Forgiving GOD

how our understanding of forgiveness is too small

a Homily for Proper 19A  |  Text: Matthew 18:21-35

a man on the street

Photo Credit: drivebysh00ter via Compfight cc

 

The volume of forgiveness

When Peter asks about forgiveness, about the volume of forgiveness, it triggers a cascade of central teachings to our faith. Teachings that are the foundation of everything.

On the surface, it is a simple enough question. It’s practical. I get that we need to forgive, but how many times must we? And Jesus’s response seems just as simple: every time.

And honestly, we could probably stop there, end the sermon, and move on.

How many times do I forgive again?

Every time.

I was afraid you would say that.

It would certainly save us time if we stopped. But it wouldn’t answer why? Why every time?

Well, to begin with, this is about much more than simply being nice. It isn’t just doing the loving thing. It isn’t even a rule on its own.

This thing about forgiveness has to do with GOD’s creation, justice, and eliminating vengeance. And all of this was triggered by a simple question: “As many as 7 times?”

Sabbath

From the beginning, 7 was an important number. We remember that GOD created the world in six days and it was on the 7th day that GOD rested. The 7th became GOD’s day.

It is associated with Sabbath–that time and space for devotion and rest. It was named as one of the 10 Big Rules and binds the people to that same pattern of resting on the 7th day. We do as GOD does.

But Sabbath doesn’t end with 7 days. We know that the 7th year is important, too. Any Israelite slave is to be freed at their 7th year of servitude. Farmers are supposed to give the poor and the animals free access to their land and crops for all of the 7th year, that they might eat and have their fill. The 7th year is to be a sabbatical year for landowners, workers, slaves, and livestock. Every living thing gets Sabbath. Sabbath is for all of creation.

And every 7th Sabbatical year? After 7 times 7 years, we celebrate a year of Jubilee in which all property is returned to its original owners and all debts are cancelled. It is a season of honesty and restoration and all relationships are to be made whole.

Peter’s asking about 7 times is really a reference to Sabbath: asking Jesus about the Sabbatical character of restoration, wholeness, and freedom. He is really asking does forgiveness mean the whole thing? Like blank-slate forgiveness…and everything that entails?

Justice and Vengeance

None of us really wants to talk about that kind of forgiveness, let’s be honest. And given what we have experienced of the world, we certainly seem justified. But in the same breath that GOD speaks to restoration through Sabbath, GOD also speaks to justice and our giving up and getting rid of our sense of vengeance.

GOD gives special priority to the poor, the widowed, the orphaned, and the sojourner: the people with no power or standing in Hebrew society. These people must be protected from abuse. Remarkably, causing suffering to any of these incurs GOD’s wrath directly, according to Exodus 22:

Oh, if you afflict, afflict them…! For (then) they will cry, cry out to me, and I will hearken, hearken to their cry, my anger will flare up and I will kill you with the sword, so that your wives become widows, and your children, orphans!

All the surrounding laws speak of the community dealing with its own issues. But this, abuse of the weak and the powerless, GOD takes personally. And takes care of personally.

This is especially true of the sojourner: the guest, the traveller, the outsider, for it is we who were once like that and we were liberated and given freedom. A poignant lesson for American Christians of non-Native American descent, for we were once immigrants, embodying GOD’s command twice in this same teaching:

Now a sojourner you are not to maltreat, you are not to oppress him, for sojourners were you in the land of Egypt.

Vengeance, most base of all desires, compels us to destroy others and destroys our relationship with GOD. GOD’s law was written to limit vengeance and retribution, prescribing not only specific remedies to bad situations, but balanced ones. An eye-for-an-eye is not only for punishing an offender in kind, but limiting the response. It is most remarkably used, not simply for punishing killers, but in freeing slaves who have been abused by their masters.

GOD’s fairness and justice is not your sense of justice or America’s sense of justice. It is about redemption, not retribution. It is about wholeness, not division.

GOD wants us to be whole and redeemed. As children of GOD.

The power of Sabbath

There is something powerful in the image of remembering the Sabbath: in keeping the 7th day holy because GOD made it that way, resting because GOD rested.

There is something powerful in giving generously that day to those under us because GOD gave generously that day to us.

There is something powerful in protecting the widow and the orphan because GOD protects us and loving them because GOD loves us.

There is something very powerful in showing grace to the sojourner, the immigrant, the outsider, the traveller, because we were sojourners, immigrants, outsiders, and travellers. And we still are.

This is the substance of forgiveness. The substance that Jesus invites Peter into because Peter gets what he needs to do. Jesus says to him:

For this reason the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his slaves.

Jesus seems to tell Peter about forgiving and restoring the world and then tells him a story of not forgiving. A story in which a master forgives a debt, grants freedom, then takes the freedom back.

The slave enslaves another because of debts, as a cruel twist on freedom and judgment. As Jesus tells the parable, He ultimately paints an image of servitude and cruelty at deep odds with the character of GOD we know from Jesus and in Jesus.

What if that is ultimately Jesus’s point? That cruelty reveals cruelty, but forgiveness destroys it.

This is why he used the word “compare” in the first place. Compare these two things. This picture of forgiveness against this portrait of the kingdom. It isn’t literal: he doesn’t say the Kingdom of Heaven is a place of rigidity and GOD is a spiteful master. He says to keep forgiving!

Forgiving GOD and each other

What if the forgiveness we’re talking about goes all the way to total and complete redemption? And what if that includes GOD? What if GOD needs to be forgiven? What if we chose to forgive GOD, not just 7 times, but 77 times? What if we give to GOD the thing we are asked to give one another and we choose to actually include GOD in that forgiving?

  • Forgiving GOD for all of the pain we’ve felt.
  • Forgiving GOD for all of the suffering and the evil in the world.
  • Forgiving GOD for accidents and mistakes and disasters and tragedy.
  • Forgiving GOD for the bad parenting and the awful advice GOD’s children have heard throughout history and we foolishly continue to follow.
  • Forgiving GOD for the discord and the confusion and the wars we wage over different understandings of what GOD wants.
  • Forgiving GOD for not seeming to care about us or comfort us when we are afraid.
  • Forgiving GOD for speaking in stories when we want rules, giving us guides when we want commanders, giving us rest when we want to work.

What if we forgave GOD? It wouldn’t make the pain go away, but we would begin to heal. Eventually we would recover. We would become whole. We would be restored.

And our relationship with GOD would be restored. A relationship built, not only on GOD’s one-sided love for us, but for our generous love to GOD and to our neighbors.

For it is through that relationship built on love which GOD brings true liberation. GOD doesn’t simply cancel our debt, but frees us from the bondage of slavery, redeeming us, reinvigorating and reviving us, offering us new, vibrant life!

