Risky Hope and Generosity

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     Early this morning, in a thread I was reading, someone said "the depression literally killed people." It was said in response to the possibility of an impending economic crash and what we should do about it.
    That statement though, struck me as an odd one. The great depression didn't run around with a gun literally killing people. No one actually died directly from the depression at all.
    People did die, yes, but what they died of was due to two main things. The first despair, and the second a lack of their needs being met (food, shelter, clothing).
    I find it most disheartening when Christians are the ones responding with the type of rhetoric that losing money or crashing economic systems automatically means a death sentence, because collectively the narrative of the Bible, over and over again, offers solutions to both of these issues.
     We are supposed to be people of hope, people of the resurrection, who claim that even death has no dominion over us. Yet, we seem to falter at wavering economics. If our hope and trust come from our finances, we will be left wanting, even if there isn't a great depression.
      There still is job loss, there are still medical emergencies that leave us unable to work at times, there are still various tragedies that end up costing more money than we planned for or imagined. Putting our hope in finances is shaky ground. It is, quite honestly, building our foundation on shifting sand.
     There is an old hymn we sing regularly in our church that says "My hope is built on nothing less than Jesus blood and righteousness. I dare not trust the sweetest frame, but wholly lean on Jesus' name. On Christ the Solid Rock I stand, all other ground is sinking sand". It would be a scary place to be in right now if what we were really meaning was "My hope is built on nothing less than capitalist economics". But our hope isn't placed in the economy, our hope is (or at least should be) placed in Jesus.
     That might seem very pie in the sky when looking at job loss and the fear and anxiety that goes along with that, so what does that mean in the face of difficult times? It means that we look forward in hope despite our circumstances, but it also means that we share that hope with others. We pass the peace to a world living in anxiety. We are a non-anxious presence in anxious times. We love others well.
     My 2 year old son might understand that better than I do. When I start to look at the world with despair, he pulls me back in to look at the world instead with wonder. He asks me to sing one more song, or read one more book, or says "I love you." He declares with joy "look at the trees! Look at the birds! Look at these little rocks." It's amazing the small things that can give hope in the midst of difficult times.
     I've watched people give hope in these difficult days. Healthcare workers who are working around the clock despite their own exhaustion. School lunch ladies who put together kits of food to pass out to children in vulnerable places. Teachers creating zoom classrooms and spending hours putting together packets of materials. I've watched as friends have extended gifts to one another. I've watched as people have chosen to stay inside and play board games and read books versus put their neighbors at risk of a deadly virus. I've seen neighborhoods decorate their walk ways with chalk, and put displays in their windows to make the world a brighter place. I've had friends who are trained therapists and counselors offer their services virtually at no cost, to help people work through anxiety and fear with dignity. I've watched as my colleagues have spent hours calling congregants, creating meditation and devotion exercises, pray over people and with people, and stream sermons of hope to any who want to listen.
     All of this and more is hope giving work. It's life giving work. These are ways to dispel the darkness and bring about light to a people on the edge of despair. This is the work of resurrection that the church is called to and that the church can do.
      The second part, the meeting needs part, might feel more difficult or daunting, but it takes the same amount of creativity.
     I told my husband, "One of the interesting things about the depression to me, is that there were still rich people." Maybe more interesting is that we tend to tell their stories as the heroes of that time. The ones who pulled themselves up by their bootstraps. Yet, this is a very different narrative than the one we find in scripture.
     Story after story in the Bible tells us about the importance of generosity. The story of Lazarus and the Rich man, where the rich man got all his needs met on earth, and never shared with his poor neighbor Lazarus, and its the rich man that ends up in hell (he's definitely not the hero). The story in the old testament of King Eglon in the book of Judges, who was so obese the handle of a sword disappeared in his belly, which was a statement about someone with the ability to gorge himself while those around him starved to death, instead of being generous (among other things). The story of the rich young ruler who went away sad because Jesus told him to sell everything he has and give it to the poor. The system in the Old Testament law of gleaning, where part of crops must be left for the poor. The story of the widow of Zarapheth who had so little flour and oil that she was planning to make a last meal for herself and her child, before starving to death, but shared it with Elijah out of obedience to God and ended up having her needs met day after day after day. The system of Jubilee where debts are forgiven and land is restored, that while never being lived out the way it should, was still a directive from God. The church in Acts 2 that shared everything in common, and so everyone had their needs met. I could go on and on and on. Story after story after story.
      God cares deeply for the needs of people, because people are the beloved of God. The way that God meets those needs most often, is through the generosity of the people of God.
     We've been told a lie by our culture that tells us that what we have is ours. We worked hard for it, we deserve it. What God tells us is that everything is God's. Everything is a gift, and because everything is a gift, we are to generously share with those around us.
     When you have more than you need, you build longer tables. We are to be people of longer tables.
      It might seem that we don't have anything to share, but often that's because we fail to have an imagination. If we have a guest room, we can share it. If we have 2 coats, we can give one to someone who needs one. If we have a years worth of toilet paper, certainly we could spare some rolls for our neighbor without any. If we know how to bake bread, we can share that knowledge with others who need to know how in days when there is no bread on the shelves or no money to buy it. If we have a 20 lb bag of rice, we could certainly find a way to share it with others.
       We are going to need to be people with a kingdom imagination, to create ways we can share with others. There has been no shortage of imagination these days, with how we are learning to share digitally with one another. What if we could take that creative energy, and think of ways to share more deeply and more creatively with those around us who have needs? To share with those who are facing job losses or insecurity?
       Scarcity is a myth deeply woven into our society. It tells us we need to buy more, to protect what we have at all costs, and to build up stores for ourselves. But this is not the narrative of the people of God. Our narrative is to be one of risky hope and generosity. Where we give out of a deep trust that God cares for the sparrow and will care for us too. Where there is always enough, when we share the little bit we have with those around us.
      Let us be the people of God that we are called to be. Let us be people of risky hope and generosity.

