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.

My Weekend in Detroit at the E

I’m sitting here with our cat, Buddy, curled up on my lap. Timothy and I have been in Detriot, MI for an extended weekend leading workshops and tabling for LEAD at the ELCA Youth Ministry Network Extravaganza. This annual event helps members of the Network (most are faith formation directors, youth workers, youth ministers, or children, youth, and family directors in some capacity) gear up for the 2015 Detroit summer nation-wide ELCA Youth Gathering, where they will chaperone their youth groups and young people (I did in 2009 for my home church, that year was in New Orleans).

The Extravaganza (E) is also a time for reconnecting with colleagues and friends from around the country, and doing some lifelong learning together in inspiring large group sessions, workshops, and intensive classes. This was Timothy and my first E. This year’s theme: story.

One of the stories contributed to our story-word-art during my workshop as we previewed Storytellers.

One of the stories contributed to our story-word-art during my workshop as we previewed my Storytellers curriculum!

It’s basically a coaching/lifelong learning nerd’s dream come true. This is the E’s 19th year. We all know that lifelong learning is a necessity to living a healthy, adventurous, and vocation-rich life. One thing that isn’t talked about as much though is the soil required for that lifelong learning: relationships. Without the trust of your neighbor, and without your neighbor trusting you, there’s no connection, advocacy, love, accountability, collegiality, or support that makes lifelong learning happen. Over and over again, I saw those foundations grow and strengthen all weekend long.

During one of the evenings all the 9 regions (region 1 is AK, WA, ID, OR, MT, tiny bit of Wyoming) met in different corners of the hotel. First, 10 people came. Then 20. Then 30. I think we had maybe 50 people gathered around in this basement ballroom lobby: youth workers, youth leaders, and children, youth, and family directors (and us outlaws but they loved us anyway, I’m still not quite sure why), and about half were from WA. I have never seen so many Washington state church leaders in one place outside of WA. And it wasn’t that they were just present. There were hugs, there were moments of “there’s more room! Come sit here,” there was applause for E first-timers as we introduced ourselves, there was patience, there was excitement. I recognized faces from PLU, and from my facebook feed who are now leaders at my own homechurch (St. Andrew’s Lutheran in Bellevue, WA), and even a familiar face from 2008 who served on Camp Lutherwood staff with me in Bellingham, WA. That was a squeal-y moment and one that probably made my husband wish he brought earplugs.

This ELCA Youth Ministry Network and it’s annual Extravaganza is one of the best kept secrets in the church. They have doubled their size from 500 to 1,000 members since October. These leaders go back home and meet locally once a month or so to ask for help, for prayers, for ideas of each other. Leaders learning with leaders. Leaders supporting leaders. There’s collegiality, there’s faith, there’s laughter, and most importantly, there’s trust. I’m hopeful there is a network and connection like this for pastors. I wish I could say I knew of one. I think that’s what synod assemblies try to be, but perhaps those networks are quieter. All I know is that Timothy and I aren’t youth workers, but we were welcomed, genuinely welcomed, in such a loving way by all these youth workers. People asked me to tell my story; like my whole story. It blew my mind. I secretly hope they will keep asking me to hang around because this is a network that will, and is, changing the church and the world with their vulnerability, their courage, their leadership, their authenticity, and their willingness to ask questions.

Timothy's contribution at the booth.

Timothy’s contribution at the LEAD booth.

Oh and I should mention, my workshop went great. I shared why stories have become really important to me in the last year, and an experiment I’m conducting to try my ideas out. My college freshman year roommate’s youth leader was there, random (St. Matthew’s in Renton, Briana’s dad’s now the bishop of NW-WA)! And other friends, and new friends from New York to Washington, Pennsylvania to California. Check it out here if you want to learn with me and others why stories and storytelling matters with your people at church. Shout out to Timothy who literally ran around the entire hotel and complex to retrieve decaf coffee (with cream and sugar) for me at 8:30am as I set up the room. You are a darling, sweetheart.

There are so many things I learned, and people I met, and things I’m grateful for from this weekend. Being present and answering, “What is LEAD?” at the LEAD booth was especially fun. So many beautiful stories of leadership were told and I’m so thankful people were willing to share those stories with me. LEAD’s mission to grow learning, listening, and lifelong leaders is so close to my heart. They’re located out of Houston, and Timothy is one of their coaches, and I think we’ll be connected with them and be huge advocates for/with them for a long time to come.

Some of the leaders connected with LEAD!

Some of the leaders connected with LEAD!

So thank you to the E leaders and coordinators who made this weekend such a rich experience! And thanks to LEAD and others for helping us get there. I can’t wait to see what learning and leading might grow out of this weekend!

Do you see it?

