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Should, Must, Gotta, and Have-To

by Karen Richter

Are you tired? I seem to have a lot of tired friends lately. Whether they are parents, activists, or just in a career building phase (or all three!), I see caring and beloved humans all around me moving from one obligation to another.

“I just gotta…”
“Guess I should…”
“My must-do today is…”
“I’m sorry but I have to…”

This makes me sad because we are not called to a life of Shoulds and Gottas.

But… there’s work to do, right? The world’s a mess and its needs call to us, right? When we pray, asking God to feed the hungry, God says, “I sent you,” right? It’s arrogance to think that the world is depending our our little bit, but at the same time, the world IS DEPENDING ON OUR LITTLE BIT! How do we reconcile this mental anguish and move on?

tree pose
tree pose

I’ve spent my summer doing yoga (now that’s random… just bear with me). I’m struggling with Tree pose; it’s a balancing pose and my balance is pretty crap. My teacher says, “Feel your feet. Hello, feet! Feel two corners in the front of your feet and one corner in the back of your feet.” When I’m a good listening little yogi, I do this and THEN I can raise one foot and lift my arms into Tree. When I try to jump right in, without talking to my feet and feeling my foundation, I wobble like crazy and my Tree pose doesn’t do much.

It’s my humble suggestion to approach our work, especially in social justice, in the same grounding, foundational way. First, we must feel our freedom. Freedom is our birthright, our calling, a gift from God. Freedom is the three corners of our feet.

Galatians 5:1 For freedom Christ has set us free. Stand firm, therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.

2 Corinthians 3:17 Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.

Feel your freedom, friends; stand firm. From this foundation, move joyfully into your work.

Fear: An Invitation to Risk

by Rev. Dr. William M. Lyons

“Fear is good,” says Peter Bolland. “It keeps us alive. It keeps us from falling off cliffs, touching fire and kissing rattlesnakes.”

“If [humans] were to lose his capacity to fear, he would be deprived of his capacity to grow, invent, and create. So in a sense fear is normal, necessary, and creative. Normal fear protects us; motivates us to improve our individual and collective welfare.”

SO why does the Bible consistently encourage us to ‘fear not?’

  • Do not be afraid – 70 times in 67 verses
  • Do not fear – 58 times in 57 verses

Because “there is another kind of fear, abnormal fear,” wrote Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. “Abnormal fear paralyzes us, constantly poisons and distorts our inner lives.”

Fear can be “our greatest liability,” according to Bolland. “It keeps us from taking the risks necessary to develop our unrealized potential. If we let it, fear has the power to keep us from becoming who we really are. Fear is a thief that steals our joy.”

“FEAR is one of the persistent hounds of hell that dog the footsteps of the poor, the dispossessed, the disinherited,” wrote Howard Thurman. “There is nothing new or recent about fear—it is doubtless as old as the life of man on the planet.

“when the power and the tools of violence are on one side, the fact that there is no available and recognized protection from violence makes the resulting fear deeply terrifying.

“Fear…becomes the safety device with which the oppressed surround themselves in order to give [themselves] some measure of protection…”

Certainly I resonant with Dr. King’s observation, “In these days of catastrophic change and calamitous uncertainty, is there any [one] who does not experience the depression and bewilderment of crippling fear, which, like a nagging hound of hell, pursues our every footstep?”

Dr. King was right when he preached, “Our problem is not to be rid of fear but rather to harness and master it.”

But how? Our texts, and scores like them in both Jewish and Christian sacred texts, help us know how.

Whom shall I fear? Of whom shall I be afraid?
I’ve learned your ways, Sovereign One.
I believe that I shall see [your] goodness, Gracious One,
in the land of the living.
Self, be patient. Self, be strong. Self, take courage in the Lord!

“I tell you, my friends,” said Jesus. Friends! “Do not fear those who kill the body, and after that can do nothing more.” Recognize that the threat of violence, with the possibility of death that it carries, “for what it is—merely the threat of violence with a death potential.” With that perspective “death cannot possibly be the worst thing in the world. There are some things that are worse than death.”

Verse 5 of our Gospel reading we must hold for another discussion this week because the prospect of hell or God casting someone into it can’t possibly be handled by a sermon in a UCC context. For this morning we are invited to remember that five sparrows were sold for two pennies, yet not one of them is forgotten in God’s sight!

