Saturday, December 28, 2013

Patience and Uncertainty

Isaiah 63:7-9
Hebrews 10:2-18
Matthew 2:13-23

*****

I am not a particularly patient person. I'll be honest with you, most of the time, I want an answer, a result, a plan, the enactment of said plan, and I want it NOW.

Someone, somewhere, once said, "Instant gratification takes too long." I completely resonate with that.

I want to be the best at everything I attempt. I do not mind working hard for it. I enjoy the effort and attention required to improve in and truly master a specific skill or skill set. But I want the pay off for today's AND tomorrow's hard work to have been handed out yesterday.

And if I'm totally honest with you, and myself, this impatience isn't rooted so much in a desire to "have it all" or even to "have it all NOW." It's a desire for certainty, stability, settled-ness. I want there to be no surprises. I want there to be no chance of fluctuation. I want to know so that I can deeply rest and relax in what is rather than having to constantly worry about whether or not....

This leaves me deeply in awe of the Holy Family and other characters in the story of Jesus.

Advent is a time of anticipation and waiting. Expectant hope is the undercurrent of the season. And it's beautiful. But I'll be honest, if I had been chosen as the mother of Jesus, it would have driven me crazy.

"You, a virgin, will bear a son," Mary is told. There is no timeline given for when Mary would conceive.

With a first child, Mary may not know what to expect during her pregnancy.

Marriage to Joseph surely looks different now that it did just moments before that fateful, celestial visit. This is assuming, of course, that Joseph will still have her.

All kinds of promises have been made about who Jesus will be -- "He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over Jacob's descendants forever; his kingdom will never end" and "This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, so that thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul, too."

Crazy big promises about who Jesus is and who he will be. Again, no indication as to how and when these promises will be fulfilled.

And yet Mary, we are told, ponders all of these things in her heart (Luke 2:19). She accepts this uncertainty, seemingly, with grace.

The Magi, we are told, had a two year journey.

Having seen the star and knowing what it signified (though we are never told how they came by this particular knowledge) they travel to Jerusalem in search of Jesus.

After speaking with Herod, the local ruler, they head toward Bethlehem in accordance with Hebrew prophecy. Again the star that alerted them to Jesus's birth guides them to his very presence.

Two years from the time the star appeared until they completed their journey and Herod, realizing that he had been outwitted, ordered the slaughter of all boys in Bethlehem and its surrounding areas. Two years they waited, traveled, searched before finding the answer. Two years before they could bow down to worship the incarnate God.

I often wonder if they knew it would take them two years. And I wonder if they ever had doubts on the journey or just thought about giving up and going home, particularly when there seemed to be no end in sight.

And then we have Joseph. Joseph who is told not to divorce Mary, who is carrying a child that isn't his. Prior to this angelic visit, I imagine there was some uncertainty in Joseph's life concerning his relationship with Mary.

Joseph who was told in a dream that this child his wife is carrying would "save his people from their sins." Joseph who obeyed, though he likely had no idea how or when this promise would be fulfilled.

After this, because of the census, Joseph packs up his VERY pregnant wife and moves their family to Bethlehem for a time. We are not told how long the census took, but with all our electronic devices and organization options and systems for sharing information, the U.S. Census today takes months of labor. It is not then inconceivable that 2000 years ago the census of the entire Roman Empire could take the first two years of Jesus's life and then some.

Then, Joseph is warned in a dream that this child he is raising, who isn't even his, is in danger and that he should move to Egypt until the danger has passed. Joseph is given no time frame for how long he will be in Egypt. He is just told, "Stay there until I tell you."

This isn't like going off to college! When you go off to college you know that you'll be living in a town for four years. You know that you'll be investing in relationships with your peers for four years. You know that at some point, you might get a part-time job to help with expenses, and you'll be doing grunt work at low pay for four years.

Joseph moves his entire family to Egypt with no idea how long he'll be there. Should he invest in building a business or find bit work where he can? Should he jump into a social life and start building relationships right away, or hold back a bit in case he's moved again shortly? Should he buy a home or rent? Contact relatives in short order to tell them where he is, or wait it out?

And then at some point, we are not told how long after the move to Egypt, Herod dies and Joseph is visited by an angel, yet again, in a dream, and told to return to Jerusalem. So, Joseph does.

Joseph shows an unfailing obedience to God. He does things that most people would find crazy: marrying a woman who got pregnant with an other's child DURING their engagement; moving to Egypt in the MIDDLE OF THE NIGHT; returning to Jerusalem with no warning. He does it all at God's promptings. He must have EXTRAORDINARY trust in God.

What's more, every act of obedience Joseph takes is in accordance with prophecy.

Now prophecy is an interesting thing. Prophecy, even Old Testament prophecy, is not so much a foretelling of the future, but a continual call to God's justice.

When the prophet Hosea wrote "Out of Egypt I called my Son" it was a remembrance of God's deliverance from oppression.

What the prophet Jeremiah wrote --
A voice is heard in Ramah,
     weeping and great mourning,
Rachel weeping for her children 
     and refusing to be comforted,
     because they are no more."
it concerned the slaughter of Israelites when they were overthrown and taken captive by the Babylonians. It is a call for God's justice in the face of oppression.

When Isaiah wrote  --
This is what the Lord says--
     the Redeemer and Holy One of Israel --
to him who was despised and abhorred by the nation, 
     to the servant of rulers:
"Kings will see you and stand up, 
     princes will see and bow down,
because of the Lord, who is faithful, 
     the Holy One of Israel, who has chosen you.
he wrote of a man chosen by God to redeem his people; one who would be despised and abhorred for a time, but worshipped for eternity; the ultimate promise of justice for the oppressed.

But prophecy is not destiny. We all still have choices. We all are granted free-will.

Mary had it. Joseph had it. Even Jesus himself had it.

Now, something you may not know about me is that I have a deep love of the Harry Potter book series. There is a scene in the fifth book, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, in which the nature of prophecy and justice is discussed.

Harry, in a conversation with the headmaster of his school, is told this:
If Voldemort had never heard of the prophecy, would it have been fulfilled? Would it have meant something? Of course not! Do you think every prophecy in the Hall of Prophecy has been fulfilled? .... Harry ... Voldemort made a grave error and acted on Professor Trelawney's words! .... Don't you see? Voldemort created his worst enemy, just as tyrants everywhere do! Have you any idea how much tyrants fear the people they oppress? All of them realize that, one day, amongst their many victims, there is sure to be one who rises against them and strikes back! [Voldemort] heard the prophecy and he leapt into action, with the result that he had not only handpicked the man most likely to finish him, he handed him uniquely deadly weapons.
This seems to parallel a number of characters in the bible. I'm just going to bring to your attention a few:

Pharaoh's oppression of the Israelites was ended by one who was raised in his own household -- Moses, but not until after the Passover and the angel of the Lord brought death to of all of Egypt's firstborns.

Herod who heard the prophecy of a great king who was born to rule the Jews, responded by calling for the slaughter of the innocents -- all boys two years of age and younger.

