Cleaning House

Our baptismal vow asks us this essential question:  Will you proclaim by word and example the good news of God in Christ?

I wonder, “What could keep us from proclaiming by word and example the good news of God in Christ?  Will it be persecution?  The threat of imprisonment, torture or death?”  Nah.  Probably nothing so severe as that.  The greatest threat to us living out our baptismal vow to proclaim by word and example the good news of God in Christ is busyness.  Busyness is one of the most oppressive forces in our lives.  We are just too busy to be the body of Christ.

I was at an emerging Church conference a little while ago where someone asked a panel of church leaders, “How would you characterize these new generations of Christians?” and one rather crushing answer was, “Too busy to live out their ideals”.  As I looked around the room everyone nodded their head in agreement.  This is so true for me.  I treasure the silence and the solitude I experience in the half-minute walk I take around my car between putting Moses in his car seat and getting into the driver’s seat.  I walk s-l-o-w-l-y.  It’s like a 30 second sabbath.  We’re too busy to be the body of Christ, our lives are too full to be fulfilling and not empty enough to make room for what matters to us.

Social researcher Liah Greenfeld wrote:

“Americans who suffer from busyness today do not prioritize. They treat all their occupations– work, family, and even leisure–as equally important… [Americans] are busy not because our physical and economic survival requires constant exertion on our part, leaving us little opportunity for spiritual restoration–relaxing, getting rid of the sense of busyness–but because we are incapable of perceiving and taking advantage of the opportunities for repose. We are restless. And our busyness is an expression of this inability to rest, rather than its cause… We are veritably torn into pieces by all these simultaneous and necessarily conflicting demands that oppress us every minute of our waking life and eventually invade our sleep.”

I read that and thought, “Yep. We’re just too busy to be the body of Christ”.  But this story about Jesus clearing the Temple wants to speak into our busyness and say, “It’s not too late to clean house, because Jesus has some serious zeal for the Temple.  St. Paul makes this connection, “Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in your midst? …God’s temple is sacred, and you together are that temple.”

So it’s really not much of a jump to say, “Jesus is consumed by zeal for you.”  He wants to clean house, clear out all the clutter and the busyness that keeps us from fully living when our lives start to look like an episode of Hoarders.

We don’t have to be afraid of this zeal.  Jesus is not going to harm you, even though things we mistakenly cling to will be challenged, and that certainly is scary.  But his is a protective anger on your behalf towards all the consumption that takes up room in you, but does not fulfill you and leaves no room in you for meaningful relationship with God or anyone else.

“Cleaning the Temple” is what it means to say, “No”.  Saying “No” is the energy to clean house.  Saying “No” creates the boundaries to hold that empty space.  Saying “No” makes room to decide what to give your “Yes” to.  So, without fear, wonder what space needs clearing in your life?  What “No” might Jesus be saying in your life in order that you might more fully say “Yes” to something else? These questions form the basis of the personal address of our Gospel.

But there’s also a wider address for our culture in this passage that we should not forget. The Gospel says, “Jesus poured out the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables.” The reason why money needed to be changed in the temple was because pilgrims were traveling to Jerusalem from far away countries and the temple was making big bucks off of this dirty exchange of currency.  In clearing the temple Jesus was saying “No” to the JPMorgan of the time, who turned a blind eye to Bernie Madoff’s deception.

The Gospel says, “Jesus told those who were selling the doves, ‘Take these things out of here! Stop making my Father’s house a marketplace!’” In the Jewish Temple doves were the offerings of the poor purchased by those could not afford a lamb or a goat. In clearing the temple Jesus was saying “No” to the Wells Fargo of the time, who gave bonuses to loan officers who put minority borrowers into high-priced subprime mortgages—internally dubbing them “ghetto loans.”

The Gospel says, “Jesus told them, ‘My house is to be called a house of prayer for all nations’ But you have made it ‘a den of robbers.’”  In the Jewish Temple there were few places where Gentiles were allowed to worship and that’s where all this business was located.  All the buying and selling had pushed out any room for prayer – which the reason why the Temple was built. But buying and selling had pushed out any room for the Gentile to pray – instead they were treated like a commodity, like a profit unit.  In clearing the temple Jesus was saying “No” to the Citigroup, Bank of America, and Goldman Sachs of the time, who gave tens of millions of dollars of bonuses to their top executives while duping their own clients.

I can’t think of a better time than now to call upon the words of the prophet Amos, who said:

“Hear this, you who trample the needy
and do away with the poor of the land, saying,

‘When will the New Moon be over that we may sell grain,
When will the Sabbath be ended that we may market wheat?”—
skimping on the measure, boosting the price
and cheating with dishonest scales,
buying the poor with silver
and the needy for a pair of sandals.’

Your gig is up and it’s time for a clean sweep.

The Temple was full and needed emptying.  Our banks are full and in need of emptying.  And there’s a way in which we too are full and in need of emptying. We need emptying so that we might be a house of prayer to cultivate earnest relationship to God. Do you have room for prayer and relate to God? When’s the last time you cleared your schedule and just kept it that way determined to nurture intimacy with your God?  Like the Jewish Temple, this is what we’re made for.  This is the essential.  What’s stopping us?

