Friday, May 31, 2013

that we may carry out our work

Give me, dear Lord, a pure heart
and a wise mind, that I may
carry out my work according to your will.
Save me from all false desires, from pride,
greed, envy and anger, and let me
accept joyfully every task you set before me.
Let me seek to serve the poor, the sad and those unable to work. 
Help me to discern honestly
my own gifts that I may do the things
of which I am capable, and happily
and humbly leave the rest to others.
Above all, remind me constantly that
I have nothing except what you give me,
and can do nothing except
what you enable me to do.
--Jacob Boehme

When I was in China (the second year, 2002), I found this prayer and used it every morning to begin my days. It was the first time in my life I successfully practiced the discipline of daily prayer. Going into it, I knew that I needed a routine that was simple, memorizable, and adaptable, because I was going to use it every day.
I can still remember going out on the little balcony with my cup of coffee and beginning my day with this prayer and my journal in hand.

When I think about what "giftedness" means, or being called, or being led into ministry or theology, I think of this prayer, and the humble shoemaker/philosopher/theologian who wrote it. I think about these lines, from the heart of this prayer:
Let me accept joyfully every task you set before me: making shoes, changing diapers, washing dishes, picking up toys and dirty socks--and theologizing. I suspect that Boehme, like me, chafed a bit at the daily tasks, the ones that interfered with the musing and pondering and writing. I suspect that like me he had a hard time figuring out how to joyfully accept the tasks that felt like distractions--and still make time to joyfully accept the task of articulating the ceaseless wonderings about the divine that is theologizing. 
Let me seek to serve the poor, the sad, and those unable to work: whether shoes or theology, what we do is in service to those around us. Some people need shoes. Some people need theology. Or maybe everyone needs both at some point--but whatever it is that we do, we offer it in service to answer a need. 
Help me to discern honestly my own gifts that I may do the things of which I am capable, and happily and humbly leave the rest to others: the flip side of understanding what you have to offer in service to those around you is knowing what you don't. The beauty of community, the beauty of the church as Paul describes it in the image of the one body of many parts, is that we may also trust that we may indeed happily and humbly leave the rest to others, others who are also discerning their own gifts so that they may do the things of which they are capable.
It is impossible to say how powerful, how transformative this prayer is for me, a woman in the Church of Christ. The humility of these words, the earnestness and openness of them, help me loosen my grip on the preconceptions about my own giftedness I carry around with me--the preconceptions I fight against and resent, and the preconceptions that I cherish in opposition. Save me from all false desires, from pride, greed, envy and anger.

After awhile, I can feel a new peace settle in, taking the place of an anxiety so built into my sense of self that most days I'm not even aware it's there. Help me discern honestly, and let me do the things I'm capable of. That, and no more. The rest is for others.

And if there are those who cannot believe that I do what I do as the result of honest discernment, and sincere desire to therefore accept joyfully the tasks set before me--well, what's that got to do with anything, really?

The opening and ending words of the prayer frame the answer to that. 
Give me, dear Lord, a pure heart and a wise mind, that I may carry out my work according to your will.
Above all, remind me constantly that I have nothing except what you give me, and can do nothing except what you enable me to do.
What gifts we have, sisters, we have been given by God. For we have nothing except what God gives us, and we can do nothing except what God enables us to do. And our prayer must then be, let us carry out our work according to God's will.

Monday, May 20, 2013

a communion meditation: Our Mother God

On Mother's Day, my daughters and I took a trip out to West Islip Church of Christ to visit dear friends there we had not seen in waaaaaaaay too long. West Islip is a special place for me. It is the first church ever to welcome me to the pulpit--an honest to God pulpit, up on a little elevated dais and everything--and they have done the same, and much much more, for many other women as well.

So when asked if I'd be willing to share a meditation for communion, I accepted, with joy.

me and my daughter Clare (peeking over the pulpit)

Our Mother God

delivered on May 12, 2013 at West Islip Church of Christ

Mother's Day is a day rife with the possibility of homiletical missteps. All week long I've been watching the preachers I follow on twitter post and converse about "how not to preach on Mother's Day." There are lots of pitfalls to avoid, among them, I was happy to see, an acknowledgment not only that not all women are mothers, but that being a woman doesn't mean that you want to be a mother if you aren't, or that somehow having a womb means you are "meant" to be a mother.

Even happier was I when I saw this post, which suggests that perhaps we ought to--as we often do, I'll note, on Father's Day--make the move into considering what the image of God as mother might teach us about God.

This post offered as illustration of what we learn about "God as mother" a touching story told by two daughters of an act of extraordinary self-sacrificial love from their mother; one which saved their lives and the life of their little brother. (You can see the video at the original post above.) In short, this mother literally threw herself in the path of the SUV about to plunge her children over a cliff. This act saved their lives and broke her back. And in this we see an echo of the kind of self-sacrificial love God offers us, as her children, on the cross. Greater love has no one than this...

And as I pondered this image this week, I had two thoughts: yes, and no.

Yes: being a mother myself, I can imagine that without hesitation I would throw myself in the path of an oncoming vehicle in order to save my children. Yes.

But--as I pondered this all week long, in the midst of feeding and clothing and ferrying and nursing and putting to bed and hugging and kissing, there were two things that began to bother me.

