Change is Coming

 Isaiah 35:1-10

The wilderness and the dry land shall be glad,
the desert shall rejoice and blossom;
like the crocus 2it shall blossom abundantly,
and rejoice with joy and singing.
The glory of Lebanon shall be given to it,
the majesty of Carmel and Sharon.
They shall see the glory of the LORD,
the majesty of our God.

Strengthen the weak hands,
and make firm the feeble knees.
Say to those who are of a fearful heart,
“Be strong, do not fear!
Here is your God.
He will come with vengeance,
with terrible recompense.
He will come and save you.”

Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened,
and the ears of the deaf unstopped;
then the lame shall leap like a deer,
and the tongue of the speechless sing for joy.
For waters shall break forth in the wilderness,
and streams in the desert;
the burning sand shall become a pool,
and the thirsty ground springs of water;
the haunt of jackals shall become a swamp,
the grass shall become reeds and rushes.

A highway shall be there,
and it shall be called the Holy Way;
the unclean shall not travel on it,
but it shall be for God’s people;
no traveler, not even fools, shall go astray.
No lion shall be there,
nor shall any ravenous beast come up on it;
they shall not be found there,
but the redeemed shall walk there.
And the ransomed of the LORD shall return,
and come to Zion with singing;
everlasting joy shall be upon their heads;
they shall obtain joy and gladness,
and sorrow and sighing shall flee away.

Luke 1:47-55

“My soul magnifies the Lord,
47       and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
48  for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant.
Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
49  for the Mighty One has done great things for me,
and holy is his name.
50  His mercy is for those who fear him
from generation to generation.
51  He has shown strength with his arm;
he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.
52  He has brought down the powerful from their thrones,
and lifted up the lowly;
53  he has filled the hungry with good things,
and sent the rich away empty.
54  He has helped his servant Israel,
in remembrance of his mercy,
55  according to the promise he made to our ancestors,
to Abraham and to his descendants forever.”

the-change-up-180.jpgA special assembly, they called it. Just for girls. They kicked the boys out of our fourth grade classroom and out onto the playground for extended PE and rolled a large television cart into our classroom. A visitor joined us in the classroom, and before we knew what was happening, we were talking about “the change.”

Now let’s be clear. I was 10. I had no idea what she was talking about. All I cared about was the little pink and purple “pencil case” covered in quotes by famous women that she gave to each of us, at least, I thought it was a pencil case. It was full of strange objects that I had only glimpsed in my mother’s bathroom cabinets.

That woman in my classroom—neither her nor my teacher Mrs. Datlow ever really said plainly what she was there to talk about. Or maybe she did, but we didn’t really know how to understand what she was saying. All we were certain of by the end of our special assembly was that something was coming, that it would make us different, and that when it happened, we would need these bags. And Abstinence. That too.

So I kept that bag in my backpack (for years I kept it!), waiting for that moment when I would need it. Waiting for the day when I would finally understand what it all meant.

At home, I would pull out that little pencil bag and read the quotes printed on the outside. I remember the one by Eleanor Roosevelt the best: “the future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams.” I loved that quote. Later I would learn that Ms. Roosevelt had a lot to say about women—she was once quoted as saying that “women are like teabags. You don’t know how strong they are until you put them in hot water.”


It occurs to me that this certainly could describe our Gospel lesson today—for this morning we are introduced-reintroduced, really-to a woman whose story starts out with her in hot water, a woman whose encounter with God teaches her just how strong she will have to become. The only problem is that she isn’t really a woman yet—Mary is, by today’s standards, a child. Many scholars think that she might have been anywhere between ten and fourteen years old when the angel first arrived at her door.

Which, these days, would make a fifth-7th grader.

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It turns out that Mary wasn’t all that different than I was when I sat in that classroom what seems like a lifetime ago, pondering a messenger’s confusing words.

And I don’t know about you, but knowing that—knowing that Mary was a child, really—changes the story for me. To be reminded that Mary wasn’t a woman—she wasn’t fully grown, wasn’t fully anything yet—she was still a little girl when the angel brought the news to her that she would bear the savior of the world.

