Two Hundred Pounds, or What is Precious?

2 Kings 22:1-8; 23:1-3

Josiah was eight years old when he began to reign; he reigned thirty-one years in Jerusalem. His mother’s name was Jedidah daughter of Adaiah of Bozkath. He did what was right in the sight of the Lord, and walked in all the way of his father David; he did not turn aside to the right or to the left.

In the eighteenth year of King Josiah, the king sent Shaphan son of Azaliah, son of Meshullam, the secretary, to the house of the Lord, saying, “Go up to the high priest Hilkiah, and have him count the entire sum of the money that has been brought into the house of the Lord, which the keepers of the threshold have collected from the people; let it be given into the hand of the workers who have the oversight of the house of the Lord; let them give it to the workers who are at the house of the Lord, repairing the house, that is, to the carpenters, to the builders, to the masons; and let them use it to buy timber and quarried stone to repair the house. But no accounting shall be asked from them for the money that is delivered into their hand, for they deal honestly.”

The high priest Hilkiah said to Shaphan the secretary, “I have found the book of the law in the house of the Lord.” When Hilkiah gave the book to Shaphan, he read it. 


Then the king directed that all the elders of Judah and Jerusalem should be gathered to him. The king went up to the house of the Lord, and with him went all the people of Judah, all the inhabitants of Jerusalem, the priests, the prophets, and all the people, both small and great; he read in their hearing all the words of the book of the covenant that had been found in the house of the LordThe king stood by the pillar and made a covenant before the Lord, to follow the Lord, keeping his commandments, his decrees, and his statutes, with all his heart and all his soul, to perform the words of this covenant that were written in this book. All the people joined in the covenant.

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A man was serving the church as a missionary in China. He was under house arrest, when soldiers finally came one day and said to him, “You Can Return to America.”

The family was celebrating, and the soldiers said, “You can take 200 pounds with you.”

Well, they had been there for years. Two hundred pounds. So they got out the scales, and started the family arguments: 2 children, wife, and husband. Must have this vase. Well, this new typewriter. What about my books? What about this? And they weighed everything and took it off and weighed this and took it off and weighed that and, finally, right on the dot, two hundred pounds.

The soldier asked, “Are you ready to go?””

“Yes.”
“Did you weigh everything?”
“Yes.”

“You weighed the kids?”
“no, we didn’t.”

“Weigh the kids.”

And in that moment, typewriter and vase and all became trash. Trash. It happens.

-From Craddock Stories, a collection of stories by Fred Craddock

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G B Farthing and his family, Baptist missionaries in China, c. 1900.

‘Tis the season, it would seem. Some of us are still digesting our turkey dinners, and already the emails and phone calls are flying about: Christmas lists, dinner plans, party invites. And all of it is JUST. SO. IMPORTANT.

Anyone ever just wish in moments like these that you could go back to being a kid? Remember what Christmas felt like when you were little? The countdowns until school is out? The excitement? The sense of complete and utter wonder? The awe and mystery of Christmas Eve? The unfettered joy of ripping Christmas wrapping? The complete and utter lack of dread, or responsibility? I don’t know about you, but I know an awful lot of adults who wish there were a few more weeks before Christmas.

So what is it about childhood? Somehow, Children have it all figured out: that this is a season of anticipation, of hope for the future, of excitement for what is coming. They are counting down, and every day is one step closer.

Like Josiah, the child king, who recognized the importance of the law, kids just get Christmas. They may not know the story so well, but they get the feeling of Christmas: the hope, the joy, the excitement of what is coming.

Because that is what it is folks. We may have smothered this season in Black Friday ads, tinsel, and obligation, but when you get down to it, Christmas is all about anticipation.

Over the last few weeks, we have been talking in acolyte class about this, and we came up with this idea, that there are certain foods that taste like Christmas. And we thought to ourselves, what would it mean to “taste” Christmas on the first Sunday of Advent? To remind ourselves of what we are looking forward to?

And so for first Advent at IPC, we brought our favorite Xmas Food to share in worship.  Cookies, candy canes, Stollen. And we brought it because we hoped that all of those who gathered with us would take a moment, an opportunity during worship, to remind themselves that this season, of Advent, is always looking forward to Christmas: that this is a time to prepare, to remember, and to anticipate.Aqua-and-red-platter-42.jpeg


I have a theory about why we grown-ups have a harder time remembering to hope during Advent. I have a feeling it has something to do with being so busy, or thinking we are. We are always doing something, planning something, preparing something, driving someone, checking emails, filling every moment until there simply is no time left to stop and remember. NO time left to think, really. We don’t give ourselves permission to slow down. We worry that if we do, Christmas won’t happen. Or that it won’t be perfect.

And so there is no time left to ask the questions, like:

Is this true?

Is this real?

Is this what Christmas is really about?

I wonder whether perhaps the greatest gift that we could give ourselves this Advent is the gift of Time and the permission to not be perfect. To choose rest, to choose face time with family and loved ones, to choose quiet and reflection over the seemingly inescapable soundtrack of Christmas out there? To choose to be with those who will support us in that effort so that we can remember together, why this season is so important?

A colleague of mine has suggested that perhaps Advent is the perfect season for fasting. She writes: “The point of fasting during advent is not on what you are giving up, it’s on what you are gaining.” So, for example, fasting from our phones is time to focus on something else. Money we choose not to spend on so many obligatory gifts can be given to a worthy cause. Fasting from television, from shopping, from facebook: they aren’t easy, they are hard. They are disciplines.

But what might we gain? One more afternoon with loved ones. One more opportunity to remember that love isn’t something that money can buy—love looks more like that very first imperfect Christmas in a dirty stable, and it is remembered every time we take time for one another rather than for ourselves.

Love looks like the recognition that all the lamps and typewriters are worthless compared to 200 pounds of children home safe with their mother and father.

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In a head to head contest, the kids always win.

Because that is the lesson of Advent, and the reason for Christmas hope: God spent time with us. In the person of Christ, God came and dwelled, and in his light we found that we were not alone. We were not afraid. We were loved. And it was enough. In fact, it was perfect.

