Thursday, December 31, 2015

Where the Heart Can Rest

I admit that I’m not much of a traveler. Whenever I leave home, I can’t wait to return. But even for those of us who do enjoy travel, there’s always a sense of restlessness until we finally return home. Henry Van Dyke wrote about this in a poem.

I read within a poet's book
A word that starred the page:
"Stone walls do not a prison make,
Nor iron bars a cage!"

Yes, that is true; and something more
You'll find, where'er you roam,
That marble floors and gilded walls
Can never make a home.

But every
house where Love abides,
Friendship is a guest,
Is surely home, and home-sweet-home:
For there the heart can rest.

There the heart can rest. That’s the home we long for. That place where the heart can rest.

Do you ever feel a restlessness that you can’t identify? Do you find yourself searching for something and you don’t even know what you’re searching for? It’s like when you go to the grocery store because you’re hankering for something but you don’t quite know what it is. So you start walking up and down the aisles of the store thinking whatever it is you’re wanting will jump off the shelf and you’ll know it when you see it. You wander around searching for God-knows-what. That’s the kind of restlessness so many of us live with. And it makes us homeless.

Saint Augustine understood this kind of homelessness when he described the most basic human longing. He said, “You have made us for yourself, Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you.”

John’s Christmas story tells us that “The Word became flesh and lived among us.” That word for lived is often translated “dwelt.” It’s a rich word for us because it describes our relationship with God. In the original language, it means literally “to pitch a tent.” God came and pitched a tent in our world. God became a human being, like us, and made his home in our world. God has made his home with us. And because God has made his home with us, we have a place where the heart can rest. We are always home.

As we begin a new year, it’s good to be reminded of that. God became a human being and made his home with us. And because of that, we don’t have to live as homeless people. Our home can be found here, in this place God has made his home.

So, here’s a New Year’s resolution for you. It’s really quite simple. But it can change your life on a deeply profound level. This year… spend more time at home.   

Friday, December 25, 2015

A Heart Pondering Story (Christmas Eve sermon 2015)

When I was a girl my family always spent Christmas Eve at Aunt Margaret and Uncle Jack’s house. The place was jam-packed with family, neighbors and friends stopping by and I figured that, in the city of Hamilton, Ohio, this was the place to be.

It never occurred to me that there were some people who went to church on Christmas Eve. Of course, since I didn’t grow up in a family that spent time in church ever, that’s not all that surprising, I suppose. But I’ll never forget the first time I experienced a Christmas Eve worship service. I was there because an Episcopal Church hired me to come and play my flute, which was something I continued to do all through high school. That first year, I was stunned. The church was filled with people and it seemed totally weird to me. Like all this time a whole other world had been going on right under my nose and I had no idea it existed. (It’s similar to the way I felt when I went to my first NASCAR race. I had no idea there were so many people so into something that was totally off my radar.)

I had associated Christmas with a lot of different things: shopping, baking, parties, concerts. But never church. I know that may sound strange to some of you because I suspect there are a number of people gathered here tonight who can’t imagine Christmas Eve without attending worship. Or there may be some here tonight who grew up like I did and had no idea until this very moment that some people actually go to church on Christmas Eve.

No matter what your background may be, we’re here in this place tonight. And that’s significant. Especially in 2015. There’s something countercultural about this gathering. Many people in the world around us are like I was as a kid. They have no connection or they’ve severed their connection with the church. They’re home feasting or drinking with friends, or watching “It’s a Wonderful Life” on T.V., or assembling bicycles right now—maybe while uttering a few choice words.

But you chose to be here. You’ve taken time out from all the business and busyness of your life, and you chose to worship tonight. You chose to sing carols and hear the ancient story once again. You chose to kneel at the altar and receive Christ’s presence anew in your life.  It’s a weirdly wondrous way to spend Christmas Eve.

Now, I know that a lot of preachers are prone to lay a bunch of guilt on the people in the pews for participating in a consumer culture that’s commercialized Christmas. I’m not going to do that for several reasons. First of all, Christmas originally piggybacked on the pagan celebration of Saturnalia so it’s always been a hybrid of the sacred and the not-so-sacred. But more importantly, when the Creator chose to enter creation and live as a creature, any division between sacred and secular world became blurred. Even Walmart is holy ground, yes even today. And finally, there are traditions of Christmas that have little connection to the baby born in a manger, but they’re just plain fun. Like visiting Santa at the mall, hanging stockings from the mantle, and driving around to look at the Christmas lights on display. They’re all expressions of Christmas joy.

Yet, in the midst of all the sparkling lights, and the eggnog, and the presents under the tree, there is a deeper meaning to Christmas. We know that; it’s why we’re here. It’s all rather incredible and it’s hard to get our heads around it in just this brief time we spend together tonight.

If you think the whole season has slipped away from you and you haven’t taken the time to reflect on the wonder of God with us because your December was so overbooked with activities that had little to do with the deeper meaning of Christmas, I’ve got great news for you. This night doesn’t mark the end of the Christmas season. It’s only the beginning. Christmas begins tomorrow and it lasts for 12 days. 

Now, contrary to popular opinion, there are not 12 days of Christmas so your true love has time to give you: twelve drummers drumming, eleven pipers piping, ten lord a’leaping, nine ladies dancing, eight maids a milking, seven swans a swimming, six geese a laying, five golden rings, four calling bird, three French hens, two turtle doves and a partridge in a pear tree. Can you imagine what a mess that would make in your house by the twelfth day? Thankfully, that’s not the point of the twelve days of Christmas.

The point is that we take time to back off from the demands of the days leading up to Christmas and do what Mary did after she watched the story unfold—she pondered it all in her heart. How do you ponder something in your heart? We associate pondering with the head, don’t we? You ponder something in your head. But Mary pondered it all in her heart.

She wasn’t seeking so much to rationally understand what happened. She was seeking a deeper meaning, one that would transform her life.

The days of Christmas are a holy time, a time that’s been set apart to ponder the mystery of God with us and to allow that truth to transform us. Beginning tonight, I invite you into twelve days of pondering.

Ponder the significance of a child who was born into a brutal world of violence and oppression in a land that was occupied by the greatest power on earth. If ever there was a time that was devoid of hope, this was it. And then, into the darkness of that world, Christ shone with the light of God.

Ponder how, because God became human, all humans bear a spark of the divine image of God within them. Ponder how this birth changes the way we treat one another in our day to day lives. And how we honor and welcome those who may not see things the way we do, those who may worship God by another name, those we’re naturally inclined to fear.

