You fools.

Here’s what I preached at my internship site, on Luke 12:13-21.

Grace and peace to you from our Lord God, Jesus the Christ, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

I’m going to guess that I’m not the only one who has a hard time whittling things down. Like many other young adults in the month of July, our place is full of moving boxes, with very full recycling and trash bins.

As I’m going through my things and nic nacs, I found a graduation tassel that says in gold letters “09.” It’s probably been years since I touched it, and a total of 7 years since it actually served a function. But as my fingers sifted through the floppy cotton lines, I was reminded of a really great day of family, and friends, and joining my sister as the second generation of our family to earn bachelors degrees. Should I toss it? Should I keep it?

This is why it’s so hard to throw away things. Because things have meaning and they tell us stories of who we are.

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Graduating from college in 2009

But still, although I decided to keep that graduation tassel, I’m reminded that those things aren’t all of who I am. I am not my things. Even though they give me a sense of security, I am not my things. And that doesn’t mean they don’t have meaning, but when they become the only place that we seek to find out who we are, we’re ultimately disappointed and the answer we seek is incomplete every time.

We realize that we have foolishly raised the finite, Earthly things, our things, to the same level as God.

And I’m afraid that’s the trap that our rich friend has fallen into today found in the 12th chapter of Luke.

Jesus is asked by a nameless man what he should do about his unfair share of his family’s inheritance in the middle of a chaotic, loud crowd. Jesus responds with a parable where a rich man steps back and surveys his abundant crop from a good year. He realizes he doesn’t have enough storage space, so the solution he comes up with is to build not one but many bigger and better barns. All the barns!

Now this parable isn’t just about any person, but a rich man. This is not surprising seeing that we’re in the book of Luke—a gospel that is all about the Great Reversal that Jesus taught about, preached about, and exemplified in his death and resurrection. At the event of the cross, the sin and greediness of the world, and broken relationships were reconciled and made whole in Christ. For a poor man from Galilee, God’s love was poured out into this savior of the world, upending the Roman’s expectations of what a King could look like and do for all humankind.

In our world in the 21st century where those with money and means are featured in the media, those who are looked upon with favor here in Luke are the poor, the widow, and people like Mary, Jesus’ own mother. Luke challenges and reverses our understanding of who is favored, as Mary sang with her relative Elizabeth that “God has filled the hungry with good things and sent the rich away empty.” We hear about Zacchaeus, the beatitudes where the poor, not the rich, are given the Kingdom of God. Luke’s interest of reversing our expectations of what it means to be rich is shown once again in this unique parable that Jesus shares with a crowd.

It’s as if Luke knew that we would struggle with money and possessions. It’s as if Jesus knew we would struggle in our relationships with money and possessions.

Money is one of those things that touches almost every part of our lives. We make retirement and career decisions with it. We feel more secure with it. We make decisions about where we live and vacation with it.

Even more so, we care what our family or friends will think if they know we have to shop at that grocery store, or use that kind of payment, or what if they knew my credit score, or find out that I don’t know what a credit score is? Sometimes, or all the time, it can feel like we never have enough money or possessions. There’s always something you can’t afford, or is always just beyond our reach. That hunt to feel satisfied, to feel like you have enough, can be a hunt that we’re so embedded in, that we can be blind to the fact that the hunt is all we’re on. This hunt is the only way that we find meaning, or feel joy in our days. Money, and possessions, happiness and identity are tied together in a web that can feel all too mysterious and overwhelming to sort out.

Money and our stuff–touches a very vulnerable part of us. It has the power, if we let it, to tell us who we are.

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Today though, we are shown that it’s only in God, in the death and resurrection of Christ, it is proclaimed to us who we are. A theology of the cross here tells a thing what it is. And God doesn’t take that lightly. God tells us the truth… which on any other day I would say God says I love you! Or You are a part of my flock.

But today, God tells us the truth that we are fools.

And mind you, this is the only time God says anything directly in a parable in the entire book of Luke. And God uses these choice words to address the rich man: “You fool.”

Now, this might feel a little harsh, but it’s a good thing! Otherwise we (and likewise the rich man too) might convince ourselves we have perfect relationship with money, which just isn’t true. God tells us the truth: we are fools.

So often we breeze over this proclamation and go straight to the ominous warning “This very night your life is being demanded of you…”

Before this God tells us up front, plain and clear: You fools.

You fools who value your money and possessions for their ability to ground your whole identity and not for their ability to make you grateful for the bigger meaning and story they connect you too.

You fools who make isolated decisions from your neighbor and your God, and instead of sharing your abundant crop and share, you build your own bigger barn.

This rich man with his bigger and better barns points for us to futility of our choices, and our utter dependence and need of Christ.

Because on our own we can’t stop making poor choices about money. Because on our own we can’t stop defining ourselves by our possessions or bank accounts.

In prayer and in rich relationships that are quantified by time and not a price tag—it’s there we listen and experience the invaluable gift of Christ. Where God takes our greediness and ill-directed attempts at figuring out who we are, and in the cross, through Christ turns them into proclamations that tell us the truth that “You are a fool” and “You are loved.”