The flowering of the cross

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     Each year, our church participates in a beautiful tradition, the flowering of the cross. It is a highlight of the Easter service. It is incredibly participatory for our intergenerational church, creates a beautiful (and tangible) illustration of life out of death, and makes for an amazing back drop for Easter photos. 
     I've had several people ask about the logistics of creating a flowering cross of their own, and also what a liturgy might look like. Because there has been such an interest, I have decided to write out both the logistics (with photos) of how to put one together, and a liturgy as well.
      Holy Week is BUSY for those of us in ministry, so the more we can share with one another (especially tips on how to make things more simple) the better. This is VERY simple to put together, but has a significant impact. 
      First, this is what our cross looks like for Good Friday. 
     This is obviously far from a flower cross. Last year we gradually blew out candles throughout the service, and it made such a visual impact that we will probably do that again. If anyone is interested in our Good Friday liturgy, I'm more than happy to share that in another post, just comment that you'd like to see it. 
     Our cross was built by a couple in our church, and I'm happy to get instructions for that as well. It's unfinished (I like the look of it that way), and it inserts into a base, which makes it much easier to move when we need to move it, and creates a great platform for vignettes like the one I created for Good Friday. 
     The cross is simply draped in a black cloth for the Good Friday service. 
     On Holy Saturday, I turn over the cross from Good Friday to Easter. It's a work Saturday for me, as I stop at the local florist (I highly recommend working with a local florist, to build relationships and support local businesses) to pick up our Easter lilies as well as getting extra flowers for the flowering of the cross, and reset the sanctuary. 
      If flowers are growing outdoors (which is very dependent on where you live, and where Easter falls) I encourage using those. We ask everyone in our congregation to bring flowers from their gardens or to pick up flowers from their favorite florist. Our cross ends up looking very different every year because of this. It's important that we have our congregants participate, because it's to symbolize that we are a resurrection community. That what started with Jesus continues with us, as we breathe life in the dead places of the world. 
     After taking the Good Friday decor down, I then wrap chicken wire around the cross. The chicken wire extends beyond the top and arms, but doesn't extend fully to the back (it doesn't need to). It extends just enough to look great from any angle someone would be sitting in. I encourage you to measure and cut your chicken wire ahead of time, so you aren't doing that while trying to reset on Holy Saturday. The cross looks like this when wrapped in chicken wire. (Notice the extra flowers from the florist. I tend to purchase a couple bunches of inexpensive, but beautiful flowers in various colors)

     The reason I like to use chicken wire is that it is nearly invisible when seated in the congregation. It also is very easy to weave flowers and greenery through, even for our youngest congregants. 
     Once the cross is wrapped in chicken wire, then I arrange the white cloth. This actually takes me longer than the chicken wire, because I get pretty particular about how I want it to look. 

