Thursday, July 18, 2013

The Pregnant Pastor

Mike and I are working on graduating to a new title: parent. Over the last nine months my church has been making the trip with us as well.  In a lot of churches, pregnant pastors are not a problem...since there are so few wombs around.  But even in my very progressive United Methodist Church, that happens to be a part of a denomination that has been ordaining women since the 1950’s; I am the first pregnant pastor.  They have “loved on” me every step of the way.  Support and care abounds after worship; many inquire as to: how I feel, how I am doing, if I am resting and some even take note of my shoes’ reduced heel height.  They have been “loving on” Mike, too.  There is an emerging support group of Dads, maybe more specifically, “Dads with Daughters meeting over beer,” that to be honest, I am counting as a class in the numbers we submit to our Bishop.  

In nursing homes, folks have worried that the day was much too cold for me to be out, and in hospitals I have been introduced to the nursing staff as “my pregnant pastor.”  One hospitalized octogenarian got up from her chair, took my hand, and insisted I take her seat as she leaned against the heater and the nearby window.  I could hear my pastoral care professor whispering, “your presence has become counter-productive to her healing,” and yet I think he would know that, as a pastor, you really have to pick your battles when it comes to saying “no” to a powerful church Matriarch.  A spry 90-something year-old woman insisted she serve me water at a funeral lunch while another lady pulled out the large piece of cake they had held back in the kitchen.  The church has showered this pregnant pastor with gifts and regaled me with questions and stories that run the gamut from delightful to terrifying.  But none were better than the gentleman who shared the story of his first moment in the hospital nursery, when he inquired as to whom that ugly baby belonged...and the doctor looked back to say, “he’s yours.”  He has assured me that babies, even ugly babies, turn into handsome folks.

I stand amazed by this experience and I have grown far more than anyone can see from the outside.  While I am aware this is only the beginning, I cannot help but think of Paul’s comment in Acts to the people of Athens.   The writer of Acts quotes Paul as saying, “it is in God that we live and move and have our being.”  I am currently convinced that Paul and the Athens’ Philosophy department had to of plagiarized a pregnant woman (and as I have learned, most people don’t argue with a pregnant woman in her ninth month). 

Never before have I understood what Paul was sharing about our faith, until now. To feel another life live and move within me is not only an amazing and terrifying miracle, but an experience that opens me to imagine in a new way my very connection to the sacred.  As Mike and I felt her first movements together one early morning, we were stunned not only by the miracle of her presence, but by the responsibility of her presence.  If we miss her moving, we wonder for her well-being.  If she moves in new ways, we ask questions about her comfort and development.  We want to urge her on into happiness; we want to provide a foundation of possibilities; we long for her to grow in love, to share love; we want her to know grace and to feel support in the midst of even the hardest struggles.  And we haven’t even seen her face.  

It is in God that we live and move and have our being and God wills abundance, stretches, and grows with us all.  God labors and struggles to give us life.  She sends us out into the world with a hopeful heart and then waits up late at night hoping to see the headlights pull safely into the driveway.  He holds us tenderly when the bad dreams, real or imagined, worry and wound and he urges us to find our way.  God is the one in whom we live and move and have our being.  

Sharing this time of growth, literal and not-so-literal, has been a gift.  So many people are joining us in welcoming a little person we haven’t even seen yet and it shouldn’t be so surprising because that is what this church is all about.  Wanting to be a space expressing that same abundance of God’s love, isn’t always easy and folks often miss the mark, but there are so many ways this church works to welcome every soul and I am just so grateful to be your pregnant pastor here in the middle of it all.
-Rev. Debra McKnight  

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

God goes on Vacation?

I Kings 19: 11-16, Luke 6

We live in a world that talks a lot about taking care of yourself, getting rest, eating right and avoiding stress.  But if you watch the morning news shows, at least once a week if not once a day they seem to alert us to just how little American’s sleep, which in turn ages your skin, causes you to make poor food choices and stresses you right down to your very DNA.  If you watch long enough they will tell you what products you can buy to escape those wrinkles and how to meditate...but who has time to meditate.  On your way to work, NPR will alert you to all the problems facing the world all while making you feel inadequate about just how little you knew about these problems.  Between the economy and even the weather by the evening news it is no wonder we need a vacation.  With all this stress a vacation sounds like a good idea, but asking for one can be hard when you want to be model employe in this tough economy.  Even if you take a vacation, it can mean double the work to upon return or sometimes it can look like watching the sunrise from a mountain top while you check just a few emails on your phone.  

Today we have two biblical narratives about stepping away from work.  Two leaders from two different times in history who take time, don’t worry about keeping up with the work they leave behind and make time for God in their lives.  In John’s gospel, Jesus has been trying to get away and relax but folks seem to find him.  We can be sure that the disciples didn’t accidentally check him in on Facebook or tweet a picture of their location, but even without the help of modern social media...people find Jesus.  They seek healing, they seek teaching, they seek care and nurture.  He feeds people and loves people but the moment comes in the Gospel of John where he draws they line.  The gospel says they want to make him king.  Jesus senses the crowd wants to make him king and knowing this goes against every fiber of his being, knowing this does not fit with his sense of identity he takes his leave.  He escapes the crowd pressing in around him by heading up a mountain.

