Sunday, January 27, 2013

Into the Deep: Sermon on Luke 5:1-11

He Qi: "Calling Disciples" 2001
Scripture can be found here...

When I was a little girl learning how to swim at the Jersey shore, some parents taught their children to swim by standing with them at the ocean’s edge, on calm days rather than rough, when the water that lapped the sand could almost be mistaken for a lake and not the mighty Atlantic.

My parents, Philadelphia born and bred, city folks to the core, did no such thing. My mom drove me into Atlantic City for swimming lessons at the Dennis Hotel, an old, elegant dame who lives now only in memory and sepia toned photographs.

I spent an hour at a time holding onto the edge of the pool, face up, breathing in, face down, blowing out, kicking, kicking, kicking.

We were not allowed in the deep end. The deep end was dangerous. The deep end was where the water was over your head. The deep end was for grownups, or, at least, for people who knew what they were doing. I was not allowed to go into the deep end.

In today’s lesson from the gospel of Luke, Jesus invites some fisherfolk to go out into the deep with him.

It’s been a month now, a little more, since we left the enormous collection of ancient literature we call the Old Testament, and waded into the stories of Jesus as told in the Gospel of Luke.

It’s way past time for an introduction.

In reading through the Bible, as we have been doing since September—a kind of SparkNotes approach, the Big Ideas, the Big Stories—some themes have emerged, persistent notes that every writer seems to want to sing.

One theme is a theme of the Bible as a story of belonging. We saw that in our readings focused on God’s covenant with Abraham and Sarah’s descendants, the people of Israel: God’s claiming of them in an intimate, loving relationship, and God’s ongoing promise to care for them. They belong to God, it’s a story of belonging.

Another theme is that of creation and re-creation. God called all that is into being, speaking the powerful eternal Word that created the cosmos, including the earth and all its inhabitants. But God is not merely an all-powerful domino-tipper, who sets things in motion and goes away. God’s concern for creation is ongoing, and active, and God’s promise of restoration to the people after slavery, after exile, is part of that theme. God creates the people anew, creation and re-creation.

Still another theme is that of God working through deeply flawed people and institutions. The boastful, arrogant Joseph becomes the means of saving his whole extended family from famine. The recalcitrant, cranky prophet Jonah helps to save the very people who sent his own people into exile, but he doesn’t have to be happy about it. We begin to imagine our own part in God’s story, God, who works through all kinds of people.

These themes carry through into the New Testament, into the stories of Jesus. This year, we are hearing those stories as told in the gospel of Luke.

Ask any of our confirmation class, and they can tell you some interesting facts about Luke. For instance: A great overarching theme of this gospel is this: God has expanded, broken open, the understanding of who exactly are “God’s people.” The gospel of Luke shows us that God’s promise is extended to the gentile world as well as the people of Israel. The bible is a story of belonging.

And another fact: This gospel is a storyteller’s delight. In the first two chapters, three different characters break out into song, and that doesn’t even take into account the appearances of the angels. Once Jesus begins to teach and preach, the stories he tells—many of which are only found in this gospel—capture the imagination like nothing else in scripture.

Finally, this: be on the lookout for an unexpected main character in the gospel of Luke. Yes, it’s Jesus’ story. But it’s also the story of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit has already permeated the stories of Jesus’ birth. The Spirit tore open the sky with God’s blessing at Jesus’ baptism, and then promptly took hold of Jesus, filled him up and led him by the hand into the desert (a story we skipped over).  Last week we saw Jesus make the astonishing claim that “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me…” to preach that very gospel of belonging, and inclusion.

And we saw how the crowd reacted to that proclamation. In a bizarre and frightening parody of the work of the Spirit, the crowd also led Jesus—to a cliff, with the intention of carrying out the punishment for blasphemers, stoning, with one convenient push.

Only at chapter four of a gospel that runs to twenty-four, and already we see how Jesus himself, filled with the power of the Holy Spirit, has gone into the deep: the deep, where it’s dangerous. The deep, where you may be in over your head. The deep, that place for grownups, or, at least, for people who know what they are doing.

