Truth about Holy Week for Me…Getting Real with Myself

Holy Week has been difficult for me since I was in 5th grade. I think it is a blessing sometimes that I am a pastor so I am made so busy I don’t have to reflect or think about why it is difficult. The Easter sermon is the hardest thing to write each year- these last couple of years I know they are good but just like any typical one. So I am writing this hoping I can finally get my writer’s block of Easter finally done with. Also I want to be clear I am not looking for pity but putting this out there so that also people who sometimes feel like they are perpetually stuck in Good Friday in their lives to know this too shall pass. Also so people who are in abusive relationships know there is life after.

Well as a person who is about being authentic and real…probably sometimes to honest for my own good…I can actually be really closed off (just ask my husband) and especially about why when Easter happens I just can’t get out of Good Friday. And in the words of the amazing Brené Brown, “Owning our story can be hard but not nearly as difficult as spending our lives running from it…Only when we are brave enough to explore the darkness will we discover the infinite power of our light.” So time to get vulnerable and explore my darkness with this.

As a child I loved Easter. It was this joyous day where at the Presbyterian Church I grew up in they had this huge “chicken coop cross” outside that people could cover in flowers. I loved wearing my beautiful dress and singing loudly for Christ. And of course my Easter baskets were amazing and the egg hunts. That changed though in fifth grade for me when I was 11.

My dad left the first time in February that year. It was honestly a relief to me at 11, because my parents were so unhappily married and to be honest he had become emotionally abusive to my mom. But Easter March 30, 1997 was the day he came back after leaving that first time. And it was scary and complicated for me to even understand. I was so angry my mom took him back, and I felt so guilty for wanting him to be gone and not come back. I loved my dad so much as a child, he was fun and smart, he was caring and supportive, but things started to change a few years before. And he was never really kind to my mom but very condescending, even in front of me.

You see my father was the consummate sales man and could get anyone to believe anything- especially my wonderful mother who loved him so much. However, every night I saw my mom walking on eggshells trying to make him happy. Dinners consisted of mom cooking them and then me (again a child) having to sit and listen to my dad pontificate about his day. Rarely was I even asked first about school- it was all about him and a minute or 2 left for my mom and me. After major counseling I can call my dad what he was (and is) a narcissist, compulsive liar, who lives a secret life, and is a crook. He hid all that as much as he could from my mom and I for years. Anyway he came back that Holy Week and mom let him back in.

I was so mad. It was back to the shit and abuse again. I mean he was on his best behavior for the next year (or at least hid things) but I remember sitting in the living room looking outside as a wind storm began that weekend. And I checked news archives, there was actually a windstorm that Saturday and Sunday where I grew up. The clouds were thick dark gray being whipped quickly across the sky by the wind. The wind blew the gigantic Douglas Firs in our neighbors yard across the street, so they looked like they were waving at me. Those skies though were dark. And it was Easter Sunday. I asked my mom recently if we went to church that Easter, and she said yes and my dad was with us. And all I can remember is the dark storm and the emptiness and loneliness I felt. Knowing that life was not going to get any better. Knowing that mom was still going to be living a lie with dad. Knowing that my mom and I were going to be pawns of his and have to live the lie of the “perfect family.” I at 11 was living in that empty tomb. I don’t even like today talking about the empty tomb, because it gives me feelings of being stuck in it. You see I actually like Good Friday, because I am allowed to be raw that day…I can just be sad like everyone else around me. It is Easter that is difficult, because I see that storm. God, it totally reminds me of the story and movie as a child that scared me to death by Ray Bradbury, Something Wicked This Way Comes. And yeah it was my father coming back to town…looking all good and great but inside rotten to the core…and bringing his circus of deceit with him (if you know the story you might get that reference). Seriously, I have had dreams since that day with my dad standing outside in that story as the shadowy character. Yup creepy.

So when I get up on Easter morning and celebrate I am actually not lying but clinging to the promise that God actually rose from the dead. It is a day that forces me to face my pain and truth and literally pushes me into Christ…even if I would rather still wallow in pain (I am an enneagram 4 so trust me I love to cling to pain, because it my head that means more creativity/artistry- yes that is totally unhealthy and I am working on it).

I just would rather with Easter sit and sob in relief—have a cathartic moment—and just be real and raw than shout loudly. Relief that my mom finally (even after losing everything) left him and is actually with an amazing man I hope I can have my children call grandpa. Relief that I don’t have to have a relationship with my dad anymore, but still pray for him (some relationships are so toxic and abusive people need to be apart and just pray for them). Relief that I am so blessed with a wonderful husband and great examples of men who actually care and are healthy. Relief that even if I can’t reconcile in this world Jesus can and has done that for me. Relief that that chapter is finally over and I can move on.

