KNOCK (on the front door and on the head)

feet-pianoThe past few days I struggled with a big question about my future. I’m in the search & call process with the UCC. That’s my denomination, the church entity that has approved me for ordination, pending a call from a church or nonprofit organization’s ministry.

The UCC offers an online portal to introduce ministers and congregations.

It’s like online dating!

Make your profile. Tell your story. Share your likes, hopes, fears. Use open body language. Put your best foot (er, anecdote, theology, skill set, wish list) forward.

Really, it’s a long dance we undertake together.

So I’ve spent the past year or so speaking with different faith communities. You could think of it as breathless swivel of the hips, chin nod, and shoulder shimmy. We look at each other. Catch eyes. Look away. Try again.

If we’re interested, there’s a flurry of fast and zesty salsa steps. Then lots of slow swaying and circling, stepping back to arms-length for a better view. Maybe stopping for space to breathe and think.

Letting the rhythm take over. Immersing oneself in the music, regardless of who shows up to join the flow of movement and searching.

Fanning away the heat. Cooling off. Clearing the head. Leaning closer for a few up-close embraces.

Wondering if the heartbeat will slow down, or is this the one?

I’ve danced a lot with some special partners. Sadly said, “We’re not on the same beat …” to a few. One circled back, hoping I’d change my mind. Some didn’t even bother to wave good-bye. One danced with me and a few others almost all night, but I was all alone (or it felt like it) for ‘Stairway to Heaven’ at midnight.

Some have been quick dances, both of us knowing when the music would start and stop. We were glad to find each other, and ready to let go again, when the tune changed.

I’m still dancing. And wondering who my long-term partner will be, should be … We’re taking our time.

As I wrestled with this question recently, I called a few friends to check in. To keep up the metaphor, you could say that I snapped a quick “weefie” with the latest romantic interests, texted the images, along with a few  hashtag comments to summarize my feelings and thoughts, and asked for their feedback. What should I do? Like? Swipe left? Save? Reply? Follow? We held tense conversations about the best way to say “NO” and when to say “YES.”

About the time I was obsessively speaking with a minister friend about these possible matches, cell phone wedged near my mouth, someone knocked at the door. Really. Not a metaphor.

My husband answered it, because I was busy on the phone. Two evangelical missionaries literally came to my front door, and read scripture to us, while I had was halfway through a syllable. One of those sisters of the Spirit read Matthew 6:25-34.

Here’s the passage (NRSV): 25 Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? 26 Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? 27 And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life? 28 And why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin, 29 yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these. 30 But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? 31 Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear?’ 32 For it is the Gentiles who strive for all these things; and indeed your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. 33 But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. 34 “So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today.

Apparently I was too busy on a cell phone, my head and heart filled with the white noise of worrying, to listen closely. So I received an obvious prompting from the Spirit.

God! Sent! Someone! Knocking! At my front door!

Right there, in the bright April sunlight, stood two holy women, reading us a message from the Gospels.

Could it be more blatant? Sometimes God has to hit me over the head, or I just don’t pay attention, or pause long enough to trust that the Spirit is already leading me.

This is how I understood that experience. For me, it was a reminder: Don’t worry. Don’t be anxious. Don’t choose the safe way — or the first and most obvious dance partner — from a place of uncertainty and fear about the future. The path may not be straight, but a way will be made open.

So I’m going to try to just listen to the music, dance along with it, and believe. Believe.

Because the whole time I was waiting for the ‘right one’ to show up and want to dance together all day and all night? Well, I had forgotten that I already have a partner … the one who wrote the song in the first place!

Lent Day 18: FRUIT

Today’s passages from the Bible talk about sustainable crops with terms such as yield, grapes, and fruit. Human life and human spirit are spoken about through metaphor.

From living trees and vines, we grow. Alternately, without care, we may wither or fall and rot. Interestingly, the Gospel passage also talks about our unique gifts and blessings. Each tree bears its own type of fruit.

black-and-white-grapes-sally-bauerThe kingdom of God is compared to a vineyard, and we’re reminded about the tenderness with which it is domesticated and cultivated. It is surrounded by hedges, fed and watered, pruned and watched. Each of us, a vine or tree in this field or orchard, becomes the ‘pleasant planting’ of God’s love, commitment, and grace.

Without such vigilant care, we are trampled and devoured, and we do not yield a harvest that changes the world.

