Broken Vessels

Here lies my ruined vessel

      all shards and sharp edges

      jutting from the path beneath my feet.

Once she contained a world:

      a riot of marigold &

      fragrant mountain mint,

      scabiosas dancing in the summer breeze,

      peopled by bumbling bees and cautious moths;

      a feast for the senses.

Somehow, amidst the commotion of the living,

      I missed the quiet devastation working from within,

      borne of seasons and time and piques of weather

      each eroding what had once contained

      so much promise that

      I believed she would last forever.

I could not fix her if I tried.

      And I tried.

Now I’m left to ponder,

      As my hands grasp at these brittle, dismembered fragments:

      could there be beauty, even in this?

Summer’s Bounty

Today the gnats were gyring

in the dying summer breeze.

I watched their bodies catch the sun’s rays

as they lifted towards the trees

glowing. 

An incalculable vastness.

Those drifting blazing winks of light

which had gathered all around me

murmured a truth I oft forget:

the glory of the infinite

who reaches down to dry our tears

shows Her face to us like this.

Was it Worth It?

I couldn’t sleep for thinking

of all I’ve done and failed to do.

The questions left unanswered;

the doubts unspoken;

desires abandoned and scattered

as though they didn’t matter

(but oh, they matter, dear one)

So much was cast aside,

and what threatens to overwhelm the ramparts

of my overactive mind tonight?

The simple question:

Was it worth it?

The Rhythm of Waiting

What happens next–

after anguished letters

and halting words,

fraught conversations over pints in the pub

and strained silences which suffuse this room

where we lay our bodies down each night

in solitary solidarity

wondering: can this last?

Where do we go when we cannot go from here?

Choose Whom You Will Serve

long ago I made a choice-

not for proximity & safety,

but for that which made my heart beat faster,

my soul sing sweeter.

now I find myself

consumed by unsettling silence,

no wind nor breath

only that tremulous void

into which I cry out your name

and wait for an answer

Desiderata

Giacomo Ceruti, Chicken Tetrazzini

“You are dust and to dust you shall return,”

but first my duty was to help you along

lying as you were in the corner of the coop

your feathers still,

your body hushed & crumpled

in the dry heat of late August

I believed you gone

but then you cried as I went to lift your broken body.

How frail and finished you were–

no Samaritan could save you

as death lingered patiently in our midst.

So what could you call it, other than mercy

to offer succor to one of God’s designs in its time of trial?

Could it be anything but grace,

to lift the shovel and strike without hesitation;

sever you from your suffering and usher in peace?

Lessons Learned

Sermon based on text from Luke 14:1, 7-14

And it came to pass that Jesus was going to the house of one of the leaders of the Pharisees on the sabbath to break bread, and they all were watching him closely.

He began to tell a parable to those who had been invited, 

remarking how they were choosing the best places for themselves, saying:


“When you are invited by anyone to a wedding feast, 

do not recline in the best place, 

lest someone even more honorable than you might have been invited, 

and the one who invited you both might come to you and say to you, 

“Give your place to this man,” 

and then you should with shame take the lowest place.

But when you are invited, go, recline in the lowest place, 

so that when the one who invited comes, he might say to you, 

“Friend, come up higher!” 

Then you will be glorified before all of those reclining with you.

For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, 

and those who humble themselves will be exalted.

Then he said to the one who invited him, 

“When you make a meal, whether in the morning, midday, or evening, don’t call 

your friends, 

or your brothers, 

or your relatives, 

or your rich neighbors, 

lest they return your invitation, and you would be repaid. 

But when you make a feast, 

call the poor,

The crippled,

The lame, 

The blind… 

and blessed you will be, because they have nothing.

They cannot repay you.

And you will be repaid in return at the resurrection of the just.

Politics and Religion.

Those are the two things that are off limits at my mother’s dinner table.  You can burp the alphabet, tell an off color joke, you can come to dinner dressed in the clothes you woke up in.  But you start talking about religion or politics, and You. Are. Done.

