The Peregrina

November 28, 2016

“A voice cries out: ‘In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God.’” (Isaiah 40:3) Do you remember the 1973 film adaption of the off-Broadway music Godspell? It was an enduring memory of my youth.

It begins with John the Baptist calling young women and men to give up their “lives” and take up the mantle of Jesus Christ through baptism. With song and dance, they wander throughout New York City, spreading Jesus’ message of love, tolerance, and hope.

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Advent begins with John. John the Baptist and Jesus were the same age, and their mothers were related, but we don’t know how close the boys were growing up. What we do know is that Mary and Elizabeth spent several months together when they were both pregnant. John was a Jewish prophet, a marginal kind of guy who stepped into our world from the desert, reminding us who we are and who we are called to become.

John was a wanderer, persuaded by his call to journey through the wilderness and villages of Israel, urging people to repent of their sins and be baptized. His ragged clothing, food preferences, and fiery speech separated him from the mainstream. Who would have ever thought John would be the one to fulfill the words of Isaiah and herald Jesus’ appearance on the scene?

As I read the lectionary passages for this coming Sunday, I pondered how God is calling each one of us to prepare the way of the Lord this Advent. I also realized that my own faith journey has been much like John’s. At the fall Council of Bishops meeting, the newly elected episcopal leaders in the US were invited to share their faith journeys. This is what I shared.

“I suspect that the wanderlust began before I was even born. Jesus called me as a child because of the example of my parents and the influence of the Mennonite Church in which I grew up. I was undergirded from my earliest years by the prayers of my parents, grandmothers, and encouragers in my church. From loving Sunday school, to checking out books from the church library, seeing God’s handiwork by wandering the woods and fields around my home, taking lessons on the church organ, attending Bible studies with my grandmother, and giving the sermon on Youth Sunday, my church nurtured a quest for God that has never left me. And Jesus? He just kept calling me.”

“Jesus kept calling me even though women were not allowed to be ordained in the Mennonite Church when I was growing up. He kept calling me, even though no one ever encouraged me in that direction because, after all, what would be the point? Jesus kept calling me, even though I never even met a clergywoman until I was in graduate school. Still, Jesus kept calling me, for it is God who formed my inward parts and knit me together in my mother’s womb.”

Softly and tenderly Jesus is calling, calling for you and for me; See, on the portals he’s waiting and watching, watching for you and for me.

“It has only been within the past five years that I have found the word that fits who I am spiritually. I used to call myself a pilgrim who is on a continuous journey into the heart of God and is led by the spirit toward holy destinations. But now I realize that I am really a peregrina.”

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Peregrinatio is a Latin word that comes from Roman law and refers to living or sojourning outside of one’s homeland. In Celtic Christianity, some peregrini were exiled to other countries because they broke laws, but other peregrini voluntarily chose to spend their life in a foreign land away from family and friends. Some of these so-called ‘white martyrs’ were seeking personal fulfillment. Others engaged in missionary endeavors, like St. Columba, who left his home in Ireland out of a self-imposed penance, founded a monastic community on the holy island of Iona, and converted most of Scotland and England to Christianity.”

“Jesus has called me to be a peregrina, to move outside my people, the Mennonites, to the foreign land of The United Methodist Church, and then the episcopacy. And because of John Wesley, I now realize that the whole world is my people!”

Why should we tarry when Jesus is pleading, pleading for you and for me? Why should we linger and heed not his mercies, mercies for you and for me? 

“I believe that God has called me to be a peregrina, a wanderer for Christ who goes wherever God sends me. As an itinerant preacher, my life has no destination other than to model the suffering love of Jesus, seek justice and reconciliation, offer hope to The United Methodist Church, and work to bring in God’s reign on this earth.”

“The God who has searched me and known me, the Holy One who knows when I sit down and when I rise up, the Creator who has fearfully and wonderfully made each one of you and every person on this earth, and the original Peregrino/Peregrina who continues to search our path and has led each one of us to this place: it is this God who still wanders our world – calling, forming, shaping, weeping, listening, serving, and suffering through you and through me.”

O for the wonderful love he has promised, promised for you and for me! Though we have sinned, he has mercy and pardon, pardon for you and for me. 