I graduated from college with the conviction that I wanted my life to make a difference. So when I turned to my church to see if they might help, I was given a copy of this book:

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ELCA resource text by Walter Bouman & Sue Setzer

My former classmates are probably rolling their eyes – yes, this is a book any ELCA seminary-bound person has skimmed or read. But here I found the basics of vocational discernment (something not just for to-be-pastors, but for everybody, weird I know) and the basics of what it means to do ministry, i.e. make a difference in the world because I feel so moved because of my faith. Vocation is not just about your job, but about your relationships, your gifts, how you serve, and what makes you feel like “this is what I feel called to do.” Discernment is thinking, wondering, and praying about it.

But the problem of this picture of vocational discernment is that it doesn’t honor different ways to vocationally discern. If you put me in a room with a Bible and say, “vocationally discern!” I would probably stare at the white walls with boredom, hoping that the door was unlocked and wondering when I would get lunch soon. But I fear this is the picture many people imagine when they approach “vocational discernment” that the church so fiercely endorses.

Here’s the problem. We have bodies. We have brains that allow us to question and identify when the wool is being pulled over our eyes. We have feelings and the capacity to thrive and fail. We feel good when we help people or animals or the environment. Vocational discernment is not just thinking: it’s getting lost, adventuring, experimenting (which is what the church is anyway, is it not?), protesting, learning, leading, sharing, trying, failing, trying again, capturing the high moments and trying again.

Not one person has the same equation that adds up to “this is what vocational discernment looks like.” No two people are carbon copies, therefore no two people vocationally discern the same way.

This means the church has the opportunity to welcome and embrace people who think about what makes them tick and serve joyfully in a million different kind of ways.

Vocational discernment is not for the weak. It’s for the courageous. It’s for the failures and the beautiful moments of learning. It’s for those who say to leaders, CEO’s, pastors, bishops, “This is not working, but I have an idea of how to make it work.” It’s for those who look around and see people blinded by insecurity and fear, and can’t do anything but want to rip off their shades and help them see the beauty around them. Not just “ooh, pretty!” beauty, but true, real beauty – when people make amends; when organizations say “Oops, we messed up, and we want to make it right;” when a friend invites the truth by insisting “But why is that the case?” or when a partner admits, “Maybe we’re asking the wrong question?” and identifies the advent of a new chapter.

Beautiful & colorful picture from Brazil, on Pinterest.

This is the kind of beauty that’s all around us if we only open our eyes to see. Young people are starving to hear their church say “I see it, too.” We want to hear that the way we think about God’s presence in our lives is beautiful and needed; we want to hear that our vocations are weird and beautiful and strange and just right – especially in a market where contract work dominates and part-time or full-time work with benefits is difficult to find or keep.

This is vocational discernment:

  • Noticing every time you have the thought, “I really should blog about that.”
  • Reaching out to a church administrator about an HR question and being asked, “What’s new with you? Can we get some coffee to catch up?”
  • Insisting on scheduling informational interviews around a certain class or community-based game.
  • Not looking at your phone for 48 hours as you explore a new part of the state you live in.
  • Realizing that you keep pinning the same kind of quote on Pinterest. It happens. I call it the Pinterest fog.
  • Hanging out with friends, and through the laughter hearing “I know! We could start the…”

Do you see it? This what I see: Authenticity without strings attached. Experimenting with people you trust. Creativity for the sake of play. Being vulnerable and praying it’s met with a connection on the other side.

This is one picture of vocational discernment, but one that echos the qualities that young people are starving to feel when they ask their church, the community in which their faith was first sparked, “Is there anything out there for me?” We want coaches, mentors, colleagues. We want churches to find the same beauty we see in the world, the beauty you can only see if you get lost.

Do you see it?

Mira voce: now I know

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.

I’ve had such a hard time figuring out how to close out this Lenten series, hence I haven’t written in a few weeks – eek – so, not good, but now I think I know what I want to say.

I started this mira voce series with the intent of creating something new on a weekly basis instead of copying or imitating people or online things. But as I listen to this song (nsfw-ish; G-rated version starts at 1:28) now, on the other side of this series – on the other side of Easter Sunday – I’m realizing I was so taken by this song and this phrase because mira voce is all about celebrating life and its surprises. A celebration – an honest to God celebration of the miracle of life – of this undeserving, inexplainable phenomenon of you waking up this morning not by your own will, but by something else. A something else that I’m courageous enough to say is God saying, “I’m not done with you yet!” I think God says, “There is more I want for you, more I dream for you, more I wish you to see and you to exclaim in awe ‘Holy buckets!'” or translated in Protugese: mira voce.

Good Easter Morning, Trinidad. 2008.

Good Easter Morning, Trinidad. 2008.

