Welcome Morning

by Anne Sexton

There is joy
in all:
in the hair I brush each morning,
in the Cannon towel, newly washed,
that I rub my body with each morning,
in the chapel of eggs I cook
each morning,
in the outcry from the kettle
that heats my coffee
each morning,
in the spoon and the chair
that cry “hello there, Anne”
each morning,
in the godhead of the table
that I set my silver, plate, cup upon
each morning.

All this is God,
right here in my pea-green house
each morning
and I mean,
though often forget,
to give thanks,
to faint down by the kitchen table
in a prayer of rejoicing
as the holy birds at the kitchen window
peck into their marriage of seeds.

So while I think of it,
let me paint a thank-you on my palm
for this God, this laughter of the morning,
lest it go unspoken.

The Joy that isn’t shared, I’ve heard,
dies young.

Marriage and Singleness – a reminder.

The other day in church, we prayed for a couple that is getting married soon. The pastor said something that really struck me – he prayed for the couple “as they are answering a calling to marriage.”

A calling.

callingA calling.

Somehow, in these two simple words, I found two important reminders that I needed to hear:

1) Marriage is a calling. It is a calling by God for two lives to become one. Marriage is not simply a choice by two people who are “in love”; as Christians we believe that marriage is a covenant between two people, a covenant that exists to model for the world the covenantal love that God has for us. In marriage Christians show the world a different narrative: one of steadfast love in spite of sinfulness and faithfulness in the face of hardship. In the words of one of my professors, “Marriage is a mission.” (Holla at me, Dr. K’s Book Group!)

2) Marriage is not the calling. God does not call everyone to marriage; sometimes it is “not yet,” and sometimes it is “not ever.” Only time will tell which of the two it is in each person’s life, but regardless of the answer, singleness is a calling too. Let me say that again. Singleness – for now or for ever – is a calling too. In singleness and celibacy Christians show the world a different narrative: that sex and love are not what this world says they are, that the love of God and the Church is more than enough, that singleness is a calling both to radically serve the Church and to radically be served by the Church. I preach here what I have to preach to myself, sometimes: singleness is a calling.

Much of this reflection comes from a wonderful little book by Stanley Hauerwas that I had the chance to study in a small group with one of my (favorite) professors in college, so I will leave you with a quote that I loved:

“Both singleness and marriage are necessary symbolic institutions for the constitution of the church’s life… that witnesses to God’s kingdom. Neither can be valid without the other. If singleness is a symbol of the church’s confidence in God’s power to effect lives for the growth of the church, marriage and procreation is the symbol of the church’s understanding that the struggle will be long and arduous. For Christians do not place their hope in their children, but rather their children are a sign of their hope… that God has not abandoned this world.”

– Stanley Hauerwas, A Community of Character (p. 191)

A Sermon: Justice for Jordan Davis

My pastor’s sermon this past Sunday. Even so, come, Lord Jesus.

Jordan Davis

Signs of Life

Here’s a lightly edited version of the sermon I preached at New Community Covenant Church on Sunday. Unlike most of my sermons this one was written quickly, after the news broke from the Michael Dunn trial on Saturday evening.

In November 2012, 17-year-old African American Jordan Davis and his friends were parked outside a convenience store in Florida when an argument broke out with the white man parked next to them about the volume of their music. The argument ended when the man, Michael Dunn shot 10 rounds into Davis’ car- some of those bullets hit and killed Davis. At his trial Dunn claimed he felt threatened, that he had to stand his ground. No gun was ever found in the young Jordan Davis’ car. Last night a mostly white jury found Dunn guilty on lesser counts of attempted murder- but for the actual murder they couldn’t agree. And…

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Why I love “Call the Midwife”

Call the Midwife

Babies. Nuns. Bicycles.

Sometimes, I have a hard time explaining why I love this TV show so much.

