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A day of resurrection

As beautiful and perfect as we desire our Easter Sunday services to be, with their glorious music and gorgeous flowers, they do not reflect the candid reality of what actually occurred that first resurrection morning…

Easter is a strange time in the life of the church. We begin with a single day, when our Lord disappeared from the cold, shadow-filled tomb and went on walk-about throughout the land of his birth. The women who saw him slowly began to tell the tale, or quickly, depending on which version you’re reading. And people began to believe.

It is not a very clean story. In fact, it is quite messy. It is honest. And real. And you can feel the tingles in your bones if you let yourself.

Perhaps there is a gift in there.

As beautiful and perfect as we desire our Easter Sunday services to be, with their glorious music and gorgeous flowers, they do not reflect the candid reality of what actually occurred that first resurrection morning.

But you know what does?

Real life.

Because everyday life, when we have trouble getting ourselves out of bed, or can barely bring ourselves to face a given situation, or are unsure that what we are seeing is true – that is far more akin to what the original disciples faced. That is the true reality of Easter.

I don’t know about you all, but I find that a very big comfort. And not only on a professional level when we realize that we haven’t put together enough Communion packets.

I am far more comforted by these messy and complicated and honest visions of human disciples when the day after Easter I can barely move because the weight of the world is too much. My grief is still pressing me to my bed. And I have trouble breathing because of all the ridiculous, hate-filled lies I hear in our midst.

Those are the moments when the angels words come back to me: he is going ahead of you… Those are the moments when resurrection actually takes on real meaning for me.

The Power of the Cross

And yet, knowing all of it, Christ, our God, still chose to stretch out his arms. To show what true Love really looks like. To put on display for all the world to see – how far Love will go…

Holy Week.

My favorite week in the liturgical calendar. While the world around is focusing on hopping bunnies and brightly colored sweets (which is happening in my house, too), at church we are dealing with the raw, unbridled passion of God.

And no, I am not talking about suffering for sufferings sake. Nor am I a believer in the form of blood atonement that makes Christ the recipient of God the Father’s child abuse. Nor does this week somehow diminish all the pain that surrounds us in this world – the suffering of the hungry, the poor, the grieving, the dying, the oppressed, the abused, the lost, the forgotten, and all the other children of God that Christ consistently spent his life on earth lifting up.

On the contrary, it is the very power of God’s unconstrained and extravagant Love on display that brings everything else into focus.

How can we not listen to the silenced, especially those who have had their voices ripped away from them, as we hear leather whips rend flesh? How can we not open our eyes to the broken systems of our world when we see our Lord judged a common criminal and brutally murdered for calling out the systems of his day? How can we not hear the cries of the hungry and thirsty in our midst who are often given scraps and looked down upon when our Lord was given vinegar to drink? How can our hearts not break within us for all those forced apart, those intentionally forgotten, those deliberately lost by the community when we see all but a few of his closest friends flee in fear?

And yet, knowing all of it, Christ, our God, still chose to stretch out his arms. To show what true Love really looks like. To put on display for all the world to see – how far Love will go. To the cross. To the curse. To Hell.

There is such beauty in that Love. In our Crucified God.

Even when it forces us to see all the work we have yet to do, that Love will never… ever… ever let us go.

That is the power of the cross.

What’s the Point

It’s a wakeup call for all of us, especially those of us who would rather just comfortably stick our heads in the sand as the world around us falls apart. We are followers of the Crucified God. Such willful ignorance is Sin. And God will hold us liable.

Tragedy continues to strike in our world. Hard. People get hurt. People cause terror. Hatred runs rampant.

And what do we do?

Well…

“It’s not my responsibility, right?” “I never caused any harm.” “I have a [insert token] friend, so I can’t possibly be this kind of hateful…”

Sure. Keep running with that.

Next week is Holy Week. And though that does not affect any but the Christian world, allow me to remind those who would follow Christ about its most central tenant.

At the heart of everything else that will occur is a cross. On the place of the Skull – outside the city where normal people live. Calvary was a place considered cursed and damned by God and humans.

And that cross holds together an ultimate paradox, one that we cannot shy away from:

On the one hand, the arms stretched out on that cross represent a Love that will go to any and every length to serve another. Which means that for anyone who has ever been degraded, subjugated, oppressed, trampled, broken, destroyed – that cross is beautiful good news of how well you are loved in the face of all the hatred that the world consistently bombards you with.

On the other hand, the planks of wood represent the very worst of humanity and what we can do to one another. Our complicity. Our hatred. Our degradation. For make no mistake – it is we, it is I who crucified our Lord. We – every single follower of Christ – we are all complicit. Every single time we ignore malice, enmity, persecution, abuse, subjugation, suppression, tyranny, repression, exploitation, humiliation, shame, indignity, debasement, death, and so many other things. Not only when we commit these crimes, but when we ignore them and allow them to be accomplished on our watch – we are just as guilty as those who perpetrate them. And then we have hit the nail in a bit further.