Through Christ, God turns them into opportunities for connection, making decisions about money and possessions in conversation with our neighbors, and giving us eyes to see how we understand ourselves through the lens of Christ—a lens that is always infused with unconditional love, as we are both looked upon with favor, and told “You are a fool.” We can’t do this alone, and through Christ our relationship with our neighbors, with money, and our relationship with God is made right.

Right up front, Luke writes in chapter one that the reason he writes this gospel is “So that you may know the truth.” There is no other purpose to tell the story of Jesus than to tell the truth. And that’s what God does for us today. We are told the truth that we are fools—and what better fool to be than a fool for Christ.

A fool that proclaims that light can defeat the darkness.

A fool that sees the cross and doesn’t see death but sees life eternal.

A fool that sees 5 loaves and 2 fish and is confident it can feed 5,000 people.

May we see the truth that we are fools, and see even more clearly Christ’s love working through our relationships and our lives. Amen.

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Advent Week 1: Yes, We Are Called to Hope

After hanging up Christmas lights for the first time on our house, a house we are graciously hosted in by my internship congregation for the year, I’ve concluded that today I am tired and my productivity has left the building. So I turn to you, friends. It’s Advent. It’s been bugging me, so let’s do it. I’ve been trying to avoid writing a weekly blog series on this time of waiting for Christmas because I have too much to do. I’m in month three of my pastoral internship. I fear I’ve tilted to the attitude of I’m “too busy” when it comes to my creative outlets. So let’s stop pretending that being “too busy” is something outside my control and admit that it’s a choice. So I choose to write: here it goes.

Getting ready to eat. Yes, all 12 of us fit in the dining room, woohoo!

Getting ready to eat. Yes, all 12 of us fit in the dining room, woohoo!

This weekend and Thanksgiving was fabulous. We had a warm, full house of family from both sides for a few days of eating, laughing, napping, and eating, lots. I truly have every reason to proudly name the theme of this week’s Advent reflection: hope.

Yet the violence and fear in the world weigh on me heavily. The preacher this weekend at my church (my supervisor) shared that Jesus says to his people that awful, violent signs of the end of this world are coming, and yet, be hopeful, because “your redemption is drawing near” (Luke 21: 25-36).

Are you sure about that? Jesus, have you looked out the window recently, to Paris, to Minneapolis, to Syria, because I don’t see a place that is shouting to me that redemption and reconciliation is near?

But that’s precisely what we’re called to do. In the face of death, redemption and resurrection is on its way. Ironically, in a time of celebrating the incarnation of God through Jesus, this tiny baby, we hear the message of Good Friday & Easter: there is no resurrection without death.

Our biggest threat is not violence: it’s fear. Fear that keeps us from remembering who we are. I’m paraphrasing what our preacher said, but what I heard was, “Name your fear now, before it continues to grow, consume, and spread.” Fear helps protect us from harm (see “Inside Out”), but when it’s our dominant emotion, it keeps our walls so high that there’s no hope to reach and connect with another person, another community, or another group.

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I admit, this is not the happiest reflection the theme of “hope.” But when we fear, we lose our capacity to hope. When we hope, we untighten our fists of fear and hold the future with open hearts and open wills. Yes, my first reaction, too, is “no thank you! That sounds a little too scary.”

But when we hope for God’s grace and love to come, we become less fearful of the changes to come, and become more grateful than we ever thought possible.

Advent week 1: We are called to hope.

Why I Give

This Fall in worship, the community at Woodlake Lutheran Church, is exploring the theme of “I love to tell the story.” Timothy’s on staff, and we’re there pretty regularly. Each Sunday (and Saturday) a different non-staff person tells a faith-related story and connects it to “Why I give” as we enter a season of focusing on stewardship. Pastor Diane Roth asked me to do it this week, and of course I went long, but here’s what I shared with the congregation. 

My earliest memory of giving to a church was participating in offering in our Sunday worship services back in Bellevue, Washington. As a kid it was such a thrill to touch and pass the offering plate if only for a split second, and to feel like it mattered that I carried it from the person on my left to the person on my right – usually my mom and dad. It wasn’t my allowance, but it mattered and it made me feel like I mattered.

Now with my own family of me, cat, and husband, we give a portion of what we earn to this church. You might know my husband, Timothy, who is the interim music and worship director here who started in September. Diane asked me to share my faith story and why I give and I initially said “Why?” because my husband is on staff and that would be weird. But she said she wanted lots of different voices, and my story, so here it is.

In 2010, the average college student graduated with $25,000 in debt – and that’s before they took on any other additional loans for graduate school, a mortgage, or life expenses. In Minnesota, in 2013, the average debt of a graduate grew to $31,000.

As part of a family paying back loans on two college degrees, three graduate degrees, and moving and life expenses – you might think giving to a church is low on our priority list. But it’s not.

We moved from our homes in Washington state to Minnesota a week after we got married. Over a few days we drove a U-Haul to the midwest to start a new chapter together as graduate students at Luther Seminary in St. Paul.

