Wednesday, December 19, 2012

sad and happy

I'm on vacation in sunny Southern California, spending my afternoons with a second grader and my mornings playing Words With Friends. So while I should, in theory, have plenty of time to think deeply about many things, the reality is that I am just thinking about a lot of things in general. Pretty sure that's part of the whole transitioning-from-one-job-to-another thing. I don't have specific responsibilities to focus on, so my brain is freewheeling around all kinds of things.

Among those things, one sad and one happy....

I really really really wish we would stop saying that we need to pay more attention to mental illness in the wake of unbelievable tragedy. Two things. One: those children did not die simply because our healthcare system sucks. It does, that's true, and a civilized society would do something about that. But the reality is that those children died because someone had access to weapons with which he could kill 26 people in less than 5 minutes. Two: how do you think people who need access to mental health care feel about being constantly tied to murder, suicide, and horror? What on earth makes you think that having incredible and affordable (aka free) access to health care would actually lead someone to seek that care if what we all think about people who need access to mental health care is that they're murderous crazies who might kill us all at any moment?

For all the talk about how we need to remove the stigma from mental illness (which is incredibly true), this conversation at this time, insisting that mental illness is what causes someone to kill first graders, speculating about things we can never know because the two people who might have been able to shed some light on this are tragically dead...this conversation at this time is only increasing the stigma. Now everyone who thinks "maybe I should see my doctor" or "I wonder if a therapist could help" or "there's so much darkness in here...is there any way out?"--all thoughts that could be the first step toward healing!--will instead follow that up with "but everyone will think I'm a mass murdering lunatic psychopath, so I guess I'll stay home."

Which means that the real unimaginable tragedy here is the fact that millions of people will suffer and die from their own mental illness because we have made it even more socially unacceptable to seek healing.