At face value, “Call the Midwife” doesn’t seem like it could be the epic, thought-provoking, heart-warming, on-the-edge-of-your-seat-intense TV show that it is. Now, I’m entirely willing to admit that this show is not for everyone. One of my friends described it as “a lot of screaming”; I’d be the first to acknowledge that. If you don’t want to see lots of babies and bodily fluids, this is not the show for you.  

(Fortunately for me, this is right up my alley. I’m working in healthcare administration right now as I get ready to apply for graduate school in Nursing, and as I decide exactly what route I want to take. Midwifery has always been on the table for me, and I’m not going to lie…it’s a little bit hard to tell if my life plans are being influenced by a TV show. Because I’m majorly leaning midwife right now. But hey, correlation does not equal causation, right?)

But but if you can handle the birth-related bits, “Call the Midwife” should be the next thing you put on your Netflix queue.

1) “Call the Midwife” is story for today.  An idealistic and naïve young woman sets out to save Poplars (a neighborhood in the slums of East London), one home-birth at a time. Though she finds that the problems are bigger than she ever knew or imagined, that she is more naive and unaware than she’d care to admit, and that there are things she cannot change, time and again she also finds that she can change a life, and that that is enough. It is a coming-of-age story, a story for my generation.

2) It is a story of women. Written and produced by a largely-female production team, based on the memoirs of a real woman, with all-female lead roles – it is by women, about women. A story about a young, newly-certified midwife who moves into a convent to work with other nun-midwives and non-nun-midwives, much of the story is driven by the relationships between these women – women with different histories, different places of faith, different struggles, yet with the same mission. It is a story of community, as each brings her own baggage, but finds freedom and healing and identity in community.

3) But it is still also a story for men. This is not a platform for angry feminism, for anti-man angst, for gender rants. Men are not overly vilified, nor are they overly glorified. There are some fantastic male supporting characters – the selfless doctor, the lovable best friend, the prickly but tender-hearted groundskeeper – that show you that women can still write some of the best men. Yet there is also very honest engagement with the reality that – then and now – there are some very broken gender dynamics in the world. But the point remains, though this TV show is still a story for men, it is not about the men. The show is always honest about being a story of women.

4) Nuns. Need I say more? Nuns are fly.

5) It’s secretly all about social justice. Though set in 1950s London, the real power of the show lies in the timeless, universal problems and truths it explores. It explores problems and inequalities that are as present now as they were then: urban poverty, healthcare access in under-served populations, gender violence, wealth and lifestyle disparities. It deals with the issues of missions – savior complexes, ignorance and naïveté, guilt, disillusionment, hope and despair, success and failure.

6) In a world where many avoid talking about God and religion, it is incredibly well-handled in this show. It would be hard to get around God in a TV show where half of the major characters are nuns, and “Call the Midwife” wisely doesn’t try. Yet the religious elements are not overplayed either, nor used divisively. God is a quiet presence, an almost unmentioned character, but not unseen. He is seen in the lives of worship of the nuns, and modeled in their actions. He is in the intentional community of the nuns and the midwives, living together in the community they serve. The nuns’ faith is a rock to the other midwives in times of pain and uncertainty, even though most don’t claim the faith themselves. It is a faith that is shown, not preached.

Need more convincing?

Why I Love Call the Midwife

“Call the Midwife” has it all: nurses and nuns, boys and babies, romance, friendship, faith, and social justice. It is honest and sincere, touching, sad and hilarious in turns, and chock full of some of the most compelling characters in television right now, with a story that is as relevant as it is engrossing. Just give it a try.

How to Church Shop

One of the worst things about moving to a new place has to be the task of finding a new church.

Or actually I should say, one of the worst things for people who grew up in a non-denominational or independent or quasi-independent evangelical church. I can’t tell you how many times throughout this whole process I thought, “Man, this would be so much easier if I was Catholic! ”  But in all seriousness, this is the reality of the fractured Body of Christ of which we are all a part: people shop for church like it is car insurance, trying to find a favorite brand or company – or even a custom package.