Which brings us to chapter five. Jesus is standing beside Lake Gennesaret, the more ancient name for the Sea of Galilee. His forays into preaching and healing have already attracted him a following… people are pressing in so closely that his best option is to climb into one of the nearby fishing boats, just returned from a long, exhausting, and completely unproductive night. He asks its owner, Simon Peter, to go out onto the lake.

It may seem odd for Jesus to abruptly ask this favor. But Jesus knows Simon. In another story we skipped over, Jesus went to Simon’s home, and healed his mother-in-law of a fever. Simon knows Jesus. Simon complies without complaint.

After a time in which Jesus uses Simon’s boat as a floating pulpit, Jesus speaks to him again, and says, “Put out into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch.”

Now, Simon is no 4 year old learning to swim in the Dennis Hotel swimming pool. Simon has spent his life on this very body of water, learning its winds and its ways. He is used to the deep. That isn’t his problem. His problem is, he’s tired. He’s had a lousy night at work, and there is no evidence that this man who has just given him fishing advice knows even the first thing about it. Simon would be well within his rights to show Jesus where to get off.

He says to Jesus, Master, we have worked all night. No success. But if you say so, I’ll give it one more try. And then the nets are straining, and they’re breaking, and the catch of fish is so extreme, the other boat is called out to help. A miracle.

And then this man who has had a very bad night at work, followed by serving as a floating pulpit for this new preaching sensation, followed by an unexpectedly and abruptly successful morning, is pretty much at the end of his rope.

Have you ever actually seen someone throw themselves at someone else’s feet—or knees, as Luke tells it? Me neither. But it would surely signal some enormous emotional moment for one or both people involved. And Simon words… “Go away from me, Lord, I am a sinful man…” seem to come out of the blue. Why? Is it the catch of fish, the miracle? Is it the cumulative effect of the catch plus the unknown, unspecified sermon? Is it that Simon is just bone tired, dead tired, and not sure he can cope with whatever it is this man is going to expect from him? Is Simon Peter afraid of going into the deep after all? Not the deep of Lake Gennesaret, but the deep places Jesus—and the Holy Spirit—seem to want to lead him?

Whatever Simon’s motivations… and, maybe it is, simply, that he feels unworthy to partner with Jesus in whatever enterprise he is engaged in… Jesus’ response is simple. Do not be afraid.

Do not be afraid… of the deep, of the dangerous, of being in over your head, of being called to an enterprise that will call forth, paradoxically, your most grown up self AND the part of you that is still a child learning to breathe and float and kick. Do not be afraid…because, together, we will be catching people—I always wondered about this analogy, by the way. Just as an aside. I mean, really, people as fish in nets? I’d prefer to be a sheep, personally. But the word for “catching people” in Greek is zogron: it’s a rare word, an unusual one. It means, “catching alive.” These nets are no death traps. They are life preservers. Do not be afraid.

And, you know, if the story ended there, it would be a nice story, an inspiring story, of one man leaving his boat and nets behind because he took courage from Jesus’ words. “Do not be afraid.” But if we leave it there we very much miss the point, because the point is not what Simon Peter did then, it is what we do, today.

What stops us? What do we feel when we hear the gentle, persistent call of Jesus? Does it make us feel like little children, ill-equipped for breathing and floating and kicking in the deep end? That’s ok. According to Jesus, children are pretty much where it’s at in the spiritual life. Does it make us feel like Simon Peter, as if we’re simply not good enough? That’s ok. God works through the unlikely, the deeply-flawed, which means you’ll fit right in. Are you just bone tired, dead tired, simply not sure you have it in you? That’s ok too. Don’t forget: these nets are not death traps, they are life-preservers. Jesus’ intention is to catch us alive, it’s all about healing and wholeness, creation and re-creation.

Take the plunge. Let’s follow Jesus into the deep. Even if it feels dangerous. Even if we think we’re in over our heads. Even if we don’t feel enough like grownups, or, enough like faith-filled little children, or, at least, someone who knows what they’re doing. Do not be afraid. Thanks be to God. Amen.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

An Inconvenient Truth: Meditation on Luke 4:14-30

Scripture can be found here...

