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.

Connections

In this fifth week of learning about church administration, I’m learning about ministry teams and external relationships for congregations. If you want to follow along, this week I’m reading and reflecting on the chapters titled, “Ministry Teams: Teeming with Talent,” and “External Relationships: Loving Thy Institutional Neighbor” (pgs. 201-240) of Church Administration by Robert N. Bacher and Michael L. Cooper-White.

I really enjoyed this week’s reading; I think partly because reading and writing has been a relatively relaxing activity compared to some other roles and projects I have been a part of in the last few days! I preached on Saturday and Sunday, and was the solo pastor out at my internship site’s second site 15 miles north of the main site in a more suburban/rural area.

Also, Saturday all day was our synod’s Educational Gathering, at which I assisted my husband’s workshop on social media, and led my own on “Being Lutheran in Today’s World.” I know, terribly broad topic, but we got through it—okay it actually went really well and the connections made in the room make me optimistic for how congregations and our wider church might celebrate and observe the 500th anniversary of the reformation come October 2017.

I'm not sure why, but this makes me think of reformation.

I’m not sure why, but this makes me think of reformation.

Speaking of connections, these two chapters, especially the second, are all about connections. The authors ground their argument for vibrant external organizational and church body relations by directing the reader to Dietrich Bonhoeffer. He was a theologian, pastor, and founding member of the Confessing Church which protested against the Nazi party in the 1940’s. Nothing like bringing the heat by quoting Bonhoeffer! These authors don’t hold back. They write, “we cannot escape responsibility by asking questions about who is the neighbor [Luke 10:29]. The neighbor is at hand and far away. The neighbor’s presence (and need) breaks through our preoccupation with internal matters” (219).

True, this might sound a little trite, because ignoring internal matters may inhibit our capacity to serve our neighbors out there—but even then, I am making Bonhoeffer’s point for him. We are called to change “you” to “we,” “my” to “our,” and from “me” to “us.” Congregations maximize their efforts to serve their neighbor when they engage with external relationships, including institutional relationships (like synods, churchwide, non-profits, or for-profits with aligned values). When congregations engage with external relationships, new perspectives are gained, new questions arise, and possibilities to serve each other abound, knowing that we all have something to share [For a psych/social perspective, check out Robert Kegan]. At our synod’s Educational Gathering, we sang this hymn that has since rang in my ears, for better or worse:

Let us go now to the banquet, to the feast of the universe. The table’s set and a place is waiting; come, everyone, with your gifts to share.

The table is set and a place is waiting – come share your gift. Which, I know, the worst part of me wonders, “What kind of gift can they share?”

I guess what I’m trying to say is that when we open up ourselves to love and follow Jesus, we open ourselves to be changed by our neighbors, who also show us the face of Christ. Individual neighbors, external organizational relationships, institutional bodies, you name it. Engaging with external relationships open up a congregation to be changed. But isn’t that the posture in a weekly worship service? Don’t we confess our sin of being human, full of shame, pride, greediness, and ask for forgiveness that turns us radically outward to embrace and serve others? Don’t we pray in the Lord’s prayer “your [God’s] will be done on Earth as it is in heaven,” a will that is not ours, but a will that is always is driving to change our hearts to be for the least of these and bring the good news of new life and everlasting life to every person whom we meet?

At the end of four steps to build external relationships (231-233), the authors end with the step of “involvement,” saying, “A warning: they will change your organization.” Now, I may or may not have let out a tiny gasp when I read that, honestly, “Oh no, is he talking about my church?” But how many times will we choose the posture “Not my church” instead of “Yes, Lord, my church!” I literally wrote this in the margin:

[Star]

OH gosh.

Risk

is for the

sake of

the gospel?

Eek.

oh boy.

YAY

YEA.

That last one was triple underlined, and think I’ve reached the edges of WordPress’ editing tools. Either way, believing in the good news, which the predicates sharing the good news, involves risk. It involves risking your identity because in some way you can and will be changed by the relationships you make with individual neighbors, communal neighbors, institutional bodies, and external groups.

I’m all for it, but I don’t have a congregation yet! Ask me in a year if I think this is a good risk, with a worth while opportunity cost (see Timothy, I’m learning economic words). I’m hopeful I will say “You betcha.” or “Yes, and I ask God to help and guide me,” or a simple, “Why didn’t I say yes earlier?”