HOME (by Warsan Shire)

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no one leaves home unless
home is the mouth of a shark
you only run for the border
when you see the whole city running as well

your neighbors running faster than you
breath bloody in their throats
the boy you went to school with
who kissed you dizzy behind the old tin factory
is holding a gun bigger than his body
you only leave home
when home won’t let you stay.

no one leaves home unless home chases you
fire under feet
hot blood in your belly
it’s not something you ever thought of doing
until the blade burnt threats into
your neck
and even then you carried the anthem under
your breath
only tearing up your passport in an airport toilets
sobbing as each mouthful of paper
made it clear that you wouldn’t be going back.

you have to understand,
that no one puts their children in a boat
unless the water is safer than the land
no one burns their palms
under trains
beneath carriages
no one spends days and nights in the stomach of a truck
feeding on newspaper unless the miles travelled
means something more than journey.
no one crawls under fences
no one wants to be beaten
pitied

no one chooses refugee camps
or strip searches where your
body is left aching
or prison,
because prison is safer
than a city of fire
and one prison guard
in the night
is better than a truckload
of men who look like your father
no one could take it
no one could stomach it
no one skin would be tough enough

the
go home blacks
refugees
dirty immigrants
asylum seekers
sucking our country dry
niggers with their hands out
they smell strange
savage
messed up their country and now they want
to mess ours up
how do the words
the dirty looks
roll off your backs
maybe because the blow is softer
than a limb torn off

or the words are more tender
than fourteen men between
your legs
or the insults are easier
to swallow
than rubble
than bone
than your child body
in pieces.
i want to go home,
but home is the mouth of a shark
home is the barrel of the gun
and no one would leave home
unless home chased you to the shore
unless home told you
to quicken your legs
leave your clothes behind
crawl through the desert
wade through the oceans
drown
save
be hunger
beg
forget pride
your survival is more important

no one leaves home until home is a sweaty voice in your ear
saying-
leave,
run away from me now
i dont know what i’ve become
but i know that anywhere
is safer than here

Hungarian policemen stand by a migrant holding a baby at the railway station in the town of Bicske Hungary
Hungarian policemen stand by a migrant holding a baby at the railway station in the town of Bicske Hungary

Warsan Shire is a Kenyan-born Somali poet, writer and educator based in London. Born in 1988, Warsan has read her work extensively all over Britain and internationally – including recent readings in South Africa, Italy, Germany, Canada, North America and Kenya- and her début book, ‘TEACHING MY MOTHER HOW TO GIVE BIRTH’ (flipped eye), was published in 2011. Her poems have been published in Wasafiri, Magma and Poetry Review and in the anthology ‘The Salt Book of Younger Poets’ (Salt, 2011). She is the current poetry editor at SPOOK magazine. In 2012 she represented Somalia at the Poetry Parnassus, the festival of the world poets at the Southbank, London. She is a Complete Works II poet. Her poetry has been translated into Italian, Spanish and Portuguese. Warsan is also the unanimous winner of the 2013 Inaugural Brunel University African Poetry Prize. 

Que Será Christians

In my family, my parents liked to give each of their beloved children a “theme song.”  And so it was that, growing up, my sister was haunted by family members singing “Rocky Raccoon,” and I found myself treated to regular group-singings of Doris Day’s mid-century hit, “Que Será.”

I found myself thinking about that song this week as I contemplated this week’s installment of our “Ask Anything” sermon series on Predestination. For a lot of people, Predestination sounds an awful lot like the unsung 5th verse of that song—

When I was just a little child, I asked my pastor: where will I go?

Will it be heaven, will it be hell? God is the one who knows…

Que será, será whatever will be; the future’s not ours, you see.

Que será, será, what will be, will be.

A very informal poll of some of my colleagues in ministry across the denominations revealed that for most of them, predestination is an unsavory doctrine that the Episcopalians and Lutherans were quick to blame on us Presbyterians. Which is funny, because technically nearly all of the Protestant denominations affirm this doctrine. In the early years of the Reformation, Martin Luther spilled far more ink on the subject than John Calvin, and both of them were simply quoting another ancient thinker, Augustine, who was writing on the subject in the 5th Century. Nonetheless, it is a doctrine that has come to represent, and for some, even define, the DNA of the faith that we as Presbyterians share with the worldwide Reformed church.

So what is it? And why does it matter?

The basic idea behind predestination is this: it is a doctrine that speaks to the will and intention of God as the driving force behind human destiny.

To understand it, we need to consider some other, far more important, ideas about God.

  • The Sovereignty of God

The Westminster catechism states that “God from all eternity did, by the most wise and holy counsel of his own will, freely and unchangeably ordain whatsoever comes to pass.” The sovereignty of God affirms what we see in the Bible—that the God who created us is, in the words of St. Patrick, not just with us, but “before and behind us, in us, beneath and above us, at every side, with us when we lie down and when we rise up. In other words, there is nothing that can happen in this world that God doesn’t know about. Because God is sovereign.

  • Election

When we hear the word election, most of us tend to think of ballot boxes and political parties. We associate elections with choosing someone to be our leader.  The biblical doctrine of election is a similar idea, and it is directly related to the notion that God is sovereign.  The Doctrine of Election teaches that the initiative in matters of faith and human destiny is always God’s initiative. Our relationship with God isn’t like buying a car– we don’t go into the sacred supermarket and pick a God for ourselves.  Rather, our faith (and our beloved-ness in God’s eyes) is a gracious gift from start to vanish. It is undeserved, unearned, and unmerited. In originates in God, and finds a home within us.

Of course, this flies in the face of everything we have been taught in American culture. I grew up surrounded by people constantly telling me to “make something of myself” and affirming that “I could be anything” as long as I tried hard enough.  Well, according to the Bible, there is at least one thing that I can never do for myself, and that is deserve the grace I receive. Election reminds us that, at least where our faith is concerned, there are no bootstraps by which to pull ourselves up by. We are not masters of our own fate or captains of our own destiny. We cannot buy, or educate, or negotiate our way into salvation. Instead, “Twas grace that taught our hearts to fear, and grace our fears relieved.”bootstrap01-1

That doesn’t mean that everyone agrees on how election works.  Basically, there are three major camps that seek to make sense of how God claims humanity:

  1. Universalism: all are included–none of us deserves it, but God chooses everyone, because God is love and God would never say no to one of God’s creations.
  2. Pelagianism: This approach to election attempts to affirm God’s action but makes it contingent upon our accepting the grace God offers us.  Which, when you think about it, sort of threatens the idea that God is sovereign, doesn’t it?
  3. Double predestination: some are included and some are excluded.

This is the view that Calvin took—and there are a few things we need to know about this.  First of all, this doctrine was the source of great discussion and argument in Calvin’s day.  Calvin observes in the beginning of his own discussion of it that “human curiosity renders the discussion of predestination very confusing and even dangerous” (3.21.1).  Why so dangerous? Because this doctrine has to do with the mind of God, and none of us, by virtue of our humanness, has full access to God’s mind.  We cannot probe its depths, nor can we make any definitive claims about it.  We can only look to Scripture.