“Good news.” Sometimes, something feels like “good news” or not depending upon on where you are standing.

Take the matter of New York State Senate Bill 2230, Assembly Bill 2388, approved by bipartisan coalitions in both chambers and signed into law on January 15 by Governor Andrew Cuomo. The New York Times described the bill as “a sweeping package of gun control measures.” People like Mayor Bloomberg, a longtime supporter of rigorous gun control legislation, clearly saw it as “good news,” as did advocacy groups such as New Yorkers Against Gun Violence and the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence. For those of you who don’t know, the Brady Campaign was founded by the friends and family of Jim Brady. He was White House Press Secretary under President Ronald Reagan; both men were shot, and Brady was permanently disabled during an attack on the president in 1981.

Of course, if you happen to be a resident of Ilion, New York, perhaps even an employee of the Remington Arms Company, which was founded there in 1816, this legislation might feel like very bad news indeed. You might be wondering whether your job is safe, or whether your town can withstand the possibility that this historic manufacturer might feel compelled to relocate. You might also perceive it to be bad news if you are a law-abiding gun-owner, as I know a number of you are. You might be wondering whether the Second Amendment to the Constitution is safe in the context of the national mood on gun violence, since the horrific events of December 14 in Newtown, CT.

Good news, bad news. Depends on where you are standing.

In today’s passage from the gospel of Luke, Jesus is standing in his hometown synagogue to read from the scroll of the prophet Isaiah. He reads the very same passage we read here on December 16, a choral reading by five readers.

The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because God has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to let the oppressed go free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor. ~Luke 4:18-19

After finishing his reading, rolling up the scroll, and giving it back to the attendant, Jesus makes a bold statement:

“Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” Another translation might be: “What you have just heard me read has come true today.” (Contemporary English Version).

And the hometown crowd? So far, they are pleased. “Wow,” they say to one another. “Joseph’s boy! Imagine that.”

As far as the faithful people gathered in the synagogue are concerned, Jesus has just claimed that God is in the process of making good on all those covenant promises we have been reading about since September. Their reactions were something along the lines of, God’s blessings are coming true. God is here. God is with us. God sees our pain. God will rescue us. God will heal us. God will set us free.

And the truth of the situation of Jesus’ people, God’s people, is that they are an occupied people, and Rome is a brutal occupier. Jesus’ words are, for the moment, good news.

But Jesus is not finished. He goes on to remind the hometown crowd of two stories from scripture—stories of two of the greatest prophets of Israel, Elijah and Elisha.

In each of the stories, the prophet carries the blessings of God to outsiders.

Despite the many needy women and children in Israel during a time of drought and famine, Elijah carries God’s blessing to a woman and child of Zarephath, a coastal city in what is now Lebanon. Elijah provides food to the small and vulnerable family in the midst of the famine. He raises the child from the dead. God’s blessing is given to outsiders.

And despite the many lepers in Israel, Elisha carries God’s blessing to Naaman, the Syrian general. Elisha heals him. God’s blessing is bestowed upon an outsider.

It is an inconvenient truth that we cannot determine the course of God’s mercy. We cannot channel it or direct it or block it or stop it or shut it up in boxes and reserve it for only those we consider to be worthy. It is not in our power. The blessing of God is available to those outside the camp as well as in it. God’s definition of “God’s people” is always, it seems, more spacious than our own.

Depending upon where you stand, this would appear to be either very good news or very bad news.

Why is that? Why does the news that outsiders were blessed, fed, healed, raised from the dead, cause Jesus’ hometown crowd to erupt in such a rage that they try to hurl him off a cliff?

Now, to be fair, it does feel like bad news for you when something you value is being taken from you. The judge who takes away the driver’s license from the unsafe driver. The student whose parent confiscates the cell phone because it’s interrupting their sleep. The child who cannot sleep without her beloved blankie.

But God is not taking blessing away from God’s people in either of these stories of the prophets. Jesus does not say or even insinuate that outsiders will be blessed instead of the hometown crowd. The people aren’t actually losing anything. Unless… you take into consideration their claim of exclusivity.

The only thing the hometown crowd in Nazareth is losing is the sense that God’s blessing is theirs and theirs alone.