But there is another side to this coin, or there can be. This doesn’t have to be the way we “church shop.” What if church shopping were less about looking for the ideal product, and more about the diversity of the Body of Christ, and learning about what your own faith?

From my experiences, here are a few thoughts on navigating the church hunt with grace…most of which were learned by trial and error!

1) Start with realistic expectations.

There is no such thing as a “perfect church.” Coming to terms with that reality fast is going to cut down on the pressure and stress of the situation. If you loved your previous church, you will not find one identical to it. If you did not love your previous church, you probably won’t find a church that has everything you’re looking for. If you do find that one church that “clicks,” I guarantee that eventually you will realize something or experience something that makes you frustrated or disappointed. We are imperfect beings, and our flaws are exhibited sometimes in greatest contrast in our communities. That’s part of what being the Body of Christ is: loving one another in spite of our sinfulness.  Don’t go in expecting things to be perfect.

2) Start with some criteria. 

I know a family that decided going into it that they would only visit three churches. After three churches, they would make a decision. Now that’s a bit excessive for me, but the point is a good one. Start with a set stopping point. Knowing that there isn’t a “perfect church,” decide when you’re going to stop looking for it. Maybe that means deciding to only look within a certain distance from home. Maybe that means doing some Googling ahead of time – making a list of places to check out, and then deciding from that list.  Maybe it means setting a certain period of time for the church hunt, and committing to making a decision by the end of that time. 

Whatever the stopping point is, the purpose of choosing one is not to have an arbitrary deadline. Church shopping is a hard process – the times I have spent without a proper church home have always coincided with some of the driest times in my spiritual life. During this last stage of Church shopping, I don’t think I realized how much of a role in my spiritual stalemate my lack of a church had. It was not until I found a church and drank deeply that I realized how hard it was to live off only sips. No church is perfect, but Christianity is a faith that can only be lived in a community – in spite of and including the inevitable imperfections. Don’t let yourself be separated from this kind of community for too long.

3) Use this as an opportunity to learn.

There is an incredible diversity in the Body of Christ, but most Christians never experience anything beyond their own tradition. Don’t let this be true of you. Try something new. Church shopping is a remarkable opportunity to experience churches and church traditions that are unfamiliar and possibly out of your comfort zone. Embrace that as a chance to learn more about the Church – one, catholic, and apostolic. Who knows? The experience might even open your eyes to God in a new way.

4) Identify things that you like and appreciate in the churches you visit.

As I was visiting churches to look for a new church home, I realized something about myself, very much to my chagrin. I found that I was developing a tendency to be very critical and disparaging, I might even say judgmental, of some of the churches that I visited. Though there is certainly a good and necessary element of critiquing that one must do while looking for a church, there is a difference between thinking critically and being critical. Churches are not perfect. There may be churches you will visit with which you have significant disagreements. There are certainly some valid critiques and even criticisms that could be applied to churches you will visit. But do not forget that these are your brothers and sisters in Christ. (Believe me, sometimes I have the hardest time reminding myself of this. Some churches just make me want to *grumblegrumblegrumble*.)

A tool that has helped me counter my tendency toward fault-finding is to intentionally identify things that I value in the church I have visited. Whether it be the friendly welcome that was offered, or the music, or the nice family down the aisle, focusing on the good has helped me to better walk the line between analyzing and judging.

5) Figure out what your deal-breakers are.

The above being said, it is completely valid to have disagreements with a church, whether that be in theology or leadership or practice. This time is an opportunity to figure out what your deal-breakers are – to figure out what you think is important and essential. This can be a chance to gain some eye-opening self-awareness, and can teach you a lot about your own faith. Sometimes, you don’t realize something is important until it’s gone.

6) Listen for the Spirit.

There may not be a “lightning” moment; there may not be any kind of moment. There doesn’t have to be one. But let this be a meditative process. If God does have a specific place for you, let him guide you to it.