And we need emptying so that we might be a place for ‘all nations’, a place to cultivate relationship with the ‘Other’.  Do you have room for strangers, for those who are outside of your family or outside your circle of friends?  When’s the last time you had someone over for dinner? (We all know your house is messy, no one cares about that except you – are you gonna let that stop you from the thing that God says is essential – that is, the welcoming of the outsider?)

We are too busy to be the body of Christ, but Jesus is consumed by a zeal for you and wants to give you the courage to say “No” to everything that wants to fill up your time and your energy but never really fulfills you.  It’s time to make a fast from busyness as usual and enter the liminal empty space of Lent. It will feel like the destruction of the Temple. It will certainly feel like death. But Jesus makes you this promise, “In three days it will be rebuilt.” Your whole life will be rebuilt, cluttered rooms of your life will be swept clean, time will bend to a new rhythm, priorities will reorder their importance, and life will unfold in a whole new way so that we can get back to being the body of Christ, so that we can answer “with God’s help we will” when asked “Will you proclaim by word and example the good news of God in Christ.”

The Way of the Cross

WHAT: an art exhibit based on the 14 stations of the cross and led by music and story audio recording

WHERE: Edmonds Church of God 8224 220th Street Southwest  Edmonds, WA 98026

WHEN: Holy Week – Tuesday April 3, Wednesday April 4, Thursday April 5, 5-8pm

COST: Free

“This was truly an incredible experience that fed my soul and was just what I needed as my heart is getting ready for Easter.  Thank you! Thank you!” – Way of the Cross Participant

*Some content may not be suitable for young children. Parent’s discretion advised.

What Is Your Name? The Demons of Addiction

I talked to five friends this week, each of whom are therapists and each of whom were trained in a different kind of therapeutic method or school of thought.  I asked each the same question, “Will you tell me everything you know about addiction?”

And each one of them said, “We like to think there are addicts and there are the rest of us.  But the first thing you need to know is we are all addicts; every single one of us.  There is a large spectrum of addiction and severity of addiction and some people function at greater levels than others, but we are all addicts.”

“Okay, then describe addiction for me.”

“Addiction is a coping method that helps us avoid pain or anything that is too vulnerable, too shameful, too scary, or simply too much for us to handle.  Addiction offers a withdrawal, a distraction, a way to avoid hard issues.  It’s highly personal too, meaning your addiction is as unique as your pain.  The greater your pain, the greater your shame about yourself.  And the greater your shame, the greater your addiction.  As the addiction grows the more the feeling of powerlessness grows until a switch takes place and you feel as if you no longer have the addiction, but the addiction has you.  Even if you know it will do you great harm, and even if you know it will cause great harm to those you love, and even if you know it will destroy whatever is good in your life, you still choose it.”

“So let me get this right.  You’re saying that addiction tends to usurp our identity, possess power over our wills, lie to us and promise us things it can’t deliver on, and wants to harm us and those we love.”

“Yep.  That sounds right.”

“You know, listening to this as a Christian pastor, this sounds demonic.  Would that be crazy to call this demonic?”  (Now here’s where I thought that professionally, these therapists could not go there with me, but each one, Christian or not, responded, “No.  It’s not over the top.  Most people who are confronting their addiction will readily call it their personal demon.”

I want to offer this paradigm as a way for us to enter into this Gospel story from St. Mark, chapter five.  Of course it’s not the only way into this story, but perhaps it is an urgent way for us to listen to the story in our day and in our place. So in the safety of this sanctuary,

I want to invite you to become open to epiphanies about your own demons, your own addictions on a broad continuum, and the pain lies beneath it, in order that the Risen Christ who is present with us now might continue to be truth and grace for you.

MARK 5: When Jesus got out of the boat, a man with an impure spirit came from the tombs to meet him. This man lived in the tombs, and no one could bind him anymore, not even with a chain. For he had often been chained hand and foot, but he tore the chains apart and broke the irons on his feet. No one was strong enough to subdue him.  Night and day among the tombs and in the hills he would cry out and cut himself with stones.

We don’t know much about this man.  We don’t know as a little boy what he wanted to be when he grew up.  We don’t know what evil and traumatic thing may have happened to him that continued to follow him as he got older.  We don’t know how it was that he came to be in this place where the only home he had left to go was a graveyard on the furthest margins of his community.  But what we do know is that there was a lot that led up to this moment and now he is utterly alone in his misery.  People have tried to help him.  People have tried to isolate him.  People have tried to forget about him, but when the town is asleep in their beds they still hear him howling and wailing in the cliffs.  The children shuttered at the sound.  The mothers remember when they helped midwife his birth.  The father’s remember coaching him in little league.  And now his persistent screaming in the night terrorized the whole community because they knew that it was not only his demon, it was their demon.