Ponder how significant it is that we’re together in this place on this night. In a world filled with injustice, uncertainty, anger and fear, we’ll light candles in the darkness and we’ll imagine a baby sleeping in his mother’s arms as we sing him a hope-filled lullaby. All is calm, all is bright.

Ponder in your hearts.

Friday, December 18, 2015

On my 40th Unniversary--wouldn't take nothing for my journey now

4o years ago on December 20, I was married in the chapel at Trinity Lutheran Seminary, surrounded by loving friends and family. It was a simple wedding. We didn’t have bridesmaids or groomsmen and no wedding cake. My sister-in-law, Judy, sewed my wedding dress. I’m guessing we did the whole thing for less than $300, and that includes the new suit my husband bought. I remember it as a wondrous day. I was so crazy in love with the man I was marrying that I couldn’t wait to begin our life together.

I looked forward to having children with him and growing old together. One of the things I used to imagine was one day having our grandchildren come to visit us at Christmas time. This Christmas, our grandson Nick will be spending Christmas with me. Last year he spent Christmas with his grandpa. That’s not the way either one of us had envisioned it. But that’s the way it is.

We had been through some bumpy times during our 20 year marriage, and I had vowed that come hell or high water, I was in it for the duration. And then I wasn’t. No matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t make it work. Trust was broken beyond repair and I knew it was over, so I asked him to leave. Then for about a decade I was in shock. It was difficult for me to even say the word, divorced.

It’s hard to believe that what started out so promising could end as it did. After 20 years, we have now been apart about as long as we were together. During those 20 years of marriage we collected some cherished memories and parented two extraordinary human beings. I wouldn’t trade that time for anything. But we also brought devastating hurt to one another. Living through that hurt was the most difficult thing I’ve ever done. And yet, I can honestly say that I wouldn’t trade that tumultuous time of my life for anything, either. Yes, I can say that…now that I’ve emerged from the wilderness, healed and at peace with myself.

I don’t know who I would be today if I had remained married, but I am certain that I would not be the woman I’ve grown to become. Not perfect, by a long shot, I still have more than my share of shortcomings. But I’ve come to appreciate my flaws as a part of who I am, the person God created me to be. I’ve been able to follow my calling in ways that I never would have if I were also considering the needs of my spouse, and as a result, God has surprised me again and again with unexpected adventures and a life that is richer and fuller than any I ever could have imagined when I was 23 years old. After years of suffering from self-esteem issues, I’ve decided that I’m actually a pretty cool person. I can take care of myself, and yet I also have learned to ask for help when I need it. I’ve grown to realize that even as a single person, I’m not a solo act, and I’ve come to treasure the gift of community. I’ve discovered that I can face my greatest fears and fiercely love others at least as much as I love myself. I’ve learned that even when I royally mess up, I’m loved by God, and that makes it so much easier to love others who also royally mess up. I’m a better mother. I’m a better friend. I’m a better pastor. I’m a better person.

So, knowing what I know now, would I do it again? Would I marry him? Absolutely. Not for the reasons that I thought I was marrying him then. But for the reasons that have come to pass as a result. I think of the title to a book of essays Maya Angelou wrote: Wouldn’t Take Nothing for My Journey Now. Those words speak for me, too. 

It’s not that it all went down the way I had hoped it would. I didn’t marry the man of my dreams and "we all lived happily ever after." I know that happens for some people, but that’s not the way it happened for me. And yet, it’s okay. In fact, it’s better than okay. I’ve survived, I’ve grown, and I’ve been transformed because God has been with me through it all. I wouldn’t take nothing for my journey now.

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Good News for Big Brains

What the heck is the matter with people? Every day when I wake up now, I wonder, where will people be senselessly killed today? The really scary thing is that it’s almost becoming normal. And every time it happens we go through this little dance. We find out who caused it, and then we start blaming the ones responsible. If they happen to be Muslim, or a police officer, that’s all we need to know. We’ve already created the narrative in our minds. If they are a 20 year old loner who’s white and never caused any trouble, then we go after the parents, or the teachers who should have seen it coming. Or we start on the National Rifle Association or our lawmakers who many will argue have been bought by the NRA. 

After the San Bernardino shootings last week, the inability of our Senate to budge even so much as an inch in regulating who is allowed to purchase guns boggles the mind. And the fact that you or I could go out and purchase an automatic assault rifle is terrifying. Why would anyone need such a thing? Certainly not to shoot a deer or fend off a home intruder. What the heck is the matter with people?

Now, did you notice what I just did? You may not have seen it because I did what we usually do it. I blamed the problem on them. I’m one of the good guys. I blame this problem on the bad guys. But the problem is not them. There’s a much deeper problem than that. The problem is our need to find someone to blame so that it’s always between us and them, and, according to us, the ones responsible are clearly them. 

I saw Richard Rohr talking about the season of Advent this week and he spoke about the monastic practice of, beginning nine days out for Christmas, saying a novena, which are special prayers, each of those nine days focused on a different theme. The first novena is about wisdom. Father Richard describes what they mean by wisdom. It’s not about smarts or even enlightenment. It’s about seeking what he calls a bigger brain. Opening the mind up so that we can see more than the literal. So we’re open to mystery and paradox. So we can see beyond a dualistic vision of the world where things are either good or they’re evil. Where people are either us or them. Advent is a time for bigger brains. I like that. 

The Bible is a book that can be read to disastrous effects by small brains. It is written for big brains. Now, by that I don’t mean only smart people can understand it. But it takes someone who has a brain that is big enough to receive a variety of viewpoints. The many authors of the writings that have been collected in the scriptures witness to their faith as they have experienced it, so their perspectives vary. 

I find that encouraging because it tells me it’s okay to see things differently in matters of faith and to disagree with one another. And so, when we read the Bible, we may find ourselves resonating with some of the authors more than others. 

Each year in our three year lectionary cycle we spend time with Mark, Matthew or Luke. This new year—which we began last week with the first Sunday in Advent—this new year is the year of Luke. And I admit Luke is my favorite gospel because Luke is the gospel with a heart for justice. 

In the first chapter of Luke, we hear Mary’s Magnificat where she sings, “God has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; he has filled the empty with good things, and sent the rich away empty.”

