January 14, 2014

Ordination Outside the Church

Yesterday on the Deeper Story, my friend Joy posted a beautiful story about her ordination while on a mission trip to Sri Lanka. It was a huge coming out for her not only because what she shared was a personal, but because of fear of what it meant to say that she, a woman from a tradition that does not ordain women was ordained and not in a church.

I hope you’ll take a break and read it here.

The theology behind such an ordination was that ordination is about affirmation of what God has already done is and doing in a life. Quoting the words of Rev. Luther Lee who presided over the ordination of one of the first women ever to receive such, Joy tells us that these words were a part of her ordination service:

“We are not here to make a minister. It is not to confer on this our sister a right to preach the gospel. If she has not that right already, we have no power to communicate it to her.”

Upon reading this, immediately thought about all the women in my life who are “pastors types” like me but have never been ordained and maybe never will be.

Some of these women come from traditions that don’t support women in ministry. They stay planted even in their less than supportive denominations because they know they are called to serve (even if their contributions are never recognized).

And some come from family and life situations where ordination just never happened. They would have loved to attended seminary, taken ordination exams, been confirmed by church boards, but they had other callings on their life too. So, they just served without being given such a title.

The ministry of these women I know inspires me. It challenges me. And I feel a sense of collegiality with them. Though they might feel inferior at first to me because I have seminary degree (ridiculous really that we have to have these barriers), in the end it matters little. If at all. From where I sit, we are sisters. We know what it feels like to be called by God to teach, to care for and even preach to those in need a word of good news. Pastors are just who we are.

Does this mean I am anti-traditional ordination like that which I received? The kind where a person finishes seminary, writes papers, sits before boards to talk about theology and then has a service of laying on of hands in a church when the whole process is said and done and ready to be affirmed by a community.

No. I’m not. I think theological education is important. The longer I am in ministry the more the words of James 3:1 ring in my ears: “Not many of you should become teachers, my fellow believers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly.” To teach or preach is serious business and those of us who do it need to make sure we’re studied up!

Furthermore,  it’s good to be blessed by a community of faith that has watched your growth and cheered you on. It’s good to have the support of the of those in whom you will soon lead.

And in all of this, the church needs more ordained persons– persons willing to stand up and say the bold thing that their life is not their own and that they will use their gifts to serve all of God’s people.

My ordination service over seven years ago and the responsiblity of minister that came out of that is so very important to the person I believe God wants me to be. I wouldn’t change the whole getting ordained in the church part for anything.

But, as a church we have to realize that while our processes are in place and good, they are equally broken.

Our communities affirm many, but often leave out others equally called. Our circles of affirmation liturgy need to enlarge.

Ordination is a gift to the church, but not for the sake of the church only. God calls some to ministry that may take place 100% outside of the church’s walls.

Ordination rules and regulations were not given to Moses on golden tablets, but have come through years of tradition. Sometime our traditions need to take new directions.

I’m proud of the courage of my friend, Joy and the freedom in which she is speaking about her calling. I know her courage is already inspiring countless others. And that there are other women (and men) like Joy who are expressing (and will be expressing) call to ordination in the near future– ordination that will serve the mission of Jesus Christ but may not look like what we’ve always known.

January 13, 2014

Vine and Branches

Jesus said, “I am the vine you are the branches if you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit.”

I’m sure I learned this verse from the gospel of John back in my Sunday School days as a child. It’s a great verse to go along with plant crafts and potting soil. It looks good printed on a church magnet. After you’ve heard these words for a long time, it’s easy to skim over  and not see the depth.

So for years, I think had no idea what John 15 was all about. Maybe I still don’t, but here are some of my latest hunches at least some to offer the blog today:

If I say I am a follower of Jesus, I am not in control of my life. I am simply connected to a larger story that I am graced to play a part in. 

How many times in life– daily if not weekly do you and I get ahead of ourselves with the planning of our futures? This is one of my favorite games I play in my head.

We think things like, “Well, if I applied and then got this new job, then I’ll need to move to this community. And if I moved to this community, I’d need buy a more reliable car. And if I go shopping for a more reliable car then I might not be able to buy what I want because my credit score isn’t high enough. Maybe I should pay down more of this credit card and . . . ” It’s an endless cycle of worry. And “what if” questions that have no concrete answers.

We plan and we plan and we plan some more– as if we are the ones running the show. But the thing is– we are not. Not at all.

If we say we are a follower of Jesus, then we are branches of the vine of Christ. We can only know our future as much as the vine directs us to grow. Nothing more.

Even if we pray everyday. Even if we pled Jesus for answers every day. Even if we went to seminary for goodness sake. We are the branches. Just the branches. A part from the vine we can do nothing. Such sounds harsh, doesn’t it? Especially to overachiever types like me. “Really, nothing?” I want to fire back. But over the past couple of years, even with all of the degrees to my name, etc. I have come to believe that anything worth doing comes as I am connected to the Spirit.

