship really does go down.

Storms happen–with or without Jesus in your boat.

In this case, the disciples don’t even ask Jesus to calm the storm. They ask if he cares what’s happening to them. From his apathy below the deck, it can seem like he doesn’t. I don’t know that I believe Jesus doesn’t care, but I can understand how the fear of the moment would lead the disciples to believe this. I also know that Jesus’ snarky questions to the disciples –Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?–
might make me feel a little mad.

Really? Jesus? Really?
The boat was literally being swamped.
I imagine the disciples thinking
OF COURSE WE WERE AFRAID?!?

It can be easy for us as 21st century people to forget that we know what the disciples are just beginning to figure out.
Jesus is not your ordinary rabbi. Jesus is the incarnation. God with us.
In this story, they witness Jesus’ authority over the wind and the rain. His authority is beyond our wildest imaginings and how he chooses to execute his power confounds and confuses.

With Jesus the disciples may enter storms, but it will be possible to find a peace. In the midst of the turmoil, there is a deeper peace that can be found. What we know, that the disciples don’t, is that this storm is just the beginning. It is a simple foreshadowing of what is to come. For they will follow Jesus to the end. The disciples will witness his death, and their faith will be further tested. The disciples will see what seems to be the storm conquering. But what the disciples discover, and we proclaim as the Good News is that even death does not have the last word.
We know that after crucifixion comes resurrection.
We worship a God that not only knows what it is to sail in the storm but also to go down with it.
Our God also knows what it is to be raised from this drowning.
That is the promise of our faith.

It can be easy to loose sight of this when fear looms large.
Let’s face it
Fear looms large right now.
We live in a culture of fear. A simple glimpse at the news is enough to make anyone paranoid about any other. See a person in a hijab. Sure enough that is a possible terrorist. See a person of color. They are taking over “our” country and a threat to the USA. See a Mexican immigrant—they want to sell drugs or take “your” job. See a police officer—they just want to brutalize people. The gospel of fear will convince you that anyone and everyone that is the least bit different from you is suspect. Go on high alert and be ready to tame, control, contain…and in some cases kill.

As Christians, we are not called to preach or practice the gospel of fear. We are to proclaim the Good News of Jesus Christ.

In a week like this, what could that possibly be?

Friends, this week we need to remember that the nine women and men gunned down in South Carolina are our sisters and brothers in faith. We are part of one body. And when one part hurts–ALL hurt. When one part suffers–ALL suffer. When one part is targeted or terrorized–WE all are.

Friends, the women and men who were murdered at Emmanuel AME are our sisters and brothers
Our mothers and fathers
Our daughters and sons.
They have perished at hands of senseless violence
Like too many of our sisters and brothers of color.
It is just one more story in a long litany of stories of violence, murder, and betrayal.

Do we not care that they are perishing?

I can understand if our sisters and brothers of color would ask us the same question that the disciples asked Jesus.

Do we not care that they are perishing?

I don’t know about you, but I know I care.
My guess and hope is that you care too.
That you care more than you know or realize.
Perhaps you too have been mired in fear
Fear of losing
Fear of risk
Fear of change
Fear of not knowing what to say or what to do
Fear of doing something wrong
For doing nothing is better than doing something wrong.

Perhaps you’ve heard the phrase or seen the hashtag
#blacklivesmatter
I believe that hashtag is a way of asking us that question
Do you not care that we are perishing?
There has been a bit of pushback against this phrase. Most notably a counter statement that proclaims
#alllivesmatter.
To that I say, of course all lives matter!
We might do a good job of saying that
But sisters and brothers in Christ,
We had better start practicing it.

We can no longer afford to live in the paralysis of our fear. We are already in the storm. What matters now is how we choose to sail through it knowing that we have Jesus in the boat with us, knowing that we are not the authority over the wind and the rain, but we follow the One who does.

I was reminded of the importance of choosing how we sail shortly after I heard the news reports about the shooting in Charleston.
I heard a song on the radio called “The Eye” and the refrain continues to haunt me. Brandi Carlisle sings, You can dance in a hurricane
But only if you’re standing in the eye.

