Friday, June 22, 2018

A Note of Gratitude to Rev. Dr. Jane Florence

Dear Abbey Friends and Family ,

Jane Florence is moving from FUMC Omaha to St. Paul’s UMC Lincoln. She has been a driver behind the Abbey’s emergence, and I am ever grateful for her leadership. I came to Omaha for an internship that I didn’t want. I had designed a plan with a different pastor and I was sure somehow this Texas woman appointed to be Senior Pastor was the clergy woman who questioned my fashion choices at a Perkins alumni event. I searched the internet and not one photo of this Jane Florence woman was available. It was a relief the first time I saw her.

I began my internship a month after she began her appointment. She was the first woman Senior Pastor and felt all of the pressure of not messing it up for every woman everywhere. I watched her navigate staff meetings, committee meetings, and community meetings, I took notes and wrote papers. I saw the realities of embodying ministry as a woman. I watched her handle comments and responses, some subtle and some shocking, that no man would have encountered... even in a progressive church... and I witnessed both her grace and strength in these moments. I witnessed her calm and resolved, and I thought to myself, "I would be on fire right now...or crying."

I am ever grateful that I came for internship and had the opportunity to stay. I am a better pastor because of my time with Jane--you see, once I get the hang of something I am often pretty solid at half-ass-ing it. Another Senior Pastor would have let me. I could have gotten by, but she expected the best. This expectation is driven as part stewardship of individual gifts and part stewardship of the church's mission, vision and resources. I came to Jane with a billion ideas... maybe not a billion but a lot of ideas, and not just ideas like can we put photos in the hallway, but ideas like let’s fold "origami electric chairs" at the end of this death penalty vigil, or let’s be Methodist and start a pub church or let’s open a coffee shop church. I find that most Associate Pastors with lots of ideas get two responses from a senior pastor: no with annoyance, or yes with indifference. They are equally unhelpful responses. But I asked Jane questions, and she cared enough to say no when needed to, and yes but keep thinking when needed. She refined ideas, grew them, shaped them, pushed back on them until they were better than they started. She helped make a path way for the important possibilities to find their way through in a powerful way.

As Urban Abbey began, she held a high standard of progress; she pushed, pulled and even protected. I often stopped in with a new idea, another idea, a slightly different idea or the same idea but again… until she consented to the whole unwieldy adventure, which proved to be even more wild and surpassing and hard than anyone could have imagined. Because she demand excellence, our grant application was shared across the jurisdiction as an model for others. I will forever be grateful for the opportunity to start the Urban Abbey, and I am ever convinced that the timing and the involvement of FUMC, The Nebraska Conference, and Soul Desires lined up in a way that, starting it today would be unlikely, if not impossible.

I have grown as a pastor in the last three years. I have developed new skills and better strategies. I have the benefit of coaching and of trying it on my own. It was a hard time on this journey. I wish, and frankly Jane probably wishes, I had developed some of these skills before 2015. Sometimes, it's just time to set out on your own and figure out who you are as a leader, and sometimes changing structures help change the possibilities for all the organizations involved, in this case both FUMC and the Urban Abbey changed. As we graduated into our own church and into a campus ministry, Jane continued to make a difference without holding a single staff meeting. She is the voice that asks, “Is that good enough for the vision?” I think, "Are you going to accept that?" when I see something that could be better, more welcoming, more inviting or more complete. There are a two reminders to me at the Abbey of when I didn’t push, didn’t steward the vision, and decided I didn’t want deal with the reality of pushing. Pushing does not make women likable, ambition and goals make folks want to use that phrase bossy or bitchy… Everyday I see these reminders of moments when I just took what felt easy and didn’t direct the action. They are a constant reminder of speaking up, and they tell me to get brave and take my call as steward of this vision seriously… even if it’s hard. I am convinced that Jane Florence has the biggest OVARIES in the Methodist Church, I have watched her drive toward the vision and I am grateful for the chance. Her voice is woven in the fabric of my leadership, and it is the strand that always reminds me to stand up, expect the best, and work for it… even if the work that is hard.

I am forever grateful and I am a better pastor because of my time learning with and from Jane. I am flourishing, and the Abbey is growing by leaps and bounds thanks be to God, great mentors and courageous leaders along the way.

I would invite you to think of the folks that have helped shape you and pause for a moment of gratitude for their time and teaching.