And now, in the third chapter, John the Baptist is introduced as one crying out in the wilderness: Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight. Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be made low, and the crooked shall be made straight and the rough ways made smooth…” 

Are you hearing a common theme here? God’s gonna make things right. 

It’s actually a quote from Isaiah. And Matthew and Mark introduce John the Baptist with the same quote. But now, here’s where it gets interesting. Here’s the part that only Luke adds… And all flesh shall see the salvation of God.

All flesh shall see the salvation of God. This addition that’s unique to Luke introduces two big themes for his gospel that I want to point out to you because as we spend the year together in Luke, you might want to be listening for these things. 

And all flesh shall see the salvation of God. The word salvation is a biggie for Luke. He understands it in a way that’s different from the other gospel writers, and it’s good to keep that in mind. For Luke, salvation is definitely more than getting to go to heaven someday. Salvation is now. It’s living in the fullness of God’s blessings. And it’s not really individual; it’s communal. Jesus isn’t our personal savior, he’s saves us all…together.

That brings me to the second big Lukan theme that’s introduced in this little verse that he adds to his version of this story… “and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.”

All flesh. That’s the world Luke wants us to see. As Luther Seminary professor Karoline Lewis writes:  “According to the incarnation, if we take it seriously, there can be no selectivity when it comes to for whom God comes. This is the promise of Advent—that those we might write off on our way to the manger matter to God. In becoming human, God committed God’s self to all of humanity. All flesh, friends. All flesh.” 

So, what does it mean for all flesh to see the salvation of God? In the next chapter of Luke, Jesus himself will turn to the words of the prophet Isaiah in his inaugural address where he clearly states what his mission is: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” 

Jesus’ words are well-received until he starts to explain exactly who the poor and the oppressed are. And then things go south quickly. His hometown crowd decides they’ve heard enough. They escort him to the edge of town and plan to throw him off a cliff. 

Why is it that the gospel message is so often met with resistance and rejection? Remember when the women who first witnessed the empty tomb returned to tell the other disciples what they’d seen? The disciples think their story is garbage. Mainly because the ones telling it were women. What was Jesus thinking when he sent women to proclaim the good news of the resurrection to his followers?

The gospel is hard to receive. It’s offends us because it’s so unconditionally loving and merciful that we can’t stand it. All people shall see the salvation of God? No way. The radical inclusiveness of God in Luke wasn’t taken very seriously back then, and it doesn’t seem to be taken very seriously now, either. The expansiveness of God’s love may not seem so good to the small minded who will choose instead to distort the truth so it can fit inside the more compact space that they’ve created in their minds. It takes big brains to receive the inclusiveness of Jesus in Luke’s gospel.

On this second Sunday of Advent, I invite us all to expand our minds, take a cleansing breath or a crow bar to the skull or whatever you might need to do to receive the good news. Because it truly is good news. 

All flesh shall see the salvation of God.

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Apples, oranges and terrorists

A stranger and I shared the waiting room as I waited to have my teeth poked and prodded. CNN was on the TV and a news story about the Paris terrorists came on. The man turned to me and offered some commentary. “You know what we outa do with them terrorists? We oughta take ‘em out in the center of the city and invite everyone to come and watch while we chop off their heads. That’s what we ought do!”
I winced.
“What? You don’t think that’s what we oughta do? That's what they do to us!” 
“I dunno,” I said. I was really trying to avoid getting into a discussion about this with a person I’d never met, someone who clearly had his mind made up. But then, I couldn’t resist.
“I wonder sometimes if maybe the people we call terrorists might say the same thing about us.”
“Are you crazy!?” he asked.
“How can you compare us to terrorists? It’s like apples and oranges.”
As I was pondering how I might respond to him, I heard a woman announce, “Ms. Kraft, we’re ready for you”, and I was up out of my seat.
But I couldn’t stop thinking about apples and oranges and the expression that never makes the point it is intended to make. When people are trying to explain how two disparate things are incomparable, they'll say, “It’s like comparing apples to oranges.” But here’s the thing. You most certainly can compare apples and oranges. They’re both fruits. They both are roundish. They both have skins, and seeds. They both grow on trees…
I’m thinking every teacher needs to put some apples and oranges before their class and ask the students to compare them. Then maybe we’ll get past this absurd notion that you can’t compare apples to oranges. And then, maybe we can gradually teach young people to compare more and more complex things until we get around to considering the similarities between us and them.
I do have a lot in common with a terrorist. We were both born of a woman. We both have X chromosomes. We both eat and sleep and have bowel movements. We communicate through language. We believe in something larger than ourselves. We long to make a difference in the world. We laugh and we cry. And, of course, there’s the really big similarity that supersedes all our differences—we’re both human beings created in the image of God.
Perhaps what we really need to compare are apples and oranges to a terrorist. One is fruit and the other is a human being. Chopping is appropriate for fruit, and that’s all I’m gonna say.  

Monday, November 30, 2015

He's coming in the clouds

Bleh. What a god-awful day. Grey, dingy drizzle chills the marrow of my bones. All I want to do is crawl under a down comforter and sit by a fire with a cup of hot cocoa in my hands. But of course, that ain’t gonna happen.
Instead I’m in the car shuffling around East Charlotte in the yuckiness and thinking about the bizarre message of Advent 1 that tells us Jesus is coming in the clouds.
I would guess that if you stopped people on the street and asked them, “Where do you expect to see Jesus?” none of them would say, “In the clouds.” Well, maybe in those fluffy, puffy clouds that are dabbed across a sky blue canvass on a perfect day, the kind of day we had yesterday. Or maybe people would expect to see him sliding down a rainbow, or appearing in the rays of sunshine streaming out over the horizon at dawn, or in any number of natural wonders that leave our mouths gaping in wonder. But on a day like today, not so much.
The people who wrote the Hebrew Scriptures seemed to get that because, for them, the clouds were the place where God was hidden. And yet, Jesus promises that he is coming in the clouds. Hmmm. As usual, in Jesus, God shatters our expectations and surprises us with a new way of seeing.
So, I’m thinking about the way I experience Jesus in my life and, guess what? When I’m feeling most discouraged, when life seems hopeless… when it feels like a dark cloud hovers over days… Jesus comes. It’s true. He comes in a word of encouragement, in the warm embrace of a grandson, in expressions of love and caring from the faith community I am blessed to have in my life, in songs of hope and in a simple meal of bread and wine. Just when I thought he was nowhere to be seen, there he is.
My colleague Reggie used to say, "When you're down to nothing, God is up to something!" And so Jesus comes to us in the clouds. When things seem most desperate to us, it's a sign that God is on the move. When it feels like we can't go on, Jesus is about to make an entrance. As people of faith, we can count on that.
Jesus promised us that he's coming in the clouds. And so he does. Again and again.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

A story of drugs, sleeping around and unknown identities

On All Saints Day, after church activities, I headed for the hills. Every year the Lutheran and Moravian professional holy women in North Carolina have a three-day retreat. It's a marvelous get-away filled with conversation and laughter. (Yes, there's a little alcohol mixed in, too.) This year we met at Laurel Ridge, which is a Moravian Camp with a to-die-for view that is achieved by driving up a cork-screw road to the top of a mountain. It rained the whole time, but still, knowing the view was out there somewhere was comforting.