It can be hard to share. It can be hard to understand that you don’t necessarily get to keep all the goodies for yourself.

On the other hand… Imagine with me a world where everyone, absolutely everyone, is bathed in a profound experience of the blessing of God. Where everyone feels—knows—that God’s blessings are coming true, that God is here, that God is with us. That God sees our pain, that God will rescue us, that God will heal us. Everyone trusts that God will set us free.

Imagine that world. That world where no one is motivated by their fear that they do not have enough—enough safety, enough healing, enough blessing.

Our travels through scripture are now taking us to the heart of Jesus’ ministry. God’s covenant promises to the people of Israel are still there—they still hold true, as true today as when God made them. But in Jesus, God shows us a love that is as broad as it is deep, and the wideness of God’s mercy doesn’t always sit well with the original band. They seem to fear there is not enough blessing to go around.

There is enough, enough of God’s blessing for everyone.  We do not lose out when others receive. God’s promise, as Jesus begins to preach it, and teach it, and live it out, is that there is enough. Thanks be to God. Amen.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

The Real Deal: Meditation on Luke 3:1-22

Linda Hunt, in her Oscar-winning role as Billy Kwan.

Scripture can be found here...

When I read this week’s passage I couldn’t stop thinking about Billy Kwan.

Billy Kwan is a character in the 1982 film “The Year of Living Dangerously,” starring Mel Gibson. Gibson is Guy Hamilton, a young Australian journalist sent to Indonesia in 1965, a turbulent time for the government under President Sukarno. It traces his attempts to learn the lay of the land, to learn his trade, even to compete with the other journalists. But the movie—and the story—belongs to Billy Kwan.

Billy is a brilliant Chinese-Australian photographer. Immediately upon meeting Guy Hamilton, Billy takes him under his wing. He says, “We'll make a great team, old man. You for the words, me for the pictures. I can be your eyes.” When he says that, Billy means much more than his willingness to provide breathtaking images to be sent around the world with Guy’s copy. Billy introduces Guy to Jill Bryant, a beautiful British diplomat played by Sigourney Weaver, and sets the stage for the two of them to fall in love. Billy shows Guy the real Indonesia, off road, out of sight, the poverty, the human carnage that is a way of life in 1960’s Indonesia. Billy takes Guy to witness a grieving mother preparing her child for burial by candlelight, bathing his little body with water and jasmine blossoms.

At the climax of the film, Billy is in despair, because his idol, the President, has shown himself to be indifferent to the poverty and misery of his people, and Guy is more interested in his career than in the woman he loves or human suffering. After they part ways, we find Billy seated in front of a typewriter, typing over and over the phrase from the gospel of Luke, chapter 3: “What then must we do? What then must we do? What then must we do?”

Billy Kwan is a little like John the Baptist. He is looking for someone, someone special, someone who will fight for what is right, who will give people like him hope. Billy is looking for the real deal.

So is John. In this passage we meet both John and Jesus, but John takes center stage. We hear the clear message that John, too, is looking for the real deal, the one for whom everyone must prepare the way, clear the paths, level the mountains. And then John looks around him at the people—the people! Scores of them!—all the people who have come out to be baptized. And like any good preacher, he welcomes them warmly.

You brood of vipers! What brings you here? Did you see the handwriting on the wall? A likely story. Show me your fruits! Show me that you have turned it around, that you have truly repented. John’s tone is beyond grumpy. It’s downright insulting. And yet the people are not put off. They ask him a simple question.

What then must we do?

Confronted with the real truth about themselves—which is that they are in need of a life-change, a transformation—they want to know the specifics, the ins and outs. What then must we do?

And John tells them. To the crowds, he says, whoever has two coats, give one away, and whoever has food should do the same. To the tax collectors he says, Collect only the taxes that are owed; don’t overcharge and skim off the top. To the soldiers he says, Stop your extortion and intimidation racket. Be content with your wages. Don’t threaten people.

Do you notice what John is doing? He’s meeting people right where they are. He’s not saying, “Get a different job,” or “Move to the other side of the known world.” He’s not asking the impossible or even the improbable. He is meeting them right where they are. He is telling them to change the way they do one thing, something within their power.

