Monday, May 21, 2007

Getting hooded-- AND ringed!

So... I think I must surely be the happiest woman in the entire world. I FINALLY graduated from seminary (and wow-- what a long three years it's been.) I have the job of my dreams. And as if all this wasn't enough to put me on top of the world-- I'm FINALLY engaged (to my fourth grade best friend--whom I lost touch with for 15 years)! I can't help but think that life just doesn't get much better than this.

I've been so excited for the last three days that my body hasn't been interested in sleeping. I'm off to try again-- hope springs eternal.

Tuesday, May 8, 2007

My Ordination

So... I was ordained tonight. I would imagine that it looked nothing like the ordination ceremony for most other ministers, but it was an ordination nonetheless. A professor at my seminary is fond of saying "If you wait for other people to ordain you, you may never know the place to which God has really called you."
And so we ordained a room full of preachers tonight. And as Presbyterians do, we did things decently and in order, and even had an official charge-- given by the only people that could really give charges in that room-- the people that we have wrestled with, and fought for, and yelled at, and cried with. They were the characters from the texts from whom we have learned much; the characters that we've spent a semester learning to embody. The professor had asked us to prepare for tonight by having the character who has spoken the most to us write us a letter, charging us to go out into the world. And we went around the room, and each of us had a classmate read the letter from our chosen "mentor", and we were charged. We had a stole placed around us. And then we had another stole of knitted socks given to us as a way of remembering both the places we have walked and the places we will walk. And then we were offered communion, though not with the traditional words or elements. Rather this communion was reflective of the passover meal we celebrated as a class, complete with the bread of freedom and the cup of acceptance and even milk and honey. And then the class opened their arms to the one being ordained, and collectively said "We send you across." I have been sent across, and I firmly believe that I will hold this ordination as sacred as the one which is hopefully to come. I can't say for sure, but I think I will wear my "sock stole" with the red stole I will be given on that ellusive day to come.

The character that I chose to charge me was Moses' mother, and this was based on the midrash I did for an earlier sermon. Here is what she said to me:

Dear Kim,
It looks like you could use the wisdom of the ages, and I guess that happens to come through me (Moshe’s mother) today. I noticed that you seemed to gravitate toward me because of the tough decision I made—a decision that flew in the face of everything that I was “supposed” to do—a decision for which I could have even been killed. I suspect you admired my strength, though there comes a point when you just have to do what you have to do, and I don’t know that my decision had that much to do with strength. It had to do with a love, and a passion to pursue what was right, though it may not have been right in the eyes of the law.
I saw the way you thought about me when you wondered aloud what it meant to follow God, even at the expense of breaking the law of the land—I see you wrestling with the same sorts of questions and wondering where you can go. I see you wondering whether you have the strength to make the tough decisions, but I was sent to tell you that you have more strength than you realize you do. I see you wanting to break the mold, to let the text take you and your congregation to the place it needs to take you, even (and especially?) if that place upsets the way things have “always been”.
I’d like to invite you to think about me, along the same lines that you’ve already been thinking about me, but go farther. I loved my son Moshe enough that I wanted him to have a chance at life, even at the possible expense of my own. What is it that you love so much that you would risk everything you hold sacred to give it a chance at life? And too, I invite you to think about the consequences of my decision. Though you don’t hear much more from me, you hear a tremendous amount from my son. If I hadn’t made the decision I did, there would be no Moshe. Certainly God could have created someone else, but God chose Moshe to lead his people to freedom. What are the possible benefits of the hard decisions you have to make about the type of preacher you want to be, and the type of message you have been called to proclaim. My hard decision played a part in the deliverance of generations of people.
Pharoah was the one saying “no” to the desires I had for my life and the life of my son. But the thing I realized is that he was only a human. Who is saying “no” to you? Is it your CPM? Is it the hearers of your proclamation? Whoever it is—are they more than human?
What I wish for you this day, and in the days yet to come is the strength to follow God’s, not man’s, will for you—and yes, sometimes those will seem to be in direct conflict. It’s not easy—but you’ve been called to play a role in an exodus—or maybe several of them.
Take heart. The gifts you have and the God you serve will see you through. Diyanhu (sp?). It is enough.

The Lord be with You!

Monday, May 7, 2007

Ripped Open

This is the "sermon" I "preached" the night after the VA Tech shootings, and I'm only bothering to post it now because I'm still thinking about it. Yeah, I know this isn't exactly your typical three point sermon-- but that's sorta what this class has been about-- pushing the text. We've been using the Everett Fox "The Five Books of Moses" Translation and this is straight from Exodus 3. Everything God says in this dialogue is what God says in the text, according to the translation. I had (have) so many questions following that tragedy, and here is what came out.

Are you there, God? It’s me, Kim.

I know it’s been a while. But here I am--I’m working with this text—a wonderfully rich, beautiful text about you appearing to Moses in a bush.