We may be in a hurricane. But I believe that our faith will lead us to the eye and keep us in the eye. Sisters and brothers from the eye we can accomplish most anything:
We can find the courage to ask for and truly listen to stories of people of color.
We can find voice to speak up, and when we see something, say something. And say it again And again, and again. Until change begins.
We can find the strength to take a stand against hate.
We can find the theological conviction to name the sins of racism and bigotry. We can name terrorism for what it is. Even when—especially when—it happens on our own soil by one of our own against one of our own.

Most importantly, we can find the audacity to dance. When terror strikes at the heart, we might be tempted to turn in, lock our doors, and say a prayer that it is not us or in our house. We might be tempted to turn away the other. This is the time to do just the opposite. It is time to fling our doors wide open. To take to the streets and sing the Good News at the top of our lungs. It is time to dance in the eye of the hurricane.

I’m a Hyster Sister

I’ve been debating writing this piece and putting it out there.  For all my talk about being honest and real, I still wrestle with when and how.  Is this too much?  Is this too personal?  Is this too intimate?  I started actively sitting with these questions this January when I began having chronic pain in my lower pelvis and back.  I am no stranger to pain in that area.  I am no stranger to painful, lengthy, and challenging menstrual issues.  What I am a stranger to is stopping and listening to my body.  Slowing down and going to the doctor.  And then continuing to ask questions and speak up until I am heard.

What I am also new to is sharing this part of my life.  Those who know me most closely have known the pain, embarrassment, and struggle I have lived with since starting to menstruate at 11.  Most people don’t know.  Because like a good girl, I haven’t said anything.  I’ve swallowed more than my share of ibuprofen, plastered a smile on my face, and kept on keeping on. 

This winter I stopped that.

This spring I stop the silence.

The reality is in less than two weeks I will be having a hysterectomy to treat fibroids and a myriad of other menstrual issues.  Even as I type, I find myself wondering where the “whisper font” is.  This is not something we talk about in polite company.  We can mention knee replacement, heart surgery, and gallbladder removal.  But hysterectomy…shhh. 

Mention this and there are a million images projected onto the emotional screen in your life.  Maybe it’s the secrecy.  Or the assumption that women aren’t women without a womb.  But the assumption is devastation.

And in my case, that’s true in part.  It is devastating…a loss.  Truly closing a door to the life that I always thought I would have…the one where I birth a baby of my own.

But on the other hand, it allows another door to open.  The one where my body can finally heal from pain that has tormented it for years.  The one that proclaims to the world that womanhood is so much more than a part of anatomy.  And motherhood is larger than birth.  For me the loss of a womb feels a little bit like the fear and joy of the empty tomb.  A place where Mystery just waits to be resurrected.

What does THIS say about US?

I opened the local paper yesterday, and the first headline:  Armored Backpacks and Rush on a Guns After Conn.  The title alone sent shivers down my spine.  Shivers followed by an inner voice asking, “What does THIS say about US?  Is THIS what we want to teach our children?” We stand up on Sundays and profess faith in a God and the promises that death is not the end, and on Monday, we stock pile weapons to keep us safe.  If actions speak louder than words to children, I believe what we are teaching is that fear is stronger than faith.  Fear is stronger than love.  Fear is stronger than God.

I’ve heard it said that fears can really be false expectations appearing real.  False expectations that lead to fight or flight reactions.  False expectations that only fuel the fire of violence.  False expectations that crowd out space for compassion, love, and creative problem solving.  Armored backpacks and teachers packing heat address the symptom of a problem we might not even be able to fully identify or describe.

I don’t think anyone would argue that the number of mass shootings in 2012 alone necessitate change.  The question isn’t whether to change or even who is to blame.  It’s how do we, ourselves, begin changes in our systems,from government to mental health, that might truly begin to address the root causes of these issues.  How do we teach our children to live in the midst of a complex world?  How do we practice the faith we say we believe?