Amazingly we have received the very restorative power of GOD and are told that we can actually use it! We can redeem each other!

This is where Peter and Jesus take us after we hear about sin and confronting sin in our community, which we covered last week. The very next verses, they go to forgiveness. They go there and they keep on driving because it isn’t just forgiving people for a screw up, it is redemption and restoration at stake. It is making the broken whole and the enslaved free. It is making community where there is loneliness and hope where there is emptiness.

This all comes through forgiveness. True, full-bodied forgiveness. Forgiveness as strong as the darkest coffee you can find, as powerful as the river, and as certain as the snow is coming.

Forgive. Forgive GOD and your friends. Forgive your church and your parents. Forgive your neighbor and your school board. Forgive your government and yourself. Life is too important to waste on being right, seething with anger, or feeling hurt. Forgiveness is not condoning or overlooking or staying together for the children, but offering our very freedom to one another.

Forgiveness is the only way to begin restoring and redeeming. It is how we will become whole.

All it takes is an invitation, coming to us as a confession, an uncomfortable admission. So I’ll start. I have made many mistakes. I am trying my best. Please forgive me.

Childproofing Church

Order, stumbling blocks, and what real Christian community looks like

a Homily for  Proper 18 A  |  Text: Matthew 18:15-20

children playing in the sand

Photo Credit: -Jeffrey- via Compfight cc

what we mean by sin

When Jesus speaks to the disciples in this passage, He speaks of sin against each other. This isn’t so much fault-finding, which we all do so easily, but sin-naming. This is about sin.

We have a lot of weird ideas of sin. What sin is. We make it a singular noun. As “a sin”. Like something you can list. Or something from which we abstain. No dancing or drinking or swearing.

Or we frame it from the positive that avoids those things. Like being “nice” or “kind”. As if all this stuff Jesus says can be summed up as “just be nice to each other.” Which I suppose might be fine if we could even handle that.

Here is how the church defines sin. From “An Outline of the Faith, commonly called the Catechism” which you can find in your Prayer Books:

Sin is the seeking of our own will instead of the will of God, thus distorting our relationship with God, with other people, and with all creation.

Sin is our putting of our needs before GOD’s, and the distorted relationships that result from it.

So when we talk about sin, we are not talking about trying to be perfect or eternally corrupt, but that we want to eliminate the stumbling blocks to our relationship with GOD, our neighbors, and all of creation. It is about making better our relationship to everyone and thing around us.

We get nervous when we start thinking of these stumbling blocks as other people. People whose sin (meaning true selfishness: personal needs before GOD’s) keeps our children from the redeeming love of GOD and keeps us from being like those children: so that we might put GOD before ourselves.

But we don’t want to confront each other about that do we? And we certainly don’t want to kick anybody out of our church. And it even sounds like Jesus endorsing a behavior he condemned in the Pharisees! What are we supposed to make of these rules?

what sin looks like

First, we have to deal with the impact of the church’s understanding of sin. When we speak of sin, we are speaking ultimately about relationship. Not “a sin” or “living in sin” as so many like to say. It is about acts of sin against each other. The selfish evils and vices that hurt other people, whether it be pictures of celebrities stolen from their iCloud accounts to demean them in public or when we use names that insult and diminish whole groups of people of a different race, gender, orientation, or ability, just because we like the words. It comes from carelessness and a sense of certainty. It is believing that our rights to hurt other people are more important to us than their rights to not be abused by us.

Sin is the slave trade, which is bigger now than at any time in human history. It is saying that criminals “deserve” to be abused–and that free citizens do to–because they are “acting up” or must have done something to deserve it.

Sin is getting short with your friends and snapping and it is making up stories rather than learning the truth of what we’ve missed. It is treating someone “not like us” as not one of us, breaking our Baptismal vow to respect the dignity of every human being.

And sin is hearing those words as if I were disrespecting you.

All of this is sin. And we know much worse examples.

Sin, real sin, is selfish. It is full of pride and certainty. It is full of things other than the Great Commandment to love GOD and our neighbors as ourselves. Things like maintaining tradition because we like it more than we like sharing. It is demanding faith be personal and private when it has always been public and political. We can’t take up our cross and follow Jesus to Jerusalem without a cross and without a Jerusalem: without a public witness.

Jesus wasn’t crucified in private for things resting comfortably inside His heart. Neither should we.

dealing with sin

There is a lot that Jesus said. Out loud. In public. For people to hear. What He was speaking to here, before this passage begins, is stumbling blocks to faith: what prevents the children from being in a healthy, growing relationship with GOD and what prevents us from becoming like children. Stumbling blocks to one another like Peter was being a stumbling block to Jesus in last week’s story.

Stanley Hauerwas writes

The sin that another member commits is not just a sin against the person injured; rather it is a sin against the whole church. In Lev. 19:17-18 the Lord tells Moses to tell Israel, “You shall reprove your neighbor, or you will incur guilt yourself. You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against any of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the LORD.” Failure to confront the brother or sister whom we think has sinned against us is not simply a recommendation of how we are to work out our disputes and disagreements, but rather an indication of the kind of community that Jesus has called into existence. This is a people who are to love one another so intensely that they refuse to risk the loss of the one who has gone astray–or the loss of ourselves in harboring resentments.

Hauerwas further argues that

The procedure outlined by Jesus in Matthew 18 is how and what it means for his disciples to be at peace with one another. Jesus assumes that those who follow him will wrong one another and, subsequently, they will be caught in what may seem irresolvable conflict. The question is not whether such conflict can be eliminated, but how his followers are to deal with conflict. He assumes that conflict is not to be ignored or denied, but rather conflict, which may involve sins, is to be forced into the open. Christian discipleship requires confrontation because the peace that Jesus has established is not simply the absence of violence. The peace of Christ is nonviolent precisely because it is based on truth and truth-telling. Just as love without truth cannot help but be accursed, so peace between the brothers and sisters of Jesus must be without illusion.

We are talking about healthy relationship and being the blessed community here. It isn’t rules to follow or yet another way to abuse each other and find fault. It is the very means by which we share grace.

building community

This work we are called to here is for all of us. It has nothing to do with being a priest or a leader serving on the vestry. It is not something we can skip or have no stake in personally. It is not about our worship style or music or whether or not we are “being fed” or if we are “into it”. Our selfish impulses get plenty of air.

It is time for the good stuff. It’s time to take on the childlike faith many of us used to know or know when we aren’t tripping over all of the negativity. It is time to listen to Jesus who, just before this story, was telling the disciples

Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.