God… where is my burning bush? For that matter, where is OUR burning bush? Or maybe it doesn’t even have to be a burning bush. Maybe it could even be something much smaller. It wouldn’t have to be this huge, grand, cinema-worthy theophany… but something God, something!

We’re thirsty, God—it’s been a long time since we’ve heard your voice. All of the people in this class have willingly put their lives in your hands—dedicated their whole beings to your service. We’ve uprooted families, left lives past, and even gone half way around the world. All this so that we could go out into YOUR world to proclaim YOUR good news.

But as we share our stories, I hear such a deep desire for a word from you. You’ve surely heard the things that we’ve dared say aloud to each other: the questions about the future, the frustration about the process, the uncertain conditions of our loved ones. And surely, God, you’ve even heard the questions and fears we can’t dare give words to.

You told Moses to take off his shoes because he was standing in your midst—told him that he was standing on HOLY ground.

Are WE in your presence? Are WE standing on holy ground?

It doesn’t feel like it, God. Over thirty people lost their lives, just yesterday—all because one person felt un-loved. There is a children’s home across the street where children have to live because their parents can’t find appropriate ways to care for them. And yeah, the middle east has become what must surely be a living hell.

This doesn’t feel like holy ground at all. Are you with us? Are you? And for that matter, if all this is going on, WHO are you? Are you a god who just watches as this happens?

I AM the God of your father, the God of Avraham, the God of Yitzhak, and the God of Yaakov.

Ok, that didn’t exactly answer my question. I wasn’t asking for a list of credentials. I wasn’t asking whose God you have been since the formation of the Earth. I was asking, instead, if you are OUR God.

I have seen the struggles of my people, their cry have I heard in the face of all the wrong that hits them full on.
I have known their sufferings!

That didn’t answer my question either. If you have seen all this, God, what are you doing about it? Are you just watching, and waiting?

I have come down, to rescue my children. I have come to take them out of that war and violence torn land, to take them to a safe place. A rich place. The place of those before them. The cry of the children of the World has come to me, and I have seen the oppression they face.

So now, go, for I send you to deliver them. Bring my people, the children of the World, a word of hope!

And I, myself, will be there!

God, How can we proclaim you to these hurting, suffering, weeping people? People are going away from the church faster than we can figure out why they are leaving, much less how to figure out to bring them back. Who shall we tell them you are?


Say to them “ ‘I will be there’ sends me to you.”

“I Will Be There”? That is who we are to proclaim? What kind of name is that?

But if I were honest, it isn’t the “HOWSOEVER I WILL BE THERE” part that bothers me… it’s the I WILL BE THERE. Will you be there, God? Will you be even here? Will you be with them? Will you be with us?

Say this to my children all over the world:

YHWH, the God of your fathers, the God of Avraham, the God of Yitzak, and the God of Yaakov sends me to you.

I love how you never simply answer a question. I asked if you would be here, and you tell me again that you are the same God who watched over Avraham, Yitzak, and Yaakov. But will you watch over us?

Why are you feeding me the same words you fed Moses? In the generations that have passed since Moses walked the Earth, have you no new word of comfort or liberation? Am I to believe that the same things you said in the interchange with Moses are the words which you have for me?

That is my name for the ages, that is my title from generation to generation.

That’s cute.

Go, gather my people, and tell them about me. Say to them “I have seen the same God who watched over Avraham, Yitzak, and Yaakov, and that God watches over you, saying ‘For I have taken account of you and what is befalling you. I have declared that I will bring you out of the violence and war-torn land, to a safe place. A rich land. The place of those that have gone before you.”

They will hearken to your voice!

They will hearken to my voice? That’s fine and dandy, but will you hearken to them? I’ve been working in Exodus, and I just preached the passage right before this, the passage which seems to be a prologue about the things that you are getting ready to do in the lives of your enslaved children. In that passage, the writer says “God hearkened to their moaning. God called to mind his covenant with Avraham, with Yitzhak, and with Yaakov. God saw the children of Israel. God knew.”

I proclaimed you to a congregation of older folks facing end-of-life issues—I proclaimed you as the God who Knew. The God who hearkened to them.

Do you know, God?
Will you hearken, God?

I have to stand in a room full of preachers tonight, and you have, in some way said to each of them “They will hearken to your voice.” While somehow that’s what every preacher needs to know, it’s not enough for us right now. Because the truth of the matter is that it doesn’t especially matter whether our congregations will flock to hear us preach. That’s not what it’s about and you know it. We will be faithful preachers even if we preach to a crowd of only two or three. We will still preach even if some have fallen away, calling us heretics because we have preached your radical message of grace. We will be faithful, and we will go out and preach to anyone that has ears, if only we know that YOU are with us.

All preachers have probably heard the story about Mother Theresa, and how she didn’t hear a peep from you for fourteen years while she was working in the streets of Calcutta. Maybe that’s why she was made a saint. Maybe she had some kind of superhuman ability to feel sustained even in the midst of what must have surely felt like a spiritual desert.

