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Palms

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It’s Palm Sunday, I remembered only this morning. This season of Lent has passed me by, seasons do that sometimes. My baby girl is three weeks old today and so we did what we do, we took her to church.

By the time we dashed into the school gym through the pouring rain, everyone dressed with their teeth brushed, I was fully expecting someone to meet us at the door with a medal. “Here! You made it! Congratulations!” So I became ridiculous and greeted every other mother with a babe in arms with dead-serious props: “You made it, good for you! Good for us! Look at us, we’re doing it!”

I never really want to go to church. I just don’t. I’d rather stay home in my jammies and have a lazy Sunday. I like podcasts and books. I have a lot of weirdness about the Church as a whole, too: questions and accusations or frustrations, perhaps. I’m just built that way, some of us are. And I will choose quiet over crowds any day. But every Sunday that I push through that, I never regret it, I’m always to glad I actually got ready and put my children in the car and we went to church to remember that we are the church. I am always so thankful that I went – so thankful for the chance to pray for a friend and for familiar faces, for singing and teenagers in buffalo check shirts, for Sunday school and loud kids, for the way we stand to read the Scriptures in declaration over each other.

I think someday when I am old, I will conjure up the sight of us in the fourth or fifth row on the right hand side just to see us on these imperfect Sundays. I’ll see my gigantic husband delicately twirling our three-year-old in the aisle as she dances to the hymns and the anthems alike. I’ll see him lifting her easily up into his arms, how her flowered dress hung over his plaid-shirted arm and she stuck her chubby arms up in the sky like all the grown-ups around her, singing “hall-le-lu-yay!” and how she leaned out of his arms three times to kiss me SMACK right on the lips and then grin. I’ll see myself swaying with a sleeping baby at my breast, rhythmically patting her bum with my left hand, my right holding the hand of a tall and sensitive six-year-old boy who sings along to the songs. I’ll see my eldest daughter with her BFF colouring at our feet, turning the provided picture of a leper rejoicing into a couple of chicks with carefully designed clothes on and black crayon eyelashes, praising God. I’ll see how we were back and forth up the aisles at least three times with someone who needs to pee or nurse. I’ll see our friends and the folding chairs, all familiar, how I sang out over my life with my palms wide open.

And I’ll fall in love with my life from that distance, over and over, because I will love the sight of us, distracting and distracted and yet somehow doing it, the thick of our life together. I will see myself singing the words of the Psalms into my babies’ hair, I’ll see how we touched each of them, rubbing their backs, brushing their hair off their foreheads, holding their hands, loving them is just as much a part of our worship as anything else.

Hosanna in the highest. We’re not a liturgical church but I’m a liturgical woman. I always long for liturgy on the big days like this, I want the big church-y words and communion and prayers, the same every year. But my people are the school-gym dwellers, the flag-wavers, the “God has a word for you” ones and so I stay, I’ll always stay.

I spent much of the sermon in the mothers’ nursing room. I used to wonder why I bothered going to church when so much of my time was spent in the hallways with a fussy baby or toddler. But then I realised that this is part of church, too, the way that we talk in the halls, the way we sit on scratchy old couches in the staff room of the elementary school nursing without covers on, the way we sway while we talk. If I came to church just for the sermons, I would have left long ago.

But I admit that sometimes I go to church just to sing. I love to sing. I’m not a snob either. I have friends who poo-poo anything that’s not a deeply and rightly theological hymn, not me. I love the hymns and I love the big hairy worship anthems, I love singing Jesus-is-my-boyfriend songs and Scripture songs, I love simplistic choruses and I love when they play the piano and tell us to just pray to ourselves and the way that the melodies of our own mouths rise up, I’ll sing in the tongues I received as an eight-year-old.

Great is thy faithfulness, our Father and our friend.

It was a wonderful sermon this morning. Brian heard the whole thing, lucky duck, and he said that sermons like that remind him why he’s given his life to this, why we believe, why it matters. Maybe that’s what good teaching does, it gives us language for our minds for what our hearts already know or suspect.

This is what we heard: There is nothing against us or in us that can stop us from clinging to Jesus, from turning to redemption, over and over, turning again and again. And whatever happened on the cross, however we impose meaning and narrative and metaphors onto it, however we try to explain or understand it, this is the truest truth of it all: it was enough. The cross was enough and is enough, we are only responding to the abundance of redemption.

Hand me a palm branch, the King is coming.

 

photo via lightstock. used with permission.

Continue Reading · church, community, faith, family · 21

Confessions

Pride is a tricky thing, it makes liars out of us. If we don’t ever admit to our stumbles or our failings, our weaknesses and struggles, then how will we know when we’ve found our people?

I limped back to my community this week. It’s been a long year filled with work and travel, unblogged challenges and changes. In the push to finish this book before the baby arrived and roughly seventeen other complications over the past year for us, we haven’t been as present or involved at our church as usual, particularly over the past couple of months.

I’ve been ashamed of this, feeling as if I’ve sacrificed my local life to just keep swimming. What use is all this thinking about church and community (or for that matter, any of it – justice, beauty, mercy, grace) if we’re not actively involved in living it out in our real lives?