In what ways are you connected beyond yourself to others? In what way is your church, or the church, connected beyond itself? Has this been a positive or negative thing? How does making connections open the door for change?

 

Source:
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Letters and Papers from Prison, enlarged ed. (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1997), 381-383.

Storytellers and standing in the presence of the big question: who am I?

Welcome to post number three of four for my independent study on adults and lifelong learning! I had a lot of fun collecting my thoughts and questions in my first two posts on describing the current situation of adults in American life. All of this is heavily informed by Robert Kegan’s In Over Our Heads: The Mental Demands of Modern Life.

This week I want to consider how this class has impacted my understanding of my 6-session, small group, faith-based Storytellers curriculum. Yes, I write curriculum, for fun, for faith communities. I didn’t like what was out there so I made my own. That’s not true, or all the way, I just wanted to contribute my own particular flavor to the mix. It’s amazing how few resources are out there for adult curriculum but MONSTEROUS amounts of resources of Sunday school and children’s curriculum. Perhaps an example of the vacuum of churches understanding the value of lifelong learning? Let me rephrase that: The church does not often place a high value on adults’ capacity to learn and widen their worldviews. Granted, another programmatic need is not what churches look for. But this isn’t a program and the need for adults to feel affirmed and valued in their continued learning of themselves, their neighbors, and their world in this day and age is just too important to ignore. (/off soapbox)

So, quickly let me summarize Storytellers and how it came to be (in it’s current form):

In my commute to Trinity Lutheran in Stillwater, MN from St. Paul in 2014 I heard a TED talk that featured storytellers like Nigerian novelist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. Her experience of being stereotyped by her college roommate led her to write and speak about the danger of the single story. She argued that the danger of a single story of a person is that the whole self, the complex self, is watered down to a single characteristic, a single image, or a single story. Danger! I agree with Adichie, we are all complex, have many stories, and have many dimensions, and change and grow from one day to the next.

I wanted to make a tool that helped congregations come to this same conclusion: to see their stories collected in the form of word art, displayed in a public space so they would remember, often, their identity, and that God’s story is speaking through all of their stories. So, in concert with some strategic thinking going on as a staff, I created Storytellers based on the five emerging values of the congregation. Each value is embedded in each of the five prompts. Each are explored, one per session, with the phrasing, “Tell me a story of… when you served your neighbor,” or, “Tell me a story of… when you realized you had something to say about God,” etc. We piloted it as a staff, and I asked participants at the ELCA Youth Network Extravaganza in Detriot to pilot in their congregations too, in their small groups.

Imagine this folded in half like a booklet, full of doodles and stories and phrases like "I remember when..."

Imagine this folded in half like a booklet, full of doodles and stories and phrases like “I remember when…”

I think what I’ve learned about the cultural expectation of adults has a major impact on how I hope people will interact with the Storytellers curriculum. For instance, how might someone in a 3rd order consciousness interact with Storytellers? How might someone in a 4th order consciousness interact with Storytellers? If you need reminding what these 1-5 levels of consciousness are as outlined in Robert Kegan’s book In Over Our Heads, watch this easy-to-follow illustration by illustrator, pastor and PhD candidate (Luther Sem, Congregational Mission and Leadership) Steve Thomason:

So according to Kegan, someone with a third order consciousness can differentiate between themselves and another person, but they also have the ability to abstract, or have and create ideas. They know themselves (self-conscious), but they don’t yet see their ability to self-author or design/create new realities for themselves. They can place themselves in society, but don’t see society as a place or people that is impacted by them. Kegan equates this consciousness as characteristic of the traditionalist (pre-modern) era.

Fourth order consciousness builds on third order’s person ability to abstract by seeing themselves as capable of self-authorship. They see that the society they inhabit is just one society among many societies in the world. They start to see the relationships between relationships – or what you might say they ‘acknowledge boundaries’. Kegan equates this consciousness as characteristic of the modern era.

Now between these two, it’s easy to say “4 is better!” But I have to remember that this model is not for the sake of identifying whose better, but where are we at for the sake of being empathetic with our neighbors. Not to “feel sorry for them” but truly, to walk in their shoes, and demonstrate genuine empathy for each other in a world that is often hostile to different ways of knowing or different ways or learning or “being smart.” I think for Storytellers, I have to step back and think through, “What’s being asked of participants?” They’re asked to be honest, vulnerable, reflective on their life through the lens of these prompts, and see themselves as complex individuals with lots of stories and layers. Basically, they have to ask “Who am I?”