Seasons pass in anticipation of what will bud and grow. Yet sometimes the one who planted us is surprised by the harvest.

Of course, God may promise such care, but we are also the hands and feet, hearts and mind of God in the world. Whereas Christ may be the leading gardener, isn’t it wonderful to imagine ourselves as the gardeners of our communities and our lives? We are invited to tend and nurture ourselves, each other, and this world.

What fruit do you bear? What presence do you offer, rooted in God’s kingdom, right here on earth? What surprises do you offer to God and this world?

And what aspects of yourself and your life require additional tending, in the form of  self-compassion, self-care or perhaps self-discipline?

Excerpts from today’s lectionary:

  • Isaiah 5: 4 — When I expected it to yield grapes, why did it yield wild grapes?
  • Isaiah 5: 7 —
    For the vineyard of the Lord of hosts
    is the house of Israel,
    and the people of Judah
    are his pleasant planting;
    he expected justice,
    but saw bloodshed;
    but heard a cry!
  • Luke 63: 43-44 — No good tree bears bad fruit, nor again does a bad tree bear good fruit; 44 for each tree is known by its own fruit.

Lent Day 15: HOUSE

Lent15_housesIn the lectionary today, one of the most common themes is HOUSE. Like so many of these Lenten images, it’s a value-laden word. It’s strong. It promises shelter and safety. It aspires to intimacy and relationship. It suggests belonging. It brings up questions about hospitality and neighbors. It anchors our identities.

Sometimes we distinguish the structure of the building, the architectural existence of the house, from the emotional center of our lives, ie, our heart-centered home. In contemporary terms, the house can be considered bricks-and-mortar: a physical location. Or it might be understood as a metaphorical place where our hearts and spirits dwell.

For a list of cultural references to house and home, try some of these sites:

I struggle with the themes of oppression, subjugation, and exclusion that arise in the Bible around houses and homes. Ultimately I believe in the most expansive invitation into the kingdom of God and a broad welcome to the common table. I want everyone to have a room in the ‘house.’ Yet I have learned, through painful experience, that boundaries are important, too.

At least in the last lines of today’s Gospel text, Jesus suggests that the most vulnerable people will be welcomed into the kingdom of God. Nowadays, it sure feels like the door is narrow, and some people want to slam it shut and others want to tear it off the hinges.

Ow. This has real ethical, political, and cultural implications for all of us. We’re voting for political candidates who reflect our values. Policies and practices will be shaped by what we believe. This is a real question … and here we are, supposedly on our Lenten journey into the wilderness, far from home and getting lost. Yet we’re focused, quite often, on the politics of our own homes and the un-homed people who seek safety among us.

We’re reminded, for instance, in debates like this, about the Biblical definition of neighbors.Who is our neighbor? It’s one of the great questions in the Bible.

Domestic Implications

We construct many ideas about houses, and they bear real consequences. Being homeless or un-homed carries a social stigma, and a real loss of power and resources. So to gain access to services or identity, we often need a street address … a physical location that is acknowledged by official government maps or records. Being housed stamps us with a form of legitimacy, systemic access, and some level of power.

homeless-Un-homed … that’s a difficult story. Many local UCC churches shelter families in times of emergency, or as part of their service for organizations such as Family Promise, thus providing temporary refuges. And organizations such as Family Promise coordinate their un-homed clients’ mobile lives, becoming the headquarters that families use as an interim address and gathering place.

So what do we think about the mobility of people who couch surf? Sometimes it’s by choice. Some are people who travel and live – temporarily — at someone else’s address, sleeping on the sofa, remaining on-the-move and off-the-grid? Our own children do it from time to time, in the way that youth once used hostels.

In one senses, welcoming wanderers, couch-surfers, is a form of radical hospitality. In a more formal arrangement, it’s also a way to capitalize on your own stability as a form of business. Plenty of online platforms allow people to rent a room in someone’s house, thereby saving money while finding accommodations, either short-term or long-term. It eliminates some of the fuss of hotel reservations or apartment leases. Social media has its own way of regulating this system, through ratings and feedback, although I wouldn’t claim it’s secure and safe.

Off-the-grid! This transactional, cloud-based and fluid model of finding shelter seems like a potentially anti-establishment, cultural response to institutions, perceived government control, and monitoring. It resists traditional ideas about rootedness, identity, and belonging. Perhaps it echoes the way people are spiritual-but-not religious and won’t label themselves as members of organizations like … well, churches.