Satan who, wanting to be like God, turned against his creator and brought about the downfall of all humankind, separating us from God, bringing spiritual and physical death to our lives, making us slaves to sin, and oppressing our very spirits.

The Lord who used Moses to deliver Israel safely from Egypt; Joseph who following the instructions from an angel of the Lord, fled with his new family to the safety of Egypt; Jesus, the very Son of God and Son of Man who has shared in our humanity so that by his death, he would break the power of him who holds the power of death -- that is, the devil--and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death. (Hebrews 2:14-15)

Moses, Joseph, even Jesus...any of them could have said no. Moses tried to, ultimately choosing to obey God but with his brother Aaron at his side. Any of them could have been satisfied with their place in life and said, "No," to God. Even Jesus!

Jesus, who was made like us, fully human in every way, in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, and that he might make atonement for the sins of the people. Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.

But it didn't have to be that way. Fully human. Free will. Jesus could have said, "No." But he didn't.

Jesus's birth into strife and slaughter is reminiscent of the Passover and the pascal lamb slaughtered for the salvation of Israel, foreshadowing the death Jesus would suffer for the salvation of all humankind. A promise with no timeline for fulfillment, but once Jesus said, "Yes," it was certain. Jesus said, "Yes" to God and God's plan of salvation and when he did so, his crucifixion became a certainty. Still he chose to obey. Still he chose, everyday, to walk that path.

I'm no fan of road trips though I make several of them. I'm no fan of open-ended plans. I'm no fan of "the journey." I want to get there, where ever and whatever "there" might be. I struggle to trust the process. Will it all end terribly? Will it ultimately be as good as expected? Will I EVER arrive?

Uncertainty when all I really want is stability. Perpetual change and chance and risk when all I really want is safety.

I like to imagine I'm not alone in that. I like to imagine there are others like me who want to know, unequivocally, that it's going to be okay, that the journey we are on is going to turn out good, that we are on the right path, and to know how long we'll be journeying this particular path in our lives.

And I imagine there are those, whom I may never understand, who think the uncertainty of the journey and the element of risk is half if not all of the fun. After all, there are Marys and Josephs in the world who hear the voice of the angel of God and respond without question.

Trust. Obedience. Placing their hope in God. Finding certainty and security in God alone. And why? So many risks that are asked of those who believe, who trust, who respond in obedience.

It reminds me of another great work of literature, C.S. Lewis's Chronicles of Narnia. Having learned about Aslan, a lion and the Christ-figure in the series, Susan asks Mr. Beaver, "Ohhh.... I'd thought he was a man. Is he...quite safe? I shall feel rather nervous about meeting a lion." "Safe?" said Mr. Beaver. "Who said anything about safe? Course he isn't safe. But he's good."

Whatever journey you're on this Christmas season, whether you love the uncertainty of the path before you or you hate it, remember that God is faithful and loving and above all God is good. Trust in that, and when you are called to do crazy things, to risk big, to give it all for Him, remember that you have a choice. I hope you choose to trust God.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

The Promise of Being Thin

The promise of being thin is that I will finally be
     sufficient
     finally be enough
     finally be good.

The promise of being thin is made when people exclaim:
     "You're so pretty now!"
     "Look how beautiful you've become!"
     "You'll finally get a man!"

The promise of being thin is that everything will finally go right.

It is a promise made by those who remark:
     "It changes your life!"
     "It feels good, doesn't it!"
          (Never a question; never room to disagree)
     "You must be so happy."

The promise of being thin is a promise of perfection
     so amply demonstrated by glossy magazines
     with their airburshed models--
          their skin flawless,
          their eyes big and doe-like,
          their hair does not thin or go limp
               with lack of sufficient nutrition,
          their proportions impossible--
     altered by Photoshop.

The promise of being thin is a promise of being
     in control
     strong and impervious
     untouchable.

The promise of being thin is a promise that
     the stars will align
     everything will fall into place
     and for one shining moment that stretches into eternity,
          perfection
          enlightenment
          beauty
     will be mine
     and life will not hurt.

If I can just make myself small enough
     the pain I carry in me will shrink as well.

If there were less of me to be hurt
     I will experience hurt less intensely.

If I just make myself small enough
          (by any means possible)
     maybe I will no longer feel
          a constant surge of electricity crackling beneath my skin;
     I will no longer feel
          fire burning between my outside and my in;
     I will no longer feel
          as though shards of glass are embedded in my bones
          and protruding from my joints.

The promise of being thin is a lie.

It is the only thing I swallow guilt-free.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Dehydration, Chronically Low BP, and Hot Tubs

So about a week ago, I decided to quit therapy. I have been going every 2 weeks, working on my food and body image issues. This amounts to about $70 a month. As I am in the process of joining a gym for $38 plus the cost of gas (as I can't force my work carpool partner to hang at the gym for 1-2 hours a day) each month, I thought it might be prudent to cut costs elsewhere. Also, I thought I was doing okay.

I have finally come to the conclusion that I'm kind of fucked up. I can deal with that. I have major body issues, and because of that, I've decided that I will never choose to be physically intimate with anyone. I have accepted that this is what my future holds, and I'm mostly okay with that. Having come to a place of acceptance in this, I've experienced a great deal of peace in general and less frustrations in my friendship with TB.

So, no more need to discuss the issues because they are what they are, and I'm pretty sure I can live with them. I can live a totally sexless existence, just me and my body issues. No more therapy. I have one date left on the books, and I was planning to break up with my therapist then.

All that changed this morning when I went to the gym.

It started out like a pretty typical day. I mixed up the hours and got to the gym with my mama and my younger brother an hour before they opened. So, we headed to the store for a bit and I sipped coffee while they ate breakfast.

I had forgotten my water bottle, but I figured since we were at the store anyway, I'd buy a coconut water and take it with me. I forgot to buy the coconut water.

When we got back to the gym and they were open, we got in and headed to the locker rooms. I was getting changed into my work out clothes, examining different parts of my body, pointing out my fat lumps to my mother, complaining about the wrinkly, sagging skin. This is what I do every day in my head when I look in the mirror.

Having dressed in work out gear, I took my mother to the weight room. "I'll be back in 45 minutes to an hour," I told her as I headed to the track.

I walked 1 mile on the track as a warm up. This particular track has 3 lanes, 1 running, 1 walking, 1 passing. The walking lane requires 14 1/2 laps to complete a mile. I had just finished my 14th lap walking and as I anticipated the start of my run, I literally giggled uncontrollably for the last 1/2 lap, I was so excited to be running.

I moved into the running lane and completed the 16 1/2 laps for 1 mile.

With a stitch in my side, I moved back to the walking lane and walked 7 1/2 laps. I thought to myself that I probably shouldn't have had 2 cups of coffee immediately before working out, as I was certain that was the reason I had a stitch in my side.

Moving smoothly back into the running lane, I completed 16 1/2 laps for my second mile, and then shifted back to the walking lane for the final 7 laps that would complete my second mile walking and effectively cool me down.

Then, I headed to the weight room. I forgot to get a drink of water.