Storytellers asks participants to reflect on their life in an identity-forming way. I think this might create some anxiety within third-order thinkers because it’s asking them to not only be conscious of themselves, but be self-authoring, a trait of a 4th order thinker. But what Storytellers could do is provide a frame or a structure within which they can explore these big reflective questions (as expressed by my Prof. Mary Hess). The structure might ease their anxiety, and the questions or prompts might offer just the right amount of challenge to help them move into a 4th order way of thinking.

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Photo by Markus Spiske / Design by Alice Mongkongllite for BuzzFeed

Now I don’t believe one small group curriculum can shift a person’s thinking overnight, but it could be one step, albeit small. It might help a person see that in the midst of all their stories, and all their friends’ stories, is a story of God redeeming, sustaining, and breathing through creation – breathing through them.

I think Kegan’s model of the 1st-5th consciousnesses could really provide a richness for thinking through more deeply how a participant might interact with Storytellers. Even though it might be small, it is kind of cool to think that something I created could make a difference, at least a small difference, in how someone sees their life and other’s lives as valuable and beautiful.

Cat’s out of the bag: why lifelong learning

Welcome to post number two of four for my independent study on adults and lifelong learning! (cue rainbow streamers, balloons, confetti) I had a lot of fun collecting my thoughts and questions in my first post on describing the current situation of adults in American life. It was heavily informed from the first half of Robert Kegan’s In Over Our Heads: The Mental Demands of Modern Life.

In this second reflection I want to build on the last by wondering why churches should care about lifelong learning, and the adults that would take advantage of it (at least, I hope would). I finished In Over Our Heads and it pains me to report that the title is truly a statement, not a question – we are in over our heads. But fear not! The opportunities to work together and walk alongside each other as adult learners are tremendous and bring me a lot of hope.

Prof. Mary Hess pointed me to a doctorate student who did a “live draw” youtube video, outlining Kegan’s framework on how individuals know/understand/interact with the world (he calls it “levels of consciousness”) Check it out.

Now as I nerd out about how awesome lifelong learning is, it’s important that I share part of my story (unless you already know it from earlier posts!). I taught adult small group learning experiences at Trinity Lutheran Church in Stillwater, MN before I jumped back into seminary life. When I arrived their lifelong learning pastor helped me stretch my wings a bit and helped me grow a curriculum that she and others created in the past few years. Working with older adults, hockey dads and moms, 40-year old civil servants, engineers, teenagers, bright young women about to leave for college – these lifelong learning opportunities mattered to these folks, and I’ll always be grateful for their willingness to try those experiments with me as I facilitated and created some small group curriculum (and preached and did some one-on-one coaching).

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Another part of my story is that my mom was an elementary school teacher. Now she’s a tutor and has a huge passion to help kids learn, from classroom basics to gardening and helping them be eco-conscious, to building up leadership in kids (like she did for my sister and I for which I’m grateful). Growing up with a mom as a teacher will always inform how I see that learning is and will always be important for individuals as well as communities everywhere.

So now that the “cat’s out of the bag,” learning is important to me and how I understand my unfolding story in the world. Whether you know it or not, your openness to learn, in various contexts, greatly influences your confidence, growth, and sense of self. Whether the church knows it or not, its peoples’ openness to learn greatly influences their confidence, growth and sense of self!

Why, specifically, should churches be pivoting toward a lens of lifelong learning in their work? (As a general group, I’ll address the bigger faith community of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America that I know as “the church”)

1. You said you would. Not to be blunt or anything, but it’s true! Parents, sponsors, and/or other people in the congregation promise to walk alongside people as they get baptized. The pastor asks, “As you bring you child (or adult, or significant other, or loved one) to receive the gift of baptism, you are entrusted with responsibilities… [here are a few:] to live with them among God’s faithful people, to teach, to nurture, to proclaim, to care, to work for justice and peace” (Evangelical Lutheran Worship 228). Where in there does it say, “model for them that learning in community ends when you receive a diploma?” Unfortunately by offering little to no lifelong learning opportunities for all ages, we’ve made it a cultural practice to not advocate for and create a strong presence of learning in our congregations. And yet we promise to be with them for their whole lives, which implies a life full of rich, hard, beautiful, and life-giving learning.