I wonder: Did she understand what that meant? Could she possibly? Can any of us imagine what that must have been like for her?

And maybe it is just my age, but these days I find myself wondering what it must have been like to be Mary’s parents in the days after this glorious news. For us, this news is glorious—for them, it must have been terrifying. In a culture where virtue is everything, this news has the power to destroy Mary, to destroy her reputation, to ruin her life before it even begins. Should we be surprised, then, that her first act after the angel’s visit is to run away to a distant cousin’s home? Back then, I wonder whether it was really possible to see this child for the blessing that He was?

And of course, I wonder what it must have been like to be Mary herself. I can’t speak for others, but for me being a preteen was often quite painful. I was growing so fast that my brain couldn’t keep up. I was trying to figure out who I was and what that meant. I always felt awkward. I still liked playing my little ponies, but I also was starting to think that boys were kind of cute too. I wanted so badly to be cool, but every time recess came around, I found that being cool and playing games, ie running around the yard pretending to be a horse, or a mermaid, or a princess, or a monster, were often mutually exclusive. And I wanted adults to take me seriously, but I struggled to understand what they wanted from me. When I was a tween, I was slipping notes under the door to my parents proclaiming that I was almost a grown up, and that they needed to start treating me like one and letting me stay up until 10pm if I wanted to. I wanted so badly to be grown up, but I didn’t know how.

And I think of this when I imagine Mary these days. Classic art often depicts Mary as this beautiful, peaceful, utterly calm and still young woman. How many 10 year olds does that describe for you?

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If we were to imagine this story today, perhaps it might be more accurate to picture Mary curled up under the covers collecting cats on her iphone, wearing her favorite flannel pajamas covered in cartoon foxes. Perhaps we should imagine this fiercely independent child clutching her beloved stuffed animal, even though she would never be seen outside the house with it. Her hair mussed on one side, her teeth wrapped in braces, the first signs of acne on her forehead.

e81b495f2f1fddd112b40e781a633ce2.jpgAnd here is what is amazing to me—when the angel of the Lord speaks his promise into Mary’s life—when he asks this child of God to bear the savior, Immanuel, God-with-us, into the world…. she is not afraid.

Perhaps she is too young to be fearful. Maybe her parent raised her to be respectful to other adults. Perhaps the excitement of being chosen, being set apart, overcomes any reservation. But Mary chooses to embrace God’s promise of hope. “Let it be according to your Word,” she replies. In a world that is dark, and fearful, she imagines freedom for the prisoners, sight for the blind, hope for the hopeless. She is faithful to the God of promise who guides her.

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Does she know the desert she is about to enter? I wonder. But just as God promised a way through the desert for the Exiled people of Israel in Isaiah 35, so God will provide a way forward for this brave little girl who has embraced a very big task. A task that she will only come to appreciate as she grows in wisdom and knowledge. God will be with her when her child is born in the darkness of a stable rude. God will be with her at 24, when her child disappears in the city of Jerusalem and she cannot find him for days. God will be with her at 45, when her baby is executed by the state for proclaiming a kingdom not of this world, for suggesting that the way to make Israel great again is not through strength, not through force, not through violence, but rather by seeking out and saving the lost and the broken.

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I wonder what might it mean for us, at this midway point in Advent, to remember that God’s Good News for the world can come in the most unexpected packages—for our God has a fondness for surprises like preteen girls and homeless prophets. That in fact, God rarely chooses the most dignified and deserving of us for the biggest tasks—the Good News, more often, comes to us from lowly, forgotten, humble places. The corners of the world from which we tend to hide our eyes.
Might it change the way that we pay attention to the world around us? The way we listen to our own children, our own neighbors? I wonder, would we be willing to accept a God whose salvation is found in the desert places of this world, places where all hope seems lost, where life has given up the ghost? Would we be willing to listen to a God who speaks justice out of the mouths of today’s preteens, today’s homeless, today’s oppressed people?

Because that is the God we worship, friends. A God who shows greatness in the least expected places. A God who strengthens weak hands, makes firm feeble knees, breathes strength to the fearful heart, and grants sight to the blind, movement to the lame, words to the speechless, sound to the deaf, and water to the parched places. Can we imagine?