After half an hour on the machines in the weight room I was starting to cramp a bit in my legs and I was feeling a bit nauseous. "Oh!" I thought. "I forgot to drink anything." Spying a water fountain, I immediately walked over and took a few sips. I finished with weight about forty minutes later.

"Okay," I told my mama and brother, "I'm ready to head to the pool!" I was about to throw up, so I headed to the water fountain again for a few more sips.

Once in the locker room again, as we changed into our swim suits, I once again examined my body. I explained to my mother that I often look at my abdomen and all the loose, wrinkled, lumpy skin and it reminds me of high school, back before I knew I was gluten intolerant, and I used to bake breads. "It just reminds me of bread dough. I'd like to cut it off, knead it until all smooth and elastic, shape it into loaves, and pop it in the oven," I said as I poked around at the little pockets and squishy lumps.

We showered and headed to the pool area where my brother was already doing laps. "Oh, sugar cookies!" I exclaimed. "I forgot to take out my contacts." I'm utterly terrified of losing a contact in the pool. "I'll be right back!"

I stowed my contact in their case and headed back to the pool. I did ten laps. Front crawl, breaststroke, front crawl, breaststroke, front crawl, back crawl, breaststroke, back crawl, front crawl, back stroke.

Now, having unusually bad menstrual cramps today, I decided that having cooled down sufficiently in the pool for 15 minutes, it might be nice to spend some time in the hot tub, with one of the jets massaging my lower back. So, we headed there next.

I turned on the jets and stepped in. My mama complained that it was too hot, but I thought it was perfect. My brother remarked that it was quite warm, but I still thought it was perfect.

We're all talking and having a good time. I share a little about my body issues and start to tear up. "Hey, M," my mama says, because I'm not looking at her. I look over. "You know, I love you no matter what. Testiness and all!"

"I'm only testy because I'm over training! I'm not eating enough to account for all the exercise and my body is constantly screaming, 'I'm starving! Feeeeed me!' and I'm screaming back at it 'Shut up already!'" My brother laughed at that. But seriously, body, you're not starving. If you're hungry, eat those lumpy fat stores!

After 10 minutes the jets shut off automatically. I hopped up to restart them, thinking, "The sign on the door limits it to 15 minutes, so another 5 should be fine!" I felt a bit dizzy getting out, but as I have generally low blood pressure anyway (typically 98/52), and I get dizzy nearly every time I stand up, I didn't think much of it.

Another five minutes in and we all head out.

This is when I knew I was in trouble.

This was more than dizzy. I was hot and though I'd just gotten out, my skin was almost immediately dry. I leaned against the wall and asked my mama to hand me my towel. She did, and I remember thinking, "I just need to sit for a minute." I started to bend my knees, and that's when it happened.

There were bright blinking lights and I did not know where I was. I was confused because I had no reason to be in a place with strobe lights going, and I'm not sure where I've come from, or where I am, or how I got here.

I can hear voices, distant and garbled as though I am at one end of a tunnel and they are at the other. "You need to say something so we know you're okay," I think I hear my mama say.

This is so out of the ordinary, all I can say is, "What?"

Then, I remember, we're at the gym. I didn't feel well. I wanted to sit down. But, I'm lying on the floor.... "Did I pass out?" I ask, unsuccessfully trying to open my eyes.

"Yeah," my brother says.

"Actually," my mama responds, "I think you had a seizure."

"No," I tell her, "I'm sure I just passed out. I'll be fine."

"Your eyelids were fluttering and your muscles were twitching. This was more than passing out," she says with motherly authority. Fluttering eyelids. Well, that explains the strobe light effect.

"Should we call an ambulance?" my brother asks.

"No," I tell them. "I'm sure I'll be fine. I'm just really dehydrated. Could you get me some water?" I ask my brother, finally opening my eyes and sitting up.

He runs to get me a cup and a pitcher full of water. He returns with four gym staff in tow.

I'm sure I'm blushing 100 shades of red, though I cannot feel the heat of a blush in my cheeks. I can't believe I passed out at the gym. This is so humiliating. "I'm fine," I tell them. "Really. Just a bit dehydrated. I'll be okay in a minute." I can't make them out clearly, just three men and a woman.

"Are you sure?" they ask.

"Yep. I'm just going to take a few minutes and drink some water. I'll be fine soon!"

Three of them leave, but the fourth refuses to go until he's sure I can walk out on my own. This is really embarrassing, feeling foolish for forgetting my water bottle and passing out because I got a little dehydrated.

After most of the water and about five minutes, I stand up. I take a step and then another and try for a third. The entire room is engulfed in white light. "Nope," I whisper, as I fall against the wall, the room going gray and then black as I slide to the floor. I'm not out for long. I can hear them asking if I'm okay. "Yeah," I say with my eyes closed. "I just need another minute."

I drink more water and rest for another 5 minutes. In the meantime, an older gentleman comes in and uses the hot tub. I try to stand up once more, and immediately, the room is engulfed in white light, fade to gray, I'm against the wall, black. I'm sitting there frustrated with my body.

"You need to lie flat on your back, put your feet up high against the wall, get blood to your head," the guy in the hot tub says.

"Oh, genius!" I mumble. My mama has gone to the showers to get changed, trusting my brother to care for me while I recover. We did not expect it would take very long.

"Don't let her get up for at least another five minutes," the hot tub guy says as he leaves. "You've got a bit more color," he remarks. "When you stood up before you were white as a sheet. Stay down this time!"

"Thanks," I tell him, still hugely embarrassed as he heads out.

We wait 20 minutes. After five, I still knew I wouldn't make it up. At ten, I asked for a bit more water. By 15 minutes prone, I tell the staff worker (who I am to see clearly now, and who is remarkably HOT) that he should have brought a book, because I'm sure it would be far more entertaining than "all of this" as I indicate my ridiculous position on the floor, feet against the wall.

We spend five minutes just talking. In my typical fashion I asked him questions (or interrogated him, as TB call this habit of mine).

At this point, I feel well enough (finally) to stand. Rather than feeling hot and dry, I'm starting to feel comfortable, almost cool, and I can feel the wetness in my hair and the hem of my swimsuit's skirt.

I stand up, and I'm immediately worried. Why can't I see anything clearly!? What happened!? Oh, right. I took my contacts out before jumping in the pool. Goodness, I'm a moron. I'm certainly my face would be flaming red if I were capable of blushing at this point.

Showered, dressed, mobile, we leave the gym. I grab a coconut water and protein bar at the grocery store. I am better.

When I get home I google complications from dehydration. Yep, sure enough, it was seizure. Involuntary muscle contractions and loss of consciousness. Thanks, www.mayoclinic.com! Thanks, mama for recognizing what was going on!

So, that's that. I've changed my mind. I knew I'd forgotten my water bottle and I knew it wasn't wise to work out without having one on hand, and I did it anyway.

I knew I wasn't feeling well. I knew that wanting to throw up was a sign that I was dehydrated, but I ignored it to push on in my work out. I pushed until I felt shaky and dizzy standing up and then only paused long enough to take a few sips. I needed so much more at that point.

