Sunday, March 2, 2014

Trading the Turnpike of Expediency for the Dirt Road of Connection

There’s a thought that’s been floating around in my head for the last several weeks and I haven’t been able to grab it and put it into words. And then, thanks to one of my Facebook friends, today it came to me. My friend was commenting on the Oklahoma Tourism ads, revealing her skepticism about their honesty, having never experienced such beauty herself. Her comment was this: “all my drives through Oklahoma with nothing in site but thank you.”

I read her words and immediately it hit me. You have to leave the turnpike if you want to see the beauty. If you don’t, you’re destined to believe that all a place has to offer is gas stations, fast food, and run down casinos. For those of you who have never driven the Oklahoma Turnpike, you can pretty easily substitute I-70 from Kansas City to St. Louis in your mental image. True, if that were your only experience of the Show-Me State, you wouldn't think there was much to show. If you never left the interstate in Missouri, you would miss all the sights that look like these (and many more!):


And as much as I believe this shift in perspective is important in our geographic explorations, I think it is even more necessary in our interactions with people. I have the opportunity to decide if I’m going to view people that I meet through a ho-hum, when do I get off this road, I-70 lens, or through a knock-my-socks-off, wow that’s beautiful, thank you God lens. 

I wish I could post pictures of all the people that I’ve met through Table of Grace that I have had the honor to see through lens #2. I would show you endless pictures of people whose lives may appear messed up, hopeless, and down-and-out at first glance; and who, in reality, have had the most profound, positive impacts in my own life.

They would be pictures of people who have fought and are currently fighting addictions, who have shown me more courage and authenticity in their struggles than I've ever seen anywhere else.

There would certainly be pictures of young people who struggle with self harm, suicidal thoughts, and debilitating deficits in self-esteem; who have taught me about wrestling so hard with fear, doubt and pain, that every scar tells a story of struggle and redemption.

There would be pictures of numerous people struggling to reconcile their sexual preference or gender identity with everything that society and religion has previously told them. If there were a way for the picture to show their hearts and minds, you might see the resolve, strength and compassion that comes from somebody having to go against every existing system in order to just be who they are. You might see the gift of tolerance and appreciation for diversity that takes root in a person who has truly experienced a life of being “the other”.

There would be adorable pictures of children who are crazy cute, with huge smiles, that sometimes mask the pain of troubles at home, bullying at school, and disorders that make sitting still and just communicating with others a major challenge. Yesterday at church, I leaned over one of those kids to talk to the person next to him, and as I leaned past him, he grabbed me and gave me a hug that melted my heart. I can’t begin to count the number of heart-melting hugs, notes, and smiles I've received from kids who others have seen as out of control and disruptive. I continue to be blessed to my core by these holy disruptions.

There would be pictures of straight, middle class, seemingly “normal” individuals and families who don’t struggle with the effects of exclusion, or extreme poverty, or mental illness; but have a commitment to being present with and being in relationship with others whose lives are different than theirs. If you could see inside them, you would see minds that know the truth that we are all part of one human family; and you would see hearts that have both experienced and rejected the privilege of being what the rest of the world might call “normal”. They come because they believe whole heartedly that diversity, respect, and a sense of belonging for all people really can transform our world.

I could go on forever about the hidden blessings that I've discovered in the ragtag collection of people that we have gathered at Table of Grace as a direct result of our commitment to welcoming everyone. It is, simultaneously, the most important and most challenging commitment that we have as a faith community. Today I’m thankful that I got off the proverbial turnpike, and started traveling the back roads of human interaction. I’m thankful that somewhere along the line, somebody taught me to look past the surface and into the soul of the people that I have been blessed to encounter. Each and every one of you has knocked-my-socks-off; and all I can say sometimes is “Wow, that’s beautiful! Thank you, God!”

For those of you who are still on the Turnpike, judging other people at first glance as nothing more beautiful than fast food, gas stations and run-down casinos; I would invite you to spend some time travelling the back roads of human interaction. Dismiss your judgments long enough to see the soul. You are sure to have your eyes opened, your heart changed, and your life enriched by what (and who) you will find.

Blessings my friends. May you discover some gems in your travels. 

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

More, with less.

The vision of The Pantry.

