We Are Church

img_9993What strange days we find ourselves in right now. The news from all over is ever more concerning. Cases of COVID-19 have appeared in two schools near my home and a friend for the university was exposed to it at their internship. I started to prepare a couple weeks ago by buying paper goods, hand soap, Tylenol, and cold medicines. Still, I was profoundly shocked to walk into the grocery store Thursday afternoon, right after the announcement that schools were to be closed indefinitely, to see the meat case nearly empty. Saturday, I was able to go early in the morning to get meat but the vast array of produce I’m used to so casually picking through was mostly empty. Instead of rows upon rows of colorful fruits and vegetables, there were only empty black bins. It struck me in that moment how spoiled I have always been. I’ve never in my lifetime walked into a store and not been able to buy everything I need for several days worth of complete meals to feed five of us. I have never before seen entire grocery store aisles empty – totally and completely empty – of bread, eggs, milk, juice, meat, frozen vegetables, and fresh produce. In any other time, I’d probably crack jokes: hashtag first world problems, hashtag toilet paper famine, hashtag where’s the beef. But this isn’t like anything I’ve ever faced before and, for once, my dark gallows humor is failing to keep up.

Then the churches started to close.

I have watched and talked on social media over this past week with many of my clergy friends who agonized over whether it was enough to warn those considered vulnerable to stay home or whether they should cancel services altogether.  How do we share the peace? How do we share in communion? How do we keep people safe? How do we best minister to anxious people in this frightening time of crisis? In some cases, bishops made the call for them but many others had to make the best decision they could for their own congregation. Many decided that, for right now, love looks like an empty church.

This morning, I scrolled through social media and I saw church after church after church had found ways on very short notice to connect via livestreams, recorded videos, posted reflections and emails. Pastors preached to empty churches. Organists and musicians played on without their choirs. People shared links to services and reflections from all over the country, across all denominational lines. And there, my friends, is the Body of Christ in action. Right here, right now. Maybe we’ve gathered a little differently this Sunday, but make no mistake, we are still church and Jesus is in our midst. There is no shortage here. There are no empty shelves. There is no worry about what will be restocked or when. There are no quantity limits.

It can be easy to fall into a routine of receiving communion every week in the same way that we pick up groceries. I got the grace I need to get through the week. I can come back next week and do it again. But here’s the thing, Jesus is so much bigger than that. The gift of our Lord that we receive so blithely, so routinely is so far beyond anything we can ever hope to understand. The grace given to us in the sacrament is boundless, infinite, and endless. The grace we receive never runs out. So no matter how long we have to wait to receive communion again, Jesus does not leave us wanting.

For now, let us keep finding new ways to connect safely and let us hold fast to promise of Jesus in the Eucharist.

And may God hold you in the palm of his hand, until we meet again.

Saint James grads, I know y’all sang that last line.

Hashtag we are church.


A Woman Like Me

butterflyToday’s gospel is one that I have hated for years. I realize how horrible it sounds to say that about sacred scripture but, God knows, it’s the honest truth.

Most people hear Jesus say, “O woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.” Ask them what this gospel passage is about and they’ll tell you Jesus saved her daughter from the demon. Yay! Go Jesus! Or they’ll tell you about the faith of the mother. Yay! Go Mom! Be persistent in your faith!

They don’t hear, or they deeply discount, the lines prior to it in which Jesus compares a woman, desperate for His help, to a dog. I’ve heard a lot of explanations for that. The two leading favorites are that He was trying to show those who with Him their own prejudices and/or that He was testing the mother’s faith.

A woman like me has learned the hard way that a man who will call you a dog, humiliate you in front of his friends, and essentially make you beg for what you need is not a man who loves you, nor is he to be trusted.

A woman like me. That’s a perfectly awful term to use. Like I’m a freak of nature or an alien creature. I am a domestic abuse survivor. I was brutalized by a man who stood at the altar and swore to love, honor and protect me. And then did the exact opposite.