We don’t get to stay the same and be Christians. Not changing means you’re not a Christian! Jesus never says “stay the same” or “do what you always do.” GOD never urges the people to remain unchanged, no matter how much we want that. Remember, sin is putting our wants before GOD’s!

We aren’t supposed to stay the same. We are supposed to change. Precisely because we aren’t perfect or eternally corrupt. We don’t have it all figured out and we aren’t always right. We all need to keep learning how to be GOD’s children.

So Jesus tells us to change and become like children.

Like the children who come to communion excited and happy and looking for an opportunity to come back up! Like children who give and play and learn: always looking for new ways to move and do. Always watching others to see what they do, to learn and try it out.

Like the children who are eager and hopeful and full of thanks for cookies and hugs and the chance to play. Jesus tells us that’s the entrance to the kingdom of heaven.

So then Jesus shows us what Christian community is supposed to look like: the kingdom, which is like children playing and learning and loving! That’s how we come to understand how we behave. Learning and playing and loving. Not like adults. Like kids. Our kids, here.

Our kids are our true leaders. Our children are our example, our Christ.

And when we build that community, full of faith and hope and creativity, we protect it by talking to each other, listening to each other, and making our house safe for all the children of every age and ability.

 

When a rock is not a rock

rethinking Jesus’s vision of church, Peter, and the love of GOD

We mistake the naming of Peter as reflective of his character, rather than His.

a Homily for Proper 16 A  |  Text: Matthew 16:13-20

 

a kiss on the cheek

Photo Credit: thejbird via Compfight cc

desiring proof

Again the Pharisees. Those ancient ideological evangelicals–obsessed with rule-following–return. This time they’ve brought back-up: the Sadducees. Not normally friends, the Pharisees and the Sadducees represent the religious establishment. They are like rival gangs teaming up to take on the young pup trying to make a name for himself by honing in on their turf.

Give us signs of your power! they say. Prove yourself!

Like Satan’s tempting, inviting Jesus to prove himself, the elites ask of Jesus what He isn’t to give. Because it isn’t about Jesus: what Jesus can do. It is about GOD. What GOD wants for the Children of Israel. There is no proof. No proving. Jesus tells His followers that signs aren’t there to prove, but to mark. To show how GOD already loves. Not that GOD loves, but what love looks like and how we know it.

The naming of Jesus as Messiah and the naming of Simon as Peter is such a sign. It is the revealing of love as it exists, not because it is requested.

demanding love

A parenting tip we read some time ago reminded Rose and I that parents ought not make their children kiss them. Our place as parents isn’t to receive affection from our children as a payment or from demanding that behavior. We aren’t to impose rules that require affection or give our children The Top 5 Reasons to Kiss Your Parents guilt trip.

Our job is to show our children what love is like so they can know what love actually is. That they can feel love before they can know to express it.

So we learned not to force our children to kiss our cheeks, but kiss theirs. It is affection and praise when she wins and when she loses; when he falls and when he celebrates. That love isn’t a reward or an accomplishment; it isn’t something to withhold or legalize. Love is given like a gift and revealed so that it might be known.

Our insecurities or fears or rules or expectations don’t reveal love. Probably they reveal our neuroses.

Jesus warns the disciples about the yeast of the Pharisees right after getting ambushed by them and right before this morning’s part of the story. He warns them because their teaching didn’t reveal love or encourage it. Teachings that are so like our own: about obedience to authority, condemning the outsider, ignoring the plight of the weak, making love transactional.

In all of the ways we as Children of the Living GOD fail to reflect GOD’s love, we fail to teach love itself. We teach obedience and condemnation and selfishness. We reveal nothing like love itself. We reveal the evil of expectation–like Satan and the Pharisees–of certainty and affection, not for people, but for the status quo: for a world ruled by empire; a world more comfortable with the violence of authority than the genuine care for the afflicted. Such as listening to what 50 years of police brutality feels like. Certainly this is nothing like love that we offer. Nothing like GOD’s love.

when a rock is not a rock

All of this colors the way Jesus turns to His disciples to ask them who they think He is. I don’t think this is a test, but a check in. Where are they right now?

Peter’s response, as we know, is like the kid who gets the right answer without doing the right work. He doesn’t reason it or know it or prove that he’s smarter or more faithful than the rest. He gets there, as Jesus points out, because GOD reveals it to him. And this is the point here: it isn’t Peter. It isn’t him. It isn’t his being smart or praying right. it isn’t his dedication or because he has listened to Jesus better. This is something that can only come from GOD.

So when Jesus names him Peter, like Petra (rock), calling him the foundation, Jesus is saying this without regard for Peter’s personal talent or skills. We mistake the naming of Peter as reflective of his character, rather than GOD’s.

In all accounts; before this moment and after; reveal that Peter isn’t sturdy or solid. He is the definition of a flimsy and malleable disciple. He may in fact be like the sand Jesus warns us not to build on. But it isn’t that Peter is like a rock as we know it, but a rock as GOD reveals it in Peter! Peter teaches us what a rock can be to GOD!

We get confused and conflicted and troubled and it is OK! The church can handle it! Because this isn’t about human skill or reason, but the subversive love of GOD.

finding/revealing the love of GOD

This passage is one of the most written about in all of the Greek Scriptures. Often it is used to justify the papacy. Peter, the Roman church leader, regarded as first pope. The cornerstone and rock of the church. So like the disciples, who in verse 16:7 hear about the yeast of the Pharisees and think Jesus is talking about bread. Too literal; not revealed.

This rock doubts. He rejects Jesus three times. He struggles to stand up to Roman authorities after Jesus is gone. He isn’t monolithic or hierarchical. Neither is the church as GOD knows it. Neither are we.

We doubt and struggle. We long to make our children love us or impose rules on them rather than freely offer our love. Our faith is chaotic and troubling. But it is supposed to be. From Jacob to Jonah to Jesus, we see wrestling with and running away from and doubting the very existence of GOD’s love. We see struggles and pain and it is from that place that we race to simple solutions and weak authorities to tell us how to make the pain go away. And every time we could stop and listen to the voice who says Don’t be afraid! Over and over. Don’t be afraid! The Messiah who calms the storm and encourages us to feed the multitudes in the midst of scarcity, who says that signs are all around if we would just look at them.

Signs that show us how to love and respect and give and hope that in our darkest time we can live again. Signs that reveal how to reveal love to others so that we both might learn. Signs from the most unlikely of places.

May you know the love that GOD has for you, see the love GOD has for every human being, and may we learn to share that love, respecting every person as a blessed, loved, and cherished child of GOD.

 

What you don’t understand about Sacraments

happy girl

Photo Credit: Ryan McCullah via Compfight cc

The old argument goes

children need to understand the sacrament before they receive it.