Another hunch I’ve been thinking about is that remaining or abiding (as some translations put it) in Christ is crucial to my relationship with myself and my community. 

If I want to have a life that moves in the direction of a future that is life-giving, joy-filled and gifted with hope in even during the darkest of seasons, then I must stay put until the Spirit moves. Not until then.

It means that I can’t know what kind of plant I might be a week, a month or years from now.

It means that any efforts I make to get ahead of the other branches around me will simply do no good– for to separate myself from others grafted to the same vine is to essentially leave the faith altogether. I am not a singular entity.

I recently heard an interview with Robin Roberts, the Good Morning America co-anchor. If you’ve followed her story at all, you know that she’s been through a hell of journey concerning her health over the past couple of years. Just when she thought she was in remission from breast cancer, she was diagnosed with a blood disease requiring a blood transfusion. Reports are that her recovery is on an upward trend. So many people have been in awe of her perseverance. I was struck by her comments to a reporter when she said: “If you are depressed,  you are living in the past. If you are anxious, you are living in the future. If  you are at peace, you are living in the present.’ At this moment I am at peace and filled with joy and gratitude. I am grateful to God, my doctors and nurses for my restored good health.”

This is what I believe living on the vine is all about. Not in the past, not in the future but in the moment of here and now of who exactly is around us (not who we want to be around us).

I’ve had moments in the past couple of months when I’ve caught myself with a mind filled with a tornado of worry. I’ve been obsessed with either the past or the future. And neither of these trains of thought have done me any good. And it has been these words of Jesus have shuck me up and set my feet on more stable ground again.

Jesus is the vine. I am the branches. If I remain in Christ, I will bear much fruit.

January 12, 2014

A Baptism Selfie

Who You Really Are:  a Baptism Selfie

Matthew 3:13-17

Preached January 12, 2013: Watonga Indian Baptist Mission Watonga, OK

BdpyZK3CYAAPEG3[1]It has been said the word of the year of 2013 was “selfie.” Do you know what a selfie is?

It’s a picture you take of yourself when there is no one else around to take your picture and then it is usually posted right away to Facebook or other social media sites (I took the one to the right when I was writing this sermon).

One of the responsibilities I have with Feed The Children is to volunteer with their social media department so I’ve watched the headlines closely on this growing trend. Teenagers in particular love it (Checked out Instagram lately?) And so do politicians. It made the headlines of the national news on Friday, June 14th  of last year when former first lady and secretary of state, Hillary Clinton posted her first “selfie” a photo of herself with her daughter Chelsea.  And then posted the photo to Twitter. Then, religious folks are into it too. Pope Francis is known to allow students—when they met him to pose for selfies.

We are a self-obsessed culture it seems. We like taking pictures of ourselves. We like taking pictures of important people.

But let’s continue the trend here this morning. Have a phone with a camera in it? I am doing something that a lot of pastors would not ask you to do in the middle of the sermon. I want you to get out your phone and if it I has a camera function I want you to position your screen on this page. Now, what I want you to do is get in groups with folks sitting in the pews beside you and take a picture of yourself with them.

(Later if you want you can share this with your friends/ family who aren’t with us in church this morning and show them through your smiling face what they are missing out on! Or you can post it to Facebook or the like).

But, now that we’ve taken these shots, pause with me and look at the picture of yourself. Who are the people in the picture? And then who are you? What is your full name? What is your story? Where did you come from? Who are your parents? What events in your life have led you to this moment right now when you are a part of this worship service? What does this picture you just took say about you?

In our gospel reading for this morning, we meet Jesus in what one Biblical commentator calls the “Jesus selfie.”[1]

Though we read the baptism stories in the three other gospels—Mark, Luke and John, only in Matthew does the narration focus our attention solely on Jesus. In Matthew’s story, there’s no indication of the heavens ripping dramatically open as there is in Mark’s gospel. And there’s no lengthy description about the Spirit coming down and descending among the scene as there is in John’s gospel. And furthermore, there’s no emphasis on the crowd gathered like in Luke’s gospel.

Nope—in Matthew’s account of Jesus’ baptism what we get is the straightforward story. The author’s intent is clearly to focus our attention not only the main event at this juncture in time, but on the main person we need to get to know: Jesus.

Jesus came forth from Galilee to the Jordan River where a crowd had already been gathered for quite sometime and John comes to Jesus and says (look with me at verse 14): “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?”

But then Jesus answered John saying, “Let it be so now; for it is proper for us in this way to fulfill all righteousness.”

And in these few words, I believe that Jesus is giving us revelation into what this “selfie” moment is all about. Jesus wants us to see him as Lord. Jesus wants us to see him as the ONE that John had been preaching and teaching about when he quoted the prophet Isaiah and said, “The voice of the one crying out in the wilderness; ‘Prepare the way for the Lord.’” Jesus wants us to see him the Messiah that Israel had been waiting for all these years—the one who would bring salvation to all.

