Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Asking For Money. Receiving Forgiveness.

Just sent out our stewardship letter today.    End of the year.  Sunday is Christ the King.

The rap on churches is “they’re always asking for money.”  Turns people off.  I guess I bought into that because “asking for money” has not been a particular strength or interest of mine.  Maybe it’s part of the “oldest child” syndrome.  It’s hard to ask for anything when you’re raised to be self-sufficient and independent. 

Congregations tend to shy away from raising the issue of money, and a lot of other issues, afraid to alienate anyone.  Keeping people quiet and calm and in the pews.  Except, that hasn’t worked so well…

Still, we try to keep the lid on politics, issues of justice, equality, or anything controversial that might get people riled and excited.  As if keeping people calm    
was a Christian teaching of the highest order.

Isn’t faith, by definition, controversial?   Isn’t obedience to the God of love a sure-fire recipe for push back from all the places in the world where love flies in the face of “business as usual?” 

Was for Jesus.  King of the Jews.  King of all that was a laughing stock, broken, despised and contemptible.  God’s chosen One.

Can we be disciples of Jesus and live irrelevant lives in communities that value everything bland and innocuous and avoids anything controversial?  Especially when the heart of our faith demands of us: open minds, open hearts and open arms? 

Faith is permission to ask for what we need, because faith requires us to be open to the needs of others.  Even when it’s controversial.  Especially when it’s controversial. 

Faith is a whispered plea for pardon, improbably granted in a moment of utter forsakenness.  “Today you will be with me in paradise.”

These are the moments our faith lifts up.  This is where we are directed to look for meaning and peace.   

Faith is not a means of avoiding the unseemly, for tip-toeing around disagreement.  Faith is a means of living authentically by living for others. 

That in itself is the height of controversy. 

Thursday, November 07, 2013


I have lived a long time without a leaf vac/blower.  Without the obsession or the sense of personal affront that leaves scattered across the lawn seems to evoke in some suburban neighborhoods.  As if the summer was a party that got out of hand. People come out on their lawns in the fall like tired hosts after the guests have gone, clearing glasses, dumping ash trays, before climbing the stairs and turning in for the winter.

Admittedly, I have lived an atypical life.  Most of my life has been spent either in church owned parsonages, or in cities where leaves were rare things.  All the fall leaves required was a a rake, if you absolutely just couldn’t ignore them.  Get them to the curb and the city will come by in big sucking trucks and haul them away.  Usually by Thanksgiving.  It was all  very casual, and in its own way, a little pathetic.

But all that’s changed.  I own a leaf vac/blower.  It blows leaves into a big pile, sucks them up and mulches them in a zippered bag.  You empty the bag into larger, clear plastic bags and line them up by the curb.  Monuments to a kind of communal Obsessive/Compulsive Disorder.

Our house now has three deflated sacks of minced leaves out at the curb.  The sight fills me with an ironic sense of pride.  

Blowing leaves around your lawn is a kind of absurd thing, and being new to this, I was very self-conscious, heightening the absurdity factor even more.  So many questions came up.  Do you blow the leaves out to the curb?  Get them into a pile on the lawn?  Do you clean the gutters by the  curb?  How far into the street should you chase strays?  Where do “international waters” start on a neighborhood street? 

I was sure the neighbors were all looking out their windows thinking, ”Amateur.”

I knew that I was jamming my leaf vac/blower into the spokes of the circle of life.  Fallen leaves were meant to return to the soil.  To nourish the tree.   But something bigger was going on here. 

I was standing in solidarity with my neighbors.  Holding up my end. Buying into shared meaning, and I had to admit, grudgingly, the lawn looked neat and unnaturally green for this time of year.  Shared meaning does that. 

But meaning doesn’t just happen.  We create it, and in creating meaning we are shaped and created ourselves.  Our communities.  Our families. Our selves.

Meaning is the mirror in which we see our own reflection.  We wash our face, comb our hair in it.  We shave in it or put on make-up before going out into the world. 

Meaning is the blood that carries oxygen to the organs and limbs of our lives, and it carries away the wastes and toxins our lives produce. 

Sometimes meaning overwhelms you like a wave.  You move from one place to another as we have just done and start again.  What does it mean to be starting again at our stage in life? 

Or, you have children, they grow and leave home.  People die, leaving great holes.  Foundations without houses to cover them. It’s all variations of a theme.  These are meaning tidal waves.

And sometimes meaning just floats out of the air like a bright leaf you can chase all over the yard with a high powered leaf vac/blower, to bag for someone to take away.  Because you just do, that’s all.

A deep silence fills the chilly twilight, our three bags of leaves at the curb like the bags in front of every other house.  Behind them, up and down the block, the house windows are all beginning to shine.