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.

More Than Could Be Counted

Every year, in wintertide,

I pore over seed books as I dream of a garden

a child could ruin herself for dinner in.

When the time is right,

I tuck precious seeds in good earth

and wait and watch

for these yearnings to push themselves out of the dark soil,

take on leaf and spread themselves out.

Every Spring, I worry, will it be enough?

Should I have done more?

And every year, the riot time of summer shocks me with her bounty.

Abundance heaving itself out to bask in dappled sunlight,

Loaves and fishes gathered in baskets, more than can be counted.

I cannot possibly keep it all to myself–

the greatest sin in a garden, after all,

is wasted fruit rotted on the vine.

I must share the generous provision of the earth,

let go of what was given

remember that this gift is not just for me

though I forget this, every springtime.

When We Gather Together

The crows are at it again.

A murder screaming in the treetops

pulls the whole neighborhood into their business

as they rage after a remorseful kestrel

for whom no sanctuary is coming.

And all I can think is

what power in numbers,

what freedom and ferocity

in banding together to take back the skies.

On Waking…

A cornucopia of insects is thrumming outside my window right now. It is 5 am, and I am (again) awake (earlier than I expected). Sleep has been…elusive lately…. or rather, the ability to sleep beyond 6 hours or so. I cannot control this impulse to wake in the wee hours, only ride the wave (and trust me when I tell you, I would control it if that were possible). So I linger, on the edge of sleep, letting the songs of the crickets and the katydids wash over me.

I have a certain reverence for these early hours, before the world begins to wake itself and shake the dust from its eyes. In this liminal space, the earth feels full enough–certainly not empty, but not overwhelming, either. I find that I can sit and listen without restlessness, wrapped in the soundscape of creation. Human sounds–the roar of an engine, say–become unwelcome interruptions. Our scurrying here and there doesn’t belong.

When I started to wake in the night, my first thought was that something was wrong with me. My mind was running frantically, and thoughts were spilling out of me faster than I could set them down. I felt like a broken water main, emptying itself on the lovely garden of rest that I have tended so carefully over the years. I worried about the long-term implications, wrestled with my thoughts and tried to make them hold still. I told myself, perhaps if I could understand this, it will go away, and leave me be. I thought of Jacob, wrestling the angel on the banks of the river Jabbock, crying out, I will not let you go until you bless me.

But bodies have a way of telling us what we need. And mine? It seems that my body needs me to pay attention. She needs the soft quiet before daybreak. She craves space that belongs to nobody but her. She needs this sacred dark, this palpable quiet. I am doing my best to listen to her. To let her lead me to the place that I need to go. I will know it when I see it.

The birds and the squirrels are beginning to rustle in the bushes. They are early risers, too, their gentle morning grumbling a natural alarm clock for the rest of creation. Not long from now, the earth will be filled with the soundtrack of the living once more, and I will no longer be alone with my thoughts. I cannot stay here. So I breathe deeply. I let the gift of this quiet permeate throughout my body, and hope that I will be able to carry its memory with me, whatever this day brings.


It’s better to marry than to burn, wrote Paul

But what the hell was he on about?

Desire smolders within me and I cannot put it out,

nor contain it, nor stop it in its course.

Fire refines, said the Psalmist,

but at this point I’m more concerned with

whether it will take the whole house down with it.

If I could contain it, what would be left–

An empty carapace?

A charcoaled ember?

A burnt offering?

I try to dampen the flame with distraction,

I read dull books, divert my mind with thoughtless tasks

And it works, for a little time,

but the spark just will not go out,

And without warning, I am ablaze again.

But what is God like?

Often, when I am reading sacred text, I find myself wondering: what does God *actually* sound like? As in, if I had been *there* at *that moment* what would I have heard? This is especially true for me when it comes to the prophets, because they are so often tasked with unenviable task of mediating God’s words to God’s people. So they receive something, and then they share it.

I can relate to that. As a pastor, one of my most visible tasks is to pay attention to scripture, to receive it, and then to help my people see it as something worth paying attention to. Ancient texts are deceptive–there is a lot of context and back story that is often invisible to us on the page which makes the task of understanding just a little bit harder. We miss the ancient jokes, the word play, the allusions that make our modern conversations come alive.