I continued to push, despite the fact that my muscles were burning and cramping and I knew if I had had anything in my stomach at all, I would have thrown up, and still I didn't stop, because all I could think about was, "I just need to finish this set, this machine, this lap, and I can tend to my body after."

I continued to push, ignoring my body, telling it to shut up and do what it was told, pushing it to perform one more, ignoring it until it fell silent, until my thirst was forgotten, until I had a seizure. And I thank God that I was in the process of sitting when it happened, because otherwise, who knows how hard I would have hit my head on the wall or the floor if I'd fallen farther than I did.

After I got home, I rested for a few minutes before my next engagement today. As I headed out again, I thought about my plans to quit therapy. "I'll be fine," I said to myself.

"Oh, really?" I asked myself. "You just had a seizure. That's hardly fine."

"It happens!" I argued back. "It's totally normal. People get dehydrated. It's a common complication. I'll just be more careful next time."

"Normal? Really? Normal? There's nothing normal about having a seizure because of dehydration from over training. There's nothing normal about having a seizure at all. What's more, forgetting 'normal' as a subjective term for just a moment, there's nothing HEALTHY about having a seizure or even passing out."

I wanted to argue back. I really couldn't.

I guess therapy will have to continue.

And I'm going to put a water bottle in my gym bag as soon as I get home. If I can remember.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Another Fat Girl Rant

I have a friend who does not understand the depth of my frustration and pain as I continue to lose weight through healthier food choices and exercise.

In the past, I've had people assume that it's just the best thing ever and I must be loving my new body and the attention it brings me.

I'm in therapy because of my weight loss and the changes taking place in my body.

I cry about it. A lot.

I struggle to love and honor my body, sometimes over-training to the point of exhaustion, unable to function properly the next day, and yet I continue to work out anyway, because I'm willing to pay the physical cost of doing too much if I can avoid the emotional cost of doing less, even if intellectually I know my body needs a break and I am doing myself no favors by pushing myself beyond my limits.

Looking in the mirror, I see all of things that I still want to change about my body. I see all of the imperfections that could be perfected. I do not see the changes and how my body has gotten smaller, I only see how fat it still is and all the parts that do not look the way they are "supposed" to look.

Though self-loathing is hard enough to deal with in this fat-phobic culture in which we live, it is made even more difficult to stand against when well-meaning people make some of the most painfully degrading comments imaginable, with the intent of complimenting my weight loss.

"Wow!" said one woman, several years ago when I lost weight the first time.

"What?" I responded.

"I just got a glimpse of what a knock-out you're going to be if you keep losing weight."

Because my physical appearance is the only beautiful part of me, or at least the most important.

Though it was unrelated to this comment, I went on to regain 100 of the 150lbs I had lost.

Having re-lost that 100lbs and then a few more, I knew to expect the comments this time. I knew they were coming. I knew I would have to find a way to mentally re-frame them, because I cannot have the conversation in which I ask, "What is it you're really trying to communicate?" with every person I know. I wouldn't do it well and I do not want to alienate people who are simply trying to love me.

The remarks this time around are similar. I knew it was coming. I thought I would be prepared for it.

"I just can't get over how pretty you're becoming now that you've lost so much weight."

How pretty I'm becoming. Because I wasn't pretty before? My basic structure has stayed the same, there's just a bit less fat in my face.... Because beauty that comes closer to meeting the unrealistic physical standards in our society is more important than a beautiful spirit or beautiful acts or beautiful words?

"I just can't get over how beautiful you're getting! .... Do you think a man may be in your future?"

Because no one would want a fat woman? Because only the thin are deserving of love? Because my value as a human being is not only tied primarily to my appearance, but my ability to catch and keep a man?

Yes, I cry a lot about my weight loss and my changing body. Far more than I ever cried about being fat.

I spend more time looking in a mirror critiquing all of the parts that are not yet good enough. This, for the record, would be all of them.

The ironic part of all of this is that what motivated me initially to take better care of myself was not the insults or stares or abuse lobbed at me by our fat-phobic, fat-hating, fat-shaming culture.

Shame does NOT produce lasting change.

It was the unconditional love of my best friend who has always told me how beautiful I am at any size. It was her unconditional love and support and desire to not watch me die an early death that motivated me to take those first steps into greater health again.

And the frustrating response has been further body-shaming by a society that feels an intense need to control women by policing their bodies, always dictating that our value is wholly dependent on our appearance and relationship status, nothing else.

Now, as a thinker on the MBTI, I can tell you that if you want to capture my heart and get me excited and engaged, make me think. Start with the brain. Go hard-core intellectual on me.

The reverse holds true, and for that I am grateful.

If I am experiencing something emotionally and do not know how to process it, I'll intellectualize it and work through it, understanding it with my intellect so that I can discern why I'm having the emotional response I'm having or I can reset my emotional compass.

So, having looked at my body in the mirror (again) and having found all of the things I hate about my body (again) (and all of it), I decided to do some research. Surely there had to be resources somewhere. Surely, somewhere, some kind of scholarly article had been written about massive weight loss, the appearance of specific body regions, body dysmorphia, common experiences, and resources that help.

What I found in the first scholarly article returned in my search results was published on the National Institute of Health website. This is what I read:
Weight loss patients usually desire thighplasty. Hating their appearance, they hide under tent-like skirts and baggy pants. Panniculectomy further exposes the unsightliness. Repugnant odors emanate. Some are tormented by red chafed skin under folds. Sagging inner thighs couple with an overhanging abdominal apron and mons pubis rob self-esteem. The patients shun intimacy. (emphasis mine)
The article goes on to indicate that most patients really do want this surgery; doctors just need to convince them to accept the physical scars that will be apparent following the surgery.

Now, this was an article on a new technique for cosmetic surgery to address the issue of excess skin following massive weight loss. And maybe, given the fact that this is an article about cosmetic surgery, I ought to have expected the fat-shaming language used by the doctor who pioneered this particular technique.

But I didn't.

I read that paragraph in the medical literature and the conclusion I drew was not that I had made a choice to become healthier and this is commendable. The conclusion I drew was not that my physical appearance is the least important part of who I am. The conclusion I drew was not that I am valuable and worthy and loved and lovely no matter what.

What I read in that paragraph is that I am unsightly. What I read in that paragraph is that I am repugnant. What I read in that paragraph is that I am unworthy of self-esteem. What I read in that paragraph is that I should shun intimacy, because I used to be a gross, fat, disgusting human being and while I've lost a significant portion of my excess weight, my body still bears those marks and that is what speaks to my complete lack of value.

And of course, I have learned through years of body-shaming and verbal abuse that I should not expect empathy or compassion, because I brought this on myself by living most of my life 200 lbs overweight. It's my fault that my body looks like this, it is my fault that I do not have any value in this society, it is my fault that I will never be worthy of love or acceptance because I'm the one who made the choices that led me to this moment in the first place.

I wonder how differently this paragraph in the article would read if phrased as such:

Many patients report hating their appearance and using voluminous skirts and baggy pants to hide. Many patients also indicate that panniculectomy accentuates their thighs. Many patients also express concerns about odor from moisture and bacteria trapped between skin folds. Many patients indicate they feel robbed of self-esteem and they shun intimacy as a result. Thighplasty may be one method by which dignity and esteem can be restored to these patients, helping to foster body-confidence that may restore their ability to engage in intimacy again.