     I always leave the extra flowers at the foot of the cross for Easter morning. The florist and I have a great relationship at this point, so they always let me take their large buckets with me, which come in handy. Having some greenery like Eucalyptus, or palm branches are also a nice inexpensive touch to the look of the cross. 
      On Easter Sunday, nearly everyone brings flowers in, many bringing extra for guests they know that are coming from out of town. Our cross gets more and more full each year. Another nice thing about the chicken wire is that it is easy to keep adding until the dross is very full. 
      We flower the cross at the end of our service following the Eucharist. It fits really well for us. I talk about remembering Christ's death, and that we too are called to die, but that the heart of our faith is resurrection. That we are to participate in resurrection life in the world as well. Sewing seeds for the kingdom of God, and breathing resurrection life into the world. 
      We play upbeat music about the resurrection, and it feels like a celebration. Since our services are intergenerational, everyone gets involved. The tall adults lift toddlers up on their shoulders to reach the very top. Board members make sure that visitors are all given flowers to contribute. It's a beautiful image of resurrection community. 

     This is what our cross looks like when it's finished! The colors change from year to year, and it seems to get more and more full each year. 

      I know there are some churches who use silk flowers that they reuse each year. I prefer real flowers for a few reasons 1) there is enough plastic pollution in our world without contributing more and real flowers are compostable 2) it feels weird talking about life with something that's not alive 3) it feels much more participatory when people are bringing in their favorite flowers.
      People linger around the flower cross for a while. Taking photos and celebrating before we take off for brunch. It makes for great photos with family, and everyone loves it.
(Easter 2019)

      This leaves the question, what do we do with the flowers when we are done? After brunch, we encourage people to make bouquets to take home. It's a good reminder for them throughout Easter week about being resurrection in other places. 
      I know it seems like a lot of work for such a short part of our service, but it really is that impactful and looked forward to so much, that I get joy doing the work for it each and every year. It's a highlight in my year, and I love all it represents in the life of our church. It really feels like a moment that reenergizes us for our mission in the world. 
     However, if you want to enjoy it longer, many people flower the cross during their Easter Vigil at midnight. It would also be a great thing to include in a sunrise service (we find that our sunrise service is best when we are doing interactive things. We actually do resurrection eggs, lots of songs, and an easter craft to take home). 
      This is an example of what I say to lead us into the liturgy of communion and the flowering of the cross response:
(this was following baptism) As a resurrection community there is another act we participate in, and that is the Eucharist. It reminds us of the great sacrifice of Jesus for us, and again a reminder that we are called to live differently. We are called to walk the path of the cross that we might ultimately know resurrection.
Because we are talking about participating in resurrection today, we will not only be receiving communion, but we will also be participating in the flowering of the cross. It is a way for us to be reminded that God transforms broken and dead things into whole and live things. So as a response to our time of communion this morning, we ask that you also come forward to weave your flowers, and the flowers here at the foot of the cross, onto the cross as a reminder that we are participating with Christ in the redeeming, restoring, and resurrecting work in the world.

(from our oldest son's baptism Easter 2018)

    This is a beautiful and meaningful time for our church, as it leads well to celebration and being sent into the world. It also makes for some great photos! 
     I would love to hear about your flower crosses and see photos if you end up adding this into your liturgy this year, so send your stories and photos to me! Happy preparations for the busy season ahead! 