I am still surprised to hear this. As a priest, I hear it from people of all sorts. When they do suggest such a thing to me, I simply ask them

Even after they were baptized as infants?

The look I receive tells me that they don’t get it. They don’t get that the children they’re talking about have already received a sacrament without “understanding” it. Then I like to tell them a story. It usually goes like this.

Back when I was first ordained, I had the pleasure of serving with a man who worked with our youth. He was the primary caregiver at the time for his 3 year-old granddaughter, while his son was just learning how to be an adult at 18 and the granddaughter’s mother wasn’t really able to. Every Sunday, I would hear her race through the door and down the hall saying “I’m here to see Jesus!”

Now, I think she pretty much summed it all up right there. Is there something you are struggling with understanding?

Teaching

I can’t fault people for not understanding the sacrament. We developed a system of teaching long ago which refused the experiential part of formation to our children, but discouraged anyone over the age of 12 from continuing to wrestle with the intellectual part of formation.

What many of those 12 year-olds were taught came from what the Book of Common Prayer calls “An Outline of the Faith: commonly called the Catechism”. In the section outlining the Sacraments, it answers the question “What are the sacraments?” this way:

The sacraments are outward and visible signs of inward and spiritual grace, given by Christ as sure and certain means by which we receive that grace.

A lot of us remember that first half pretty easily and rattle it off:

Sacraments? Yes. They’re…uh..oh yeah…the outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace.

See, we get pretty close, most of the time. It’s the Prayer Book, you know. Helps the rote memorization.

But what does it mean?

outward and visible signs

We hear in this something external, but also something moving. It is outward, it is pointing or moving from inside to outside. You can see this thing. It is tangible and recognizable. It isn’t imaginary or inconceivable.

Signs are markers and illuminators, telling you what is inside the building or which direction to drive down the street. Signs reflect what is there and stand as symbols to elicit understanding.

of inward and spiritual grace

As signs mark what is within, they remind us that there is something inside. There is a spiritual, non-physical grace that is within. The sign, which reflects what is within, pulls it in an outward direction so that it may be seen and known, but now draws the viewer inward, so that we can see past the sign and toward the grace itself.

given by Christ as sure and certain means by which we receive that grace.

All of that sign and symbol and reflecting GOD mumbo jumbo aside, the devout Christian needs an answer to the physical. We eat a wafer. It’s all just symbolic, right?

A sacrament, as an outward sign of an inward grace then is virtually the only way we can confidently and honestly allow ourselves and one another to receive grace. It is the way we know that grace is given and received.

So the question (for the good Anglican/Episcopalian) is not whether or not the wafer is the literal body of Christ or a symbolic act using only a wafer, but that what we receive is the very grace of GOD. It is the outward, knowable, acceptable, tangible thing that we can receive and know bears the grace and love of GOD.

On its head

The sacrament, then, is not about the bread and the wine and what happens to them, but what happens to you when you receive it. It is about the giving and the receiving of grace. It is not about a magic trick or the theology surrounding the act, or the memorizing of a formula that you can rattle off when a person asks you what a sacrament is, it is the experience! It’s getting your grace on!

In other words, sacraments are almost entirely about the experience and have virtually nothing to do with understanding. They are the vehicle by which we receive and know the grace of GOD. They are our means of knowledge. The grace cannot be understood without the experience of receiving.

That means a child can never understand the sacrament until she receives it.

And I’d further postulate that one achieves a deeper understanding of the sacrament through the giving or presiding at the sacramental moments. When one participates in the distribution of communion, baptizes another person or stands as support for one seeking confirmation, joins a collective laying on of hands, or hears a confession, one is able to better know that grace. So a parent or instructor that denies a child communion and herself does not actively seek her own experiences as the giver of, or participant in, a sacramental moment with another, is doubly depriving and wholly misunderstanding the nature of the sacraments. As the late Bishop Gordon might have said: She’s got it backwards: her daughter needs to be in church and she needs to go to Sunday School!

Loving Communion

That girl, running into church, looking to see Jesus understands. She gets it. You know how I know? Because she’s running. She isn’t walking. She’s running. Running to see Jesus.

Like Peter and the Beloved Disciple to the tomb, she runs. To see. To be with. To know and to love Jesus.

She does that, not by showing up to church and sitting like a lump in the back pew.

She loves.

And I see my son, who is doing the same thing; who can’t wait. He runs to the altar rail. He slips between people who haven’t intended to leave room for anybody, and he shakes with anticipation. He grins at me and he reaches up to receive. And when the cup comes by, he dips and eats and jumps along back to his seat.

And if Mom hasn’t gone up yet, he takes the opportunity for seconds.

I’ve come to believe this is true: only people who understand the Sacraments try to get seconds.

 

I’ve written before about the Sacraments. I’d love it if you checked yesterday’s post and the links at the bottom of the page.

The Church’s Missing Ingredient

a child resting on a shoulder

Photo Credit: david_jacquin via Compfight cc

I’m tired of the blame.

The health and vitality of the The Episcopal Church and the Mainline generally is an oversimplified story of the 20th Century, too easily shouldered on the leadership of the 21st. It’s always the politics or the practice or the beliefs or the Bible or the liturgy or anything else ad nauseam, but never is it the fighting. Never is it the bickering or the certainty of well-intentioned finger-pointers. Never is it the schismatics who stomp out of the church or the timid who sneak away. Nor is it the rowdy recruiters trying to squeeze blood from a stone, mistaking their own wounds for the miracle.

It is ironic, then, that in this postmodern age in which we are so much more aware of complexity, that we fall so hard for the simple.

Decline of the mainline, and The Episcopal Church is well-documented. It is also a favorite canard of the angry, seeking every opportunity to abuse the faithful. But it is also the favorite of the zealot, eager to drive us closer to where we ought to be. I know I so often fall in that latter camp.

But I am not writing about church decline. This is not a post full of statistics or one that hopes to make the reader desperately see that we are on the Titanic and the iceberg is in sight. You’ve read plenty of those.

You’ve also read plenty of posts about how great everything is and how we just need to love our tradition more. Don’t change a thing! they say. All we need to do is recruit new people. I’m as weary of that ridiculousness as you are.

This is a post that invites us to simply look past the data and the innuendo and name what I have experienced of church. Churches in rural and urban environments; in the north and in the south; in happy times, and more often, depressed and fearful times. And what I’ve observed has been consistent:

  1. We don’t really get why we’re a church and
  2. Our experience is more important to us than our compassion.

These two attributes are deeply connected and not easily named (though I’m trying my best to do that very thing). No mission statement or workshop of the congregation can magically get any lifelong Christian to suddenly understand the faith they’ve inherited. For many, 70 years of unexamined faith is terrifying to discover about themselves, and worse, their parents and elders who taught them.

a main source of conflict

Perhaps the genesis of conflict comes from the embedded “core message” of the gospel.

