Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Psalm of Complaint

For the first week studying the Ketuvim, one of the Make projects was to write a Psalm of complaint. Since I'm so good at complaining, I decided this was my best bet. After all, Tori Rodriguez did say that negative emotions are the key to well-being. She writes, "Suppressing thoughts and feelings can even be harmful...Instead of backing away from negative emotions, accept them. Acknowledge how you are feeling without rushing to change your emotional state."

Well then, sounds like the Psalmists were working out all the feels. Here's my attempt addressing a complaint that rests on most of our hearts...

{I have included links to references for fun-- try to read it through without clicking on them first.}

A Psalm of Complaint.
For God. Of A Concerned Citizen. 

O God, my God,
do you not hear your people cry?
We call out to you and you do not come.
We ask for your hand, and where does it hide?

For so long we have seen the mogul exclaim.
His face becomes ruddy as he blows hot air.
God, he knows not what he says and yet the people
clamor for him.

For so long this mogul stomps on our rights
and oppresses the poor and the orphan.
He disrespects political correctness
and relishes in a mythical Dream.

God, who we have thought to be merciful,
where is the love? Where is the love?
If he is our head, to where will we turn?
A voice cries in the wilderness, "Retreat to the North."

Oh, God, we need you now.
Rain down your Truths onto your people
and help them see the path of righteousness.
For with him we cannot survive.

You have delivered us out of homogeneity
and inspired us with another from our country.
We trust that your divine love can infuse
your people again with fervor for Truth.

O God, we fear for our lives. Save us from despair.
Enter into our affairs and choose the best for us.
(Or wait, don't... that's a theocracy.)
Help us to appoint s/he who will do your will.

To you I will be ever thankful
if you but empower your people toward Truth.
We will gift you with a thousand cranes
and put our hope in you forever.

You are the rock on which we stand
and the guard at our closet door.
We will not fear but stand in awe
of your great and everlasting works.

O God, rescue us.

Breathing the Smoke of the Campfire

Literature is, and has always been, the sharing of experience, the pooling of human understanding about living, loving, and dying. (From this article)

I remember the exact moment when this became my understanding of scripture. I was 17. I was sitting on a bench in Cincinnati, OH with two friends from youth group. We had the Bible in our laps. We were on a "mission trip" to help a church organize and clean in preparation for their VBS program.

Until this point, I thought I was conservative... politically and religiously. Part of this had to do with my upbringing, some with my developmentally appropriate teenage perspective, some because of who my best friend was at the time. I had been attending a UCC church for yeaaaars, but I just couldn't wrap my head around the progressive nature of its theology, much less any beliefs of my own... except the ones that were in question, of course. This meant scripture was especially troublesome.

So there we were, sitting on a bench reading Genesis. Poring over the creation stories... both of them. The three of us had so many questions. Who wrote these stories? Why are there two different creation stories? If these were the first created people, how can it be a first hand account? Why wouldn't someone write themselves into a story? How can these things be taken for Truth? What does it mean to believe these stories? What are we actually believing? What does it mean when our pastor says she takes the Bible "seriously but not literally"?

So we asked her. And she said six magical words: "These stories are like campfire stories."

And THAT was it for me. That was it. I finally got it. I finally understood that the scriptures, the stories we were reading in 2006, were the same stories people had been reading for centuries... millenia(!)... they're the stories of a people coming to understand who they are... as individuals, in community, in opposition to others, and in relation to G-d. I finally got it. It's "the sharing of experience, the pooling of human understanding about living, loving, and dying."

And in the words of my pastor, it was as though I "had come up for a breath of fresh air."

She was right, but it felt more like I inhaled campfire smoke... at once relieving and alarming.

If we don't take it literally, there is so much more to learn.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

What's an Ootle?

I've often used the phrase "oodles"... but this is a different kind of oodle... In fact, it's not an oodle, it's an Ootle! That's the Open Old Testament Learning Event.

It's a worldwide event (similar to a MOOC) meant to help people from all over the world learn more about a particular topic, in this case, the Old Testament. To be honest, I did not have a good learning experience in my seminary Old Testament class... neither of them, actually. I learned next to nothing in one of them and was force fed to memorization in the other one.

That is to say, I need this course.

I need this course because I feel like I missed out in seminary.

I need this course because I am a life-long learner.

I need this course  because I feel like I know very little about the Hebrew Bible.

I need this course to be a better pastor/minister/clergy person.

I need this course to be a better Christian.

I do a grave disservice to my faith and my actions when I am not critically studying the Scriptures in which my faith tradition is rooted. I have less of an understanding of the Hebrew Scriptures than the Christian Scriptures and that's problematic because both are integral to Christianity. Jesus' lineage is in the Hebrew Bible. The people, places, events that made Jesus who he was, and is to us today, are chronicled in those books. Albeit, with some missing pieces, overlap, and contradictions, but that is exactly what I hope to learn.

We are all called to wrestle with our scriptures, our traditions, and our rituals. We are called to be all of who G-d has called us to be in this world and without these wrestlings, we know not the depth and breadth of our faith community, of the Church writ large. The Christian tradition is rooted in the history of a people, of many peoples, struggling to find their place in the world and the place of G-d in it all.

And that is still our struggle today.

So I invite you to join me through Ootle 2016. You can find me here, blogging... probably sparsely because, work... and you can find me on twitter @emilymlab. Or, just go to twitter and search #ootle16 and our collective learnings will be posted.

Looking forward to learning with you!

Thursday, February 26, 2015

spaciousness in the wilderness


I wrote the following piece for the church newsletter. As mentioned before, this church is focusing on Spiritual Practices while the pastor is on sabbatical. Read on to hear about my spiritual practice of spaciousness....