Second of all, we have to understand that this was a doctrine intended to comfort the afflicted and persecuted church. This is a hard thing for those of us who enjoy the privilege of worshipping without fear of losing our home, or our church being burned, or our lives being forfeit. But for early Reformed Christians, who saw their brothers and sister martyred and murdered all over Europe, it was a way of making sense of the carnage and suffering that followed their decision to follow Jesus in this way. It was something to cling to: God choose me.  God loves me.  I am not suffering for nothing.  But there was just one tiny problem: time went on and reformed Christians stopped being martyred, their perspective on this doctrine changed. You know how, when you are a kid, you might have a favorite blanket, or a soft, stuffed rabbit, something that brings you comfort, that you hold to help you go to sleep at night? Well how many of you have noticed that those same objects of comfort can, in an instant, become a weapon against a sibling? I know for myself, and I know in my home, that there is a fine line between a blanket as a blanket and a blanket as a hammer. Well that pretty much sums up this doctrine: Some Christians stopped seeing this doctrine as a blanket, and started using it as a hammer against other people.bbe1738a6187d68058f02ffeb6160113

Finally, I think it is important to point out that even John Calvin found this doctrine difficult to accept at times.  He wasn’t particularly fond of the notion that God might “give to some what he denies to others” (Institutes 3.21.1)  However, as a reformed thinker, Calvin privileged the Bible as the source of information and wisdom about God, and when he looked to the Bible, he saw both evidence of God’s mercy and of God’s judgement.  For him, this was evidence that God must have the freedom to choose.  However, he framed this theology in the context of the salvation of God.  At the end of the day, predestination had everything to do with the gift of God’s grace received in Christ.

In all of this talk about God’s sovereignty, and God’s election, perhaps it has occurred to you that there may be a problem, and that is this:  I don’t know about you, but I look around me, and it is hard to ignore the evidence that people seem pretty free in many of the decisions that they make.how do we reconcile human freedom with the sovereignty of God? How do we affirm that God is all powerful and the ultimate author and arbiter, while also affirming the importance of Human decisions?

And here is the truth that we would probably rather not hear: we are less free than we like to think. There is a lot of research being done these days exploring the line between nature and nurture, and it turns out that much more of our lives than we might like to admit depend upon things we have no control over: where we were born, the wealth and education level of our parents, our race. And so much of our experiences and our perspectives, it turns out, are shaped by forces beyond our control: DNA researchers point to epigenetics or the way our genes are expressed, sociologists point to community cultures, psychologists explore the realities of persistent bias. All these and more play an incalculable role in the way we see the world and the way that other people see us. We may be the land of the free, but what is freedom, really?

Now, the Bible affirms the importance of human freedom—on the edge of the promised land, Joshua calls the people to choose whom they will serve. In our scripture this morning, God does not direct, nor can he prevent, David’s choice to commit adultery with another man’s wife. The truth is that we are “called to make significant faith choices that grow out of the character and moral fiber of our lives. We make a choice to follow Jesus. But our choice is secondary to the decision that God has already made in Christ to love us and call us to service.” We love, says 1 John, because God first loved us.

At the end of the day, I wonder if perhaps the doctrine of predestination can help us understand the paradox of both our freedom and our lack of it.  Because, at the end of the day, predestination affirms the notion that, while we may not be free, in God we find freedom from the constraints of the world. In God we discover that all of the things that limit or define us in contemporary culture are wiped away. “There is neither Jew nor Greek, neither slave nor free, neither woman or man, but all are one in Christ Jesus.”s-1

In Presbyterian theology, this comes down to the notion of “freedom within constraints.” Have any of you ever gone to a restaurant and they handed you the menu and there were about 2 thousand options? And the freedom to choose anything—it turns out that it is difficult to make any choice at all. A menu with only 5 options turns out to provide the most freedom of all—we are able to make the choice that works for us, and enjoy our meal. The doctrine of predestination just takes a few options off our menu, constrains us with the “sovereignty of God” and the knowledge that God’s choosing us came first. Within that framework, we are more free than ever to follow Christ.

But what about other faiths? So often predestination quickly moves from being about us to being about “them,” the other who doesn’t worship God like we do.  Helpfully, our reformed heritage has some pointers for the usefulness of this doctrine in addressing the Other.  In his classic Christian Doctrine, Shirley Guthrie offers these three guiding principles:

  • God’s Love: just because some people don’t live as thought God loves them doesn’t mean we can decide that God has written them off. We ought to remember that we know something about them that they do not: that God loves them too.
  • God’s Judgment: we must acknowledge that as long as there are forces out there which oppose God, there must be love expressed as judgment against them. But that does not give us license to judge others. God alone is judge.
  • Our Responsibility: we need to share what we know without judgment. Not so that they will love God if they believe and obey, but because God already loves them.

Which leaves us with one question:  what about us? Predestination frees us from the notion that we can earn salvation, or find confirmation of our saved-ness in ourselves. We can instead spend our lives wrapped in the blanket of grace that we have received in Christ Jesus as a gift. You know Linus from Peanuts? We can, like Linus choose to bring our grace blankets into community with others, because we know that sometimes, blankets are best shared—and when you are willing to share your blanket, you are building community. Finally, this blanket marks us—we have become those called to take our grace blankets out into the world. We aren’t in some special club—our blankets are markers of exclusivity. They are instead an invitation for all. They are a reminder that we have been chosen to serve. And we are chosen not instead of but for the sake of the world.

“Salzburg, Republic of Austria, July 2006” by Melaney Poli

In order not to repeat history, it is not enough to know it, we must know ourselves, and our complicity.   -Schillling

Some days you have to take what you can
get, and that day my mother was too sick
to find yet one more crowded pavement cafe

and the worst of it was, sitting there in
my habit, I had to see it all unfold: the tired
couple with their small child, the empty table

and the promise of refreshment, and then
the waiter descending in a blaze of jeers,
scathing looks and torrid gestures, and watch

the husband and wife gather their dignity
and leave, unwelcome only for the offense
of resembling too much the enemy du jour

and I had nowhere to go, nowhere to
hide my shame, no means of protest when
the waiter returned and served us sweetly,

set the coffee before me, and the only way
I could ask is a veil any better than a chador?
was to say, simply, Dankeschon

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this poem was originally printed in the July 8, 2015 edition of Christian Century Magazine

Sing A New Song: Psalms of New Orientation

One of the strengths of national holidays is that we are given an opportunity to reflect on the stories that we tell ourselves about who we are. Many of us are afforded some federally mandated time to pause and to remember the values and the struggles that have brought us as a country to where we are today. (Let’s be honest: some of us just sleep in and troll parades for free candy.  But we have the opportunity nonetheless).