Over the past few years, I have found that biblical storytelling has been a way for me to help make scripture come alive for my community. Biblical storytelling pays attention to the words, and the context, and what we know about the ancient world, and then it helps the community to hear it fresh. The magic that happens when academic study and creative proclamation are brought together is incredibly refreshing.

But there are choices that have to be made, such as, What does God sound like? This week, I found myself asking that question with respect to Jeremiah 23. I could say a lot about it at this point, but the general gist is that the book of Jeremiah is bitter medicine. Bad news all around for the people of God. The young Jeremiah knows it, God knows it, and nobody is particularly happy about it. And there are other prophets out there, whose message is more popular, *maybe just maybe* because it is a lot more hopeful and positive.

By the time we get to Jeremiah 23, God is fed up with these false prophets and is laying into them. To me, God seems beyond angry. God is at that point where God is almost amused by the ridiculousness of it all. I imagined God breaking into our worship on Sunday, lounging in the front pew eating popcorn and saying what God really thinks of (waves hands) all this.


When I was a child, love often looked like an empty plate. “Eat! Eat!” my loved ones would say, as they pushed all manner of gastronomical delights towards us. Nobody ever told me to stop eating. Nobody ever told me that my appetite was too much. They simply delighted in my delight. Because they wanted me to grow.

But you know the story. At some point, there was a shift. It is difficult to pinpoint the exact moment, but the message was crystal clear to my young self: somewhere around 15, it became evident that my appetite exceeded the space that others were willing to give to it.

This wasn’t just about food, mind you. I was simply “too much” for many of the people in my life, especially my peers. I was too loud. Too opinionated. Too naive. Too unguarded. Too hungry.

What was once a delight became a source of shame. A problem to hide and deny. A monster to punish and constrain.

What happens to us, that turns so many of us into deprivation machines? Why is it that so many of us (myself included here) came to the conclusion that our appetites are shameful? That we can not trust our own hunger?

For over ten years, I raged with a hunger that could not be filled, could not be filled in part because I would not let it. And I would not let it because the world whispered at me that this self-denial was the only path to happiness for a good girl like me. I grew accustomed to living with less than my body needed–less food, less love, less attention, less passion. I settled (GOD I hate that word) and told myself that it was enough.

One of the only places where I felt like my hunger was welcomed was in the church. There, I met people who told me it was holy to hunger and thirst for righteousness. I found people whose appetite for fellowship was unbounded. Who talked too much, drank too much, loved one another too much. I closed out diners in Cambridge with dear friends as we shared a vision for a new kind of church and shared a communion of stale chocolate chip cookies and grape juice. I made a home with fellow radicals in Philadelphia who dreamed of a city where the poor and the rich shared a table piled high with good food together, and then we did it. And when I became a pastor, people celebrated my “too muchness” because it turned out that passion is infectious.

As I experienced the satisfaction of being more of myself, I have started to wonder what is holding me back in my personal life. If God accepts my too muchness in the company of fellow travelers, why would God not embrace me if I were fully myself in the rest of my life? And what would that even begin to look like? I have lived a constrained self for so long, I suspect it will take time to figure out what it feels like to embrace the freedom of simply being me. But when I look back to my childhood, I am reminded that the answer will likely put delight at the center. Delight in my body. Delight in myself. Delight in the experience of being created in the image of God.

Abandoning Yourself

1989 Halloween Vibes….

I never thought of myself as what you might call a “tortured soul.”

As a child, I lived a rather boring, ordinary life. My parents were (for the most part) very happy. The worst you could say about me, if you could say something, was that I was far too competitive (incidentally, things often came easily to me and I was encouraged at whatever I did, which may have been related). And so it was that I was a good student, an accomplished musician, and dedicated athlete. I didn’t get into much trouble, either. I was pretty much a model kiddo.

Except the fact that, no matter how much I succeeded, I always had this nagging sense that, deep down, if folks really knew who I really was, they wouldn’t like me all that much. Strip away my “doing” self, and I figured that what was left would send the people whose affirmation I most craved packing. I don’t know where that feeling came from, but it was there, from very early, convincing me that my only value was attached to what I could do. Whispering that the love of my family and friends was in some sense conditional.