God counts even the hairs of your head. Do not be afraid; you are of more value than many sparrows. “Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your [Heavenly Parent’s] good pleasure to give you her whole realm, his entire dominion!

“In the absence of all hope, ambition dies.” But to know that Creator God, cares for us – cares for me – to know that nothing can separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus “renders us unconquerable within and without!”

When the time comes to speak truth to power do not be afraid of them. Just remember what the Lord your God did to Pharaoh and to all Egypt,

When the time comes to speak difficult words to the people of God  And you, O mortal, do not be afraid of them, and do not be afraid of their words, though briers and thorns surround you and you live among scorpions; do not be afraid of their words, and do not be dismayed at their looks, for they are a rebellious house. You shall speak my words to them, whether they hear or refuse to hear; for they are a rebellious house.

When the time comes to do something that you’ve always been taught was contrary to God’s Law, remember how an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.

When you’ve poured out your fears to God in prayer, know assuredly that like Haggar and Zechariah God has heard your prayer, and that you are living the fulfillment of the plan of God.

I wish that we had time this morning to consider every one of the 128 times we hear the admonition to lay aside our fears. Aren’t you glad we have a whole week to consider them together?! Know this morning that taken together, those 128 passages invite us to:

  • Learn to live beyond the war of nerves, keeping perspective on our priorities and values as people of faith
  • Live apart from conditions imposed by an oppressor.
  • Find ways to love while under the threat of violence when the power and the tools of violence are all on one side.
  • Create ways to live outside of the artificial limitations that offer the illusion of safety-restricting freedom of movement, of employment, or speech, and of participation in the common life.
  • Ferreting out even the smallest glimmer of hope fanning those embers into the flames of ambition.

Fear is neither good nor evil; it is [an invitation to risk] that must be read with great care. Cultivating the skill to interpret fear accurately is an essential task in the creation of the well-lived and fully-realized life.

  1. If I do this frightening thing, will it bring real quality and beauty into my life?
  2. If I do this frightening thing, will it move me further toward the fullest expression of my innate potentialities?
  3. Am I respecting my health and life, and the health and life of others?
  4. Is this fear really just a misguided attempt to protect my fragile and limiting self-image?
  5. Is this apprehension and anxiety simply the death-throes of my outmoded ways of acting, thinking and being in the world?
  6. If I took these risks and let go of my old ways of acting, thinking and being in the world, would I be closer to my highest good?
  7. Is the larger purpose of my life the realization of my highest good as opposed to being comfortable?

“If the answer to any of these questions is no, your fear is telling you something important. You should probably listen,” writes Peter Bolland. “But if you can answer yes to even one of these questions, then” remember the words of David to his son, Solomon: “Be strong and of good courage, and act. Do not be afraid or dismayed; for the Lord God, my God, is with you. [God] will not fail you or forsake you, until all the work for the service of the house of the Lord is finished.

Seeking Justice

by Abigail Conley

One of my sustainable sermons (that’s the preacher term for ones we can recycle at a later date) is on Matthew 7:7-8. The lectionary passage is surely longer, but that’s the portion I preached on. To save you Googling or grabbing your bible, here it is:

Ask, and you will receive. Search, and you will find. Knock, and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks, receives. Whoever seeks, finds. And to everyone who knocks, the door is opened.

While not the point of the sermon, a point of the sermon is to call bullshit. Well, actually, it’s to call horse feathers. Because church. With little kids. I’m guessing most people who read that text would agree that most things don’t really work that way. Ask, and you’re turned down. Search, and you get lost. Knock, and no one’s home. It doesn’t make for a very promising Gospel, mostly because it’s too close to reality.

Less often than I probably should, I check on the legislative nightmares going on in Congress right now. The newest distracting or incendiary tweets receive just as much news, with Trump by far the most popular Tweeter. “Compassion fatigue” comes to mind as a possibility for the constant barrage; how much more can we manage to care when assaulted day in and day out?

This week, the fight to repeal and (not actually) replace the Affordable Care Act continues, along with political attacks on rights of trans people. I care about both deeply. The collective anxiety becomes a lot to bear, though. We’re only a few months deep, but we’re a few months deep in overwhelming collective anxiety. I keep pondering the story we tell.