It’s also an economic reality. We live in a time when many people are not making a living wage in expensive places where they can find jobs, but cannot afford the security of a place of their own. The gap between the haves and have-nots is growing rather than shrinking. Even a couch in someone else’s place may be a luxury!

International Ponderings

Let’s go global. Let’s consider the nation of Israel, its great religious narrative of exodus and wandering until the people of God reached their promised land. Centuries later, that idea, now made into a geopolitical reality in the middle of a contested land, is a polarizing site fraught with internal and external struggles.

It’s also an example of a troubling equation. When one group acquires land, it often means someone else is displaced. Yet our own histories repeat this cycle over and over, and those who were once exiled become the ones who occupy another’s house. To create and hold a homeland, who else’s ‘place of origin’ is overturned? It’s the story of North and South America, as we consider the ongoing legacy of First Peoples. It’s the story on every continent, really.

And in other parts of the world, it’s not just history. It’s happening now.

Read facts and findings from the UN about displaced people and refugees:

Once we consider displaced people, the whole conversation about contemporary times becomes even more tense. Refugees are fleeing their countries, without safe destinations or certain welcomes. Borders are closing or warded. Nations struggle to absorb and support the people they do allow into their lands.

And many people are displaced within their own nations, and yet they’re just as powerless as those who have been exiled … they have left behind their houses, their resources, their access to funds, shelter, education, food, healthcare, water and so much more.

One of the rare things some refugees seem to hold onto is the capacity to communicate and document their circumstances. Many have devices like cell phones: these are lifelines, ways to reconnect, or simply to be heard, and acknowledged as real people with a story to share.

Biblical Anchors

In today’s Hebrew scriptures, ‘house’ is used to refer to the temple or a sacred tent or place where God resides. It can also refer to the name of a family, tribe or clan, usually defined through a male ancestor or patriarch.

In the Gospel, ‘house’ is part of the parable. It is, in its most straightforward use, the private residence where Jesus gathers to eat and teach and work among his followers in different towns and villages. Interestingly, the homes of women (which may indicate women of some independence, with resources and property) often became the places for this movement that formed around Jesus’ ministry. The homes of other outsiders, outcasts, and marginalized people, such as tax collectors who were powerful but ostracized, were sometimes used for the same purpose.

‘House’ is also used metaphorically to describe the kingdom of God. This arises in Jesus’ lesson about entering the house through a narrow door which has been closed. At least we’re consoled that the last shall be first, the least shall be welcomed into God’s keeping and God’s kingdom.

So then, I stop and earnestly wonder as I read passages like this, am I one of the last? One of the least? Will I be saved and walk through the narrow door?

Do I want to be one of the last or least, in this life? That sounds awfully uncomfortable and inconvenient. What does that really mean? Ummm … on second thought, do I want to go through that narrow door?

Except, wow, it sure sounds like there’s quite a party … quite a celebration … on the other side. Hmmm, do I need an invitation? If so, where is it?  Who do I see about acquiring an invitation? Can I buy it at or

Oh, wait, just knock … At least that’s the first step.

Then ask the host or hostess, the one who wields authority in the house, if you can come inside. And hope. And wait.

Remember what this feels like: waiting and wanting to be asked inside. Remember this position, someday, when you’re the one who opens the door, and has to answer the same question. Trust me, it will happen.

Selections from today’s scriptures from the daily lectionary:

  • 2 Chronicles 20: 5-6 — Jehoshaphat stood in the assembly of Judah and Jerusalem, in the house of the Lord, before the new court, and said, “O Lord, God of our ancestors, are you not God in heaven? Do you not rule over all the kingdoms of the nations?”
  • 2 Chronicles 20: 9 — If disaster comes upon us, the sword, judgment,or pestilence, or famine, we will stand before this house, and before you, for your name is in this house, and cry to you in our distress, and you will hear and save.’
  • Luke 13:22 –Jesuswent through one town and village after another, teaching as he made his way to Jerusalem.
  • Luke 13:25 — When once the owner of the house has got up and shut the door, and you begin to stand outside and to knock at the door, saying, ‘Lord, open to us.’
  • Luke 13:29-30 — Then people will come from east and west, from north and south, and will eat in the kingdom of God. Indeed, some are last who will be first, and some are first who will be last.”