Your Friendly, Local Abbot,
Rev. Debra

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Controlled Burns

By Maria Walker

When Debra asked me to preach it was a few weeks back, and the temperature had gone from, “Oh my word, will we ever not wear coats or see the sun again?” to “Y’all, this is the armpit of hell.” In the Walker home it felt like the never ending winter had apparated suddenly to go and torture some other climate’s psyche. But the folks in my social and professional circle were hyperfocused on how hot it had suddenly become. I get that Nebraskans like to talk about the weather, but in every conversation? Bless.

So, I was surrounded by talks of heat and the sun and feeling restrained by the burning temperature. I had to ask myself, “Self, is this the Holy Spirit, or climate change?” Which is a question I ask myself more than I care to admit. As a good human developmentalist, I decided the answer was both.

That brings us to our time today. If I am honest with myself, the image or fire and heat has been popping up in my life, particularly my spirituality, for quite sometime now. I recall journaling about my year in review as Joel was listening to bowl games this past December. Of course, I was listening as well (wink), but on the commercial breaks I would reflect on life and I could not shake the image of lighting a fire. My everyday conversations somehow often came to fires and burning brightly and this sense of heat.

Now, I recognize that for many folks, the connection of fire and spirituality and religion is…. How should I say this, troubling. When I mentioned to a fellow Abbey member I was preaching today, she asked, “Oh, what is your topic?” I said, “Fire and burning.” She looked a bit confused and said, “At the Abbey? You sure about that?”

Indeed, I am. Fire and burning bones. Another friend of mine asked, “So, is this like hell fire and damnation? Because I have heard those word from your mouth, Maria, but you were not in a church preaching.”  Oh, I was preaching… believe me, but today I am not talking about that kind of fire. That kind of fire evokes fear and anxiety. It's more in line with a raging fire that destroys and burns to the ground. Total destruction.

It's also not the type of fire to be endured for a process of refinement. It is something you can give.

The type of fire that keeps cropping up in my life is the idea of a controlled burn.

Controlled burns are intentional fires set to create change and growth in an ecosystem. Now, I acknowledge am not a fire ecologist. That's a real thing, by the way. I am moving a bit out of my lane here. But hang with me because I think the parallels between controlled burns and living our faith are worth exploring.

I want to note that these burns are actually referred to as “prescribed burns.” Yes, they are an actual way to remedy a situation. Not to evoke fear or the threat of damnation, but to create space for growth and emergence. They are healthy and necessary and desirable.

Let's look at today’s scripture.

Jeremiah 20:9 (NRSV)
If I say, “I will not mention him,
    or speak any more in his name,”
then within me there is something like a burning fire
    shut up in my bones;
I am weary with holding it in,
    and I cannot.

We hear the message of weariness not from doing too much, but not doing. The not doing creates the risk of the negative outcome, and the same is true for prescribed burns. Not being willing to go there creates a potentially dangerous environment.

The courage to lean into the heat that creates the fire that will create health takes a willingness to risk it.  I would say that not taking that risk is a recipe for danger as well.

See, prescribed burns reduce the risk of fatal fires. They are preventative in addition to being restorative. What would our community look like if we named those areas that could benefit from a prescribed burn? That may be able to grow and flourish with fire treatment? Would having the courage to ignite a spark burn away the restraints that keep people arrested in their pain and the shoulds of the world? Would that fire make space for God’s children, ALL God’s children to experience the joy of life?

I will tell you what I know about what happens after a prescribed burn. The land is healthy and fertile. Wildlife flourish. Biodiversity increases… Sign me up.

The burning fire that is shut up in our bones makes us weary. We cannot hold it in. Incapable of it even.  Fire treatments empower and give energy. Literally.

But these fires don't happen by accident. They require intentionality. Folks are monitoring things to gage the best timing and the best conditions for the most productive burn. Once those conditions are identified, someone has to be in charge of the treatment. Now, when I was doing a bit of research on this topic, I was desperately trying to find out what that person was called. Because that person has to have an amazing title, right? I was disappointed to say the least, but grateful to my friends Brett and Nathan and brother in law Brent for responding to my urgent texts. They shared with me this person is known as the fire manager. Fire manager? Surely that is not enough to capture the responsibility and awesomeness of such a person.

Not satisfied with fire manager, though it is correct, I saught another source for this answer and discovered these individuals are also called the burn boss. Burn boss.  Now that is more like it.