Thanks for that.
(edit: to read someone who, it turns out, said this already and much more eloquently, go here.)

~~~~

In completely different news, my aunt has a cat who will attempt to drink out of your water glass. Not just when you set the glass down, like a normal cat does, but while you are holding it, while you are drinking from it yourself, while you are protecting it from him. He will climb all over you and meow constantly, making it almost impossible to reach the glass to your lips, so desperate is he for the opportunity to drink from your glass.

Yesterday I had the bright idea of filling up a glass and putting it on the floor for him (thanks to Elizabeth, who puts down glasses of water for her spoiled siamese all the time...hahaha). It worked. For about 5 minutes. Which was long enough to drink my glass of water. then he moved on to trying to drink my tea.
Ned. after I successfully drank my own tea.



Sunday, December 16, 2012

In Our Midst--a sermon for Advent 3, and for my last day at RCLPC

Rev. Teri Peterson
In Our Midst 
RCLPC (last day)
Luke 1.46-55, Zephaniah 3.14-20 (selected)
16 December 2012, Advent 3C

‘My soul magnifies the Lord, 
 
 and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, 
 
for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant.
 
 Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed; 
 
for the Mighty One has done great things for me,
 and holy is his name. 
 
His mercy is for those who fear him
 from generation to generation. 
 
He has shown strength with his arm;
 he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts. 
 
He has brought down the powerful from their thrones,
 and lifted up the lowly; 

 he has filled the hungry with good things,
 and sent the rich away empty. 
 
He has helped his servant Israel,
 in remembrance of his mercy, 
 
according to the promise he made to our ancestors,
 to Abraham and to his descendants for ever.’ 

Sing aloud, O daughter Zion;
 shout, O Israel!
 
Rejoice and exult with all your heart,
 O daughter Jerusalem! 
 
The Lord, your God, is in your midst,
 a warrior who gives victory;
 
he will rejoice over you with gladness,
 he will renew you in his love;
 
he will exult over you with loud singing 
 as on a day of festival.
 
I will save the lame and gather the outcast,
 
and I will change their shame into praise and renown in all the earth. 
 
At that time I will bring you home,
 at the time when I gather you;
 
for I will make you renowned and praised
 among all the peoples of the earth,
 
when I restore your fortunes
 before your eyes, says the Lord. 


Just a few minutes ago we sang these words:
We sing in exultation, but admit our hesitation
When we see a world in pain and despair.
Yet even amid sorrow is a promise for tomorrow:
The God of joy is moving us to care. 
 That pretty well sums it up, doesn’t it? I was already having trouble deciding how to preach today—Joy Sunday and also my last Sunday with you. And then on Friday a young man walked into a school and shot 20 first graders. I don’t even know what to say about that—it’s so horrific. And in the 48 hours since then, just in the city of Chicago, 20 more people have been shot. Every day there is violence and pain and grief beyond comprehension. And somehow I’m supposed to talk about joy? How can these things be? The darkness of a world in pain and despair is overwhelming.

 And into that pain comes a voice that has known pain—the voice of a prophet, speaking to a people who have lost everything: Sing and Rejoice!

 How? How can we sing in this land of loss?

 In our grieving silence speaks the voice of a teenager who has known terror, a peasant in an occupied land, a young woman who knows the anticipation mingled with fear that comes with the unknown, a mother who will soon flee the swords that will steal the lives of many children: My soul magnifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices!

 But how can we sing?

In our anxiety and uncertainty about what the future holds, our hesitant singing is rooted both in the world’s pain and despair and our own community’s reality—that a new thing is coming, and we don’t know what it will look like. It’s hard to imagine being joyful when we say goodbyes.

How can we sing when tears are so close to the surface?

Perhaps because this joy has little to do with our feelings of happiness. The joy to which these prophets call us comes from one realization: That God is in our midst.

In pain and despair, God is in our midst. In uncertainty and anxiety, God is in our midst. Not out playing golf on another planet, not sitting in some heavenly throne, not punishing us from afar, but right here, in the middle of our life with all its sadness and hope and love and wonder and grief and relationships. Incarnate—in flesh, body and blood. Immanuel—God with us. And not just with us, but active, a verb. Zephaniah and Mary tell us of a God who keeps promises, who exults and saves and lifts up and fills and gathers. Nothing there about giving us cheerfulness or solving all our problems or protecting us from ourselves, sadly. Nothing about shielding us from the hard moments of life. But a promise of companionship, of persistence, and of calling together a community.

I can hear you thinking about how all of my sermons are really about community. It’s true, for a couple of reasons. One reason is that we are a highly fractured and individualized culture, and I believe the gospel calls us to a different way. While the world is telling us to look out for ourselves, to trust in the safety we believe we can create through our own means, to get ahead by ignoring the needs of others, God calls us to love and to serve, to offer grace and peace. We care for each other, through good and bad, through hellos and goodbyes. In God’s beloved community, we learn and we practice. We experience God’s abundance so we are prepared to offer it to others. We come together and find that there might just be some light in the darkness after all, because “even amid sorrow is a promise for tomorrow: the God of joy is moving us to care.”

 Another reason all my sermons are about community is because one candle in the darkness is bright, but a hundred candles can light up the room. These prophets are one voice calling out in the wilderness, so imagine when we join our voices to that angel chorus. How can we sing and rejoice in the face of tragedy? How can we not? The voices of hate and horror cannot be allowed to have the last word. And so we sing as an act of defiance, as a protest against the darkness and despair that clamor for our attention. We raise our collective voice as a witness to the hope and joy that God holds for us when we cannot hold it ourselves. 

And so we come together to bring light into the darkness—whether our own or that being lived by others. Each small act of compassion, each comforting word, each silent prayer, each phone call or casserole or voice lifted on behalf of another, is a part of the mosaic of light that God is making out of the broken pieces of our world. So I invite you to come forward and place a piece into that bigger picture.

 … (O Come O Come Emmanuel)
 O come, Thou Day-spring, come and cheer

Our spirits by Thine advent here;

Disperse the gloomy clouds of night,

And death’s dark shadows put to flight.
Rejoice! Rejoice! 
Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.  
 O come, Thou Key of David, come,