Right now, we’re living in the parable of the persistent widow. In the story Jesus told, she receives justice because she keeps nagging the judge until he gives her what she deserved. Presumably, he gives justice begrudgingly. It’s pretty close to how we live. The other day, a friend and colleague called; we hadn’t talked in a while and she said, “Yes, I normally call my senators during my commute, but their offices are all closed right now.” It’s funny, but the standard expectation for many of us right now.  We are the people of #neverthelessshepersisted

Some of my friends are the widow, the one who is asking, searching and knocking. Most, though, have mostly had what they needed given to them fairly easily. They haven’t had to ask or search or knock, hoping to rouse someone.

This ask, seek, knock text is from the Sermon on the Mount, where Jesus teaches us what the Reign of God should be. Rather than a command about we should be doing, what if it were a command about how we should respond? What if we started with the assumption that someone should be given what they ask for? Or find what they are searching for? Or have their knocks on doors answered?  

That widow should never have needed to go to the judge more than once. Similarly, people should not have to ask for healthcare more than once. No one should knock on elected official’s doors and have it remain firmly locked. That’s the Reign of God. We need that reality in front of us if we are going to persist alongside the widow. We need that worldview as we continue to seek justice.

Communion and My Transgender Experience

by Joe Nutini

A note from the Southwest Conference: This is edgier than our usual posts. It graphically describes an authentic spiritual experience. If that’s not for you, we will see you next time. But didn’t want you to be caught off guard.

 

I knelt down on the red wooden kneeler before the priest. His well adorned robe flowed gently over the railing separating us. He held the body of Christ in his hands. This was a sacred duty. We were to be subservient to the lord who had reportedly sacrificed himself for us. I did not share this story. For me, even as a young teen, the Eucharist was much more than that. I knelt because the cells of my body knew that there was something special, something mystical about the transubstantiation that took place in the communion ceremony. I did not kneel for the priest, I knelt for the mystic Christ who transcended all boundaries.

When the Eucharist touched my tongue, I often had an almost erotic experience. His body, his miracle touching me physically…this was something tangible. I could eat the in-between space that the risen Christ occupied. I felt it in my cells just as I felt my most recent first orgasm. I often experienced signs and visions that I now understand to be communications with the spirit world. When I took communion I did not feel so alien in my body. For a moment, though my gender and physicality did not fit quite right, I was able to overcome this painful conundrum.

Now here we are many years later. I started transitioning about 13 years ago. In that time I have become much more interfaith in my spirituality. I believe in variety of things, many of which could be termed new age.  I practice Buddhism as a way of life. Today I see most religions and spiritual practices as being a part of a large interconnected web. We are experiencing this web in both this world and in the metaphysical plane. My transgender experience has allowed me to see this more clearly and to feel it viscerally. There are no borders or barriers between this world and the next. Just like there are none when it comes to gender. There is only fluidity and change…there is only sacred and mystical blending, bonding, separating, transmuting and impermanence.

Thought I look much more like a man outwardly, I still consider myself a transman.  I am more on the masculine side of the spectrum. Yet, like my experience of Jesus in the Eucharist, I move through the fluidity of gender. There is a flow in my body. An existing in two spaces simultaneously.

There is a certain dharma to my transgender existence. I do not know what it means to be a cisgender man because I was not born one. That is my experience of being a transman. It certainly isn’t everyone’s experience. But for me, the lesson is to be able to occupy a space with which I resonate, even if it does not fit the boxes that society has created. In the 13 years that I have engaged in physical transition, I have not once said I was a man trapped in a woman’s body. I never had that story. I don’t feel a need to have the story to justify the physical changes I’ve made. It is simply what needed to be done. When the time came I knew and felt that it was right. This is a spiritual practice of trusting one’s own intuition and internal guidance system.

I often think back to the days when I was young and practicing Catholicism. The same catholic church that later threatened to excommunicate me if I came out as queer, provided the mystical experiences I needed to fully grow into myself as a transgender person. My body, like Christ’s risen body, occupies a mystical space. It is a physical manifestation of what Buddhists call impermanence. I think we all exist in this state. A state of in-between. A state of a body, a person, a mind, a heart and a soul in flux. I believe transgender people are here to be visible manifestations of this concept. I also believe we are here to help cisgender people move away from the rigidity of gender roles and into a more relaxed way of being.