But it’s interesting isn’t it that Jesus says “It is proper for us in this way to fulfill all righteousness?”

What does this mean? Often when you and I think of the word “baptism” we equate it with forgiveness of sins. Especially in the Baptist tradition where we don’t baptize infants but we wait for a person to get old enough to recognize their own faith and choose salvation found in Jesus for themselves—it is very easy to think baptism is about repentance.

And then this gets confusing when we see Jesus submitting himself to this act in the passage before us today because what did Jesus do to need forgiveness from? Wasn’t he perfect after all?

Yes. I believe he was perfect and lived a perfect life and this moment was not about making his life pure or right with God (for he WAS God). Rather Matthew is trying to show us Jesus’ moment of commissioning. It was his moment to stand before a gathered group of people and for as verse 16 tells us for the “heavens [to be] opened to him and [Jesus] to see the Spirit of God to descend like a dove aligning on him.”

This was no joke. Jesus was the real deal.

Jesus’ life would be forever changed from this moment on. He had a calling on his life. He had a life path full of places to go and people to see. He had a kingdom to bring to earth.

In baptism, this was the start of great things to come: the binding up the brokenhearted and bringing good news to the poor. It was the start of Jesus teaching, preaching and healing. It was the start of Jesus’ fulfilling the calling that he was born to fulfill.

And so it was a perfect day for a selfie.

If there was Facebook in ancient Palestine, I can only hope that this photo would have gotten lots of shares and likes if Jesus later posted it. Or at least lots of second looks—something was certainly changing by the Jordan River that day and the world would never be the same.

For those of you in this room who have been baptized, do you remember your baptism service? Who was the pastor? Do you remember who attended the service? Or even how you felt being touched by the cold water?

I was seven years old when I first touched the baptismal waters. It was in a Tennessee church. The baptismal pool was positioned in the sanctuary to the side of the pulpit—much like this one. I remember being excited about the big day. My grandparents had come for the service—both sets. I was getting a new Bible from the church with my name monogrammed on the outside cover. My father, the pastor, would be the one immersing me in the water.

I don’t recall much about the actual baptism service other than the waters being cold (it was a especially cool March morn). And being glad that it was all over. I never much like all the attention being focused all on me.

But how did I get there?  About out a month prior I’d told my parents I wanted to become a Christian. I felt sorry for the things I’d done that had made God sad. I wanted to be an official part of the congregation. In my church growing up only baptized Christians could take communion. I didn’t want to be left out of that anymore.

Looking back on my seven-year old self now, I am not sure quite I had any idea what I was getting into. And maybe I was too young to have making such a life decision but regardless it was a choice I made and waters I entered into and my life was never the same.

For me it would take a church camp experience as a 12 year old to begin to understand what happened to me when I made the choice to follow Jesus—and for me to begin to really claim Jesus for my life slowly but steadily of course with some major bumps in the road. And in those moments at camp as I tried to make sense of my life and what God wanted from me, the thing that came back to my mind was my baptism.

I remembered my baptism. And I knew that in remembering it my life’s direction was no longer just about what I wanted to do. Rather it was about connecting my life to a greater mission. And that mission was of Jesus—a Jesus who wanted to know me personally.

See because in that moment when my dad baptized me in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit—calling upon the names that were present at Jesus’ baptism, my life was affirmed as not my own.

And yours, oh baptized friends of mine is not yours either. Hear me say this: baptism is not about you. I dare say it is not about feeling guilty about sin. It’s not about making sure you’re on the rolls when you get to heaven. Rather it’s about you following in the footsteps of Jesus in such a way that you allow Jesus to have ownership over your life.

Though we often celebrate in our churches baptism as happy, celebratory times (we get cakes, we threw parties afterwards or we might even give the person being baptized a gift), I believe that baptism as Matthew’s gospel shows us today is about death as much as it is about life. It’s about dying to our self—our own desires, our own plans, and our own goals and saying to Jesus, “What do YOU want from my life?”

Before performing a baptism, the pastor approached the young father and said solemnly,’ Baptism is a serious step. Are you prepared for it?’

‘I think so,’ the man replied.’ My wife has made appetizers and we have a caterer coming to provide plenty of cookies and cakes for all of our guests.’

‘I don’t mean that,’ the priest responded.’ I mean, are you prepared spiritually?’

‘Oh, sure,’ came the reply.’ I’ve got a keg of beer and a case of whiskey.’

We can laugh about it but also know that this father had missed the point altogether.

It’s about a moment of spotlight yes. It’s about a moment to take a picture. It’s about a moment to take a picture and share with others—as we do in 2014 called a selfie.

But it is also about what we DO when we get out of the waters.

In whom do our loyalties lie?