The Resurrection of Mothers

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      This Sunday is Mother's Day in the United States. In case you were unaware, Mother's day is celebrated in many countries around the world, the dates just vary from the United States. This Sunday is also the fourth Sunday of Easter. You may have also been unaware of this, but Easter is a season that stretches from Resurrection Sunday to Pentecost.
      I've been reflecting a bit on how Mother's day falls right smack dab in the middle of Eastertide (and generally does so). I always feel it important to acknowledge Mother's day in our church, but not lose sight that we are there to worship and celebrate the resurrection together. Over the past few days, however, I've really begun to feel that Easter is the most appropriate season for Mother's day.
      It may seem an odd connection, but let me explain.
       Throughout Lent and into Holy week we talk about the things that need to be crucified, that need to be laid aside, so that new life can be born in us. That we might become part of this beautiful resurrection community. That we might partner with the resurrection work the Holy Spirit is doing even now in the world, and look ahead with hope to the final resurrection where all things are made right.
     There are a lot of things about motherhood that could use a crucifixion. That could be laid down in order to make space for a resurrection work.
    We could crucify complementarianism, and the idea that women can't be equal partners in the work God seeks to do in the world. We could acknowledge and be grateful for the amazing gifts they give to the world, and celebrate the ways that the image of God is seen fully when we work together, this is a gift of resurrection.
     We could seek to crucify the ways we elevate motherhood into idolatry. As though being a biological mother is the only way to impact the world for good. We could resurrect the motherhood of the church, and celebrate the ways that faith mothers sow seeds of resurrection every day, with or without their own children.
      As a mother myself, I would be happy to sacrifice the martyrdom of motherhood. This idea that we must and should give up everything about ourselves, our showers, our health, our time, our identity, completely and totally for the sake of our children, or be deemed selfish. Let's resurrect the reality that mothers are also the beloved of God, and that God has given unique dreams, gifts, and talents to these women, that they can be a great force for the mission of God in the world.
     We could seek to surrender our prejudice, biases, and racism that label immigrant mothers or mothers living in poverty as something less than children of God. We could find resurrection hope in the ways we seek to find what we have in common, and the ways we can grow and learn from one another.
      But there are other ways we need the hope of resurrection this mother's day too.
      For many, Mother's day is a painful reminder of what they have lost. The death of their own mother or grandmother. The death of a child. The loss of expectations that will never be met, through the grief of infertility or miscarriage. The painful thought that "no one knows I'm a mother." created by adoption plans, abortion, or infant loss. The unique grief that comes from broken relationships, or mothers who weren't what they should have been. Sometimes we are grieving the ways we feel like we have failed as parents, or the loss of dreams for our children. These all need a fresh breath of resurrection hope.
      The hope of Easter is not just a hope for someday, it's a hope for now too. We often relegate the idea of Immanuel, God with us, to advent, but it's the story of Easter too. The message that God loves us so much, He entered into our pain with us, and continues to do so. Not just to leave us in our suffering and grief, but to breathe new life in the midst of our pain. This is a great message for the Church this mother's day. For the women sitting in pews around the country, to hear that they are loved, regardless of the status of their womb, or the relationship with their own mothers, or children. This is a message that God wants to do a new thing in all of us.
     So somewhere between breakfast in bed and cleaning up the dishes, I hope you know that there is resurrection here for you. That your tired eyes are seen, and that your need for rest is felt by a God who says to come and rest. Or between the blankets in your bed, as you try to sleep this painful day away, know that God is present with you. That your tears are felt and shared, and that you are still beloved in the midst of the grief. Or like me, between the chaos of pastoring, celebrating, and motherhood as you both mother your congregation and your children, know that it's okay to have more to your identity than mom. That you are part of the great mission of God in the world, as you breathe resurrection around you. Wherever you are, whether rejoicing or in pain, there is a God who sees you, who walks with you, who calls you believed, and who is extending hope to you today.
    There is resurrection for you, no matter where you are, no matter who you are. So this mother's day, and each day, may we breathe that hope deeply into our hearts, and release them like dandelion seeds into the world around us. That we may see resurrection grow in the hearts of the rejoicing, and the brokenhearted alike. Happy Mother's day, and happy Easter!