L’Chaim!

by Karen MacDonald

Have you ever noticed how life insists?  

A trimmed tree branch, or even a cut-down tree, will sprout new branches.  Little flowers will poke through cracks in asphalt on even the most-traveled streets.  People find their way through grief to healing.  Indeed, life has insisted on being for more than 13 billion years, ever since time and space, energy and matter flashed forth in the singular singularity we call the “Big Bang.” Life has continued to emerge in ever-increasing complexity and diversity and beauty.

“I have put before you life and death, blessing and curse.  Choose life….”  (Deuteronomy 30:17, 19)

“So you must also consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.” 
(Romans 6:11)

“”In spite of natural timidity, I have always felt invincible before hostile forces precisely because I have been ‘redeemed.’  This means that I have all of the power I need to face down evil.  I have the power, therefore, to choose life under any circumstances….redemption means that we are freed from the attraction and power of evil, free to choose life-giving options and life-enhancing goals.”
(Sr. Rosie Bertell,  essay included in The Impossible Will Take a Little While, p. 195, emphasis added)

No one can make us do evil,
no one can make us stop loving,
no one can kill our hope.
We have the power to choose life and love.

Former Vice-President Al Gore puts it this way in talking about addressing climate disruption:

“When any great moral challenge is ultimately resolved into a binary choice between what is right and what is wrong, the outcome is fore-ordained because of who we are as human beings.  We have everything we need.  Some still doubt that we have the will to act.  But I say the will to act is itself a renewable resource.”
(Al Gore in a TEDTalk given 2/25/16, accessed on YouTube 7/18/17)

These trying times are an exhilarating time to be alive, as Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. discovered during the trying times in which the civil rights and anti-war movements arose.  There’s so much opportunity all around us to do good, so speak up for what’s right, to reach out in love, to be life.  We have everything we need.  We have the power to choose.

The Creator, creation and our own spirits implore us and cheer us on:

Choose Life!
Be Life!

L’Chaim!

image credit: Karen MacDonald

Tips for Interacting with Newer Humans, in Your Congregation and in Their Natural Habitats

by Karen Richter

My feminism became much more real when my daughter was born. She’s a native Georgian (with the double name to prove it), born where dressing and grooming your girl child is an expensive and full-time hobby. I was known for being a somewhat relaxed parent (maybe even a slacker), so I got this helpful advice from a friend,

“Oh for gosh sakes, don’t bring her to church with her diaper showing.”

There are, you see, cute, preferably monogrammed, little lace bloomers that one purchases to cover diapers when Baby Girl is wearing a dress.

Gigantic bows and lacy bloomers are not part of family culture in Arizona, for the most part. But it still seems that folks don’t always know how to interact with children in respectful, non-gendered ways. And we so want to make children and families feel welcome in our faith communities! Here are some things to try with young humans in your congregation.

  1. Recognize that children have moods just like adults. I have been in faith communities where the children’s behavior is seen as a direct reflection of the parents’ character. It was not fun. Accept that children don’t always welcome interaction with adults they don’t know well. Smile, and move on. It may be that we can learn something from kids who don’t hide their cranky moods, even at church. They are being real – you can do it too.
  2. Physical touch needs consent. When you see a child upset or sad, ask, “Would a hug or a back pat help?” For happy kiddos, you can say, “Are we fist-bumping today?” This can feel a little awkward at first. Practice… and know that you are doing a small part of changing our culture around consent and body autonomy! Plus it’s good for Safe Church culture. New families and parents visiting for the first time may be wary of adults who seem overly familiar with their children. When safe adults model consent, it makes unhealthy adult behaviors more obviously out-of-the-ordinary and protects all children.
  3. Strive for gender-neutrality. OMGoodness this can be hard! I’ve observed that adults most often make comments to little girls on their appearance and comments about ANYTHING ELSE to little boys! Discipline your reactions; respond mindfully and intentionally. Here are some conversation starters you might try…
    • How are you today? (It’s a classic!)
    • Is there something you’re looking forward to this week?
    • I saw a bunny/lizard/fast car on my way to church this morning! Did you see anything cool?
    • We are singing ‘Blahblahblah’ this morning… it’s my favorite! Do you have a favorite church song?
    • Replace “Boys and Girls” as your default way of addressing a group of children! Try Young Ones, Friends, Beloveds, Children of God… Be creative and find what feels natural for you.
  4. Learn kids’ names and help them learn yours. It feels good to be known by name. Decide how you would prefer to be called by children: Mrs. Smith or Ms. Sally… Mr. Johnson or Bill. Parents may feel uncomfortable with family titles like Grandpa Joe.