I wonder if he thought of the story of the Prophet Elijah.  Did he think of the story of Elijah climbing the mountain as he put one foot in front of the other.  Did the story he learned as a child, the story he read in the temple carry him over the uneven ground to the space where he could connect with God?

You see hundreds of years before Jesus, the prophet Elijah headed up a mountain.  Now his story is different from Jesus, he didn’t win a popularity contest that day and no one even considered trying to make him king.  You might say Elijah is escaping a hostel work place, the environment has grown stressful enough that his life is in danger.  He is at odds with the Royal establishment and while the Hebrew King’s marriage to a foreign wife might be good for the economy; her foreign faith is creating friction with the tradition Elijah values.  As Elijah reminds the Hebrew King and community to honor their God, things get ugly.  Tensions run high and blood is shed on both sides.  It is nothing anyone can be proud of and now Elijah is on the run for his very life.  So he climbs a mountain, the same mountain that Moses climbed to hear God’s word.

It’s probably a good thing that he took some time away in the mountain retreat.  He is getting a little self-righteous.  He is convinced he is the only one left that really cares about the covenant the Hebrew people, his is the only one left in his country that cares about who they are and where they came from.  He is the only one that is faithful to God.  He is the only one that cares about the convent they have made with God, he alone bears the weight of his faith and his nations future.

There he is alone, listening for God.  Perhaps he remembered Moses before him and he longed for God in the earth shaking or the wind rushing past through the vast sky.   Perhaps he remembered the story of Moses and longed for stone tablets to set everyone right and make them behave.  But God wasn’t in the quaking earth or the storming sky.  This time God is in the sound of sheer silence.  Silence you can hear and silence you can feel, you know the kind.  Unlike Moses’ moment on the mountain, Elijah does not receive a word to be carved in stone but a word that is carved in his heart.  The voice of God isn’t outside, on that mountain he wakes up to the voice of God that was with him along, the inner voice that he carried with every step of his journey.  And when he got over him self and really listened, that voice reminded him that he wasn’t alone, that his work was in community and his work was to anoint and call other leaders into the mission at hand rather than carry the mantel all by himself.  He goes to the mountain and find’s God was with him all along...he just needed space to listen.  

A few years ago I performed a wedding in Hawaii and I will never forget my visit to the Bishop Museum.  The Bishop Museum celebrates the art and culture of the Polynesian community that pre-dates western involvement.  There surrounded by the reminders of the Island’s faith traditions, I learned something that seemed so surprising I almost laughed: Hawaiian Gods go on vacation.  It struck me as so unexpected, so foreign to my understandings of God.  I stood there in awe thinking, would I let God go on vacation.  I pondered this question as I read about how the Polynesian Gods have seasons of work and seasons of rest, when one God is at rest well another God stepped forward to lead.  As I considered what this said about Hawaiians and imagined how it impacted their community, I thought would western Christians’  let God go on vacation?  What would it mean for us modern modern people to let God take a break?  See for so many of us God is defined in terms of all those OMNI words, God is all present, all knowing, all the time and in all places and how can you let such a being take a vacation, a rest, or even a break.  What would it mean if rest and Sabbath and vacation were so sacred that it is woven into our very understanding of God’s nature?  Would we rest more if rest was sacred enough for God to rest?  

And I realized, our God rests too. Duh it’s called Sabbath.  Keeping the Sabbath might have just been one of the items on the laundry list of things the prophet Elijah was trying to help people remember about their relationship with God.  You see before philosophy introduced all those OMNI words and before kings every where wanted to seem all present and all powerful all the time, just like God.  Before Jesus climbed up a mountain to rethink what it means to be king and before Elijah struggled with the royal household.  The Hebrew people told stories of the God taking rest.  And the stories at the very start, the foundational story of who they are and who God is weaves rest or sabbath into the very model of our being.  God creates, God gives life, God gets involved in the world and then on the seventh day God rests.  And it was good.  Sabbath was built into the very identity of the hebrew people, they had a relationship with God and the covenant they agreed to made rest sacred.  Rest was sacred enough for the people to rest from labor rather than get ahead one more day, it was sacred enough that the land and the animals rested too.  All of creation rested, the immigrant laborer and the high priest.  They taught us a story that says you are sacred and you are created in the image of a God that rests.  You see they knew that resting like God makes you free like God.  Taking a sabbath like God makes you creative like God.  Honoring the sabbath like God empowers you to follow a path that gives life into the world like God.  

Maybe that’s why we gather here, maybe we gather to listen like Elijah did so long before us.  Maybe we gather to center and remember who we are really called to be like Jesus.  Maybe we gather to find sacred space that honors the hopes within our very soul.  And maybe together, we can take rest so seriously..that when it is hard to come by we make time to take it.

Rev. Debra McKnight