Sunday, July 8, 2012

Same Life, New Blog

from Columbia, Missouri this time:

coming soon: new job, new home, new-ish place, new stories, new scenery on this same journey

Saturday, July 23, 2011

God is not a white man

Last Sunday I headed off for camp.  It was a gray and rainy day in Seattle, even in the middle of July, and my mood, not to mention my attitude, reflected the weather.  I'd hardly been back a week from an emotionally draining week at the Mennonite Church USA convention in Pittsburgh, and I was not ready to be away again, even at beautiful Camp Camrec.  But then I got there and had one of the greatest weeks of my "year as a Mennonite pastor."

I'm sure there will pictures up on Facebook, and the youth tell stories about tubing in the Icicle River, Texas Star Gazing, and pranks - all fun, all memorable.  There are two other things that most excite me though.  
One is the leadership of the counselors and staff, who struck a nearly perfect balance between fun-loving and mature.  They were thoughtful, compassionate, and authentic.  They didn't worry about their images, about impressing others, or about being cool, and our camp of fourteen youth was small enough that we didn't have to worry much about those things from the youth either.  Camrec is a special place like that.  There are at least two or three if not more of these young people, ages 18-25, who I would encourage to explore a calling in ministry or religious leadership.  There's something about the character of a person that they just have.  

And second was the theology.  As camp pastor I led lessons (a.k.a. "Sarah Time") and campfire on the theme of God's Table.  We talked food stories, creation, hunger, and hospitality, and each night we participated in a ritual around a table we had created together on Sunday.  God's Table is a place of radical hospitality, a place where each person has great value, a place where there is a preferential option for the poor and hungry.  And so our next generation of Washington Mennonite youth got a taste each night of inclusive theology, liberation theology, feminist theology, and social justice.  It wasn't just from me though - it was the spirit of the week, and it was captured most in a new song we learned by a group called Gungor, lyrics adapted to reflect inclusive language below.  

Who ever thought a progressive, lesbian camp pastor and a radical, straight, white male camp director would join/lead a bunch of Mennonite youth in singing...

God is not a man
God is not a white man
God is not a man sitting on a cloud

God cannot be bought

God will not be boxed in
God will not be owned by religion

but God is Love,
God is Love,
and God loves everyone
God is Love,
God is Love,
and God loves everyone

God is not a man
God is not an old man
and God does not belong to Republicans

God is not a flag
not even American
and God does not depend on a government

but God is good... 

Monday, June 27, 2011

United States of America v. Sarah N. Klaassen

The title says it all.  We thought maybe by this point there would be no further response to our Good Friday witness, and then two weeks ago I received a "Notice to Appear" from the United States District Court.  It came in the mail with the weekly Safeway ad, return address Central Violations Bureau in San Antonio, Texas. 

We will gather at 8:00 a.m. on July 14 outside the U.S. Courthouse to pray and prepare for whatever will happen that morning.  All are welcome to join us in witness and preparation.  Most likely we will be asked to enter a plea, guilty or not guilty being the standard responses.  And yet, as these new friends and old mentors gently guide us, I am reminded over and over that the witness has not yet ended.  Guilty or not guilty are only two choices, but for followers of Jesus, we always have a third way. 

Teacher, biblical scholar, and experienced protester Wes tells the story of a courtroom overtaken by the spirits of control and power a few years ago.  The protesters fell subject to the rituals of empire, the robed judge, the armed officer, the inflexible liturgy of the judicial process... until he rose and said something like this: As a follower of Jesus Christ, I do not acknowledge the jurisdiction of this court to decide my innocence or guilt.

The other week as we were talking War Tax Resistance at Seattle Mennonite, pastor Weldon spoke eloquently about the power of threat: an abstract force so strong that it can prevent us from acting upon even our most strongly held convictions.  The police, the IRS, the District Court, all made up of individual people, become larger than the sum of their parts and we become in response, less than the body of Christ, weakened by the possibility of negative consequences.  It's something I've been pondering, something for us all to ponder - for despite how things often seem, we often do have the agency to neutralize threat.  Sure, it's the hard path, this third way.  It's the less obvious path; it puts a little less hope in a lush bank account or predictable negotiation of bureaucracy.  But haven't we always known that we have to give something up to follow Jesus? 

In reality, this current journey is not so difficult.  We eleven have been charged with Preservation of Property, and the code is as follows:
§ 102-74.380  
All persons entering in or on Federal property are prohibited from— (a) Improperly disposing of rubbish on property;
(b) Willfully destroying or damaging property;
(c) Stealing property;
(d) Creating any hazard on property to persons or things; or
(e) Throwing articles of any kind from or at a building or climbing upon statues, fountains or any part of the building.
Penalties (41 CFR 102–74.450). A person found guilty of violating any rule or regulation in subpart C of this part while on any property under the charge and control of the U.S. General Services Administration shall be fined under title 18 of the United States Code, imprisoned for not more than 30 days, or both.