So what’s the point of Holy Week?

It’s a wakeup call for all of us, especially those of us who would rather just comfortably stick our heads in the sand as the world around us falls apart. We are followers of the Crucified God. Such willful ignorance is Sin. And God will hold us liable.

My best advice is to come to the cross. Come and die to all that the world may offer. Come and learn what it means to really live – live as followers of Love crucified.

Family Ties

So, perhaps there is one lesson we should all take from this ridiculous and fun holiday today: we do have a bit of the same in us. And that is something to celebrate…

So, today is St. Patrick’s Day. A strange day in the American liturgy, as it were. Perhaps it is our love of cheering for the underdog, but today is the day when our country comes together to celebrate a group of people that for decades, if not at least a century, was considered one of the worst banes of our nation’s existence.

We eat traditional foods (not precisely Irish ones). We wear green (even though Patrick’s color was actually blue). And we do everything in our power, at least the grown ups, to get Irish (what my family calls rip-roaring drunk). Oh, and in non-Covid years we have some really awesome parades, too.

Now, my heritage is actually partially Irish. And I love holidays. So I’m all in. The Leprechauns visited my house last night leaving a trail of gold coins and foot prints for my sons along with green toilet water and milk (thank you Mimi for those ideas). And we will be having real Irish food for dinner – lamb shepherd’s pie.

Yet, I cannot help but pause a moment to consider some of the ironies that today holds. For all of us.

It is a fun day, to be sure. But perhaps it would be worth learning a bit of the history of the Irish in this country alongside our study of how Guiness and Smithwicks make their brews and how to make “Irish Car Bombs.”

It is a remarkable day to have so many people come together to claim a tie to one of our country’s historical “underdogs,” yet should we also consider why we do not have the same excitement for other holidays that celebrate other peoples who have had even worse experiences in our nation’s history (e.g. Juneteenth)?

This is a hard day for me personally because it was always a day my husband and I enjoyed together. And with so much of my family gone, including him, it now falls to me to figure out how to honor my ancestors who did come from the Emerald Isle, along with a whole lot of other places, while also honoring a far more important struggle within myself.

That struggle is my belief that we must always continue to do better. To be better. To honor the past while also celebrating the beauty of the present and embracing the opportunity to create a world where underdogs no longer exist.

My family came to this country looking for that better world. And though we have made so many, many, many missteps through the years, I still believe that there is a better world out there if we are all willing to put in the work – together.

So, perhaps there is one lesson we should all take from this ridiculous and fun holiday today: we do have a bit of the same in us. And that is something to celebrate.

And so it goes…

Looking back on my own life in this last year, if I stare too long, I find it hard to breathe… I am not a believer in God controlling all aspects of our fate – because if that is true, then God is responsible for some pretty horrendous things…

Almost a year has passed since our world changed forever.

Even now, those of us with social media are seeing memories of the early rumblings of the storm to come. And yet, none of us could know what all of us would be in for.

Looking back on my own life in this last year, if I stare too long, I find it hard to breathe. So much loss. Not just the half a million Americans lost to Covid. Not just the times and experiences we all had to cancel due to the dangers that the pandemic posed. But my father’s best friend. My last remaining grandparent. Mimi. Brad.

Breathe in

I do see the good, too. The creativity. The beauty. The wonder and awesome power of the human spirit in the face of such insurmountable challenges. We truly are a marvel.

I see my sons, born two and a half months premature, now the size of six and seven year olds at the age of four. Healthy. Strong. Smart. Full of joy. Full of so much of my late husband.

Breathe out

I am not a believer in God controlling all aspects of our fate – because if that is true, then God is responsible for some pretty horrendous things (i.e. genocide, disease, famine, etc.). Instead, much like in the book of Job, I do believe that God often allows things to occur as they will. Sometimes at the hands of those with evil intentions. But far more often life simply happens. It is neither good nor evil. It just is. It may be hard, like my husband’s death and my mother-in-law’s death and my grandfather’s death. However, none of those deaths were either good or evil. They simply were part of life. Part of what we experience. And so it goes…

What I find, when I look deep into the scriptures and God’s heart, is a different form of providence than control. Instead, there is a much more important promise: a promise that God will be with us. No matter what may happen. Come Hell or high water. Come fire or famine. God will be with us. Walking with us and offering the grace we need to not only survive whatever may come, but to find the new life that is always waiting in the wings. That is the providence that Love offers. And our God is certainly Love above all else. Well, Love and Life itself.