The therapists I talked to said, “Our culture treats addiction like a medical problem, like a disease.  Certainly there are chemical and biological issues at play, but emotional and spiritual healing cannot take place simply through will power.  It must be addressed in relationship because under every addiction there is a yearning for relationship and when the trauma of a broken or abusive relationship leaves you fragmented, the craving for and repulsion for relationship is intensified and that’s where the addiction grows.”

The odd thing about our story is that as horribly conflicted and ambivalent as this man might be, he comes out of isolation and hiding to be in some kind of relationship to Jesus:

When he saw Jesus from a distance, he ran and fell on his knees in front of him.

He shouted at the top of his voice, “What do you want with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? In God’s name don’t torture me!”  For Jesus had said to him, “Come out of this man, you impure spirit!”

Then Jesus asked him, “What is your name?”

Perhaps this is the crux of the story.  Perhaps no one had ever asked this question of him before.  No matter who you talk to, naming addiction is fundamental to healing.  Every AA meeting starts the same way – “Hello.  My name is Ryan and I’m an addict.” This mantra holds two very tenuous truths together at the same time, that I am both “Ryan” and I am an “addict”.  Most of us wont allow both to be true.  Martin Luther called this the paradox of always being at the same time both “saint and sinner.”  For those suffering from severe addiction, the lie is with them every day of their life, “You are your addiction.  That’s it.  Your addiction makes your choices for you, defines you, and directs you.”  But naming our addictions puts us back into the paradox and returns our truest name back to ourselves.  When we name our demons we can now tell the who truth about who we are, “Yes, we are addicts.  But we are more than addicts and we are more than our addiction.  There is something true about me long before my addiction – I am God’s Beloved.  And not even my addiction can take that from me.  Not even I have the power to screw that up.”

A friend of mine who is both a pastor and a recovering alcoholic told me, “My AA group was more honest than any church group I’ve ever pastored, and in our brokenness we found freedom.”  What if our church was a place safe enough to tell the truth about ourselves – the whole truth?  This man who came out from his isolation to meet Jesus had become so enmeshed with his demons that his very identity was usurped.  Not even the man could tell where the demons stopped and he began.  Jesus simple question, “What is your name” brings distinction between the person and the addiction.

The story continues:  The demon said, “My name is Legion, for we are many.”  And he begged Jesus again and again not to send them out of the area.

A large herd of pigs was feeding on the nearby hillside.  The demons begged Jesus, “Send us among the pigs; allow us to go into them.”   He gave them permission, and the impure spirits came out and went into the pigs. The herd, about two thousand in number, rushed down the steep bank into the lake and were drowned.

Here’s the thing that we might not be ready for:  Loving each other in the midst of addiction costs.  It costs a lot. Being on a path to healing costs.  It costs a lot.  Not just the individual, but it costs the whole community.  For this town in the region of Garesene, it cost this man’s community two thousand pigs.  Last summer we bought a pig for the pig roast and it fed a whole community of people – 200 lbs of pig cost us about $500.  That means at that rate 2,000 pigs would cost exactly a million dollars!  What an extreme cost.  This was likely the entire livelihood of an entire village.  No wonder Jesus wasn’t asked to stay for dinner.  But there’s a way in which Jesus was inviting the entire community into the healing of this man and to bear the cost of his healing.

We can no longer pretend that addiction is the problem of an individual.  Addiction is a systemic problem.  Addiction is a communal problem because the man didn’t get to where he was on his own and he wont return to wholeness on his own either.  He needs the community and the community needs him for their own wholeness.  But it costs a lot.  Who’s healing is bound up with your healing?  And what price will you put on that healing?

The story ends by saying:

Those tending the pigs ran off and reported this in the town and countryside, and the people went out to see what had happened.  When they came to Jesus, they saw the man who had been possessed by the legion of demons, sitting there, dressed and in his right mind; and they were afraid.  Those who had seen it told the people what had happened to the demon-possessed man—and told about the pigs as well.   Then the people began to plead with Jesus to leave their region.

As Jesus was getting into the boat, the man who had been demon-possessed begged to go with him.   Jesus did not let him, but said, “Go home to your own people and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you.”   So the man went away and began to tell in the Decapolis how much Jesus had done for him. And all the people were amazed.

What a miraculous thing:  the man goes from screaming at the furthest margin of community to sharing his story in the Decapolis – the very center of community.  The twelfth step in every AA program is this:  “Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we try to carry this message to alcoholics, and to practice these principles in all our affairs.”  Sounds like echoes of a baptismal covenant to me.

The man wanted to go with Jesus.  Sounds like the “Christian thing to do”, but Jesus said, “Look.  I can understand why you would want to leave here and have a redo.  But your redo is right here, because here is your community.  Here is the place where your addiction took root.  Here are the people who have both helped and harmed you.  Here are the people who don’t know what to do with you nor their anxiety about what to do with you now that you are not howling in the caves.  And here are a people who need naming and need freeing relationships and need you to tell your story.”