The church of my childhood is infatuated with The Great Commandment, given in Mark as an extension of the Sh’ma (Hear O Israel), but heard by us as “Love God and love your neighbor as yourself.” This is the closest we get to a core value from Jesus, and is easy justification to see the purpose of church as worship and practicing radical hospitality. It jibes with the way Jesus treats people in each account.

Many evangelicals and church planters see a different message as central, preferring the conclusion to Matthew, which we call The Great Commission. It includes the great phrase: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations,” which can be understood as a direct mission to gettin’ those pesky “unchurched” into the Jesus camp.

The church unwittingly sets these two up against each other, perhaps slipping them conveniently into the established frame of Catholic vs. Protestant. But these aren’t conflicting calls. Nor does the former serve the latter: The Great Commandment isn’t justification for The Great Commission, or even its internal marching orders.

They are both about loving and sharing. Sharing something important to us; something we believe would be important to them. But not because we love the thing. Our love is merely the proof of its value. We don’t seek to convert others because GOD is keeping score and that’s the only way we get our reward. We share in something that delights us in hopes that it will delight another, too.

Like when we discover some really good bread, and we tear off a small chunk for ourselves, giving the rest to the person sitting at our table, saying to them

You have to try this!

Because we know they haven’t truly lived until they’ve tasted it.

These two teachings are both radical calls to something we are really, really, really terrible at: putting someone else’s needs first. Not our desire for them, or our control over what they experience; it is our hope that they discover their own experience.

protecting wonder

My own children are fiercely independent. And more importantly, they have incredible imaginations. My son can follow an ant as it crosses the kitchen floor, squatting like a catcher and pointing it out to us. Otherwise, his eyes are transfixed.

His formation comes from these experiences and opportunities that he discovers for himself or we cultivate. So often, these opportunities for all of our children are squashed or eliminated. Replaced with a Funnel and Facts, intellectually force-feeding the justifications for GOD, but never encouraging the experience of GOD. We drive our children out of church and wonder why they never return.

We do this for good reasons, of course. But we don’t do it out of a great sense of GOD’s purpose. It’s all practical. Intellectual, actually. Justifications again.

It isn’t really about compassion, either. It isn’t about the children. And it isn’t about the stranger. It’s all about us.

The demographic data, which shows a stunning lack of diversity in The Episcopal Church, often cited as proof of the evil of inclusion (which takes a little twisting in the brain to make sense), cannot prove the error of our theology, because the theology gives room for lots of belief. But it does prove, perhaps our graver sin: that we welcome people to join us intellectually. But we struggle to both welcome diversity in practice, or encourage diversity in our communities. Our focus is not on showing compassion to those outside the tribe, but comfort to those within it. We unwittingly turn a ‘We’ into an ‘Us and Them’.

planting churches

Two recent posts at Episcopal Cafe, which highlight what we all know to be true: we are caught in a death-spiral of protecting the failing while not allowing ourselves to invest in the new. This was inspired in part by the question asked on the same site: “Why doesn’t the Episcopal Church Plant more churches?” This question digs deeply into our embedded sense of identity and purpose, which is why our current challenges are so frustrating and confusing. They conflict with, what is for many, the very nature of our church.

This is the macro-level, big picture example of a universal phenomenon. Out of fear for our own present experience, we reject what is the fundamental call to compassion. We aren’t called to obsess about our own experience, but to help encourage the experience of others. To share good bread with them, not hoard it for ourselves. Not worrying about whether there will be bread for us tomorrow.

We’re those Children of Israel out in the wilderness, saving up the Manna, then watching it spoil. Then we go back out on the Sabbath to double-check that GOD actually meant what GOD said.

I don’t believe it is as simple as closing some churches to free up cash; though there is much more theological and Scriptural backing for pruning the bush so that the whole plant might flourish: that our whole health is dependent on cutting the unhealthy branches which sap resources from the healthy. It may, in the end, be the only means of long-term growth and stability.

What I see as the more important solution is not found in the gimmicks or the games. It isn’t found in techniques or rules changes. It isn’t found in giving our seminarians more classes to take or in consolidating struggling dioceses. It isn’t found in listening only to bishops in wealthy, urban dioceses, or pitting them up against bishops from the poor, rural ones.

It is found in embracing compassion. New churches thrive in already thriving, hopeful communities. Churches decline where legacy and stability is more important than growth and vitality. The rational, political calculation is to breed a more compassionate church. It is the only way that the legacy congregations can thrive in the 21st Century alongside those new church plants in growing communities.

Unsurprisingly, it is also the theological, scriptural response to the struggles of our diverse communities. It is the only way we can respond to the pain in those areas experiencing continued economic depression and job loss; hunger and persistent racial segregation. The only way we can put ourselves in those places in which our compassion is needed, but rarely seen; in those places of great economic or ethnic growth, but no community to engage.

Most importantly, it is the only way the church can engage in those spheres and with those people we claim to care about. The only way we can fulfill the missio dei and be sacramentally present so that Christ can be revealed in us.

My vision for our future is to fully reject our consumer impulses and embrace a compassionate love that consistently reveals GOD’s love and mercy. A love that informs not only our good work in soup kitchens and homeless shelters, but in our every practice: in our buildings and bank accounts: in our worship and in our evangelism. It is found in a desire to share bread, not to sustain ourselves or our family. Not to be hospitable or kind. But because that bread is so good and there is enough. Plenty to share.

a heart full of compassion

Photo Credit: Susan von Struensee via Compfight cc

it is about us

In truth, the problem is us. It always has been. We’ve failed to see compassion as our most important trait, or any trait of real value. We prefer certainty and strength; efficiency and consistency.

And it is about our critics, far too eager to criticize; not critique or help, but destroy and punish.

It is about our friends who are struggling themselves and confused about their own way forward.

It is about the more recently mighty, which now find themselves struggling to prove their approaches have been any better, really at making disciples. New buildings, yes. “Winning” Christians from other denominations in some sick, Darwinian version of the anti-gospel.

It is about the millions of disaffected, abused, punished, seeking people who want to love, who need compassion, but have so frequently only received punishment. Who only hear the voices of Christian hate. Or more recently, are told that hateful speech is a religious right, but compassionate speech is “political”.

It is about weak leadership who has, for the last 70 years, struggled to preach honestly about Scripture: in many cases refusing to challenge the congregation to receive what we receive in seminary.

It is about bishops and judicatory bodies who have lacked the foresight or the political will to go against the confused and misled congregations and give true priority to health and vitality over the false gospel of independence and outsourced ministry.

