Wednesday, April 27, 2011

This Joyful Eastertide: Living as an Easter People

This post has been a long time coming, partially because I've been struggling to live on the other side of the cross: the resurrection. In his Easter sermon, my pastor, Scott, talked about how he somehow felt it wasn't quite Easter. With American wars continuing, the recent earthquake and tsunami in Japan, and the plight of America's poor in the hands of politicking budget-makers, he just had a hard time celebrating. Scott said he and his wife, Lin, felt the same way on the Easter after their daughter passed away. He concluded, "Easter is about letting go of Good Friday and taking a chance on life. And Easter is hard."

Last Sunday morning, I felt like Scott was speaking directly to me. I only feel that way once or twice in a year, but isn't it great when you feel the sermon was crafted just for you?

Anyway, I've been feeling rather un-Easterly lately. It seemed strange to sing of life in the face of death, destruction, and threat of disaster (even if the disaster may not happen to me). My spiritual outlook is stuck in a space best described in a hymn Carl Daw wrote in response to 9/11:
When sudden terror tears apart
the world we thought was ours,
we find how fragile strength can be,
how limited our powers.

From this abyss of doubt and fear
we grope for words to pray,
and hear our stammering tongues embrace
a timeless Kyrie.
But as Scott pointed out so well, we sing Easter songs on Easter whether we feel like it or not. We cannot allow the griefs of this world to keep us from celebrating the life springing anew in Christ that surrounds us. As an Easter people, we sing instead:

This joyful Eastertide,
away with care and sorrow!
My Love, the Crucified,
hath sprung to life this morrow.

Had Christ, that once was slain,
ne'er burst his three-day prison,
our faith had been in vain;
but now is Christ arisen,
arisen, arisen, arisen.
Living as people filled with Christ's life and love can be a challenge when the outlook looks grim. Scott is right- it's not healthy to spend our lives brooding on our losses and trials. For a worrier like me, that can be a tall order. This is where faith comes in.

On my scowly days, it's an act of faith to live with the hope of Christ's resurrection in view. I feel like I'm still in the dark, but the spiritual reality is that a new day has dawned in the world- Jesus lives! It's hard to behave like I believe in the resurrection when I don't feel it on the inside. But that's part of what it means to have faith. As the early Christians realized, our behavior shapes our inner selves, so I'd better act like I know Jesus is alive. When I do that, I take another step on my journey toward God... and I trust the Holy Spirit to bring me the rest of the way.

Do you ever have a difficult time living into the Good News of Jesus' resurrection? What do you do on your bad days to stay connected with God?

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Triduum and Grief

This year, as usual, I find myself either in choir rehearsal or service (or both) on almost every day of Holy Week. Although Holy Week is a crazy time for all those in the ministry professions, most years I find myself feeling still. (I should note that I don't have to plan all these services and run a church office, I just have to show up and sing.)

Other years, I have felt uncomfortable with Triduum, which is the time between the Maundy Thursday service and the Easter service. One year, I felt I had been grieving enough in the season of Lent, and did not attend Triduum service because I couldn't handle grief for Jesus on top of everything else. One of my pastors at H-EUMC lost her mom last week, and she is not coming to Triduum services.

This year, however, I feel oddly comfortable. This space in which we contemplate grief, suffering, and death, seems familiar. For once, I feel as if everyone else is on my wavelength. I think it's because I have been grieving the losses of my Boston University community and my expected life plan, while enduring the mini-losses of job-hunting. According to the small tally I keep on my fridge whiteboard, I sent out 45 resumes and had 10 job interviews last summer. I got two temp jobs out of that effort; I am still in the hiring process to become a full-time salaried worker at the second.

One of my BU profs, Shelly Rambo, wrote a book on trauma theory and the Gospel of John's theme of "remaining." She says that Christians must pay more attention to Holy Saturday. In the aftermath of trauma, faced with grief and the fragmentation of experience, we remain with the Holy Spirit.

God is there.

Yesterday, as I sat in the Good Friday service at Marsh Chapel, I realized that God has been here with me in my grief during the last year of un/deremployment and transition out of academia. It hit me when Dean Hill quoted Psalm 139:7, in the King James version: "Whither shall I go from they Spirit?" Here is the context. I used the KJV for its poetic quality.

1O lord, thou hast searched me, and known me.
 2Thou knowest my downsitting and mine uprising, thou understandest my thought afar off.
 3Thou compassest my path and my lying down, and art acquainted with all my ways.
 4For there is not a word in my tongue, but, lo, O LORD, thou knowest it altogether.
 5Thou hast beset me behind and before, and laid thine hand upon me.
 6Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is high, I cannot attain unto it.
 7Whither shall I go from thy spirit? or whither shall I flee from thy presence?
 8If I ascend up into heaven, thou art there: if I make my bed in hell, behold, thou art there.
 9If I take the wings of the morning, and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea;
 10Even there shall thy hand lead me, and thy right hand shall hold me.
 11If I say, Surely the darkness shall cover me; even the night shall be light about me.
 12Yea, the darkness hideth not from thee; but the night shineth as the day: the darkness and the light are both alike to thee. (Psalm 139:1-12, King James Version)

Psalm 139 reminds us that God is there in our darkest moments. When Jesus was dying on the cross, God was there. When we walk though the wilderness, God is there. Dean Hill, in his fondness for alliteration, called these places "the holy habitation of the Most High."