Be we aren’t her, God. We at best are stumbling, questioning disciples who have said we will go. We are in our own deserts, and like Moses, our mouths are dry. Our hearts cry to you for some breath of life, some drop of fresh water.

What is your word for us, God? Do not send us away empty, but give us something. We will go, if you are with us.

Will you hear the cries of our people? When they sit down to weep thinking of the glory of the days past, when they are forced to sing songs in a land of captivity—will you weep with them?

Will you be in the midst of their struggles? Will you be in the midst of ours?
Will you hold our hand, especially when we have nothing else to hold onto?


That doesn’t sound like much for us to hold on to. That sounds like a whimsical promise of a whimsical god.

Will you be there?

I will be there.
I WILL be there.
I will BE there.
I will be THERE.

Yeah, that’s cute. But is that enough for us to wrap ourselves around? Is that a promise we can cling to? We will go if you will come with us.



God's Pep Rally

I've gotta admit-- I've been grumpy, really grumpy for weeks now. Sure there have been breaks of sunlight and divine fun (such as playing monopoly and eating brownies with my beloved this weekend), but this school business has really had me in a funk. And then with my boss' mom dying and all that, I've been holding down the fort at the children's home-- and I guess I just had too much on my plate.

In my preaching class, we've really been digging deeply into the first 15 chapters of Exodus-- we've enacted the stories... we've engaged the text... and somehow we've always managed to embody our particular text. And for some reason, this dramatic story of Exodus has really been hitting home for me-- but especially last week during class when we had to deal with (embody? yeah, we were seriously playing frogs and locusts and running around the room)the plagues and face the brokenness of the people. And then immediately on the heals of that, we did the song of Moses-- and it really hit me what an amazing song it is-- it's a victory chant any way you slice it. I'm under the impression that we've (as a society!)become generally anesthetized--nothing shocks or stirs us. But all of the sudden, this text stirred me. And I realized the mighty ways that God was intimately involved even in the middle of some serious poo.

I said all that to say that I was really in the mood for a celebration--and thus, I decided to hold a pep rally for God last night at chapel at the children's home. My kids are really hard to get to-- and they'd often just as soon sit in the back with their headphones on or talking about each other (DON'T GET ME STARTED!) But I know they are carrying some mighty big stuff-- stuff that most people twice or three times their age couldn't handle well. I know that they need a safe place to go with all those feelings, and yeah, I know they need to be reminded of the mighty, though often unseen, ways that God is carrying them. I realized that it would probably not be a hard exercise for them to list their "plagues"... and so I had them do that. And then I took them to the text of the Song of Moses/Miriam-- to the place of reconciliation and restoration. And I invited them to make banners for God, and they came up with some really great things like "God is Love!", "God will see me through!", and my personal favorite, "God is a superstar--he is my hero!" For a normal youth group-- this might not have been an event to write home about-- but for my kids it was. My kids often only come to chapel because it gets them out of going to character education, or because their friends are there. These aren't what you would call "churchy" kids. But they made these banners and we reread the text, intermingling the yelling out of the banner phrases with the words of the text. There was clapping and cheering and yelling... and redemption. It was loud and rowdy, and certainly not like any "healing and wholeness" service in my Book of Common Worship--but God was surely in that place. Thanks be to God!!

Thursday, May 3, 2007

Praying the twenty third psalm

I just got back from my mentor/boss' mother's funeral, and something struck me as I watched my boss do the ceremony. (Well, besides being amazed that she was able to do the service without completely breaking down-- I don't think I could ever do my parent's ceremony!) Certainly, most of us expect Psalm 23 to show up somewhere in most funeral services-- if only because we like the imagery of green grass and still waters. But the thing that resonated with me today was what an extraordinary anchor that passage has become for almost everyone. As she began to read the familiar passage, I watched as old and young alike began saying it to themselves. Not because they were expected to, because no one suggested that it be a community reading. But the truth of the matter is that that passage will always be community property. As I watched all of these people quietly reciting the cherished words of comfort, I looked around and realized that most probably weren't even thinking of the particular woman whose life we were celebrating today. Instead, they were remembering all the deaths and times of great turmoil that together made up their life-- and the times these words of promise had held them, even when nothing else could.

Though certainly there were several translations, most people were expectedly reciting it from the King James version-- something they had probably been taught as babes, kneeling on a cold floor. Sure, I love the familiarity of those words too-- but when the time comes, I hope someone will read at least the last lines of the passage from "The message", which says "Your beauty and love chase after me every day of my life. I'm back home in the house of God for the rest of my life."
But then again, the thing that makes this passage such an anchor is the familiarity of the words-- perhaps the new words would not have the same power for a grieving community. There is something to be said for having words that your heart has memorized-- because sometimes, those are the only words you have.