Two women led our time together: Dr. Katherine Shaner, an ELCA pastor who teaches New Testament at Wake Forest Divinity, and Kay Ward, who is a Moravian bishop and well-known author. Katherine's sessions led us to consider circles of saints who fill our lives, beginning with ourselves, then naming women who have influenced us, and then women in the Scriptures. Finally, we considered those who are unnamed, both in the biblical story and in our own stories. It heightened my awareness of the unnamed, and I spent some time pondering those who are unintentionally unnamed persons in my life, the ones whose names I would like to know but have remained unknown because of circumstances, and the ones whose names are unknown to me by intention, the ones who quite honestly don't matter enough to me that I would care to know their names. Hmmmm.

Well, I was having a great time until the wee-wee hours on the morning of the last day. That's when I was awakened by excruciating pain in my shoulder. I wanted to cry, the pain was so great. I made it to breakfast and happened to sit beside Kay. I mentioned my pain and asked if she had any NSAIDS with her. I had definitely asked the right person. She whipped out a days-of-the-week pill dispenser. In one compartment was aspirin, in another Advil, then Ibuprofen, Tylenol, Aleve... "What would you like?" she asked. I decided on Aleve. "They're small. Take two," she said. So I popped them in my mouth and hoped for the best.

About 30 minutes later I was relieved that I felt no pain. All was well! But then, as I was sitting in the morning circle, all of a sudden I was so sleepy that I was afraid I might fall face down onto the floor. That's when I realized that wasn't just any Aleve. It was Aleve PM. Lord, have mercy! I stumbled out of the room, landed on a couch in the lobby, and I was out.

There was a woman there from the camp who had been waiting on us hand and foot. She truly had the gift of hospitality. When she saw me on the couch, she came to me and asked if I needed help, if I wanted to go to a room with a bed... "I just want to sleep!" I snapped her. Then as I was dozing I felt someone place a blanket over me and, without opening my eyes, I knew it was this kind Moravian servant who wouldn't let me sleep.

My clergy sisters came and got me to lunch. Somehow I made it, and I was able to chew my food, although I could very easily have laid my head on my plate and slept in my pasta. (Have I mentioned that I am VERY sensitive to sleep meds? And I took TWO of those things!) After lunch, everyone was going home. What was I going to do? 

Three of us were there from Charlotte and we all had driven ourselves, of course, so I couldn't get a ride back. I clearly couldn't drive myself, not if I expected to live. I could take a nap and leave before dark, but I knew that the drug would still be working on me after a few hours. So, it seemed that the only logical solution was to stay in the lodge, get my sleep, and leave in the morning. We all agreed that would be the best thing. The staff would be leaving, so I would be all alone with no food service. My clergy sisters prepared me a plate of snacks, handed it to me, and they were on their way. Almost all of them.

As I stood with my food provisions in my hand, hoping to soon be in a bed, my dear friend Susan Bame and the Moravian servant approached me. "We're going to take you back to Charlotte," they informed me. Despite my objections--I couldn't put them out like that, it would mean at least four hours of time in the car in addition to the drive they already had to get home--they convinced me that it was the best solution. The Moravian servant would drive my car, Susan would drive hers, and after they left me in Charlotte, they would drive back up the mountain together before going home. Okay. We could do this.

And then it dawned on me. A woman is going to be driving my car with me in the passenger seat for a couple of hours and I DON'T KNOW HER NAME! Up until this point, her name hadn't mattered to me. So, I asked Susan, "What is her name?" She didn't know. The two of us began asking everyone we saw, "What is her name?" No one knew. Finally, we found someone who told us her name was Betty. Okay. Betty was driving my car to Charlotte with me in it, konked out in the passenger seat.

So, when we finally got to Charlotte, as Betty was about to get out of my car to get into the car with Susan for a couple of hours and ride back up the mountain, she turned to me and whispered apologetically, "Can you tell me what her name is?" How perfect was that?

Names. In some ways they aren't all that important. These two saints banded together to minister to me in a crisis and neither knew the name of the other. And yet, as the one they helped, I'm grateful to know both their names.

As a postscript to this blog... Yesterday I received a sweet note in the mail from dear Kay, the woman who gave me the Aleve PM. She wrote, "It isn't often that an upstanding Lutheran pastor gets drugged by a Moravian bishop." Of course she didn't mean to drug me, but it makes for a good story!

Sunday, November 1, 2015

The Communion of Tears

Preached at Holy Trinity for All Saints' Day, 2015.

You’re driving through a residential neighborhood. It’s about 9:00 in the morning on a Tuesday, and you come upon a house and notice that the driveway is full and cars are parked up and down the street for about a block. What do you assume is going on inside that house?... Somebody died. 

It’s not unlike the scene Jesus saw as he approached the home of Mary and Martha in Bethany. Mourners were surrounding the house so that it was difficult for Jesus to make his way through the crowd. 

Now the mourners could be divided into three groups. There were the ones were paid mourners. There also were those who had come to see if Jesus would show up and do something to incriminate himself. And then there were those who were there because of the love they had for Lazarus and his sisters, Mary and Martha.

Which of these three groups was Jesus a part of? He wasn’t being paid to be there. He hadn’t come to see what would happen if he showed up. Was he there because of the love he had for Lazarus and Mary and Martha? 

Martha and Mary weren’t all that interested in why Jesus was there. The point for them was that he was there too late. Jesus knew Lazarus was dying and he delayed coming so that by the time he arrived in Bethany, Lazarus’ body had already been in the tomb four days. “Lord, if you had been here our brother would not have died,” they said. 