2. Because learning grows empathy and you step into another’s world. Money is a tough subject to talk about because it’s emotional. Most conversations about money aren’t about money at all. Money is tied to our relationships, our sense of purpose, our sense of home, and the way we understand ourselves and the world. So when I got the chance to coach and facilitate a financial workshop for couples, I jumped at it. One of the things that we teach couples is that financial conversations are enriched by using a couple of improv rules (there’s rules? It’s true!): one of them is “step into each other’s world.” Feel the height, walls, ground, values, dreams, and voice of the others’ space.

What is required to do that? Learning! Learn what the other is thinking by asking and listening compassionately. Ask what is so important to them about their particular view of money. Stories might come out, ideas, or more questions for more learning. This is why learning is so important and is a lifelong practice. It helps us have empathy, and step into the worlds and perspectives of others – in our homes, right next door, or all the way around the world. Like Sharon Creech writes in the award-winning novel Walk Two Moons, “Don’t judge a man until you’ve walked two moons in his moccasins.”

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3. Learning changes you. Yes, that might be your number one reason not to learn! Sometimes it feels easier to hide, but I know I would rather live as myself instead of pretending to be someone else because I refused to open myself up to learning. One of my colleagues was an executive coach at a large Saint Paul company. This company gave its employees the opportunity to learn about themselves, their motivations, their stories, where they’re being lead (big picture), and their alignment with their values and beliefs. Yes, individuals could discover that their current job is not where they should be! But this learning is for the sake of the learner (not for the maintenance of the institution), and how they might show up in the world as their most unique self.

This kind of inner-work is crucial especially for leaders. Finding out the “why” of their work and sense of vocation and identity is huge – and learning is the root of this work.

4. Because they’re learning without you. Get on the bus. Your adults, young and old, are leaning how to make a difference outside of church – don’t you want to contribute to those conversations? Bigger questions of “Who am I?” and “What is my purpose?” are explored all over our world in different ways – through graduate school, through Pinterest boards, through thought-provoking podcasts, or life-enrichment opportunities through work. Why not contribute to those conversations and jump in the water? Intrinsic to the gospel is a claim about who we are (children of God), and what our purpose is (varied, diverse, beautiful vocations). The church has something to say! Yes, it requires the risk of individuals rejecting or ignoring you, but why not try?

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These are just a few reasons why lifelong learning and church go together for me. Communities and groups are starting to see the need to provide adults with lifelong learning opportunities (see this awesome illustration of learning). When In Over Our Heads was published in 1994, Kegan predicted that America would see an increased amount of adults who seek out formal learning opportunities (Kegan 271). Luther Seminary is experiencing the biggest distance-learners community it’s ever seen – around half of its students. How might congregations be a part of this movement? How might congregations sense God’s nudging to care for and walk alongside all of its members in their learning, young and old?

I think congregations wonder about lifelong learning, but I’m not sure if all sense a need, or have the capacity to think creatively about these things. Either way I think adults desire to learn, but are tentative to admit that they have more to learn (i.e. they don’t want to look stupid, because who does?). I wonder what might be creative ways to encourage lifelong learning in safe and welcoming environments.

I think congregations could be these places and communities, and in baptism they promise to be – but do they want to be?

 

Sermon: forget, remember

I got to preach at Woodlake Lutheran Church in Richfield, MN this past weekend. Here’s what I said based on Matthew 16:24-17:8. Most people focus on the last half (Jesus changing/transfiguring on the mountain), but I focused on the first half knowing I had the most problems with it. It’s one of the most challenging passages, so why not! Thankfully this is done and written and preached. So here are my thoughts on “taking up your cross,” currently:

Hi, I’m Allison, I’ll be your preacher today. Pastor Fred and Pastor Diane asked if I would offer my thoughts today and I said of course. Their offer came right at the time when I realized that I wanted to go back for my Master of Divinity at Luther Seminary – which would lead to ordination to help me in my dream of being a professional leadership coach and facilitator for pastors and other leaders in churches. I’m pretty excited. It’s great to have friends like Fred and Diane who affirm me where I feel God is nudging me to lead and contribute to our church and the world.

You might recognize me from choir or from bell choir. I grew up in a church-y and musical family, so when Timothy became the interim worship and music director here at Woodlake in September, I knew I wanted to contribute my voice with these groups.