Leaning Into Compassion

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Each year I am tasked with giving an annual report to other churches on our district. It's a way to be accountable, and have others join in the struggle and joy of what is happening in all of our churches. This year we were asked to share a way we have personally been engaged in an act of compassion this year. This is my story. 
Each year I give a “state of the Church address”, where I seek to cast vision for our church in the upcoming year. This year, the focus was hospitality. I told my congregation “they will know they are Christians by our love, but they will know they are loved by our hospitality.”
This has been something Mac, Michael, and I have tried to live out in our lives. It’s a cornerstone of what we believe it means to be a Christian. Because of this, over the last 5 years, we have seen our home filled with no less than 200 people. People staying overnight, using our showers, eating meals in our home. Calls and emails from other Nazarenes who don’t know us but need a place to stay while they do doctoral work, or do work in the city. Mac and I decided when we got married that our home has an open door policy to those in need. Our house is not our own, it belongs to God, and we will use it however God wants to use it. Our answer has always been “yes, come.”
So, when we received an email from The Welcome Network, a faith based non-profit doing immigration and refugee work here in Northwest Indiana, that they were desperately looking for housing for Congolese asylum seekers and refugees, we didn’t need to think or pray long to know that our answer needed to be “yes, come.”
 We knew the moment we said yes, the process could be fast. We didn’t know how fast it would be. We gave our yes on a Friday in November, just a couple weeks before thanksgiving, and received the call on Sunday. A family of 7, just released from the screening process at the border needed somewhere to go.
“We know this is a lot of people. We know this is more than you expected, let us know, but know when you say yes, the organization in Texas will put them on a bus and they will be here in days.”
I asked Mac “what do we do? There are 7 people. 5 children from age 2 to 13. Can we house them?” Mac’s response “We aren’t going to leave them with nowhere to go. Tell them yes, come.”
So again, we said yes that Sunday, and they arrived the next Wednesday. I had a trip out of town, so Mac and his family moved all of our furniture. They moved the baby's crib back into our bedroom. They made beds. We asked for more towels, sheets, and plates. Our church stepped in in amazing ways. We brought the folding table up from downstairs, and literally turned our table for 6 into a table for 10.
When they arrived in our home, no one spoke English. Mac used every word in French that he could remember. If you doubt that God uses everything when given to him, ask Mac about his once seemingly useless minor in French. When I realized the kids had learned Spanish from their 8 month journey through the jungles of south and Central America, I used every bit of Spanish I knew to communicate with them.
Adding 7 people to your once quiet home was, in one word, chaos. It’s been hours of school pick ups and drop offs. I’ve spent hours on the phone with school counselors trying to come up with plans of how to help our 8th grader make friends in a world that is difficult for American kids who speak English fluently. We spent Thanksgiving in the church basement, because we outgrew both our home, and my in-law’s home, where we introduced them to “the feast of the turkey” as they call it. We spent the most beautiful Christmas we’ve ever had, with children coming down the stairs with wide eyes that a Santa Claus that never visited them in Africa would come here to their new home in America for them. With tiny wrapped gifts under the tree with tags that read “Michael Big”, “Robbie”, and “baby Michael”, small tokens chosen with care from the school store. We’ve introduced them to birthday cake, a tradition that is not common in the Congo. The kids now assure me that birthday cake is their favorite food, to which I wholeheartedly agree.
But they’ve introduced us to a lot too. Maybe the biggest being constant sanctification. That might sound weird, but living in community with people is hard work. Things get broken. Misunderstandings happen. There are many days we just want to have a quiet house, and we don’t have that luxury. Groceries for 10 people are extremely expensive, and we’ve learned to give without thinking. We’ve learned that the right and good thing to do, is often the hardest thing to do.
It was easy to initially say yes, it’s much harder to keep saying yes.
Maybe the biggest lesson of compassion we have learned involves our son. After our initial yes, I was sitting in his nearly empty room while he played with his toys, and started to cry. Was this what is best for him? Getting displaced from his room? Having to share all his toys? Introducing him to unknown people from an unknown place? This great sense of mom guilt rushed over me. I knew we wouldn’t have as much to spend on him. We already had so little, and now we were asking for loaves and fish miracles daily. He would go without things I always imagined him having.  
After 6 months, it’s safe to say, he’s by far the favorite person in our home. He says so many of the kids names, and when our 8th grader gets home from school he screams, giggles, and runs to her. I have to remind myself daily as a parent, that when I baptized my son into the church, I was saying he wasn’t mine, but belonged to God. That of all the things in the world I want for him, safety is so far down the list. What I pray and want for him is to be a person of love, of compassion, of holiness. I know the only way for him to learn those things, is to live those things.
So we lean into the hard things. We lean into the hard days. We lean into empty bank accounts, and broken garbage disposals. We lean into misunderstandings, and language barriers, we lean into them like leaning into childbirth, and what we’ve found is a joy that’s unspeakable, a love that is unending, a community that is deeper than race, culture, or language.
I asked our 14 year old one time. Is there a song you could teach us that you used to sing in church at home in Africa? She thought for a moment and she said “I know one….” And she sang “Alleluia…. Alleluia...for the Lord God Almighty reigns” And as she sang in Portuguese, I sang in English. I was reminded, Alleluia isn’t English, and so we had this word that transcended language, and it means Praise God! Praise God!
In church a couple months ago, we sang a chorus you might be familiar with “Alleluia. Alleluia. Alleluia. Alleluia.” We had at least 3 main languages represented in that sanctuary that Sunday morning, and every voice was singing. Haitian creole, Lingala, Portuguese, Spanish, English, French, it didn’t matter, in A Capella voices rang. “Alleluia! Alleluia!” This is the truth we have learned these past few months.
I asked Mac “how is it that these people can drive me crazy, and yet I can love them so deeply?” He said “I think they just call that family.”