I’ve had these mira voce moments all over the map this past Lent. I realized it’s okay to have different interests and passions than my significant other (with the help of Mindy Kaling). I realized how fervently alive the fire is within me, still, to travel and be bathed in sunshine and that’s a desire to travel that I won’t loose any time soon. I learned that making friends after grad school is rough but not impossible – and choosing a good attitude about that and other things can make or a break a 60 minute cardio workout (this is a big deal, people). I shared my voice with other young people who are sick of getting asked “How do I get more young people to come to my church?” when we’re standing right there in front of them, hungry to serve and make a difference in the world but are rarely challenged to. I was also inspired by Chimananda Adichie’s TED talk that helped me see that we are all storytellers who are beautiful, complex, unique, and have way more than one story to tell. 

This might be the end of this series, but it is certainly not the end of moments when you or I feel a tug or a tap on the shoulder that says “Look at that!” – mira voce – because God is not a proper noun; God is a verb. God is set loose in the world in resurrected joy as pieces of inspiration, as the inspired, and as the one who taps you on the shoulder and says “Look at that!” The women who saw the first evidence of Jesus’ resurrection were not merely “property” as they were economically and socially valued in the first century, but were people of courage, inspired enough to tell others what they saw. They were brave enough to tell others their mira voce moment.

My hope is that you look out for those moments that take your breath away. Look out for those opportunities to be brave and speak something new into existence by saying “look that that!” – mira voce – because I have a sneaking suspicion that the world needs more people brave enough to say what has brought them to life.

So thank you, Melody Gardot, for such a beautiful song to inspire this series. It’s been so much fun to play, reflect, write, and be present in this theme over the last couple months. I can’t wait to see what’s in store as I keep my eyes open to more mira voce moments in the world, and as I travel into a new blog series!

This blog has no ownership or rights to music by Melody Gardot or Verve Music Group.

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).

Mira voce: interests and passions

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 a song I love by Melody Gardot, “Mira.”

This last week’s mira voce spotting as I went throughout the week was all about having unique interests and being okay with something you’re passionate about.

For some reason I got it stuck in my head that when you get married you have to do all the same stuff. I’m not sure where this idea came from, but it sustained through college and through our marriage (so we’ve caught up to present day). It still blows me away when my husband, Timothy, and I find something that we both like – “We’re such rebels! We found “The West Wing,” a series we BOTH like!”

The point is that it’s actually quite beautiful when a person’s unique interests and passions are lifted up.

For instance, my newlywed husband spent 4 hours on Saturday night doing two fantasy baseball drafts while I read a book. I know, I had enough focus to read a book, who knew! Don’t be too impressed, it’s not my super dense theology books but still an awesome book called “Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (And Other Concerns)” A glorious beach/weekend/girl-power read.

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It’s an autobiography written by a hilarious woman whom I adore greatly, the producer and creator of “The Mindy Project” and actor/writer of one of my favorite shows of all time “The Office,” Mindy Kaling. In her book she talks about the awkwardness of trying to belong to a new group of friends in high school. With her friend, Mavis, she introduces her new group of friends to Monty Python’s Flying Circus. She writes, “I played it for them. No one laughed… The very same sketch that had made Mavis and me clutch our chests in diaphragm-hurting laughter had rendered my best friends bored and silent…. Eventually, Polly said, gently, ‘I guess it’s funny in a random kind of way'” (39).

Defeat. When a retelling of something hilarious gets met with blank stares and all you can say is “I guess you had to be there…” I get that. It’s tough to be so into something and then learn that not everyone in the world is so into it. But that’s ok! If we all liked the same things this would be a really boring world. Thankfully, in my opinion, I think God was pretty smart when he created (and still creates) people and said “Hey! Every person is going to have different tastes in music, different interests, different hair styles, different Pinterest boards, different points of view, etc.”

Not to get all Biblical, but Paul wrote, “Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of services, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone” (1st Corinthians 12:4-6). We’re not meant to be carbon copies of each other! Timothy and I can have super different interests and it’s still okay. I can LOVE to read this Mindy Kaling autobiography, and he can LOVE to run wild in his fantasy baseball leagues. We might be a strange pairing, but it works.

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My hope is that everyone gets to have someone in their life who points out a unique interest of their’s and says “Hey! That’s awesome!” instead of “…I guess it’s funny in a random kind of way” like those girls who didn’t get Mindy’s kind of humor. After all, Mindy writes, “What happened to me was something that I think happens to a lot of professional comedy writers or comedians… I think we all have that moment when our non-comedy-obsessed friends or family are like: ‘Nope, I’m at my limit. I can’t talk about In Living Color anymore. It’s kind of funny, but come on'” (40).

I’ve never seen In Living Color (I know! I know.) but I think I can relate to what Mindy is saying here. Don’t be afraid of identifying your passions and interests. Love them! Be around people who love them help you grow them. You never know when another person might look at you and get inspired to love their passions, because they saw you love yours!

This blog has no ownership or rights to music by Melody Gardot or Verve Music Group.