By whose life do we model our life after?

In Marcus Borg recent book: Meeting Jesus Again for the First Time, describes the conversion experience of baptism in this way:  it’s “more than changing religions or joining a new church. It can also mean [and should mean] ‘a process, whether sudden or gradual, whereby religious impulses and energies become central to one’s life.”[2]

Baptism, thus is not something that we do, or is done to us, or gets us into membership at the church (as many might think), but the first step in our process of formed in a completely new way of thinking and being in the world than is natural to us.

Because no longer as a baptized follower of Jesus do we get to sit on the sidelines of life and pretend like being a Christian is someone else’s job or just the preacher’s responsibility. It is all our responsibilities because it all of our stories to tell.

You may have been baptized years ago, so long ago that you barely even remember the occasion or who was there or how you felt. But it doesn’t matter. You are still a baptized believer and because of this you have a calling on your life.

Take a minute and go back again to see who you were sitting next to as you took your selfie this morning—look at the picture again. And consider it your remembering your baptism photo. That on this day when you came to church, this picture can remind you of whose family you belong to and whose you are.

You are a beloved child of God for in whom God is very well pleased.

Say it with me: “I am a beloved child of God in whom God is very well pleased.”

For some of you in this room, baptism is something that you’ve thought about or maybe even considered but you’ve never chosen for yourself. You’ve never had a pastor place you under the water. Today, on behalf of this entire community that loves you and earnestly wants to know more talk to one of us about being baptized in the near future. It’s a big choice. It’s a scary choice. But I have to say that it was one of the best decisions I ever made.

And for you it will be too. For in giving up control of our lives and allowing God to do what God can only do, we actually become who we were really meant to be in the first place: first and foremost a child of God with purpose and mission for your life today and moving forward in the future.

Thanks be to God for the gift of baptism and for this day to remember it!

AMEN


[1] Nancy Rockwell:  “A Bite in the Apple” http://biteintheapple.com/the-selfie/

[2] i] Quoted in Kate Huey, “Weekly Sermon Seeds: Mark 1:4-11- New Beginnings”http://www.ucc.org/worship/samuel/january-8-2012-the-baptism.html

January 8, 2014

God Smiling

I am not one to throw around religious cliques. It irritates me in fact when folks in positions of religious leadership use such statements as “Everything happens for a reason” or “I guess God needed an angel” or “God helps those who help themselves.”

Gross, really.

But I am reconsidering my use of the phrase “___ (loved one) must be smiling down on you now” after the miracle that came to this earth four days ago.image

My most long-term sister friend, Kristina was on baby watch on bed rest with her second cutie until early Monday morning. Her water broke and I got a text message before 6 am that  said, “I think we are having a baby today!”

Such would be exciting enough but then there was consideration of the date on the calendar itself, January 6th . . . a date that caused all of us waiting on this birth to pause in awe.

Nine years ago on January 6th (long before the days of texting) I got a phone call from Kristina– the kind of phone call NO ONE wants to get. “We’ve lost Daddy,” she said in between sobs.

Though only a few days earlier joy burst into this household as Kristina had gotten engaged to Richard, a car accident changed everything for her, her mother, two brothers and in a matter of seconds. The joy of wedding planning was no more. Her daddy’s heart stopped beating. The rock of their family was gone.

Over these past nine years so much healing has taken place. Weddings have occurred. Babies have been born. Kristina’s mom even got re-married. (And I was the wedding minister!)

But the fact that the dad, Larry never got to see or touch or hold any of his grand babies brought forth ache. (There are five of them now!) He was a great dad. He would have been an even more amazing granddad. I could just see the vision of Larry bouncing several of them on his knee and making up some silly song as he did it. Or baking chocolate chip cookies and sneaking an extra one to his oldest grandson. Or playing hide and go seek in his wooded backyard for hours on end.

image So when, January 6th came– the awful anniversary day that all of us have on our calendars– and Kristina was in labor with baby girl, it was hard not to say that Larry had some role in the whole thing.

Somewhere up from the world beyond he was smiling and asking God to help him show up in this special way as Xara Elgie Rose came into the world.

And what a beautiful day it was and a beautiful baby she is.

I am thankful to God for the thin places in this world that remind us that we are more than just bodies, but souls that live on through eternity with connection to the ultimate Creator.

I am thankful for the sweetness of friendship that I have with this family and the joy that is my new niece, Xara.

But most of all I am thankful for Larry and the knowing that his legacy lives on in Xara and the rest of the family.

January 8, 2014

Not Being Afraid to Start Over

I thought I was done. I really did. I had written a book.

The manuscript that I had been working for almost 2 years had finally reached the stage of the game when it was time to really get serious about publication.

I learned how to write a book proposal (which is no small collection of words!). And, I wrote one. Some publishers were even interested. One was really interested. I knew with a little more attention I’d be on my way to the author track. Visions of my book launch party filled my daydreams with glee.