Are you cringing, thinking about that sweet kid just the other week whose sparkly shoes and hairbow you complimented? Or are you annoyed… seeing my suggestions as political correctness run amok? I recognize that our culture doesn’t encourage open-minded open-hearted ways of communicating with young humans. It’s a place where we can grow and learn – because there’s never a time in which children don’t deserve our best efforts. We must find ways of talking with one another – at all ages – that are true to the values of inclusion, respect, and inherent human dignity.

Let’s keep talking!

Not Your Kids

by Abigail Conley

A story flashes across my screen. Philando Castile. Charleena Lyles.

“Not your kids,” a voice says from somewhere inside.

It’s the voice of relief, a promise really, “not your kids.”

June is Pride Month, so there’s an array of rainbow everything on that same screen.

Pictures of happy couples, of families with moms or dads, of chestfeeding and breastfeeding, of pronoun etiquette and label etiquette. Amid those happy pictures, happy shares of stories, there are stories of rejection intermingled.

“Not your kids,” says the same voice from deep inside. I rest assured that my LGBTQ+ kids know they’re safe at church, if nowhere else.

I know the hijabs the little girls wear set them apart from their friends and neighbors. I know the color of their skin does, too. Their families are from Pakistan. I cannot imagine what many of them have been through in their lives. These Muslim children joyfully welcome their Christian neighbors, snuggling up to the adults who are more familiar. I wonder how often they are not safe outside these walls.

“Not your kids,” comes the same voice.

This is the echo of privilege. The fears that accompany so many people do not accompany my kids—the ones from my church, the ones of my own I may have some day.

Children seem to be the great equalizer among people. Children are easier to play with and easier to talk to. They seem to more easily embrace any adult willing to play with them. They worry less about language barriers. My Spanish is even perfect for hanging out with preschool kids, where I can quiz them on colors and shapes.

I remember a plea made in my own denomination that stopped some of the fighting about LGBTQ+ welcome: our kids are dying.

Even the naysayers realized that’s the worst sort of pain.

The voice comes often, “Not your kids.”

If it’s not your kids, it’s easy to forget the sort of desperation that comes with it is your kids. It’s the kind of desperation that dragged Jairus from his home to find a man he’d only heard about. It’s the kind of desperation that made him pull Jesus along with him through the city streets, to a house where mourning had already begun. It’s the desperation that will do anything to save a child’s life.

“Not your kids,” will echo, again. Our privilege will remind us of the fears we don’t have for our children. I wonder, can we learn the answer, “But they’re somebody’s kids”?

A Socratic Path to Online Serenity

by Greg Gonzales

The Socratic Filter might be one of the best tools we have in this world of information overload. Each and every day, we’re bombarded with more information than we could ever memorize, use, or discuss later on. That information gently drops upon our brains, like a drop in a pond which ripples and changes the whole life of the pond ever-so minutely, so it’s important to mindfully decide which bits get our direct attention, and that includes our interactions with people with disagree with online. We could ignore those people, but we can also question them until they don’t have a good answer. Luckily, Socrates gave us a couple of techniques to break down beliefs and build bridges across disagreements.

One day, a friend visited Socrates to offer up some gossip (and I’ll abridge the story here for length). Before letting his friend speak on it, he asked, “Have you ensured that what you’re about to tell me is true?” The friend said no, he’d only overheard the gossip. Socrates then asked, “Is what you’re about to tell me something good, or kind?” The friend said no, quite the opposite. “So you don’t know it to be true, and you don’t know it to be good,” Socrates pointed out. “So is what you’re going to tell me useful or necessary to know?” Deflated, the friend said no. Socrates concluded, “If what you’re going to say is neither true, good, nor useful, please refrain from speaking at all.” At least one must apply, or it’s not worth sharing or listening to.

