Lean in toward the light

“You’re a minister? Well, what do you believe?” Some church people like to ask me. They can’t help themselves.
Okay, here you go.
God has a heart for those who are left out, forgotten, and excluded.
God’s grace is bigger than anything which distances and separates and wounds us. You are God’s beloved child, and God’s love for you is unconditional.

This week my beliefs mattered, because when I see acts of exclusion, or acts that disparage inclusion, I feel it, viscerally.
You see, I was raised in a church scared silly about grace. The God I was taught to worship and obey and fear, was no different than an alcoholic father. You walked on pins and needles to avoid fury. And expected punishment (which was always called a form of love).
In your heart, you prayed for a smile.
And when your alcoholic parent smiles, you still cower, because in your heart you know it will not last. And you know when the smile thaws, it will be your fault. You see, shame leaves a stain on your spirit.
And with that kind of God, it is no surprise that we need people on the outside, so we can point and label and condemn, and make ourselves feel better.

This week, let’s change the narrative.
A grandmother takes her granddaughter to the park.
On the swing set, two children already happily swinging. A boy and a girl. The girl, gregarious, says to the grandmother, “Hi lady. What are we? Can you guess?”
The woman looked at the two children, and recognized from skin tone and features, they appeared Asian. So, she said, “Well, I don’t know. But I think you’re from Thailand? Are you Thai?” “No,” the little said shaking her head.
“Are you Vietnamese?” “No,” and another shake of the head. The woman tried two more countries, each receiving a No and shake of the head.
The little girl, now a little impatient, says, “No lady, what are we?”
“I guess I just don’t know. What are you?”
“We’re brother and sister,” the little girl said with a very big smile.
Yes.

When our narrative begins with grace and sufficiency, it births compassion, inclusion and connectedness.
Here’s the deal; God’s grace is always bigger than (and never confined by) any dogma we use to comprehend it.

Here’s another thing I believe: I’m grateful for Bruce, who often saves my emotional bacon. When I’m disheartened, I crank up Springsteen’s This Little Light of Mine (there’s a link below).
To remember that the reservoir is already inside. Buried maybe. Dispirited, maybe. But still the light.
To remember that we don’t create the light. We just get to shine it.
Sadly, when we spend our energy making rules about light shining, we mistrust, and hide behind labels every time.

The little girl on the swing is my Sankofa.  In previous Sabbath Moments, I’ve talked about Sankofa (from the Akan language of Ghana), associated with the proverb, “Se wo were fi na wosankofa a yenkyi,” which translates “It is not wrong to go back for that which you have forgotten.” 
I need to go back to what I know to be true.
Whenever I am tempted to label and dismiss. Or live from fear. Or dismiss of my own bravery or beauty. Or hide behind dogma, I need the reminder that we are, all of us in this world, broken. And the grace of God is the glue. We will go a long way toward healing if we see vulnerability as our common bond. We are, all of us, held and sustained by God’s grace.

What makes us not see? Or forget?
Put simply, we’re not in our right mind.
I appreciated Michael Gerson’s candor (in a sermon delivered at Washington National Cathedral on Feb. 17, entitled, “I was hospitalized for depression. Faith helped me remember how to live”).
“I know that — when I’m in my right mind — I choose hope.
That phrase — in my right mind — is harsh. No one would use it in a clinical setting. But it fits my experience exactly.
In my right mind, I know I have friends who will not forsake me.
In my right mind, I know that chemistry need not be destiny.
In my right mind, I know that weeping may endure for the night, but joy comes in the morning.”

Yes. And amen. And in my right mind, I know that sanctuary is a place of grace that sustains emotional and spiritual nourishment.
In my right mind, I make choices to nurture my better angels… tolerance, inclusion, generosity, restoration, open-mindedness and redemption.
In my right mind, I know that we are sisters and brothers, and “every kindness large or slight, shifts the balance toward the light” (thank you Carrie Newcomer, there’s link below).

Beliefs are well and good, but they only matter face to face. Gratefully, there is no special skill required, only your heart.
My good friend Ryan Canaday (a pastor at St. Luke’s UMC, Highlands Ranch, CO) wrote on FB after the United Methodist’s voted to enforce exclusionary language. “And Jesus wept… To my LGBTQ brothers and sisters–I still see you. I still love you. I still stand with you. And I’m so glad God’s love is bigger and greater and more expansive than any religion or organization or denomination.”

What do I believe? This week, I choose to be a weaver instead of a ripper. David Brooks heartens us, “We are born into relationships, and the measure of our life is in the quality of our relationships. We precedes me… We are all completely equal, regardless of where society ranks us. ‘I am broken; I need others to survive’…
When we stereotype, abuse, impugn motives and lie about each other, we’ve ripped the social fabric and encouraged more ugliness. When we love across boundaries, listen patiently, see deeply and make someone feel known, we’ve woven it and reinforced generosity… Every time you assault and stereotype a person, you’ve ripped the social fabric. Every time you see that person deeply and make him or her feel known, you’ve woven it.”

It is Ash Wednesday this week, the beginning of Lent for those of us in sacramental traditions. If you’re looking for something to give up, try this, “fast from hurting words and say kind words.”  If you’re looking for an opportunity for contemplation and reflection, join me in my eCourse Sacred Necessities, beginning March 11.
It’s still very cold for so many of you. I feel bad (just a little), but need to report that in my garden, bulb shoots are now above the snow cover, “plotting the resurrection”. 

Quote for your week…
It’s funny isn’t it?
That you can preach a
judgmental and vengeful and angry God
and nobody will mind.
But you start preaching a God that is too accepting,
too loving, too forgiving, too merciful, too kind…
And you are in trouble.
Bishop Gene Robinson

NEW eCourseSacred Necessities: gifts for living with passion, purpose, heart and grace
March 11 – April 1. Learn more. Sign up today. 

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POEMS AND PRAYERS

Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing,
there is a field. I’ll meet you there.
When the soul lies down in that grass,
the world is too full to talk about.
Ideas, language, even the phrase “each other” doesn’t make any sense.
Mevlana Jelaluddin Rumi – 13th century

Famous
The river is famous to the fish.
The loud voice is famous to silence,   
which knew it would inherit the earth   
before anybody said so.   
The cat sleeping on the fence is famous to the birds   
watching him from the birdhouse.   
The tear is famous, briefly, to the cheek.   
The idea you carry close to your bosom   
is famous to your bosom.   
The boot is famous to the earth,   
more famous than the dress shoe, 
which is famous only to floors.
The bent photograph is famous to the one who carries it   
and not at all famous to the one who is pictured.   
I want to be famous to shuffling men   
who smile while crossing streets,   
sticky children in grocery lines,   
famous as the one who smiled back.
I want to be famous in the way a pulley is famous,   
or a buttonhole, not because it did anything spectacular,   
but because it never forgot what it could do.
Naomi Shihab Nye 

The more you become a connoisseur of gratitude,
the less you are a victim of resentment,
depression, and despair.
Gratitude will act as an elixir that will gradually dissolve the hard shell of your ego
— your need to possess and control —
and transform you into a generous being.
The sense of gratitude produces true spiritual alchemy,
makes us magnanimous —
large souled.
Sam Keen

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