Now, you can’t really have a choir with just one person, right? Groups are just that – collections of people, united together for a common cause. Jesus keeps trying to get his disciples to see that they are part of something much bigger than themselves, and they get it for the most part, but they forget a lot. Because they’re disciples. Just like us. Humans.

This week’s gospel reading comes from the middle the book of Matthew, and Jesus starts to turn to the cross. Glimpses of the crucifixion start to become bigger and clearer, and honestly, more daunting and kind of scary. Jesus says to the disciples, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.” Jesus isn’t telling a parable or pointing to another story or something to make a point. He’s saying, rather directly, that the way in which he will die, on a cross, is the way in which we must live our lives – open, sacred, scared, terrified, with vulnerability and courage. He says that his followers lose their lives, or ignore who they are, in order to find it. They have to forget who they are, so they can remember who they are.

They have to forget who they are, so they can remember who they are.

I don’t know about you but that is a terrifying concept. I have to forget who I am? I have to forget that I’m a Japanese-Norwegian-American, I have to forget that I’m a spouse, I have to forget that I’m going to seminary, I have to forget that I love frozen yogurt, shopping for cute and affordable yet functional purses, and instagramming pictures of my cat?

He's a really smart cat.

He’s a really smart cat.

Those things are all true by the way. I love my husband. I love our cat, and purses, and frozen yogurt. I’m going to seminary, to trade in my Master of Arts degree for a Master of Divinity degree for more job and vocational opportunities and credibility. One of my grandma’s is Norwegian and came through North Dakota to meet my Grandpa in Seattle. My other grandma is from Japan and learned quickly how to act American as she was suddenly a single mom raising three kids in Alaska in the 50’s and 60’s. Stories of courage, resiliency, trust, and adventure. These things don’t come from me; I find draw strength from those before me. My parents met as my dad handed my mom a music stand at band camp at their alma mater in Seattle. I can’t shake these stories. They are my story just as much as they are theirs. I can’t stop being these things. I can’t stop being scared of the dark, and staying up to read the gospel coming through female comedians’ autobiographies, and loving the feeling of being anonymous at a coffee shop, and feeling unstoppable because I have a spouse catches me every time I fall.

Jesus says, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.”

He says, “forget who you are.” If you want to follow me, forget who you are.

It’s important to note that this verse has been used to justify terrible things – chapters, blogs, books have been written on the abuse that women sustain as they stay in abusive relationships because systemically they have no other options because they heard they had to “take up my cross”; racism that is sustained because certain races or ethnicities are worth forgetting because they should “take up their cross”; sexism that is sustained because it’s just easier to ignore the pay gap between men and women and women should just “take up their cross”, not just in this country, but all over the world.

These people have been told, “forget who you are.” Too often this verse has been used to justify corrupted power, and keep those at the margins just there – at the margins.

But the good news is that right after Jesus says this, God says to Jesus, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.”

My beloved.

Jesus is changed, the Bible says he’s transfigured, which means changed radically – and it’s like the writer of Matthew here just gave up and decided to stop describing what’s going on because it’s just out of this world. Jesus turns bright and white and shiny and something is happening. The disciples fall down they’re so scared. Just as quickly as it started, it’s done. Jesus and the disciples are on this mountain top as if nothing had happened and they start to head back down to their rest of their group.

What just happened? God says to Jesus and to the whole world – this one, this one here, he’s my beloved! I love this guy! That’s why, in church, like this morning, we read off our bulletins the confession, the psalm, why you hear someone preach, why we pray together and why we remember baptism and communion together; as a group. Saying this stuff to each other matters – God saying this to Jesus matters. Us telling to each other “you are beloved” – that matters.

But didn’t Jesus just say, “forget who you are?” Yes. And I am beloved? Yes. How?

That’s the mystery of God. The beautiful, frustrating, strange mystery of God. We are each beloved and unique and worthy of being loved by God and our people, and yet we are all part of something bigger than just me, or just you. We must forget ourselves so we can remember who we are; and remember that taking up our crosses does not mean hurting ourselves or others – but serving others out of a place of knowing you are loved.

We are all unique people with unique strengths and stories; and at the same time we are all part of something so much bigger that ourselves – a journey of following Jesus that is and will be challenging but beautiful, imperfect but perfect.