My mom says that it is because she is a good southern woman, and that it just is poor table manners, but I think really it is because these are the two topics that are most likely to start an argument.  Because we don’t all think the same things, do we?  In my family, we are all across the map—Baptists sitting next to atheists, sitting next to republicans, sitting next to self declared socialists.  So the potential for conflict, when it comes to religion and politics, is high. And once the door is open, everyone has an opinion.  Better to keep the door closed. Better to keep things safe.

Which makes for some really polite, but incredibly boring dinner parties.  Let me tell you, the dinners I remember best aren’t the ones where everyone behaved themselves. I bet you know what I am talking about.  In my family, there are some pretty epic stories about individuals who broke the rules, resulting in some pretty heated conversations.

Luke’s Gospel this morning describes one of those “memorable” dinner parties, I think.  Who knows why the Pharisee invited Jesus to his dinner party—maybe he was just trying to be friendly, maybe he was curious about the new rabbi in town.  

And like my mom, the ancient people had their own rules when they got together.  Most of those rules are pretty common sense–

What are the dinner party rules?  Guests are polite, right?  When I go to a party and I’m the new person, usually that means milling about quietly near the refreshments.  Maybe saying hi to a few folks.  And if we get to talking, what are people usually going to ask you about?  What do you do? Where do you live? Etc etc etc.

Not Jesus. It quickly becomes clear that Jesus is “that guy”—you know, the guy at the dinner party that everyone can’t stop staring at, or listening to, because he is making a scene.

It all starts with a sick man.  There is a man at the party with Dropsy.  Anyone know what dropsy is?  It is severe edema.  Probably caused by severe heart failure.  The man is swollen up like a balloon.  Makes you wonder what he is doing at a dinner party—edema can be incredibly painful, and was essential as slow, painful death sentence in Jesus’ Day—people who suffered from it slowly drowned in their own bodies.

So of course, Jesus draws their attention to this man, whose suffering is on full display while they eat and make merry on the Sabbath.  He asks them—if your child or your ox was drowning in a well, would you save them on the Sabbath?  What about this man, who is drowning in his body? Is there a difference?

But Jesus isn’t done.  He just can’t help himself.  He moves on to the guests themselves.  All of a sudden we are getting advice from the Rabbi about seating assignments and guest lists.  He is like the ancient Jewish version of Ms Manners, only none of these people asked him for advice.

Whenever they ask prospective presidents who they would like to meet someday or have a meal with, and they say Jesus—I think of this dinner party.  Because clearly, Jesus isn’t interested in playing by anybody’s rules.  Jesus isn’t going to behave and be polite.  He is going to speak truth.  To the poor and the sick, and to the wealthy and powerful.  Doesn’t matter who you are, Jesus is going to say what needs to be said.

That’s the gift, friends, that Jesus gives us. The truth. So often, we worry ourselves sick over the impact that the truth might have—whose feelings it will hurt, how it will land, what the damage might be. And so we settle for pleasantries and half truths. We paper things over to make them sound better, and we do ourselves no favors. It feels safer, but there be dangers in these waters. We create for ourselves sinkholes and no go zones that impact not just us, but our children, and the world that they inhabit.

And that is not the world that Jesus wants for us. Jesus wants us to live honestly, and he models that in his every word and deed. So the question for us, today, I think, is this: what is the truth that we need to hear?

I wonder whether perhaps we need to hear that we have spent a lot of time worrying about things that don’t really matter.  

A friend of mine shared with me once that she HATES this text, because Jesus seems to single out all of these people based on their social statues or health status.  For her, this just seems wrong.  Aren’t we all just people, she asks? But of course we do this all the time.  If we are really honest with ourselves, we are constantly sorting ourselves against the people around us, ranking ourselves based on who seems to have the most, or the least; whose life seems better or worse than our own. And if we are honest, most of us would prefer to find ourselves, if not at the top of our pecking order, at least above the median. 

Why? Because many of us have been raised to believe that these are the things that define us.  That our job, our house, our stuff, even our health are the things that matter.  That our worth is roughly equivalent to our investment account or the appearance of our home. A fellow clergy person shared with me that when he was young his dad raised him to grow up and take care of his family.  So he did.  He got a job, and he lived at his job.  Barely saw the family that he was trying to provide for.  He was just doing what he had been taught.

