Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Somewhere in the Tears...

In his second letter to the church at Corinth, the Apostle Paul wrote these words:

"Because of the extravagance of those revelations, and so I wouldn't get a big head, I was given the gift of a handicap to keep me in constant touch with my limitations. Satan's angel did his best to get me down; what he in fact did was push me to my knees. No danger then of walking around high and mighty! At first I didn't think of it as a gift, and begged God to remove it.

Three times I did that, and then he told me, 'My grace is enough; it's all you need. My strength comes into its own in your weakness.'

Once I heard that, I was glad to let it happen. I quit focusing on the handicap and began appreciating the gift. It was a case of Christ's strength moving in on my weakness. Now I take limitations in stride, and with good cheer, these limitations that cut me down to size—abuse, accidents, opposition, bad breaks. I just let Christ take over! And so the weaker I get, the stronger I become" (2 Corinthians 12:7-10).

For a long time, I thought I knew what my thorn in the flesh was. I was oh-so-sure that it was my weight. God was keeping me fat so that I wouldn't be a harlot. There was grace in my extra poundage and my singleness. Well, that wasn't so. (And not because I'm married now, but rather because I don't believe God shares American values when it comes to beauty, sexuality, and weight.)

In any case, as I juggled my role as Assistant Pastor, planned my wedding, and studied for my ordination exam last week, I realized what my handicap is. It came to me just when I hit the wall and was ready to quit. I was becoming nonchalant about the details of the wedding because it was tiresome to be consumed. "Whatever," I said to my best friend as she asked me about things that she knows I care about. I was ready to throw in the towel on ordination and take up a job selling umbrellas and sand art on a beach in Jamaica (which also meant leaving the job at the church). The tears began to trickle, and then flow. There it was. This was typical behavior for me. I tend to get myself into positions where I have 3-5 BIG things going on at once. I get overwhelmed to the point of paralysis. I really get stuck. I feel like everything is out of my control (because it is). I cry. But the tears aren't the end of the story...

This feeling, this paralysis, postures me to the truth that comes from being a child of God and disciple of Christ. Somewhere in the tears I hear God saying, "My grace is sufficient for you." Somewhere in the tears I get to the point where I can whisper, "I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength." Somewhere in the tears I recognize the Faithfulness and Omnipotence of my God! And somewhere in the tears I am humbled before God who indeed is the one who leads and guides me through it all. Truth be told, if I thought I achieved my accomplishments on my own, my head would not be able to fit through any standard sized doorway. So I say, "Thanks be to God" for the tears that keep me mindful of my own limitations and God's limitless possibilities.

Monday, June 21, 2010

More Than Anything...

Yesterday was one of the most beautiful days I've had in a long time. What made it beautiful? (I'm glad you asked!) The move of God in worship, time spent with my hubby-to-be, and the love of my family. I want to highlight the move of God in worship, for I believe that experience set the stage for the remainder of the day.

I have been talking with my pastor lately about the nature of worship. We've got it twisted in the church today. We come for a quick fix, a boost of Jesus if you will, to make us feel good. We raise hell for 166 hours during the week and then weep before God for 2 hours on Sunday and think that is sufficient. We come to church to network and socialize, to see and be seen. But if we were to examine what worship is all about, it has absolutely nothing to do with us. Yes, we are participants, but worship is about giving total adoration and love to God. It doesn't matter whether we feel good or not. What matters is that God is pleased and that our worship is authentic. Authentic worship means giving God your all, your very best, whatever it may be at that moment.