Even in the times when we think God is far away, or even that God has abandoned us, this place where we dwell in sorrow is a holy place. It's the place where God dwells with us.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Lent and Fasting, Part Deux

A couple of weeks ago, I posted about fasting as a Lenten practice, and the fast begun by faith leaders and Congress members out of concern for the looming budget cuts. I've also been thinking a lot about my call to ministry, and what exactly I'm supposed to do with my life. I know what I should do morally, but vocationally, not so much.

Well, today a friend of mine posted this video on Facebook:

Yet again, my thoughts focused on suffering Americans and my feelings of powerlessness to help others. As I wandered the official website,, I found this article on how to join the fast. It explains that there are many ways to fast, and that those who participate can choose the method that works well for them.

Since I have a very high metabolism I didn't think that I would function well with low blood sugar. I had no idea that fasting can also be done by forgoing solid food and only drinking for one day, or that one can fast just one meal a day, or that one can use the method of Ramadan, in which one eats a large meal after sundown. Imagine that! Even though I have been a Methodist for 16 years, I had no idea that there are options for fasting.

Realizing that needy Americans and our immoral budget proposals have been on my mind (and in my status updates) for most of the last month, I decided to take the plunge. I'm going to fast from solid food one day a week until the new budget goes into effect. Perhaps I can't lead a march on Washington, but I can do this. So I will.

I may not know what I'm doing with my life for the next five years, and I may not be sure what I will do with my life in the long term either. But I know what to do with my life right now: I'm going to witness to God's concern for the poor.

God cares that all God's children have what they need.

Probably the most oft-quoted verse from the book of Amos is the part about "let justice roll like a mighty stream." The context of this verse, Amos 5:18-24, is an oracle of destruction delivered to the rich in Israel during the 9th c. BCE. It's pretty scary to read:

Alas for you who desire the day of the Lord!
   Why do you want the day of the Lord?
It is darkness, not light;
   as if someone fled from a lion,
   and was met by a bear;
or went into the house and rested a hand against the wall,
   and was bitten by a snake.
Is not the day of the Lord darkness, not light,
   and gloom with no brightness in it?

I hate, I despise your festivals,
   and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies.
Even though you offer me your burnt-offerings and grain-offerings,
   I will not accept them;
and the offerings of well-being of your fatted animals
   I will not look upon.
Take away from me the noise of your songs;
   I will not listen to the melody of your harps.
But let justice roll down like waters,
and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream. 

Amos and other prophets whose oracles ended up in the Hebrew Bible said some fearsome things about what will happen when God's judgment will finally come down on sinners.

The point for Christians today is that God will not put up with oppression of the poor. In 9th c. Israel, the rich had enslaved their own countrymen (the poor), and priests had blessed all their efforts to build up their own wealth and land. God sent Amos to prophecy because no one was listening to God. Someone had to tell slave owners, corrupt rulers, and capitulating priests what was going to happen. God was going to judge them for letting the poor go hungry and keeping all the food and land for themselves.

Those who take the Bible seriously must also take seriously God's concern for the poor. Today Christians have different ways of thinking about God's judgment than the ancient prophets, but the spiritual meaning is clear. God cares for all God's children. And those who love God should care too.

I'm showing I care. I'm fasting to witness to God's care for the poor, and God's objection to policies that further deprive those who are already hanging by a thread.


UPDATE 4/19:
After speaking with some friends at Bible study and my alma mater, I realized I needed to clarify some things. First, John challenged me to differentiate among the many budget bills in Congress. Although the 2011 budget took effect on 4/14, Congressman Ryan's 2012 budget drastically cuts health care for seniors in order to continue Bush-era tax cuts. John kindly reminded me that this will not come to a vote until October.

My good friend Anthony is a veteran faster. He asked me about the particulars of my plan, and gave me some good books to read. I plan to take them out of the seminary library and share my favorite parts with you. He also suggested that I try my weekly fast for one month, and then discern whether I should keep fasting until the vote on the 2012 budget. I will take his suggestion and update in a month!

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Lenten Thoughts

Right now I don't have a lot of time to pause for a blog post, but check out this amazing one from my friend Susan over at The Contemplative Cottage. She pairs Lectio Divina exercises with her beautiful photography and the result is stunning and deeply spiritual. I loved this post in particular because I've been thinking a lot about my call to ministry lately.