And perhaps you may notice as well that these are things that we think we can control.  We decide what we do, where we live, what car we drive, whether we work on at the gym every morning. And if we can control them, it can be tempting to believe that others can too. So we judge the poor, the unemployed, the sick.  Can’t you just get a job?  Can’t you stay out of trouble? Can’t you just take care of yourself?  How quickly grace evaporates when we think we have control.  We do this. We do this.

But not Jesus. Jesus will have none of that.  For Jesus, dinner tables aren’t just dinner tables. They are practice grounds for the great banquet of the Kingdom of God, and in the Kingdom of God, everyone is invited to the dinner party.  All of our jockeying, all that sorting that we waste our time worrying over, none of that matters in God’s house.  If we are honest, those things can be a weight around our necks, pulling us down and away from what really matters.  And what really matters? Paul perhaps said it best when he said: let mutual love continue.  What matters is the community that gathers at Christ’s table—not where we sit, but that we are there. Together.  What matters is that the Jesus who sat at that table and pissed off the Pharisees didn’t preach anything he didn’t also do himself—for Jesus built a ministry out of welcoming the lonely, feeding the hungry, healing the sick, whether those people had everything or barely enough to get by. 

You know, earlier this week I was visiting a friend in North Carolina, and I went for a run. And while I was running, I started noticing all of this trash on the side of the road. Cups, bags, half eaten fruit, scattered everywhere along the freeway. Honestly, it was a little bit disgusting.

And I found myself thinking as I ran along, how often I look past the trash on the side of the road. How often I accept that as the price of admission for living with other people. How often we all agree that we will just pretend it isn’t there, or pay someone else to deal with it.

But then there’s that one person. In my experience, they are usually someone you never would have noticed. In my neighborhood growing up, it was an elderly immigrant from Vietnam. Every afternoon, I would see her walking along the side of the road that I passed almost daily, picking up the trash. Taking the time to pay attention. Noticing what was wrong and setting it right.

That is the goal, friends. Not a peaceful dinner table where we never talk about the issues that trouble us. Not a society where we look past the suffering of others. The table of grace is one where we notice what is wrong, and endeavor to set it right. Where we are willing to take the time, even if it gets our hands dirty, even if nobody notices, even it it seems like it doesn’t change a dang thing.

Why? 

Because we worship Jesus, who entered this world poor and weak and small so that he could teach us about a love that doesn’t rank or divide, or exclude.

We worship Jesus, who doesn’t care who you are or what you have—he just bids you come.

We worship Jesus, whose table is open to all of us, because whatever we have, we all get hungry and thirsty, and God would feed us.

We worship Jesus, who is the same today, yesterday and forever.

We worship Jesus. THAT guy at the table.

And that is enough.

What I didn’t know still hurt me

You gut me like a fish

until I am

exposed

trembling

My insides spilling outside,

unprotected

unguarded

There is little that is lovely

about this feeling

unshielded on your table

waiting for the knife to drop

On Shame and Self-Regard

I was fourteen when I started attending church regularly, and when I did, I was immediately drawn to the ritual and repetition of the traditional presbyterian service down the street. I loved that I, an awkward teenager with absolutely zero familiarity with whatever “church culture” was, could follow along, and even participate fully. There were no suprises, just a seat at the table for anyone willing to join in.

I found myself particularly drawn to the prayer of confession. Right there at the beginning of the service, before we heard the word proclaimed, before we passed a plate or meditated on a single interpretation from the pastor, we paused and acknowledged our need for God’s grace. And we didn’t try to talk around anything either. We spoke plainly about sin, and suffering, and brokenness. We acknowledged the truth: that we had screwed up this week, on our own and as a group, and that we needed help from God and one another to do better. I loved this prayer so much that I memorized the most often used version in our worship:

Almighty God, we confess that we have sinned against you in thought, word, and deed, by what we have done, and by what we have left undone. We have not loved you with our whole heart, and mind, and strength; we have not loved our neighbors as ourselves. In your mercy, forgive what we have been, help us to amend what we are, and direct what we shall be, so that we may delight in your will and walk in your ways to the glory of your holy name.