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moving.

It’s d-day…. A and I are moving to Philadelphia.  We spent the last few days packing up his apartment (I had packed my stuff a couple weeks ago), keeping and getting rid of various things, especially recycling paper that had been in A’s possession for far too long.  The curb therefore was quite crowded this morning with old articles, receipts, etc that had finally been parted with.  We were left with, in the end, a whole lotta boxes for the movers who are coming this morning.

In the end, it feels a little weird, a little sad, a little strange to pick up everything and leave again, but I am also a little excited for the summer and for the unknown that is before us.  It is really neat to think that A and I are going to get to explore a new city together, even if I am going to be busy most of the time with Broad Street.

 

Anywho, wish us well…. the moving van is here and it is time to get going!

Mod blogs

Over on his mod blog, BRC has responded to the fourth in a series of questions from the 2008 Commissioner’s Booklet. The question, “How will we lead?“, is an interesting question that gives a bit of insight into what is motivating BRC to run in the first place, what his vision for the church is, and how he hopes to get there. He writes:

There also seems to be a shadow side to the young clergy experience, aspects of their preparation for ministry that seem somewhat out of alignment with the greater culture from which they have come. There is a disconnect between who young clergy are culturally and the institution to which they are being called to serve. In the face of this situation, young clergy are left with few options: change, deal or leave.

Something must give.

Something must change.

I suspect it is the institution.

I read his comments and couldn’t help but recognize myself, and many of my friends, in them. Because the world we live in IS changing, and the church, at is best, is an institution that should be able to respond to and in culture, not against it. The early church molded itself after the culture it was a part of, so that it could work within culture and so that its members could be better witnesses and missionaries to the people amongst whom they lived and worked. Paul writes in Corinthians:

To the Jews I have made myself as a Jew, in order to win Jews; to those who live under the law I have come as one under the law, in order to win those who are under the law — not that I myself am under the law. To those who live without the law I have come as one without the law, in order to win those who are without the law — not that I am really under no law in relation to God, for I am bound by the law of Christ. To those who are weak I have made myself weak, so as to win the weak; in fact, I have become all things to all people, in order that, one way or another, I may rescue some of them. But I do it all for the sake of the gospel, so that I may share its blessings with others. (1 Corinthians 9:19-23)

my point, I suppose, is that the “change” that BRC proposes is the sort of active responsiveness to our world which we are called to live out in our lives and in our churches. I read BRC’s answers and I see a biblical and a timely call to the church to take a look at itself and ask some hard questions–are we offering something people need? Are we being faithful witnesses? What are we afraid of? What sorts of changes might this culture require of us? Do we have it in us?
Kudos to BRC for acknowledging and putting that right out there. It’s what I needed to hear, as a seminarian who struggles daily with my call in this institution.

hittin’ the hump

So as of this afternoon, I am officially 50% done with my MDIV, which means that I am halfway done and a year and a half away from possibly being an offically ordained spiritual guide.  Whew. And I have to say, that man this feels good!  The past few months have truly been challenging and so I am grateful to have survived them.

A look back on the past 8 months–

June: I was dead set on getting the heck outta Cambridge.  I was convinced that Harvard was a mistake, that I had let my selfishness and my need to seem successful get in the way of my vocation.  I had internalized HDS as “The Harvard Death Star” as Prof. Patton aptly put it, meaning that I had blamed this institution for many of the frustrations that I had experienced.  If I could get out, and go to a Presbyterian Seminary, I thought, perhaps I could save my vocation.  I spent a lot of time hashing this out with my pastor and with my boyfriend at the time, Tim.

July: Still convinced that Harvard was a problem, but I was beginning to realize that perhaps it was salvageable.  I began to notice that more than anything I was just tired–tired of working, tired of studying, tired of school.  I thought back and realized that I hadn’t had a break since sophomore year of college, meaning that I probably was just exhausted more than anything else.  Of course, I realized this in the midst of working 40+ hours a week in the summer… so go figure.  Anyways, I resolved to put the issue of transfer on a shelf and sit with the idea of rest for a while.  At least I knew at this point that my advisor and my pastor were there to help me out if I needed it.