The textbooks will tell you that repeated trauma rewires the brain, causing victims to be hyper-aware and hyper-vigilant. In plain English, a woman like me sees and hears everyday things differently and I do it all the time because my brain is on constant alert for threats to my safety. I’m keenly aware of the distance, body language, facial expressions, tone of voice, choice of words, and any and all movements of those around me. So, yeah, when Jesus starts sounding like my ex-husband, I have a problem with it. A big, big problem with it. Trusting a guy who calls a woman a dog is the exact opposite of what my brain wants to do. Because I’ve been down that road and it gets damn ugly. But…

But long, long before I got married, I was schooled in the twin arts of sarcasm and gallows humor. One of the important lessons I learned early on is that not everyone will get the joke. As the saying goes, in that huge overlap between the things I find funny and the things that should not be joked about lie the reasons I’m going to hell. But there are those people with whom I have a good relationship, with whom that I know the banter back and forth is not insulting or harmful and with whom I can be pretty sarcastic. No harm. No foul.

My favorite client routinely answers the question ‘How are you?’ with a deadpan ‘Meh, I’m still this side of the grass, if that’s what you want to know.’ It goes without saying that we both know I really want to know if he’s doing okay and we both know he’s not seriously implying that I’m just checking to see that he’s not dead yet. There is an assumed level of safe relationship there.

What if the back and forth between Jesus and the Canaanite mother wasn’t as harsh as I hear it? What if there was an assumed level of safe relationship there also? Perhaps, instead of hearing this in abusive tones, I can learn to hear it in the sarcastic tones of safe relationship, one where both sides understand what goes without saying.

For a woman like me, that is a tough, but necessary, leap of faith. Because if I keep hearing this in abusive tones, I’m stuck trying to balance a Jesus I can’t trust with the Jesus I do and that will never, ever balance.



An Invitation


I had an invitation last week to spend time with a very old friend. The timing wasn’t the greatest. I had two finals to finish – one in philosophy and one in comparative theology – both writing intensive. The kids have stuff going on as their school year is winding down. One is testing for his learner’s permit this week and his summer job has started. The usual to-do list and urgent errands have been amplified the last few weeks with lots of extra time being Mom Taxi. So even finding time to get out of the house alone wasn’t going to be easy. But I just knew I couldn’t say no. Thursday evening, instead of taking advantage of the a few hours of free time to work on my finals, I went to Our Lady of Peace and spent that time in prayer before the Blessed Sacrament.

That sounds all peaceful and lovely, doesn’t it? It was. Except for the part when my brain went into overdrive. This is a crazy thing to do. I have so much to do. And I haven’t been to adoration in years. Besides, this is such a totally Catholic thing to do. And I’m… I’m… well I don’t know what I am. A has-been Catholic? A would-be Lutheran? A hell-bound heretic? Why did I decide to do this? I wonder if the lightning strike will take out the whole church or just me…

Yeah, it got a little intense there for the first few minutes. But, here’s the funny thing: Jesus and I have already had this conversation, on more than one occasion, and he has no use for all those nice neat boxes that I spend so much time trying to fit myself into or fight my way out of. Jesus knew I needed a reality check and during that time I spent sitting there in the quiet, candlelit church, he gave me one. The only thing that mattered in that time and space was that I had showed up to spend time with him.

I was invited: Come. Be Still.

So I came. And I was still – or as still as I get. And that was still enough to be reminded that Jesus sees me with different eyes and when I can be still, or at least somewhat still-ish, I can catch glimpses of what he sees. And when that happens, my life doesn’t look quite so crazy.