We are in need of the food items listed on the donation list to make this work so we are asking for your help. You can help us feed some folks meals by donating to The Pantry. Here is the donation sheet. Please feel free to print it out, fill it out and/or donate anytime. Thank you for your support!

Monday, December 2, 2013

Welcome to Advent. Let's Hope.

The caption on the picture on the front of our Table of Grace brochures says “Where Hope is Alive!” It’s a bold statement to make, suggesting that we are a community of people who have not yet given up hope. We live in a world of dashed hopes, a world where one who continues to hope in the face of adversity may be seen as some kind of Pollyanna; or at least completely out of touch with reality. Most of us have mastered the art of dismissing our hopes in advance to save ourselves the disappointment later.

The first week of Advent calls us to hope. Not only does it call us to hope, it calls us to sit with that hope…to hold on to it, until we return the next week to light the next candle. I wonder if we are willing to be that vulnerable, to open ourselves up to hope that we hold onto for long enough to convince ourselves that the thing for which we hope might actually be a possibility.

I wonder if allowing ourselves to hope for better living conditions for the homeless people in our community would cause us to seek God’s guidance in helping to be a part of the solution. I wonder if having the audacity to hope for racial equality in our world would cause us to spend some time getting to know the people who don’t look like us, who we claim to want to liberate. I wonder if hoping that people in a village in Africa might someday have access to clean drinking water would encourage us to spend less on frivolous gifts this Christmas, and send the money we save to an organization that can make that happen. I wonder if allowing ourselves to hope for a government that represents our collective interests would push us into a level of civic engagement that begins to reclaim the voice of the people in the public sphere.

I wonder. And I hope. I hope that deep down, we know that God is alive in our biggest dreams and our greatest hopes. I hope that we recognize that God’s Spirit uses the creative space that hope provides to bring great transformation in our lives. I hope, above all else, that we can remember how to hope like a child counting down the months to a birthday or the days to Christmas; and that having remembered, we will start to live in our hope for days and weeks and months at a time. And perhaps that we will let ourselves believe the word of the Lord spoken through the prophet Jeremiah “For I know the plans I have for you," says the Lord. “They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope."

Our hope is a gift from God. Don’t shove it in the back of the closet like the ugly sweater your Aunt Sally gave you last Christmas, or the combination hammer/corkscrew/TV antenna from your mother-in-law. Get it out, use it, enjoy it, let it transform you. I bet you’ll find that it begins to transform the people around you as well.

What are you hoping for right now? I challenge you to hold onto that hope, and allow yourself to think about it this week, maybe even to talk about it. Offer it to God in your prayer time and allow it to creep into your dreams. Let’s just see what happens.

And while you’re hoping, here’s an earworm from the Dixie Chicks…

I hope, for more love, more joy and laughter
I hope, we'll have more than we'll ever need
I hope, we'll have more happy ever after
I hope, we can all live more fearlessly
And we can lose all the pain and misery
I hope, I hope

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Why This Lesbian Pastor Gives to the Salvation Army

