31 October 2017

I want you to believe this way, but....

I think one of the harder parts of being a pastor (and probably being a parent) is acknowledging that, while I very much want someone to believe a certain way because I think it will bring them joy, peace, and meaning, I can't make people believe things.

Instead, I try to live a life that invites people to hear what I believe, to see the good of what and why I believe, and to extend grace and hospitality to people even when they don't believe what I want them to and/or think they should.

This, I think, is especially true when it comes to sexuality or any aspect of one's self that is deeply ingrained in your understanding of who you are (i.e., identity). Christianity Today recently published a good article that highlights that, arguing that "you can't just tell us what to believe. Instead, Gregory Coles argues that:
"Persuasion comes through gentleness and patience. We sometimes act as though committed gay believers should have their approach to reconciling faith and sexuality entirely worked out, right this moment. But those who have trod the same path know how painfully difficult this is to manage. Coles is humble enough to admit that he does not see the answers with complete clarity. . . 
The church might give the same space to work out these issues as many churches do with unmarried couples who visit. These churches patiently work with them as they return week after week, as they slowly come to understand the Bible’s teaching on extramarital sex. Can we not have a similar attitude toward same-sex-oriented people, especially when their situations are so much more complex?"

24 October 2017

Jesus as the bread of life, the non-gourmet kind

Lauren Winner, in her book Wearing God points out how we have the tendency when we imagine Jesus as the bread of life to think of that as 'foodies' might. But, if God really does have a preference for the poor and hungry and exhausted among us, Jesus should probably not be likened to gourmet bread. Jesus, after all, is not a luxury, but sustenance.

Winner says:
“I realize I am at some risk of turning the God who provides food into a ‘foodie’ for whom cooking the right food at the right time of year has become both a pleasure and a mark of status. Surely our image of God as provider of food might also include my mother, home from a long day at work and utterly without the energy to cook, microwaving a bag of popcorn for herself and opening a can of Chef Boyardee for me.” Winner, Wearing God, 108. 
Winner’s response to objections to the second image is almost as insightful:
“God became incarnate, and God knew exhaustion and finitude, and God has a preference for those with no margins in their lives, and out of solidarity, God probably sometimes hands around a can of SpaghettiOs to the saints.” Winner, Wearing God, 109.
While I don't know if I could appreciate the taste of SpaghettiOs anymore, the image Winner presents definitely gives me something to chew on.

20 October 2017

How long it takes me to write a sermon

This past weekend I preached at a wedding. It was a good experience, except that it took me a long time to write the sermon. Thankfully, writing a sermon is no longer the excruciating experience it used to be, but it still feels like it takes a lot more of my time and energy than it should.

To be honest, though, it takes a long time because of all the time I spend avoiding writing the sermon. The actual writing of the sermon, when I finally do it, probably takes up less time than all of the avoiding. I'm not sure how I feel about that, other than the obvious sense that I really should do something to change that . . .

19 October 2017

A sermon on love: the bliss and the work

This past weekend, I had the honour of preaching at a wedding. The texts for the wedding were 1 Corinthians 13 and Song of Songs 2:8-10, 14, 16a; 8:6-7a. Since I'd put the time into writing the sermon, I thought I'd post much of it here in the hopes that it would bring encouragement to others.

On a joyous occasion like a wedding, it seems fairly obvious what love is. The different sides of love – the joy and the effort involved - are found in the two texts we read today. We hear the delight of love in Song of Songs – this is the sort of love that causes one to be willing to do anything, from airport good-byes to leaving family and friends and starting a new life somewhere else. 1 Corinthians 13, on the other hand, provides wisdom for showing how the love that starts a marriage can continue to grow in the years to come and overflow to those around them.

The love that is described in Song of Songs is an overwhelming love. Even the language used is a bit overwhelming: “Show me your face, let me hear your voice; for your voice is sweet, and your face is lovely.” Those are words of longing, words that might fit better in an email or letter between two lovers today and not words that we connect with church.

Yet, Song of Songs captures the passionate love of a man and a woman for each other, a passionate love that is shown best in marriage. And in marriage, we get to claim – My beloved is mine and I am his. There is something wonderful in those words – a commitment to each other that is part of the very goodness that is marriage. And this love is, as Song of Songs chapter 8 says, “as strong as death, It burns like blazing fire, like a mighty flame. Many waters cannot quench love; rivers cannot sweep it away..”

Yet, love can be all consuming, and the text of 1 Corinthians 13 gives wisdom in showing how the fire can keep burning while also warming all those around it. 1 Corinthians 13 describes what love looks like when we put it into practice:
4 Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant 5 or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; 6 it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. 7 It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

This is the kind of love we all want to receive. We know that we need this kind of love – because no matter how hard we try, we'll still be late, we'll forget things, and we'll hurt each other. When this happens, we need the kind of love that keeps no record of wrongs. Yet, practicing that love is hard.

It sometimes seems easier to speak in tongues, as the first part of 1 Corinthians 13 talks about. Even as hard as it is to speak Dutch or English, it is something all of us can eventually learn – and despite the frustration involved, there is laughter in the times when we do sound like a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. There is also the adventure of learning another culture and the surprises we come across. We discover that a simple word like fine – even if sounds exactly the same in both languages – doesn't mean the same thing. When a Dutch person says fine, they actually mean good. When an American says fine, they actually mean not so good – or don't talk to me because I'm busy!