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It’s like when you jump in to the pool or a lake. Maybe you, like me, needed some encouragement by your parents or a trusted adult the first time you went in the water when you were a kid. It can be scary to jump in because your sense of you and your body, feeling your legs grounded into the floor, you have to give that up as you literally jump up and fall into the water. Suddenly you don’t feel that weight, or that gravity – all you feel is your body drifting through the water – moving slowly – but all the while knowing that the water is not there to eat you up like a black hole (it’s okay to use life jackets in this metaphor), but is there as you bob through and swim through. The water is all around you and beneath you.

You are a part of something so much bigger than yourself. This means that the group would not be the same without you. This group, this community is different when you’re not here. We can’t forget that this message is thousands of years old – Jesus tells us For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it – you have to forget who you are, so you can remember who you are.”

There are moments when we get in the way of ourselves. There are moments when we get in the way of our neighbor. It’s in these moments that Jesus is asking us to remember, my presence is at it’s fullest when we are together, with a united cause, dwelling in God’s love for the sake of the world. God’s presence is within you, and it’s also within your neighbor. It’s within the person behind you, in front of you, and sitting next to you. Jesus gathered disciples for the long journey through the cross and in the world – not a disciple – because the community of faith, in it’s beauty, in it’s ethnic diversity, in it’s socio/economic diversity, embodies the presence of God most fully. God’s mission has a church – one full of unique individuals who are called together to reflect Christ’s light in the world. The group – you, me everyone here – we must not forget that speaking and acting like we are beloved and deserve love – that changes lives. Stepping into new life with Christ means daring to believe that you are loved, that you are worthy of your own love and the love of your neighbor.

Presiding Bishop of the ELCA, Elizabeth Eaton

Presiding Bishop of the ELCA, Elizabeth Eaton

Bishop Elizabeth Eaton, our presiding bishop of the ELCA, preached at an event this past year and asked, “What would happen if the church started acting like the resurrection actually happened?” They would know who they are and who they are not. They would forget who they are so they could remember who they are. They would acknowledge their uniqueness and embrace their unity as a bigger community, part of a bigger mission, and a bigger love that can only come from one place: God.

That’s my dream for this church. That we understand that taking up the cross means seeing the resurrection and losing ourselves to find our life in God’s beautiful and sometimes mysterious love. That we are so lost in our sense of unity in God that we don’t undermine each other, and we don’t lash out because of our insecurities and fear that no one will love us.

Jesus is asking us today – will you forget who you are, so you can remember who you are? Will you jump in the water, and take a chance that my love will catch you, and my love will surround you in the form of your ushers, greeters, directors, confirmation guides, parents, teachers, baristas, grocery store clerks, mail carriers, landlords, grandparents, or coaches?

Remember that Jesus says you are mine. You get to be someone’s.

And in this, you still get to be you. I still get to be me. But as we look toward Lent and see the fullness of God to come, we remember that Jesus remembers us as we get lost in each other, as we serve and love each other in this radical experiment called the body of Christ. In this community we get to lift up each other’s strengths, gifts, and stories – in that challenging and beautiful work of being a child of God. And maybe we could even eat a little frozen yogurt along the way. Amen.

Stories: Through Rose-Colored Glasses

Hello friends. I’m not exactly back in a rhythm after my lent practice of writing about mira voce. But an idea has sparked in me a couple months ago that just won’t extinguish.

Stories.

Remember my rant a few months ago about being valued a young adult (which is great, but it was only a young adult) when I was at a stewardship conference? Well that fire hasn’t gone out. Having your passions, interests, experiences, leadership ignored is not fun. But here’s the thing: I know I do it, too. Churches, families, you, me – we all accidently prescribe a single story on a person, and see them as that one thing. Oh, you’re the kid. You’re the older woman. You’re the musician. Therefore, you should be in confirmation; you should be in Women of the ELCA; you should play music at every event that requires music.

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Plenty of people don’t do this pigeon hole-ing. But we all slip into it: You. You have one story: your race, your religion, your job, the way you vote, your car, your sexuality. I’m going to ignore your God-given complexity and beauty so it’s easier to interact with you. Your one story is how I will understand and interact with you.

There needs to be a movement that stops this. A movement that says, “You are more than that one thing.” We all have more than one story. We all have a story of how we’ve felt that there’s something bigger out there than us – call it God, the universe, the one, unity. We also, all have a story of where we’re from. We all have a story of helping someone, and how that felt.