“Our peregrino/peregrina God continues to call you and me to wander the towns and cities of our world for such a time as this, as witnesses to God’s redemptive love, agents of hope, and bearers of the light of Christ. This Holy Wanderer tenderly invites us to come home to the heart of God by living in unity, not uniformity, and freely offering God’s shalom to our beautiful, frightening, and glorious world.”

“Will you come? Will you come home? Will you come home to the heart of God? As for me, you’ll find me wandering the roads and prairies of Iowa and the world, going wherever the Spirit leads, for Jesus keeps calling, calling for you and for me.”

Come home, come home; ye who are weary come home; earnestly, tenderly, Jesus is calling, calling, O sinner, come home! 

Jesus, the peregrino with no place to lay his head, is calling you and me during this season of Advent to prepare the way of the Lord. As you wait and watch for the coming of our Lord, with whom will you share Jesus’ message of grace and hope? Where will your Advent wandering lead you?

Choosing Gratitude Until We Are Grateful

November 21, 2016

I am driving from Des Moines to Mt. Pleasant and see the supermoon rise in the east. I can’t tear my eyes away from the wonder of the universe. I am taking a late afternoon walk and am mesmerized by the swirl of intricate cloud patterns, a sunset palette of red, orange, and yellow, and the jet streams of two planes forming a perfect cross in the sky. I am scrambling up a steep mountain trail in Arizona and am awestruck by the stark beauty of the desert. A cardinal sits quietly in the backyard and stares at me as I work at the dining room table. I am grateful.

1-img_0344I will give you the treasures of darkness and riches hidden in secret places, so that you may know that it is I, the Lord, the God of Israel, who call you by your name. Isaiah 45:3

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The butterfly counts not months but moments, and has time enough. Rabindranath Tagore

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Prayer is sitting in the silence until it silences us, choosing gratitude until we are grateful, and praising God until we ourselves are an act of praise. Richard Rohr

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Let the little children come to me and do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of heaven belongs. Matthew 19:14

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God, I am grateful that even when my spirit feels broken and my heart misshapen, you can use me to offer hope to someone else.

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Clearly, our Creator loves you dearly, since he gives you gifts so abundantly. So please beware, my little sisters, of the sin of ingratitude, and always sing praise to God. St. Francis speaking to the birds

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In a world so torn apart by rivalry, anger, and hatred, we have the privileged vocation to be living signs of a love that can bridge all divisions and heal all wounds. Henri Nouwen

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The deeper our faith, the more doubt we must endure; the deeper our hope, the more prone we are to despair; the deeper our love, the more pain its loss will bring: these are a few of the paradoxes we must hold as human beings. If we refuse to hold them in the hopes of living without doubt, despair, and pain, we also find ourselves living without faith, hope, and love. Parker Palmer

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Let gratitude be the pillow upon which you kneel to say your nightly prayer. And let faith be the bridge you build to overcome evil and welcome good.” Maya Angelou

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The future is not some place we are going, but one we are creating. The paths are not to be found, but made. And the activity of making them changes both the maker and their destination. John Schaar

Let us come into God’s presence with thanksgiving. May your Thanksgiving celebration be filled with gratitude.

 

The Weaning of a Nation    

November 15, 2016:

It was a difficult week for Americans. Voters were mentally, physically, and emotionally exhausted. After Donald Trump’s surprise victory, we tried to get some sleep, woke up weary, and lamented, “We need a break. No more inflammatory and hateful rhetoric. No more Facebook, no more Twitter, no more TV pundits. Our country needs to heal.” However, as we have seen over the last six days, the weaning process will be much more complex.

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I was reminded of my own experience with weaning. The journey began on July 14 when I woke up, only to discover that the front knuckle on the fourth finger of my right hand was bent over. When I straightened out the knuckle, it just flopped back down. By some odd coincidence, July 14 happened to be the day I was elected to the episcopacy.

“It’s a ruptured tendon,” the orthopedic specialist said. “When there is no precipitating accident, like jamming your finger, the connective tissue sometimes just deteriorates with age.” Feeling old, I dutifully wore a splint on my finger for three months and imagined myself as the bent-over woman in Luke (13:10-7).

Shunned because of her disability, this woman knew what it was like to be bent-over, burdened, and marginalized. Not one person had touched or spoken to her for eighteen years, yet she never wallowed in self-pity and kept coming to the synagogue… until that fateful day when Jesus touched her. The bent-over woman gasped, straightened her back, and suddenly found herself staring into the eyes of divine love.