And so it has begun… our journey, alongside Jesus, that leads to Jerusalem; our journey into the wilderness. I wonder what we will find in the wilderness? Who or what awaits us? What struggles will we encounter? What revelations will we have? What practices will bring us through? Perhaps you have already started to discover the answers to these questions. Or, perhaps you just have more questions.

It is in this place of wilderness that we begin to think about those things that separate us from God. Process theologian Marjorie Suchoki defines sin as “an extended event in an interdependent world… sin [against God] manifests in our violence toward the creation.”1 This includes harm done toward ourselves, others, and the earth. Sin doesn’t just occur between us and God but between us and everything God created in God’s own image. What we do, how we act, and the words we say all have power and we are not always aware of how much power we exude.

Lately, I have been incredibly mindful of how quickly I move from one thing to the next without allowing space. It used to be that typing teachers taught students to include two spaces between each sentence, but that is no longer the case. In this world of efficiency and bureaucracy we now leave just one space between sentences because who has the time for an extra keystroke.

Likewise, I know I am generally inclined toward busy-ness. I am always running from one thing to the next. Everything I have to accomplish feels so important and it seems like if I don’t do it now, at the same time as three other things, none of them will ever get done. No matter how much meditation or prayer I do in the morning, thinking that it will calm my spirit for the day, I still move at roadrunner pace.

For me, this year, Lent is about discerning the ways in which I do harm to myself and others by keeping up this pace of busy-ness. I don’t actually need to speed to get to church and I don’t need to go from one meeting to the next without stopping. Jesus took time to go to the desert and pray by himself. We too are called to follow his lead. Even if it’s just taking one minute to stretch between staring at the computer and walking into a meeting. Even if it’s just pausing to give thanks for my lunch. Even if it’s ten seconds of deep breaths. I am committing myself  to creating more room for spaciousness, and therefore God, to abide. 

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Movement. G-d. Rhythm.

So I have to bear witness/testimony to this not only for the sake of sharing it with you, or because it's a spiritual practice to share how G-d is transforming me, but because I want to remember this.

As many of you know, I have recently started as the Sabbatical Guest Pastor at Community United Church of Christ in Champaign, Illinois. Their pastor, my mentor, Rev. Leah Robberts-Mosser, is on Renewal Leave for the next three months. The church went through a hiring process and of the candidates they had, they hired me. And I accepted the opportunity with gratitude. As part of the renewal plan for the church, they built in a sermon series of sorts around the theme of "Spiritual Practices." We will be having three guest preachers, who will also lead a workshop, that will preach on a different spiritual practice each: honoring the body, building community, and engaging the creative spirit. Honoring the body is getting the least amount of airtime-- I don't know that it was a conscious decision-- which is unfortunate because we live in the midwest and honoring one's body, much less paying attention to one's body, is not the norm.

So let me start there.

I have been working really hard lately (many thanks to my former therapist, former field education supervisor, former CPE supervisor, and my spiritual director) to feel my emotions, to pinpoint what it  that I feel and to validate that feeling. That also means paying attention to where I feel emotions in my body. So last night I had a terrible stress dream about work that left me feeling angry when I woke up. There was a point in time when I thought I never got angry. That's no longer true. (It probably wasn't true then either.) When I woke up I wanted to throw something against the wall. It was that bad. This doesn't happen very frequently, so it is becoming easier to recognize when I have strong emotions. I'm going to come back to this feeling in a second.

One of the things I preached about on Sunday was the difference in people's needs when it comes to how they do spiritual practices. Some folks need rigidity-- meditation, every morning, for 30 minutes, at the exact same time. Other folks-- read, me-- need a whole variety of practices. I used to think I needed a rigid schedule, but I could never make it work. [And if the shoe doesn't fit, don't freakin' force it.] I have also been working really hard to figure out how I can do all my favored spiritual practices-- exercising, collaging, meditating, praying, writing, drawing illuminated manuscripts-- and have enough time for life.

jellyfish at the monterrey bay aquarium. movement. 
So, when I was preaching on Sunday, I remembered a sermon my friend/colleague/former parishioner, Rev. Donene Blair, preached in Tiburon about the difference between balance and rhythm. She preached about the way in which creation was six days on, one day off; how Jesus didn't pray on a schedule, but rather when he felt the need to do so. And the second to last paragraph was this: "When we strive for balance it is like standing on one foot. When we find our own rhythm in work, play, rest, prayer and silence, we care for ourselves. We open up space, and let God in." Standing on one foot is not sustainable. Balance is not sustainable. But rhythm. Rhythm opens us up to movement.

Movement is fluidity.
Rhythm is not rigidity.
G-d is movement. fluidity. 

Just let me say a quick word about the paradoxical nature of G-d and how it gets me every time. We know G-d in the stillness, the still small voice, the quiet-ness of prayer, the calm of meditation. I think we try to convince ourselves that G-d can only be found there and then convince ourselves that we can't find G-d because we're only paying attention to stillness. 

Guess what: G-d is both/and. Don't ever for a second believe that G-d cannot be in both of those things and more than those two things. Christian spirituality and theology calls us to be paying attention to all the places we find G-d, naming them, claiming them, and telling others about them. We are being transformed by G-d all.the.time. The question is, are you paying attention?

So this morning, when I woke up angry, I discerned the spiritual practice that would help me best work through the anger, the thing that would help me let go of it before moving on to a full day of work at church. And who's surprised that that practice would be running? 

Rhythm of steps and breath. 

I turned on my Pandora Dance Cardio radio station and busted up that treadmill. And even though it's been a year since I last ran four miles, and last week I could hardly run one mile, today I was able to run two and a half with ease.  And sort through my anger enough to get on with my day without letting it consume me. 

Holy Spirit for the win.