I preached this sermon at my internship site this past weekend on the prodigal son story from Luke 15 (NRSV):
So here we are at a story we hear once every three years – the story of a reckless son who runs away from home, and with a changed heart, is welcomed home by his dad with a big feast and a big party.
This is one of the most well-known parables that Jesus tells to make a point. He’s telling it to a group of Pharisees and scribes—as a part of the “Lost” stories: a lost sheep, a lost coin, and a lost son. In a lot of Bibles, the little title above it will say “The Prodigal Son” – which means recklessly extravagant—that the younger son recklessly spends his dad’s money, and likewise, the Father showers extravagant love to his son as he returns, even though this son is repenting for all the money he wasted and life decisions that ran him into the ground.
But if you ask people from other areas in the world, they don’t see it that way. When asked “Why did the Son end up where he did?” An answer from Russia: famine. Another from someone in Africa: Nobody helped him. In North America: He squandered/wasted his money (Powell, What Do They Hear?). Perspective matters.
Just like it totally matters if you are the oldest child or youngest in your family as you read this text, right? If you’re a younger child, you might identify with the younger son who was wanted to travel and see a whole different place but realized he had been wasteful and receives the abundant love of his Father as comes home. But if you’re the older child, you want justice for the son who stayed diligently by his family at the house.
One way or another, you are in this story.
The first people to hear this story would have been appalled. The younger son doesn’t even say “please,” he just asks for the money that will be left to him, and he leaves. In the ancient world, asking for this money, is like saying that you would rather have your parents be dead. It’s pretty awful, but the Father gives it to him, and the younger Son spends it on “dissolute,” meaning, “lacking in morals.” A famine comes, he starts eyeing the pig’s food jealously, and he confesses his sin and comes home. Before he even get to the house, his Dad is runs to the returning son, gives him nice clothes, throws a big party and supper, and it’s like he doesn’t even need to hear his son’s confession—he is just overjoyed that his youngest son is back.
But the older son.
He’s in the field, and in addition to his own work, he has been picking up the work his younger son tossed aside ever since he left. No one found him to tell him the news that his brother has come home, but as he was working and approached the house, he heard it. Music, celebrating, affirmation, laughter, connection, forgiveness.
I wonder, in that moment, the older son said to no one in particular: “But I stayed.”
You can hear the spite in his voice when he confronts his dad, “I have been working like a slave for you & have never disobeyed or did anything wrong or anything that wasn’t helpful.” It’s important for us to hear his anger, but also to hear his allegiance that boarders on obligation. He’s hoping that his hard and harder and hardest work and perfect attendance will earn his dad’s love. His recklessly extravagant love. His joy and his gratitude has been worn to a nub. It’s almost as if his lack of joy keeps him from hearing.
His dad, ready to celebrate, ready to hold one son under each arm, looks at his oldest and says:
Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours.
I can almost hear his dad wondering inside: Where are you? Where are your eyes? Where is your spark? I want to tell you this—you need to know! This is yours! I am yours! Why can’t you hear this, I’m right here!
But he can’t hear that.
Because his mind is loud with the stirring thoughts, trying to add, subtract, divide all the ways he somehow failed:
“…the harder I worked, It felt like I was a slave for you”
“…the longer I stayed, did you see me?”
Did you see me? Dad, did you see me?
Yes. I saw you, and I see you now: Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours.
When you stumble, try and forget God, and leave home, son, you are seen. When you keep tally of wrongs, and bitterness almost eats your heart, daughter, you are seen. When you forget that you are dust, and to dust you return, child, you are seen.
The giver of new life, the savior, makes beautiful things out of dust, and makes beautiful things out of us.
When our eyes are closed, when our hearing is drowned out by “what ifs” and “if I only I was better”—God takes us by the face and says “You are always with me, and all that is mine is yours.” I see you. You are a beautiful thing made out of dust, and everything that I make is good.
Now this story ends with a celebration, as all the Lost stories do.
But if only all our days ended with celebrations. Maybe there is a part of you that is lost, or someone you know who is lost. This story lives in the pages of Scripture and it lives deep in our hearts as people who shame the wise with our foolishness and faith in a recklessly extravagant God.
I’ll end with these words from a compline night service that would bless a person into their night.
“Be present, merciful God, and protect us through the hours of this night, so that we who are wearied by the changes and chances of life may find our rest in you, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.”
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.
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.
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.
My blog will keep going, but my reflection series from my “Adults and Lifelong Learning” class is done! This post is a little long, but stay with me! It’s been so fun to learn, laugh, and reflect with Prof. Mary Hess this Spring as I complete my Master of Divinity degree. What’s next? I’ll give an update when I have a clear update, ha! … serenity prayer, anyone?