When you think about it, every nation has an origin story. The Israelites had the Exodus, which, as Mary Luti observes, was the unique place “where God acted powerfully to free the Israelites from Egypt and fashioned them into a people in the wilderness. By telling and re-telling this story, Jews learn that to be a Jew is to be a people saved from oppression, and therefore a people that must be engaged in repairing a world broken by tyranny.”

The Roman Empire in which the early Christianity got its start had a founding story too. You may have heard it—according to the myth, Mars, the god of war, fathered a set of twins and then left them to die in the woods. By chance, a she-wolf finds the twins and raises them to adulthood. But whey then grow up, the twins became bitter rivals, and ultimately one of them, Romulus, murders his brother Remus in a fight. Romulus goes on to found a city that will bear his name—Rome—and which will grow in power until its power reaches to the edge of the world (as they know it).  Mary Luti reflects that “Romans who heard this story learned to pride themselves on military might. They learned that to be a Roman meant never to shrink from the destruction of your rivals.”

Now, our country has a founding story too. And Nancy Taylor, the pastor of the historic old South Church in Boston, home of many a revolutionary in its day, tells our story in the following way

As you know, the Pilgrims … were aiming for Virginia when they were blown off course into these northerly waters. Although they were not where they had hoped to be, and the climate was much colder than they liked, their need to drop anchor was urgent. As their journal entries attest, they were running dangerously low on an indispensable provision—beer. So if you look at it in a certain light, you can see that this whole endeavor—the ‘New World,’ the Colonies, the Declaration of Independence, American democracy—it all began as a beer run.

UnknownI don’t know about you, but that is not the story I learned in grade school. My teachers tended to focus on other ideals: liberty, freedom, democracy. We lifted up the pioneering and independent spirit of those intrepid Pilgrims, who endured all sorts of difficulty to build a new life in America. We talked about their search for religious freedom in a new land. We read sermons in which they committed themselves to being a new and Christian nation, shining city on a hill, a beacon of hope and an example of Christ to the world. We certainly didn’t talk about them getting lost and setting anchor because the kegs ran dry.

That’s the thing about the stories that we tell. And that is this: what we put in is just as important as what we leave out. The stories that we tell about who we are, who we were meant to be, have the power to define not just the past, but direct the present. “Who we are” becomes the lens by which we see and respond to the world around us.

We have been exploring the Psalms, and as we reflect on our national heritage and celebrate our unique identity as Americans in this time and in this place, perhaps it is fitting that we turn to the Psalms once more to reflect on the story that they tell us about who we are meant to be according to God’s Word.

So far, we have explored Psalms of Praise, of Thanksgiving, of Trust and Lament. And today we turn to possibly the most important category of all: the Psalms of New Orientation. These Psalms reflect upon the story of God’s presence with the people throughout history, and how God has moved us to a new place in the present. They are, in their own way, Patriotic Psalms, Psalms that celebrate who we are by remembering WHOSE we are.

Psalm40Consider Psalm 40. The speaker begins in the following way: “I waited patiently for the Lord.” In the original Hebrew, it is more like “I hoped hopingly for the Lord.” This isn’t just someone sitting around hoping… they are hoping HOPINGLY! The prayer layers hope upon hope, to give us the sense of how intensely the prayer desires God’s presence. And he is not disappointed. God shows up. According to Psalm 40, God:

  • drew me from the pit of chaos,
  • set my feet on a rock,
  • makes my steps secure,
  • puts a new song in my mouth,
  •  “digs out my ears” in verse 6 so that he can hear God’s voice.

The story we are meant to hear about God is loud and clear: God. Is. Here. With. Us.

And you might think that this is enough, that the story can end here. But we are just getting started. It turns out that it is precisely this story—the story of God’s providential care—that gives the Psalmist the strength to endure what comes next. It is the knowledge of God’s presence that encourages the Psalmist as he continues his prayer and turns to lament, crying to God “Do not withhold your mercy from me. Keep me safe. Deliver Me.” In other words, continue to do that which you have done for your people from the beginning. Be the God you have revealed yourself to be.

Now here is the important question: where on earth did the Psalmist get the idea that God would show up? Is it merely the person’s personal experiences of God that has taught him this, or is there something more? The answer, it turns out, can be discovered in the story that his people tell about who they are. And who are they? Why, the people of Exodus, of course. Psalm 114 gives us a picture of exactly what kind of power that story has to frame and guide the people of Jerusalem.

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Exodus, according to Psalm 114, is not just a historical moment. It is also a present experience, a state of being that is relived over and over again by a creation that is being continually transformed by the power of God. Exodus is experienced as the profound transformation that God visits upon all of creation, and it is so profound that the heavens, the earth, all of creation quakes and trembles at what God can do. The God of Exodus, who drew water from the rock, is the God of infinite possibility. And this same God can do whatever is necessary to secure the people in the present.

This is what is possible when the people of God fully claim the story that they have received. When the story of God becomes our story—we become those who sing a new song, who see evidence of God in every place we turn, whether we cry out in praise or lament, victory or defeat. One important thing that I think we cannot forget is that the story of Exodus was not just a story that the people of God told to make themselves feel superior or invicible. The people who claimed the story of Exodus saw within their struggle a calling to have compassion in the present on those who are foreigners, who are widowed, who are orphaned, who are wandering. Their story drew them into relationship with the oppressed of the world, and challenged them to seek healing for all of God’s creation. Their story moved them to action.

So what about our story? In reflecting on the “alternate” story of the Pilgrims (you know, the beer story), one of my seminary professors had this to say:

One thing I’m going to ponder (this fourth of July) is what our country might be like today if our foundational story had been the beer run story, and not the story of our set-apartness. What we’d be like as citizens if we’d all been taught from our childhoods that we became a people when we were running low on life’s necessities. That we are simply a nation of people with ordinary and urgent needs, like all other peoples of the world. A people with a mighty thirst, hoping to find the means to quench it.

If the beer run had been our founding story, instead of the one that says we are different from everyone else and better than all others, maybe we would have grown up more alert to our kinship with the majority of the peoples on this planet who, among other things, have no reliable water to drink.

Maybe if we’d seen ourselves all along as having arisen from an effort to satisfy the same basic needs everyone else has; if we’d understood our unity with all who thirst—for dignity, for justice, for well-being and happiness—maybe we would always have acted wisely and decisively to ensure that basic commodities and the freedom that comes from mutual respect are always abundantly available to all.

Maybe instead of our tendency to place ourselves apart and above, we would habitually have stood shoulder to shoulder with the orphan, the widow, the stranger, and the enemy, as our scripture readings today emphatically command us to do.