On the one hand, this was only the beginning of healing for this man and his community.  What happened next would be hard and slow.  It may even result in some more pain and wondering if he should just go back up to the tombs again.  But he would be brought back to community knowing that his experience with Jesus had fundamentally changed everything.  And it was that hope that possessed him now.

We tend to say there are addicts and the rest of us, but if we are honest with our selves we know we are all addictive people.  We all have places that we go to to escape ourselves.

Man, that’s scary to name.  I imagine some, if not all of you might be in a place where just talking about this brings up some major fear and anxiety and that is sure understandable.  But I promise you, Jesus is speaking to you the same word of grace as you come out of hiding: “You are more than your disease.  You are more than the labels you are given.  You are first and foremost made in the image of God, claimed by God and you are free.  Free to be human, free to be in relationship. You are free to be whole.  And I’m here with you, as you much as you push and pull on me.  As much as you yell and scream.  I’m not here to torture you.  I’m here to restore your true name and restore you to community.”

The Roots of Hope

Text: Matthew 1.1-17

When I was in Miss Taylor’s third grade class at King’s elementary she challenged us to read the entire New Testament, from front to back.  And, as an incentive, she offered a cupcake party for those who had read every word from Matthew to Revelation.  I wanted to be at that party and therefore determined to power through the New Testament.  How hard could it be?  I sat down and turned to the beginning of Matthew’s gospel and started reading…  begat, begat, begat… I closed it up and went home and made some cupcakes with my mom.   I didn’t make it past the first chapter of the first book.  The concept of lineage, heritage, genealogy was utterly alien to me… and still is.

Last monday night a friend of mine who is Serbian Orthodox invited my family over for dinner.  From the living room to the dining room tables were spread out for an amazing feast.  My friend Radoje, his wife and mother never sat down once, they just kept filling our glasses and bringing out dish after dish and course after course.  Bashfully, I asked my friend, “Radoje, what exactly are we celebrating tonight?”

“Tonight is my family’s feast day – the feast day of St. Michael the Archangel.”  He said.

“How did it become your family’s feast day?”  I asked.

“It’s the day that my family was baptized when they converted to Christianity from paganism.”  He said.

“And when was that?”

“The ninth century.”

I can hardly fathom that kind of family history.  From father to son, father to son, this tradition has been passed down in his family for 12 centuries!  Just to put this in perspective:  Rosewood Manor, where you are sitting now, is a hundred years old, built in 1905. At that time there were only 144 miles of paved road – people came to this house by horse.  The American flag had 45 stars.  It would be five more years before women were able to vote in Washington state.  That’s how old this place is and yet, Radoje family has been celebrating St. Michael’s feast day for one thousand, one hundred more years than this place has been standing.  So it’s no wonder that I come to the genealogy of Jesus and think, “There is nothing of importance here.  Blah, blah, blah…”

The European colonizers of this country cut themselves off from their history when they moved west and we’ve been moving west ever since.  You live here because someone at some time left home and moved west.  But now we’ve reached the ocean, so I figure there’s no where else for us to go but backwards now.  And that’s what I want to do tonight, is try to reconnect with the lineage of Jesus.

That’s where the Gospel of Matthew wants to start.  The genealogy of Jesus reminds us that this Gospel – this Jesus-Story that has captured our hearts and united us to God, did not start on Christmas eve with Mary and Joseph, but 28 generations before, with a childless moon priest from Ur of the Chaldeans name Abram, and his wife named Sarai, whom God called out to one night and said – “I will make of you a people who follow me.”  Tonight we want to look deep into the beginnings, because Advent asks us to look deeper.

Did you notice anything strange when you heard the names being read?  Did you notice that there were the names of four women in the genealogy? You might not think it strange, but in that day this would have been most peculiar.  Only father’s names would have been included in a genealogy, but here in the Genealogy of Jesus there are four names of women included.  Why would that be?  What is Matthew trying to get at here?  The women that you might assume would be named, the Matriarchs of faith, like Sarah, or Rebecca or Leah don’t even get a mention.  Instead there are four names that are attached to four stories, that some genealogists would have wanted to omit.  Four names and four stories that some families would have wanted to keep a secret.  Listen again:

“An account of the genealogy of Jesus the Messiah, the son of David, the son of Abraham.  Abraham was the father of Isaac, and Isaac the father of Jacob, and Jacob the father of Judah and his brothers, and Judah the father of Perez and Zerah by Tamar…”

Why include Tamar?  She married Judah’s son, then widowed before having a child, married the next son, widowed again before having a child.  Judah sent her away promising her his youngest son when he grew old enough, but time passed, she waited, but was never sent for.  Judah thought he could sweep his history under a rug.  But Tamar traded her widows clothes for the veil of prostitute and posed by the road where she knew Judah would be walking.  And it worked.

“What will you give me to sleep with me?  Give me your family seal and staff and I’ll hold on to them till you pay me.”  She told him.

Later, Judah acted the coward again.  He wouldn’t go himself, but instead sent a friend to pay up and collect his stuff, but the friend couldn’t find Tamar.  “Where’s the prostitute that hangs out here?” he asked the locals.  “There’s never been any prostitute here.”