It’s almost as if Jesus waited around to make sure Lazarus was good and dead before he got there. Did he know that he would raise Lazarus from the dead, and did he know that this is what would be the final straw for the Jewish leaders who were looking for a reason to have him arrested and executed? The way John tells the story, that would certainly seem to be the case. 

But then, what’s with verse 35, the one that is famous for being the shortest verse in the Bible? “Jesus began to weep.” Earlier in the chapter, when Jesus learned that Lazarus was ill, he said, “This illness does not lead to death; rather it is for God’s glory, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.” He lingered two days before starting off toward Bethany, a suburb of Jerusalem, and a dangerous place for Jesus. And as he made his way, his disciples warned him this wasn’t a smart move because the Jews were looking for a reason to kill him. Knowing this, Jesus continued his journey. And he explained to his disciples, “Lazarus is dead. For your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe.”

So, that’s what Jesus was thinking. His resolve was clear. And yet, when he arrived on the scene and looked around him, he began to weep. Why? Is it that he’s so angry about the fake mourners, or the ones who are out to get him? Many of those who saw him weeping assumed it was because he loved Lazarus so much. What gives? 

Well, if we read the verses just before 35, we read that when Jesus saw Mary and the Jews who came with her weeping, he was greatly disturbed in spirit and deeply moved. He asked where he could find the body of Lazarus, and he wept. It was the grief of others that led to his tears. Jesus’ cried out of compassion for those he loved. Their grief became his grief. 

It’s like when I’m at a funeral for someone I never knew. I’m there for those who are mourning. I may be presiding as a pastor, or I may be a person sitting in the pews. But often in those situations, I shed tears. Why? I didn’t even know the person who died. But I am sharing in the pain of those who are grieving so deeply. Has that ever happened to you? 

A couple years ago, some of our members were going through grief as a community. That grief was precipitated by the loss of their church, which closed its doors abruptly, and suddenly all they had was each other. By an amazing act of the Holy Spirit, they found their way to Holy Trinity. 

If you were here the first Sunday they worshiped with us, you will remember how they all huddled together in the back pews and they clung to one another. And then it was time for communion. 

They came to the altar and received Christ’s Body and Blood with tears flowing down their faces. And they learned that their community had suddenly grown much larger than they had ever imagined. For they were not alone in their tears. As I offered the Eucharist to members of Holy Trinity that day, many of them were also in tears. Why? No one had closed their church; this hadn’t happened to them. They didn’t even know these people. And yet, they loved them. They felt their grief, and they shared their tears.

Grieving is communal. It calls upon the very best part of us, our compassion. When you see cars parked around a house in the morning hours during the middle of the week, it has become a place of compassion. When you see bouquets of flowers piled at an accident site on the side of the highway, it is a place of compassion. When we gather as the Body of Christ to receive the Body and Blood of Christ in the bread and wine, we are a place of compassion. 

On this All Saints Sunday, we remember those who have left us grieving. And we also remember that as the communion of saints here in this place, we are a communion of tears. We’ve been left behind in our grief, but we are not alone. We’re a part of community that holds us in our grief and carries us into a place of life.

I wonder if that’s one meaning of the resurrection body for us. Maybe there is a resurrection of the body on this side of the grave. As the Body of Christ, we are resurrected, and the power of the resurrection is working through us whenever we grieve compassionately with those who mourn. 

We’ve been reading a book about the Beatitudes in my Sunday school class and two weeks ago we were discussing “blessed are those who mourn.” The author used the example of Job to point out how the community comes together to comfort those who mourn. Job had lost everything in his life that was dear to him, and he had three friends who came and sat with him for seven days. For seven days they just sat with him. That was healing for Job. 

Then Job’s friends had to ruin it all and speak. One by one they tried to explain to him why this terrible situation had befallen him, and one by one they made Job angrier and angrier. Their presence, their shared grief had been enough. Their explanations were not helpful—a good lesson for us when we gather around the grieving and feel a need to speak. It is our presence, our shared grief that is needed. 

We hold the grieving person in our midst, perhaps literally, perhaps through cards and prayers and flowers and a casserole at the door. We give them the space they need. We free them to grieve in whatever way works for them, apart from any expectations of our own. We hold them in community. And, in time, they become community for others who grieve.

Look at the way today’s gospel passage ends. After Jesus shouts, “Lazarus, come out!” Notice what it says, “The dead man came out.” The dead man. When Lazarus emerges from the tomb, he is still a dead man. He’s bound up in bands of cloth like a mummy. It sounds terrifying, doesn’t it?

His face and his hands and feet are all wrapped up. Jesus says to the people gathered around, “Unbind him, and let him go.” It wasn’t until the community unbound him that he was given new life. 

Perhaps that’s what it means to have eternal life in our earthly existence. We are so bound by death: the grief it brings us when it takes someone we love away, the fear of our own impending death that snatches away our joy in experiencing the beauty of this life, the crazy things we do to deny the fact that our lives on this earth have a beginning and an end. To receive eternal life, to experience resurrection in this life, we must be unbound in the face of our mortality. We don’t unbind ourselves. That takes a community. In the face of death, we unbind one another to live as resurrected people. What a gift it is to be part of the communion of saints that is also a communion of tears.

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Oo-oo, Witchy Woman!

If you follow my blog, you may remember that this past Easter we had protesters show up at Holy Trinity. They carried signs that said outrageous things, such as the one listing all the things people do that offend God including “pants wearing women.” Oh, my! Despite the fact that they were obnoxious and they tried really hard to ruin our Easter, most of the things they were shouting were laughable. As people were walking into the church building, the bellowing asses stood on the sidewalk spewing crazy condemnations at the top of their lungs. One of the things they wanted members of Holy Trinity to know was that their pastor is a witch!

The label did not fall on deaf ears. Members of my congregation weren’t about to forget it. I’ve been poked about being a witch on and off since Easter. In good fun, of course. So, I’ve played along with it. Tonight is our annual Halloween Party at Holy Trinity and, of course, I’m going as a witch.