Day 12 of Lent: WAY

Lent is a time of spiritual journey and pilgrimage. We turn inward to learn more about ourselves, and we also look outward at our connection to the world. We practice following Jesus. We walk in his Way, with the help of the Spirit.

The Way implies movement. We are beings who move and grow: bodily, emotionally,  psychologically, and spiritually.

Humans are creatures of motion, traveling through time across varied geographies and landscapes. Our sacred stories are filled with motion. We depart, we journey from point A to point B, we get lost, we wander, and we arrive. We cross borders, bridges, and boundaries. We go through rivers and deserts, lakes and mountains, wilderness and cities. We pause at crossroads. We pass through doors and portals. We detour for walls and barriers. We turn back. We keep going. We ascend and descend. We swim, walk, run, ride,  or fly. We stop at places of safety: wells, oasis, gardens, temples, tents, and other places of refuge. We leave and go into exile. We return home.

We also stretch and expand with our minds, our emotions, and our spirits. So what does it mean to walk or stand firm in Christ’s Way? Consider the Gospel’s most basic and ethical commands: love God, and love your neighbor as yourself. Within that statement are the anchors of a covenant: God, self, and others (including creation). These are Jesus commandment, in their primal form, for living ethically.

During this season, you’re invited to ask yourself, what parts of walking in the Way come easily to you? And what parts need more attention?

Following the Way combines what we learn from scripture and tradition, and what we learn from intuition, intellect and experience. In today’s scripture, we hear that God’s word (the Bible) is one guide for the Way. Christ’s life of ministry serves as a template. Plus our church says that God is still speaking in the world today, through the people we meet and the insights we gain. Prayer serves as a chance for redirecting ourselves, as we respond to current events. Our community can be a resource as we study and follow the Way of Christ.

Sometimes the Way is more than a metaphor, it is also a physical pilgrimage. People travel certain roads, and visit specific sacred stations or sites, as a bodily journey through the landscape, toward a specific destination. The Way is embodied by a route that you navigate using maps and GPS. Examples of pilgrimage include walking along the Camino de Santiago between France and Spain for Christians or the Hajj (pilgrimage to Mecca) for Muslims. Pilgrimage is a universal experience that can also be found in other faith traditions around the world.

  • Genesis 15: 4a — But the word of the Lord came to him.
  • Psalm 27: 11 — Teach me your way, O Lord,and lead me on a level path.
  • Philippians 4: 1 — Therefore, my brothers and sisters, whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm in the Lord in this way, my beloved.
  • Luke 13: 32b-33 — ‘Listen, I am casting out demons and performing cures today and tomorrow, and on the third day I finish my work. Yet today, tomorrow, and the next day I must be on my way.

Day 11 of Lent: BLESSED

As we journey through Lent, let us take a moment to consider blessings (the  common theme in today’s Biblical passages).

  • Sometimes blessings are parts of ourselves. Sometimes they’re internal: our talents and strengths, our emotions and thoughts.
  • Blessings might also be external resources: food, shelter, job, and education. They might be relationships with people (ex: family, friends, mentors, colleagues, community) and places such as special environments (ex: beach or mountains) or humanmade spaces (ex: sanctuary, concert hall, studio or gallery, kitchen, or athletic facility).
  • Blessings imply reciprocity. We receive them. We also give them.

blessed_hands1Let us name and count them up. And be grateful for them. Daily gratitude practices for our blessings have measurable benefits; they make a difference to our psychological outlook and also impact our physiological wellbeing. These practices can include praying about or journaling those things for which we are grateful each day.

Part of gratitude practices, beyond naming those things for which you’re grateful, includes feeling gratitude’s effect on your body. Being aware of blessings is more than a mental and emotional exercise, it has direct sensory connections to our body’s wellbeing.

Here are a few links for gratitude practices from different traditions, though much of the wisdom is shared among them:

Excerpts from daily lectionary Bible passages:

  • Psalm 118:26 —  Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord. We bless you from the house of the Lord.
  • Matthew 23:39 — For I tell you, you will not see me again until you say, ‘Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.’”

Note: In the excerpts above, the same phrase is repeated. Note that the writers of the Gospel draw from older traditions, the Hebrew texts such as the Psalms, since Jesus and his earliest followers were Jewish. That’s why the same phrase appears in both places: our Christian texts are rooted first in Jewish writings.