I was ready to be done with this project. It had taken enough out of me. I had “done my time” putting butt to computer chair.

I was ready for an editor to hold my words in hand and do that thing I’d heard they’d do: tear it a part (to make it better of course).

But then something happened.

I went to Africa– a land of so much fertile soul filled ground for me.

In November with Feed The Children, I crossed the ocean for another big adventure in Kenya. And one night at dinner when Kevin and I happened to be alone, I just came out with it my stirrings.

“I am not done with this book. I need to start over.”

Kevin, knowing his task master wife well, looked at me with eyes of disbelief. “What??”

Yup. I knew in my gut was true. I’d already made the decision to start again.

Not because the details I was seeking to narrate in the story had changed. Or because I suddenly realized I needed a whole new writing style. Or even because I lost the courage to tell the story I started to tell when I began with chapter one.

No, I needed to start over because I didn’t write the book I was meant to write.

I needed to re-write the whole manuscript.

Many of the bolts and hinges of the story I wanted to tell were there but the framework and the intent was all off.

I needed write about how pain can be a catalyst for transformation and in particular how relationships can be spiritual tools of such. Parts of the old story would be there but the voice would be altogether different.

But the thing is I am not very good at starting over. Though I feel writing is an art form and so I guess that makes me an artist– I am not your typical artist type. I don’t like open-ended possibilities. I don’t like perfectionist driven dragging your feet deadlines. I’m a “getter done” kind of girl even if I post blogs with misspelled words.

And here I am in January, staring at a manuscript that needs new life. How could this have happened?

I’m going to do it though. I’m not going to be afraid to start over. Because this is what I know in my heart of hearts:  what I could have offered you would have been good but what I could offer you might just be great. So why not?

#Iamwriting

December 30, 2013

Year in Review

January 2013 began with a bang. A quiet bang that is. I left my position of pastor at Washington Plaza Baptist Church in Reston in pursue more writing projects and support the work of Feed The Children. I blogged and sought to practice Sabbath keeping as I transitioned. Some days it went better than others.

imageIn February as I settled into my new life of nomad in chief (spending half my time in Arlington, VA and half in Oklahoma City, OK), I continued the tradition of cookie on a stick baking for my new Feed The Children family throwing one amazing Valentine’s party (If I do say so myself🙂, I visited new churches like this one in Tennessee and was humbled along the way, and I fell in love with the ministry of writing.

In March, I participated in my first US Feed The Children food distribution in my hometown of Washington DC realizing how hungry some of my neighbors actually were.  I continued to pack and re-pack my bags learning more about simplicity every day. And I wrote a post for the Associated Baptist Press called, “I Left the Church, Don’t Hate Me” that explained how I was trying to figuring out my pastoral calling in my new life.

As April rolled around, I continued to breathe deeply even though I wanted to hyperventilate some days out of feelings of “What am I doing with all this new free time I have?” I thought a lot Imageabout the young men with disabilities in Kenya that I’d met the previous August and how work makes us feel useful. One day in Oklahoma I went without shoes along with the rest of the staff of Feed The Children to raise awareness about childhood poverty. As I got deeper into the journey of writer-pastor I faced fears of the big questions of life like “Am I good enough?”

In May, Kevin and I traveled to Central America for the first time together. Guatemala won a special place in my heart for its beauty and the kind souls of its children. Oklahoma City was never the same after the F-5 tornado hit Moore. I wrote this prayer in response that went viral the week of the tragedy.

Women of WatongaAs the summer began, I continued to preach once a month at Watonga Indian Baptist Mission in Oklahoma, took a short vacation to Costa Rica for the wedding of a dear friend and got in a ride on a zip line through the jungle, and reflected on the fact that Kevin had been at Feed The Children for over one year. Oh what a difference a year can make in your life!

In July, I spent some time back at youth camp with my friends from Son Servants. And, it became clearer and clearer that my vocational calling as I looked forward was all about creating something that didn’t exist.

August was not a great month in the Hagan household as if out of nowhere, I got sick with an infection that caused much havoc on all of my lower abdominal organs. I had emergency surgery and was in the hospital in Oklahoma for several days. I learned much about being cared for by others and resting deeper than I ever had in my entire life. Though it took me till September to feel like writing about it.

HBApreachingIn October as I started feel stronger every day, the travel picked up again. I worked in Nashville, TN alongside Feed The Children assisting with social media at several key events. I preached at Hawaii Baptist academy as their pastor for Christian Emphasis week. I hit my stride in truly feeling at home in my skin as a pastor outside of the church— even writing a three-part series about it.

The highlight of November was absolutely our trip to Africa. My heart overflowed with JOY with every minute I was in Kenya. I couldn’t but write about joy with every post describing this trip. I became official at Feed The Children (it was a long time coming!) taking on the position of Ambassador of Social Advocacy though my pay did not change (I am learning to work for free).