So sometimes I feel like I am stuck at Golgotha or can’t leave the tomb, but thank God Holy Week pushes Easter on me regardless if I like it to or not it is coming. I am clinging to the promise that God really is alive and that death and suffering and the devil have been defeated. It is so emotional for me, so much that my mom calls to check on me, my husband tries to keep me busy, and (thank God) this year my friends nearby who know the truth (it took a lot for me to share) make sure my hubby and I have a place to go for Easter dinner that day to just have fun (and wine). So yes the tomb is empty—but don’t stay in it but get out into that garden and see the new life. Oh and I get a TON of flowers for my apartment on Easter to remind me of new life, since I loved the flowers on Easter every year when I was a kid. That and chocolate.

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O Holy Night

Confession: I absolutely LOVE Christmas carols and music. I love them all. The day after Thanksgiving till New Year’s Eve I listen to them over and over again…along with The Nutcracker Ballet. When I began reading up about the history of Christmas carols it made me love them even more. Take O Holy Night for example. Great music and song…so meaningful but what is the story behind it?

Did you know that O Holy Night was the first song ever sent through the air via radio waves?! On Christmas Eve in 1906 Reginald Fessenden—who was 33 years old and a former chief chemist for Thomas Edison—broadcasted his voice over airwaves! This was the first time ever a radio had been used. He actually ended up reading those famous words from the Gospel of Luke, “And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus…” You see back then they did things that were coded impulses to send message—these were called telegrams. Using the Morse code, basically a bunch of beeps and dashes they could send messages across states over airwaves—no one ever spoke or played music over them until that Christmas Eve! So on 1906 on Christmas Eve, Reginald shocked all those telegram operators because they could hear a man’s voice and then… they heard him play on his violin O Holy Night.

O Holy Night was a favorite carol in the 1900s in the United States that came from France, however in the 1800s the Catholic Church in France denounced this carol. This carol was called Cantique de Noel and based off the birth of Christ in the Gospel of Luke. It was written by Placide Cappeau de Roquemaure, the commissionaire of wines in a small town, at the request of his parish priest. Roquemaure was an amateur poet and he turned to his friend Adolphe Charles Adams, a classically trained musician, to write the music for the carol. It only took them three weeks to write and put the carol together. They premiered it at the midnight mass on Christmas Eve in their small French town. And it spread quickly to be sung all over the country. However, a few years later the church denounced the song when they found out that Adams was Jewish and that Roquemaure had left the church.

However, decades later, O Holy Night was revived and introduced in the United States by John Sullivan Dwight, who was a pastor in Massachusetts. He felt drawn to this song because he was an ardent abolitionists (that means anti-slavery), and it ended up becoming very popular in the Abolitionists movement and grew in popularity during the Civil War.

That’s just the history of one Christmas carol! Think of so many more there are we can learn about. If you liked this write up I recommend author Ace Collins who writes a lot about the history of Christmas traditions or carols. At the church we do a Christmas caroling service once a year and instead of a sermon we have histories I wrote up or found about the songs before we sing. It is a lot of fun and I totally recommend it!

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Flo Rida- I Cry

This video and the song is so powerful. This played on major radio stations last year and this year.

The religious imagery is awesome of Christianity, Judaism, and Islam.

Keywords/phrases/feelings: prayer, hope, Psalm 20, Bible, prayer shawl, baptism

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Connecting Faith with our Culture Today

So I have decided that for the next few weeks I will be posting links/videos of current or recent music, movies, tv etc. that the millennials and gen Y like and saying how it connects to faith or the imagery of religion in it, specially Christianity. So keep checking back in ways to connect faith and life…and to connect with the younger generations!

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Is the Reformation Dead?

So of course like many pastors this is a busy time of year…so I alas did not post last week. We had Reformation Sunday at church so it was lots of getting ready even though it wasn’t even feeling like it was smooth enough. Ok what is “Reformation Sunday”? Right?! Well, I had no freaking idea what it was until I started to go to a Lutheran church at 18 with my mom…and the strange thing is I actually learned in public school about the Reformation in high school.

So this whole church calendar thing has special day we acknowledge on Sundays, like Reformation Sunday. Which is a day to celebrate the Reformation…the time this guy named Martin Luther stood up against the big church at the time that was selling indulgences (basically get out of hell/purgatory free cards if you got enough money for either yourself or a family member who is already dead). Purgatory is like that “limbo” place some Christians believe is between heaven and hell…if you believe in an actual heaven and hell…I don’t think people who are Christians necessarily all believe in that today. Heck my answer is probably too complicated on that.