Of course, one could claim that the analogy breaks down here. There was no instantaneous cure for my bent-over finger, even after three months in a splint and three weeks of gradual weaning. My finger is no longer flopping over, but it is not totally straight, either. I suspect my doctor will tell me this afternoon that my finger will never be perfect again.

In the same way, we would be negligent if, in our national weaning, we ignored this important transition time between administrations and assumed that life has returned to normal and everything is fixed. The truth is that no matter who is president there are some things people of faith must never wean ourselves away from. If we do not continue to insist on radical inclusivity, equal opportunity for all, and justice for our neighbors, we fail in the mandate of the prophet Micah, “And what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God.”

I confess that at this moment I am fearful for the future because of what has been happening on the ground in the US over the past week in response to the election. Our country has clearly spoken for change, but that change must not come at the expense of other Americans who are now being targeted by hateful words and threats. The election results seem to have given a voice to and emboldened those who would demean minorities, put down women and mock those who are “other.”

screenshot-2016-11-14-10-09-51The day after the election, middle school students in the Detroit suburb of Royal Oak began chanting during their lunch break, “Build That Wall,” which was part of President-elect Trump’s platform. Twelve-year-old Josie Ramon recorded the incident with her cellphone. “Tears were running down my face,” said Josie, who is Mexican-American. “I was so upset. A friend went to the bathroom crying. Everybody was chanting along with it. She was scared. She looked really upset. I felt really bad for her.” The video went viral.

School officials responded immediately, and Royal Oak School superintendent Shawn Lewis-Lakin, who is also a United Methodist elder, issued this statement, “In responding to this incident – indeed in responding to this election – we need to hear each other’s stories, not slogans. We need to work toward understanding, not scoring points, and we need to find a way to move forward that respects and values each and every member of our community. We will be working on this in school today.”

 

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I am deeply grateful for Christ-followers like Superintendent Lewis-Lakin, who are able to compassionately guide our youth into a deeper understanding of what it means to be good citizens. Sadly, many incidents like this have taken place across the country over the past week. A United Methodist pastor in my conference is attempting to comfort recent immigrants to our country who are fearful that they will be sent back to their homeland, where their lives will be in danger.

A pastor is providing care for a lesbian woman who was physically threatened by three men, who cornered her car and taunted her with gay slurs right after the election. Still another pastor is ministering to a Muslim woman who is terrified that not only will no more Muslims be allowed to enter the U.S. but that her family, long established in this country, will be deported. A handicapped young man I know is frightened to live in a country where it now seems okay to mock and mistreat those with disabilities. I have heard way too many stories of women who have been victimized by sexual threats or violence.

Spray-painted signs have been seen, “Gay families burn in hell,” and “Black lives don’t matter and neither does your vote.” African-American, Muslim and Jewish parents fear for their children’s safety … and for their own. Have the election results now given license to people to be openly bigoted, cruel, and hateful? These unprecedented outbursts of hatred and racism are diminishing of others, are not who we are as a nation, and must be confronted.

This is a teachable moment for all of us. The work is just beginning. We cannot wean “from” without weaning “toward”. Weaning ourselves from hatred and division implies weaning ourselves toward loving our neighbors, engaging in respectful conversation, standing in solidarity with all who are marginalized, and allowing ourselves to be bent-over with the pain of the world.

The lesson of this election is that we must bear this pain together. We dare not build walls to keep others out but must begin to construct bridges of understanding together. We dare not stereotype others but must build relationships of trust together. We dare not shut ourselves off from the cries of those who, as minorities, do not feel safe and are bent-over. Rather, we must participate together in creating a country where every person can stand straight, tall, and unafraid. We need all of us.

Donald Trump has pledged to be a president for all Americans. It is our responsibility not only to help President-elect Trump fulfill his pledge but to work tirelessly ourselves to resist evil, injustice, and oppression by ensuring that all people are treated fairly. It’s a long slow obedience of compassion in the same direction.

Do we have it in us to use our own bent-overness and humility to wean others from bigotry, prejudice, and discrimination? Do we have it in us as United Methodists to engage in honest and painful, yet gracious conversation? Do we have it in us as world citizens to be tolerant of those who are not like us? Do we have it in us as children of God to make room in our house for all?

When the bent-over of this world look into your eyes, will they see divine love? The weaning of our nation begins with you and me.