1425738_10152117196929809_1922494367_nThough I didn’t blog about it here, in December Kevin and I continued our Christmas tour in Central America– visiting with orphans and other children in our programs in Honduras and Nicaragua. We played the part of “father” and “mother” Christmas bringing gifts to thousands of children. It was an amazing privilege of presence. On the blog, I joined with colleagues and friends to bring you the Baby Jesus Blog.

This sermon I preached at my church, Martin Luther King Christian in Reston, VA in early August theologically sums up how I feel about 2013. This was a year of suffering. This was also a year of resurrection.

I am glad, though, that through it all grace has been ever present and I’ve survived. Thanks for reading and cheering me on along the way.

Happy New Year!

December 25, 2013

Learning Peace: Day 4- Sarah Jobe

A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse;

from his roots a Branch will bear fruit.

The Spirit of the LORD will rest on him—

the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding,

the Spirit of counsel and of might,

the Spirit of the knowledge and fear of the LORD—

and he will delight in the fear of the LORD.

He will not judge by what he sees with his eyes,

or decide by what he hears with his ears;

but with righteousness he will judge the needy,

with justice he will give decisions for the poor of the earth.

He will strike the earth with the rod of his mouth;

with the breath of his lips he will slay the wicked.

Righteousness will be his belt

and faithfulness the sash around his waist.

The wolf will live with the lamb,

the leopard will lie down with the goat,

the calf and the lion and the yearling together;

and a little child will lead them. Isaiah 11:1-6

I lay on my back, my mind and body numb from the shock. Both of my hands rested on the warm, squishy lump that the midwife had deposited on my chest. I couldn’t see her, but she felt like a wet puppy – one of those wrinkled puppies with rolls of extra skin. I remembered the woman in the birth video I had watched weeks before. She had delivered an eloquent speech to her newborn son, exclaiming, “My son! My little son! Welcome to the world! I am so glad you are here!” It had seemed like a good way to welcome someone into the world, and I had resolved to welcome my daughter with a similar speech. But now my legs shook with fatigue, and my tongue was thick with exhaustion.

It is Christmas morning. Jesus is a warm, wet, puppy-like lump resting on Mary’s chest. And some of us are singing and saying, “I’m so glad you’re here!” But at my house, the children are allowed to get out of bed and wake us up any time after 5am…so here at my house on Christmas morning, on this birth-day morning, I find myself a little sleepy. I find myself living into an exhausted peace that I have come to know well.

The truth is that my first child was born six years ago, and I haven’t yet stopped being tired. It has been six years, and we still wake up in the middle of the night for sounds and tummy aches and trips to the bathroom.

New life grows slowly. New life grows up into the world slowly. But in its slow coming we learn the practices of peace. In the midst of welcoming new life into the world, we learn God’s shalom; we practice God’s wholeness.

In the six years since I gave birth, I have learned to listen when small people whine. I have learned that the whining represents need and want and endless desire. I have learned to clothe the naked and feed the hungry….three, four, and five times a day. I have learned that today’s acts of feeding and clothing don’t affect tomorrow’s needs. I have learned that when I feed and clothe someone every day they will love me with a wild, devout, and startling love that no one could ever deserve. I have learned that this startling love comes in picked flowers, giggles, and hugs with a running start….and I have felt that kind of love heal my wounds powerfully and inexplicably.

I am learning the practices of peace, and my little children are leading me into them. It is slow work. I am frequently exhausted. But peace is coming into my world.

It is Christmas morning — Jesus is born! Now we begin the slow and steady work of patiently raising the Prince of Peace into the fullness of his kingdom. Grab a diaper, and join the movement; the work of nurturing a baby Savior is at hand.

Let us pray:

Jesus, we are so glad you are here! Forgive us when we are too exhausted to say so. Empower us for the slow, daily work of nurturing your Body. Teach us the practices we need to be your peaceful people. And give us what we need this day to rejoice in your coming – we are, indeed, so glad you are here. Amen.

SarahJobeSarah Jobe is an ordained Baptist minister, prison chaplain, teacher, and mother of two. She lives with her family at the Rutba House, a Christian house of hospitality in Durham, NC. She is the author of Creating with God: The Holy Confusing Blessedness of Pregnancy. As a prison chaplain, she is hoping for the reconciliation of mothers and their children this Advent.

December 24, 2013

Learning Peace: Day 3- Dayna Olson-Getty

And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks by night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find the baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.” Luke 2:8-14

I used to think that finding peace was impossible as a bereaved mom. In the months after Ethan’s birth and death, the devastating reality of all that I had lost could burst in on me anywhere. It might happen as I walked past a pregnant woman with a beautiful round belly on the street, or when I accidently turned down the wrong aisle in the grocery store and found myself surrounded by baby bottles and tiny terrycloth bibs, or when I opened the mailbox to find a store flier filled with rosy-cheeked infants. The world was full of reminders that I had been a mother and that my child was gone forever.