This afternoon, after I had painted my fingernails black and was waiting for them to dry, I cruised through Facebook on my phone and came across a disturbing post from my friend Linda Faltin. It was all about women in Africa who are deemed witches. In the Central African Republic, as of 2010, 40% of the case load in their courts involved witches. In Tanzania it has been estimated that as many as 500 “witches” are lynched every year. In the Democratic Republic of the Congo, it’s been said that of the 25-50K children living on the streets of the capital, most are there because they have been accused of witchcraft. In Ghana as many as 2,000 accused witches and their dependents are confined in five different camps. Most of the inmates are destitute, elderly women who have been forced to live there for decades.
Whoa! What’s going on? Christian Fundamentalism. It’s spreading in other parts of the world. And there’s this little verse in Exodus 22 that says, “Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live.”
Suddenly, the whole witch thing isn’t seeming all that funny after all. I know that here in America we also have a history of going after so-called witches. And perhaps the men who were yelling outside our church building on Easter were thinking of Exodus 22 when they called me one. Yikes!
So, now I’m going to go to this party as a witch. Damn.
I’m not going to be able to forget about the women and children who are condemned as “witches” and suffer oppression, torture and death as a result. How can I? But I am going to the party tonight in my costume as planned, and here’s what I’m going to do.
I will strut my witchy self into that party and play the part. And I will be thankful to be part of a faith community that will enjoy it. We don’t take Exodus 22 seriously. And we don’t judge people who disagree with us by labeling them “witches” or “heretics” or anything else that in some times and places could get them killed. Most of all, I’m thankful to be a part of a faith community where—should someone actually be a real live witch—we would love them anyway!

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Will Kim Davis ever go away?

This was the sermon preached on October 4 at Holy Trinity. The text was Mark 10:2-16.

Will Kim Davis ever go away? She’s the clerk of courts in Kentucky who refuses to marry same sex couples, even though it’s her job to do so. She’s gone to jail for what she believes. She’s convinced she’s right about marriage being only between a man and a woman, and there are a whole lot of Christians who agree with her. When we argue that Jesus never said anything about this topic, they will insist that, in fact, he did, and this is the text they go to: “From the beginning of creation, God made them male and female. For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.”

Now, I would argue that Jesus was answering a question about divorce here, and in the course of his answer, he described the way marriage was in his day. Of course, in his context, he never would have said, “A person shall leave their parents and be joined to another person, according to their sexual orientation, and the two shall become one flesh.” That’s absurd. Given the context of Jesus’ world, he never would have said anything like that.

It’s hard to argue with a fundamentalist about the scriptures. Unfortunately, what usually happens is that we meet them on their level. They clobber us with Bible verses and we clobber them back with some Bible verses of our own.  That never works. And it’s not the way we Lutherans read the Bible. The Bible is not a weapon, or a rule book, or a collection of ideas that come straight from God so we need to accept them unquestionably. That’s just not how we read it. We question the Bible, we wrestle with it, and we’re okay with disagreeing with it at times. We struggle to understand the original intent of passages from the Bible and how that intent might translate into our present context. In other words, we don’t read the Bible the way conservative Christians do, so it’s unlikely we’ll ever agree. I don’t know what we can do about that. 

There’s more than just a different way of interpreting scripture going on. We’re not reading the words with the same eyes, hearing the words with the same ears. Recently, among people who make it their life’s work to study the scriptures, a new field of study has emerged called polyvalence. Polyvalence, refers to the way a text means different things to different people and many of those different meanings can be predicted based on things like gender, age, nationality.  In other words, we cannot assume that we all draw the same meaning out of a text. 

The Biblical scholar Mark Alan Powell has done some mind-blowing research in this area. He’ll do something like take a Biblical text and find out what it means to one audience and then compare that to what it means to another audience. For instance, he looked at the story of the Good Samaritan where Jesus was asked, “Who is my neighbor?” and told a story to answer the question. A guy was robbed, beaten and left for dead on the side of the road. Then some good religious types were traveling that same road, they saw the half dead man, and they walked on by. Finally, it was an outsider, a Samaritan, who stopped to help. As Americans, the meaning for us is generally that we should stop and help people who are in trouble, we should be like the Good Samaritan in the story. 

However, Powell spent some time in Tanzania, and he learned that this is not the meaning Tanzanians pull from the story. For them, the main point of the story is that people who’ve been robbed, beaten and left for dead can’t afford the luxury of prejudice. They should accept help from whoever offers it. God can work through anyone, including those we might regard as heretics. So, for us, the answer to the question “Who is my neighbor?” is, my neighbor is “anyone who needs my help.” For a Tanzanian, the answer is “anyone who helps me.” For the Tanzanian, the Good Samaritan is not just a moral story about how we need to help those less fortunate. It’s about empathizing with the marginalized and the powerless. This difference in meanings across cultures is an example of polyvalence. 

It seems to me that Jesus’ teaching on divorce in the first part of today’s gospel is a text rich with polyvalence.

  • Think about what this text means to Kim Davis.
  • Think about what this text means to those of us who have never been married.
  • Think about what this text means to those of us who are married to someone of the same gender.
  • Think about what this text means to those of us who have been married to the same person forever.
  • Think about what this text means to those of us who are divorced or separated.
  • Think about what this text means to those of us who have been married, divorced, and are now married to someone else.
  • Think about what this text means to those of us who have been married, divorced, married, divorced, married, divorced, married… Oh wait, we’re back to Kim Davis, aren’t we?

Why is this important? Because it’s not just a matter of who’s right and who’s wrong when we read the Bible. The circumstances of our lives affect the meaning we draw from a text like the one we have today, just as surely as the circumstances of her life affect the meaning Kim Davis draws from this text. 

I can make an educated guess about the meaning of today's gospel by considering it in context. I can look at the way women and children were treated as property to be discarded by men without a second thought in Jesus’ world. And I can look at the literary context of this teaching about divorce, particularly in light of what follows about welcoming and blessing children. And I can say with confidence that Jesus' teaching is about protecting those who have no rights and no power in society. So, at its heart, this passage isn’t about divorce at all, but it’s about the value of those the dominant culture sees no value in protecting. I can make a pretty strong case for that, based on the evidence. Ironically, I also could make a case for protecting the rights and well-being of LGBT folks, based on the deeper meaning of this text! But that doesn’t change the meaning others will draw from it. 

We need to recognize that and somehow deal with it. How do we do that? I wish I could tell you, but I’m still working it out, too. I do know it’s important that the perspective of progressive Christians be heard as we wrestle with how to apply the truths we find in the Bible to life in our contemporary context. We can’t allow conservative Christians to speak for us. But we also need to recognize that not all Christians understand the Scriptures the way we do. It’s a challenge—one I pray we will meet with love.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

The witch is in!