Breathe deeply

So here is my takeaway from this ridiculously difficult and yet somehow remarkably triumphant year: life is going to keep going. Yet, God is still with us wherever we go and working as much as possible for good. So keep breathing until you can do more. Then do more. Then live life as beautifully and as long as you are able. And love every chance that you get.

A Moment of Pause

I cannot let so many lives pass without acknowledging what we have lost. All of those lost were loved and did love. All of them were part of a family and a community. All of them had value. All of them mattered.

In recent days we have surpassed the 500,000 mark in our nation. That is over half a million people who have died from the novel Corona virus in the last year, for we have not even hit the anniversary of when the real shut downs in our country began. That is as many people as those who died in both world wars combined with our war in Vietnam. It is only 120,000 less than died in the Civil War. That number is beyond staggering.

And such a moment deserves a moment of pause to consider some things.

Maybe it is because I have lost four of my own family members in the same time frame, and granted from things unrelated to this virus, but I cannot let so many lives pass without acknowledging what we have lost. All of those lost were loved and did love. All of them were part of a family and a community. All of them had value. All of them mattered.

The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. once wrote that all life is inextricably intertwined, woven together in one single garment of destiny. He may have been speaking of racial injustice, nevertheless, the paradigm still resonates. The lives of those lost impact us. Far more importantly, the choices we make now impact every single life that still exists.

This weekend, the lectionary passage talks about taking up our cross, which means something far different than what most people think. The key thing in its meaning is this: taking up our cross is always about serving someone else. Christ’s cross was not for himself, but for the world. Our lives, for those of us who would follow him, are meant to be about service of others.

So, for all of us still living on this side of the grass, still breathing, behind a mask or not, we should consider this: it is our job to care about every life that is connected with our own. And that is every life.

Be kind. Be thoughtful. Do your part until this storm finally abates.

Ashes to Ashes

God could care less how little soda your are drinking if you refuse to offer your hungry neighbor some food. God does not care how many verses of scripture you have memorized if you never go out of your way to learn a stranger’s name…

Ash Wednesday is a day meant to bring us into deep contact with our mortality. Remember you are dust and to dust you shall return. You will die. Life is fleeting. In the end, only the eternal will last.

For many of us, this is not really a reminder. Death is an ever-present reality. Whether we are dealing with the recent loss of a loved one or our own personal life-threatening diagnosis, we get it. Life is but breath and then you’re gone. Thanks, but not thanks. We’ve already got that depressing reality down.

However, I am not really sure that is what this day is meant to be about.

Perhaps the better thought to consider is how are you going to spend the time you have here on earth?

Lenten practices range from the silly to the absolutely ridiculous, with everything in between. And I am the last person to tell you how you should observe a holy Lent, because I do not know where you relationship with God is.

What I do know is this: God could care less how little soda your are drinking if you refuse to offer your hungry neighbor some food. God does not care how many verses of scripture you have memorized if you never go out of your way to learn a stranger’s name. God will not count the number of chocolates you skip, but God will keep track of the people you ignore in your path who are hurting, especially if you have the ability to help. And though God appreciates quiet times spent together, no length of time in the world will matter if you remain cruel to your family and neighbors.

Getting the picture yet?

Christ cares far more about how you love than anything else. God has shown a love for you that is beyond any measure the human mind can fathom. All that God asks in return is that you pass that love on, out into the world.

The ashes on your body are a mark of just how loved you are, but they are also a reminder that all of us have limited time to share that love with the world. So, what will you be doing to observe this Lent?

Choose Love?

Now, some have suggested that it is not worth the pain. That it is better to wall off our hearts. To protect ourselves from the inevitable. But here’s the thing: love will always be greater. Always be worth it. And the pain will heal…

Love is hard. Love hurts. Love is messy. Love may be all we need, but there are times when we would not wish it on our worst enemy.

Why?

Because love is the deepest and most important emotion we can ever feel.

This year, I find myself facing not only my first Valentine’s Day in two decades without my husband, but also the four month anniversary of his death on the 14th. Making what would already be a mixed-up holiday for me, now reach a level of emotional complexity that I haven’t felt since last October.

The thing about loving so deeply and being loved so completely is that when you lose that connection, or even part of it, it shatters a piece of your soul. Even if the relationship is not perfect and it takes extremely hard work, day in and day out, it is still so much a part of who you are that when it is gone, so is part of yourself. This can be a spouse, but it can also be a child, a parent, or even a friend.

Many of us know what this feels like, in some way, shape, or form. And if not, you will. (Enjoy the time you have left until you do.)

Now, some have suggested that it is not worth the pain. That it is better to wall off our hearts. To protect ourselves from the inevitable.