When our burning fire is shut up in our bones, we are weary. When we do not speak the gospel, and as Pastor Debra proclaimed last week, when we are not a voice of question with self and within our community,  and are not willing to be present in hard conversations rejecting absolutes, we are holding in that fire. Someone else is the burn boss. And they ain't calling for any treatments.

What would happen if we became burn bosses? Just imagine, we are all living into the energy that calls us to burn brightly in our community. We burn not to destroy or threaten or intimidate. We burn… and that light shines and makes space for restoration and healing and growth.

Before we go about the business of burning, I think some attention needs to be given to the things that ignite your internal fire.  Many of you know I work in youth development, and we call this spark. According to the Search Institute and the Thrive Foundation for Youth, sparks are “—the interests and passions young people have that light a fire in their lives and express the essence of who they are and what they offer to the world. Identifying those sparks, and pursuing them with the help of deep, supportive relationships, are critical components in the work of helping a young person thrive.”

Sparks insure that young people don't merely get by. They are not simply making it or surfing. Spark helps young people thrive.

The Search Institute goes in to identify that Sparks help young people “to be, and to feel, healthier. They tend to be less depressed, less worried, and more satisfied over- all. They place greater importance on being con- nected to school and making contributions to society, which are factors strongly related to school success indicators such as academic con- fidence and grades.”

Now, even as someone that spends the large majority of her week focused on positive youth development, I do not believe this is limited to youth. Sparking the essence of who we are and what we offer the world is a joy we can all experience. Those positive outcomes offered by the Search Institute in their research can be for you and you and you.

So, what is your spark? What pulls your attention? What keeps popping up in your life that you can no longer ignore? What is the thing you can no longer hold it in? What is the thing that let’s you love yourself and feel the Spirit moving? Knowing what sparks for you is critical in sharing that flame with others.

Once spark is ignited, how do we keep the flame burning? Oxygen breathes life into fire. Knowing what breathes life into you  can be key in sustaining the burn of your flame. As I mentioned earlier, fire talk has been a part of many of my conversations over the past few months. I recall a conversation I had with Joel about burn out and burn down. He pointed out to me that burn out and burn down are two separate things, but we may here the term burn out more frequently. This concept of our flame extinguishing from exhaustion is burn out. It's real, and so is burn down. Joel explained to me that he sees burn down as having the spark, but the fire has not been given the oxygen it needs to burn as well as it could. We can see there is a light, but it is not able to grow or share its energy. I believe communities like the one here at the Abbey can be a source of oxygen for our fires. Maybe it's an activity or some form of recreation that is your oxygen. It can be a physical space. And it can a ritual you keep with yourself. Sparking your flame and being your burn boss is nothing without the oxygen that breathes life into the fire.

Experiencing spark safely requires we not go at this alone. The burn boss has a team that monitors the fire and makes a pr scribed burn successful.  Who helps fan your flame? With whom do you experience deep, committed relationships that help you burn brightly or help you stay safe as you take the risk? Because  Remember, fires can get out of control… Let's not be naive about that. A team that is with you can help you boundary up. Those helping to fan your flame can keep the focus on the targeted area that best benefits from the burn. Be the burn boss. Be a teammate when others are burn bosses. Breathe life into sparks and fan flames for one another.

Because allowing the fire shut up in our bones to burn not only prevents our weariness, it sets our world a glow. We can burn away those things that are preventing our growth, and create a source of light to energize all of humanity.  That fire inside you may be the size of a match head, or a single candle. It may be the size of a brightly burning campfire. Whatever size it is, name it. Claim it. Be your burn boss. Energize others with your flame. Create a space of flourishing growth. Give light to the world so that we may all burn a little brighter and know the warmth found with speaking God’s love to humanity. May it be so. Amen.

Tuesday, June 5, 2018

Beyond Orthodoxy… Even a Progressive One

Scripture
Mark 2:23 - 3:6
23 One sabbath he was going through the grainfields; and as they made their way his disciples began to pluck heads of grain. 24 The Pharisees said to him, “Look, why are they doing what is not lawful on the sabbath?” 25 And he said to them, “Have you never read what David did when he and his companions were hungry and in need of food? 26 He entered the house of God, when Abiathar was high priest, and ate the bread of the Presence, which it is not lawful for any but the priests to eat, and he gave some to his companions.” 27 Then he said to them, “The sabbath was made for humankind, and not humankind for the sabbath; 28 so the Son of Man is lord even of the sabbath.”

