Less than three years ago I was very excited to move out to the country. But less than a year ago we moved back into town. Honestly, it's a little embarrassing. Moving back to town was a good decision on many levels—the right decision for many reasons. Yet this time of year I do miss my three acres. I’ve been thinking lately about what I could call our “failed experiment” but instead choose to name our “country living adventure.”
A few years ago I audited a class called Preaching and the Short Story. There was a story on the syllabus with Easter in the title, and I kept thinking I should read that before I wrote my Easter sermon.
In Luke 13, Jesus tells a parable about a barren fig tree. The tree is planted in a vineyard, which sounds weird, but fig trees were often used as trellises in vineyards. The owner is unhappy because the tree is not bearing fruit. “Cut it down,” he says. But the vintner says, “I’ll dig around it, fertilize it. Let’s give it one more year.”
And the vast majority of the commentaries and reflections I’ve read about this story say something to the effect of, “See, God is willing to give us sinners one more chance.”
On a shelf in our church library you can find a “Reading Guide” made by a fourth grader. It lists the types of books appropriate for different age groups and advises: “Remember--Kids (8-12) when you start the Bible, go at your own pace. It's a long book!”
When we think of epiphanies, we tend to idealize the sudden revelation, the moment of knowing that we are heading out on the right path. Do the captured Israelites expect their return home to be such an epiphany?
Which mother, I wonder, has more heartbreak. Hannah sacrifices the dailiness of raising her first-born son. Mary keeps her son with her, but as he grows she can surely see that he is heading down a dangerous path.
The lectionary readings for All Saints Day and All Souls Day include lovely words and images of God’s care for us and the Divine's promise of eternal life. In the face of death, these are the promises we cling to as Christian people. And they are good promises. True promises.
And, to be quite honest, annoying promises to have repeated to you over and over and over again when you are in the midst of deep grief.
A friend of mine recently posed this question on Facebook: Junior high girls braiding each other’s hair in church: appropriate or not? Considering this friend has never been a junior-high girl nor parented a junior-high girl, the question seemed sincere and did not bother me.
What did bother me, however, was the frequency with which one particular word kept popping up in the comments: distracting.
Lent was a fairly new concept for me when I was in college, and one year I decided to make the ultimate sacrifice—chocolate. I still remember standing in the ice cream parlor, looking at the luscious rocky road and chocolate swirl and brownie chunk ice cream–and choosing butter pecan. Butter pecan. Such is the suffering I was willing to endure for Jesus.
I think now that the whole endeavor was a bit melodramatic.
In the Celtic spiritual tradition, people refer to “thin places”—spaces where the veil between the Divine and the earthly is especially thin; places where you can easily have a sense of the holy, a feeling of connection to God.
There are places commonly recognized as thin, as holy.
I recently helped write a letter to leaders of my denomination, Mennonite Church USA. This letter asks that the denomination make space for congregations and pastors who welcome and bless LGBTQ people. Over 150 credentialed (and formerly credentialed) Mennonite pastors have signed it.
My family shared communion bread in my father’s hospice room before he died. We blessed it, broke it, and ate it. My mom caught a few medical professionals off guard by holding the loaf out to them when they came into the room to check Dad’s blood pressure or give him his medications.