Judah decides, “Fine, let her keep it.”

Months later he gets word, “Your daughter in law, Tamar has been whoring around – now she’s nine months pregnant!”  And Judah is irate. “Bring her here!  Is it true, Tamar?”  “Well, here are the father’s things.  Can you identify him?”

And by Tamar twin boys are born, fathered by the father-in-law.

Their names: Zerah, and the second is Perez, who fathered Hezron, and Hezron fathered Aram, and Aram fathered Aminadab, and Aminadab fathered Nahshon, and Nahshon fathered Salmon, and Salmon fathered Boaz by Rahab…

Why include Rahab?  The righteous prostitute.  Living in the crumbling wall of a city under a holy curse.  She became the sanctuary for Hebrew spies who are scouting out Jericho.  For her help she’s promised safety for her and her parents and brothers and sisters when the day of battle comes.  A scarlet rope hung from the window, the sign that meant she was open for business would become the sign of her salvation.

When the day came the city was in a panic.  Rahab lowered the scarlet rope out her window.  The Hebrew priests and people silently circled the city seven times and then shouted it down.  Rahab left with the wandering Hebrews that day and married Salmon.  Salmon and Rahab had Boaz, and Boaz fathered Obed by Ruth…

We don’t have to go far down the family tree to meet another woman.  The third outsider, the third gentile in a hebrew family tree.  Why include Ruth?  Ruth, the last hope of Naomi who moved away from the land promised to be flowing with milk and honey due to a famine.  Naomi whose husband and sons died in that foreign land, leaving her with only her faithful daughter in law.  Until taken notice by the last rich bachelor in her deceased husbands family.  Another story of desperate survival, and stealthy seduction.

Yet, amazingly, from this family tree next grows Obed who fathered Jesse, and Jesse the father of the great King David. And David was the father of Solomon by the wife of Uriah

She remains unnamed… only known by the name of her husband.  Where people remain unnamed, there must be intense shame.  But we know her name, Bathsheba.  Why include Bathsheba?  Wife a rising star in the military, but a gentile… maybe that’s why he was so fiercely loyal to his King.  He felt like he had something to prove that the others didn’t.  The nights were lonely for military wives in that day, because the King was expanding, always expanding his kingdom, yet he wasn’t willing to go out and lead them in battle.  No, the king stayed at home, on the roof looking out from his castle.

Her name was Bathsheba – the one thing the king of israel couldn’t have, so he took it, he took her… raped by a king.  Then widowed by a devious plot fit for the Bard’s theater.  She was sent for to live with her victimizer.  Bathsheba.  The name calls to mind the one black spot on a national hero – the man after God’s own heart.  The book of Matthew wants you to remember her, but can’t seem to say her name.

Bathsheba.  Ruth.  Rahab.  Tamar.  These are the women of Jesus’ genealogy.  To this list of women, Matthew adds one more, as if to say, “Don’t be alarmed by the scandal of the story I’m about to tell you.  Scandal has always been apart of the story of God.” The genealogy of Jesus says that where there is scandal, there is the grace of God.  All of these stories lead us to this:  “and Jacob was the father of Joseph the husband of Mary, of whom Jesus was born, who is called the Messiah.”

What did Matthew want us to see in Jesus’ family tree?  It was such a risk to draw attention to these stories.  It might discredit his lineage.  It would induce scandal.  By no means is Jesus born into a pure line.  This is family full of disfunction.  This is a family full of outsiders, and mess-ups, and desperate schemers.  And yet, the Gospel of Matthew goes out it’s way to say this:  Look.  These are the people that Jesus includes in his family.  And if Jesus enters the mess of his family… perhaps Jesus could enter the mess of your family?  Perhaps there is a place for you in the family of Jesus?

This is the message of Advent: that Jesus is coming, always coming, in every age and at every moment.  Matthew shows the courage to not leave out the hard details.  Matthew will not let shame silence the stories of these women.  Will you let shame silence your story?  Or will the very Hope of God be birthed even among your family’s deepest secrets?  This Advent root your hope here – in this messy story into which God comes, in the most vulnerable way, in order to bless the families of the world.

World AIDS Day Service

join us for music, scripture, story, poetry, film, prayer and remembrance.

we will pray for and remember people of all ages, geographies, classes, genders etc. who have been affected by the global AIDS pandemic – and for an end to the pandemic. please feel free to bring and share any stories of how the pandemic has affected you and people you know.

all are welcome. please invite anyone you think may benefit from this service.

Holy Weirdness

My two year old son, Moses had a landmark realization the other day.  He asked me, “Are there two Papas?”  I said, “Sorry bud, I’m it.  I’m the only one you got.”

Then he asked, “Two Mama’s?”  “Nope. Just one of her too.”

“Two JuJu’s (the name we call his sister)?”  “Nope.  Just one JuJu.”

He then proceeded to list nearly every person he could think of and each question had the same reply, “Nope.  There is only one of that person.”