When you think that way, it can lead you down some pretty strange roads. You can convince yourself to make all sorts of compromises. You can tell yourself that the only way to survive is to abandon yourself. And you can convince yourself that denying yourself is normal, that it is healthy, even. You can find these messages everywhere– in pop culture, in religion, and often in the way that families talk about (or don’t talk about) success.

And so early on I set to work contorting myself into a shape I thought people wanted me to be. A shape that appeared pleasing. Competent. Good. Sure, I was loud, even bossy sometimes, but almost always in the service of “acceptable” (let the reader understand: culturally approved) goals.

But every time I did dare to be loud, or silly, or “too much,” I knew I would spend the next 24 hours second-guessing every choice I had made. No matter how many groups and activities I added to my resume, the suspicion would linger– is it enough? Will they love me?

My sister would probably tell you that there were times when I was completely insufferable growing up, and she is almost certainly right. I was insufferable. But I was also suffering. I spent so much time trying to be what I thought the world wanted me to be that I ended up neglecting to ask the critical question: what do you really want?

Things got bad enough that at one point I started engaging in harmful behaviors, all in the service of the story I was telling myself that the world would only love me if I appeared a certain way. I struggled with safe boundaries because I was afraid that if I said no, I would be abandoned by those I most wanted to accept me. I kept myself from drawing too far outside the lines, because I had been told exactly what the picture was meant to look like.

What a perfect life, right? Doesn’t it sound wonderful? The worst part of all this is that I did this to myself. My little soul convinced herself somewhere along the way that this was the best it was going to get. That I better settle down for a lifetime of this way of life, and learn to enjoy it.

My biggest rebellion, in fact, if you could call it that, was becoming a pastor. Church was a place where I saw a future for myself, a glimpse of something real, even thought I don’t think I understood that fully at the time. Church was also a place that was mine–I chose it, and when the rest of my family moved on, I held fast to it and ultimately gave my life in service to Christ because I believed in the fellowship and community made possible inside its walls. And while I still believe with all my heart that the church is capable of great things when it holds fast to Jesus, I have learned to be skeptical of those who claim to have figured it all out.

I wish I could sit my young self down and tell her exactly how Beloved she was in the eyes of G-d. That there was not a hair on her head that G-d herself didn’t know and cherish. That yes, childhood can be brutal, that the desire to be a part of something can eat you alive, but that she would find her people, eventually. That there would be a community of broken-hearted people who could handle her dumb, silly antics, and even love her for them.

It took a long time to start believing in myself instead of my accomplishments. To start letting go of the compulsion to hide behind what I could do and instead embrace who I am. I am still learning this–every day is a lesson, an opportunity to start over again.

One partner in my current reflections is the book of Ecclesiastes. It has been on my mind this week as I have pondered the excellent ministry of biblical storytelling that some of my people shared last week at the Network of Biblical Storytellers conference. And one of the themes of Ecclesiastes is the question of meaning. The author struggles to find a purpose “under the sun,” and one thing that frustrates them most is the recognition that no matter what you do (or don’t), or what you have (or don’t), how smart or dull you are, how known or invisible, your fate is the same:

This is the evil in everything that happens under the sun: The same destiny overtakes all….

So go, eat your food with gladness, and drink your wine with a joyful heart, for God has already approved what you do. Always be clothed in white, and always anoint your head with oil. Enjoy life with your wife, whom you love, all the days of this meaningless life that God has given you under the sun—all your meaningless days. For this is your lotin life and in your toilsome labor under the sun. Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might, for in the realm of the dead, where you are going, there is neither working nor planning nor knowledge nor wisdom.

Ecclesiastes 9:3, 7-10

For me, for now, I hear this as a call to let go of all the bullshit that has held me down for so long. To give myself permission to stop wasting my life worrying about what people will think about me, and to instead embrace the journey and the gift of life itself. We waste so much precious time worrying about making the one, right choice…but what if there are no right choices? What if there are only pathways forward, not a single one of them perfect, all of them choked through with possibility?

At least, that is what I tell myself today. Who knows what tomorrow might bring?

May you carry light within you, friends.