I’ve been in a wickedly witchy way all day, so prepare for a rant. I really don’t want to be judgmental, but there are some people who just draw the judgmentalism right outa me. What they do at home is their own business, but when they share space with others, like a church for instance, they need to show some consideration. After nearly four decades of ordained ministry, I hereby decree that I have had my fill of the following:
  • People who bring coffee into worship, stow their half-empty cups under a pew and leave them there after they go home.
  • People who throw their gum on the floor where someone else steps in it and grinds it into the carpet.
  • People who use up all the paper in the copy machine and don’t bother to refill the drawer.
  • People who jam the copier and walk away without unjamming it, or at least leaving a note of apology.
  • People who use the last staple in the stapler and don’t bother to fill it for the next person.
  • People who finish up the toilet paper, or all but the very last square of toilet paper, and don't replace it, with no concern for the next person who will be paperless in a situation where a person never wants to be paperless.
  • People who clog the toilet so it overflows and then don't bother to mention it to anyone. This is right up there with people who take a major dump and then leave without flushing.
  • People who use the microwave, their food splatters all over it while they’re cooking, and then they don’t bother to clean it out.
  • People who go to toss their paper towel in the trash can in the restroom, miss their target and leave the crumpled mess on the floor.
  • People who use the church kitchen and walk away with dishes in the sink, or crumbs on the counters or an overflowing garbage can.
  • People who finish their cigarettes and then flick the butts on the ground.
  • People who park in our public parking lot and don’t want to take their trash with them so they leave it in on the ground: Miller cans, Starbucks cups, McDonald’s bags, etc.
What do all these people have in common? They have absolutely no consideration for those who come after them. They do whatever they damn well please, make a mess, and walk away. Just who do they think is going to clean it up? Who is going to do what they left undone? Who is going to undo what they’ve done? They are careless, and by that, I mean they don’t care about anyone other than themselves. They are the center of the universe and the rest of us are here to serve them.

I put the person who walks away without replacing the toilet paper in the same category with all people who have no consideration for those who come after them. If you’re capable of splattering the inside of a microwave and leaving the mess for the next person to clean up, you are right up there with people who abuse the environment without regard for those who come after you. And if you can walk away from a copier that you’ve jammed, you clearly aren’t ready to take responsibility for the way your actions impact the world around you. If you will toss your beer can in a parking lot, you will just as surely toss people aside when they no longer serve your needs. I know there has to be a correlation between those who are inconsiderate in little ways and those who are inconsiderate in big ways.

I have no patience with this behavior. If I knew who did these things, I’d ask them to clean up their own mess, but they always dump and run under a cloak of secrecy. This makes me think they realize that they’re wronging the rest of us. But I have to wonder if they feel any guilt about it. Do they care that this is not the way to love your neighbor as you love yourself?

If I were a real witch, I'd banish each person who does such things to his or her own little planet where they can make all the messes they want and then walk away. Of course, they’ll be stuck with a massively messed up planet if they don't eventually take responsibility for their actions. But that would be their problem, which is exactly as it should be. With all of them banished to their planets, then the rest of us could spend more time cleaning up our own messes. I know I’ve got enough to keep me busy for a while.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Pope Backlash

I'm troubled by all the backlash about Pope Francis having a conversation with Kim Davis. Why does the pope have to be perfect in every way before we give him credence? He's a human being, a saint and sinner like all of us. He does some stuff I don't like (such as supporting an exclusively male priesthood), but that doesn't make him the devil incarnate. It just means that I don't agree with him on some points. Why does the fact that the pope did something many of us don't like negate all the good he did in his visit to the US?

How quickly we turn on those who don't meet our expectations. We're all in or we're all out. I don't know which is a greater problem -- the need we have to idealize people who are flawed like all the rest of us, or our propensity to attack them when they fail to meet our expectations. What's the deal?

It's much like people who leave the church over one negative experience, or those who discount all of Scripture because they can't buy every word of it hook-line-and-sinker. I'm reminded of when Jesus said, "whoever isn't against us is for us", which happened to be our reading last Sunday. He didn't say whoever isn't for everything we're for is against us, which seems to be what we believe. We are quick to draw lines between ourselves and those who disagree with us. Those who don't see things our way become the enemy. Really?

I encourage those who are ready to throw everything the pope did last week out with the Kim Davis bathwater, to examine why they have reacted this way? Why did you expect so much of a human being? And why has his failure to meet your expectations caused you to dismiss him completely?

Can we stop drawing lines between us and them? (Them being everyone who disagrees with us.)People aren't either good or bad. The world can't be divided into friends or enemies. Life is a lot more complicated than that.

I'm not here to be the hero in my little life's drama, doing battle with every evil foe I encounter. There is as much evil in me as the next person, and as much good, too. I know the same is true of Pope Francis. That's why I'm giving him a break for doing something I wish he hadn't.

Monday, September 21, 2015

Political Correctness. Who cares?

When did being politically correct go out of fashion? The words politically correct have become the butt of jokes. In some circles, it’s considered an insult to accuse someone of being too politically correct. What’s up with that?
Perhaps the problem is using the word politically. I know many people bristle at anything relating to the word politics. But the thing is, most of the people who are leading the charge against political correctness these days are politicians. Some have made a name for themselves by deriding political correctness. “Let’s return to the good old days when we didn’t have to worry about being politically correct, when we were free to speak our mind”, they’ll say to the cheering crowds. I’m not cheering. I’m disgusted.
The intent of political correctness is filtering what we say so that others are honored and respected. And this is a bad thing, why? Because we don’t care about running roughshod over the feelings of others? We don’t care about how they prefer to be addressed? We don’t care about how words are often used as weapons to keep others in their place? In short, because we don’t care.
My recollection of the “good old days”, as a woman who grew up in the 50s, is that it was a time when old white men did all the talking. These days, women, people of color, the disabled, youth, immigrants, and others have found their voice. I suspect that those who are opposed to political correctness are really just hoping to disrespect, belittle and bully any voices that are not their own into silence.
When political correctness is disregarded, compassion is disregarded, as well. And perhaps just plain old human decency.
I may not always do a great job of being politically correct, but I’m trying. Not because I care about following the latest trend, but simply because I care.

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Afraid to ask

Preached at Holy Trinity Lutheran Church, Charlotte on September 20, 2015.
I’m afraid to ask. Have you ever said that, or thought that? I’m afraid to ask. I’m afraid to ask my boss for a raise. I’m afraid to ask someone I’m attracted to on a date. I’m afraid to ask the doctor what my prognosis is. Generally speaking, being afraid to ask is motivated by one of two things.