I needed to sing out ahead of my exhaustion so I did. I’m interrupted a million times in church – three tinies will do that to a woman – but I keep circling back, keep jumping back into worship, refocusing again and again and again. I need to hear my own voice singing promises. And I need to be with the ones I’ve chosen as my people.

We hadn’t been at church since before Christmas. My friends met me with hugs and, of course, they asked, How are you doing?

And my pride wanted to say that I was fine! great! never better! living the dream! blessed and highly favoured! (<—old school Pentecostal)

Instead, it was the craziest thing. I cried every time they innocently asked how I was doing. And I made myself say it, out loud: I’m not fine. I’m not okay. Yes, you’re right, I’m exhausted. I’m just so so so tired. I miss my life sometimes. I could use your prayers.

Forget dignity, I need restoration.

Forget pride, I need the prayers of the people who like us.

Forget anonymity, I need to be known even in these moments of emptiness and need.

Church is one of my safe places now. I never would have imagined saying that a few years ago but it’s true. It’s the place I can go when I am the reluctantly needy one. My friends promised prayers, a few even checked on me during the week here and there. I was met with hugs and tenderness, with kindness. It wasn’t much really. Maybe my friends would say it wasn’t a big deal at all, but it was enough for me. I felt seen, I felt like someone who knows me actually cared, I felt their compassion. This is more than enough.

One friend talked to me about arranging for a few meals to brought to us after the baby is born. I wanted to say, No, no, we’re fine, we don’t need anything. I think she saw right through my need to be independent, and she looked me dead in the eye: Sarah, you need to do this. You need to let people bless you. So I said yes, that would be wonderful. Please put me down on the list, yes, bring me food when I have a baby. Why is it so hard to accept help?

And I felt the difference this week, the heaviness hanging over me began to break up above my head, my energy has been slowly returning.

I continue to lean on my community, on the Spirit, and on Scripture. It seems easier to walk away from community for me, easier to be autonomous and anonymous but I find I need the strong three-strand cord more and more.

I longed for this for many years. And yes, our church isn’t perfect and, in fact, it makes me a bit crazy sometimes just like all churches do for all people who show up and put their hearts on the line.

But now, to me, church should be the people I turn to when I am tired, too. My one word for 2015 is Hold Fast, based on Hebrews 10:23, but just a few lines down from my pet focus right now are these words: “Let’s see how inventive we can be in encouraging love and helping out, not avoiding worshipping together as some do but spurring each other on…”

I don’t think we need a four-walls-and-a-non-profit-status to qualify as church but these people are mine and I am still learning to admit when I need something from them, too. I know Scripture commands us to confess our sins to one another, in order to be healed, but I am also learning to confess my needs, my struggles, even my true state of being. And restoration waits there, too.

So come all you who are weary and exhausted, all you who have poured out of your depths to fill another: be filled, be restored, receive for once. Wherever you find your church, let them be the ones you turn to when you are tired. Let us pray for one another, let us hold fast, let us confess.

 

Continue Reading · church, community, faith, Hold Fast, journey · 24

May God bless you with anger

Last weekend, I was in Winnipeg’s historic west end with the YWAM Urban Ministries and the Little Flowers community. It was a very dear time for me in many personal ways, absolutely, because I’ve been writing alongside of Jamie Arpin-Ricci as a Canadian theological blogger since the dark ages – back in the day when there were only about five of us writing about that stuff online and we were all so a-flutter over the emerging church, bless it – and he’s been very influential in my own life from afar over the years. He’s a bit of a misfit – a YWAMer who is a Franciscan priest in the Mennonite/Anabaptist tradition. Go figure, eh? But it works. In fact, the longer and better I know him and his work, the more respect I have – not too many folks you can say that about, I know. So having a chance to spend time with him and his wife, Kim, their son and their community was very life-giving.

But the weekend was more than just my own time sharing about Jesus Feminist and even more than our personal connection and conversations – it was also about justice and community, church and calling, all things that we talk about a lot here in this space, particularly on the grass roots level.

So I’m going to be writing through a few aspects of my time with these folks over the next weeks as their work and posture impacted me deeply – and I want you to know them.  I don’t have a big agenda or timeline though, I’ll just write as I can and look forward to the conversation that may unfold.

***

As you might have guessed from their church name, Little Flowers has been deeply influenced by Saint Francis of Assisi. This past Saturday was the Feast of Saint Francis so we had a conversation about the life of Saint Francis and if, like me, your knowledge of saints is pretty rudimentary at best, I’ll just say that he is way more than the guy on the bird baths and the pet blessings. We’ve domesticated our saints, perhaps, in order to make them fit on our pedestals. A good hint of the kind of man he was – and the order he founded of Franciscans – is to look at the new Pope Francis who took his official papal name from this saint with very clear purpose and inspiration.

Anyway, as a bridge into writing about the ideas that my weekend woke up in me, I wanted to share with you a Franciscan blessing that we prayed together as part of our small Sunday gathering.