It is about us. All of us. If you have ever darkened the door of a church. If your parents have ever darkened the door of the church. If you have ever called yourself a Christian. It is about us.

We want a faith that is easy, but this one isn’t. We want our solutions to be simple, but none of the good ones are. We want to worship without thinking and think without believing and believe without doing and do without praying and pray without worshiping. We want it all and we want it without the baggage that comes with listening and trusting and believing.

Most of all, I think, we want faith to look like the faith of our idealized grandmother, who wrote names in the family Bible, and went to church each week, dragging her children in tow. Who was so kind and generous, bringing her best recipe to the potluck and wearing the best hats. She would harmonize her part of the four and would actually giggle when we would sing her favorite hymn, which was never “Amazing Grace” or “The Church is One Foundation” but “In the bleak mid winter”. Who we would watch give groceries right out of the bag on the way out of the supermarket simply because someone asked her for help. That amazing woman, whose faith is unfathomable to us, inspires us. She defines faith for us.

And it is that faith we refuse. For us, we make it too difficult to replicate: a faith like a 3D printer. Too perfect. Too analyzed. Too much about the recipe. Like the pious young man who thinks he has the formula and Jesus shows him that a formula isn’t enough.

It is not the formula or the faith, it is that spirit of compassion. That loving that comes so deep from within that it cannot possibly originate with us. A compassion too natural that we don’t know how it comes, but it does. A compassion so rebellious it is marveled at. A compassion so dangerous we worry that the recipient can even understand it. A compassion so like the compassion of GOD.

That is how we “fix” the church. A church that reflects the missio dei, that reveals Christ to the world. That actually looks like we believe Christ when He tells Peter “Feed my sheep.”

A faith that can’t be taught through our brains, but experienced through our compassion. Our compassion given and received. Compassion given to us easily like a piece of bread, but taken for the most precious treasure.

 

The protagonist is Jesus, but the story is about the disciples

what we see

Photo Credit: Nick Fuentes via Compfight cc

I love talking with my Dad about church. He’s a priest. I’m a priest. Both of us are very traditional in many ways; very untraditional in many ways. And the best part is that they don’t always match. I greatly appreciate the way we talk, argue, explore, wrestle with our mutual vocations.

Our talk last night was about the Revised Common Lectionary: how it jumps, how it breaks context, how it sometimes fails to assist the congregation in actually knowing our story. Perhaps, most strangely, encouraging us to not know our story.

This week, we skip ahead a chapter. We jump from Matthew 10 to 11, then 13. And the struggle I had with covering Matthew 10 is that we were already taking it out of its context, making it sound like a group of Jesus aphorisms, totally unconnected, then cutting the big finale in half. And yet the voice of chapter 10 was of building up the disciples, naming them apostles: with all of the gifts they need to take on the world.

In 11, Jesus moves on, seemingly alone, to visit John the Baptizer. We then get this teaching, which is totally about discipleship and relationship. John serves as a great metaphor for that relationship, that trust in the Spirit, in Jesus.

In chapter 12, we get more Jesus with disciples, beginning with the Sabbath. This is certainly one of my favorite teachings of Jesus: the breaking of Sabbath law to keep the Sabbath. Then the chapter moves into the crowds and Jesus and signs and the reader could be excused if she got lost in it . More seemingly unconnected and strangely opaque stories. Most clergy don’t want to have to wrestle through this material, anyway, so maybe the team that produced the RCL is onto something.

The chapter ends with a most provocative moment of Jesus hearing that His family is waiting to see Him and Jesus says

Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?”

Then saying these people here are my true family. An idea we’ve recently already explored.

So here we come to 13, this week’s gospel story. Most of us will start and end with what is read here. And yet I don’t know how we can approach this conversation about the seeds and the sower without talking about the vision laid out in chapter 10, without all that Jesus describes in 11, and without all that mixed up stuff in chapter 12. Because the vision of discipleship that this writer we call Matthew paints is not depicted by watching the disciples in action, but by watching Jesus in action.

We see Jesus to see the disciples.

Don’t be confused by Jesus’s central presence in the story. This looks like a life story of Jesus. And we often read it like a biography (or more strangely, an autobiography). But this is really about those disciples, raised up, named apostles, and taught how to do ministry.

Apostles that go and do while Jesus is visiting with John the Baptizer. Apostles that take Jesus’s teachings so seriously that they are willing to break Sabbath law, knowing the consequences. Apostles that were closer to Jesus than His own flesh and blood.

These are the seeds we’re talking about. The seeds that grow from good soil; soil cultivated by working and following their rabbi through inhospitable environments. This isn’t just some metaphor about our going out and finding good people or excusing whatever BS excuse we use for being Christian in name only, or in sincerely held belief only, but without commitment, action, or participation in a community of believers.

For this is the gospel we’re talking about this weekend. This is the metaphor, the parable, the teaching of Jesus: that it isn’t just about seeds or the soil or the sower. Our faith isn’t just about us or our church or even Jesus. It is about it all, all of it! Our work, our faith, our commitment to a path that sometimes sucks and sometimes brings such profound joy that our tears of pain are mixed with tears of happiness and thankfulness.

We celebrate Easter every single week, not because something happened 2,000 years ago, but because something is happening with us, through us, within us every moment we give ourselves as a sincere gift. Not one that brings us joy in giving, but is genuinely given without expectation, without any hope of response. A gift to GOD that doesn’t help us. It doesn’t sustain us. It doesn’t rescue us. It doesn’t make us feel happy or warm our hearts. A gift we give of devotion that comes without the least bit of ego, because that is where we find the gospel.

Sunday, you’ll hear a lot about seeds and sowing. Speculation about what Jesus really means with this metaphor. Who the seeds really are or what/who the soil must be. Making GOD the sower, or maybe its the disciples. I am certain this Sunday’s preaching will be full of people turning a metaphor into an allegory.

This time, this year, you won’t hear it from me. Of course, I’m not preaching this Sunday, but that isn’t why. Why is because this passage can’t survive on its own. And trying to make it so certainly leads to a simplistic Christianity if we simply cast the parts of this tiny piece of scripture as if it were a play.

What it is is our story. This is about us. Our discipleship. Our work. Our faith. It is about seeing past Jesus to His disciples. To see how Jesus empowers them, forms them, builds them up. And then unleashes them to build upon the very elements of a contagious faith.

The Gift: How Jesus tells us to re-gift GOD’s love

a Homily for Easter 6A

Text: John 14:15-21

a picture of a farm house

Photo Credit: jumpinjimmyjava via Compfight cc

 

Coming Home

When my Dad would go on work trips; he would be gone all day. Often they were overnights. Alpena to Detroit is about five hours each way and when meetings went long, and he couldn’t make it all the way home, he’d stop and finish driving the next day. This happened often enough, probably at least monthly for years, that I got pretty used to it. I didn’t like it that night, of course. I wanted him with us. But the diocese needed him, too.