3:1 Again he entered the synagogue, and a man was there who had a withered hand. 2 They watched him to see whether he would cure him on the sabbath, so that they might accuse him. 3 And he said to the man who had the withered hand, “Come forward.” 4 Then he said to them, “Is it lawful to do good or to do harm on the sabbath, to save life or to kill?” But they were silent. 5 He looked around at them with anger; he was grieved at their hardness of heart and said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” He stretched it out, and his hand was restored. 6 The Pharisees went out and immediately conspired with the Herodians against him, how to destroy him.

Sermon
This is a great story. I think we love moments like this in the Bible where Jesus is his most Jesusy self. He is upsetting people so much that two groups who don’t usually collaborate are working for his destruction, the religious establishment and the current political administration… working together… can you imagine that. And all because of a simple healing. We love watching him go rogue, that hippy Jesus healing on the Sabbath, it seems like a no-brainer, why wait to heal a man. This and other stories we love are always making the Pharisees look so inept and selfish; like they are heartless, power-hungry, regulation-loving jerks… to put it nicely.

We are probably not the first folks who love telling and reading stories like these with zeal. This is why, on more than one occasion I have heard adults say some variation of, “Well, Pastor, the Jews just liked rules, and we don’t need rules. We have Jesus, and we have love.” They say this to me like Jesus invented love and like Christians have not been making all kinds of rules and judgements for 2,000 years. They say this like we didn’t have an inquisition or blue laws or people excluding gay people or women or a host of other suboptimal moments in our Christian history. This trajectory, unchecked, has launched us into a shameful and sinful history of antisemitism for which we would do well to actively repent and help our fellow Christians study this faith with a little more depth and care. We read this passage and we somehow forget that Jesus is a Jewish man in conflict with the religious leadership of his own community, out of love for them. We read this and forget that these practices made him who he was and is to us today. We read this passage and, most dangerously, we forget that we probably have more in common with the Pharisees than we do with Jesus.

We are only two chapters in to the Gospel of Mark, and our readings today are part of a larger pattern. Jesus is in conflict with the religious authority, first for hanging out with sinners in general and tax collectors in particular, then his crew is not practicing the traditional fast… even John the Baptist’s people are practicing the fast right, and now he is raising the stakes by working on the sabbath and not only that… in the midst of his conflict, he is comparing himself the the greatest King in the History of Israel. The conflict is intentional, and if we were the Pharisees we would be annoyed too.

Jesus heals on the Sabbath. When we read these healing accounts we get caught up in the methods, it's a miracle to us because we don’t understand healing in the same way. This is my continual PSA on healing miracles: We should think of it as a different technology and open our eyes to the more challenging miracle about where and when. Healing happened in temples, the same things that Jesus does in the streets happen in the temples. There are ancient reviews... imagine Yelp reviews on stone tablets about healing. People who can’t see recover sight, and people who struggle with movement are able to walk, and people with skin ailments find healing. We shouldn’t assume ancient people are stupid and don’t understand when their body feels better. The thing that is a radical is not the method but the time and place. Jesus healing a man in the synagogue like a rogue MD setting up a free clinic in the lobby of the Med Center. Which would not go over well… I assume. It would be an epic scene even today. You can imagine it, some hippy in the lobby, and the resident calls the Chief of Surgery, Dr. McSmarty and the Chief of Medicine, Dr. McSteamy, and they have an epic debate; nobody is sure about this hippy’s license or who is liable for malpractice and if he is taking insurance and why he didn’t set up an appointment for a non-emergency on Monday like a normal doctor. It would end in an arrest, and Jesus would be banned and barred from the hospital. If they haven’t already, Grey’s Anatomy should make it an episode.

We can see how Jesus would be infuriating. There are reasons for regulations. I personally like knowing my doctor has a license to practice medicine... you probably do too. We can see why the Pharisees are asking questions about Jesus disregarding the Sabbath and the guidance of generations before him. The Sabbath is about rest; even his disciples deserve a rest. Rules and guidance and practices and regulations have purpose, they help us organize our lives, they keep us safe, and they give us a foundation upon which we can thrive… most of the time. But Jesus pushes the religious leaders further. He reminds them that structures can sometimes become rigid and constricting, calcified and frail. Regulations can become agents of harm, even when they were created--like the religious observance of the Sabbath--to give rest and renewal and life. That is why we have to push on institutions sometimes and ask hard questions, because sometimes there is need for change. That’s where Jesus is so much trouble, he pushed on the whole system. He questioned if a religious practice made the faithful indifferent to human suffering. He asks, how do we give life or deal death? How do we, even in seeking the Holy, distort God’s love? I suspect most of us would struggle to answer Jesus.  