I called my best friend and told her that I want to excise large portions of my body and I'd like to start with my genitals.

To answer the question, "No. There will be no man in my future ever, because my genitals are ugly, disgusting, and no man would ever want to be intimate with me once they saw my lady-bits anyway."

I wish she had been in a place to have a conversation about the bigger issues, this incredible woman who loves me unconditionally and who truly believes I am beautiful no matter my size.

I am very fortunate, indeed, that I have several friends who will speak the truth to me.

I have several friends who will say to me, "Your value comes from God alone, not from your outward appearance," and "Hey, I value you a lot as a person no matter what size your body is!"

In a fat-phobic, fat-hating, body-shaming culture, I need to hear these messages far more than I need to hear how pretty I'm becoming. Even if I know what these people are trying to communicate is, "It's obvious that you are prioritizing your health and making self-care a real part of your life. I'm glad for you."

I wish that more people were aware of what their words communicate, and I wish they would make better choices to communicate unconditional love and acceptance rather than shame. Because unconditional love and acceptance are far more powerful at affecting change than shame will ever be.

Giving Thanks to Gain Perspective

Luke 6:20-31

*****

Every year, during the month of November, a large number of people on Facebook and other social media sites participate in "30 Days of Thanksgiving" updating their status each day with one thing for which they are faithful.  Last year I participated.

But I did not stop on November 30th.

Rather, I decided to continue for an entire year. In part, I wanted to see if I could make a commitment and follow through (though knowing myself as I do, this was hardly a significant concern). In part, I wanted to challenge myself to be more thankful in general.

The biggest, factor, however, was that I wanted to know what, if anything, I would learn about myself in the process, if I took just a few moments of every day to be thankful for something.

I did learn a few things: I have much to be grateful for. Most of what I truly appreciate in life is not any of my material possessions but my relationships first and foremost and my life experiences next.

I learned that my act of gratitude inspired others.

I learned that I am loved by many and there are those who will readily, if somewhat surprisingly, come to my defense when I am attacked.

There was one morning, a morning after which I had gotten the best night's sleep I had in months; a night in which I'd slept solidly after almost a week of getting virtually no sleep any night, tossing and turning and unable to fall asleep; this particular morning, I stated that I was thankful for good sleep.

Immediately a young woman commented that there were lots of things for which to be thankful and my choice that day was shallow and empty and I needed to "work harder."

This is a woman who has obviously never experienced prolonged insomnia. This is a young woman who clearly does not understand what is necessary for a truly good night's sleep: safety, security, comfort, peace. This is a woman who, it seems, does not understand that adequate, healthy, restorative sleep is absolutely NECESSARY for mental, emotional, and physical health.

When I express gratitude for good sleep, it is an expression of gratitude for all of the factors that made it possible: sufficient nutrition, a comfortable bed, warm blankets, a home in which my physical safety is not at risk, relationships in which my sense of security is not in jeopardy.

It is also an expression of gratitude for all of the benefits that come with good sleep: clarity of thought, emotional stability, sufficient energy to perform acts of daily living, and with that, the resilience to make wise and healthy choices in the face of temptation.

And when this woman belittled my expression of thanks, dozens of people came to my defense.

Some may be wondering what this story has to do with our gospel lesson this morning.

I am not, by an means, a wealthy woman. I am, however, incredibly rich in relationships. I am incredibly blessed by God.

I am incredibly blessed and rich in things that matter.  I have sufficient food and have not known hunger or the desperation of severe poverty in years.

This reality, and my ability and willingness to recognize it, leads me to worry a bit, as we read our gospel lesson.

Blessed are the poor.  I live in one of the wealthiest countries in the world. I am among the top 2% of the world's population in regards to wealth, even if I'm in the lower 60% in the US.

Blessed are those who hunger.  I have have a fridge full of spinach at home. More than that, I have the luxury of skipping a meal here or there if I get too busy to eat or simply do not find anything that is immediately available all that appealing.

Blessed are those who mourn. I have certainly mourned in my life, but I am so richly blessed, it is hard to find much to mourn at present.

Blessed are those who are hated, excluded, insulted, and rejected because of Jesus. I have the privilege to stand before you today, in a position of authority and respect, because I am a pastor who loves to talk about Christ.

Woe to the rich, for they have received their comfort. Yep, I'm pretty comfortable in life.

Woe to the well fed, for they will go hungry. Yep, it's pretty clear just looking at me that I'm a little too well fed.

Woe to those who laugh, for they will mourn. If it's one thing I'm known for among most of my social circles, it's my laugh. Even having lost over 100 lbs in the last year, having become virtually unrecognizable to people who have known me for years, the moment I open my mouth and giggle, I am known.

Woe to you when everyone speaks well of you.... I think I'm safe here ;) No one can please all people all the time.

Questions are abundant for us in this scripture! Where do I fall? Is this a scripture to comfort or to warn me? How poor do I have to be to be blessed? How rich is rich enough to worry?

Must I always know hunger to be blessed? Or is having grown up in poverty with occasional bare cupboards sufficient?

How deeply must I mourn? How long must I weep? What must I lose and mourn that I might gain a blessing? Is the loss worth it?

Even if there are those who hate me, who exclude me, who insult me, who reject me, does God really expect me to JUMP FOR JOY!? Seriously!? Abused, reviled, bullied, excluded, taunted, tormented by others and I am told to do a happy dance?

And will God truly deny people comfort, food, joy, and respect in eternal life simply because they received such treatment here, on earth, in this life?

If it is a blessing in God's kingdom to be poor, hungry, to mourn, and be persecuted in this life because such people will be rich, satisfied, will laugh, and be rewarded in eternity; does it necessarily follow that it is a curse to be be rich, well fed, happy, and respected in this life, because God would deny these things in eternal life?

I do not believe so.

The Kingdom of God is not about denying anyone. The Kingdom of God does not operate on an economy of scarcity. Scarcity is the language of this world. Scarcity is a mark of the temporal.  I believe the language used in this passage is a reminder that the blessings of this life are short-lived. They will pass away just as our bodies will pass away. Just as the kingdoms of this world will pass away.

The Kingdom of God, though, is something else entirely. The Kingdom of God is eternal, everlasting. The blessings of God are greater and more significant than the pocket change of the millionaires. The Kingdom of God operates on an economy of abundance.

There is more than enough for everyone.

I think the problem in this passage is our perspective. Much like the young woman who felt my gratitude for a good night's sleep was shallow and insufficient, it is not that those who are rich, well fed, joyful, and respected now will not have access to abundance, good food, joy, or respect in eternal life. Rather, it is that they will not have the perspective to understand these blessings.

Having great wealth and blessings in this life can desensitize us to our blessings. Living in relative comfort, we can forget what it to want for basic necessities and end up yearning for more. There is more than enough, and we often become consumers en masse who want "just a little bit more."

