You’re Not One of Us


Mark 9: 38-50
John said to him, “Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he was not following us.” But Jesus said, “Do not stop him; for no one who does a deed of power in my name will be able soon afterward to speak evil of me. Whoever is not against us is for us. For truly I tell you, whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because you bear the name of Christ will by no means lose the reward.

I love when people ask me about the kids. People ask “how old are they now?” and “how are they getting along?” and invariably, “how are you still standing?” Desmond and Anna are twins – 4 and a half now, can you believe it? And Ozzie is 2 and a half – it seems the Presbyterian Mission Agency board in particular has watched them – watched me grow up these last almost six years. When people ask me about the kids it’s a way to connect over something ordinary, normal and commonplace, human – we talk about the way kids play and make up games and tell stories and demand apple-pretzels-cheese. All. Day. Long.

It’s a way to feel that I am one of you.

The scripture passage we read together this morning continues a lengthy generative discussion on discipleship and ministry, vocation and call. Earlier in the chapter we have the transfiguration, Jesus starts to talk about his death, the disciples come to Jesus because they need help with casting out a particularly stubborn demon, and Jesus reminds them again who is the greatest in the kingdom by the example of the least of these – a child.

And then, John, “Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he was not following us.”

He was not following us. He was not like us. He was not part of us.  

He was not one of us.

Do you remember that video during the cultural humility training – the ABC News Video with the children responding to different pictures – “20/20” brought together three groups of kids and showed them pictures of two men — one Arab, the other Asian. When we asked the children which man they liked better, over and over, more kids said they preferred “the Chinese guy.” One child preferred the Chinese man “because he looks nicer and he has a smile on.” But both men were smiling. Several children weighed in on the Arab man’s personality, basing their opinions on just seeing his picture. One child said, “I think he’s weird.” Another child said, “He’s like the scary dude.”

Next, “20/20” showed the kids pictures of a black man and white man. This time the pictures were different. Here were some of the comments the kids made about the photo of the black man. One said, “He looks mean.” Another referred to him as “FBI’s Most Wanted.” Another commented, “He looks like he’s a basketball player.” When the white man’s picture was shown, one child said, “He’s nice.” Another said, “I think he’s nice except he might be mad about something.” The boy was probably picking up on something. The photo of a white man was of Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh. Admittedly, the pictures were a little bit different, but when we asked which man is a criminal, most kids pointed to the black man. When we asked which man was a teacher, most pointed to McVeigh. This is ironic because the black man pictured was Harvard University professor Roland Fryer.

It starts early - all the biases, assumptions, judgments, like Wendy said yesterday, it’s in the air we breathe. They’re not part of us. They’re not us.Click To Tweet

Our words and efforts around inclusion, multiculturalism, and diversity mean very little when we see and still say, he is not one of us. She is not part of us. They’re not us.

The disciples said, “Jesus, we saw someone, casting out demons in your name, but we stopped him because he was not one of us…” Jesus “we saw someone” – our penchant for “we saw someone” needs to be replaced by “we see Jesus.” And in Jesus, we see God. Our God is here. But therein lies the irony of the statement, “We saw someone” because the point is, do you see God? Do you see God in the persons who do deeds in God’s name? More than that, and simply, do you see God in that human being?

Foreigner. Alien. Immigrant. Minority. Outsider. Stranger.

Friends, what does it mean for us that we were once strangers, once foreign and alien, but in God’s radical love, we were brought near? More than that, what does it mean for us that Jesus took on this same foreignness – this status of outsider – to be one of us? To be a part of us?

I blogged a couple of months ago:

I keep hearing that chant – the call and response on the short Vine video posted the day after the anniversary of Michael Brown’s killing. “This is what theology looks like.”

I see them standing huddled together heads down laying hands on each other like it’s an ordination – these demonstrators are being commissioned for something massively important as they shout #blacklivesmatter and #nojusticenopeace anointed with sweat and tears and blood and Spirit and set apart for a holy work in which liturgy is wailing and protest. They are demonstrating resistance in the flesh-and-blood and show us what survival means in its purest form by simply breathing and lamenting together. Hands clutching each other eyes set on the heavenly prize which is the great cloud of witnesses that have gone before them and surround them even now.