First, you may be afraid to ask because you don’t want to appear stupid. You register for an upper level course and suspect that you may be in over your head. You arrive for the first class and the teacher starts talking about Gazibray’s Theory. All the other students in the class seem to know all about Gazibray’s Theory. You’ve never heard the word Gazibray before and you have no idea what Gazibray’s Theory is. But you’re afraid to ask because you don’t want to appear stupid.

Your new neighbors invite you to dinner. They are from Somalia and they like to practice their English with you. At dinner they serve you a very strange looking dish, the likes of which you have never seen in your life. You don’t know if you’ll be able to eat it, but they’re such lovely people, so you cautiously take your first bite. It actually tastes pretty good. You wonder, what am I eating? But you’re afraid to ask because you don’t want to know the answer. That’s the other big reason we can be afraid to ask. We don’t want to know the answer.

I’m afraid to ask. In today’s gospel lesson, we read that after Jesus once again laid out the way of the cross in his future, his disciples still didn’t understand. And they were afraid to ask. Was it because they didn’t want to appear stupid? Or was it because they were didn’t want to know the answer? They were afraid to ask.

Now, in all fairness to the disciples, at this point in Mark’s gospel, this is the second time Jesus has taken them aside to tell them about his upcoming suffering, death and resurrection. So, they still don’t understand, but really, it’s a lot to take in. This is not what anyone was expecting—a promised Messiah who would redeem Israel through suffering. They couldn’t get their heads around it. And that’s understandable. But the parts that’s a little harder to understand is that, given their confusion, they were afraid to ask any questions.

It may have been because they didn’t want to appear stupid. Or maybe they didn’t want to know the answer. But they were afraid to ask.

I suspect that there may be another reason going on here and that’s that they didn’t want to appear unfaithful. For when you throw religion into the mix, questions become more than simple questions for us. We often view them as a sign of faithlessness. It’s all too typical among God’s people for questions to be withheld. We pretend we don’t have questions. And yet the deepest mysteries of life can only be approached with questions. Why do good people suffer? Why are human beings so brutal with one another? Why does evil succeed? Why did God create such a messed up world? Why did Jesus have to suffer and die?

After Jesus’ disciples avoid the questions they were afraid to ask, notice what happens. They begin arguing among themselves over petty issues of rank and status. When they avoid asking hard questions, they focus on posturing about who is right.

Imagine how the story might have gone differently if the disciples had asked Jesus their questions. What kind of conversation might have resulted? How might it have strengthened the relationship they had with Jesus? But that’s not what they did. They were afraid to ask. And yet, they were not afraid to ignore what Jesus was saying and argue amongst themselves, completely missing the point.

Instead of struggling to understand the meaning of the cross and all that stuff about taking up your cross and following him and giving your life to save it, they immediately went to a scene of coming glory when they will be rewarded with power and status.

When Jesus heard them, he saw another teachable moment. He brought a child before his disciples and told them that they aren’t get what he has been telling them unless they can learn to welcome that child into their midst. A child, who was following his own curiosity, hanging around these men and their teacher, and likely disobeying his mother by doing so. A child, whose heart and mind was not yet set in concrete. A child, who was still curious. Curious about what it might mean to become a man. A child, full of questions.

Jesus might have proven his point about serving those who are at the lowest rung on the ladder in society another way. He might have talked about welcoming a woman into their midst, or a leper, or a Gentile. But he chose a child to make a point to his disciples who were afraid to ask.

It doesn’t take long for us humans to learn to be afraid to ask questions. But that fear is a learned thing for us. It doesn’t come naturally. What comes naturally is curiosity and questions. Lots of questions. Every child passes through a phase of asking question after question and driving their parents nuts. What’s that? It’s a bunny. What’s it doing? It’s eating. What’s it eating? Lettuce. What’s lettuce? It’s a vegetable. What’s a vegetable? It goes on and on.

Some of my favorite moments with children are in the questions they ask. Once when my daughter was young, she had seen way too many reruns of “I Love Lucy” and “Leave It to Beaver”, which I told her I used to watch on TV when I was a little girl, and she asked me, “Mommy, was the world black and white when you were a little girl?” It was a good question. And as I thought about it, the answer to that question is, yes. The world was black and white when I was a little girl. 

Back when Henry was four years old, his mother Angela shared with me some of the questions he was asking. These are the questions a four year old boy was asking about God over the course of two days: 
Does God die? How is God Jesus and God at the same time? If God doesn't die, why didn't God make it so we don't die? Does God like the cold weather? Does God like pirates? Do pirates do bad things to God, too? Where does God live? Was God ever a baby? Does God love sharks? Why did God make sharks? Does God talk to us when he isn't right here?

Henry alternated between calling God a
he and a she. Angela wondered if maybe he was thinking of his pastor as God. He told his mother that he met God once and told her what he liked, and that God had brown hair. When his mom told him that she, too, asked God why we had to die, but that God didn't answer, he said, "Well, if you two are kind of close, maybe you could ask again and she will tell you."

That’s the kind of perspective Jesus was telling his disciples to welcome into their lives—his disciples who were too afraid to ask.

I don’t know where we get the idea that asking questions is a sign of faithlessness, but nothing could be further from the truth. We’re afraid to ask questions because we don’t want to appear stupid, or maybe because we’re afraid of the answers. 

I suspect our biggest misunderstanding as people of faith is that we think questions need to have answers. And that has nothing to do with the life of faith. Faith is not about finding answers to questions. That’s knowledge. Knowledge is a good thing, but it’s not to be confused with faith. Faith is about learning to live with the questions. It’s trusting God when there are no answers.

A big part of what it means to be a loving not judging community of faith is giving people a safe place to live by faith—to ask questions, and let them live.

 Here’s a poem Gerhard Frost wrote about this:

 Never kill a question;
it is a fragile thing.
A good question deserves to live.
One doesn't so much answer it as converse with it,
Or, better yet, one lives with it.
Great questions are the permanent
and blessed guests of the mind.
But the greatest questions of all are those which build bridges to the heart,
addressing the whole person.
No answer should be designed to kill the question.
When one is too dogmatic or too sure,
one shows disrespect for truth and the question that points toward it.
Beyond my answer there is always more,
more light waiting to break in,
and waves of inexhaustible meaning
ready to break against wisdom's widening shore.
Wherever there is a question, LET IT LIVE!