Loosening the Reins

ImageMy aunt taught me to ride a horse the summer that I was 11.  Over the Kansas prairie we trotted and eventually cantered.  Being in the mid-west, I learned to ride with a Western saddle.  Basically, this meant I needed to be careful about how I held the reins.  Specifically, I remember being instructed not to pull too tight and to eventually work toward holding the reins with just one hand.

Loose reins?  One hand?

Even my 11-year-old self thought this was asking for problems.  For me to be in control, didn’t I need to grip tightly, closely, fiercely?  Counter-intuitive though it may seem, loose reins are needed in order to really be able to guide the horse.  And to trust the horse.

Somedays, life feels a little bit like riding a horse for the first time.  My instinct to grab the reins tightly, closely, fiercely rears itself in a moment. How is it that all these years later I can still feel like that 11-year-old girl trotting across the prairie?

You’re Healed!

Can you see Benny Hinn?  You know the healer on TV.  The one that walks through the crowds, whacking people on the head, declaring “You’re Healed!”

I have to confess I sometimes pause to watch these clips and make snarky remarks–either to the folks I’m watching with or just in my own head.  Who’d pay money to get whacked on the head?  Who’d expect healing from that?

And yet in this week’s gospel passage we see not one but two healings.  As a pastor I find it much easier to grapple with the doubts of Thomas or the disbelief of Nicodemus than a passage like this.  Goodness, I’d even rather tackle the passage about Herodias (stay tuned for that one later this summer!)  In addition to my Gen X skeptic-self, I have to say I find these stories of miracle healings a little dangerous.  Perhaps that’s what makes them miraculous, but I digress.

You see, in the world of theology, we can be known to differentiate healing from cure.  Healing is finding a deeper sense of peace and oneness and does not always result in a physical cure.  Except that doesn’t work with this passage.  The woman with the hemorrhage stops bleeding after 12 years.  That seems like a cure to me.  Jairus’s daughter rises from death.  Again, this seems awfully cure-like.  Miracle cures attributed to faith.  Jesus even says to the woman with the hemorrhage–“Your faith has made you well.”

I don’t know about you, but this seems to dance at a fine line.  Faith and healing.  Faith and curing.  Faith and fixing.  Can’t you just hear the if onlys, the shoulda, woulda, couldas?  I don’t know about any of you, but I have known good, faithful people whose miracle cure didn’t look anything like what they would have hoped…and I’ve known people who weren’t so good or faithful whose miracle cure seemed made to order…and I’ve known people people whose miracle cure looked kinda like what they prayed for but the reality was no so miraculous.  Seems to me when we try to analyze, categorize, mathematicize God’s work in the world, we can get ourselves into trouble.

Taking Root

When I stated this blog over a year ago, I was seeking to find my fit–literally and figuratively.

And if you followed the blog, you’d notice that I hit my goal weight in the summer of 2011 and just as I achieved this goal, my writing (and my running) got waylaid.  Perhaps it’s age.  Perhaps it’s personality.  Whatever the cause, I am simply not someone that can put my wilderness wanderings  web-wide while I  walk the path.  I’m one of those people that needs to marinate on something.  Savor it singly before sharing.   That said, I realize it’s been a season of silence.  And like the trees in winter, what was visible seemed dormant and barren while beneath the surface, activity abounded.

It seems that I’ve found my fit.  In addition to maintaining my goal weight, 2012 is a year of rootedness.  In March I was officially called as pastor of a growing church, Trinity Reformed United Church of Christ.  Next month, I will get married.  After seven years of of wilderness journey, I am saying yes to settlement.  Yes to a church.  Yes to marriage.  Yes to step-mom-dom.  Most of all, I am saying yes to trusting God.  So it only seemed appropriate to update this blog–and say it’s not so much about finding my fit anymore…as it is learning to live into my fit.  For me that’s going to mean navigating the pastor, wife, step-mom role–along with living the lectionary.

So, here’s to pondering the lectionary and its intersections with life.