And it is. Through compassion, through grace, through hospitality, we have learned a great deal about the beauty, the wealth, the glory, the love, joy, and the grace of the family of God. Alleluia.
 -In the Great Hospitality of Christ, respectfully submitted, Rev. Robbie Cansler

More than Bread: Meeting the Needs of People

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     Shortly following the Notre Dame fire, I saw a meme going around. It said "Please don't donate to help rebuild Notre Dame. The building is worth $30 billion. Donate to help Puerto Rico recover. Donate to get Flint clean water. Donate to get kids out of cages. Jesus didn't care about stained glass. He cared about humans."
     At first I wanted to add my hearty Amen, but then I began to sit with it more. Before I was plunged head first into Urban ministry, I would have wholeheartedly agreed. Meet the basic needs of people. Those needs are food, clean water, clothes, and a safe place to live. However, now I realize how dehumanizing it is to reduce people to those few basic needs.
     If all we spend money on is food for the poor, so they can be saved, what are we saving them to? (Also.... maybe we should lose the language of saving people in the first place... but I digress)
     It might seem odd that someone who does ministry in a city lacking so much, is advocating for something other than this meme is saying. Now, don't hear what I'm not saying, I'm not saying don't donate to rebuilding Puerto Rico, they need the money. Please give to clean water initiatives in Flint, I have friends there and family nearby. Please vote and advocate to reunify children with their parents. Jesus did desperately care about humans, but he cared about the whole human, not just basic needs.
      Reducing people to only needing water, clothing, food, and shelter misses so many things about the image of God in people. Jesus said it this way "man does not live on bread alone."
    In America, many people who have their "basic" needs met are still dying. Because life isn't just about those things. Life is also about beauty, about art, about community. Life is about finding spaces to pray, to meditate, and to reflect. And when we don't have those things, just as much as not having the others, something deep and necessary is missing in our lives.
    I'm also going to go out on a limb here and say, Jesus does care about stained glass, because he cares deeply about the artisans who created it and the ways that they used those gifts to glorify him. We would never say "Jesus doesn't care about our songs on Sunday." He does! Because they are an act of worship. For artists, their act of worship is art. Man doesn't live on bread alone.
     Last year, our church building had serious plumbing issues. It drove me crazy, because we had to spend a significant amount of money to get it fixed. As the plumber was putting the camera down our pipes to discover the problem, I mentioned to him how frustrated I was that we were spending money on plumbing instead of on ministry. I honestly think this man might have been an angel in disguise, because what he said to me has profoundly impacted me to this day. He said "having working pipes is a ministry. The ability for people to use the bathroom is a basic human need. If you can't meet that, it makes the rest of your ministry difficult to do. Don't discount the ministry of your building."
     I was dumbfounded, and convicted. In so many ways. I had, and still do at times, see our building as a burden. As a hindrance to doing ministry, without realizing that in so many ways, my building is a ministry. We have had many homeless and transient people use our restrooms, or come in to get warm. We have children who are just being potty trained rush down to the bathroom. So many of our Sunday visitors, just happen to be walking by, and end up finding community here. A lot of our congregation finds a beautiful space important for them in connecting with God. Our building is a ministry.
     It's hard to look at a $30 billion price tag, and how quickly money is raised, and not feel a bit incensed about it, people are dying after all. But, we also have to look at ourselves. I've spent $50 on a dress because it was pretty, and I felt good in it. I've spent money on art pieces and photography for my home. Why? Because people need more than bread. People need self-expression, and belonging. They need art and beauty. They need toilets, and spaces to pray. They need to have hope, and looking at beautiful things that glorify God often fills that need.
     There is a deep importance to understanding that people are more than basic needs, that they are creative, that they love music, they love art, they love pretty dresses just as much as the next person.
     But there's another important lesson to be learned here too, the economy of God is big, and is not in danger of running out of money. The question isn't "let's spend money here, instead of here, because there are limited funds", the challenge is how to do both. I think we've witnessed, that we can. There is enough money and human power to invest in beautiful spaces, to fix plumbing issues, and empower artists, while also feeding, clothing, and giving water to those in need. We just have to have the creativity and desire to do it.
    Let's work together. Let's restore dignity to people by caring for their whole person. Let's find where they are gifted and celebrate their gifts. Let's appreciate art, and the artist. Let's meet needs, and empower people to meet their own needs. Let's celebrate that God didn't create us to live on bread alone, but that we are all uniquely and beautifully made in the image of God. An image that is created for community and creativity, while also giving bread.