It is not that the wealthy, well fed, happy, respected few on this earth will not have access to the abundance of God in the afterlife. But how much will it mean to them if they've known such comforts all their life?

A radical shift in perspective needs to take place.

Jesus tells us how, and sets the example himself as he lives out the values he proclaims: love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, and pray for those who mistreat you.

Jesus calls us to put others before ourselves, to respond to hate with radical love; and he shows us how, loving his enemies and calling them friends, doing good to those who hated him, blessing those who cursed him, praying for those who mistreated him, reconciling the whole of creation to its creator as he chose obedience to death.

Everything about God's kingdom is the opposite from our understanding of how things work on earth.

Do to others, not what you feel they deserve, but what you would have them do to you.

In the kingdoms of this world, operating under an economy of scarcity, power leads to abuse. Studies have been done that demonstrate that the biggest predictor of immoral behavior is power. Being granted power encourages people to behave less like Jesus.

One does not need to look far to see this: presidents and CEOs of major corporations growing richer and richer and richer, amassing more wealth than they could possibly spend in 10 lifetimes, accumulating this wealth through the exploitation, abuse, and coercion of their employees.

Everything about God's kingdom is opposite from our understanding of how things work on earth.

Exploitation, coercion, and abuse have no place in the Kingdom of God. Respect, love, dignity, kindness, compassion, generosity. These are Kingdom values.

Perspective. Perspective changes our choices.

Putting others before ourselves, responding to hatred with radical love, turning the other cheek, giving beyond what is demanded, giving to all who ask, not demanding repayment. Doing these things will not only bless us in this life; these acts are a blessing in themselves, and unlike material possessions, they are blessings that will never pass away.

Eternal life with eternal blessings. Perspective. Being grateful in plenty and in want. In this way we are preparing ourselves to know and understanding the blessings to come.

Thanksgiving, even for the small, simple, and relatively insignificant things in life is still thanksgiving. Thanksgiving gives us perspective. Thanksgiving reminds us that we have much for which to be thankful. Thanksgiving sets our minds to an economy of abundance.

May you recognize the abundance of God's blessings present this day and always.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Another Sermon

Luke 18:9-14

*****

In today's gospel lesson, we are told a parable about two men: a Pharisee and a tax collector.

We are told that Jesus relates this story for those who are confident of their own righteousness and who looked down on everyone else.  We all know those people -- the ones who believe their moral perfection makes them better than anyone else.

The people in our lives who look around and compare themselves to their neighbors, finding fault in anyone but themselves and absolutely certain that they are at least one step ahead of those in their company.

The people who seem to communicate a message that goes like this: sure I make mistakes on occasion, but they're small and relatively insignificant compared to the mistakes that people like them make; at least I'm not so depraved as those people.

And so here we have two men, a Pharisee and a tax collector.

Pharisees were well respected in their day. They were the religious leaders and teachers of the Law. The Pharisees were the elite in Jewish society, primarily concerned with purity, tithing, and keeping the law. They were often wealthy, complacent and satisfied with systems of injustice that kept them in power at the expense of others.

The Pharisees' focus on outward purity and justification speaks to a hypocrisy as they miss the importance of humility, confronting systems of injustice, sharing their food with the hungry, offering shelter to the poor, clothing the naked, and they use tithing as an excuse to ignore the needs of others.

In this parable, the Pharisee seeks to prove his humility by proclaiming that he fasts twice a week -- an activity that is seen to honor God and the intent of which is humility; and he gives a tenth of all he earns.

The purpose of the tithe as established in Deuteronomy 26:12 is to provide for the needs of the priests, the strangers, the orphans, and the poor -- with the exception of the temple priests, these were people the Pharisees staunchly ignored as being beneath them and unworthy of note or care.

The tax collector, on the other hand, is a member of a lower social caste, considered "unclean" by the purity loving Pharisees.

Roman taxation was a system rife with economic abuses. Fraud was common in assessing the value of property and goods. This inflation of value led to higher commissions. The tax collectors were getting rich via the unjust taxation of the poor.

What is more, those who collected taxes for Rome in Jerusalem were themselves Jewish individuals. They were seen as being in collusion with Rome, an empire that is oppressing the Jews.

Tax collectors were often grouped with robbers and sinners. They are despised and looked down upon.

Yet, in our parable, it is the tax collector whom Jesus holds up as having been justified before God.

The tax collector is proved just and right. He is validated by Jesus. He is the one who will be exalted.

Why?

Because whereas the Pharisee sought to justify himself through his good and humble deeds, which he shared freely in self-righteous comparison to the others, the tax collector demonstrated true humility.

The tax collector stood a distance, demonstrating his reverence for God and acknowledging his unworthiness in the presence of a just and holy God.

The tax collector bowed his head, a posture which declares: I am too ashamed and disgraced, my God, to lift up my face to you because my sins are higher than my head and my guilt has reached the heavens.

The tax collector beat his breast, in shame and humiliation, demonstrating contrition for his sinful acts.

Freely he begs, "God, have mercy on me," as he declares himself "a sinner!"

God declares it these on whom He will look with favor:  those who have a humble and contrite heart, who tremble at God's word.

Though the Pharisees are the teachers of the Law, those who have studied the scriptures, it is the tax collector who seems to truly understand what they mean:

Have mercy on me, O God,
     according to your unfailing love;
according to your great compassion
     blot out my transgressions.
  Wash away all my iniquity
     and cleanse me from my sin.


In his earnest attempt to justify himself and prove his righteousness, the Pharisee has committed a sin, he has missed the mark. He loses sight of the truth: it is God alone who justifies us.

The tax collector gets this. The tax collector understands.

Despised though he is, considered unclean, reviled by his own community, the tax collector is in the more favored position. He is the one on whom God has mercy. He is the one whom God shows favor. He is the one declared righteous and justified.

It is easy to read this story and point fingers at the Pharisee, to look around our own lives and declare, "Oh, I know who those people are, the ones who think they're better than everyone else!"

Perhaps we think we are not like them. But how often do we approach God in a spirit of contrition, genuinely mourning our sins? How often do we bow our heads, beat our breasts and declare, "God have mercy on me, a sinner?"

Are we not more often guilty of pointing out the sins of others, seeking to justify our own misdeeds as "not that bad"; seeking to justify our own lives because "at least we haven't made choices like those people," whomever they may be?

I know that far too often, I act more like a Pharisee than a tax collector. Far too often, I want to justify myself. It is a hard truth to accept that what justifies us in the eyes of God is not our righteousness or piety, but rather our humility, our repentance, and our willingness to acknowledge our failures and own our brokenness.

Today, I want to repent of this. Today, I want to seek God's justification instead of my own. Today, I want God's justification only.

Today, I commit myself to living in a way that seeks the honor and favor of God, rather than the honor and favor of humans.

If you find yourself, even on occasion, declaring your own righteousness like the Pharisee, I hope you'll join me and find restoration and new life in God who exalts the humble and declares that His people will never be put to shame.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Deborah Kaye's Cookie Fiasco

After work today, I had to run a couple of errands.

I stopped by the bank. I paid the rent. I got cash for the weekend.