My husband would throw himself in front of a car to save our kids. Their grandparents would, I'm sure, and their aunts and uncles and, possibly, even a stranger, if it was the right kind of stranger.

This kind of self-sacrificial love isn't the exclusive property of mothers. Are we not all called, as followers of Christ, to aspire to the kind of love exemplified in his life and death? Greater love has no one than this, that they lay down their lives for their friends. And this is how the world shall know us, by our love for each other.

And finally, the kind of extraordinary self-sacrificial love exemplified in the horrible but heroic story of this one amazing mother, is not in the end the experience that defines mothering--at least not for me. Rather, it's the day-in, day-out presence with and joy in my children: the wonder that strikes me at the oddest, most mundane moments that these little people exist, to watch in amazement as they grow and become who they are. The way that my daughter's pride in another 10/10 on a spelling test and a comment from a teacher on her incredible gift for math makes her eyes light up. The way that a new word from baby Z makes me laugh out loud. 

When I think of God as mother, I imagine her watching us with glowing eyes, cheering us on as we struggle toward greater love and understanding, immeasurably proud and happy, just that we exist, as her children.

I invite you now to the table of fellowship, as God's children: children who are loved, day in and day out, by our Mother God, whose love is sacrificial, yes--and also, constantly joyful in our existence.

Thursday, May 09, 2013

The girl who saved the world

Clare had a dream that the world was ending because the sun was going out.

This is because, months ago, she got on this curiosity kick about all the different ways the world could end. For weeks, as we would drive to church on Sunday morning, she would pester me for yet another global catastrophe scenario.

I'm still not sure what that's all about, but I know my kid: evasion and deferral weren not options. So, in kid terms, we talked about mutually assured destruction and nuclear war, the statistical probability of a meteor plunging the earth into another I e age, the sun going nova, and the eventual heat death of the universe.

So when she told me this morning that she'd had a dream that the sun was going out and that everyone on earth was about to die, I wasn't surprised.

What was surprising, though, was the calm matter-of-factness of her manner. It was a scary dream, a bit, she said, because, you know, everybody and everything was about to die. But it was also a superhero dream where everything was right in the end.

"Who was the superhero?" I asked.

"All of us!" she answered, "but especially me! I saved everybody on the whole earth!"

That's my girl.

"How did you do that?" I asked, expecting some sort of fantastic flying around in space shenanigans of some sort.

"Well, instead of sitting around being really scared and sad that we were all gonna die, I said, let's get a big bunch of rocks and put them together into a giant rock-ball, and then dig down to the center of the earth and get some lava and pour the lava on it, the make a big rocket and tie it to the rocket and take it to where the sun should be. And so we all worked together and made it happen and THAT'S how we saved the whole earth!"

Sounds like she's actually been listening to my constant remonstrance: if you have a problem, don't just sit there--do something about it. Think of a solution. Take action!

That's my girl. One day she's gonna save the world.

Wednesday, May 08, 2013

The face of gender justice

What's the face of gender justice in the church for you?

Like so many things, this topic is intractable when it is framed as a faceless "issue"--a matter of doctrinal dispute or hermeneutical correctness. Sean Palmer's recent blog post on "speaking the truth in love" as a thinly disguised form of justified meanness gets at this--when we think about things as "issues" we allow ourselves to be indifferent, rude, and mean-spirited. You know, for Jesus.

Time and time again, on the old forum where so many different people connected with each other for the first time, the motif emerged: I never thought about this until I became the father/mother of girls; until I saw my daughter called to ministry; until my granddaughters were born.

Suddenly, the issue had a face. A beloved face.

And that changes things.

These are the faces of gender justice for me. Clare tells me she wants to be an astronaut, a scientist who studies dirt ("a dirty-ologist, Mama!"), the first woman President of the United States (personally, I hope we don't wait that long), a priest, a theologian and a mom. I want her to be any and all of these things, or something she hasn't thought of yet, and I want her never to doubt that she will be able to follow the call of God in her life to whatever strange territory it may take her. And I want her sister to watch her with those adoring eyes and see Sissy follow that brave path. Without anyone standing in her way saying "you can't, 'cause girls don't do that."

And there are other faces: faces of people I've thought of as heroes, people who've dared to be the public face of gender justice in the Churches of Christ: Micki Pulleyking and Kathy Pulley, Katie Hays and Lance Pape, Joe and Laura Hays, Stuart and D'Esta Love, Sara Barton.

Sara Barton at Pepperdine Lectureship 2013

What is the face of gender justice in the Churches of Christ, for you? Is it your own, staring back at you daily in the mirror as you wrestle with the impossibility of denying your own giftedness and call? Is it your baby girl's, still unaware of the extra hurdles she'll face in the world, and sadly, in the church, because of her gender? Is it your mother's, a woman who has gotten on with her work and calling and ministry without making waves but inwardly chafing at the restrictions placed on her that limited the effectiveness of her work? Is it your sister, your aunt, your wife? Is it that 6th grade Sunday school teacher you loved, but couldn't learn from anymore after your baptism?

If you can, share a photo of the face of gender justice for you when you talk about this.

And if you can, be the face of gender justice in the church for the people who know you, and love you.

It makes a difference.