We are not sure how our action connects to one of these offenses, and we don't know how our day in court will unfold.  Some of us hope for a trial and others of us first-timers are unsure how to navigate all of this.  And yet I can't help but think something new is happening here, not so much in the world but in my little world.  After two weeks with this notice, United States of America v. Sarah N. Klaassen doesn't seem as threatening as it did before. 

Monday, May 9, 2011

Forever bless'd

I found out on Friday night that Grandma Donna was feverish and weaker even than she has been.  It's been well over three years since she was diagnosed with cancer, and slowly she's faded - baking less, sitting more.  She and grandpa moved into town the other year, and they stopped going to so many basketball games.  She put together a scrapbook with the help of her oldest grandchild, and when I would go visit these last years, I would sit for hours looking at that book and asking question about how life used to be.  I loved it - to know her history was to know mine.

In January when I was back in Kansas, she was in the hospital.  I visited her there, and we looked at old slides through a mechanical viewer.  When she was discharged back to the apartment, she was on hospice.  The last time I saw her was a Thursday afternoon - January 6, it must have been.  I stopped by the apartment at Kidron Bethel and took my seat on the left side of the love seat next to the end table that holds the peanut M&M's.  Grandma was in her recliner as usual.  While I was there the hospice chaplain stopped by and introduced himself and made small talk with Grandma and Grandpa, which isn't always easy.  There were the serious questions too:

How is it with yourself, with others, with your God?  Good.  Good.  Good.   

We left when she was tired, and as I walked toward my car, I wondered if it was the last time I'd see her.  Probably so.

Yesterday during the Sunday school hour after worship, we had a hymn sing.  We sat in our four parts and used the blue hymnal, singing song after song, acapella.  I sat behind my friends, and next to a woman who also spent some years at Grace Hill and who, yesterday, helped carry me along the alto line.  At about noon PST, someone, another native Kansas in fact, requested "For all the saints," #636: 

For all the saints, who from their labors rest, who thee by faith before the world confessed, thy name, O Jesus, be forever bless'd.  Alleluia, Alleluia. 

It's a funeral song.  Then other songs were requested - one from someone's dad's funeral, another from someone's grandpa's.  And we sang, boy can these folks sing.  As I thought about what song to request, I wondered which ones grandma has chosen for her memorial.  I'll find out soon. 

Surely she is a saint who from her labors now rests peacefully, as it should be.  A good life and a good death surrounded by her husband of decades and her four children.  She breathed her last at about 3:30 CST, less than two hours after we were singing memorial songs in Seattle.  I can't think of a better way to accompany her out of this world.

It is still the Easter season of the church year, a good season to die: death and new life, loss and resurrection, and that eternal sense that our bodies and our lives may not be what we had thought, after all.   Dear Grandma, be forever bless'd, allelua, alleluia.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Bodies of an Uprising

May 1, 2011
Seattle Mennonite Church
Second Sunday of Easter
John 20.19-31

Last Saturday I baked Resurrection Rolls.  This sweet treat is especially for Easter, involving the usual ingredients for bread, plus sugar, cinnamon, and marshmallows.  Let me explain the recipe for resurrection.  The first step is to make a yeast dough and let it rise until double.  Then divide the dough into smaller, roll-size portions and let them rise.  As is fitting for Easter, there’s a lot of rising involved in the process.

Then comes the good stuff.  Melt half a cup of butter and combine a cup of sugar with a few Tablespoons of cinnamon.  Flatten each roll and dip it in the butter and then the sugar mixture and then take one large marshmallow and wrap it into the roll, sealing the edges.  Dip it one more time in cinnamon sugar, and let it rise one more time before baking at 375 for about 15 minutes, and then let them cool.

The marshmallow dissolves inside the roll, and you are left with a sweet empty tomb: a Resurrection treat.

Isn’t this how we often proceed with the Easter season?  Spring is upon us – it’s getting warmer and the sun is shining with more frequency, thanks be to God!  The end of school is approaching, summer vacations are being planned, and after that long Lenten journey with Jesus to the cross, and after those agonizing, messy days of betrayal, arrest, suffering, and death, the tomb is empty.  God through Jesus has power over life and death.  Christ has risen!  Christ has risen indeed, alleluia. Sweet. Tasty.  Neat.

And this takes me back to my Resurrection Rolls.  As I said, the marshmallow dissolves and you are left with a tidy empty tomb… in theory, anyway.  Maybe this is how it works out for a more experienced baker, someone who can seal up the tomb a little better, but for me, after about 15 minutes in the oven at 375 degrees, the marshmallows had not dissolved in the roll but had leaked all over my baking pans: the tombs were empty for sure, but instead of disappearing, the body of Jesus had spilled out into a sticky, gooey mess.

Our Gospel lesson for today begins, When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews…

Now this text came from a Jewish community that was in conflict with the local synagogue.  The animosity here in the text and the animosity that many scholars see behind the text has to do with religious authorities, not with Judaism itself or with Jewish religious traditions.

You see, it’s always the authorities, the people in power who are threatened by an uprising.  It’s those who are privileged, those who benefit from the status quo, who don’t want things to change.