When he’d come home, the family would feel complete: as if order were restored. We all know that feeling, don’t we? But I always knew he was coming home. Some loved ones of mine didn’t/don’t have that certainty. Dad or Mom wasn’t coming home.

Or when he did, it wasn’t order restored, but unity betrayed. The unreliable one has come asking for trust and love. Fat chance of that!

We often treat Easter like a kind of family reunion–of restoration. The prodigal is home again; the savior’s sacrifice is our collective reward; Dad has come home to tuck me in, kiss my forehead and whisper I love you. I missed you. We’ll play together tomorrow.

That promise of tomorrow’s shared time fills our sleep with comfort dreams and anticipation of a day of constant, permanent attention. An unknowing promise to never leave, to always be here, and to never, ever grow old.

The Fill-In

And yet the Easter story isn’t permanent reunion. And it isn’t restoration of what was before. It isn’t a loved one coming home and making the family whole again. Jesus is no more the conquering ruler in His second life than He was in His first. His students will have to leave school sometime.

Our gospel continues the Maundy Thursday departure story we returned to last week. The one in which Jesus dealt with who the disciples are to be after He has gone. He shows them that they know GOD already because Jesus reveals GOD.

And just like Philip, we are stuck in the particulars and the physical. Dad returning home and whispering in our ear. A literal return; a physical presence. This week, we look for an Advocate to show up, and to stay: a permanent protector or inspirer. Or at least a divine GPS.

The Holy Spirit, then, a replacement. A step-dad filling in for the deadbeat dad who is leaving forever. His claims of presence ring hollow because we want the real Jesus, the real thing with us and in us. Not the surrogate. Even if the Advocate is better. Even if our work is greater even than Jesus’s. Even if the Advocate helps us transform the world, we still don’t know what she looks like. Or feels like. Or, to be honest, what she even comes here for. Because whether or not we feel like orphans, we certainly act like we are.

The Commandment is love

Orphans we are not. I bring us back to the context of the Last Supper. Just before this part we read today, Jesus gets up from the table and washes the disciples’ feet. And He says to them

So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. (John 13:14)

A few verses later, the most telling line sneaks in like a given:

If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them. (John 13:17)

Then they eat and Judas leaves to betray them. After he is gone, Jesus offers them a new (old) commandment:

I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. (John 13:34)

As He loved them, so they love.

Jesus then speaks of Peter’s three denials, describes a house with many rooms, and declares that they know GOD because they hang with Jesus.

The disciples weren’t just worried about losing someone they loved, but also everything He was doing: everything Jesus loved. They thought that without Jesus, the mission would fail. Without Jesus to tell them what to do, the whole thing would fall apart.

So Jesus tells them to simply “keep my commandments,” which we just heard is to love one another. I love you. Love others that way. He is saying to them (and us?) You guys do the hard work of loving each other while I get GOD to send you some help.

Our greatest gift to GOD

This help, which the NRSV translates into English as “the Advocate” is Paraclete in Greek. The word does not mean leader or legal guardian or someone above. But someone beside, standing with. Not carrying us, but helping us stand. Support when we feel alone or face great conflict. Support against injustice and discord; against evil and unintended fear; or with us when we face the death of a loved one or the loss of a friend’s affection.

The promise, then isn’t isolated saving from a powerful deity in the solitude of a personal faith, but the public support for a people who follow Jesus’s teaching: loving each other as Jesus loves us. Knowing GOD because GOD is revealed to us in that very love.

Love we show one another, not because we’re happy, or even because its the right thing to do; but love shown because that is the way to know GOD.

Our greatest praise to GOD isn’t found in any of the prayers in our blessed Prayer Book or in the classic hymns we find in our hymnals. It isn’t found in our flags or our devotion to a cause. It isn’t found in the money we give (or withhold) or the busyness of the groups we join. Our greatest praise is found in our love. That’s how GOD is revealed in this world and our greatest praise to GOD comes when we love. Everything, all of this, depends upon our love.

Love shown in service to each other, in giving to each other, in blessing each other. Love shown in washing feet and anointing heads. Love shown in eating together and drinking merrily with a simple thought:

Jesus loves us and asked us to do this one little thing above all things: love one another.

 

From Night to Day: reconciling, faith, and the Kingdom walk

a Homily for Lent 3A
Text: John 4:5-42

The Story

Our scene turns from Nicodemus, who seeks Jesus at night to an unnamed woman who stumbles upon him in the middle of the day. I think we are supposed to juxtapose these contrasting characters from chapters 3 and 4. Night/Day. Man/Woman. Named/Nameless. Leader/Commoner. Insider/Outsider. Hebrew/Samaritan. So many differences.

And so much story. I’d understand if you lost track in the middle. Here’s my recap:
Jesus has to go through Samaria to get to Galilee. His followers get hungry and take off. Jesus sits by a well that happens to be the one where Jacob met Rachel. A woman comes up and scandalously converses with this foreign man (alone), discovering (of course) that he isn’t a normal man. The woman goes back and tells everybody; they want to see Jesus for themselves. Disciples return with food. Jesus tells them the true food is ready to be harvested right here. The townspeople meet Jesus and invite him to stick around. He does; for 2 more days.

Big story. Lots of dialogue. And big ideas. Which makes for a pretty cool story of relationships, Jesus, and the mission Jesus is on. We could certainly spend hours on this. Which we won’t [don't worry]. But what makes this story sing is the back story and what they are there to do.

The Back Story

Jacob has 12 sons. And 3,000 years ago, there were 12 tribes. Of course that’s on purpose. These tribes were united under two kingdoms and then, under King David, they became one. Under David’s son, Solomon, they remained a united kingdom. Then, upon Solomon’s death, they fought and 10 of the 12 tribes seceded. Then, two hundred years later, in 730 BCE, the Assyrian Empire conquered the Northern Kingdom, where the Samaritans are in Jesus’s time.

One of the favorite tactics of conquerors to this day is to replace the identity of the conquered with their own. And one way they do this is by genetically altering the populace. Or, less politely, they rape the women. The children the local women bear are now 1/2 like them. The next set will be 3/4. Then 7/8. And so on. The Assyrians didn’t know the biology of that, of course. But they could see it in the skin, their complexions, the hair of their offspring. All visible genetic markers.

Through this, the Samaritans clung to their identity. They were Children of Jacob. Worshippers of a GOD revealed to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, then to Moses and Aaron as YHWH (or Yahweh). The God of the Hebrews as told in the ancient stories. Victims of abuse and occupation, then othered by their brothers, the Hebrews. Those Samaritans.

