Thursday, May 25, 2006

Girl Power

When God first began to call me into ministry 19 years ago, I had never met an ordained woman. I knew many strong women, and women leaders in the church, the community and in my own family, but I had never met a woman pastor. The first woman minister I knew was an Episcopalian priest I met in college--Mother Mary--and I remember being in awe of the way she preached and led worship with grace and tender care. And I am very grateful for Brother Don Eubanks who planted the seed in my heart to become a pastor, because he first saw in me what I couldn’t yet see in myself.

Tomorrow my long journey toward ordination will be complete. And it just so happens that this year is also the 50th Anniversary of Full Clergy Rights for Women in the United Methodist Church. Last night we had a wonderful clergywomen’s celebration to honor this milestone. We gathered at dinner and I got to sit with some of my favorite clergywomen—my mentor, Mary Kraus, and my dear friend from seminary Amy-Ellen Duke. Mary, who was the first woman to be ordained in the Minnesota Annual Conference told us to look around at the crowded room; she told us that when she first came to the Baltimore Washington Conference in the early 1970’s the clergywomen’s gathering was just a few women, gathered in the living room of Susan Morrison (who is now the senior Bishop in our denomination).

After dinner, Dr. Bernice Johnson Reagon of the a capella group Sweet Honey and the Rock began the evening storytelling and preaching and singing. Her voice is so epherial—I felt like I was transported. Then all the clergywomen processed into the ballroom by ordination classes. I followed all the women who have gone before me to blaze the trail. Even though I am the first woman to have served at Bethesda, and now the first woman to serve at Woodside, I know that I am not the first woman to have been the first, and there is great comfort in that.

And I also have great joy knowing that I will not be the last. After a service filled with heartfelt singing, reading of scripture, testimony, dancing, and a fun slide show showing the diversity of women in ministry, all clergywomen were invited onto the stage. There was a sea of women—white, black, Asian, some carrying infants, some walking with assistance. And we invited any other women who felt a call to ministry to come forward. Rev. Vicki Starnes walked forward with her teenage daughter, Hannah, both of them in tears. I wondered if Nora might follow in this path, too; if God has put a call to ordained ministry on her life? I promise not to pressure her to go this way because it is not an easy road. But ministry is a privilege, and there is a wonderful sisterhood of other clergywomen to provide support and encouragement, to laugh and cry and sing together.

Sunday, May 21, 2006

Signs of Life

Our house has now been on the market for a week. For the past seven days complete strangers have been letting themselves in the front door, trapsing through our home, and presumably making comments like, "Uhg. What a terrible color to paint that room..." Here's the link--you can check it out yourself:

Prospective buyers have been walking through our house this week trying to decide if they might be able to live in our house. They have been trying to picture their sofa in our living room, their clothes in the closet, trying to imagine entertaining their family and friends in our dining room. And so we have been trying to keep the house neat and tidy, to help them be able to imagine themselves in this house and not get distracted by our stuff. The house, we were told, is supposed to look like no one lives there. And it's so strange.

The ironic thing is that I always thought that this is how I wanted my house to look. Marcus and I used to argue about this (until we hired a housecleaner to come twice a month and it saved our marriage--seriously). I love a clean house. I love to walk around barefoot and not have dog hair stick to my feet. I love it when the dust is gone, when the kitchen shines...But as it turns out, I also kind of like the signs of life that come with a messy house. You know, a drying rack on the counter of dishes that were washed the day before, mail on the dinner table, laundry baskets, toys and books on the floor. All the stuff that makes a house looks lived in, that makes a house a home. These days our house looks a bit sterile, generic--kinda like a hotel.

I hope someone makes us an offer soon. The house needs to look lived in again. And I'll try to remember this feeling next time I'm griping at Marcus to pick up the newspapers...

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Hands, Feet and Something to Eat

This is the text of last Sunday's sermon on Luke 24: 36-49.

Bill Wylie-Kellerman wrote that "If you can read the gospels without getting hungry you aren’t paying attention." Our stories about Jesus are full of food—Jesus eating with tax collectors and sinners, producing mountain-side feasts, sharing celebrations and last suppers, bread and fish and wine. And there are these post-Easter stories where Jesus breaks bread and eats with his old friends once again, just as he did before he died. None of them expected to see Jesus again, and yet he keeps surprising them on the beach or the road or in a room in Jerusalem, and each time he has the same invitation: let’s eat. It’s such a strange and wonderful thing—the resurrected Jesus comes back with an appetite.

Today we might have trouble believing in the resurrection of the body—but first century Jews didn’t. Bodily resurrection was part of their tradition—and still is for some. Some of my more devout Jewish friends have told me that they won’t get tattoos because of they believe that eventually their body will be resurrected and any alteration of the body is considered a defilement. (Besides, you might really regret that funky Chinese character meaning "laughter" if you had to live with it for eternity).