And then I dare you to pray it.

franciscan blessing

Continue Reading · church, church planting, community, journey, missional, prayer · 14

In which I am gratefully disillusioned

GRATEFULLY DISILLUSIONED

Dear Pastor, leader, dear teacher, dear friend:

Do you remember how I used to call you the “Man of God?” I grew up believing that you  were better than us because surely you spent hours and hours in study and prayer and reflection on The Things of God. I learned to “touch not the Lord’s anointed” before I knew that that phrase even meant – all I knew was that it meant I shouldn’t criticize you, you were above us, our authority. You were my example in all things, the zenith of spirituality. I thought that you spoke for God and your answers were more important than my questions. I thought that pastors or leaders had to have their homes completely in order, be too holy for the rest of the stuff we all dealt with today. I revered your marriage and analyzed your parenting. I held you to impossible standards. Somehow, I thought – maybe because you taught me this, long ago, who remembers anymore? – that you were the Shepherd and I was the smelly, dumb, yet sometimes-adorable sheep.

Then the years began to unfold and one by one by one, those ideas I had about you? All dismantled. All broken. All revealed as charade or hypocrisy or addictions or sin or pride or deep sadness. And it hurt me terribly.

You can understand why that is for someone like me, why it was hard on me when you tumbled off of the pedestal I lovingly propped up for so many years. I’m rather embarrassed that I cried as hard as I did. I’m sorry now that I judged you as harshly as I did, that I cycled through the stages of grief especially anger and denial for your tragic displays of our shared humanity, because weren’t you supposed to be better than me, better than us all?

I was disillusioned. 

Now? I’m grateful to be disillusioned.

My friend, I no longer expect you to have it all together, to maintain a facade of performance and perfectionism that will eventually cripple you, your family and your followers. It’s okay that you’re a person.

I no longer look for you to deliver the message from the mountaintop for me. I like to be there myself, with the wind and the Holy Spirit in my hair.  I’ve also found God in the deepest valleys, driest deserts, and do you remember? I found you there, too. Hail fellow, well met.

Church doesn’t mean sitting in a pew anymore, listening to you talk like a high priest. It’s all of us, glory to God, a mismatched and gorgeous bride and something more besides, something holy in the living life together, the breaking of bread, pouring of wine, family, in the people of God gathered together then sent out.

It’s nice to be partners in this thing, now, isn’t it?

I no longer have expectations on you that I do not have on myself. We are all learning and growing, we are all travellers on a journey.

We are all engaged in holy work – the carpenter, the mama, the business person, the dad, the writer, the programmer – and we’re all anointed for our life, chosen. I value the work you do and I’m thankful for it. It’s just that I’m thankful for godly daycare providers, politicians, parents, labourers, advocates, missionaries, hockey players, and nurses. We are all anointed, we are all called and every part of this body is vital.

I no longer look to you as my shepherd. What a relief to you, I imagine!

No, I look to Jesus as my Shepherd. You can be my pastor, you can be my teacher, you can be my friend.

And this is freedom.

For both of us, do you see?

It’s freedom for the disillusioned because now we get to enjoy the richness of relationship with the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit without any intermediary or filter. I get to follow Jesus, not you. I get to be part of community that is rich and full. This flattened hierarchy thing that freaks so many people out? It’s actually pretty awesome.

This disillusionment pushed me away from revering you or heroes of the faith or mystics or doctrine purveyors or models or churches. I mean, don’t get me wrong, I’m still wanting to learn from all of you. But those stinging failures drove me to the true example, the true Shepherd, the true Father.

In this new world, I can embrace you as a true man – or woman, remember – after God’s own heart, flawed, moving forward as we all are towards our true renewed selves with open hearts to God.

Now, when I hear of you falling or a few skeletons in your closet, my heart is free to break for you and your own need for our Abba.

Now when I see one of us fall or stumble or struggle,  I can make my response this time all about you, to love you, to be there for you, no judgements, only grace and second chances - imagine that.

As disillusionment spreads – and clearly, it is spreading – I wonder if it spells freedom for you, leader.

If we were all disabused of our false notions regarding perfect leadership, you would be released from unrealistic pressure or expectations. We could see your gifts and callings as a blessing to be used in community instead of as an isolating boundary of “The Holy and The Rest of Us.”

You would be free to receive, too. We would come alongside one another, looking to Christ alone as the author and perfecter of our faith.

And when you struggle or stumble, you could be honest about it because who among us could ever throw the first stone at your precious face?

We would no longer be threatened by the fact that you also have questions and struggles. In fact, we could be a safe place for you to work through your thoughts.

We could welcome you, the “Man of God”, to the People of God.

Blessings on you, my brother, my sister, my friend. And thank you for all that you do, seen and unseen.

Gratefully yours,

Disillusioned

 

With thanks to The God Journey podcasts with Wayne Jacobsen and Brad Cummings of LifeStream Ministries for the phrase “gratefully disillusioned.” This post originally appeared at Deeper Story.

 

Continue Reading · church, community · 32