Anyway so Reformation Sunday is suppose to be celebrating standing up against the big institutionalized church of the time that was oppressing and taking advantage of people. That church has reformed greatly since then and actually has a pretty awesome leader now I greatly respect- Pope Francis I. So this little monk from Germany was like, “Dude, this is wrong!” Poor people can’t feed their families because they are using their money to buy the salvation of their dead family members. People are worrying about salvation and the afterlife and trying to buy their way out of it. And all that money is going to build this huge basilica in Rome…not feeding people. Again, “DUDE, THIS IS WRONG!” On top of it the head guy at the time Leo X was not a good guy…he came from a famous family of wealthy bankers from Florence (The d’Medici family) who basically bought their way to power over a few centuries in Europe. Leo X wasn’t a good guy and took advantage of people and I think bought his position as pope. Anyway Luther called them on their crap with his 95 theses and his intention was for it to be discussed in theological circles not start a reformation…he wanted to not leave the Catholic church but reform it. But alas politics got in the way like usual and people took advantage of the situation. However, this is an important day for the Protestant churches all over the world. It is a day we celebrate standing up against oppressive institutions that tell us how we should be and what we should believe…it is a day we celebrate that yes we have a loving God and we don’t have to buy our way into heaven or earn it…which is contrary to what some pastors who are Protestant teach now a days.

This is a day we celebrate that cultural revolution of the reformation…and yet is the Reformation dead today? I don’t see it dead in the mission development I serve in, because we are trying new things…trying to reform ourselves individually and as a community…stretching ourselves and our expression of faith. Now we are in these big institutionalized churches that block sometimes the way for creativity and difference. We are called to honor tradition of course but we have got to reform. That is the tradition actually…that we are churches and people of the reformation and we are called to keep on reforming. So is the reformation dead in the church? Have we become too static? Have we gotten stuck in our ways?

Hey people want young families and young adults to come to church…but I see churches demanding they still conform to the church and fit in…not allowing them to bring new ideas and participate in a different expression of their faith. I feel like it is like sometimes, “Hey we so want you here! Welcome! But you must conform to everything we already do, and don’t question it….oh and also our church is dying as it is…but hey we can keep doing it because that is all we know…” Ok that probably is too harsh of a critique. But seriously is the reformation dead? How can we encourage more reforming in our churches and our institutions? How can we live into our name as being a church of the Reformation?!

When I became Lutheran I fell in love with the story of this little monk. A guy who stood up against a big institution and got back to the basics of love and having a deep relationship with God. I fell in love with the 95 theses and how he eloquently basically told them off. I fell in love with him being a dissenter who used words to get his point across…and mainly I fell in love with that it was about JESUS and GRACE. That it was about loving and protecting our neighbors like Christ taught us. It was about the Bible. I remember seeing the Luther movie starring Joseph Finnes and reading the 95 Theses and going, “Yeah! I can get into this! They allow questions and discussion and are all about standing up to oppressors! Yeah! It is actually about getting back to what scripture says!” That is why I became a Lutheran…because of the story of Martin Luther and the idea of GRACE. That he stood up against an institution. That it was about God loves us no more and no less than anyone else…that we don’t earn our way into heaven and have to earn God’s love…that God loves us just as we are.

So is the Reformation dead in the church? I think you might be able to guess my answer on this.

So how do we revive and start reforming the church again?

Look, how it is right now it is going to die. So let’s face that fact and stop complaining about it and stop saying “remember the good old days” and actually get off our butts and talk with the people who are not going to church and/or have left. Yes we must honor the past but we can’t keep looking back but need to move forward. Seriously and that means we have to experiment and fail a ton. And the beautiful thing is from failure we learn…and we got grace so we got to keep on trying even if we fail! So start experimenting and failing so we can actual get reforming.

Oh and please stop playing the politically games in the church and comparisons between each others churches. And stop bickering over petty things like what creed for what Sunday. It is highly annoying and frustrating and the younger generations think it is a bunch of BS and stupid. Find something meaningful to get passionate about like I don’t know poverty or social equality…maybe the people you want there (the younger generations) might actually start showing up.

So how are you going to start reforming your church? How are you going to start reforming yourself? I am beginning to ponder this for myself too…

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My Shock About the Lectionary (that’s this calendar that tells us what scripture to read on what day)

 

So when I joined the ELCA (Lutheran) church (there will be later posts on why and how this came about later) at age 17 one of the things that I thought was so cool was this thing called the “Revised Common Lectionary” the idea that you could go into any church that is Lutheran, Catholic and other Protestant denominations and all be reading the same scripture and hearing a sermon on it no matter where you are in the world! Super cool, right?! For some reason I was under the impression as a young adult that this has got to be some ancient practice from the church…this calendar had been happening for centuries being taught to Christians in this order…right?!

