God Calling

I forgot to tell you a story about Vacation Bible School.

The theme was hearing God’s call in our lives. One of the first things I knew I wanted to do was have a phone call from God every morning to kick us off.

Joyce, our director of ministries, thought this was awesome sauce. Not because of the edgy, cool connection between technology and God’s message, but because she had just bought a foam cutter for the parish. To this day, which is all the days between when I told her I needed a giant foam phone until today, I have no idea what a foam cutter is. But Joyce used it to make me a giant iPhone.

I wrote a script. I asked Don to be God. We put a chair in the closet and gave him a microphone. Kelsey, our youth minister, made the phone ring. I just had to hit accept and say “Hello?” Five minutes before I did it the first time, I panicked and thought “This was the lamest idea EVER!”

I underestimated the five year olds, who have the most tremendous capacity to suspend disbelief in all of human nature.

When God said good morning, they yelled back at him “Good morning God!” And even though it was in the script for God to tell them “I love you”, one of the girls screamed it out first. “I LOVE YOU!!!!” Some of you evangelical Christians may not be surprised by this. But we’re Catholics. We took ourselves very seriously for 2000 years. Since Vatican II, we’re still learning to be ok when our spiritual emotions overflow.

The daily phone call from God became a thing. One little girl wrapped herself around my leg on day 3 and whispered “Do you think God will call us today?” On day 4, at the end of God’s call, I forgot to walk over and smack the “Reject” on the big foam and paper phone. Riley, an almost 1st grader who doesn’t miss a trick, shouted at me from 3 feet away “Miss Jen, you didn’t hang up the call! You are WASTING GOD’S DATA!!!”

And on the last morning, this:

Waiting on God to call.

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Jesus said “Amen, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven.” Jesus didn’t mean that we should be treated like children, although too many churches have interpreted it this way. He wanted us to believe like children, with a bone deep certainty that God is there and He is love.  He wants us to have that same selfish focus for Him that allows kindergartners to think God has nothing better to do on a Friday morning than call 70 kids at a VBS in Southern Oregon.

See God through the eyes of a child.

 

 

 

Puritanical

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First, a little History of These United States That You Don’t Often Hear in History Class.

There was a reason the Puritans were not welcomed in England.

It’s because they were craaazzzzy. No really. Go read the source material, or just grab your kid’s 11th grade lit book. Start with William Bradford’s Of Plymouth Plantation. Then do some research on how they ran their colonies. If you didn’t look like them, think like them, speak like them and most of all believe like them—they ran your ass out of town. Like, way, way out. Maryland, almost 400 miles to the south, was the first solidly Catholic colony for a reason.

We have crafted a giant pageant around the First Thanksgiving, and we like to link our commitment to the First Amendment to the persecution of these “refugees”.

But the truth is, their brand of oppressive, Old Testament Christianity totally ignored the love of God embodied in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus His son.

Plus, they were scared all the time. All. The. Time. Even before they landed at the start of winter in a barren land. For their sheer ability to survive their own stupidity, we might owe them a debt of gratitude. But mostly I think it’s interesting that a people so devoted to the Bible were terrified of life. Maybe they never read the second half.

They had a nasty way of branding everything that wasn’t like them as “of the devil”: women who didn’t follow the rules, the Natives, people of other Christian faiths, notably the Quakers (the Quakers, for goodness sake), later immigrants from England. It was a horrific approach if you think about it, to not acknowledge and tolerate disagreement, but to assign evil intent to everyone and everything that didn’t fall into their very narrow line.

They invented the fear of the stranger in the village that is fundamental to our American psyche. The woods are haunted, only the devil goes bump in the night and we have never welcomed the immigrant, quickly forgetting from whence we came and instead stomping on our own borrowed shores like a two year old screaming “Mine! Mine! Mine!”

They lived by a convoluted version of “freedom”. They came here to be free to practice their extremely controlling and authoritarian religion. Certainly, no one was “free” within their communities—there were very strict social expectations, most of them oppressive. In essence, they travelled over the ocean to a new land for the freedom to practice their particular brand of oppression.

It didn’t work very well. Within 50 years, the debacle at Salem, where 19 innocent people died for greed, power and pride, proved that they themselves were the evil walking the new world. Not all of them, of course, but as a group of people, they left a scar on this land. Their gift to us, 300 years on, is a stubborn insistence that we know best and no one else can tell us what to do.

Some would argue this is not a gift at all.