We should all be so discriminate with our words. Facts and truth are something we ought to share because we live in a democracy and because we all ought to learn more about the world we live in. Same can be said for the good things in life, even if they aren’t necessarily true, because we can grow and heal from them. For example, if a discovery next year proves Socrates was merely Plato’s invention, his stories would still bring us the same joy and wisdom they do now. Useful words ought to be revered, too, for their applications in our own lives. Not all useful ideas are good or known to be true, but they can still hold utilitarian value. To share something true, good, and/or useful is a service to all, whether through art or through a comment at the bottom of a hotly-debated article.

Socrates’s world and our world aren’t all that different when it comes to social and societal challenges we face on a daily basis. We understand that the world isn’t controlled by a set of incestuous gods now, but we still find ourselves shocked by support for flat Earth conspiracies and the millions of U.S. adults who think chocolate milk comes from brown cows. Those ideas are known to be false, they’re not good, and they aren’t useful. When faced with ideas that don’t pass the Socratic Filter, we just need to remember that “The only true wisdom is in knowing you know nothing,” and begin questioning from there.

What I mean by questioning is Socratic Questioning, a technique of inquiry used in philosophy and even cognitive-behavioral therapy to break down beliefs into evidence and assumptions, to build complex thoughts and stronger viewpoints. The same technique can be applied online and for brewhouse debates, to deescalate the situation and even build a bridge through in-depth understanding of a fellow human.

Though there are multiple kinds of Socratic Questioning (six, actually, outlined here; they add up to a few main principles. The main idea is to question fundamental beliefs. We all have assumptions that build the foundations of our ideas and beliefs, but they should be questioned and recognized as such so they can be changed when reasonably challenged. If I think chocolate milk comes from brown cows, you might ask, “Then how does the chocolate get into the milk?” If I have to explain myself, I’m likely to uncover something absurd, and change course. Another principle is to never let any part of a person’s position or reasoning or evidence be a given. Everything has a source, and can and should be questioned. If someone claims an idea is true “because it’s in the Bible,” then we ought to ask why they think the Bible is unquestionably true. The second is to get the other person to consider and even explain other viewpoints. This gets the conversation outside the social safety bubble, off defense, outside the pop-culture framework, and into the dynamic marketplace of ideas. We ask how, we ask why — we investigate the views of others, rather than lambaste them for being wrong — and everyone walks away with a truer and more interesting version of the world.

Though I don’t pretend that all lines of questioning will result in Hands Across America 2, it’s pretty obvious that questions are better beginnings to cooperation and sanity than insults and silence.

I Wonder

by Davin Franklin-Hicks

I’ve been thinking about you.

I have been thinking about your faith.

I’ve been thinking about your pain.

I’ve been thinking about your joy.

I’ve been thinking about your life.

Joy comes and goes. Pain comes and goes. Our breathing comes and goes. Our living comes and goes.

And we have oh so many feelings about this.

Feelings have the potential to overwhelm us. We can easily feel consumed and generalize that to all of life.

In my living, I have come to believe the biggest mistake I can ever make is believing that any singular, isolated moment is the totality of living.

It’s not. Truly it’s not. Yet I keep getting stuck as though it is all there is to this being in life.

No singular moment is the entirety of life.

No singular moment defines our being.

No singular moment will provide what we often desperately want and need: to know the meaning of it all and to know that we matter.

So then… the questions return:

What’s the point of all of this?

What are we doing here?

What is life?

I don’t glean much comfort and edification from the constant string of voices that is our present day reality. I can’t sift through the endless run on sentence of hate that ruins, maims and destroys the gift of living across all space and time of our shared history.

Too much.

Not helpful.

Not God.

Instead of listening to these loud, angry, unkind voices that we amplify all the time, I have something very powerful I can do.

I have what you have: the observation of everyday living and the invitation to wonder.

It moves me.

It nourishes me.

It emboldens me.

It challenges me.

It comforts me.

As the wonder steps up within, I look around and see authentic expressions of life everywhere. Each moment I allow the vulnerability of questions about this world we live in and my place in it, I get a small clue as to what this living may be about.

That journey goes something like this:

What is life?

If the ants are to be believed, life is a hard, constant, vigilant work among your fellows to reach a common goal feeding the need for security.

What is life?

If the trees are to be believed, life is the growth within creating the beauty that is in full view of the world. The health within creates the visible presence we all take refuge in.

What is life?

If rainbows are to be believed, life is the subtle, brilliant shining of light and color. It is the joyous announcement that the storm has passed.