This is what theology looks like – this is what faith looks like – this is what love looks like – the way we answer these questions, when “we saw someone” becomes we see Jesus, we see God, in every human being around us – it says who we are and leads us in what we do – with our ministries and with our lives.

It’s not that they become us. We become them, and in doing so we become more like Jesus.Click To Tweet

Isn’t that the ultimate expression of Christian discipleship? To become more like Jesus? 

#BeyondSundayMorning: Being Born-Again and Birth Matters


Sanctuary was hot this morning. I’m looking around again at the signs of a dilapidated building – chairs and desks stacked haphazardly in the balconies, and the roof above the chancel is peeling and cracked on one side. I’m next to one of the surprisingly traditional emblems of church – a stained glass window – one of many that line the walls around this rectangular room. This window has two keys crossed which refer to Peter who was given the keys to heaven by Jesus when he states, “I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven,” (Matthew 16:19). 


Keys to the kingdom.

Nicodemus, one of the religious elite, comes to Jesus at night. Someone who thinks he has the keys to the kingdom. Curiosity gets the best of him and he can’t stay away. He wants to see him for himself. Up close. Personal. “Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.” But he doesn’t have a question. He doesn’t know what to say, so he says what any fangirl would say, “OMGOMGOMGOMG you’re amazing.” Maybe, not this extreme. But, Jesus sees the superficiality of it and as per usual, cuts to the chase. And it throws Nicodemus off because maybe he isn’t ready to go deep. Maybe he isn’t ready to give it up. 

“You need to be born-again.”  How can this be…?

“How can anyone be born after having grown old? Can one enter a second time into the mother’s womb and be born?”

A mother’s womb…


The preacher shares the story of his son’s second birth. After a few miscarriages, this one stuck, and as to be expected they were cautiously optimistic. As the pregnancy progressed his wife began to feel hopeful, and made plans and dreams for this little one. But one morning she woke up to heavy bleeding. They immediately went to see the obstetrician and discovered she was on the verge of a complete placental abruption. If the placenta tore from the uterine wall then they would likely lose the baby, and her life would be in serious danger from hemorrhage, too. She was immediately put on strict bed rest. About five weeks from the due date her water broke, and they did an emergency c-section pulling out a beautiful baby. Today the little one is a bouncing, happy child with no residue from such a traumatic and complicated pregnancy and delivery.

He shared this story as a way to insert his struggle and history with the all-too-common, evangelical phrase, “born-again.” To be born again always meant something transactional to him – straightforward, simple, black and white. Say a prayer, go to church, and now you’re born-again.

Oh, if only birth matters were as simple.

“The main facts in human life are five: birth, food, sleep, love and death.”
― E.M. Forster


A friend from my mom’s group has had two traumatic births with her two babies. The first was horrible and heart-wrenching, and the second, recent one was really wonderful and amazing.

Even though they barely made it to the hospital, even though it took running stop signs, red lights, and honking, and her husband yelling at people to get out of the way as they drove the mile to the hospital, even though it meant driving right up to the emergency doors stepping out and giving birth right then and there. Two nurses barely managed to get there in time with gloves on to catch the baby as she slid out. When the mom tells this story her eyes light up even as I’m clutching whatever is near because it’s so stressful.

I remember hearing the stories for the first time and reflecting on how both were a window into eternity. A brief window and moment into the precarious balance between life and death. It’s flesh and blood and water and spirit, it’s disgusting and beautiful, horrendous and powerful. Birth matters. Birth is complicated. Birth is not easy. And, of course, Jesus would use this as an image of God’s kingdom. Giving birth and being born of the kingdom is trauma. Being born again is labor and mess and the sliver of yarn between life and death. And that’s why I continue to be drawn to baptism. Sally Brown (PTSem professor) would be so proud of me, I think. That’s her thing. And I get it. I get it more and more each day.