It is my prayer for our nation that we might mark this holiday not only with fireworks and flags, but with lives committed to the ideals upon which our nation was founded: liberty, justice, freedom, solidarity, and peace. For all. No exceptions.American-Patriotism-1024x819

Amen.

How Long, O Lord? Psalms of Lament

1754097a4078c11f07e42c45f1dc4824If you were to take a look in your hymnal right now, smack in the middle, you would find that there are songs that are associated with Psalms. Part of the reason for this is because, in our tradition at least, for most of our history the songs we have sung have been the psalms set to music. John Calvin wrote of the Psalms that it was important for the people to sing these prayers as their own, so that we, in turn, might be able to pray similar prayers and songs of praise to God on our own.

In other words, singing the Psalms was a way of making God’s Word our own words, so that we might begin to connect our human experiences in the world to the reality of God.

As we have learned already, there are psalms that Praise God enthusiastically, and there are Psalms that express an unwavering trust in God.   But there is one category of Psalms that overshadows them all, one expression of the human condition that finds itself absent from the canon of psalms which we sing.

“By the waters the waters of Babylon we lay down and wept and wept for thee Zion, Please remember me, remember me remember me Zion.”

lament-davidsweeney-224x300Of all of the psalms, the psalms of lament are both the most common, and perhaps the most perplexing. How can prayers of despair and of hopelessness, or even prayers doubting God’s presence in the world, be considered faithful? They seem so dark—and so we tend to skip them and favor the lighter, more joyous Psalms found elsewhere.

But what if the Psalms of lament are necessary? For who hasn’t experienced deep grief in their own lives, or sorrowed over the daily parade of bad news? Who doesn’t cry out to God in a world where schoolchildren and churchgoers are gunned down, where young women are bought and sold into sexual slavery on a daily basis, and strangers blow up mosques and shopping centers with jarring frequency.

Walter Brueggeman observes that the psalms of lament, which he calls the psalms of darkness, are an act of bold faith, albeit a transformed faith. It is an act of bold faith on the one hand, because it insists that the world must be experienced as it really is and not in some pretended way. On the other hand, it is bold because it insists that all such experiences of disorder are a proper subject for discourse with God. There is nothing out of bounds, nothing precluded or inappropriate.

That doesn’t mean that lament is formless.  Rather, the psalms of lament tend to follow a very specific structure, one that recognizes that there is a process, or a pathway, out of pain and into the heart of God.  Take a look at Psalm 13, for example:

How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever?
    How long will you hide your face from me?
How long must I bear pain in my soul,
    and have sorrow in my heart all day long?
How long shall my enemy be exalted over me?

Consider and answer me, O Lord my God!
    Give light to my eyes, or I will sleep the sleep of death,
and my enemy will say, “I have prevailed”;
    my foes will rejoice because I am shaken.

But I trusted in your steadfast love;
    my heart shall rejoice in your salvation.
I will sing to the Lord,
    because he has dealt bountifully with me.

Psalm 13 follows a particular pattern, and by exploring that pattern, we can begin to understand how lament can be both incredibly faithful and useful for thinking about the struggles of our daily life:

  • The call: From the very beginning, the psalmist acknowledges God. Nothing in the troubles of life and the experience of the absence of God cancels the privilege of faith to speak directly to God in confidence of being heard.
  • Overview of the problem: In verses 2-3, the psalmist describes what is wrong in a tone of protest. The agenda of distress is threefold: this person has suffered trouble with God (God as absent), with self (pain in the soul), and with others (an enemy “exalted above me”). In the experience of the one who cries out, God does not help; there is no evidence God is present. The three problems are distinct but inseparable. Helplessness causes anxiety and anxiety protests to God. This is not simple trouble. This is real trouble.
  • Petition: In verses 3-4, the psalmist begs God both to “Hear me!” and to “Help me!”  Biblical theologian James Mays observes that “when we sense God hears us, it renews the strength of our hope; when we sense God is working to help us, our trust is revived.” These petitions seek the revival of life. Without the salvation of God there will be death. Life is at STAKE. This is the prayer of one who sincerely believes that the lives of those who belong to God matter to God. And so s/he waits for God to answer.
  • Trust and hope: By verses 5-6, the psalmist has been restored to trust and faith in God’s hesed. The goal of the lament is to move towards the promise and hope found in God. Lament, therefore, is fruitful: it is a crying out not for the sake of crying, but with the expectation that doing so will help us reach our telos in healing and restoration through the power of God. The psalm leads those who read and pray it from protest and petition to praise: it holds all three together as if to teach that they cohere in the unity of prayer. The psalm’s composition is guided by the radical knowledge of faith that cannot separate God from any experience of life and perseveres in construing all, including life’s worst, in terms of a relation to God. Lament puts flesh on the reality we experience, not to hold ourselves in that place of pain, but to move us closer to where God is working out reconciliation.

Lament can be powerful.  Returning to the words of James Mays, “the psalm teaches us how to pray, but it also shows us who we are when we pray. Agony and adoration hung together by a cry for life—that is the truth about us as people of faith. We are simultaneously the anxious, fearful, dying, historical person who cannot find God where we want God to be, and the elect with a second history, a salvation history, a life hid with Christ in God.”

Earlier this week, our own President put words to the lament of our country as he laid the Reverend Clementa Pickney to rest. In speaking of the tragedy that claimed his life, our President reflected that “The darkness we lament seeks to incite fear and recrimination, violence and suspicion. It seeks to deepen divisions between people and God. But God works in mysterious ways. God has different ideas.”Charleston Cover

Lament is the prayer of those who will not accept a world in which darkness has the last word. Lament sees the darkness, and will not sweep it under the rug. Lament lifts up our pain, our suffering, our human condition, and refuses to let it be ignored. And Lament demands that God be present there, that God show up as we stumble in the dark, that Grace prevail over it, until we again can join our voices to the song of the faithful, and once again affirm the grace that God has visited upon us.

Thoughts on Charleston

Good Lord. We are up to our eyes in so much violence that it we forget that this is not what God intended for us,… and then a tragedy like Charleston jolts us back for a moment. I grieve for a creation that has forgotten that peace is better than a sword, I cry out for a world in which my black brothers and sisters see violence against their bodies become daily news, and I cannot help but feel anger at a cultural system and disposition that too quickly forgets that nothing will change until we all start caring enough to wrestle with our darkness.

