light

Outside the sanctuary a bitter wind was howling. On this first Sunday of the new year the intrepid gathered to celebrate the power of light to guide us to new life. It was Epiphany Sunday.

We heard the story of how it was three wise men followed the star.

Most enchantingly, we heard the scripture read by young people. Both the prophet Isaiah and the writer of Matthew’s gospel were given voice by children and youth who call our church home. Their moms and dads had cell phones at the handy to record their young wonders and every person in the place leaned in and leant their breath and energy in order that the story might be told. Through the hearts and sounds of our very own beloveds the story was told.

The woman who directs the Little Angels children’s choirs – preschoolers who sing open-hearted beauty – shared a solo. Witnessing her singers watch their teacher bear witness with shine and beauty broke my heart open with wonder.

What is this glory that we share? What is this light we seek to follow?

On a wretchedly cold Minnesota morning the light of Christ drew us near and we bowed and offered our gifts. We offered the gifts of our presence and our intentions and our longings and our shine and we were warmed in the doing of it.

And the winter did not overcome it.

this year

I am United Methodist by choice. I wasn’t born into the tribe called Methodist. I found my way into the denomination through a church that lived piety and practice. It got my attention.

First United Methodist Church in Pittsburgh took my family in when we were far from home with two young children. They helped me learn a living faith.

It wasn’t because their choir was the best or their preacher the most eloquent. They taught me incarnational church because in a time when AIDS was becoming scourge they were willing to stand in solidarity with those physically and spiritually devastated by loss upon loss. The church was unwilling to practice willful disregard.

I want to unpack that. By “willful disregard” I mean churches who see pain or disruption of creation around them and do nothing to reach into that pain with compassion and care; even the elemental care of naming and noticing.

I became a United Methodist because I saw what church can be and always I long for institutional United Methodism to recall its roots and grounding. The Wesleys taught, among other things, that faith is a practice meant to be lived and willful disregard is not the way of the gospel and not the way of the people called Methodist.

This year I want the church be a place where we will name the ache of racism and generational poverty grounded in racism. I’m praying for a movement that names the despoiling of creation and the devastation that results from the pillage of the sacred in the bodies of women and children and men and the earth. I’m desirous of leaders who choose to use their gifts to work with their faith kin to build low income housing and feed hungry children and provide access to education.

I can’t give much more energy to the soul-sucking debate over full inclusion of GLBT folk. Really, Jesus and the grace offered through him are sullied by the pitched slug-fest over a paltry number of lines in scripture. To squander the gift of the gospel through the barricading of grace is willful disregard.

I want to lead a discipling center where people know that we are not there to play church.

Rather, we are mindfully grounded in the teachings and practices and wonderings of faith and because we trust the invitation of our God and our own foibled and hopeful selves, indeed all things are possible.

All things.

All things.

light shine

People are so good.

Getting into my car yesterday after a major snow dump, I knew I was in trouble. We live in the city and the city had not plowed the alley behind our house. By the looks of it one or two cars had made it through, but the snow was deep and my Honda poorly equipped.

But of course I tried.

And got stuck.

Wedged into my neighbor’s snow bank, I couldn’t get my car door open so after clambering over seats I freed myself and went in search of a shovel.

I heard a lovely and hopeful sound. A neighbor was out shoveling and chose to see my plight. He came over and while we shared wonder at the volume of snow that had come our way, we dug and threw and freed my car for a time. I almost made it through the alley before it got stuck again and this time the original fine friend was joined by another who made it possible for me to get out.

They set aside their own time and agendas, did these men.

I watched the same sort of light shine throughout the day. A different neighbor worked at the end of the alley clearing away the snow. Pushers and shovelers and commiserators and wonderers all, we were.

We had come through another storm. The world was bright and beautiful and we had kindness to spare.

People are so good.

A Kind of Hush

People want to feel sorry for me this time of year.

Yes, Advent and the run-up to Christmas is a busy time for church pastors.

And, it is so real, this remembering of promises of peace and the gifting of hope. People come to church leaning in to hear the song of the angels.

