Tuesday, February 19, 2013

1,000 Words

I have been thoroughly enjoying daily reflections through the photo-a-day challenge hosted by Rethink Church.

If photos are worth 1,000 words, then these photos shall prove to be my 40,000 words of reflection for Lent. Follow along on Instagram, Twitter, or Facebook: I've been posting them on all 3.

Today's Reflection:
Day 6: Wonder.
Surveying the wonder-ful, wonder-filled cross.
 #photoadaylent #rethinkchurch

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Who Am I?

Today is Ash Wednesday. The first day of Lent.

I have contemplated what practices I might add or things I might let go for this season, and as I did so, I kept coming back to this:

The United Methodist Church's "ReThink Church" campaign.

At first, I thought it seemed silly. Like an excuse to use social media more during Lent.

But then I read the topics more closely. and I thought: what an opportunity. Because in a photograph, it not only invites creativity, but requires a greater deal of reflection on each of them than I might offer on any other day.

Take, for example: today. All day I thought about this question and how I might depict it honestly....
Who Am I?

The same words rolled over and over again in my head...

From dust you came, and to dust you shall return.

But what does that even mean?

For me, today, it means that I am nothing without the God who knit me in my mother's womb.

I am nothing without the God who feeds my soul
and makes life worth living.

I am nothing.

Who am I?

I am dust.

#rethinkchurch #photoadaylent

Sunday, February 10, 2013

To be Transfigured - and Transformed

Somehow, it seems like if a giant blizzard is going to come through NE South Dakota, it has to happen on a Saturday night. Which means I cancelled church so everyone would stay safe, warm, and off the roads (the state issued a no-travel advisory, and the interstates are closed).

I sure do wish I had known church were going to be cancelled before I put the work into preparing services and printing bulletins! ha. Since that isn't the case, and I have been terrible about blogging lately, I thought I'd take care of both and share the text of my sermon here....

I spent a couple of days away this week at a meeting in Memphis, TN. The meeting was the first of the new committee that I was asked to be a part of for the United Methodist Global AIDS Fund.

When I was asked to be a part of this committee, I was excited because for one thing, I didn't even know The United Methodist Church had a Global AIDS Fund. and to be honest, I feel like I don't know as much as I should about the HIV/AIDS pandemic that affects the whole world, let alone what is happening here in the US, or even more specifically here in South Dakota.

So I went to this meeting this week with an open mind and some excitement to learn more. More about the virus, more about what we can do about it, more about the ways it impacts all of us, even those who don't realize it.

I was only able to be there for about half of the meeting, and when I left I was significantly more disappointed than I expected. Disappointed because this brief meeting was even more life-giving and than I ever anticipated. I was overwhelmed with information within the first hour, and it continued to pour out for hours to come. We met for a couple of hours on Wednesday night and then 12 hours on Thursday, and by the time we wrapped up for the day on Thursday, I'm pretty sure its safe to say all of our heads were spinning, but also full of anticipation and hope for what may continue to come from their conversations that continued without me on Friday and Saturday.

And while I expect I will continue to digest what I have learned, heard, and seen for days - maybe even weeks - to come, there is one theme in particular that kept coming up throughout the meeting that continues to stand out above all others even now, leaving me to mull it over for the past few days.
    These one them circled around a simple but loaded word: Stigma.

In countless aspects of our lives, we stigmatize the people and places around us. The more distant we believe a person, place or issue is from us, the more likely it seems we are to believe the stereotypes we hear. Right?

And while on occasion stereotypes can be stated as positives, they are never actually good things. They always leave someone out, and they always lump people into categories. Stereotypes lead us to assume that because someone is a part of one group, they must have - or lack - certain qualities. In this way, stereotypes leave out basic logic.

During my meeting with the Global AIDS Fund in Memphis this week, this kind of negative and broad stereotypes of HIV/AIDS were discussed and evident as a part of every conversation we shared.

Because with HIV/AIDS, the stigmas are huge. Somehow, despite information we have access to that says otherwise, much of the global community continues to believe things like being HIV+ is a death sentence. We believe that everyone who is HIV+ must be sexually promiscuous. We believe HIV is something that mostly on affects "other" people. People far from here. People in distant places like Africa.

Of course none of these things are true. None of them.

And while I would love to share more with you about all I am learning - and will continue to learn - about HIV and stigmas like these, most of us will never take time to learn more or figure out what is true, because talking about these stigmas in particular makes us extremely uncomfortable. Talking about HIV/AIDS will require us to breach tough and uncomfortable topics that are a part of the human experience: topics like sex and human sexuality.

Topics we would much prefer to only talk about privately and never publicly. Topics like health care, education, and poverty.