Moses was discovering the distinction of each person, until he finally came to himself and said, “Just one MoMo.”  “That’s right son.  You are a one of a kind… just like everyone else.”  He had stumbled on to one of the most important realities: “You were made utterly unique, handcrafted, and that utter uniqueness makes you different.  Psychology would say, “This is the beginning of differentiation:  The ability to hold one’s boundary and respect where it is that I end, and you begin.”  While the therapeutic world might call this differentiation, I want to call it “Holiness.”

Throughout the story of Israel in the Scriptures, Yahweh keeps calling out to his people saying, “Come out from them and be ye holy!” God continues to use the word “holy” to define the people that he calls, but what does this mean?  In my younger years I thought that holiness meant moral superiority –

“being holy” meant “being better”.  While ethics certainly have something to do with holiness, I don’t think being ‘good’ is at the heart of holiness.  I used to think it was about self-righteous segregation, and therefore, I didn’t want to have anything to do with the word “holy”.  And yet Jesus, who defines holiness for us, does not segregate at all, but becomes one of us… so that can’t be it either.  What does it mean to be “holy”?

When St. Peter is describing the Church he says, “You are a holy people… you are a peculiar people.”  And if the lives of the holy saints tell us anything, they tell us that “Holiness makes you weird.” Just look at the life of anyone the church deems a saint and you’ll find one common characteristic among them all – they are totally strange.

Yahweh says, “Come out from them and be ye holy”  I wonder if this separation that Yahweh is calling for is actually a healthy differentiation.  It’s the opposite of enmeshment.  Maybe it’s what the Apostle Paul is talking about when he says, “Be no longer conformed to the pattern of this world, but be transformed.”  This world wants to cookie cut you into something so much smaller, and blander and dimmer than who you truly are – for God says, “You are light and salt.  Never be normal!”  Normal is profane.  Holiness is recognizing that you are different from the other, and the other is different from you.  To worship a Thrice Holy God is to say, “Who is like God?… No one!  There is no other God like Yahweh!”  God is utterly unique.  And our God is utterly weird.  Some of you already knew that.

Here’s what I believe the truth is about you and your sainthood: God has made you – your truest self – to be far more ideosyncratic, far more unique, far more ‘holy’, far more “you” than you are willing to become.  If this is true, then it means that becoming holy is not about becoming someone or something else.  It is about becoming even more of yourself in the grace of God.  It’s the way God already sees you. It’s in your DNA.  Tara becomes more herself when she sings the moment she feels the Spirit, and that means she’s a little weird.  And she is Holy.  Donna becomes more herself the more people she feeds, and that makes her not normal.  And she is a Saint.

I’m now convinced that Saints are strange for two main reasons:

  1. Saints are strange because they have come closer to their truest self.

2. Saints are strange because they value the opinion of God over every other opinion.

They don’t care who thinks they are weird.  This was a tough one for the family of St. Francis.  It wasn’t enough for his father that Francis went to war.  It wasn’t enough for his father that Francis returned home,

having survived the war.  He wanted Francis to take over the family merchant business. And Francis wanted to give all his possessions to the poor outside his door.  Francis’ father drug him to the public square in front of the Church so that the Bishop might discipline his son in front of everyone.  Francis was asked to account for himself, to explain his actions:  He told the bishop that he wished to follow Christ in his poverty and simplicity.  “The birds didn’t have his father’s money, and yet their bellies were full.  The wild flowers didn’t have his father’s money, and yet they were dressed like kings.  God provides everything for the birds and wild flowers, and God would provide everything for him too.”

There was only one thing to do.  He would give everything back to his father and he would be free to follow his Christ.  He would give everything back at that exact moment.  Turning to his father he said: “Father I give you back everything that belongs to you – your possession and your clothes.” With that he stripped naked in front of the crowds and handed his father the clothes off his back.

The more that Francis followed Christ, the more Christ led him into a unique weirdness that we call “Holy”.  He preached to the birds…  He arbitrated peace between a village and wolf…  He kissed the feet of lepers… He looked at an abandoned old church, saw in it a cathedral for the people and in his holy foolishness, began to renovate it with a ragtag group of people.

So Beloved, be ye holy.  Be strange in loving the unlovely around you.  Be ye holy.  Be peculiar in your passion for peace.  Be ye holy.  Be weird in the way you listen deeply to others.  Be ye holy.  Be down right goofy in your generosity.  For you are a holy people who serve a holy, holy, holy God.

The Gospel According to Big E Root Beer

Because Tara and Nathanael were married at Camp Gorhmley Christian Camp, the wedding merriment did not include alcohol, rather, in it’s place the reception party provided copious amounts of local, hand-crafted, Big E root beer.  Now, there is a certain kind of silliness that happens on the dance floor after a couple glasses of beer or wine, but there is a whole other kind of silliness that follows from drinking lots and lots of sugary, sweet root beer!  That night the sassafras kegs had flowed freely, but by the next morning there was still more left-over.

Tara and Nathanael sent a keg of root beer home with me to share with Beloved.  We made vanilla floats both before and after service that Sunday, Rosewood drank their fill and there was still more left-over.  It was like the proverbial loaves and fishes.  We could not seem to reach the end of the barrel.