Jesus, that troublesome prophet and teacher had made a mess of things when he was alive, offering a message of radical love through the medium of radical peace and now his death was the way to squash any remnants of that radical uprising.  Be rid of him for good.

No wonder the disciples were afraid.  The one they followed, the one who captured the message of God in real, concrete, fleshly images was gone.  So much for the door, the bread of life, the light of the world, the gate for the sheep, the true vine.  Guess we’re not the sheep or the branches after all.  Goodbye to the Good Shepherd.

An empty tomb and Mary’s encounter with the Jesus gardener were not enough to give new life to the deflated rebellion.  In fact, there was only one thing that could.

When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the religious authorities, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.”  After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side.  Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord.

John’s Gospel begins with the stunning, cosmic proclamation.  The Word became flesh and lived among us.  This is what God looks like spilled out into the world, from the neatness of heaven to the messiness of earth.  God looks like Jesus, clothed in radical love that associates with society’s outcasts and washes our dirty, smelly feet.  Then here in the second to last chapter of John, the evangelist brings us full circle.  We hear this most clearly in doubtful Thomas’ exclamation upon seeing Jesus: “My Lord and my God!”  Finally, they get it.  Finally we get it.  The Word became flesh in chapter one and now again in chapter 20, the risen Jesus, a body once again, only this time his body is even a little bit more like ours.

There comes a point for each of us, some time early in childhood when we know what it’s like to fall and scrape a knee.  We know what’s it’s like to have a scar.  Then we grow a little bit and there comes a time for each of us, some time maybe middle to late adolescence when we know what it’s like to have a broken heart.  Then we grow a little more, and the world becomes heavier.  We are depressed, or we live with anxiety.  We struggle with addiction.  We recognize our own woundedness and our own failure.  We live through accidents and surgeries and we see other people who don’t.  We know what it’s like to be mortal, to live in a body.

So does Jesus.  Twice.  After being nailed to a cross, I bet he walks with a limp.  I bet when the weather changes, he feels it in his bones now and the marks of the crucifixion, well, those will stay with him forever.

Poet Marty McConnell writes:
…these bodies
are not new countries. crushed
between each vertebrae are notes
written in a language we invented,
forgot, and are only slowly
remembering. there’s an alphabet
to our resurrection, our steady return
to breath.

You see, in our embodiment, the lines of resurrection blur.  Here is the secret of the rising up.  Here is the secret of the uprising.  It takes a body.  It takes a body.

Not just any body.  It’s every body. All ability and different ability is needed in the rising up.  Wheel chairs or walkers – all the better; wrinkles are good too.  Bodies that do quirky or unexpected things – that frustrate us or hold diseases or let us down, changing voices, growing hips, giving hot flashes.  Especially these, because these marginal bodies are the radical bodies, the bodies of an uprising.  Our bodies, each and every one in all their incarnate frailty also mirror the divine.  The Word became flesh, and flesh became the way.

A recent issue of The Mennonite (April 2011) tells the story of protestors lining up outside of an unmarked Immigration and Customs Enforcement field office to draw attention to the building and call for transparency in the legal practices surrounding the detainees.  “The protesters… came with a washbasin and several gallons of water.  As people chanted Psalms and read Scripture passages, [Mennonite pastor] Isaac Villegas managed to wash about five people’s feet before an unmarked white van rolled in, dispersing the protestors.”  In his reflections on that day, Isaac Villegas writes, “Bodies matter…  [Foot washing] is what love looks like; it’s what love feels like – a foot in your hand, a hand on your foot.  Love isn’t simply some flighty emotion that comes and goes depending on your mood.  Love happens when you pour water on someone’s foot and wash it and dry it…”

It’s an old practice, born of the necessity of sandals and dusty roads.  John chapter 13 says that Jesus, in preparing for his death, poured water into a basin and washed the disciples’ feet.  For I have set you an example, he said to them, that you also should do as I have done to you. In the uprising, bodies matter.
It takes both hands and feet. A theologian (Sebastian Moore) once wrote, that we can “look forward to the point when the whole mystery of God will be known in the clasp of your brother’s [and sister’s] hand.”

This is something we’ve known for a long time.  Radical love and radical peace are not abstract ideas.  They are enacted.  They are performed.  They are incarnate.  God revealed in Jesus makes possible a relationship of limitless, servant-style love and we are now the vessels, we as ourselves as individuals and we together as a body.

Last week, Weldon preached us up an Easter challenge, saying God is calling us to see and be God’s rising in Jesus Christ.  God is rising up in each one of us” and in Seattle Mennonite Church.  Our challenge is to prayerfully ask what God is raising up in me. Weldon said, “I cannot name that uprising for you but I am confident that God is rising up in you this Easter.”

If you don’t know quite yet how God is rising up in you this Easter, be patient.  Listen.  Wait.  It will come.  But in the meantime, hear this:  It is in our bodies and through our bodies that Jesus rises up to bring radical love and radical peace to the world.  This is Good News, my friends.  If you do nothing else for the risen Jesus this week, love your body and this body, and in doing so, you will join the uprising.  Through the grace of creation and the mystery of incarnation, the bodies of this uprising are ours.