Jon Stewart, of course, manages to put words to this ache in a way that cuts through the BS, and calls it what it is:

A Prayer for Charleston (from Old South Church in Boston): Dear Mother Emanuel, You, who authored courageous slave rebellions,  who suffered and survived wretched bigotry, burnings and earthquake, You, who worshipped underground when your church was outlawed … Dear Mother Emanuel, in this day of grievous heartache we wrap you in bands of prayer. We pour out upon your broken hearts the healing balm of Gilead. You, whose shepherd has been taken from you, whose building has become a tomb, whose children are terrified: We stand with you. We weep with you. We rage for you. We keep vigil with you for your beloved dead. May the God of Moses and Miriam, of Jesus and the Mary’s, anoint you with healing, furnish you with hope and, one day, some day, mend your torn hearts and wipe the tears from your swollen eyes. God help us. Amen.

Our Duty to Delight

Psalm 1

Happy are those
    who do not follow the advice of the wicked,
or take the path that sinners tread,
    or sit in the seat of scoffers;
but their delight is in the law of the Lord,
    and on his law they meditate day and night.
They are like trees
    planted by streams of water,
which yield their fruit in its season,
    and their leaves do not wither.
In all that they do, they prosper.

The wicked are not so,
    but are like chaff that the wind drives away.
Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment,
    nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous;
for the Lord watches over the way of the righteous,
    but the way of the wicked will perish.

What is it about the psalms that is so enduring?

Renowned theologian and scholar Walter Brueggeman writes that the Psalms are the most reliable theological, pastoral and liturgical resource given us in the biblical tradition. In other words, they are the heart and soul of God’s Word. The psalms serve as voices of the faith—they put words to our very real, very human experience of the world. Reading, praying and studying the psalms can be compared to the experience of returning again and again to a deep well. Each visit provides new opportunities to be refreshed, renewed, and even challenged on our journey.

So what are the Psalms? They could be music. Many of the psalms are preceded by “sub-titles” that imply that they were meant to be sung, although the music is long lost to us. They are also poetry, and many of them are cleverly devised using complex and interesting structures that are all but lost to us in translation. For example, a number of the longer psalms are acrostics spanning the entire Hebrew alphabet. Which is pretty awesome in Hebrew, and nearly impossible to notice in English.

Whether they are music or poetry, throughout the history of God’s people, the Psalms have served as the prayer book of the Bible. To read the psalms is like looking in on the personal correspondence or text messages of God and God’s people Israel. It is a conversation that embodies both sides of the human-God relationship, and the good news for us is that, in the Psalms at least, that relationship can endure anything that our human experience can throw at it.

Perhaps this is why so many Christians for centuries have found this to be the peculiar place where God is most present. Luther, Calvin, the great reformers of the church, all found in the psalms a place of rest and repose. They found themselves there, and God answered them in these pages. Here, the song of the people—in joy, in lament, in struggle-echoed their own experience of the world, and in praying the psalms, those who came before us found strength and solace in the knowledge that if God was with Israel through this, then God could be with them too. John Calvin, founder of the reformed faith, gave the book a new title: he called the psalms “the anatomy of all parts of the soul.”

Psalm 1 is the first psalm—and as such, it sets the tone for all that will come after. And what is the tone of Psalm 1? Confidence. Psalm 1 speaks with an assured voice, and tells us that the only good way to live is in obedience to God.

Psalm 1 is a torah psalm, which may initially seem to pose a problem for us. We Christians don’t tend to spend a lot of time exploring the ‘torah’ of the bible. Sounds an awful lot like “law” and many of us who read our Jesus and our Paul come away with the idea that torah doesn’t apply to us. But consider that, for Israel, torah was a way of expressing the knowledge that God made the world and everything in it. For Israel, torah was the not just moral values, but God’s will and purpose, ordained in the very structure of life. So torah becomes the way of articulating God’s intentions for creation, for us.

And in that sense, torah very much applies to you and me. It is about how you and I, how all of creation responds to and honors God’s well-ordered world. And for the writer of Psalm 1, the best response is obedience.

I was talking with someone lately and he was joking around. He says to me, “you know me, I am a black and white sort of person. The only gray on me is in my hair.” Well this would be his kind of Psalm.

Psalm 1 envisions two roads, and each of us has a choice. We can choose the road of the wicked, where scoffers and sinners tread. Or we can choose the road of the obedient, of those who “delight in the law of the Lord.

I find myself wondering: What does it mean to delight in something?

I read recently that FDR had a sign on his desk that read, “let unconquerable gladness dwell.” And I wonder if perhaps this is the sort of orientation that the psalmist is getting at. For often when we read about the law or the torah, we are quick to think in terms of purity—we look at the law of Moses and see it as restrictive, as a list of rules to follow or to break. Or we look at our orthodox Jewish brothers and sisters who obey the torah, and all that we see are the limits.

But I do not think that the psalmist intends obedience to be a call to purity. I wonder whether the psalmist calls those who pray this psalm to choose the path of delight. To look at the world, and let unconquerable gladness dwell. And to find that God is in this choice when we do.

It turns out that the end goal of obedience and of torah isn’t purity. Rather, It is fidelity to God and all that God stands for. The telos of obedience is finding yourself walking with Jesus, not constrained or limited by what you cannot do, but freed and nourished by what you do know.

Catholic worker Dorothy Day often reflected that it is our “duty to delight,” and perhaps this is what the psalmist had in mind. That fidelity to God requires paying attention, that it asks us to be mindful of that which delights and keeps joy at the center. Because that is where God is found.

Jesuit Priest Greg Boyle writes, “we have grown accustomed to think that loving as God does is hard. We think it’s about moral strain and obligation. We presume it requires a spiritual muscularity of which we are not capable, a layering of burden on top of sacrifice, with a side order of guilt.” But the truth couldn’t be further from that—following Jesus, obedience to God, these are accomplished in the act of loving. And love has its source not in obligation, but in delight. Love is what happens when we embrace the world in all of its complexity, and rejoice in it.

According to Psalm 1, those who delight in God find themselves to be like trees planted by streams of water. And in a world where water was hard to come by, where desert was the primary geography, a tree standing by water is the one that will thrive. It is the one that will find what it needs not just to thrive, but to bear fruit. Those who delight in God’s world are therefore the ones who have a chance at life.

I want to end with a story from Greg Boyle’s book, Tattoos on the Heart:

The church had been letting the homeless sleep in the building at night, and there was always the faintest evidence that they had. In other words, you could smell it. They tried everything they could to minimize the smell, but the reality was that you couldn’t miss it. And church people started to complain about it. So one day, Greg Boyle stood up for his homily and he asked the congregation: What does the church smell like?

People were mortified. Eye contact ceased. So he asked again, “come on now, what does it smell like?”

Finally, an older man who didn’t care what people thought said loudly, “it smells like feet.”