This class has been a significant place of learning in my brain and heart, so thank you Mary! Thanks to Timothy, my spouse, for our conversations that often have been the impetus for many of my blog writings, and bigger life thinking – we’re shaping our story together, Timothy, and my gratefulness is too deep for one sentence (and I thought you were the one who uses run-on sentences). Thanks too to YOU, my friends and family in learning and leading, here in Minnesota, in Washington, in between, and in farther off places than that! Stay in the arena and keep asking questions and leading out a place of hope and passion. I can’t think of a better quote to sum up my hope, and for us, as big-hearted, broken, beautiful people:
It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better.The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again,because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause;who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails whiledaring greatly. – Teddy Roosevelt.
I shamelessly pulled this from Brene Brown‘s TED talk, and this quote inspires me to push myself out of my comfort zone, and I think for her too. I think I can safely say that if you read my blog with any regularity, you saw that coming. Oh Dr. Brown. I cherish your email reply to me, even though it was only 12 words long: “Hi Allison, Check out Grounded Theory by Glaser and Strauss. Thanks, Brené.” Yes, she put an accent mark above the “e”. I literally just sighed. Some day we will change the world together, Brené, some day.
Anyway, as Mary and I were batting around possible topics for this final reflection, she suggested looking at a parable through the lens of what I’ve been learning about how people make meaning an all sorts of varied and different ways.
I said parables are cool, but what about the experience of Jesus meeting the Samaritan woman at the well? Talk about two worlds smashing together. A male, a Jewish religious leader in an authoritative position. A woman, unaccompanied, who has been married five times, from Samaria. Running into each other at a well during the hottest part of the day in the Middle East. In the spirit of the Major League Baseball season starting, this is a pickle.
Just so you know, this isn’t an attempt to put a Jesus-bandaid on lifelong learning. I could quote the Bible with glowing images of our beautiful creation, or little smiling children running to Jesus. But I don’t think Scripture was meant to be cherry-picked in order to support a point. At least, I don’t think that gives Scripture enough credit, or really, it’s own voice.
The Samaritan woman at the well is important to consider as we wrap up this class on how people learn and make meaning, because it shows our insatiable desire to be known by our people and by God (and yes, I’m using the Bible to make a point, but as a wider, frequent theme of the Bible I’m going to say it’s ok). This is not a Bible study or a one-size-fits-all reflection. I want to show that there are a lot (a bajillion?) of points of views on the Bible, and as people in the buzz of spiritual questions/reflection, our task is to be empathetic with each other’s ways of making meaning, no matter how well thought out, complex, or black and white they might be. Why? Because your neighbor wants to be loved (spoiler alert: and is worthy of love), just as much as you are.
Curiously enough, this is the space and complexity that Jesus finds himself in when he runs into this woman at a well thousands of years ago. Jesus and the Samaritan woman aren’t just neighbors from different sides of town (80-90+% of US citizens live in urban spaces, think about how hard it is to wrap our heads around this?). They are from different nomad, rural traditions and cultures – Jesus, a Jew from Bethlehem, and this woman from Samaria who the writer of John shares little about. These are cultures with deeply embedded communities and practices, and histories that root them not only in centuries but in millennia.
As much as I am scared for them as a former camp counselor (for legal reasons, rule of three), I’m scared for them if their people, or their neighbors, or their family comes and finds them: a woman and a man from differing and clashing cultures speaking alone. Jesus’ crucifixion (and this woman’s almost-sure stoning to death) could have come quicker than we know them to be. I know, the Bible’s gross, but who are we kidding, isn’t our world now, today?
This is a text that comes up in a lectionary (a widely published rotation of Bible passages assigned for each Sunday) that somewhere around 4 million+ ELCA Lutherans and other Christians hear every three years. Many of those people hear in the sermon that the point of this story in the 4th chapter of John is that Jesus saves, even adulterous women.
I don’t want to belittle this perspective, but with some deeper digging into this Scriptural text, I realized that this woman was a survivor of a system that punished women. This kind of thinking that men are good and women are bad is the black and white thinking we find in 3rd order thinking (according to Robert Kegan, the author of In Over our Heads which has informed my learning this semester). Just to refresh our thinking, here’s what 1-5 orders of thinking/consciousness means:
To be clear I’m not saying that those in a more 3rd order of thinking are sexist. Not at all. I am saying that having a 3rd order frame of mind, and perpetuating systems that function in 3rd order frames, provides a fertile environment for victimization, “us vs. them,” and over all “othering.” I think the frequent sermon on this text screams that our church, its cultures, communities, leaders, and conversations, are often functioning in a 3rd order space. There is only room for the conclusion that Jesus is the ultimate good, and therefore this woman is the ultimate bad that Jesus was merciful enough to pardon and save.