And open wide our heavenly home;

Make safe the way that leads on high,

And close the path to misery.
Rejoice! Rejoice!
Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.

 The beauty of a project like this is that it reminds us that each one of us has a part to play in the unfolding of God’s kingdom. We may not be able to see how our small piece works in the grand scheme, we may feel that we are too broken to be of value, we may wonder what difference it makes anyway. But every piece matters—otherwise there are gaping holes where we ought to be! We may think we know what the picture will be, or we may be certain that it can’t possibly turn out right—or that there’s no way we can finish on time! But God is always doing a new thing, right here in our midst.

I don’t know what new thing God is doing here at RCLPC, but I believe that God is moving in this place and in all of you. I won’t be here to see this finished mosaic, or the next act of the great play God is writing here, but I know that between you and God it will be something incredible. I do know that there is a lot of darkness and despair in this world, and that when this community comes together with the Spirit, God’s promised love will break through and the light that shines can never be overcome. I know that you will continue to lift up your hearts and voices to share God’s good news in a world that desperately needs it. God is and will ever be in our midst, so let’s lift our voices and witness to the power and glory of the story that God is writing here.

 May it be so. Amen.

(after the sermon we sang these new advent verses of O Come All Ye Faithful, which I wrote just for this day...not knowing how appropriate they would turn out to be.)

O sing and rejoice, shout with all your heart,
even the darkness cannot put out God’s light.
Love will break through, our faithful God has promised!
O come let us adore him, O come let us adore him,
O come let us adore him, Christ, the Lord!

True God of true God, Light from Light Eternal,

Counselor, Comforter, Prince of Peace!
God-with-us, Word of God incarnate:

O come let us adore him, O come let us adore him,
O come let us adore him, Christ, the Lord!


Sing, choirs of angels, sing in exultation;
Sing, all ye citizens of heaven above!

Glory to God, all glory in the highest;

O come let us adore him, O come let us adore him,
O come let us adore him, Christ, the Lord!

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

endings and beginnings

Dreams Beginning And Ending by Kent Whitaker

This Sunday is my last at RCLPC. I have loved this church for six years, and will continue to love it from afar. But you know what? That's a weird weird feeling.

They do not tell you in seminary how hard it is to leave a church. Or how bizarre it feels to leave one church for another one. The search process feels like I imagine having an affair must feel. And the leaving process feels a bit like abandoning a family. I know pastors do this all the time, and maybe I'm a tad bit dramatic, but seriously...it's weird.

I keep getting asked if I'm excited about the next thing--I'm going to be a Head of Staff, there are lots of incredible things about the new church I'll be joining in ministry, and to top it off I don't have to move! Yes, I'm intellectually excited about those things. But honestly? First I'm sad. I can't be excited just yet, because I have lots of feelings about leaving RCLPC. I'm disappointed about some things, sad about some things, and I'll miss those people with whom I've shared life for six years. A lot has happened in our lives together during that time--ups and downs, joys and sorrows, anger and excitement. I can't just gloss over all of that and skip to the excitement. Excitement will come, yes, but not until I get through some grief first. There are things I wanted to do here, things I wanted to be a part of, lives I wanted to share, stories I wanted to hear--and I won't. Yes, there will be new stories, new ministries, new lives, new things to do, but those don't negate the sadness.

And in the midst of this, it's Advent. It is extremely weird to have my last day be smack in the middle of Advent. And yet it seems somehow appropriate--that we look both back and forward, that there is both darkness and coming light. There is an unexpected and unknown new thing coming, and that is exciting. But every new thing means the end of an old thing (especially in the Advent story--the coming of a baby is decidedly the end of the previous way of life!), and that's true in this story too. And so beginnings and endings, joy and grief, excitement and fear and anticipation and loss and hope and uncertainty and light and darkness all mingle together.

That's pretty much the definition of Advent. So I suppose it's not that weird to be leaving now after all.

(though the fact that I'm going on a Christmas vacation--a pastor on vacation at Christmas!--is still extremely weird.)

Wednesday, December 05, 2012

merry christmas v. happy holidays

We are in the middle of the very first week of Advent--the four weeks of waiting and preparation that lead up to the celebration of Christmas (a season beginning December 25 and ending January 6--not a season beginning October 1 and ending December 24). Please note that Advent Preparation and the usual understanding of "preparing for Christmas" are not the same thing. Advent has nothing whatsoever to do with shopping, wrapping, decorating, or cooking, and has everything to do with prayer, fasting, silence, darkness, and quiet hope.

And again there is nonsense about what greeting people use during this season. There are people boycotting certain stores because they won't say Merry Christmas. There are bumper stickers proclaiming that we're "keeping Christ in Christmas." (aside: it would have been interesting to see how many of those bumper stickers we might be able to count in the mall parking lot on Black Friday.)

So let's be clear about a few things:

1. It's not yet Christmas, so the greeting "Merry Christmas" is technically, from a Christian perspective, inappropriate. Christmas does not begin until Christmas Day. Period. Feel free to wish me a Merry Christmas on January 2, though, because I'll still be celebrating.

2. "Merry" Christmas? Really? The best greeting we could come up with for the season celebrating that God became human, took on flesh and lived among us, is "merry"? oh, right, "merry christmas" is a greeting that came from the consumer culture, not from the church.

3. The word HOLIDAY is a conflation of the words Holy Day. As in, these are holy days. Christmas is one of our seasons of holy-days. As is Advent--in fact, Advent may be some of the holiest days. When someone wishes you "happy holidays," they are actually, linguistically speaking, saying the most correct thing they could possibly say during this season (regardless of whether they realize that or not!). Another ancient meaning of the word "happy" is "blessed"--so, blessed holy days to you. Isn't that beautiful and wonderful? I want people to offer me that blessing as often as possible. And during a season that offers so many difficulties--for those with different economic circumstances, those carrying grief, those who work long hours to make our cultural christmas possible--why not offer the blessing of holy days, rather than an insistence on mere merry-ness?

Happy Holidays.