I’m really proud of the questions our young people are asking these days. I think if we raise a generation who has learned to question everything, we will have done the world good. So I had to smile the other day when I read a Facebook post of a friend asking for volunteers to do bell ringing for the Salvation Army locally and the first comment was one from a high school student asking an important question about the social service agency. “Is it true that the Salvation Army is an anti-gay organization?” Good question! I’m especially happy about the answer that he was provided, too. The original poster, a director of youth ministry, affirmed his need to know and provided information for him to read and make his own decision.
That, my friends, is how the world ought to work! Instead of getting all hyped up and attacking one another, how about if we look at things from all angles? I’m a lesbian, and I’m quite happy to drop some money in those red buckets when I have it available. Why? Because I believe in the work that the Salvation Army does to improve people’s lives. We are all pretty quick to criticize, but the bottom line is that in most places, they are the ones on the front lines of the war against poverty and homelessness. How many homeless people have most of us housed, clothed, fed, and gotten employed recently?
In addition to being a lesbian who would gladly give my change to the bell ringer outside the grocery store, I’m a pastor of a Christian church. My church is pretty different from the one that meets at the Salvation Army. We don’t believe all the same things. I believe that God celebrates all of the fabulous gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people in my congregation (and the straight folks too!). But we do believe some of the same things. We both believe that the love of Jesus was enough to change the world forever. We believe that human beings are made in the image of God, and therefore deserve to live a life of dignity. We believe that a part of our Christian duty is to make the world a better place. We even both believe that the way to transform the world is one person at a time, tending first to the most basic needs like food and shelter, and also to the soul. This is where our methods and understandings begin to differ, in some places pretty drastically. But the bottom line is that while we were agreeing on all those other things, we could work together to get women and children off the streets and out of dangerous situations. We could work together to provide meals to people who are hungry, whether or not they meet the requirements to stay in the Salvation Army shelter. We could work to get men and women into treatment programs that help them to get their life back in order; help them get into employment programs and get back on their feet; and even help with the initial costs of getting somebody back into a housing of their own with rental deposit assistance.
I believe firmly in acting out of our most deeply held religious beliefs. I do it every day, and my hope is that all other people of faith do the same thing. Even if they believe the exact opposite of what I do. To do anything less would be inauthentic. I believe in interfaith relationships and collaboration, not by reducing our beliefs to the lowest common denominator, but by allowing space for those who think differently to express themselves from their viewpoint and act with integrity out of that understanding. Will there be some things we may never be able to do together? Absolutely!
This morning I sat across the table at a local Unmet Needs Committee meeting across from a Major from our local Salvation Army. We collaborated together, and with others, on ways to meet the needs of the most vulnerable people in our community. I’m pretty obviously gay. He didn’t seem to let that change the work that we were there to do. I doubt that we’ll be sharing communion together in a church service anytime soon, but that’s true of lots of folks.
So I guess I say all of this to say…before you get all bent out of shape about pictures that have likely been altered or staged, showing Salvation Army bell ringers proclaiming anti-LGBT hate, consider the purpose behind the bell ringing, and ask yourself if the money you would give would change lives for the positive. I think if you checked it out, you would find that in many communities, the Salvation Army really is “doing the most good.” That’s why this lesbian pastor will gladly continue to support their work.
I’ll give my money to the Human Rights Campaign when I want somebody looking out for things like marriage equality. And when I want my money to feed the hungry two meals a day, 365 days a year; and provide a Christmas for families who otherwise might not have one, I’ll drop it in the red bucket outside the grocery store. 

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Click here to help.

I feel pretty fancy that I installed the donate button on the blog page all by myself. 

Ok, well it really wasn't all by myself.

I needed help.

I had to look up directions on how to do it because it wasn't all that simple. 

That's really the whole point in this post. 

We need help. 

We need your help in helping others and we want to make that simple for everyone to do, therefore we now have a donate button on the upper, left side of this screen. 

So anytime you are feeling gracious or generous, viola! Easy peasy. 

Why donate to Table of Grace? It's simple. 

We are called to provide a safe place for everyone to worship, explore their faith and grow. We are also called to love another and serve those who are in need. 

Food, clothing, school supplies, community meals, cooking classes and so much more. 

So join us in helping make this little piece of the world, called Jefferson City, a better place for everyone. 

Thanks for your help, friends 

"Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world,; indeed, it's the only thing that ever does." -Margaret Mead 

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Random Christ Spottings

I saw Jesus today. She didn't look anything like those pictures on the wall in the churches I've been in. You know the one, the fair skinned young man with flowing brown hair and strangely European eyes (for a Palestinian), with a white puffy lamb hiked up over one shoulder. Funny that I have long since dismissed that image of Jesus as not realistic, but when I think about seeing Jesus, it’s the first image that pops into my head. Oh, the effects of embedded belief systems…

Anyway, this Jesus was totally different. She looked to be in her mid to late 70s, with short, grey, curly hair. She sat next to a man who seemed to be her husband and they were both wearing a starched white shirt and black bottoms (pants for him and skirt for her, of course). Did I mention that the place where I experienced this Jesus spotting was in the first row of the first class section of an airplane leaving Salt Lake City?

As it turns out, after a second glance, maybe she wasn't ACTUALLY Jesus, but she had me there for a second. It was the name tag that did it. It looked something like this…
The Church of
Of Latter Day Saints
Your Name Here

So you might imagine my surprise when I boarded the plane and saw Jesus there in first class. It was actually much harder for me to imagine that Jesus would be travelling first class than it was for me to imagine that Jesus was a seventy something year old Mormon lady. Either way, it got me thinking a little bit about the ways that we do and do not invoke the name of Jesus Christ in our world.