Afterward, I headed to the store and as I had a $10 gift card from work (oh, big winner that I am), decided to purchase things I might not normally spend my own money on.

This amounted to a LOT of standing around the store feeling confused because 1) there is nothing in general merchandise that can be purchased for $10 or less that I would ever have use of and 2) I have issues grocery shopping, since I eat a pretty boring diet.

However, I decided to take this opportunity to purchase something new. I tried. I really did.

I ended up with peanuts, which I eat on road trips and I have a road trip coming up, so yay!

I also purchased cheese, which I eat more often than I ought to, but it was a new brand, Australian, grass fed. Worth a taste.

I purchased a head of cabbage. Which I ate for dinner. 2/3 of it anyway. To the tune of 200 calories. I also ate a bag of spinach for dinner, to the tune of 60 calories.

The last item, which was actually the first item in the cart was a cookie. I do not normally eat cookies, so this qualified as something I would not normally buy with my own money.

It was gluten free. Oatmeal raisin. It contained very few ingredients, a moderate amount of protein and sufficient fat. I was not thrilled with the sugar content, but I thought, "Maybe just this once."

I looked at the back of the single cookie envelope and discovered there were only 160 calories. I was willing to take the plunge.

On the ride home, I tore open the single envelope containing one cookie. I broke off a small piece and began to eat it, small bites, nibbling on the pieces one at a time as I broke them from the larger cookie. It was a bit like eating granola. Or eating a granola bar, as it was quite soft.

It was a tasty cookie, to be sure. I enjoyed eating it. At first.

I started looking at the cookie and calculating in my head how many servings of oats must be in this cookie. It had to be close 1/2 cup of oats per cookie. Well that just didn't make sense. The cookie also contained Sucanat (a brand of raw sugar), canola oil, raisins, coconut, eggs.... But 1/2 cup of oats has 150 calories. How can they squeeze oil, raisins, coconut and eggs into this cookie for an additional 10 calories?

Something did not add up. So, I took a closer look at the package.

Serving size: 1/2 cookie
Servings Per Container: 2

At which point, I finished eating the cookie, feeling more and more disgusted with the company, their packaging, and myself for eating TWO servings of cookie.

320 calories.

Shit.

I tried to console myself with the fact that my yogurt this morning had been 140 calories and due to unforeseen circumstances, I missed eating at lunch.

Still, I had anticipated 160 calories. I had planned to have a snack that put me at 300 calories total. Suddenly I was up to 460. That's not fair!

Besides, who eats a HALF A FUCKING COOKIE from a single cookie envelope that is not resealable!?

So, I decided that when I got home tonight, I would be far more diligent and eat a supremely healthy dinner.

A package of spinach. A head of cabbage.  Roughage bliss.

It was a tasty cookie. But I won't be doing it again.

Because, really, who eats a half a fucking cookie? NOBODY, I tell you. Nobody.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Work as Prayer

Luke 18:1-8

*****

There is a traditional way of our reading our Gospel lesson this morning. This is the reading that you would likely get at most any church in most any city in most any state. It is a good reading. It is even perhaps an accurate reading. And it's the traditional reading, which means it has some power and must connect with people. 

The traditional reading goes something like this: when Jesus tells this parable, we as listeners are to identify with the widow. The widow's incessant approaching of the judge is the way we must approach God. We must keep seeking God, day after day after day. While God may deny for a time, eventually, God will grant us justice. If we cry out to God night and day, God will answer us so that we do not wear God out. So, pray always and do not lose heart, for if the incessant cry for justice can wear down an unjust judge, surely your prayers will wear down God and you'll get what you seek. 

There are a few problems with this traditional reading of this story.

To start, there is a tendency to read this parable and in comparing God to the judge, assume that God is stingy and not eager to grant us justice. And yet, Jesus tells us, God will grant us justice much more quickly than the judge; God will not delay in helping those who cry out for justice.

Secondly, to identify with the widow, we place ourselves in a position of feeling as though we might be able to "wear out" God with our continual pleading. 

Lastly, the traditional reading of this text completely ignores the whole history of Jewish law, and so, I'd like to offer an alternate reading of the text this morning. 

Jewish law stands on the side of the oppressed. Jewish law stands on the side of the downtrodden. Jewish law stands on the side of the widow, the orphan, the poor. Jewish law stands for justice for those who have no power.

Grant me justice. 

Jewish law is God's law. A law which God declares will be put into God's people, written into their hearts. When that law is written into our hearts, we are God's people and God is our God. The law of God which dictates justice for the widow, the orphan, and the poor is our law. 

If God's law is to seek justice, then in this story, it is the widow who most closely reflects the attitude, behaviors, and very nature of God. 

In a world in which self-interest trumps all, we (more often than not) resemble the judge who does not fear God, who does not respect people. Too often we place our own desires before and above the needs of others. Too often we seek our own comforts at the expense of others' survival. Too often we seek to do what is easiest rather than what is right. 

Too often, we are like the judge: with no fear of God, no respect for our fellows, and no desire to see justice enacted. 

It is God, in our lives, who petitions us to do justice. It is God who will wear us out with the cry for justice. It is God who will come to us day after day after day after day insisting that the law of justice be lived out.

In a society that is unjust, that cares not for the widows, the orphans, and the poor, it is God who cries out day after day for justice. 

It is easy to read the gospel lesson for today and identify with the most favorably presented character -- the widow. We all want to see ourselves as good people. It is natural to want to read this story and assume that we are told to pray continually and not lose heart as the widow continually petitioned the judge for justice.  
Helen Prejean who has spent the last 20 years working with death row inmates has this to say: 
I watch what I do to see what I really believe. 

Belief and faith are not just words. It's one thing for me to say I am a Christian, but I have to embody what it means; I have to live it.... 

"Love your neighbor as yourself," Jesus said, and as a beginner nun, I tried earnestly to love my neighbor -- the children I taught, their parents, my fellow teachers, my fellow nuns. But for a long time, the circle of my loving care was small and, for the most part, included only white, middle-class people like me. But one day I woke up to Jesus's deeper challenge to love the outcast, the criminal, the underdog. So I packed my stuff and moved into a noisy, violent housing project in an African-American neighborhood in New Orleans. 

I saw the suffering and let myself feel it: the sounds of gunshots in the night, mothers calling out for their children. I saw injustice and was compelled to do something about it. I changed from being a nun who only prayed for the suffering world to a nun with my sleeves rolled up, living my prayer. 

Helen Prejean gets it. She heard the word of God. The law of God is written on her heart. And the voice of God wore Helen out, until she could no longer sit idly by in the face of injustice, merely petitioning God to do something. Helen, instead, took her place alongside God in seeking justice. 

All of scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness. All of scripture equips those who belong to God for every good work. And this is the good work of God: to seek justice. 

We are called to do the ministry of God, to seek justice for the widow, the orphan, and the poor. We are called to be persistent as we rebuke injustice and encourage God's justice. We are called to stand on the side of God who calls out for justice, who wears out those who do not fear God or respect people. 

When we work for justice, we stand on the side of God. 