August:  I completed the petition to transfer and indicated interest in Austin Presbyterian, Columbia Theological, Union PSCE and Princeton, with the natural consequence that I was inundated with literature about the programs.  Columbia and Austin in particular were enticing because they were small and they went out of their way to talk to me in person.  I still get emails from them, in fact.  However, I was beginning to doubt my plan to transfer.  I figured out that if I transferred I would more likely end up with an MTS at Harvard and then start over again with an MDIV somewhere else, meaning that I would be 26 or older before I actually got around to ministry… and if anything I was NOT down for even more school.  I wanted to be working, not studying.

September: I withdrew my petition to transfer.  Tim and I broke up.  Life sucked for a bit, but it also got better.  I started my internship at Clarendon Hill and began meeting regularly with Karl, my advisor.  He has been a great person to chat with, even if his views on ministry are a bit unique, to say the least.  He has been a great influence though.  This month did have a lot of ups and downs though.  I spent the first half working up the courage to break up with Tim, and once I did I felt horrible, but then felt better.  Something like relief I guess.  And deciding not to transfer had a similar result… relief.  I was going to stick to Harvard and stick it to the institution…. meaning that I wasn’t going to let Harvard get in the way of me doing what I needed to do to get ordained.

October: interesting month, to say the least.  I plugged into a group on campus around now that has ended up being my main source of support, the Emergent Group at HDS.  Anna, Roger, Matt, Tyler, Laine, and the others have been wonderful people to me, and I think they helped me the most with getting through the suck.  Especially Matt, though.  He has turned out to be an awesome friend, and definitely helped me when I was feeling crappy.  Renee informed me around now that she was going to get married next year and that she wanted me to be a bridesmaid.  Sweet.

November: I feel like I started to feel my groove in November.  Classes were challenging but not overbearing, my internship began to feel less scary, and I got to know my friends better.  Had a few get-togethers at the house, and those were fun as well.  My birthday was in the middle of the month, and my roommates constructed a fantastical cake for me that can only be described as “one-of-a-kind.”  Matt and Ramy and I hung out a bit, one of my favorite times being the time we spent the WHOLE DAY watching TV and movies together.  That seriously rocked, guys.  I won’t forget that anytime soon.

November also became significant because that is when I got asked out on a date by Alex, a guy from my church.  It was both exciting and nerve-wracking to get asked out… because he was at the church I work at.  But we knew each other from before.   But I didn’t know what to do.  I am so glad we went out together though… after alot of consideration and advice-sessions from Karl and others, I decided to go for it, and it ended up being an awesome date.  We met up at 7pm and I didn’t get home until 2am.  And we talked the whole time.  Then he walked me home from church twice in one day.  It was literally amazing.

December: The semester drew to a close and I began to realize that time was moving faster than I expected.  Which is bittersweet.  I want school to end, but I also want to spend more time with the friends I am making.  It’s tough I guess.  Anyways, school was going fine, in fact it was quite unstressful.  Alex and I were getting more serious, and he invited me to visit him at his home in San Rafael during Christmas.  I in turn invited him to the mountains with us at Tahoe.  Both experiences were awesome.  His family was so nice, so kind.  And my family liked Alex a ton, even though he is profoundly nerdy 🙂  And Christmas was awesome.  I got to preach and help do communion at Foothill, and I felt super-confident with the experience.  Ben freaked me out a bit about dating Alex (I hadn’t told him about it yet) but it ended up okay.  By the end of December, I was more than ready for my red-eye flight back to Boston.

January: These days have been going fast.  I hit the ground running at about 75% when I got back, and finished my finals pretty quickly.  This afternoon I completed my last exam.  Alex told me he loved me, and we have been dreaming together for a few weeks now.  He decided to go to UPENN for his first Junior Faculty appointment, meaning he will be leaving this summer, but for some reason that hasn’t scared me yet.  For now, I am just happy to be with someone that makes me feel the way he does, and am happy to be halfway done with school.  I started working out my schedule for next year as well, and I have come to the conclusion that I am gonna rock this semester.  Bring it!