“Excellent. But why does it smell like feet?”
Another woman answered, “because many homeless men slept here last night?”

Well, why do we let that happen here?”

“Because it was what we committed to do,” says another.

“Well, why would anyone commit to do that?”

“Because it is what Jesus would do.”

“So, then…. What does the church smell like now?”

A man stood and bellowed,” it smells like commitment.”

The place cheered.

Another woman volunteered, “it smells like roses!”

And everyone roared with laughter as the church embraced someone else’s odor as their own.

Delight is what allows a congregation to rejoice in the smell of feet lingering on the pews. Delight makes the difference between obligation and opportunity, between seeing the world as limited or abounding in holiness. Let us be those whose attention is tuned to delight. Let us be trees planted by streams that will not fail. Amen.

What We Do Not See: A Sermon for Memorial Day

who-pays-1Holidays like Memorial Day are interesting in my house—it’s one of the of those times of year when my husband and I get into some interesting conversations. You see, he is a professor of political science at UPENN, and his research focuses on war. He studies war quantitatively, which means that he ends up looking at a lot of statistical data. Things like, “how many deaths occurred on this battlefield in this month between these two countries?” His computer contains excel spreadsheets that go page after page after page, detailing battle deaths for every month of every conflict going back as far as there are decent records to rely on.

But what is interesting to me is how few of those conflicts, especially when it comes to the United States, are actually considered wars by our countries. It turns out that the last time our congress officially declared war was when we entered World War II in 1942, which means that, technically speaking, every “conflict” that we have engaged in since isn’t a war by a certain standard. The Korean War, The Vietnam War, The Balkans War, the First Gulf War, Iraq and Afghanistan—none of them are wars, at least according to Congress.

And all I can think is: if those aren’t wars, then I don’t know what is.

Turns out there are a lot of different definitions for what counts as a war out there. And according to those definitions, right now we are currently fighting somewhere between 0 and 134 wars.

The case for zero: we haven’t declared war since 1942 so there has been no war since then.

The case for at least 6: if what counts as war is extensive military incursion, without necessarily being declared war as such by congress, then we are at war in Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia, Pakistan, Yemen and Syria.

The case for as many as 134: this represents the number of countries that the United States had special operations forces in as of September 2014. These forces can be doing anything from actually fighting, to training or providing support to military forces in other countries.

It is almost as if the world is a battlefield, and we are in the midst of it.

Now, not so long ago, it was difficult to avoid the realities of war in this country. Americans felt the cost of war—Americans were drafted into military service, and families endured rationing of food and basic supplies.

Things are somewhat different today. For starters, those who serve in the military are all volunteers. Unlike Vietnam, no one serves who doesn’t wish to.

But it turns out that there is a cost to a volunteer military force—those of us who do not wish to see the war, do not have to, either. When there is no threat of a draft, it is easy to live your life as though the actions of the military have little or no consequence. In a world where rationing is unnecessary and the draft is gone, the reality that our nation continues to engage in acts of war around the world gets pushed beyond the front page of the news, until we forget that we are fighting anywhere at all.

Which leaves those who serve in our armed forces to bear the burden of conflict alone. It has been said that those who serve in the military these days comprise the “other 1%,” and that small fraction of our nation bears the cost of war and conflict in their bodies, their communities, and their families.

They are the ones who know that in 2014, we lost 60 members of our armed forces during active service. They know that this year, only two service members have died while deployed thus far.

But there is another number that tells a darker story of the wounds that our military servicemen and women bear. 288. That is the number of suicides recorded among active-duty personnel in 2014. For the last five years, that number has hovered around 300, or about 30 deaths per 100,000 soldiers, which is 2.5 times as high as the rate for the general population. And this does not even take into account the number of soldiers alive today who struggle with psychic and physical wounds sustained on the battlefield–from PTSD and traumatic brain injury to chemical weapons injuries and the loss of limbs.

How heavy must the burden be that service men and women carry. To choose to serve, and then to discover that nobody knows the cost. These men and women are the ones who see what we would rather not—they serve in places we only hear of on television, they risk their lives in response to orders from high above them, subject themselves to conditions of deep risk, uncertainty, violence. They engage with communities where malnutrition and disease regularly claim the lives of the weak. They experience untold horror of killing another human being, and of seeing fellow humans killed, and are expected to make sense of it. They see what is invisible to us, and in doing so, many of them become less visible to us. We look beyond them, for they remind us of what we would rather not know—that, in the name of peace, we continue to kill each other, and use young men and women to do so.

We who serve Jesus Christ are called not to look away from the awful truths of war. We are called to open our eyes and see the truth that violence births in the world, to stand alongside the “other 1%” and carry their burden with them. We are called not to look away from that which is uncomfortable, but rather to know the cost that military violence incurs in the world. To mourn the loss of life through conflict, and suicide, and hope deferred. To remember that Jesus, who called us to be peacemakers, called on us not only to pray for peace, but to actively pursue it. To not just imagine a world in which war is a memory, but to labor on behalf of peace until we live in a world where the total number of deaths in active service is zero.

I think we can start by listening to our brothers and sisters who have chosen to serve. I heard an interview this week with veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan who shared that the best thing that we can do for servicemen and women is to get to know them. To build relationships with veterans who live in our neighborhoods, hire them in our businesses, care about them as individuals. For when we know them, when we hear their stories, perhaps we can begin to understand the cost of the wars that we all too easily ignore.

 The grass withers and the flower fades, but the word of God endures forever. Amen.

One Cost of Military Violence

This list represents those who died during active, deployed service to the United States of America in 2014 through May 2015. The list is divided by branch of the military, and includes information about how the serviceman or woman died, as well as the country in which he or she was deployed at the time of his or her death. Overall, this list represents 60 deaths in 2014, and 2 in 2015 (so far). It does not include the 288 suicides of active military in 2014. The information in this list was found by searching the database of Military Times at “Honor the Fallen.”