Not pure-blooded, the Samaritans were considered ethnically-mixed and foreign. Even one drop of blood makes them a different race. Lesser. Other. The Hebrews felt justified in destroying the Samaritans’ Holy Mountain and site of worship, much like the Romans would destroy the occupied Hebrew’s Temple some 40 years after Jesus. The evils of prejudice are revealed within our friends and foes alike.

The Well

Then we have the well. The well is important to this story because this is the well where Jacob first sees his beloved Rachel. Where he gives her sheep water. Where she invites Jacob back to meet her father. A well of love and peace. Where a foreigner named Jacob is reunited with his people. Jacob is the displaced foreigner, living in someone else’s land in Canaan. Laban and his daughters are the insiders. The whole family is reunited in marriage.

We are supposed to see Jesus as Jacob. He, this displaced foreigner, reuniting the whole family through water, with a drink from the well.

And this nameless woman is Rachel. As Jacob is named Israel by GOD and Rachel weeps for all of their children as her own, even those born to her sister and their servants. In Jeremiah 31 GOD responds to Rachel’s tears with comfort:

Thus says the Lord:
Keep your voice from weeping,
and your eyes from tears;
for there is a reward for your work,

says the Lord:
they shall come back from the land of the enemy;
there is hope for your future,

says the Lord:
your children shall come back to their own country.

The children will come home.

The Disciples

When the disciples return with food, Jesus teaches them about where real food comes from. That GOD tills the soil, plants the seeds, waters and keeps them, and months later, the vegetables burst through the soil, ready to be picked. He says to them that here, in the land of their half-breed enemies, GOD long ago tilled and planted and watered and kept these people. And now the disciples are called to harvest. Now, not later.

What he is trying to tell them is: Forget what your parents told you. What your teachers told you. What your leaders, like Nicodemus told you. These are GOD’s people and you are called to bring unity. The harvest is ready now.

When Jesus speaks to His disciples, He does so with the understanding that they are the xenophobic bigots they were raised to be. Their culture has lost no sleep othering their own people: brothers and sisters, born of Jacob (and his four wives). He tells them that this is their work: reconciling the separated. For this place that our Moms and Dads told us to avoid is the very place GOD has planted and we are to harvest.

This story speaks to much of our bigoted past and present. It speaks of a culture to which we are complicit. We, a nation of immigrants, rejecting today’s immigrants. Bias against people who are culturally different in any perceivable way: in race, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation, ability, age, political affiliation, economic status, education, self-expression. Our many biases are on constant display.

And yet, if we are following Jesus, we find ourselves, always in foreign territory, miles from home, even when we walk to church. For Jesus never stays where it is safe. He goes. And we are to follow. Even if its where our parents refused to take us. Our heavenly parent is driving us. Through Samaria, the dangerous mission field, then on to Jerusalem, a much more dangerous place.

For in GOD, the Kingdom is not only united, it is unity itself. It is not 12 tribes living as different kingdoms with different boundaries. It is one. The Kingdom of GOD.

Lent, the season we’re in now, is about reconciliation and becoming aware of redemption and unity. It is about our becoming mindful of what breaks us apart and what brings us all together.

Like the twelve brothers selling one of their own into slavery, GOD brought the eleven to Joseph. So we, the privileged and comfortable are brought to a new land, our own Egypt that we might be saved. That we, the foreign occupiers might remember our displacement and how we continue to displace our brothers and sisters.

We are reminded because GOD loves us. GOD wants us. In spite of our bigotry and hatred. Or our selfishness and fear. We are called to come together. We are called to listen. Above all, we are called to love. Love from our woundedness. Love as Rachel loves all her children. Love in the place we live, even if our parents would hate to see it. Love as parents love children. As GOD loves us. All of us.

Dinner #1

My Mom requested a visit. Not really something my Mom does. But since she’s doing chemo, she’s allowed. Yes, cancer. Aggressive.

And to be fair, I offered.

So I’m visiting my Mom and Dad. Mom’s other request was that I come up and make dinner. I get to set the menu.

A lesser man would think I’m being used for my cooking. If that were true, I’m still OK with that.

This is certainly a big responsibility. And a great opportunity to try things out that I’ve never made before. I needed something quick, so I jumped on Pinterest and found a great recipe I pinned last summer for pork chops with peaches. Huge hit. Paired it with roasted brussels sprouts and carrots. Those were pretty good, though the carrots were still a bit crisp as the brussels sprouts were beginning to blacken.

Now everyone else is asleep, like I should be. But I am not quite ready to go to bed. I am still thinking. Always.

And I am thinking how thankful I am for my family. For my parents. My children. My incredible spouse. The love that we share. The memories we make. The fun we have together.

I will cherish this forever.

The Missing Word: how to not say No

My daughter wrapped me around her finger before she could grab things and twist them. Before she could even see more than two feet in front of her face. She lights up my world when she greets me at the door and when I pick her up from school.

For her, I argue with the world.

“If there is no compelling reason to say ‘No,’ why should I?”

This is in contrast to the teaching all new parents receive: that we are to learn how to say “No”. That kids are ruined if they don’t hear “No.” Like the nurse who demanded we assert our dominance over our child because “[we're] the parents.” As if we couldn’t figure that out. As if we weren’t trying to feed and protect our child. As if our use of compassion and listening to her are not proper attributes of parents. That she would be spoiled and grow up to be a horrible human being if we nurture her or that she will never have to deal with rejection.

The thing is, my kid hears No all the time. In school and at home. In the grocery store and in the car. A lot. About as often as she hears words like “the” and “you”. Certainly way more than the word she truly never hears.

The No deprived that hurts a child is when we indulge the most selfish and soul-destroying requests for happiness through consuming junk in the form of food or toys. Or indulging fantasies that even they know they have no right to suggest. Like daily trips to McDonald’s, the weekend trip to Disney World, or to her very own magical unicorn pet house for the backyard. Few people have trouble saying No to these things.

It is the other stuff that we are encouraged to say No to that I reject. Like this one.

My daughter asked me this morning if I would draw pictures with her.

Saying No to that isn’t saying No to drawing, it is saying No to the question she is really asking.

I missed you at bedtime last night, Daddy. Will you spend some time with me? Just me?

And if I were to say No, I am really saying:

You aren’t worth my time. Just like last night.

My spouse tells me that I don’t say No enough. That my Baby Girl doesn’t hear it enough from me. But I think the problem isn’t No. It is the absence of Yes.

She taught me how to draw Hello Kitty.

She taught me how to draw Hello Kitty.