And so, in worship on Sunday, I was moved when the Rejoice Singers began to sing "More Than Anything." The lyrics go like this:

I lift my hands in total adoration unto You
You reign on the throne for You are God and God alone
Because of You my cloudy days are gone
I can sing to You this song
I just want to say that I love You more than anything

Love me in Your Arms
You were my shelter from the storm
When all my friends were gone
You were right there all along
I never knew a love like this before, Oh
I just want to say that I love You more than anything

Here is the part in the song when there was a shift in my heart. Up until this point, the song had been about me. Though guised as being all about God, the first two stanzas highlight the way God moves on my cloudy days, in my storms, and in my loneliness. It sounds good, but to me it reads...God I love you because you got ME through, God I love you because of what you do for ME. But what about loving God simply because of who God is. God is awesome and worthy of our total adoration. Don't be fooled. I'm not one of those folks running around saying, "If God never does another thing for me I'll be satisfied." I guess I'm just not that mature of a Christian yet. But I do recognize that love for God, that my worship and adoration, must be steeped in who God is—holy, beautiful, majestic, wonderful, loving, merciful, and compassionate (this is just a start).

I Love You Jesus
I worship and adore You
Just want to tell
Lord, I Love You more than anything

I am the first to admit, I love a good reprise. That is the point when the song gets good. That is the point when it ceases being a song and becomes true worship. The music was fading out and the Rejoice Singers were just about take their seats when Rev. Lamont Granby got up in the pulpit and stirred us up again. Where there had been a shift in my heart moments prior, there was a shift in the atmosphere. See, Rev. Granby (by modeling it) caused us to think about the words that we sing. Lord, I love you more than anything. Anything. More than the house I live in. Anything. More than the car I drive. Anything. More than the position I hold. Anything.

The question I ponder, and the one I would ask you to think about it, "Do I love the Lord more than anything?"

Let me make it personal for a moment..."Lord, I love you more than anything." Anything. More than the degree I just received? Anything. More than my new job as Assistant to Pastor at the church? Anything. More than the man that is to be my husband in 3 days, 5 hours, and 43 minutes. Anything. Yes Lord, I love you more than anything...

So the answer is "yes." Well Donna, I dare you to probe a little further and ask yourself, "Do I demonstrate this love to God or do I allow other things to take priority in my life?" Here is where I can be and do better. Over the coming days, weeks, and months I will be asking this question and finding ways to demonstrate my "more than anything kind of love" for God.

Won't you meditate on this song and join me as we seek to shower God will the kind of love and adoration that God deserves?

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Think on These Things...

"God has established marriage for our welfare and enjoyment. Marriage makes sacred the union between man and woman and offers to each the opportunity to grow in more complete manhood and womanhood."

...taken from the "Alternate Marriage Service #1" in The Star Book for Ministers by Edward T. Hiscox.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Prayers for America...

If you read my previous post, you would know that yesterday I offered the prayer of invocation at the Rye Country Day School graduation. Following the prayer of invocation, we immediately began to sing America the Beautiful. This is a ritual at the school, one that I had enacted and reenacted in my years as a student, teacher, and participant in the graduation exercises. I would sing the song with gusto anytime I heard the Ray Charles version. I knew the song well, so I thought. But yesterday, as I stood and sang, the chorus that follows the second verse commanded my attention:

America! America!
God mend thine every flaw,
Confirm thy soul in self-control,
Thy liberty in law!

God mend thine every flaw...
My Lord! Here we were, flawed people, who knowingly and unknowingly contribute to America's flaws of racism, sexism, poverty, inadequate healthcare, inadequate education, violence, etc. etc. singing this powerful prayer. If we were honest, many of us in the room would not want God to mend our every flaw as that would mean moving us out of the comfortable and lofty places that we have created for ourselves. God mending our every flaw would mean a change in speech, habits, and behaviors that keep some on the fringes of society while we enjoy the good life.