In the months after my son was born and died, I had to stop listening to the news on the radio or reading the newspaper. Nearly every story seemed to lead back to the shattered heart of a mother whose child had been killed, gone missing, been deported, gotten locked up in jail, or done something so terrible that it could never be undone. I could feel the grief of these other mothers as if it lived in my own chest. It took my breath away, knocked me off my feet, left me weeping over my breakfast or my computer screen.

Even now, four years later, moments of grief catch me by surprise, leaving me breathless with the fierceness of my longing for my missing son. But slowly, as the years have gone by, I have learned this: One of the gifts of loving Ethan is the gift of a troubled heart.

The peace that the angels announced at Jesus’ birth was not the peace of a calm and untroubled soul. It was shalom – the peace that comes when a whole community flourishes, when everyone has enough, when no mother is torn unnecessarily from her child, when no child begins life in dire circumstances. It is the peace of a community that is ruled with a kind of justice that takes the needs of everyone into account. It’s a peace that can be measured by the well-being of the most vulnerable members of a community.

Ethan was one of the most vulnerable human beings you could possibly imagine – a newborn who was disfigured and disabled, who never cried or even took a breath.  His tiny body was broken beyond repair, his brain was incapable of gaining consciousness. There was nothing that could be done for him except to love him as he was.

And loving him cracked my heart wide open. Everywhere I go, I see children like Ethan – vulnerable and beautiful, gifts from God.  And everywhere I go, I see moms like me – filled with a fierce unquenchable love for the children they have carried in their wombs, in their arms, in their hearts.

I see them now, and I cannot forget them – the mom who pulled into our church parking lot to wait out an immigration checkpoint with her toddler, the mom from my neighborhood who has watched her beautiful teenage boy get entangled with a gang and locked up in jail, the mom who just turned 80 and has no one to care for her disabled daughter when she is gone, the pregnant mom whose husband’s mental illness keeps them on the run from city to city without a roof over their heads or enough to eat.

It is not an accident that the sign of the arrival of God’s reign of peace was a newborn infant born in a livestock barn to peasant parents who would shortly become refugees. At the heart of this story of peace are the little ones whose lives crack our hearts wide open, leaving us troubled and longing for the day when God’s reign of peace will reach every corner of creation and provide a safe and sheltered space for the most vulnerable among us to flourish.

Let us pray: 

Come, Lord Jesus, and trouble our hearts with a longing for your reign of peace. Amen.

olsongettyDayna is a member of Durham Mennonite Church (Mennonite Church USA) and part of the Rutba House new monastic community. She and her husband Eric live in the Walltown neighborhood of Durham, NC and are parents of one living son, Noah.  Their firstborn son, Ethan, was born and died in 2009. Dayna is hoping this Advent for a heart open to God’s longings for the most vulnerable among us.

December 23, 2013

Learning Peace: Day 2- Beth Dotson

Jesus said: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives.  Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not be afraid.” John 14: 27 

I have waited with many who are waiting to have children.  Often this path is not full of peace.

My daughter found the pathway to peace to be a difficult one.  As they were thinking about a second child after having the first one through an IVF procedure, she asked, “Am I being selfish in pursuing this a second time? Am I trying to play God?”

God gave her peace when God spoke to her heart that in whatever direction they took, God was still in control, and that her desire to pursue God’s will was enough.  They had a second child, a beautiful boy.

After this IVF procedure they froze two embryos, so having a third procedure was not a hard decision for them. They were open to having more children. But, then they miscarried.

My daughter found herself asking, “Why?”  Finally, realizing that her question would most likely not be answered, she asked God to give her peace with the two sons He had given to her.   She says that “there came a day when God revealed to me that these two were all I needed, and I was okay.  Since then, I have realized that I need to simply pursue God more than pursuing anything else, and that is enough.”

Peace, as the world defines it, comes when life is in the order you want it to be — enough money, the right family, the right place to live, on and on, and so peace, when it seems to come, is only fleeting and shallow because life is always changing.  The world’s peace does not last.

But as I see it, the “the peace of God that transcends all understanding” can only come from knowing that we are secure in our Father’s hands, that God knows what God is doing with our lives even when we don’t have a clue, and that loving us and transforming us into looking like Jesus IS Jesus’ way.  “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to humankind on whom His favor rests,” the angels say to the shepherds.

With my daughter, like so many of us who are waiting this Advent, peace is something we learn.

When life is exploding around me, I have to purpose to remember that God loves me and peace will come as I receive.  When I am covered up in insecurity and fear, I am to remember that I am God’s treasured possession and that God will not let go of me and peace will come.  When I am degrading myself, I need to learn to receive His words over me that I am the “apple of His eye” and peace will come.