But alas I went to seminary and I actually learned about the lectionary…that it is this rotating thing of 3 years focused on one of the synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark or Luke) with John divide up between them. John doesn’t even get his own year, seriously weird! And it got weirder…they tried to get the stories lined up from the Old Testament, Readings and the Psalms to connect with the gospel…which trust me doesn’t happen all the time, but sometimes actually feels random. And then in seminary the big shocker came about this…it was developed in the last century. Yup, not something ancient from the early church but the last freaking century.  The Common Lectionary was developed by this group called the Consultation on Common Texts and then revised and published in 1992 as the Revised Common Lectionary. I am freaking older than the Revised Common Lectionary!!!!!!!

So this last year as a pastor at a church start I did what they have been doing- the Revised Common Lectionary, because then I didn’t have to pick out the texts for Sunday. Also I looked into doing the Narrative Lectionary which some of my profs have worked on and is a great alternative (see this website for info http://www.workingpreacher.org/narrative_faqs.aspx). It is a four year cycle with John having its own year. Well the thing is people at the church plant approached me and said, “We don’t know the Bible. Can we do a bible study?” And I realized that we really have got to get in depth with the Bible! The kids, the adults, the scripture for worship has all got to relate. So we started with Genesis last month doing the major stories from it and are moving on to Exodus.

 It isn’t the narrative lectionary we are doing but reflects it, because it is developing as we go along asking the question of “What are you calling us to learn?” The plan is to do Genesis and Exodus this fall, and move during Advent to the buildup to Christ and the birth of Christ, and this spring to really dive into the ministry of Jesus and the early church and then go back to the Old Testament in the fall. However this plan could totally change! And that is exciting! We are actually have a church plant “check in” like a congregational meeting next month, and crazy enough what I think is the most important thing I am leading a discussion on is giving them different options of how we feel called to learn the scripture. Like actually having our community discuss it together and decide together how we want to get the main Bible stories in within the next 2-3 years. It isn’t my personal decision as the pastor and it isn’t up to some group decades ago that decided what we should read on Sunday…it is up to the community themselves. Hey this might not work…but it is worth a try…and I guess my thing is let’s empower the people as much as possible even if it fails we can say we tried. And hey I guess it also depends on your definition of failure…

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A La Carte Church and Worship Wonderings

In my first year I keep thinking of what would church look like if it was like an a la carte menu? You went to one church that did worship really well, another for their awesome service they do in their community, another for the actual community of the church, another for the education classes, and another for their global outreach. And even bigger shocker what if it was different denominations…and since denominationalism is dying let’s get even wilder and say different religious groups. What would that even look like? Membership would be completely out the door as churches know it, and heck churches would probably (sadly or not) cease to function as we know it.

But seriously let’s think about this for a sec. A church does one or two things really well and shares that with the wider community of believers and nonbelievers. What would our actual churches/towns/cities look like? See the truth is one church cannot “be everything to everybody.” We just can’t. It is impossible too.  I mean that was the old model…and that is not working in our culture anymore.  And with all the instant communication and lack of patience in our culture due to all our stress levels and families just trying to make it…we just can’t be everything to everybody. Pastors can’t do it. Heck, if I tried to please everyone who walked in the door of our mission start I would be exhausted! And would that fit our mission as a church…of course not. Someone wants a gigantic youth program and a big performance band that is not us for right now. We are a church that focuses on serving our local, state and global community. Our worship is important to us, but it is still developing…and we DEFINITELY CANNOT be everything to everybody when it comes to worship.

Truth be told worship is a struggle for me as a pastor. How I experience worship as a gen Y pastor is different than I think even the people in the church I serve. You see in seminary I was trained to do what some call “traditional” and “contemporary” worship services. How to plan them, the prayers etc. and that doesn’t fit my own experience of worship as a gen Y person who grew up in the Pacific Northwest and didn’t go to church all the time. It is like I have 2 different people struggling in me…the professional pastor and the 20 something who gets bored with worship. I mean sometimes I just want to be like, “Dude, I feel that we should sing ‘Shake It Off’ and ‘Awake My Soul’ then we read a piece of scripture…no sermon but just a question to ponder…have communion…then go out into our local community and serve in some way for the rest of the time.” Don’t get me wrong I do love a good hymn and liturgy…but for some reason personally as I work in the church even going to another church for worship once in a while I get bored. My connection with God and worship of God I feel more when my husband and I read scripture and discuss it, when I spend time out in the community, spend time with friends, and heck even when I am dancing in Zumba class or running I feel like that is when I am praising God for being alive. I know we need worship as a community and we have tried so many things…and I think the mission development needs it…but I don’t know. Maybe I am just blowing smoke…but something has got to change. And I have no idea what. I don’t need someone to solve this…I just want to put this out there. We have disconnected somehow our worship with the rest of our week. How can it become part of it…and how can we allow space for outsiders and people who don’t even understand worship. Gosh what would happen if we explained every part of it at a service? What would happen if we actually just started from scratch with worship?

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