Consistently, we have leaned on our faith and spirituality to get through tough times of homework and homesickness and can we talk about winter in Minnesota – just that alone, connecting with God and being hopeful that Jesus will bring about a new life of abundant joy – that’s been our breathing in and breathing out over the last four beautiful years.

But that’s why we give ourselves to our people and to God.

We give our intellect to online blogs, communities, and organizations who want to rethink what it means to serve their neighbor.

We give our energy and our bodies to our communities when we walk around Lake Como and smile at neighbors, and when my girls at Zumba class show up because they are hungry to be courageous and seek out human connection just as much a I am.

We give money to communities whose mission and vision we align with, like here at Woodlake and a local community sourced agricultural business.

We give our hearts when I give away scarves I make or when Timothy designs a friend’s dream ordination service.

I give because it was never mine. I can stare all I want at that black or red line in our monthly budget, but that won’t do anything. I give because I am fearfully and wonderfully made by a God who I don’t always understand, but one that I love because God’s relentless love is one that I can place my hope in. Giving our money is a fraction of how we give ourselves to our people and to God. I respond to God’s dreams and love for me by giving my questions, my curiosities, my money, intellect, passions and energy to God’s people – which is partly a church, but mostly, the world, because so far I haven’t found a place where God’s presence does not exist.

If you ask them where they were when Kennedy was shot, people in my parent’s generation will tell you their story at the drop of a hat. People in my generation will be asked for the rest of their lives, “Where were you on September 11, 2011?” My mom was doing my hair before school and we watched the terror unfold on TV 2,000 miles away.

Young people are keenly aware of their prejudice and power to stand up for and with the voiceless in the world. Even though it might not reflect in a giving tally to a church, I would guess that we are not the only twenty-year-olds who are ripe and ready to give ourselves to God and God’s people. I give because I want look back when I’m older and say “Remember that time when we made a change? I was a part of that.”

Mira voce: friend-dating

This post is part of a series of reflections during Lent. This year for Lent I’m trying to create more than copy once a week, inspired by the Portuguese phrase mira voce, prominently featured in my jam “Mira,” by Melody Gardot.

This week’s mira voce is all about dating friends and not at all about dating. It’s about making friends, specifically for the twentysomethings. Easy, yes? I wish it was as easy as it sounds.

Last weekend my husband and I were with our lovely and hospitable family in Wisconsin and one of our relatives asked us about life, work, etc. – and friends. I shared about the friends we made in grad school who still live within a 5 mile radius but will soon be moving to different states for jobs. Then I blurted out “We need to work on making friends!” I sheepishly realized that apart from work and school friends, there wasn’t a huge list. I love my work friends and our grad school friends. But I feel like we should put our adulty pants on and meet some people, like “real life” people, whatever that means.

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This is partly (wholely) why I joined a gym. I love people and their stories and passions and ups and downs. Community is so important to me that I have a hard time expressing it. Needless to say, I thought I could meet and make a whole bunch of new friends if I joined a gym.

This is the part where want I say how much of a success story I am, a twentysomething rising above the fray of the cold dark, frozen plains of the North-central United States and I managed make SO many friends by joining a gym — but I think that would be a lie. I haven’t held any dinner parties with new friends, or grabbed coffee to just “grab coffee,” or oogled at DSW shoes with any of these new friends I’m supposed to immediately make when I joined a gym.

But perhaps this is because I’m measuring success incorrectly — because I’m having a really good time at this place. Like, really. Like, one of my grad school friends convinced me to come with her to a ballet-style Pilates class at this gym (we met other non-grad school people so it still counts). We were setting up our fancy Pilates mats, and I was like “Yea, class is about to start in a minute!” and she was like “I feel like we are getting weirdly excited to get our butts kicked for 60 minutes,” and I was like “I KNOW I’M SO EXCITED!”

Needless to say, that was Friday and now it’s Monday and I’m as sore as sore people are who overestimate their Pilates skills. But honestly. About mid-class we got to bounce on big fitness bouncy balls and I felt 5 years old again (which I do as often as appropriate). Then 60 minutes was by super fast, and Zumba was about to start. This is where twice a week I turn into a backup dancer for Gloria Estafan and shout out with with my fellow gym-crazed people “DALE, DALE” to insanely loud latin music (that takes me back to Trinidad & Tobago every time). I found gym people who are just as consistently nuts as me! Honestly it’s not a bad way to work out.

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So to those who feel like they should be adulty and make friends in the “real world” (because before it was a fake one?), don’t fret. Take heart. Instead of focusing on all the friends you have yet to make, invest your time and energy into things that make you happy and make time fly by — and do them in a group or class (like “group fitness” options at Lifetime Fitness). I try not to get stuck in a self-doubt rut, and this Lent is prime time for me to practice patience and refocus on things that I’m passionate about, instead of focusing on all the friends I don’t have. Besides, I still have some pretty cool people around me in-person or via Skype who are far away (here’s looking at you; family, co-workers, and friends, especially the grad school-y kind).