So, the next day, Labour Day, we decided to make a root beer stand, setting out a table on the sidewalk in front of Rosewood where thousands of cars pass by each day.  A sign sat on top the table that read “Relax!  Have some root beer.”  It was hot out and the root beer was chilled and ready to refresh.  Perched up on the front steps, we watched car after car drive by.  Some looked, some smiled, some raised eyebrows, but few stopped.  What was it about this free gift that seemed so suspicious?  I imagined all the people driving by, some returning from a weekend at the lake, some headed out for an afternoon hike.  Everyone was trying to get somewhere and soak up the few rays of sunshine the summer had offered us.  The few that actually did stop, said, “Whoa! This stuff is amazing!”  After four hours only about nine or ten people had enjoyed a glass of foamy goodness, and still the keg felt practically full.

I thought “Where could I take this on Labor day where people would enjoy it?  Who would be working on Labor day?”  Moses and I threw the keg in the back of the Volvo and headed towards our house.  I needed to pick a few things up at Home Depot on the way back, and as we pulled into the parking lot there stood a group of a dozen or more men baking in the heat.  “Who’s that, Papa?”  “Moses!  Of course!  Those men are looking for work… on labor day!”  We pulled over and five men immediately came to my door.  “Do you need two?  Do you need two?”  The loudest guy asked.  “Um.  No, but I have root beer.”  I said.  The men were crowding around our car now.  They all looked confused and were speaking to one another in Spanish.  I opened up my trunk to show the keg of root beer and asked, “Who wants some ice-cold root beer?”

Laughter erupted.  They laughed like little kids and instantly there was line.  There were seconds and thirds and fourths.  The wedding celebration was spilling out onto those waiting for work on a day in which most people had the luxury of not working.  The men drank and drank some more.  And still there was more left-over.

Folding Peace

FOLDING PEACE  (Matthew 18v21-35)
A twelve year old little girl lay in a hospital bed folding origami cranes.  50 little papery birds lined up on her nightstand, a mound of a hundred more piled up on her bed in front of her criss-cross apple sauce knees.  And, although her hands ached and the places where blood had been drawn from her anemic skin refused to clot closed, she kept folding, quietly creasing, 200… 300 cranes.  Around the room the other children watched from their hospital beds as Sadako, day after day amassed a mountain of cranes in front of her. 400, 500 cranes. Sadako focused all her thoughts on the cranes for two reasons.  She knew the Japanese legend that if one was able to fold 1,000 origami cranes they would be granted the deepest desire of their heart.  She was now halfway to 1,000, and she wanted to live.  More than anything, she wanted to live. But she also knew that everyday beds around her were becoming empty and the children were not coming back.
They called it Lukemia.  She was one of the, more than 430,000  hibakusha – the name given to those who had survived the atomic bombs that the Americans dropped on Hiroshima and Nagisaki.  Nearly one hundred and fifty thousand people had been killed instantaneously.  There was nothing left, but a shadow burned into the ground.   But she was one of the thousands who remained, and the bomb remained with her.  It was in her bones and in her blood cells.  It was burned across her skin. 600 cranes.  Sadako was now only 400 cranes away from receiving her wish.  But she got tired easily.  Her fingers barely had the strength to complete 10 cranes a day.  She realized that soonher bed would be empty, like the other children’s beds.  It happened gradually, she decided to change her wish.  It would no longer be to get well and live.  Her wish would be peace.  Her wish would be peace with the Americans who put that bomb in her.  Her wish would be peace between those who wanted to create suffering in each other.  She had known suffering all her life, and wanted more than anything, even more than her saving her own life, she wanted peace for the world that had dealt her so much pain.
Jesus was asked, “What is too much to forgive? What is too often to forgive?  What are the limits of forgiveness?” I want a world with clear cut good guys and bad guys who are identified by the color of their cowboy hats. It’s far too confusing to have a world of victimizers who were first victims.  Some might be upset that on the anniversary of an event that deeply hurt our nation I’ve chosen to turn our attention to another event in which we took the lives of nearly ten times the innocent civilians in another nation. But Jesus says, “That’s where forgiveness starts: In discovering our equality with those that hurt us and becoming grateful for own forgiveness. It’s in discovering the log within our own eye, and trusting in God’s mercy and relying upon God’s justice.”  Jesus says, “The impetus for you to forgive those that deeply hurt you, is born out of your own experience of God’s overshadowing forgiveness of you.”
It’s one thing to talk about this on a national or global level, but it’s an entirely different thing when it hits the ground in your relationship to your spouse, to your room mate, to your children or your parents…  It’s the relationship that you are praying that I wont name next.  It’s personal.  You can feel the heat of the energy around it and now you know that we’re getting close. Forgiveness certainly does not mean continuing in a relationship as a victim.  Forgiveness redraws proper lines for boundary keeping.  Forgiveness takes back rightful power.  Forgiveness finds protection in the community and in God.  Forgiveness says I will no longer give over space in my mind and my heart for you to continue to hurt me, even years after the tragedy.  Forgiveness releases the one that hurt you, but it also releases you.  But this power to forgive can only come from being forgiven yourself.
Jesus was asked, “What are the limits of forgiveness?”  To answer this question he tells a ridiculous story about a guy, who, after being forgiven his own impossibly insurmountable debt, turns right around and demands payment on an insignificant debt.  Jesus knows that there’s two outlandish absurdities happening here:
  1. How could the King forgive such a huge debt?  That’s crazy.
  2. How could someone forgiven so much, choose not to forgive at all?  That’s even crazier.