One who is learning God’s peace doesn’t have an anaesthetized look, where she is bleary eyed or in denial of the rigor of life, but one who can have a holy boldness to go on (even when she is shaking within), knowing that “our momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen.  For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” (2 Corinthians 4: 17, 18 NIV)  In essence, peace comes through relationship.

Israel only had peace from staying in relationship with Almighty God.  When they strayed from the relationship, war came, captivity came, and darkness invaded their souls.  Ironically, Jesus came during the time of “Pax Romana,” a forced military peace imposed by the Roman Empire, but their forced peace only rendered moral decay, confusion, and frantic searching.  Jesus came and brought the peace that the world could not give, the peace that comes only through being in a vital and vibrant relationship with Him.  When the angel came to Mary and told her she would become pregnant through the Holy Spirit, she said, “How can this be?” When told, “Nothing is impossible with God,” she proclaimed, “I am the LORD’s servant. May it be to me as you have said.”  God’s peace gave her the strength to be the mother of the Son of God!

Our exhortation is to be like Mary saying, “May it be to me as You have said, LORD?” and as we do, as we obey, as we seek relationship with Him, peace will come.

Let us pray:

I want to stay focused on You, Jesus, not on all of those things that deprive me of the peace that You have to give to me.  Jesus, show me again and again that You are enough, and that in You, “SHALOM” will come. Amen.

BethDotsonBeth Dotson resides with her husband Danny of 42 years in Signal Mountain, TN.  She is Presbyterian and is presently working in a ministry that serves HIV clients. She loves her family dearly, has five grandchildren, plays in the outdoors in all kinds of capacities with her husband and their black lab, Zeke. Her desire for her advent is that we would wake up to its wonder and how that wonder translates into the miracle of the mundane in our lives.

December 22, 2013

Learning Peace: Day 1- Elizabeth Hagan

Fourth Sunday of Advent

There was also a prophet, Anna, the daughter of Penuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was very old; she had lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, and then was a widow until she was eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshiped night and day, fasting and praying.  Coming up to them at that very moment, she gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem. Luke 2: 36-38

These last five years, my prayers have often included these words over and over again: “How long O Lord? How long will you keep us childless?”

There’s not a lot of peace in this. Asking for the same thing over and over. Being stuck.

I’ve heard from a lot of couples dealing with infertility the feeling of being “stuck” in an endless process without a lot of hope, and it is frustrating beyond words. It is so easy to feel perpetually impatient.

Our culture helps us learn this kind of impatience. If we want something, we are told to make it happen now. If we don’t get what we want, we are told to try harder or take another route. If we want babies and can’t have them, there’s a specialized field of medicine for this. There are adoption agencies ready to receive our applications.

But sometimes even when we do all the right things and open ourselves up to all the kinds of possibilities that the Spirit could move forth in our life, we still find ourselves with empty hands waiting.

On my own waiting journey, Simeon and Anna have become two of my waiting heroes. Night and day both of these seniors devoted themselves to prayer and waiting for Jesus to arrive in the temple. They waited and waited. And they waited some more.

Scripture tells us that Anna was 84, a widow for many years. Her entire purpose after her husband died was to be on this waiting journey—to be that prophetic voice that spoke the truth about baby Jesus who was yet to be born.

And then one day Jesus arrived at the temple with Mary and Joseph. Anna knew immediately who Jesus was and blessed him in a way only someone who had been waiting for years and years could offer. She spoke truth.  Jesus was God’s Son. Jesus would be the one who redeemed Israel. Jesus was God with us.

Though a vocation of waiting is not something I would have chosen (and I wonder if Simeon and Anna would have chosen it either?), I have come to realize that the longer I wait, the more peace-filled my waiting becomes.

Of course there are days when I still want to throw complaints up to the heavens of “Why me?” But more often now, contentment lives in me where dread used to be. This doesn’t mean that I’ve given up on my calling to motherhood either. I know I will be a mother to some little person sometime in my future.

But in the meantime my path is filled with meaningful work, and I wait. I find peace along the way. Who I am right now is ok. What I am doing right now is good. When children come into our home, we’ll be ready. Where the next step of our journey will take us, I do not know. How our waiting will come to an end, only God knows.

Deep peace. Deep peace of Christ to you as you wait on this day.

Let us pray:

God who waits with us, help us have the strength this day to wait with you. Help us to wait with the big unknown questions of our lives. Help us to wait when we see others so easily having what we want. Help us to find your gift of peace along our own journey of waiting. Amen.

ElizabethHaganElizabeth Hagan is an ordained minister in the Baptist tradition, a freelance writer and a social media consultant who divides her time between Arlington, VA and Oklahoma City, OK with her husband Kevin. She blogs regularly at “Preacher on the Plaza” (http://elizabethhagan.com). This Advent Elizabeth is hoping for the gift of being present in the moment.

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