Small, Faithful Minority

candle_in_the_darkEvery man is called separately, and must follow alone. But men are frightened of solitude, and they try to protect themselves from it by merging themselves in the society of their fellow-men and in their material environment. They become suddenly aware of their responsibilities and duties, and are loathe to part with them. But all this is only a cloak to protect them from having to make a decision. They are unwilling to stand alone before Jesus and to be compelled to decide with their eyes fixed on him alone.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer – “The Cost of Discipleship”

And then Jesus spoke to the disciples saying: Go forth and become the majority. Build for yourself a great nation. Create laws and ordinances to ensure that all of the nation obeys the precepts of that you, as the church, shall create. And those that do not obey or seem a threat, you shall punish, ostracize, and ban them. And I shall pour forth blessings upon that nation and they shall inherit the earth.

Wait… What?!  That’s not at all how scripture reads. Jesus came into this world 2017 years ago and we’re still fighting petty moral battles, much as the religious authorities were during biblical times. Why? Because we human beings are a damn stubborn bunch. We are also social creatures and thus, we seek safety in numbers. We prefer to be surrounded by like-minded people, with similar goals and aspirations. As American Christians, whether we admit it openly or not, we hope to secure our moral authority through attaining a majority rule. Somewhere a notion has arisen that we must establish a Christian nation. Is that really what Jesus taught? I don’t know about you but as a follower of Jesus, I don’t go to bed at night reciting the Pledge of Allegiance nor do I awake in the morning to meditate on the Bill of Rights.

Jesus told the disciples that they are salt and they are light. The kingdom of God is a tiny seed and a small bit of yeast. God has chosen the foolish, the weak, the lowly, and the despised. Those who are blessed are the poor in spirit, those who mourn, the meek, those who desire righteousness (note that says desire, not enforce), the merciful, the clean of heart, the peacemakers (again, not enforcers) and the persecuted. Do any of those sound like a majority?

One uses a bit of salt to flavor the whole dish. If the whole dish were salt, it would be inedible. One lights a lamp to light a dark room. If the whole room were filled with flame, everything would be burned. Mustard seeds need room to grow into large bushes. Planted in a clump, the plants would be stunted, and likely not survive. Yeast alone cannot produce bread. It must be a tiny portion mixed into the dough.

It can be hard when the darkness becomes powerful and we begin to feel overwhelmed to remember that we were never told to subdue or conquer the darkness. Our calling is to stand against the darkness and we may fail at times. And when that minority feels impossibly small, we must remember that Jesus started, not with a conquering army, but with a wandering band of 12 average men who brought the flickering light of hope into a dark world. You can look around for the secure religious majority or you can decide with your eyes fixed solely on Jesus. Love God. Love your neighbors. Love yourself. Love your enemies. Do good to those who curse you. Defend the widow and orphan. You are light that holds back the darkness and gives hope to the people in darkness around you. Or not. Your choice.


The Mom Side


Being a mom with two boys, I read the story of the Wedding at Cana and I can’t help but wonder what was going through Mary’s head that day. She’d spent her life raising this boy to be a man and now she faced a defining moment in his life. Here he was stepping out into the world in a whole new way. Was she ready to let him go? Was she afraid of how society react? Was she proud? Did she wonder if there was more she should have taught him?

Last night my two guys got into a wrestling match and, forgetting how big they are now, I waded into the middle of it to try to break them up. The end result was that all three of us came dangerously close to crashing through the Christmas tree.  It was the end of long day at the end of long, stressful week with these two. I was never one that had a particular devotion to Mary and on days like yesterday, I really find myself asking if she ever went through this craziness.

Nadia Bolz-Weber often describes Mary as a badass. Anne Lamott writes about Mary as the mother of a teenage Jesus and pictures her walking behind Jesus with a stone clutched tightly in her hand, just in case he gets out of line. I love both of those depictions. But I get stuck thinking that Mary had something that I don’t – back up. When Jesus went missing at the temple, Joseph was there helping her look for him. And if he stepped out of line growing up, Joseph would have been there to straighten him out.