A Mile in Someone Else's Shoes

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     There has been a lot of buzz lately on the shoe choices of clergy. In particular, a small demographic of celebrity pastors, who are wearing shoes over $2,000 a pair. Though I have seen criticisms of shoes costing as low as $200.
      I understand the criticisms. It leaves many people to question if their tithe money is going to the ministries they think they are, or so their pastor can lead a life of luxury that they could never afford themselves. There is a continuing question of stewardship, and if that is the best way to use money, and the resounding answer tends to be no.
      However, there's a huge issue with this collective outrage, the reality that unless your pastor was actually on that small list, they aren't the problem you think they are. I've actually seen people say "this is why I don't give to my local church" or "I'm reconsidering tithing" and it breaks my heart, because most of us who are pastoring are far from being able to afford $2,000 shoes, we're struggling to put food on our tables and pay our bills.
       Let me be truthfully vulnerable about our situation. My husband lost his job this week, and with it we lost all of our insurance benefits and our regular source of income. That might not seem like a big deal, I work full time at the church after all, but the reality is that the only income we receive from our small church is housing and utilities. But, because we receive housing, it's considered income, and thus it is taxable. Clergy have to pay self employment tax, which is a significant percentage of our income. We also have to pay the various other parts of income tax as well, including social security, and without an employer to supplement it, these amounts become very large very quickly. I did the math this week, and what I make comes down to about $2 an hour (which is a generous estimate). Remember none of that is in an actual salary, so we don't receive any of that money to buy groceries, it is all tied up in our house.
     Because of this I am bi-vocational. I substitute taught for the first few years we were here, but when we had our son, we couldn't afford child care, so now I do freelance writing work on the side, meaning I end up working 60-80 hours a week many weeks, in addition to caring for our son full time.
      We are still paying off student loans, and while we are doing well in this area, almost always our bills are higher than we bring in, especially these days. It is very likely that though we always try to help others (which we do) that we will very much need to be on the receiving side of help very soon.
      I don't say that as a sob story, so don't read it that way, but the truth is more pastors I know (and I know a lot) are in our situation than in the situation of buying designer shoes. I know pastors that have no idea how they are going to pay off their student loans, and when tax time comes around they get extreme anxiety over how much they owe the IRS this year. There are numerous pastors, just in my circle, whose children are on medicaid and receive WIC benefits just to get by. Many pastoral families are receiving food from the very food pantries their churches help to run for those in need in the community. Even pastors who aren't struggling in these seemingly more extreme ways have made a consistent number of jokes about their shoes from the sale bin, because they feel the absurdity at ever being able to pay that much for a luxury.
     Often these people who would drop everything to be at your bedside in the hospital, who consider it a privilege to study and preach the word to you, who hold your hand through your financial crises, aren't talking about their own financial crises. They aren't talking about the years they have gone without health insurance, and depended on prayers that they wouldn't have an emergency. They aren't telling you about how they aren't able to go to the bedside of their own family members who are ill, because the trip home is too expensive. The truth is, they want to carry your burdens, they don't want to be a burden.
      The number of pastors who have to work another job or 2 in order to continue serving their community is rising, and they do it. Not out of some weird savior complex, but because they aren't pastoring for the money, they are doing it because they feel called. They don't give up being at the bedside of their family members because they want to hold it over you, they do it because they love you, and they see you as their family too.
      One of my favorite stories about Mother Teresa is that when they would get donations of bins of shoes, she would always look for the worst pair. When someone asked her about it, they discovered it was because those were the shoes she chose to wear. She wanted to make sure that none of the people she was serving got the worst pair. At the end of her life, her feet were deformed from years of this practice.
     The reality is, most pastors do the same. They might not have a bin of shoes to go through and pick out the worst, though I think many of us would do that, if that was all we had. But metaphorically, they do that hard work and make those hard sacrifices.
      Despite the sometimes held belief, we do work more than Sunday. We spend hours in prayer over you, we spend hours writing curriculum, stressing over church budgets, studying scripture, and writing sermons. We spend time in our communities getting to know people, and sharing life with them. We spend time grieving when you grieve, and rejoicing when you rejoice. We have gotten up many times in the middle of the night, to drive to houses on fumes in our gas tank, because we love those we serve. We have sometimes gone without, so that we could give you a few dollars that you come to the church desperately needing. We mow lawns, unclog toilets, and make sure the toilet paper is filled for Sunday. We stay up late into the night, and get up early in the morning, because we want to be there for you.
      This is most of the pastors I know. They aren't celebrities putting on a show, wearing flashy clothes, and driving expensive cars. They are hard working people who love God and love their communities more than they love themselves, and are trying to live out their calling of service while also just being able to feed their families.
       So, by all means, lets have the hard conversations about stewardship. Let's talk about how all of us who are Christians (not just pastors) should be using our money, our time, and our influence. But, let's also take time to walk a mile in the shoes of the majority of pastors, and remember that they cost far less than $2,000, and there's even a chance they are the worst pair out of a free bin, so that you can have the best.