Birth is the great equalizer. We all start somewhere. We are pulled or burst into this world, and that first breath we take is dying. From that first moment we’re all dying. Everyone’s dying. But we can resist. Baptism is a sign of that resistance. It’s the real sign, the real miracle that should “impress” us, it’s impressed on us in that moment of baptism, the seal is impressed and branded and tattooed on us, the sign that God chooses us, God chooses us over and over, God chooses life for us over and over and over.

When you realize that eternity is right here now, that it is within your possibility to experience the eternity of your own truth and being, then you grasp the following: That which you are was never born and will never die.”
-Joseph Campbell 

#BeyondSundayMorning: Reflecting on Sunday Sermons

#BeyondSundayMorning: Reflecting on Sunday Sermons

Beyond Sunday Morning Pic

Sunday mornings happen so fast. I spend a lot of time during worship – much to Andy’s chagrin – tweeting everything. Pictures of the college kids or prayers from the bulletin and a response or two to the sermon. But, I rarely take time on Monday to think and reflect on what fed me from the sermon. I’m going to take Mondays to blog about Sunday mornings and hopefully something to anchor me during the week.

It’s the season of Easter. I love all of these texts – from Doubting Thomas to the road to Emmaus. We mourned with Mary. We looked into and fingered Jesus’ wounds with Thomas. We locked the doors and shut ourselves up with the disciples. We struggled with the followers on the road who recounted over and over all that had transpired in Jerusalem.  Yesterday, FPC had a guest preacher since Andy and Rachel were out of commission last week. I continue to be most impressed not with the sense of conquering and spiritual battle and victory over the powers of evil but with the theme of God’s abiding and steadfast presence. God’s nearness. God being Emmanuel. God didn’t give up on us. God loved us so much to go through hell for our sake. God’s got us. In a time when there were so many unexpected deaths of loved ones in the lives of those around us, it felt like this promise was all the more necessary for survival.

The passage from Sunday was Luke 12:13-35 and my eyes keep seeing “Jesus himself came near and went with them.” So much of the Gospels talks about sight and vision, seeing God and being seen by God. Being seen means more than acknowledgment or observation, but understanding. Empathy. Compassion. A suffering-with and solidarity beyond the mere gaze and glance.

“I believe that although the two disciples did not recognize Jesus on the road to Emmaus, Jesus recognized them, that he saw them as if they were the only two people in the world. And I believe that the reason why the resurrection is more than just an extraordinary event that took place some two thousand years ago and then was over and done with is that, even as I speak these words and you listen to them, he also sees each of us like that.” Buechner

After interpreting the Scriptures to the followers about the suffering of the Messiah the two men urged Jesus to stay with them.

So he went in to stay with them. When he was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him; and he vanished from their sight. They said to each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?” 

There’s something so un-remarkable about this encounter. “Cleopas and his companion are nobodies who have no idea what God might be doing. They could be any one of us. Their road to Emmaus is an ordinary road, the road each of us is on every day. This is what sets this story apart from other accounts of Jesus’ Easter appearances.” (Amy Hunter, Christian Century). But, this is where Jesus meets them, and changes their lives forever. They become some of the first missionaries – these nobodies – tellers of the Good News, bearers of God’s new kingdom … and their faith and hope are restored in ways they likely never expected at the moment.

I need this reminder. To embrace the ordinary this week. (That was my One Word last year.) Ordinary. Which means, all the  gazillion trips to the grocery store, phone conversations with friends old and new, never-ending interruptions by all the children during the day,  and the brief quiet at night right after the kids go down and I inevitably fall asleep. To remember and open myself up to the ways Jesus comes near, whether I’m standing still or walking or spacing out or staring out the windows.  To receive and to love and give as much as I’m able, and let that fire burn from the inside out.

Deeper Story: Theology, Gynecology, and a Baptism

DS Kids by Water 1

It’s the fourth Sunday of Advent.