I've been known to lean to the heretical side now and then in pushing the boundaries of scriptural interpretation. This was recently pointed out when a friend brought me a poster that he stumbled across while on vacation that said “Heretic in Good Company” and listed the names of my cohorts in heresy…some of them you may recognize…Joan of Arc, Origen, Galileo, Jesus of Nazareth, Martin Luther…the list goes on.

So having gladly accepted my lot in life of being a bit on the edge; it seems that today’s Jesus sighting is a good conversation starter (at least in my own mind). So, what if we all, at least those of us who consider ourselves Jesus followers, began wearing name tags that said Jesus Christ? C’mon now, you are perfectly willing to wear the name Ralph Lauren or Tommy Hilfiger. Would the people we meet take us more seriously? Would they dismiss us as two fries short of a happy meal? Would they patronize us? Or would they sit up and take notice, because it might seem that we have something to say to the world?

Now most of the people that I know, Christian or not, would find it a bit blasphemous to put on a name tag that said Jesus and walk around in public. Understandably so. That’s what we were taught. Only Jesus has been and ever will be Jesus, and there will never be another Jesus. Ever. Because that would somehow dishonor God to have a bunch of people running around acting all humble and merciful, loving and graceful, forgiving sins and healing people. I mean really, the audacity of that is just unthinkable, isn’t it?

So, seriously, what if… What if we proudly wore the name Jesus Christ on our chest because we believed in ourselves the way that we believe in Jesus. Okay, so maybe having it say Jesus Christ wouldn’t be so cool (unless you are my Cuban friend Jesus, then it would be cool). Anyway, say for instance that my name tag said “Michelle Christ”. After all, the Greek word Christos actually means “anointed”, and is related to the Hebrew word for Messiah. A Messiah (not THE Messiah) is a savior or liberator of a group of people.

I think it’s safe to say that I’m anointed. I’m called by God to be a pastor to God’s people. I’ve had a whole room full of clergy anoint me and pray blessings over me as I kneeled through 5 verses of “Spirit” on the concrete floor at my ordination service. Not only am I anointed, I hope that in being a pastor to the people who come to Table of Grace, that I’m a liberator too. So I think I’m qualified for the nametag.

How about you? Will you join me in identifying yourself as a christos, an anointed one; or a messiah, one who is about the business of liberating people? I hope you will, all of you, because I know that these words describe you too. Whatever work it is that you have been called to, I know that it somehow involves blessing and freeing those with whom you come into contact.

Blessing and freeing take on so many different manifestations, I can’t even begin to name them here, but I’ll try to list a few. Here are the Christ-like actions that I know some of you are taking: you liberate others by helping them to free themselves from bondage to drugs and/or alcohol; you liberate homeless folks by offering them a meal, maybe a warm place to stay, and resources to help them on their journey; you liberate other moms by encouraging them in methods of natural parenting and breastfeeding; you liberate other differently abled people by being a voice in the community for disability justice; you liberate babies who were born into families that didn’t want them or couldn’t care for them by giving them a home and a lot of love; you liberate others who suffer with mental health issues by being open and honest about your own struggles; you liberate secular homeschool parents who feel alone in a conservative Christian homeschool community by offering an alternative community; you liberate LGBT people who have been told they don’t belong by finding your own place of belonging and service in the church and the community; you liberate people who are lost in desperation feeling like they just aren’t good enough by continuing to offer an encouraging word and a listening ear; you liberate me, every day, by showing me that divine goodness and human goodness exist in an eternal partnership that can and will transform our world.

This is nowhere near all of the things that I see daily in the people that I know, both in the church and out. It is merely a beginning, but it is enough to convince me that you are all anointed ones. You are all working in different ways, within faith traditions and outside of them, to be a liberator of people, a messiah.

So I want to say thank you for the very important work that you do, and instead of you dismissing my thank you, and saying “oh, I don’t do anything”, I want you to receive it and believe it. I want you to make the name tag…your name CHRIST…slap it on your shirt and go look in the mirror. Then say to yourself and whoever is around to listen “I AM anointed! I AM a liberator!” Pat yourself on the back, know that you make a difference in the world, and believe that YOU have the power to change lives, to feed souls, and to bring blessing and freedom to so many people! Now take off the name tag (so your friends don’t have you committed) and get back to your every day, anointed, liberating life. Have a great day, anointed one!