The Discipleship of Motherhood

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    Nothing has impacted my journey as a disciple, pastor, and person more this year than becoming a mother. Probably nothing has impacted me in my entire life the way motherhood has.
A year ago, when a few of us were visiting Greece, I lit a candle in a thousands year old church and said a prayer for a baby, in much the way that Hannah prayed for Samuel. It had been the prayer of our hearts for most of our marriage. We had no idea that at the time that prayer was prayed God was already weaving together a miracle.
I don’t know why God chooses some people to bear biological children, and others not to. In my deep Wesleyanism I question if that’s God’s choosing or not, or if that’s just a consequence of free will and chance. But whatever it is, this miracle has deeply transformed my life.
I’m forced each moment to be present for someone who doesn’t understand the words wait. I’m forced to think about what it means to illustrate the kingdom of God to one I hope grows to love Jesus and others in ways I can’t even imagine.
So now, my discipleship journey looks like changing diapers, and drying tears. It looks like good night kisses, and snuggle sessions. It looks like singing “Jesus loves me” just one more time before bed. It looks like reading the little golden book about God for the hundredth time, the way my mom did for me so many years ago. It looks like long prayers during midnight feedings, that the world might see and know the love of Jesus.
It probably goes without saying to say that balancing full time pastoring with full time motherhood is a challenge. I often feel distracted and tired. I feel guilty at times for missing substitute teaching, when I know so many people would give a lot to be able to take their children to work with them every day. A few people have said I’m a superhero, and I don’t feel that way. If anything, motherhood has taught me a lot about my complete and utter dependence on the community of faith and on Jesus.
On my worst days, I have really learned that it takes more than parents to raise a child, it takes the church. This body of Christ together praying, rejoicing, playing, laughing, celebrating, crying, and everything in between. I can’t do this on my own, and my rugged individualism has again had to be chipped away. We need each other.
On Easter Sunday I had the complete honor of baptizing our son into the church. It was easily the highlight of my ministry, but it also was a lesson in discipleship as well. My life is not my own, I know, but my child is not my own either. He was bought by the very life of Jesus, and so I must live each day with this knowledge that this person I have prayed for for years, is to be given to the God who loves him more than I, over and over again. And when he turns his little head to look at me with the deepest love in his eyes, I pray in fervent hope that that is the way he learns to look at Jesus.
And, because of those precious baby looks, and those fervent prayers, I am trying my best to learn to look at Jesus that way too, with unending love for the Lord who loves me beyond measure.