Confirm thy soul in self-control...
America? Soul? Self-Controlled? All one has to do is open his or her eyes and see that self-control is not part of the American consciousness or vocabulary. We overindulge. We live in excess. We act out in irresponsible ways when we don't get our way. We hoard. We store up our treasures...and other people's treasures. We use and abuse ourselves and each other. We use and abuse the earth and her resources. Again, all in the name of a comfortable life for ourselves. And I, too, am guilty. I drive a gas guzzling SUV as 200,000 gallons of oil continues to spill on a daily basis (52 days and counting). My complicity is more than just about oil. Recently I moved. As I unpacked my things—specifically my clothing—I realized just how much I have. Though there are days when I complain that I have nothing to wear, I have more than enough. My closet runneth over, while many really do not have anything to wear. And because of that, I have declared a clothes shopping moratorium. God has blessed me, but I do not believe that my blessings should perpetuate the lack that others experience. God confirming our souls in self-control would mean living with a real and radical notion of contentment and satisfaction in all things.

Confirm...thy liberty in law...
Our laws are supposed to confirm the liberty of all. But if we were honest, our laws give some freedom and keep others bound. Our justice system is far from just. Too many people in our midst are bound—spiritually and physically, literally and figuratively, We need a revival in this country where the laws are steeped in the mission of Jesus as outlined by the prophet Isaiah:

"The Spirit of the LORD is upon Me,
Because He has anointed Me
To preach the gospel to the poor;
He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted,
To proclaim liberty to the captives
And recovery of sight to the blind,
To set at liberty those who are oppressed;
To proclaim the acceptable year of the LORD.”

What would happen if the Spirit of the Lord was upon our government? What would happen if the Spirit of the Lord was upon our healthcare industry? What would happen if the Spirit of the Lord was upon our education system? What if our laws truly confirmed the liberty of not one, not some, but all?

In thinking about America, and prayers for America, I am drawn to another song. Jill Scott, in her stirring song/poem “My Petition,” calls the United States of America to task on the issues of accountability and reparations and offers a request for change that will begin to move our communities from despair to hope, from excess to enough, from bondage to freedom.
Here is an excerpt where she sings:

You say that I'm wrong for
Stating my opinion to you .
You say that I'm wrong and there'll be quiet consequences too.
But I know my rights babe.
There'll be no law abridging,
The freedom of my speech,
Or the right for me to petition for a remedy of grievances.

I want fresh fruit, clean water,
Air that I don't see.
I want the feeling of being safe on my streets
I want my children to be smarter than me.
I want, I want to feel I want to feel,
I want to feel free
For real ya'll I'm just telling you so you know.
I want to, I want to have faith in you.
I really do but you keep lying to me
It hurts I believe, I believe you owe it me.
Give it to me like you said you would.

It is my prayer, for America specifically, and our world in general, that the Spirit of the Lord would be upon us so that all can be freed from the shackles of bondage and that all can live in the freedom that God desires for us to have.

A Graduation Prayer

Yesterday I had the honor of offering the prayer of invocation at my alma mater (and former workplace) the Rye Country Day School (RCDS). RCDS is a prestigious independent school in the midst of a very affluent community. It is a fine institution of learning but, as with any institution, it has its flaws. One of its major flaws, a blemish that the administration is mindful of and actively working on (shout out to my girl Meredeth deChabert the current Director of Diversity and soon-to-be Assistant Head of School) is the sense of privilege that permeates its halls.

For many, offering an ecumenical prayer that is mindful that there are a multiplicity of faith traditions in the room is a difficult task. For me, that is not the tough part. I do not have to say the name Jesus to be praying in His name. Spoken or not, every prayer I lift up is in the name of Jesus. But for me, the tough part came in the content of the prayer. I did not want to pray extemporaneously, so I prayerfully worked on the prayer over the course of the week. The continued news reports of the Gulf Oil Spill was my background music. I was led, by the Spirit, not simply to offer a nicey-nicey prayer that would make folks feel good, but a prayer that would stir up something within the hearts of the hearers so that we all (that includes me too) would be moved to be active agents of God's love, peace, and justice in our society and in our world.