And as a result, the people are filled with expectation. They are filled with hope! They sense that this time something is different. They get that John himself is the real deal, and they start to wonder… could this be the Messiah?

But John bats that away, because his job is to fill the people with hope and expectation for Jesus, not to fill them up with himself.

(That’s one of the best definitions of ministry I’ve ever heard, by the way. To create a space for the Holy One, while resisting the temptation to fill it up with yourself.)

You think I’m impressive? John asks. Just wait. Just wait for the one who is coming. I’ve poured water on you. He will fill you with the Holy Spirit and fire.

This is the moment when, at last, Jesus appears. Not as the flicker of hope promised to Mary before he was conceived, not as the baby born on the road and cradled in a trough of hay. Not even as the adolescent scaring the daylights out of his parents, staying behind in Jerusalem to get his first delicious taste of discussing weighty matters with the holy men. But Jesus, the adult, the one for whom John has paved the way. Jesus appears, and, like all the crowds of Judeans who flock to hear John, he likes something he hears, he agrees, and so he offers himself for John’s baptism. When we meet him—finally, finally—he is wet and sputtering, the wings of a dove beating around his head, and a voice in his ear: “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”

What then must we do? What then must we do?

We start where we are. The deacons and elders who will be ordained and installed today answered a question with “yes.” The question was, “Will you serve God in this place and time, in these ministries of leadership and compassion?” Will you give a precious Saturday to take part in a training session, plus a Tuesday evening every month? Will you reach out with compassion to our homebound folks, to those who are hungry, to those who have suffered disasters? Will you make decisions based on, not what is popular, but what God is leading you to do? Will you listen for the voice of God whispering in your ear? Will you let Jesus be your eyes?

What then must we do? Billy Kwan answers the question by saying, “We must give with love to whomever God has placed in our path.” Each of us is given the capacity to answer that question for ourselves, day by day. Each of us is invited to listen for the voice of God whispering in our ear. Each of us is emboldened to let Jesus be our eyes. Thanks be to God. Amen.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

An Epiphany: Sermon on Luke 2:41-52

Because I have been preaching from the Narrative Lectionary this year, and because that puts us firmly in the gospel of Luke from now through Easter Sunday, I chose this morning to preach about another showing, the showing, not to the Gentile Magi, but to Jesus' parents.

Scripture can be found here...

Arise! Shine! For your light has come!

I think I was about 12 or 13 years old. I was in Fort Lauderdale, FL with my family, and with three other families, at the Coralido Inn. It was our annual Christmas pilgrimage to the land where my personal New Year’s Celebration was to dive into the pool at midnight and then sit out under the stars until it got too chilly. It was the single week in every year my parents, small business owners, allowed themselves to take a vacation. It was our one indulgence: time in the sun, time for family, time for folks who worked 6 days a week, 12 hours a day, to relax.

And then I went and got lost. I didn’t really get lost. As far as I was concerned, if anyone had thought about it for five seconds, they would have realized exactly where I would be, where I must be: I was on the beach. In the ocean. I had taken a towel and a book and a transistor radio (kids, ask your parents to tell you what that is), and I had gone to the beach. I was 12 or 13 years old, for heaven’s sake.

Well. When I got back—a couple of hours later—my parents were in a state of panic the likes of which I had never witnessed. They were terrified. But pretty soon they got over being terrified, and were simply furious. I had been thoughtless, I had been irresponsible. I had scared them half to death. “Didn’t you know where I’d be?” I finally said, exasperated. That conversation did not end well.

You know how it is. Families take trips together. Every Christmas, or every summer. It is a tradition. They go for the holidays, or for the holy days, or both at the same time. It is a time to be together, to unwind. Or it is a time to fulfill an obligation—maybe sacred, maybe familial. And sometimes, on one of those trips, something happens that causes the members of the family to learn something about one another they didn’t know before.

Jesus and his parents took such a trip every year. It was the strong tradition of all Jews who were dispersed throughout the known world to travel to Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover. Traditionally, Jerusalem has been a place of longing for Jews since the time when they were first forced from their homeland and their temple, and to this day, Jews throughout the world acknowledge this longing at the end of the Passover Seder, the very last words of which are: “Next year in Jerusalem.”