We do a lot this time of year. This Sunday we will treat our hearts to a service of Lessons and Carols. The following Sunday the children will lead us in a telling of the Christmas miracle. The next Sunday we will expand into a Taize service meant to help us make space in our souls for the Word Made Flesh.

We’ll have a special service of Hope and Healing where we’ll name our losses and allow tears to be. There are teas and gatherings and Christmas toy drives and gift wrapping offered at our Thrift Store.

While all these things are going on, people will be hospitalized and will welcome a church pastor. Families will gather and dissolve. Gifts will be pursued and purchased and children’s wishes will be heard and all of what we do happens because in Jesus flesh became the living place of God.

That’s church in these days.

For me, it is one of the best seasons of the year. On the 25th I will rest. But in the meantime, church is a stable offering warmth in the sometimes bitter cold of life.

This innkeeper gives thanks.

midnight

Last night Cooper and I were welcomed into magic.

Our music director for Living Waters is Victor Zupanc. He is an amazing musician with the kind of soul that invites people to join him in making beauty.

He is also the music director and composer at the Children’s Theatre here in Minneapolis.

He invited us to see his new show “Cinderella”.

We found our seats in the midst of kid-zapped energy. It was a Friday night after a long week and often such nights find us home seeking to remember who we are.

What we discovered is that we are children longing for magic.

We found it.

We were invited into a world where mice speak and longings are heard and dreams do come true.

Tears were near the surface throughout. We both missed the days of innocence we shared with our children. We both cheered as the whacky wickedness of the stepsisters and their mother was undone by kindness. We laughed and we wept and we left reminded that beauty and goodness cannot be undone by cruelty.

And, I was again reminded of the needful place of story. The telling and the sharing of story created in that theatre a people only too willing to be led.

Mice turn into coachmen. Cinders are replaced by wand work. Kindness trumps all.

Midnight looms. It comes.

It is not the end of the story.

reunion

It has been a season of reunion gatherings at our church.

Through reunions called “funerals” lives are remembered, strands of relationship and being are celebrated, and gratitude and grief are named.

As pastor, I am able to feel the coming-home of children raised in the church. For perhaps the first time they sit in a pew without their father or their mother by their side. The jarring is so real. Powerfully, the sanctuary holds their beloved yet; it always will.

Picture boards showing big fish and wide grins bear witness to a singular life. The innocent hope shining through wedding photos and the rascally delights of play bear witness to the unfolding of story and heart.

Friends and co-workers, long-lost relatives and church companions share sugar and coffee and a need to bear witness.

The mystery that is life, death, and resurrection. Together we bow before the enormity of it all.

The church writ large flops about in a scramble for relevance. We sometimes chase after the latest gimmick that will settle our anxieties about decline.

Would that we would cease the scramble and remember that the center of our being is reunion: reunion with the beating heart of the Holy, reunion with the ongoing presence, power and guide that is Christ Jesus, reunion with the promise that in the midst of life God longs love for each and all.

The church exists in order to facilitate reunion.

Through baptisms and funerals, faith groups and worship, we exist to host reunion.

Holy work, that.

all saints

dad paver

Every year the church pauses to name the saints who are no longer physically with us.

This year we will be shepherded into and out of worship by bagpipes. The blast of sound will serve as a musical rupture of the thin veil separating the living from the dead.

The service is so very alive. We name church members who have died in the previous year and project their faces onto our screen as we savor the ways they have blessed and changed us.

This year our church has been changed by 20 deaths. While the grief around their passing is so very real so too is the pleasure of saying their names and remembering their being.

The seminary that I attended offered an opportunity to memorialize beloveds through buying a paver for a newly finished chapel courtyard. Since my father was for a time adjunct faculty at UTS and since my heart longs for places and times where his name can be in the hearts of the now, it felt so good to create a reminder that once he was, even as he still is in the hearts of many.

And of course during this thin veil time, I wonder about my own death and the day when it will be my face on the screen, my name on the lips, my being bookended with birth and death dates.

Poet Mary Oliver asks : “What is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”

Tomorrow we name those who answered that question every day they were given.

And so it comes to us.

How is it we plan to enter fully the wild and precious gift that is life?

Mindfully or no, we live our answer.