Then the absurdity of the story is turned upon us as a mirror.  And it asks us, “Are you not like the man?  Do you forgive as you’ve been forgiven?  Why not?”  Maybe we’re afraid of not being protected.  Maybe we’re afraid of continuing to be hurt.  That’s a real threat and it makes me want to ask, “Jesus, how do you expect us to ‘relentlessly pursue peace’, when it requires us to engage with so much hurt, and sadness and anger?” And the only way that Jesus invites us to forgive is by telling us his own story week after week. The story of love for the world that he made. The story of humility to become one of us.  The story of teaching, and healing, and sitting with the hurting. The story of being wrongly accused, and tortured and saying, “Father, forgive them.  They couldn’t possible know what they are doing.”  And this story intersects with your story right now, at this table, where, week after week, the Risen Christ invites you to live as the Forgiven, grateful enough to forgive, empowered enough to pursue peace, even amidst hurt, sadness and anger, because that’s the only place where forgiveness exists. The word of hope is that, on the other side of forgiveness, this hurt does not have hold of you.  You will no longer be defined by tragedy, but by the Love of God.  And that’s where Jesus is leading you now.

The prayer that we gave out last week with the red knotted string, is the prayer that my mentor gave me.  And I want to pray it now also, because it puts us smack in the middle of real conversation with God, and in the process of real forgiveness. “God, as much as we can, we offer to you all our anger for the things that were not as they should be. We offer to you all the people who wronged us this day. We ask you to forgive them and we pray that we would, miraculously find in us a forgiving heart that trusts in your justice and relies on your mercy,because Jesus Christ who loves us.  Amen.”

The end of Sadako’s story goes like this:  There were only 644 cranes when Sadako left her hospital bed.  Her classmates honored their friend’s wish and took to folding the remaining 456 and she was buried with 1,000 cranes.  The story spread and the origami crane became a symbol of peace everywhere.  It even spread to Edmonds, where over the last few days giant cranes have been popping up all around town… I wonder who’s been doing that?  In this Free Form space, Jesus invites you to continue folding.  How might you fold peace into your family, work place, neighborhood, the planet even…  So, as an act of prayer, you can fold a crane, or just write a name or a place on a pre-folded crane and string them together at the table.  Remember, Jesus is here, folding with you.

(See images of the Peace Crane Project)

“So You Think Mars Hill Church Sabotaged Our Pig Roast”

But you would be wrong. It’s been two weeks since Church of the Beloved hosted a pig roast, at which over 200 of our friends and neighbors and local churches enjoyed themselves. But the leading story among many circles has been drastically different than the leading story of our neighbors. While our neighbors have said,What an amazing celebration that was! Thanks so much for having us over!, I also hear, almost daily, a variation of a rumor that needs be cleared up, namely, Mars Hill Church sabotaged the pig roast.

The truth of the matter is this: A former resident of Rosewood, who was one of the originators of the pig roast five years ago, attends Mars Hill Church and helps lead its small groups in the Edmonds area, asked some of his small group people to help fund, set-up and have a meet-up prior to the opening of the pig roast. In the spirit of hospitality and peace, Church of the Beloved said, “Sure.” About 25-30 folks from Mars Hill attended. Furthermore, we invited nearly all the churches around us, regardless of their doctrine or social stances. Church of the Beloved even unwittingly invited the Ethiopian Orthodox Church down the street…except they don’t eat pork. Oops! In the weeks leading up to the roast we wanted it to be clear that this pig roast would be offered as a free gift to all our neighbors, and that included those who go to Mars Hill Church.

I’m writing this open letter because of the cloud of volatile whispers that was kicked up. I take very seriously that many have been hurt and are sad and angry. I, too, am in that camp, but the roast was not an endorsement of Mark Driscoll’s teachings. Rather, it was about us offering hospitality to all our neighbors.

As I say this, I’m pointing four fingers at myself: We claim that we better understand the breadth of God’s grace and that we are practitioners of that grace over and above ‘the women- and homosexual-haters’, and yet we can’t even welcome our Christian sisters and brothers from Mars Hill to our table without mistakenly calling them saboteurs and invaders. This event has exposed our own prejudice and disgust for our neighbors, and we need the grace of God even more.

There may be more to the story than I am aware of, but it didn’t seem right to let the whispers gain momentum without this side of the story being present, because regardless of creed or lack of creed, this is a place of welcome in the name of Jesus.