All things we'd rather not talk about because, frankly, we are afraid.

Afraid of the unknown. Afraid of showing our own biases, expectations, hopes and visions that others may disagree with. Afraid of sharing visions we have of our lives that don't quite share the reality of circumstances around us.

We - and I say we to include myself here - are more often than not, afraid.

But our fear isn't our sin. Our sin is that because of our fear, we stop listening.

In our Gospel reading this morning (Luke 928-43a), we are told the story of Jesus' transfiguration. Literally, in this passage, 3 of Jesus' disciples- Peter and James and John- were witness to Jesus taking on a physical transformation and likeness of God while in prayer on the mountain.

As Jesus prayed, we are told, His clothes turned a dazzling white and his whole appearance, including His face, changed. The disciples gave witness to Moses and Elijah appearing and talking to Jesus about a departure.

A departure that the disciples did not yet understand, but that Jesus was already preparing for. You see, this moment of Jesus' transfiguration on the mountaintop is often considered the turning point between Jesus' public ministry, and Jesus' passion - Jesus' journey to the cross.

Not knowing what words had been shared between these three Godly men on the mountaintop, and not yet understanding what was yet to come, the disciples watched in awe, speaking only after the fact to give thanks to Jesus, acknowledging that it was good for them to have been there to give witness.

But listen to what happens next. In Luke 9:34-35 it reads,
    34While he was saying this, a cloud came and overshadowed them; and they were terrified as they entered the cloud. 35Then from the cloud came a voice that said, “This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!"

So often in Scripture when we are told someone was filled with fear, we hear the words, "fear not."

But this time, it boldly sticks out to me that this is not the case. Sometimes, we can't dictate how we feel or will react simply because we don't want to be afraid. Instead, overcoming our fear and living fully in spite of that fear, requires action.

Action like that required by the voice of God, speaking to the disciples and to us as he dictates, "listen!"


A lost art, isn't it?

How often do we truly take time to listen. To take a break from sharing what we believe or think we know. To stop trying to teach. To stop trying to fill the silence...
    And to simply, listen.

To listen to those seeking to lead us, not because of our fear, but in spite of it.

To listen to and acknowledge as equals those who share some of our fear, no matter the reason for their fear.

   We all have things we are afraid of, and I can't help but to believe that in this passage, as Jesus prepared for the journey that would lead Him to the cross, Jesus might have even shared in some of that fear.
    But I imagine His fear being different. Not fear of what was about to happen to Him, and not a fear of the unknown as we so often have. For these things, Jesus knew were in God's hands. Instead, I can't help but to wonder if Jesus' fear weren't more about those around Him. Fear that His disciples, those he had come to rely on as His closest friends and support throughout His ministry, would allow their fear to stop them.

When things became tough or uncomfortable or or increasingly unfamiliar, the disciples became afraid. Just like we become afraid.

And it is when that fear surrounds us like a cloud of fog we are told the disciples literally entered into, our visibility, like theirs, decreases and we lose focus on what is important. Eventually we allow it to stop us all together, or worse, we turn and go back, for we know where to find the edge of the dense fog we've entered, and we decide it may well be better to live with clarity of the past than to carry on with that we can't see or understand in the future.

sound familiar?

There is safety in the familiar. The known. The trusted. A shared, concrete vision of what lies ahead.

But when the disciples lost that vision and were terrified in the midst of that dense cloud, they were not promised safety. They were not told not to be afraid.
    They were told to listen to the voice of Jesus.

To carry on. To move ahead into the unknown. To make space in their foggy, unclear surroundings for ideas, dreams, and visions to be more fully realized in the unknown future.

To do so, is to make room not for our own vision, but for the vision that accompanies the unforeseen miracles of Jesus working through our lives and the lives of those around us.

Miracles like the healing the disciples witnessed at the end of this passage. A miracle that allowed them the privilege of unexpectedly being "astounded by the greatness of God." (Luke 9:43)

And all of that because the disciples decided to follow the voice of God instead of their own. To not just face but embrace their fear and the unimaginable circumstances that accompanied it.

All of us hold this fear of the unknown within us, whether it is the people, places, or ideas that surround us. Most of us hold some bit of fear of the path our lives are taking when something comes up that is unknown or unfamiliar or unexpected.

The problem with that fear is not that we have it. Rather, it is the greater question of what we do with it.

Of how we are being called to move with - and beyond - our fear in such a way that we might more fully embrace God's call to listen.

On this, Transfiguration Sunday, may we seek to listen in such a way that we, like the Disciples, would hear the voice of God. That we would be so in touch with God, that we too might be changed, from the inside out.

May it be so.