But lately I have found myself looking again at that impulse to confess. Worship begins with confession, but it doesn’t *stay* there, and yet it is an easy place to get stuck. And so I have found myself wondering: is it possible that this spirit of confession can go too far, stretching beyond a recognition of our brokenness into a worldview that sees ourselves as fundamentally shameful? That is the question that I have been struggling with lately. The recognition that the shadow side of confession is deep shame about my own embodiedness.

I am certain that I am by no means unique if I admit that I, an average woman in her 30s, has struggled with shame attached to the simple fact of having a body. I mean, it’s practically the most ordinary thing in the world to admit (and for the record, I think that OUGHT to be the thing that is shameful about this whole picture). Instead, the reality is that many women just like me live their entire lives embarrassed to inhabit a body that has needs.

We feel shame about what we eat (or what we don’t)

We feel shame about what we wear (or how we wore it)

We feel shame about how much we move our bodies (or how little)

We compare our bodies to impossible standards and then sacrifice ourselves in pursuit of some vision of perfection.

And so often, we tell ourselves that the shame we are feeling is some kind of “honesty” that will improve us.

But will it? Does it?

In my experience, this shame led me to punish my body in ways that I am still recovering from. It has changed the way I interact with other people for the worse. It has led me to doubt my own instincts and to mistrust my own needs. It sneaks into every corner of the house that I have built for myself. It leaks into the most unexpected interactions.

In his book Ethics,  Boenhoeffer writes that “Shame is man’s ineffaceable recollection of his estrangement from the origin; it is grief from this estrangement, and the powerless longing to return to unity with the origin. … Man is ashamed of the loss of his unity with God and with other men.” (p. 24).

And that is what really clicks for me. The notion that shame is what happens when we live apart–from our communities, certainly, but also from our bodies. When we forget that our bodies are not tools to be manipulated but rather as essential to our existence as the minds that we so often privilege, we are in shame territory. And the only way to heal that is to do the work of reconnecting. I have been slowly coming to the recognition that the shame I feel around my own embodiedness can only be healed by falling back in love with myself.

What does that mean for me? It means being curious about this vehicle that carries me through my life and regarding it with affection rather than distrust. It means paying attention to how my body feels when I engage in any number of activities in my daily life, and privileging those things that bring my body joy. And it means resisting the urge to make quick judgements about my wants and my desires, because they have something to teach me about myself. It also means accepting some messiness on the road to discovery.

I confess (ha!) that this is not easy territory for me. I am so used to living as though my body were something to be concealed, ignored and denied that doing the opposite feels dangerous. And yet I cannot afford to do otherwise. We have one precious life, and to live it in shame is the greatest waste of all.

Translating for this Sunday’s Lectionary: Radical Community and Hospitality

Luke 14:1, 7-14

And it came to pass that Jesus was going to the house of one of the leaders of the Pharisees on the sabbath to break bread, and they all were watching him closely.

He began to tell a parable to those who had been invited, 

remarking how they were choosing the best places for themselves, saying:


“When you are invited by anyone to a wedding feast, 

do not recline in the best place, 

lest someone even more honorable than you might have been invited, 

and the one who invited you both might come to you and say to you, 

“Give your place to this man,” 

and then you should with shame take the lowest place.

But when you are invited, go, recline in the lowest place, 

so that when the one who invited comes, he might say to you, 

“Friend, come up higher!” 

Then you will be glorified before all of those reclining with you.

For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, 

and those who humble themselves will be exalted.

Then he said to the one who invited him, 

“When you make a meal, whether in the morning, midday, or evening, don’t call 

your friends, 

or your brothers, 

or your relatives, 

or your rich neighbors, 

lest they return your invitation, and you would be repaid. 

But when you make a feast, call the poor,

The crippled,

The lame, 

The blind… 

and blessed you will be, because they have nothing.

They cannot repay you.

And you will be repaid in return at the resurrection of the just.