Love is figuring out these assumptions about words and actions – assumptions we didn't even know we had! That is hard work, as it requires much patience and a desire not simply to say fine, I'm too busy and irritated to figure out what it means to be kind to you. Instead it requires a continuous striving to love each other honestly and with our whole person.

Thankfully, we do not need to do this alone. God has promised his help and has given us friends and family to help all of us practice love. And just as we receive love and encouragement from those around us, our love (including the love between husband and wife) is meant to overflow to those around us. To people we love and to all who cross our paths.

It will be hard, but practicing this love is definitely worth it! The second half of the text talks about the frustration of seeing an image only dimly in a mirror. Today that's like the difference between getting to see each other via Skype and getting to finally see each other in person. And that joy found in finally being together – the joy of finally getting to say – My beloved is mine and I am hers – that is worth all the hard work.

In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

07 September 2017

Baby brain

So there are numerous studies about how one's brain (and hormones and emotions) are affected by becoming a mother. I'm not sure how my experience fits with all of that. I do, however, know that I can't handle crying very well - everything in me feels programmed to make me go to our child as quickly as possible and resolve whatever is wrong.

And as for being more scatterbrained than usual? YES. I justify this by telling people that I've added a whole new schedule to my head. But I think Matthijs put it better: we now have a whole new set of things to remember, forget, and/or misplace.

04 September 2017

Remembering my mother

This past weekend Matthijs and I visited Michigan's Upper Peninsula with our German guest. As we were a bit late in booking anything, the best hotel option turned out to be in Sault Ste. Marie (on the Canadian side). The trip was worth it, as Michigan's Pictured Rocks are truly gorgeous, but what made staying in Sault Ste. Marie special was discovering that my aunt and uncle were incidentally on vacation in Sault Ste. Marie - and staying in a hotel across the street from us!

A selfie with the Pictured Rocks and the little
Getting to see my aunt, even briefly, and getting to introduce our little one to my mother's family made my mother feel a little less absent. In my aunt's joy in getting to hold our child, I could get a glimpse of the joy my mother would have had in getting to know and love our little one. 

For my mother, being married and having children had brought her the greatest joy in life - and I knew she wanted me also to experience that joy. While I was content being childless (and also as a single person), becoming a mom has helped me to understand my mother better. The joy I have experienced in getting to know and love our little one has definitely made me appreciate more her (and my father's) desire/prayer that we have children. 

29 August 2017

Pastoral (chaplaincy) care as a sacred presence in order to re-find meaning

Kerry Egan, in her book on living provides the following description for her work as a chaplain:
"Every one of us will go through things that destroy our inner compass and pull meaning out from under us. Everyone who does not die young will go through some sort of spiritual crisis, where we have lost our sense of what is right and wrong, possible and impossible, real and not real. Never underestimate how frightening, angering, confusing, devastating it is to be in that place. Making meaning of what is meaningless is hard work. Soul-searching is painful. This process of making or finding meaning at the end of life is what the chaplain facilitates. The chaplain doesn't do the work. The patient does. The chaplain isn't wrestling with the events of a life that doesn't match up with everything you were taught was true, but she won't turn away in fear, either. She won't try to give you pat answers to get you to stop talking about pain, or shut you down with platitudes that make her feel better but do nothing to resolve the confusion and yearning you feel. A chaplain is not the one laboring to make meaning, but she's been with other people who have. She knows what tends to be helpful and what doesn't. She might ask questions you would never have considered, or that help you remember other times you survived something hard and other ways you made sense of what seemed senseless. She can reframe the story, and can offer a different interpretation to consider, accept, or reject. She can remind you of the larger story of your life, or the wisdom of your faith tradition. She can hold open a space of prayer or meditation or reflection when you don't have the energy or strength to keep the walls from collapsing. She will not leave you. And maybe most important: She knows the work can be done. She knows you can do it and not crumble into dust. 
. . . . 
But the fact remains that before a chaplain gets to that place with a patient - the place where the patient can share into a deep hole of meaninglessness, or even leap right into it and wrestle down in the lonely existential muck until a ladder of sorts begins to appear - and somehow, somehow, in ways I still can't fully explain, a ladder always does appear - before all that, the chaplain has to create a sacred space, and to do that, she has to offer her loving presence first."               - Kerry Egan, On living, pages 18-20

Some of my work with Campus Edge is like this - a creating of sacred space to re-find meaning. Yet, too often I feel like I am trying to check off a list of things that need to be done instead of being present with others, expectant that God is working in that moment. The challenge is that many of the moments in my work are not momentous, and it is harder to remember that in the ordinary moments God is not any less present and working.

A desire I have for the coming time is that I would grow in expectancy and being myself fully present and listening, and it is something I can pray about and ponder as I go for walks with the little this coming season. On top of that, I hope that as I learn to be more present when I am with my daughter - because her delight in the world is contagious - I will learn to be more present with others, along with increasing my awareness of how God is already working in other people's lives.