We have to remember that the point of this model is to provoke empathy in each of us for those using the same frame as us, and for people who are at different frames. Me saying, although I am tempted to, “The conclusion that ‘The Samaritan woman has committed adultery and is therefore only just barely save-able by Jesus, and bless her heart she is’ is stupid and I’m never coming back when this preacher is preaching again,” is not empathetic nor pushing us toward being in community like God calls us to be.
So what do we do? What do we do when we go to a church, for the 1000th time or the 1st time, and hear a sermon that is close-minded and so black and white that we couldn’t even stay to the end of the service?
Do we shake the pastor’s hand at the end and say “Good sermon” or “That was a terrible sermon! How about you try living as a first-century woman who is only valued for her slave labor and ability to give birth as she gets shuffled from brother to brother”? Or, do we come back next Sunday, say nothing, and instead connect with your friend back home via Facebook Messanger, only using Pusheen emoticons?
Honestly I don’t like any of these options. They scream anger, passivity, insecurity, and isolation. This isn’t what Jesus wanted for his followers 2,000 years later, this isn’t what Kegan would want as people use his model to examine how we make meaning, and this isn’t what I want as someone who doesn’t know what the future holds but knows that we are made our fullest selves together, working toward one mission, not apart in isolation.
Hey, do you have time for coffee? I’m often free Monday mornings, Tuesday afternoons…
We meet at Starbucks (of course), and instead of undercutting their sermon with historical critical analysis, cultural appropriation, and gender dynamics in first-century Palestine, I ask:
Where are you from? … Does your family still live there? … How did you meet him/her? (if relevant) … What brought you to where you work/study/lead/learn now? … Wait, how did you get from there to here? … This might be an odd question, but why is that important to you?
My point is that we have to listen to each other’s stories. I wonder if a significant percentage of pastors and people-oriented roles have experienced hurt in one way or another in their life. This is why they serve, which is beautiful. But it’s also why they sometimes find comfort in 3rd order thinking, in black and white paradigms, because their structured thinking gives them comfort. It gives safety.
I’m learning that the biggest way that I can change someone’s hurtful, harmful, or dark behavior, theology, mind, or way of thinking is not through teaching, nor sermon-ing. It’s by example. It’s by showing up. It’s doing little things when I think no one is watching. It’s preaching when I don’t think anyone is listening (accentuated by a little girl last year asking me after a service, “Who made God?” and I had no answer); it’s recycling when I could have just dumped it in the trash; it’s writing when I think no one is reading, it’s dancing when I think no one is watching, it’s caring for my body and eating/buying healthy when I think no one is paying attention, it’s caring for and filling with pride for my spouse, one of my most cherished vocations, when I it feels like too few people care what lies in his future.
Lecturing someone who has preached from a 3rd order frame of mind about the “adulterous” Samaritan woman will probably not make a huge impact. It might. But I think what’s more impactful, in lifelong friendship, in lifelong collegeial relationships, in lifelong communities (we’re just a small portion of the church!), in lifelong learning, is showing a different frame of mind, not lecturing about a different frame of mind.
This looks like me offering my historical/cultural analysis in my own leading, designing learning experiences, and preaching, and going back to school to get the credential that shows my church my value and leadership. Yes, there is a tinge of hurt in that last sentence, that it’s only through ordination that I am entrusted with leading in sermon-ing, and leading a community in experiencing communion and baptism, and leading in other ways… so far. Times might change. Systems might change. Expectations might change. It’s through showing up for coffee and modeling a different kind of meaning-making that might be prompt perhaps the most significant learning of all.
For reference and varying views on the Samaritan woman:
John by Karoline Lewis, Fortress Press: 2014. The Women’s Bible Commentary by Carol Newsom and Sharon Ringe, Westminster/John Knox Press: 1992. John by Gerard S. Sloyan, John Knox Press, 1988.
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).
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 empathyand 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.”
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?
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?
I had a curious interaction yesterday. It was Sunday, I was at church (this happens often). The church my husband, Timothy, is working at is going through some growing pains, thinking about who they are and who God is calling them to be as the community changes around them. It’s hard, beautiful, inspiring work of a courageous community of faith. I’m so proud of them and to be one of them.
They’ve realized that they hang out in cliques, like most churches. Choir people over here, teenagers over here, knitters over there, 1937 local high school graduates over there. So to work on blending together, at the coaching of Timothy and other leaders, we paired up for one whole Sunday morning with someone of a different generation of than us.