We need to pray always and not lose heart. Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time, we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. Let our work be our prayer. And let our prayer be the prayer of God -- seeking justice in an unjust world. 

When we work for justice, our work becomes our prayer. In turn, we have the privilege of becoming God's answer to prayer in an unjust and hurting world. 

Monday, October 14, 2013

The Difference of a Year

The first time I lost weight, my mother did not recognize me.

I had been in New York City for four months and lost about sixty pounds. I looked different.

Stepping off the plane, I was carrying a backpack, shoulder bag, suitcase, and a dog carrier; being loaded down, I did not act as my mother expected -- as I wanted. I did not run to her.

But when you're carrying 150 lbs of luggage and a small dog, running isn't much of an option.

And while not being recognized by my own mother stung a little, it was not traumatic. And all I can think really accounts for this is that I've never felt known by my family. I've always felt a little out of step, a stranger in a strange group of people, and out of place. It wasn't at all surprising that my mother did not know me.

The fault in this falls entirely on me. I do not share myself freely with my family. We have widely divergent interests and I have trouble connecting with them on things that are deeply important to me and I do not often connect with them on things that are deeply important to them.

A few weeks ago, I emailed a friend who was soon to be getting married.

A wedding in the autumn of 2012
I have not seen her in some time. The last time we saw one another I was in town for another couple of friends' wedding.


Emailing to check in and see how things were coming together, how she was doing as the wedding drew closer. I also told her that she might not recognize me. I wonder, now, if I had shared this with her as much for myself as for her -- trying to prepare myself for that possibility.

As such, it was not surprising to me that, having not seen one another in a year, and having lost 107 pounds, neither the bride nor groom recognized me. (Until I opened my mouth -- because no matter how much my face and body changes, I have this voice).

This, however, was traumatic.

There was this sense of not being known by people who do know me and who love me and who care so well for me. It was like being a stranger to those who know me best.

The reality, however, is that I am known by these people and many others. I am known by my friends who hosted me. I am known by my family to the extent that I permit them to know me.

A wedding in the autumn of 2013
And I am deeply loved by all of them. I am loved well by all of them. I am incredibly blessed by all of them.

Feelings are not fact. They do not provide us with any information beyond what filters are operating and what work still needs to be done.

I am known and I am loved.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Obedience to a Loving God

Lamentations 1:1-6, 3:19-26; 2 Timothy 1:1-14; Luke 17:5-10

*****

Today's gospel lesson reads with difficulty. Jesus does not come across as the kind and gentle savior we have come to expect.

Some of this is because Jesus is not the soft and gentle savior we have domesticated through years of watered down theology, the primary focus of which is making people feel good about themselves.

Some of this is because we are two thousands years divorced from the context in which Jesus made his remarks and our own country's history of slavery further colors our understanding of what slavery is. In Jesus day, however, slaves were not individuals abducted from their country, transported across countries and oceans in the most horrific and unsanitary conditions imaginable, to be auctioned off and ultimately "owned" by wealthy, white, land owners in need of cheap, plentiful, and initially disposable labor.

As it regards first century Judaism, slaves were individuals who had voluntarily entered into a mutually beneficial relationship with their employer. This was a legally binding contract in which the slave offered to perform services for the employer who in turn would offer shelter, care, and protection to the employee and after the set term of employment ceased -- a total of seven years, the slave would generally become a member of the employer's household and be treated with the same regard as other family members. This kind of relationship was often the springboard for upward mobility within this cultural context.

The slave, however, had specific obligations during the time of service, however. They were to perform their labor as specified in the terms of their contract. Entering a contractually binding agreement and upholding your end of the contract does not entitle you to special treatment.

This is what is at the crux of Jesus's question, "Do you thank the slave for doing what was commanded?" The answer is, "Of course not! They have done their job. Period. End of story."

Faith, genuine faith, even faith as small as a grain of mustard, is a contract into which we voluntarily enter. We choose to believe in God and God becomes our master. This faith makes us slaves to God, and we are expected to be obedient as our faith is a choice to serve to God.

We are called by God who offers to become our employer, caring for our needs and treating us a member of God's own household, and in return, should we choose faithfully to accept God as our master, we serve. This call to serve God is a holy calling. We are called according to God's purpose and God's grace. We are not called because of our goodness or righteousness or suitability. We are called for one reason and one reason only: it pleases God to do so.

This is good news!  For it pleases God to call us and to partner with us simply because God loves us. God does not love us because we have demonstrated that we are in some fashion good enough to have earned God's love.

God calls us because God loves us. We cannot earn God's love or merit by being obedient. Neither does God's love for us lessen should we be disobedient. When we respond in faith to God's call in our lives then, we choose to be obedient to God, not to earn favor with God, but rather because that is what we are commanded to do when we enter in such a relationship.

Sincere faith is a relationship with God, who graciously gifts us with a spirit of power and of love and of self-discipline. This means we can do all things God calls us to do without fear of failure, without concern for the outcome, with worry about the end result. So long as we are faithful to God's call, we can stand confident that God's purposes will ultimately prevail, whether we see it in our lifetime or not.

Faith, itself, is an inheritance we pass on. We see that in our epistle -- Timothy received his faith via his mother Eunice and his grandmother Lois. The same is true of us. Even today faith passes through us to those whom we entrust to God whether we ever see the fruit of our labors or not.

God is faithful and we can have full confidence that what we entrust to God will be guarded until the final days.

Even in Jeremiah's day, almost 600 years before Jesus, we see the prophet's trust in God's faithfulness. Jeremiah mourned greatly for Israel, for God's people. Seeing their faithlessness, Jeremiah prayed for them and strongly warned them that they would reap the fruit of their faithless labors.

God, however, is bigger than our mistakes or failures or disobedience. God's steadfast love never fails; God's mercies never come to an end. God, who is faithful, showers us each morning with new mercies and enduring love.

The love and faithfulness of God is most clearly demonstrated in our salvation.

Salvation comes through a God who loves us no matter what; salvation that is life and immortality.

Our choice to be obedient to God may never win us accolades or reward in this life. In many ways, it may invite the scorn of others.

We can hold to a promise, however, that at the end of our days, having fulfilled our duties as slaves of Christ, that we will be welcomed into God's household as a member of Christ's family. Our reward comes at the end of days in the resurrection and in eternal life.

A clear example of this can be found in Saint Francis of Assisi who, in the influence he had on others, continues to live on even today. Francis, who endeavored to respond obediently to the call of God in his life, following the example set forth by Christ.

We, too, will live on in the influence we have in the lives of others. Let us seek to be obedient to the call of God in our lives, let us seek to follow the example set forth by Christ, let us seek to influence others in love.

Though not written by Saint Francis, the Prayer of Saint Francis sums up this idea beautifully:

Lord, make me an instrument of Your peace;
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
Where there is injury, pardon;
Where there is error, the truth;
Where there is doubt, the faith;
Where there is despair, hope;
Where there is darkness, light;
And where there is sadness, joy.
O Divine Master, Grant that I may not so much seek
To be consoled, as to console;
To be understood, as to understand;
To be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive;
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
And it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.