Here is my prayer:

Gracious God, we gather in this holy time and in this holy space, for a moment of pause to draw from your breath of inspiration. We gather in this holy time and in this holy space to give thanks for these graduates and their myriad accomplishments across a many disciplines. We gather in this holy time and in this holy space to celebrate all that these graduates have done and all those who have supported them in their life journey—parents, siblings, family, administrators, teachers, coaches, mentors, and friends. We gather in this holy time and this holy space to invoke blessings upon these graduates and all that they will be and say and do and experience in the coming days, weeks, months, years, and decades that lie ahead.

Grant them the courage to be their authentic selves in a society that seeks uniformity and conformity--to give of themselves freely and without fear…

Grant them joy that is contagious, laughter that lifts burdens, and delight that carries them through the tough days ahead...

Grant them peace that defies human understanding in our world where anxiety and fear pervade the human spirit and cause us to act irresponsibly towards ourselves, each other, and all of creation...

Grant them a sense of justice that does not simply clothe the naked, feed the poor, and visit those who are sick and imprisoned, but one that seeks to eradicate poverty and oppression in all of its manifestations.

Grant them wisdom to know when to speak, when to keep silent, when to act and when to be still...

Fill them with passion and compassion so that it might ooze from their pores into this world that is in desperate need of their light and their mercy.

And above all, fill them with your love—love that is unfailing, love that is abounding, love that is radical, love that knows no limits...

With our hearts and souls lifted up together, we pray.
Amen and may it be so.

Balance (Accountability pt.3)

For those of you just tuning in, you can find parts 1 and 2 in the archives from last year around this time...

For those of you who need a refresher—myself included—here is the definition we are working with...

an even distribution of weight enabling someone or something to remain upright and steady

Today I am revisiting the notion of balance. It has been a while since I have consciously thought about balance. Truth be told, I had been living a balanced life for the majority of my senior year at Drew and it felt extremely good. I managed to nourish my spirit, be kind to my body, and get the grades that I desired (I graduated Summa Cool Nerdy). The last couple of weeks have been overwhelming (in a good way) and it has meant laying aside some of the habits and practices that I had implemented to assure that my body is in top shape. I haven't gone for a run since the day before graduation and I can feel it. To put it bluntly, I am out of shape. Already. But alas, unlike years past where I have slipped into bad habits without notice, I am keenly aware of what is going on and I plan to do something about it.

When I say plan to do something, I don't mean a three or four or twelve step something-or-another to achieving balance. I mean, in the words of Nike, just doing it. I am still gearing up for a 10K...this time with my running partner in crime Nikki G. We were going to begin training on June 1st, but with preparation for ordination and wedding planning, I haven't been able to find the time or space or energy to stick to a schedule. Being the understanding woman that she is, she has given me the grace and space to start on July 1st, after the wedding when I'll be able to begin my new life with my new (and wonderful) hubby with a new regimen.

While on the subject of new regimens, I am also excitedly anticipating learning and watching and giving as I assume the role of Assistant Pastor of the Bethesda Baptist Church. I am excited to begin a new preaching preparation regimen—an extension of that which I started in my Advanced Preaching class. I will not be preaching every week, but I firmly believe that my relationship with Christ will be deepened and my ministry will be strengthened by daily communion with God and daily conversation with the Scripture. Part of my role at Bethesda will be leading worship on a weekly basis. Worship, in my understanding, is not just something that we do on Sunday mornings, but something that we be and do each and every day of the week. I don't want to dishonor God by faking the worship funk on Sunday when my worship life is lacking. God deserves our best...always...and I am delighted to begin new practices that give God the ultimate glory.

Speaking of giving God glory, the final thing I'd like to lift up is my desire to balance home and everything else. That sounds big, I know. But my desire is not simply to be a wife, but to be a good wife. My husband to be and I—putting God first and in the center—will be discovering together what it means to take care of ourselves and each other while fulfilling our many other obligations. To this I pray, "Come Spirit. Come." And I know that with God's guidance that our union will remain "upright and steady" for the days and weeks and months and decades and forever that we will spend together.