Jesus and his parents took this trip every year, including the year he was twelve years old. And after the Festival of Passover had concluded they turned their faces to their hometown, Nazareth. Jesus’ parents did not realize it at first, but Jesus had stayed behind. It’s hard to imagine leaving a child behind in a large city until you realize that it was also the custom to travel in a large group. We went to Fort Lauderdale with the K's and the D's and the M's. Jesus and his family went with the men and women and children of Nazareth and surrounding villages. Men traveled in one group, and women traveled in another group, and children in still another, though with women chaperoning. Older boys—twelve and older, most likely, traveled with the men. In the kinds of crowds that would have been swarming out of Jerusalem at the end of the Passover, it would have been easy to assume your child was where he was supposed to be. Mary and Joseph assumed their child was among the pilgrims returning to Nazareth.

Their child.  That is part of the problem of this story. Things have changed in two thousand years, and they haven’t. We think of twelve year-olds as children… until we meet a few, that is. In 2013, most twelve-year-olds are certainly on the cusp of a kind of adulthood, even though it will be a number of years before they have the kind of independence and self-sufficiency we associate with true adulthood. Was it the same for twelve-year-olds of Jesus’ time and place? Certainly, a twelve-year-old child of Jewish parents today would be performing their Bar Mitzvah and taking on the religious responsibilities and roles of adulthood in their faith community. There is no record of Bar Mitzvah for twelve-year-old children in biblical times, though by the Middle Ages it is clear that at the age of 13 Jewish children were bound to fulfill the requirements of the law. I think we can assume a 12 year old in Jesus’ time and place was, at least, on the cusp of something… some transition that we would be familiar with, we who will be confirming 12 and 13 year olds before too long.

And yet, it’s pretty clear, Mary and Joseph did not see this coming, which may be surprising to us, seeing as we’ve been reading the past several weeks about all these aspects of Jesus’ conception and birth that certainly would have signaled that there was something special about this child. Then again, that all had happened twelve years ago. One working preacher writes,

Had things been so blessedly ordinary for so long—no more angels, adoring shepherds, and OT prophesies—that the mystery surrounding their son’s birth had begun to fade like a dream? Or maybe Mary and Joseph were aware of what their son would do and become, but figured that was years away. Perhaps Jesus hadn’t shown any signs of theological curiosity and so his parents couldn’t imagine him hanging out in the temple. Maybe Mary and Joseph simply failed to see that their baby was growing up.[i]

At a certain point, every single parent is confronted with the inevitably surprising information that their children are separate from them. That they have their own identities and interests, passions and priorities. At a certain point, a child realizes there is a star he or she wants to follow. Must follow. Can’t not follow. There is no other way.

Star of wonder in the heavens
Wonder what you want of me
Should I follow you tonight
Star of wonder
Star of wonder
I am just a lonely shepherd
Watching from a distant hill
Why do you appear to me
Star of wonder
If you will
In the morning they'll come looking for the
Shepherd on the hill
What would make her leave her flock
For surely she must love them still
Star of wonder in the heavens
Are you just a shining star
Or should I follow you tonight
Star of wonder
Star of wonder
Shining bright[ii]

By the age of twelve Jesus realized, or recognized, the star he was meant to follow, and follow it he did. And the action of following that star to the temple, where he conversed deeply with the scholars, the scribes, the professionally religious folk—that was an epiphany for his parents. It was a moment in his life that showed them something—I don’t want to say they weren’t prepared for it. All those angels, etc. Maybe they weren’t prepared in the sense that no one is prepared to see God shining through their child quite so profoundly as God was already, or abruptly, shining through Jesus. Maybe they weren’t prepared in the sense that none of us is, in the end, prepared to see someone familiar—a child, a parent, a loved one or friend—arise into their true destiny in a way that is so breathtaking. But arise he did. He arose. He shone. He showed. And then he was twelve again, perhaps just the tiniest bit petulant. “Didn’t you know where I’d be?”