Lauren Winner writes about the Jewish celebration of the body in her book Mudhouse Sabbath. She writes that Jewish men carry the mark of the covenant with God in their very flesh. She says that "the bris suggests that we do religion with our souls, hearts, minds but also with our bodies." She also notes that Judaism offers opportunities for people to inhabit and sanctify bodies and bodily practices. Even the bathroom offers the chance for reverence to God: Rabbi Yehudah ha-Hasid said, "when you are in the bath, remember how much uncleanness and filth exits from your body and be humbled."

This might seem strange to us, because, I think, Christianity can sometimes be too spiritual—we are ambivalent or even uncomfortable with the human body. Thanks to Saint Augustine and others, we have been influenced by a mind-body dualism that considers the flesh to be unclean, sinful, even, and the spiritual to be the higher part of God’s creation.

Our culture, too, has a strange relationship with the human body—bodies are OK if they are clean and healthy, beautiful and thin. We get weird about our imperfections and infirmities—anything that might suggest death or sexuality or illness. We put great amounts of time, money and energy to keep our bodies in good shape, and so it’s surprising, frustrating, irritating, miserable when they start to wear out, break down, fall apart. But our bodies are fallible—they get sick and old and tired.

But our bodies are not cages for our souls; they are the creation of a good and loving God. They are sacred, and often we come to know God most intimately though the physical experiences of our lives. We experience God’s love through the touch of a mother or father, spouse or close friend. We feel both the closeness and the awesomeness of God through birth, and sometimes, too, in illness and death. The relationship we have with God is not just a disembodied spirituality—we come to know and experience God in and through our very flesh. Call it incarnation.

That’s why the resurrection of Christ must be a physical one—he eats with his friends and he invites them to touch him. He is real, solid and alive. "The resurrection is God’s way of revealing to us that nothing that belongs to God will ever go to waste," wrote Henri J.M. Nouwen in Our Greatest Gift. "What belongs to God will never get lost — not even our mortal bodies."

Reflecting this week about Jesus’ physical and spiritual presence with the disciples has been made real in my life, as I think about how quickly July 1 is approaching, about how soon I will no longer have the privilege of being your pastor. I won’t be worshiping with you, serving you communion, celebrating the joys of your lives and walking with you in your struggles. I have been thinking about how someone new will hopefully take my place and do things differently, maybe even better, than me. But I am also reminded of the ways that I have been transformed by being in ministry with all of you the last nearly four years. I will always carry with me the hugs and tears we’ve shared together, the times I have held your hands in prayer, the babies I have held and baptized. In those memories, you will be alive for me, as I hope I will be for you.
The hardest thing about human life is that it doesn’t last. Things change. People die. People go away. And we hold tight to the memories of the tangible, physical experiences because they help us remember not only the one who is gone, but who we have become because we have known them.

Jesus came back to the disciples on the Emmaus road, in their hiding place in Jerusalem, on the beach in Galilee and invited them to touch him, to eat with him, to experience his physical presence once again. He does this to remind the disciples to look back—to what he said and did in their midst when he was alive because he knew that someday soon he was no longer going to be with them, and he wanted them to remember who he was and who they were, too.
And he calls them to look forward, too—to be "witnesses." The disciples become Christ’s hands and feet in the world. And Jesus still calls us as his disciples to be the body of Christ—baptizing and teaching, healing and feeding, transforming human lives body and soul in the name of Christ. Rev. Donna Schaper writes: "One good definition for a church is whether the homeless are using their bathrooms. Human need is growing — and when we touch it, we touch Jesus. When we touch Jesus, we are the body of Christ." She wrote this about The Church of the Savior in Washington, D.C.—a church of 150 members that runs 60 homeless, feeding and medical shelters throughout the city. Their mission statement is "If Jesus came back today, this is where he would worship." A pretty good mission statement for a church, I think.

This week in the Wednesday morning Grace Group we got onto the topic of how we model Christian servant-hood for our children. We talked about the conflict we all feel when a homeless person is standing at an intersection and our children, seeing someone in need, ask if we can help them. We want our kids to keep that sense of compassion, but we don’t want to give money to someone who doesn’t really need it, or use our resources in a way that doesn’t really seem to help the problem, or seem to support begging. We all have different ways of responding to those kind of situations, but it seems to me that part of what we’re also struggling with is just coming face to face with human need and suffering. That man with the sign is a visible reminder that there are people, some we see and some we don’t see, who live in poverty, who are hungry or ill or homeless. And it makes us hurt, makes us uncomfortable, makes us struggle. Whether it’s the homeless man at the intersection of Democracy and Old Georgetown or images of refugees in Darfur—they remind us that we are called to be the hands and feet of Christ. Christ is alive, in our acts of compassion and justice.

So Christ calls us to remember him, to keep him alive, by reaching out—sharing love, mercy, care—and sometimes, yes, even food. And that's pretty appropriate—don’t you think?