My mind is spinning. Is Christmas really this week? As in, 4 days from now. As in, somehow a whole month has flown by. As in, this year is almost over.

Howhowhowhowhowhowhowhowhowhowhowhowhowhow is this possible…?

Ok. Breathe. I need to come to terms with this reality. And, it’s fine. It’s really fine. Seriously.

We paused for a moment last night, Andy and I. We watched Blackfish – story of killer whales and their exploitation. Maybe an odd choice for this season. First movie in a while so a little rusty at choosing movies. Kids were all down. I was folding laundry – willingly – because there was an unusual but welcome peace in the house. But this movie. Really compelling and informative, still…Good God. I mean, please, Jesus help us. I posted on Facebook:

Just finished watching Blackfish. I’m so incredibly depressed. I hate everyone and everything. #humanssuck #allgodscreatures

What felt really the most horrible was watching orca calves be stripped from their mothers. These are creatures that are highly social and have complex family systems – their “languages” are even different for each clan. When the main killer whale in the documentary, Tilikum, was taken from his mother in the Northwestern wild oceans the female orcas stayed nearby wailing their protestation and helplessness. Likewise when calves (remember Shamu?) were taken from their mothers in captivity (i.e. Seaworld) they recorded the sounds of the mother orca in the pool for 24 hours. The caretakers had never heard that particular sound before and brought in analysts who explained they were doing long range vocals that were truly unique. One of the trainers explained pretty pointedly: “It makes sense. They were grieving.” These orcas were trying to make their voices heard so that the calves would know how to get back to the mothers. But, even in their persistent song, I wonder if they despaired knowing it was futile. A song of mourning.

…O come, O come, Emmanuel,

and ransom captive Israel
that mourns in lonely exile here
until the Son of God appear…



Tell of Peace: Advent and Imagination

Tell of Peace: Advent and Imagination


It can’t be Advent already.

Thanksgiving coming so late this year has really screwed me up. Expectations and visions and to-do lists are clamoring for my ever-dwindling attention. The last thing I feel is any semblance of peace, much less a mindset that is ready to turn to this familiar season of waiting and watching in hope.

But in a way…being forced to belly flop ever-so-un-gracefully into this season means I’ve got no choice. There’s no time for any waffling or hedging, and I can’t just stand around kicking rocks looking up at the sky for some sign. If there’s anything that characterizes this season it’s urgency. From the beginning of Mark’s gospel:

The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.

As it is written in the prophet Isaiah,

‘See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you,
who will prepare your way;
the voice of one crying out in the wilderness:
Prepare the way of the Lord,
make his paths straight.’

John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. And people from the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him, and were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. Now John was clothed with camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. He proclaimed, ‘The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals. I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.’

It’s JB in the wilderness baptizing people to get ready for the arrival of one who would carry God’s spirit. And *BAM*, Jesus eventually shows up, gets baptized and goes straight into the wilderness to get ready for his world-changing ministry – that revolution of hearts and spirits. Mark gets us there quickly. No blushing bride, no donkeys or sheep, no stars and angels in their heavenly choruses.

So, yes, Advent is definitely a time of waiting, searching, listening and hoping but we don’t get to sit around on the side with our toes gingerly touching the water…no uncertain and slow wading into it. It’s run and jump with legs pumping the air into the pool like it’s the first day of summer break not worrying about how pretty it looks – or likely not – or else be tossed in.

I feel like I’ve been tossed in. Chased down by those friends or cousins I thought I’d kept a careful eye on but apparently not because here I am in the air and now water up my nose. And I’m thrashing about like a fish caught in a net. But that’s ok. Jesus caught my heart years ago, and continues to do it each year. These traditions and rituals might seem rote but the way it speaks into every season of my life each year is unspeakably important. And it gets better and better each year when I don’t fight it. I’ve finally figured that out. Kind of. That this season calls for recklessly abandoned hearts to see the beauty of the story of a God who recklessly gave up all to be with us. And to do so means jumping in or being forced in and letting God’s spirit take the lead. And that means imagination.