What is life?

If the seasons are to be believed, life is changing in such a way that newness of being is not only possible, it is inevitable; it says if winter feels far too brutal it will be spring again.

What is life?

If the sea is to be believed, life is timing the rhythm of being, retreating and returning, all the while showing off and showing up for the moon.

What is life?

If the flame is to be believed, life is using the source of breath to stretch as far as possible toward the sun. It is the need, the want and the willingness to find the way home.

This living offers us so many moments, so many stories, so many commonalities, so many differences, so many hopes, so many fears, so many sorrows, so many joys.

It’s gotta make you wonder.

The Antidote

by Abigail Conley

“You two are the reason Amazon is working on drones,” he says, laughing. His wife and I nod in agreement. For the most part, we’ve given up scouring stores and instead scour the Internet. She sticks to Amazon Prime. I prefer PrimeNow, but use it only when I have free credits. I do have a budget after all. I keep a few PrimePantry credits on hand. Occasionally, I’ll opt into slower shipping for the digital download credit. My love of free stuff and my desire to have things right away are often at odds.

I’m an old millennial who has no interest in SnapChat. I do summon Uber and Lyft if I need a ride, though. My food is ordered on GrubHub, available in Phoenix before Seamless was. Postmates is the backup plan if I want something else. The cat’s food and litter are delivered courtesy of Chewy. At work, I often give up on trying to use the landline and pick up my cellphone instead.

The world, it seems, is literally at my fingertips. For the most part, I no longer run to Target for something; a few clicks mean it shows up at my doorstep in a couple hours or a couple days. Scheduling flights, hotels, just about anything, is just as easy. Many baby boomers marvel at this world. “We need…” they’ll say in a church meeting. “It’ll be here on Wednesday,” is my response. I catch myself being frustrated if something isn’t available for digital download or will take longer than two days to arrive.

Once, I remember a conversation with a baby boomer pastor, as I complained about ordering something. “You have to pay for resources like that,” she said. The fight I wasn’t willing to have, “But it should be available for instant download. I can’t wait a week for it.” In that case, it was true; a week later would be too late.

I readily confess that Christian faith means playing the long game. I have no idea what that means in the world I live in. I mean, I no longer have the patience for commercials, much less the glacial turns of history. This year, as the Revised Common Lectionary follows Matthew, I’ve been especially aware of Matthew’s obsession with quoting prophets. He appeals to something ancient to prove the validity of the experience of Christ.

“Look! A virgin will become pregnant and give birth to a son,/And they will call him, ‘Emmanuel.’” Matthew 1:23 & Isaiah 7:14

“You, Bethlehem, land of Judah, by no means are you least among the rulers of Judah,/because from you will come one who governs, who will shepherd my people Israel.” Matthew 2 & Micah 5:2

“Out of Egypt I have called my son.” Matthew 2:15& Hosea 1:1

The list goes on and on, throughout Matthew, as the Gospel writer calls forth ancient voices to cry out with the people in his world, “See what God is doing!”

Not quite two thousand years later, I have people reading Matthew, shouting, “If this is the promise, why hasn’t God done it yet?” My initial tendency is to join their anger. Why is there still so much pain? Why is there still so much violence? Why? Why? Why? The response that comes from somewhere beyond me is, “It’s coming.”

I feel the weariness of waiting some Sunday mornings, when I head to worship for what seems like one in countless times. The truth is, I probably haven’t even hit two thousand worship services, yet. The truth is, the people I encounter in that place create an organism—dare I say the Body of Christ?—that is both timeless and formed at a single moment in time.

In the best, Spirit-breathed moments, I wonder if this thing called Church is the antidote I don’t know I need. Like most medicine, it’s not always pleasant.

Still, it is Church that bids me to ask for a ride from a friend, not summon a stranger who is part of the 1099, no benefits economy. It is Church that bids me to come, to eat, with people, not from a take-out container in front of the TV. The young adults who care for my cat when I’m out of town are from Church, too. It is Church that has taught me to pick up the phone, not just send a text; tone is not so nearly misconstrued over the phone. It is Church that calls me into a way of being that is so different from what I would choose on my own.

It is Church, this antidote, that also says, “Wait! Listen!” and calls out anew even in the midst of ancient voices.

And so, I lay down my phone, and hope.