All my stories are told through rose-colored glasses. Sure I have sad stories, but at the core of me, I’m a pretty positive person.

So as I tell my story for the next 5 weeks, I want you to do the same. Tell me your story. Dare to be seen. Share the glasses you wear. Besides, there’s only one you. The stories you hold, and the glasses that you wear are the only ones in the world. Contribute your story and I’ll make a wordle of each week’s contributions.

Starting next week, I’ll tell a story of when I:
1. Served my neighbor

2. Felt like a follower of Jesus

3. Stewarded all I have and all I am

4. Realized I had something to say about God

5. Felt uniquely designed to make a difference

I’ll tell one story each week. I hope you’ll tell one too. I’m so jealous of The Strangers Project. That would be a dream to create something like that with lots of people’s stories. But for this series – contribute your story in the comments or email me with #stories (Twitter DM @allisonsiburg), anonymously or not by Mondays at 11am CST. Contribute a story of when you served your neighbor by next Monday.

God’s story is speaking through all of ours. It’s not done. I tell my stories #thrurosecoloredglasses. What about you?

Mira voce: storyteller

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 moment came to me in a Starbucks drive-thru near our St. Paul apartment. I had planned on working from home yesterday, but since family is in town much of this week, I figured this was one of my only shots at being physically present at work. I knew after some morning commitments I would need a little boost, so I got Starbucks before I went to work for the afternoon.

Cinnemon Dolce Latte (decaf, of course). Yes, I jumped over summer straight to fall, but honestly. The fall is magical. This drink smells like fall, books, falling orange leaves, smiles, falling in love, welcome back, welcome home, brick.

Before I dropped Timothy off at home, he switched on the TED Radio Hour podcast, with this week’s theme of “Reframing the Story.” Fifty minutes well spent. The show jumped around to a highlight a few different previous TED speakers – the author of “Girl With a Pearl Earring,” a Pixar filmmaker, a book cover designer, and a Nigerian novelist. I just loved how they had their own unique ways of telling us listeners that stories matter – our complex, ugly, beautiful, lifelong, surprising stories matter.

So Timothy and I budget $10 per two weeks for my coffee habit. So I received my drink in the drive-thru and was waiting for the nice Starbucks barista to refill my card when it hit me.

We are all storytellers. Not just these four TED speakers. We are all storytellers.

I’m still hot on my heals from last week’s post about an experience where I felt like my church (Evangelical Lutheran Church in America) only valued me because of my age, not for my unique strengths, desire to serve my neighbors, passions and dreams to contribute to the world.

In this TED episode, novelist Chimamanda Adichie talked about the danger of the single story. She’s grew up in a middle-class home in Nigeria and shares a story of her family’s domestic help, a “house boy,” who lived in poverty outside the city with his family. One day her family visited the boy’s home. She saw a beautiful hand-woven basket his brother had made. She had only heard of this family’s poverty, so it was out of the question to think that they had any other identity (artists). The danger of the single story is that it doesn’t tell the whole story.

Do we do this to people at church? Do we quickly assess an individual and assign a ministry or group or event based on just one element – one story – of them? You look like a teenager… Oh, we have confirmation for them! You look like an older person… Oh, we have a small group for them!

I’m not saying that this is the case for every church. But it’s a temptation that I think every church faces. We must split you up by, you name it, age, interest, political-leaning. But if I’m being honest, I see it mostly by age.  Just last month I was asked to be on a team because I was young. I am more than a young person:

I am a theologian (just like you).

I am a steward.

I am confused by Jesus and inspired by Jesus.

I am in service to my neighbor.

I am in constant wanderlust.

I am secretly plotting to take over the world with love, puppies and sparkling heart confetti.

I am a lifelong Seattle Mariners fan. I remember the first time I walked into the Kingdome with my dad.

I am someone’s other half and I couldn’t be prouder.

I am a recipient of a master’s degree.

I am a west coaster at heart. I dream of living three blocks from the beach in a home decorated with my Pinterest boards.

I say all these statements to show that each of us are complex human beings. None of us have a single story. We’re made up of past and present experiences, “ah-ha!” moments, relationships, families, lingering questions. We all have a very big story to tell.

What’s your story?

Stay tuned for next week’s closing post of this series!

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