Something about the poetry of the season is much more resonant with God’s spirit then just straight facts or history. I love all the commentaries but what speaks to the corners of my soul is the poetry of Isaiah:

In days to come
the mountain of the Lord’s house
shall be established as the highest of the mountains,
and shall be raised above the hills;
all the nations shall stream to it.

Many peoples shall come and say,
‘Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord,
to the house of the God of Jacob;
that he may teach us his ways
and that we may walk in his paths.’

For out of Zion shall go forth instruction,
and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.
He shall judge between the nations,
and shall arbitrate for many peoples;

they shall beat their swords into ploughshares,
and their spears into pruning-hooks;
nation shall not lift up sword against nation,
neither shall they learn war any more.

These images are glimpses of a different kind of world – one that may seem impossible – but one that is nonetheless promised to God’s people. It is God’s kingdom. Andy pointed out something maybe obvious but it was new to me: The people. It is the people who will change and shape their weapons of destruction and violence into tools that will cultivate life. And that was encouraging to me…to realize that we will be the instruments of change God will use to usher in peace. The cynic in me wants to say, “That can’t be right,” and the almost careless, but desperate side says, “Please, Lord, hear our prayer.” It’s the poet that awakens this in me, the poet who invokes my imagination – the language of God’s spirit – to see and pray for the impossible.

I don’t think I’m ready for Advent, yet. But, it’s here. And thank God. Lord knows, I need it this season. I need it more than ever.

“Yes: I am a dreamer. For a dreamer is one who can only find his way by moonlight, and his punishment is that he sees the dawn before the rest of the world.”
― Oscar Wilde, The Critic as Artist

Prayer: Limping Around the Altar


Limping around the altar.

The words from 1st Kings this Sunday morning about the prophets of Baal trying to quicken fire from heaven onto their offerings with shouts, cries, and blood. But, of course, in vain. After hours of circling their offerings pleading with this mysterious slumbering god to answer them they begin to get blisters on their feet. So they limp around more until there is clearly nothing left to be done.

And then it’s Elijah’s turn. He strikes me as a bit of a bad ass. But, also kind of an asshole in a way. The way he plays with the other prophets a little and rubs it in their faces with the jars and jars of water poured out on to the offering even overflowing the moat he dug around the altar. A little smug. Like he knows that a firestorm will surely rain down on his little table but you know, might as well really prove this point.

And, yet, here, maybe for a moment, he takes a different tone. Pauses. Praying something that maybe he learned in synagogue school as a child. A simple prayer for assurance. One that might come out of a moment of flailing and drowning. Elijah prays Psalm 121: I lift my eyes up to the heaven…Where does my help come from?

I lift my eyes up…


We were about halfway through Summer Hebrew. My first class in seminary. Exhaustion from the first month of grad school, work at a church 90 minutes north, and transition into East coast culture (ie. jug handles, allergies, and ungodly humidity) was taking a toll on me. On my soul and spirit. I was weary.

Hebrew was also kicking my ass. The speed and intensity of learning the language was much more demanding than I had anticipated as a cocky, self-assured expert Christian. And so I sat in precept – the small group class that met after each lecture – overwhelmed and sensing – surprisingly – I wasn’t totally alone. There were more frustrations voiced from almost everyone. More so than the usual light-bulb revelations and epiphanies or breakthroughs, “I get it!” It was more “Argh!!! What are you talking about???”

And we got to the end of the hour ready to close in prayer. The TA – also sensing some angst – decided to do something different. She turned fingers deftly skimming her worn out Hebrew bible and paused for a moment before saying, “Hear these words from Psalm 121.” She read to us. In Hebrew first. Simply and perfectly, with a lovely surprising familiarity, strange from this beautiful, blond, blue-eyed young woman. Then her own translation afterwards. And we prayed her translation together.