It gets very lonely sometimes, being a Mom without backup. My boys and I have been through a lot and that presents some pretty unique challenges to parenting. I have to carefully pick my battles and I do an awful lot of balancing. I have to be a hard ass about so many things: grades, homework, bedtimes, video games, being online, foul language, rude behaviors and the usual brotherly fisticuffs. And when they step out of line, there’s no one but me to play the heavy. I’m always afraid of being too harsh because I’m also the late night counselor and I don’t ever want them afraid to come to me. I have to be my own check and balance, a one-woman good cop/bad cop, and I can’t afford to make mistakes. I have an ever-running tally in my head of Good Mom Moments and Bad Mom Moments, which for someone with a tendency to be too hard on herself is not always a good thing to have.

When my kids are hurting, I look at Mary and know she knows how hard it is as a mom to see your son hurt. And when they step out into the world in ways they never have before, growing from little boys into independent young men, I know she went through that too. I have to think that, knowing what she did about her son, she must’ve wondered at times if she was doing all the right things. So today, while most sermons will focus the start of Jesus’ ministry, I’ll be thinking of Mary as she watched her role as his mom change forever. Nadia Bolz-Weber says that what made Mary such a badass wasn’t her obedience, but her trust that God saw her as worthy. And if God trusted me with these two, obviously He thinks I’m badass enough to raise them right. I guess I just need to trust that God knows what he’s doing.


Why Didn’t The Women Run?


The men who followed Jesus dropped everything to follow him. For three years, they saw him perform many miracles. They heard him teach. They saw signs from the heavens. They knew he was the Messiah and yet when the soldiers showed up, they ran.

It was the women who kept vigil at the foot of the cross. It was the women who went to the tomb. It was a woman who first saw Jesus after the resurrection.

In all fairness the men had reason to run. The Pax Romana was a violent, bloody, oppressive affair. Had they hung around or interfered, chances are they’d have been killed as well.

But the women stayed. Why? Why risk the wrath of the Roman soldiers? Why risk the wrath of the Jewish community? Let’s not forget women could be stoned for stepping out of line. What did they see in Jesus that they would place themselves in harm’s way just to be by his side in his darkest hours?

Over the years of Jesus’ ministry, there isn’t the power play amongst the women that there was amongst the men. They aren’t vying for a favored position by Jesus’ side for the simple reason that they were women. They had no position. Ever. Women were property. They were used and discarded at the whim of men. They were invisible and voiceless. The fact they were allowed at table with Jesus to hear him teach was in and of itself an unheard breach of protocol. While there is no doubt the men loved him and believed in him, the men who followed Jesus had an agenda: to see Israel rise again. For the women, this agenda meant little. They would still be invisible, voiceless property whether under Roman rule or in a new Israel. The patriarchal society would ensure that remain unchanged.

I’m no biblical scholar, but as a woman I know what it feels like to be invisible and to be voiceless. I know what it feels like to be used and discarded at the whim of men. I also know how it feels to be seen and that is a powerful experience. When you have lost all touch with your own value and humanity, to have another see it in you and gently reflect it back to you is nothing short of miraculous. And that is what Jesus did for them. He saw them as individuals, not objects. He even saw great good even in those society had already condemned. That is not something one forgets. Ever.

While the men loved Jesus as a beloved friend and teacher, they had to come to terms with not only his capture and crucifixion but the death of their agenda, the death of their dream of a new Israel, their guilt at abandoning one whom they had loved and served. They also had to deal with their well-founded fear of repercussions.

And here lies the difference, the women loved Jesus for who he was, not for what he could be. The women saw him for what he was – he was Love Incarnate who saw them when they were invisible to anyone else and embraced them. And because they were open to his love as only the invisible and discarded can be, they in their own human way tried to do for him what he had done for them: to be there for him in love even when society had condemned him and to show him their love in whatever way they could even if all they could do was to stand at the foot of his cross and weep.

It was love alone that brought them there and kept them there. Love is the only power strong enough to have brought the women through their fear and given them the courage to stand by through the horrors of the crucifixion and the long dark hours of the day after. They trusted him to keep his word to return to them. They would not be disappointed.