Army

Specialist John M Dawson: died in combat, Afghanistan

Specialist Wyatt Martin: IED, Afghanistan

Sgt 1st class Ramon S. Morris: IED, Afghanistan

Staff Sgt. Matthew Ammerman: died in combat, Afghanistan

Specialist Joseph W Riley: Vehicle Borne IED, Afghanistan

Sgt. Major Wardell Turner: Vehicle Borne IED, Afghanistan

Sgt 1st Class Michael A Cathcart: Died in Combat in Afghanistan

Major Jonathan D. Walker: non-combat related causes, Qatar

Sgt 1st Class Andrew T Weathers: Died in Combat in Afghanistan

Major Michael J Donahue: suicide Car Bomb Attack, Afghanistan

Specialist Brian K Arsenault: Died in Combat in Afghanistan

Sgt Christopher W Mulalley: noncombat incident, Afghanistan

Sgt 1st Class Matthew I Leggett: Died in Combat in Afghanistan

Sgt. 1st Class Samuel C Hairstron: Died in Combat in Afghanistan

Major Harold J Greene: Died in Combat in Afghanistan

Staff Sgt Girard D Gass, Jr.: noncombat incident while on patrol, Afghanistan

Private 1st Class Donnell A Hamilton, Jr.: illness sustained in Afghanistan

Staff Sgt Benjamin G Prange: IED, Afghanistan

Private 1st Class Keith M Williams: IED, Afghanistan

Corporal Justin R Clouse: aircraft friendly fire, Afghanistan

Specialist Justin R Helton: aircraft friendly fire, Afghanistan

Specialist Terry J Hume: noncombat incident, Afghanistan

Staff Sgt Jason A McDonald: aircraft friendly fire, Afghanistan

Staff Sgt Scott R Studenmund: aircraft friendly fire, Afghanistan

Private Aaron S Toppen: aircraft friendly fire, Afghanistan

Private 1st Class Matthew H Walker: died in combat, Afghanistan

Captain Jason B Jones: died in combat, Afghanistan

Private 1st Class Jacob H Wykstra: aircraft accident, Afghanistan

Specialist Adrian M Perkins: noncombat injury, Jordan

Command Sgt Major Martin R Barreras: died in combat, Afghanistan

Chief Warrant Officer 2 Deric M Rasmussen: noncombat incident, Afghanistan

Specialist Daniela Rojas: noncombat illness, Germany

Specialist Christian J Chandler: died in combat, Afghanistan

Sargeant Shawn M Farrell II: died in combat, Afghanistan

Specialist Kerry MG Danyluk: died in combat, Afghanistan

Captain James E Chaffin III: died in noncombat incident, Afghanistan

Specialist John A Pelham: died in combat, Afghanistan

Sgt 1st Class Roberto C Skelt: died in combat, Afghanistan

Private 1st Class Joshua A Gray: Died in noncombat incident, Afghanistan

Specialisit Christopher A Landis: died in combat, Afghanistan

Chief Warrant Officer 2 Edward Balli: died in combat, Afghanistan

Specialist Andrew H Sipple: died in noncombat incident, Afghanistan

Staff Sgt Daniel T Lee: Died in combat, Afghanistan

Sgt Drew M Scoble: Died in aircraft crash, Afghanistan

Sgt 1st Class William K Lacey: Died in Combat, Afghanistan (rocket attack)

Air Force

Captain William H DuBois: Aircraft crash, Middle East

Master Sgt David L Poirier: noncombat death, undisclosed location in SW Asia

Tech. Sgt Anthony E Salazr: non combat incident, SW Asia

Navy

Commander Christopher E Kalafut:: noncombat related incident, Qatar

Lt JG Stephen Byus: Suicide Car Bomb, Afghanistan

Boatswain’s Mate Seaman Yeshabel Villot-Carrasco: non-hostile causes, Red Sea

Marines

Lance Corporal Sean P Neal: noncombat related causes, Iraq

Corporal Jordan L Spears: lost at sea, North Arabian Gulf

Sgt Charles C Strong: Died in Combat in Afghanistan

Sgt Thomas Z Spitzer: Died in Combat in Afghanistan

Lance Corporal Brandon J Garabrant: Died in Combat in Afghanistan

Staff Sgt David H Stewart: Died in Combat in Afghanistan

Lance Corporal Adam F Wolff: Died in Combat in Afghanistan

Lance Corporal Caleb L Erickson: Suicide bomber attack, Afghanistan

Master Sgt Aaron C Torlan: IED, Afghanistan

Sgt Jacob M Hess: Died in Combat in Afghanistan

Wyoming Natl Guard

Chief Warrant Officer 3 Andrew L McAdams: Died in aircraft crash, Afghanistan

Chief Warrant Officer 3 Andrew L McAdams: Died in aircraft crash, Afghanistan

A Week of Heartbreak

It’s been quite the week, and I am just beginning to have the time to actually think about everything that has happened.  For starters, our church’s extended family has lost three saints (two were old age, one was sudden), and our home is down by a (great) grandmother and, as of today, one fuzzy, beloved cat.  So apologies if there hasn’t been any time to post.  I have been juggling a lot of loss, and frankly I am feeling it right about now.

We have had some time to process the deaths of our our family and loved ones, but I will admit that I am still reeling from the sudden realization that Izzy would not be coming home with me this morning.  We realized a couple days ago that she wasn’t looking well–we weighed her, and she had lost 3.5 pounds, wouldn’t eat, didn’t appear to be using the litter box, and wanted to sleep all the time. She has always been, shall we say, less active.  But this was a whole new level.  So we made a doctor’s appointment, and I spent extra time cuddling her, enticing her with tuna, etc.  She clearly appreciated the attention–she would follow me around, lay down on the ground next to me.  I tried to keep her on the couch or on my lap if possible.  But she was frail, and it was deteriorating quickly.

11205093_10103196761840475_5368645082686368366_nThis morning at the vet (the earliest appointment I could get), they did a panel of blood tests, which revealed that she was extremely dehydrated and anemic, with an elevated Calcium level, all of which was indicative of bone cancer.  The vet, who I think had been hoping that this might be reversible, came in and shared with me that there was little we could do, she was probably suffering, and that the best thing was to let her be at peace.  I had always known this might be a possibility, so I was prepared for it, but that didn’t make it any easier to hear. I had some time with her to cuddle, to say goodbye, and to cry.  I was able to get in touch with a close friend who loved her too, and that person was able to say goodbyes as well.  All of it was quiet, peaceful, and quick.  She isn’t suffering anymore, and I am grateful for that, but I will admit that it is hitting me harder than I expected.

11150831_10103196751286625_4839800192618828939_nSo I just thought I would post some pictures of my little fuzzball, back when she was healthy.  She was a pretty needy kitty, and Lord knows she put up with a lot–kids, for example, were NEVER on her bucket list–but she was sweet, and kind, and cuddly.  She saw me through the lonely days of graduate school, and made us a family when Alex and I got married.  I am grateful that I was able to limit her suffering, but that didn’t make the decision any easier.  The house is quiet, and will be for a while.  No Izzy mewing on the stairwell.  No Izzy begging to get in the bedroom one last time.

1913644_771344247815_3959268_nI don’t know how we will tell our eldest, who was worried about her.  I can only hope that grace will be enough for all of us, and the joy of the memories we had.

Rest in Peace, Izzy-Cat.  You will be missed.