Something broke in me. And I looked up and saw the same in those around me. Almost of all of us were weeping.

No doubt there is something profound about hearing God’s word read in the original tongue. Words that seemed to have come directly from God’s own lips. But, it was in the English, too, even though our teacher didn’t take time to parse every word for us, and conjugate everything correctly, and take it to a committee, somehow, somehow, somehow, something ancient and cosmic broke forth, the Holy Spirit broke in irrupting oceans of grace providing her the words to give us that we desperately needed in that moment. It was the best interpretation. For us. Maybe it wouldn’t have the same effect in another scenario, or on a Sunday morning. But, it was perfect in that moment, and exactly what we needed to come to God’s throne.

It was a moment of grace. It laid waste all my defense mechanisms, and I found myself giving up on circling my idols and own altars, not limping any more but laying there at the foot of the altar. Surrendering. Trusting. That God would provide rain in those seasons of drought and fire for those seasons of uncertainty.


I’m sitting on a pew. Oz has finally stopped fussing and nursing and flailing in my arms. He’s asleep. Mouth slightly opened. Fingers curled around the neck of my shirt. And the organ is playing loudly but sweetly and wrapping him notes of grace. Somehow I’m comforted knowing that he will grow up not only with the music of the twins’ shrieks or Sesame Street but these glorious and holy sounds poured into his ears. Sounds building and rising like hills, those hills of God’s abiding presence, and God’s promise to not sleep and to not slumber while always watching over him.

The Lord’s Prayer: Out of the Mouths of Babes


For the last several Sundays the pastors of FPC have preached through the Lord’s Prayer. Though I’ve heard at least a couple versions of this series it has been a neat chance to reflect again on a prayer that is often so routine it’s like breathing. The children’s times have been lovely and simple too, with them following the series and using this time to learn how to sign the prayer. So many little moments and little nuggets here and there – I’ve tweeted most of my thoughts on the sermons throughout so I won’t rehash them here. But I was thinking a bit through the last installment, which was yesterday. The last sermon was on the word, “amen.”

I have to be honest. 1) I was kind of ready to be done with the series only because I was starting to feel a little ADD and looking to move onto something else. I think I’m somehow already getting excited about Advent and Christmas – God forbid, it’s not even Halloween yet, what’s wrong with me?! I blame all the stores with their damn decorations up already. And 2) I wondered what and how much could be said about those four little letters beyond the definition. I mean, a whole sermon? On just amen? Really???

Amen. The sign we were taught for it was it to put your hands together and kind of bend your wrists forward twice. At least, that’s how I interpreted it: A child-like gesture, like how we sometimes tell our children to clasp their hands together, and bow their heads and close their eyes for a prayer whether before meals or during worship.

“To clasp the hands in prayer is to rise up against the disorder of the world.” -Karl Barth

What is it about this image and this quote Andy shared in his sermon Sunday … I can’t get it out of my mind. It conjures up images of the children signing the prayer each Sunday, and the moving embodiment and proclamation of these words … So dynamic …

Rebecca, a little girl with some special needs, who relies on signing to communicate often helping to lead this prayer and an incredible testimony to God’s Spirit using anyone at anytime to not only give a glimpse but to declare boldly God’s kingdom in our midst …

Sometimes seeing my little Angelpie with her eyes half-closed, squinting through her gorgeous eyelashes with a simultaneously goofy and solemn smile and few of her tiny fingers intertwined in prayer …

And then on Sunday this past week to hear and listen to the whole congregation pray the prayer together with voices that are seasoned and have been carried by these words throughout the years, through illness and wars and loss … and then voices almost chirping happily and in harmony, following along, young voices praying the words like they know somehow they are reciting something ancient and truly holy the way they annunciate each word clearly.

Saying amen is not just a rote vocalization. When we say it we affirm, proclaim, and ordain for it to be true in our lives.

This last sermon was likely my favorite. I want to live and walk as an αμεν to God’s grace, and to be that αμεν that confirms what God has done, is doing, and will do in the world.