But here’s the thing: love will always be greater. Always be worth it – Because love – in all of its myriad of forms – is essential to who we are. And the pain will heal. It will be horrific for a while, but not forever. Eventually, the love will win.

So, best advice: love deeply. Love well. Put in the work. Face the pain. And keep living – because the love goes on and on.

We Rise Up

No matter what, we always rise up. 1000 times if we must. Because, if my cloud of witnesses in heaven have taught me nothing else, life is meant to be lived.

All we need is hope and for that we have each other…

Andra Day

This past weekend we celebrated two different big days in the life of my family – COVID style.

First, on Friday night we initiated my oldest bonus daughter’s boyfriend into the family birthday rites, which include a present scavenger hunt, a specialized cake, and dinner out as a family somewhere nice, with party favors for everyone (including the grownups). This time we were blessed to practically have our own room since there were seven of us altogether. And our traditions have come from a number of places over the years, but my late husband and I have developed them together. We found ways to make our important days extra special, even before our children were born. One of our favorite traditions we adapted from my late mother-in-law’s love of party favors and made it our own.

Then on Sunday, I had the pleasure and privilege to help throw a Zoom baby shower for my big sister who lives clear across the country. We have waited, lo these many years, for this little one to finally join us (as my sister and I are both broaching forty at this point). So, my co-host and I worked diligently to get specialized tumblers and cookies to everyone for toasts and treats. We made games to share stories and laugh. And we were blessed to bring together people from not only across the country but also even one guest on the other side of the globe.

Then Monday hit. And it all came tumbling down.

Monday was my late mother-in-law’s birthday. Our first without her. She was the one who made everything so special for everyone else. Such a gift to all of us. It was something we shared and enjoyed doing together. Something I’ve tried to continue now that she is gone. And on Monday, the gaping hole in my heart was just too much. I watched the snow pile up outside (something else she would have loved) and curled in on myself.

Something else that Mimi (what my sons call her) and I share was our deep-rooted faith. Faith that can move mountains. Faith that can indeed get us through anything that life can throw at us.

In the end, though the gift-giving is fun and something we both have enjoyed over the near two decades we have known each other, creating those parties, those special times – like birthdays and showers and holidays and other celebrations – they were really about spending time together. Because we need each other. We need one another’s presence in joy, and especially in times of sorrow (which is why wakes are so important, too).

We give each other hope. And that hope gives us the ability to do what we followers of God, especially Christians, are known for: rising up. No matter what, we always rise up. 1000 times if we must. Because, if my cloud of witnesses in heaven have taught me nothing else, life is meant to be lived.

On this day…

Start there. Because the world is in far too fragile a state for us to wait even a moment longer. We must never forget. Nor must we ever let such abominations ever occur again.

For the dead and the living, we must bear witness.

Elie Wiesel

On this day, we remember our six million Jewish brothers and sisters on record who were killed at the hands of the Third Reich. We remember the more than eleven and a half million who were in the camps. We remember the millions more that were slaughtered outside the camps. And it was not just our Jewish brethren we remember, but also our Slavic, Romani, LGBTQ brethren, and so many others who were considered too “different” to bear.

On this day, we remember the likely fifty million who were killed at the hands of the Third Reich.

The Holocaust was not the only atrocity of its nature to ever leave such a stain on humanity. Nor was it necessarily the worst, though it certainly was up there. We humans are quite good at labeling one another, putting each other into “in groups” and “out groups,” and then decimating those who we do not want causing “harm” to our society anymore.

It is somewhat striking to have MLK Day and Holocaust Remembrance Day barely more than a week apart. Both bring to mind some of the greatest horrors we humans have ever created for one another. More importantly, both show us the work we still have yet to do.

White supremacy, at the root of the Holocaust and all that the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. fought against, is still very much with us. It is a sin that has yet to be rooted out. And its progenitor, racism, is even further instilled into who we are to this very day – no matter how hard we may try to deny it. The evidence is far to blatant for us to ignore any longer.

We must bear witness to the history that has made us who we are and learn all that we can. And then we must take active strides into the future choosing to do better. To be better. To fight within ourselves and within our systems, even the church, unmasking those idolatries that allow racism to hide in our midst.

Where do we begin?

By seeking out voices that are different than our own. Ones that look different. Sound different. Have a different background. Have a different thought process. Sometimes even a different religion. Then open our ears and our hearts to listen for God’s still small voice in the spaces that make us uncomfortable. And be willing to open our eyes and see those places within ourselves that may need rooted out.

Start there. Because the world is in far too fragile a state for us to wait even a moment longer.

We must never forget. Nor must we ever let such abominations ever occur again.