An adult my parents’ age sat in worship with a chemistry-loving 11th grader. A high schooler had breakfast with a choir member my grandparents’ age. It was kind of neat. I got to hang out at breakfast, during worship, and in a think-tank conversation after worship with an 8th grader named Emily*. Emily is the most motivated 8th grader I’ve ever met. She looks into your eyes when you have a conversation with her. When I asked her what the most important part of worship is to her, she did not say “the music” or “if we had a contemporary band.”
She said the most important part of worship is the children’s sermon. She’s in 8th grade.
She’s bright and empathetic. Her lack of hearing requires her to wear two hearing aids and you have to wave in her line of vision to chat with her.
Before worship, we chatted for a bit, but not very long. Her mom helped us interpret each other. Emily darted off before worship to hang out with her friends. So as much as I want to be best friends with everybody, I had a hard time getting to know Emily. We didn’t know how to communicate and we live in different worlds.
She’s in 8th grade, adopted, super into sports, friends are her life, mostly-hearing impaired hearing. I’m 27, married, discovering my vocations post-grad school, changing definitions of home, career, purpose, can hear.
But I tried. We didn’t communicate super well. I didn’t use my limited American Sign Language skills but I totally should have tried. But the point is we tried.
By the post-worship meeting, I figured out that we could communicate through writing – so I asked her:
“Why is the children’s sermon the most important thing in worship to you?”
She quietly mouthed back, kind of loud, but mostly quiet, “Because it helps kids understand about faith and God, and it helps adults remember what’s important.”
I wrote back to her, “Ok, what other parts of worship would you change, so that kids understand about faith and God, and it helps adults remember what’s important?”
She took out her bulletin from the morning and flipped through page by page. Her eyes scanned and I felt a fire within her moving through the guide, that, as someone who is hard of hearing, is essential for her worship experience.
She stopped at the readings, the Bible stories that are read before the sermon, and she started circling words like “Thus” and other “old English” words that are scattered throughout a NRSV translation. She said these words didn’t make sense to her.
I bring up my morning with Emily because without the pairing-up we did at church as an intergenerational experiment, I probably wouldn’t have talked to her. We don’t look the same. She has hearing aids and we’re 10 years apart. But we tried anyway. I listened. I gave her a thumbs up after she lit the Advent candles during worship.
Something has been heavy on my heart lately. The shootings and killings of black people in the US in the last couple weeks, without due trial, have made me so angry and sad. My Facebook feed has been a cacophony of justice-seeking pleas and Christmas shopping deals. How do we do live life like this? Reading through comments on blog posts where people pour their hearts out, calling for racial justice, make my stomach turn as I read the most black-phobic hateful speech.
Because I’m empathetic to a fault, I try and step into these people’s shoes. Why would they say such hateful things about black people? I don’t know if I’ll ever know.
But I know it’s cheap.
Saying hateful words is easy, it’s quick, it briefly releases energy, it’s at no cost to the writer/speaker.
You know what’s difficult and costs a lot? Being in relationship. Asking, “What’s your name?” Asking, “What’s at stake for you when you do/say these hurtful things? Asking, “What’s important to you?” Asking, “What’s your dream for this world?”
This is hard work because it requires listening, vulnerability, and humility. Costly, and difficult traits of the human experience, but traits that spur the most beautiful and strong movements of love around us. Love that our world is crying out to embody. Typing hateful racial slurs behind a keyboard is easy. Being humble and putting yourself into someone else’s shoes, someone who believes differently, someone who belongs to a different ethnic and/or social community: that is hard work. But it’s work that we deep down know we are driven to do.
We long to connect with each other, and God call us to connect with each other in deep and meaningful relationships. One day, I’m hopeful that God “will dwell with them as their God; they will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them; he will wipe every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away…. See, I am making all things new” (Rev 21: 3-5). This season that is described in the book of Revelation is coming, but honestly, I don’t think it’s coming soon enough.
In the church season of Advent, in December where we wait all month for Christmas and Jesus’ birth, we cry out “How long, O Lord?” How long until we see justice for the deaths of young black men across the country? How long until the judicial system changes so that racial injustice is a crime, not an expectation? How long until we stop cramming prisons with non-Caucasian individuals, so that the statistic of 1 in 3 prisoners are black, is an ancient artifact?
I spoke with an 8th grader named Emily on Sunday. She’s adopted and has hearing aids, and has the cheerful energy of a teenager. It was hard to communicate, and talking/reading lips was not perfect, but I hope to call her my friend one day. It’s hard work, but I think we can do it, and I hope she keeps talking with me when I ask, “Why is this important to you?”
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.
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.