What star will you be following this year? At a certain point, every one of us realizes there is a star that we want to follow. Must follow. Can’t not follow. There is no other way. What star has God shown you that you must follow, that you can’t not follow? Arise! Shine! For your light has come! Thanks be to God. Amen.

[i] Craig A. Satterlee, Luke 2:41-52: Commentary on the Gospel, December 30, 2012, WorkingPreacher.Org (
[ii] Terre Roche, “Star of Wonder,” from the album “We Three Kings,” Copyright 1991. Sung by Pat Raube and Joan Raube-Wilson.

Friday, January 4, 2013

Friday Five: Resolutions and Absolutions Edition

Lucy, the Margate (NJ) Elephant, celebrates the New Year!

The New Year has dawned! At this point, we are four days in. The photo above shows an icon of my hometown in full on celebration mode. This is, of course, typically a time when many of us try to turn over a new leaf, start a new habit, or otherwise live into the newness of the year. As for me and my house, there is a concerted effort afoot to keep a record of everything I eat, as well as the seasonal re-commitment to morning prayer. At the same time, I'm trying to cultivate a more self-accepting stance, an attitude of gentleness and forgiveness with myself when I don't keep those promises. Herewith, a Friday Five all about Resolutions and Absolutions.


1. Start by sharing your success stories with us: In the past, what resolution has been your most successful? What change have you made that has been the most beneficial, to your mood, health, finances, or other way of being in the world?

I created this Friday Five, so you'd think I'd have answers for all the questions. I don't. This one stumps me. I think the truth is, the "Resolution" model has not worked very well for me in the past. The times I've made a big change were not tied to the turning over of a page on the calendar, but a more internal sense of urgency. That may be the key for me: if I don't truly accept that there will be a significant benefit-- whether physical, emotional, or spiritual-- I'm not likely to stick with something long enough for the change to adhere.

2. What is one thing you hope to do differently this year with regard to health, either physical or spiritual? If you are satisfied with your current status in both areas, perhaps you would be willing to share something you've already done (or regularly do) to care for yourself.

That said, I do have some resolutions about my physical health this year. I've regained a significant amount of the weight I lost a few years back, though not all. I'd like to reverse that. But I'd like to do it differently. Last time I did it by means of a group that used a very rigid food plan which eliminated whole food groups. I'm not convinced that is a viable long-term strategy. So this year I'm trying to do it through an approach of moderation and forgiveness of "failures." The trick, of course, is making sure I'm not so forgiving that no progress is made at all!

3. What is one thing you hope your family (of origin, of choice, however you define your primary place of mutual emotional sustenance) will do differently this year? A new tradition for birthdays? More vacation time? Game night? Feel free to really dream about ways to deepen your connections with those you love.

My family is a terrible collection of TV and movie junkies. In fact, we've spent a lot of time in the past week in front of screens together-- which we love and enjoy, but which is probably part of my personal issue with weight control as well. I am hoping for all of us to find a way to cultivate and truly enjoy a more active lifestyle, and some of that may well be about the time we spend together.

4. What is one thing you hope your community of faith will consider doing differently this year? New music? Different approaches to preaching? Rearranging the furniture? If you are in a position to try to introduce change, share some of your enthusiasm and/ or anxiety with us!

This year I am sensing from several different sources that we will likely be moving toward a more intentional ministry around feeding the hungry. (Is that ironic, considering the above?  Hmmm.) I've hoped for several years that we might have a food pantry or weekly meal, but now I'm getting a sense that the Spirit is moving a number of us to investigate that possibility. How exciting is it when God gets involved?


5. In what area would you most like to learn to be gentle with yourself? For what would you most like to forgive yourself? Share your ideas and strategies for extending yourself the kind of grace we know we are offered by God.

I know I need to learn to forgive the lapses where diet and exercise are concerned; otherwise, the guilt I feel results in further indulging-- not a helpful cycle! Gentleness and reflection seem a better strategy than mental self-flagellation, don't you think? :-)

I will be traveling in the morning, but will check in with all our Friday Fivers in the afternoon. Let us know if you decide to play! Here's how to share your link:

<a href="the url of your blog post goes here">what you want the link to say goes here</a>