History is cyclical, and over the life of our nation, we have at times lived again under the shadow of oppressive public religion. So I say this to my Christian brothers and sisters who want to us believe that somehow, our Christian faith is under fire—Those who cannot remember the past are doomed to repeat it.

We need to check our hearts and make sure that what we really want is freedom, and not the freedom to practice our own brand of oppression.

In case you aren’t sure what I’m so worried about, here’s a list of interesting reads:

Adoption groups can legally deny non-Christians

Oklahomans vote to constitutionally protect the death penalty

Best and Worst states to raise children–Bible Belt is LAST

Six States with the most people living in poverty (also mostly the Bible Belt)

Infant mortality rate highest in Bible Belt

 

My Girl Martha

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Two Sundays ago, the Gospel reading was the Lazarus story from John 11. It’s only glancingly about Lazarus. He died. They buried him.

It’s more about Martha, who came running out to meet Jesus and speak some truth right at Him: If you had been here, he would not have died, which is a conversation we’ll be having later. Right now, you can fix this.

She barely waits for an answer before she gets Mary up and sends her out. She readies the folk. This is Martha. She’s a doer. This is her Messiah and she knows he’s going to do something to make them all feel better. She trusts him.

Mostly.

Because the next thing Jesus says is “Open the tomb” and that is one step farther than poor Martha is prepared to trust.

She points out the obvious, in front of a crowd no less: “Lord, by now there will be a stench. He has been dead four days.”

Or in the Douay-Rheims: “Lord, by this time he stinketh.”

Some people may wonder what Martha was thinking, calling out Jesus in public. Not me. I know that Martha was wondering what Jesus was thinking.

Martha is my favorite Bible lady, the worker bee, acts of service, everything’s under control half of the sisters who were so close to Jesus in his ministry. I relate to Martha. Every time we read the other Martha story, in Luke. I always mutter under my breath in stubborn solidarity “Sure, I’ll sit down and listen but don’t complain to me later when you’re hungry and there’s no food.”

I relate to Martha’s flaw as well—her desire that her plan be God’s plan, instead of the other way around. I get it. I do it. I even think it’s reasonable sometimes.

Why can’t my way be His way, if we’re headed to the same place? Why can’t we follow my directions instead of his?

The answer is a hard one to stomach for Type A gals like Martha and me: It’s because the big picture is BIG, too big for us to see. Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead that day in preparation for what was to come: his own death and resurrection.

Jesus loved Martha. And he loves me and all my fellow worker bee, acts of service, everything’s under control sisters and brothers. I know this because he gave us Martha, in the Gospels of Luke and John, so we could see for ourselves that it isn’t wrong to question with an open and honest heart. Only to not listen to the answer.

And can I just say that for me, if there was any doubt to the claim that Jesus was the Son of God, it evaporates in the moment Lazarus walks out of the tomb and Jesus doesn’t cut Martha some side eye.

That is SUPERNATURAL self-control right there.

My Babies Are Your Babies Are My Babies

“We can’t restore our civilization with somebody else’s babies.”  Steve King

I have grown.

I used to fear and pray for and love over only my own children. For so long, that was my measure of personal well-being, if my own babies were healthy and happy.

My world was small because I was so scared. And I was scared because my world was so small.

Once I saw it, I fought hard to spread my net of love and prayer farther than just my own babies. And when I did, when I reached out my hands in benediction for more than just my own, my world got bigger. I touched hands with other mamas, spreading their light of prayers and love outward over more than just their own too, and my babies got safer.

My babies are your babies are my babies.

There’s a responsibility here though. To feel the pain. To stand in solidarity with the mothers who have lost.

Who are losing.

Are fighting.

Hiding.

Fleeing.

Searching.

Grieving.

No matter their color, country or creed.

“There’s no such thing as other people’s children.” Hillary Clinton

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Be the Light

 

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For so many of us, this week feels dangerous. People are getting ready, which means different things to different folks.

Some are going to guard the gates.

And some are going to shepherd others to safety until the storm passes.

We all have a call to justice. But we have to listen to the way of the call. For me, even though my gift is words and my weapon is sarcasm, I am not being called to raise my voice in anger. I am holding fast to truth, to seeking it and speaking it with compassion and kindness.

Whether we go to guard the gates or shepherd others to safety, let us make sure we bring our Light.

Otherwise, we just become part of the darkness.

Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.        

Martin Luther King, Jr.   

Just so, your light must shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your heavenly Father.

Matthew 5:16