Writing again

It’s been a minute. 11 months to be exact, but the truth is that I haven’t been writing as much here at all lately. Over the last few years, time that I might have spent writing was instead handed over to the “realities” of daily life (translation: responsibilities to other people in my life). Rarely, if ever, have I been able (read: willing) to stop, take a breath, and to reflect on the simplest question: Am I happy? Is this the life I want for myself? If I could do it over again, would I make the same choices?

Would you? The most honest answer, for me at least, is no. One messy and inconvenient human truth is that most (ALL) of us are living a compromise. We have made choices, and those choices have set us walking a path before us, as well as carried us farther from other possibilities that could otherwise have delighted or sorrowed our souls.

Now, throw in a few companions on the journey, and, well, it becomes harder to change direction, doesn’t it? As someone who lives to please the people around me, I would be lying to myself if I didn’t acknowledge that often I will keep on going on a particular path because I don’t want to disappoint the people who have expectations of me (hi mom and dad!). And while some of my choices were worth every hardship, others are far more complicated, and the answers vary from day to day.

But what about disappointing myself? I don’t often ask that question. Do you? And how is that not just as important, perhaps even more important, than what others think of me?

It sounds so simple, and yet there is a whole cultural infrastructure built around keeping up our appearances. Our churches, our communities, our families would almost certainly prefer that we just “go along and get along.” They would prefer that we wear nice clothes, and say nice words, and tell pretty stories. Stay neat and pick up your trash. Carry on and whatever you do, pick up your mess before anyone sees it. Messy people rarely get to stay at the center of anything “important”–they end out on the edges quicker than toupee in a hurricane. (wouldn’t it be easy if we could just tell ourselves that we don’t care what other people think? But we belong to these communities because they are full of people we love. We want them to accept us. And so we convince ourselves that this is the price of admission.)

It’s particularly fascinating to me that my faith tradition of Christianity is so fixated on this notion that we need to have our shit together. That in order for the world to respect us, we have to be….respectable. We make up our vision boards and imagine a solid foundation, and while we use lovely words and invent clever turns of phrase, invariably it looks like some variation of: money, resources, power. We tell ourselves that we want to pursue the mission of Christ, forgetting that his mission would ask us to forsake everything, perhaps even our own lives, for the sake of a world in which there are no edges, where valleys are flat and mountains are brought low, and not a single little one is lost.

But damn if can’t let go of our need for influence and power. Damn if we haven’t silenced ourselves because it might make us unpopular, or put us at odds with the people whose money we crave. We wear our need to be accepted and acceptable like a millstone around our necks, dragging it along like the filthy bag of trash that it is because “it’s the way we have always been.” We have been carrying that baggage around for a long time, heaving it from generation to generation and don’t even think to question it (because if you do,… well, that would be messy). It’s been there so long that we started to believe that the grooves that formed in our shoulders were a part of God’s plan, rather than deformation.

We’ve carried it, and in the process, we forgot that the Word of God is a story for misfits and fucked up outsiders. We forgot that the ancestors of our faith were a hot mess. That they made SERIOUS errors in judgement on the regular, and those mistakes (only sometimes) made them better people. And that God loved them in that messiness. Even more: God found a way through that messiness to sometimes help us do some really amazing things. Because all God wanted for us was for creation to thrive. For ‘adamah to embrace the truth of imago dei within it, recognize God’s image in their neighbor, and maybe be a little less trash in the process.

So why am I wasting so much energy worrying about what will happen if I am a mess? If I am broken? If I am “too much” or “not the right sort of Christian?” If I am embracing God’s love for me, and seeking to live as one who is prepared to die (thanks, Ecclesiastes!), then isn’t that enough? How can that not move mountains?

by Ricardo Levins Morales, whose art speaks truth to me.

Just so we are clear: my people-pleasing-desperate-to-fit-in-and-be-loved self is screaming at me as I write this. She’s definitely not a fan. She’s convinced that I’m going to blow up everything, and that I will regret every mistake I make. She’s worked hard to make me who I am, and it is that I want to blow it all up. She wants me to believe that it’s safer to avoid every risk. To push my ragged edges out of sight because what if people see them? What the hell would they think of that? I suspect she won’t shut up any time soon, either. But I’m trying to convince her that the person she should care about the most is the person I see when I look in the mirror. The person who desperately needs to feel alive, not just to others but to herself.