When I think of these questions, I am quick to think of some loud Christian voices. I have felt particularly frustrated with the voices that dominate the Christian narrative in our country… for a long time, but even more so since they seem to be so connected to real power these days. This week, I listened to the sermon of the Senior Pastor of First Baptist Dallas, he is a frequent guest on Fox News and a pal of our current president. I have struggled with many of his pronouncements over his tenure in this powerful pulpit, particularly when I lived in Dallas and this church was an epicenter of hurt and what I would label “hate speech” toward LGBTQ+ folks. This week, I thought it would be fair if I actually listened to his sermon and tried to move past soundbites. He was preaching a sermon about angels, literal angels, dealing death or mercy or judgment or protection with weapons. It was a 40 minute sermon, and I admit I only made it four minutes, but somehow in the first four minutes he managed to point out that Christianity is superior to Judaism and every other faith, he named Jesus as more powerful, and us all as superior too. Like Jesus was into chanting, “We're #1!” and the disciples carried foam fingers around Galilee. He should have played, “We Are The Champions” in the background… he surely has the staff and logistics to do so. He did all of this, and it wasn’t even the main point of his sermon, just like a PSA about how Christians are ranked on top and better than everyone else.

His sermon this Sunday is titled, “America is a Christian Nation,” and I would argue that if that is true, we are failing. He will stand in his elaborate sanctuary, holding a Bible, and name a Christianity that will feel foreign, at least to me. I look at his title and I ask, “Is this a Christian nation when our leaders say taking a baby out of his mother’s arms is a reasonable strategy to deter immigration and just a matter of policy? Is this a Christian nation when access to health care is more privilege than basic right, and our for-profit prisons are having record profits? Is this a Christian nation when we love guns so much we sell them to everyone in the world, and in 2018, our schools proved more dangerous than military combat zones? Is this a Christian nation when eight white nationalists are openly running for office on a platform of hate? I have some expectations about what would make us Christian, and I don’t even think Jesus would want us to claim any nation as a Christian nation as much as he would want us to claim a path of peace and justice.”

It’s not hard to make a list of all the things that would define us as Christian… like, well, for starters you can’t walk around with signs that say God Hates… well… anybody. You should fight for health care for all people, you should advocate for public schools and better teacher pay, and you should take public transit, and you should only buy organic vegetables from local farmers and probably never shop at… well just about anywhere… forget shopping--that’s so complicated, we need a whole separate list. It becomes really easy to start a list and make an orthodoxy… even a progressive orthodoxy. And then do what they do… say who is in and who is out. Who is and who is not a Christian.

But the thing is I know how that feels, maybe you do too, when someone says, “You’re not a Christian.” I have had plenty of people question my identity as a Christian, some random and hurtful, and some professors and careful. And during seminary, I did too. In fact, a few weeks ago when I sat down after a sermon and Lila, in annoyance, said, “Mommy, why are you always talking about Jesus at the Abbey,” I wanted to send the quote to two professors in particular and say, “See!” It was probably one of the biggest validations I could have received about this Christian Identity I seek to carry.

When I was in seminary, Dr. Marjory Proctor-Smith listened to my questioning and she said, “Debra orthodoxy is a tool of oppression.” Orthodoxy is a tool of oppression; those lists and stories and right answers and creeds didn’t get to define me. They were tools for shaping and exploring, not limiting and controlling. Those tools are man made (usually literally man made). They have agendas sometimes, they can box us in right where we are not too dangerous or too lively. She freed me from orthodoxy, and it was liberating, and it was more work. Lists are easy, seeking is harder.

So what do we do if we can’t throw a list in someones face or etch 10 Bonus Commandments and put them outside First Baptist Dallas… you know for fun? I believe we are called to look to Jesus in this moment. He is constantly brushing into the dominate faith voices of his day, and rather than proposing a new orthodoxy, he is a asking questions. Asking about the practice of the Sabbath that deals death or gives life. We need to engage these questions in our own lives and in the life of our community. We need to speak up and say, “I am a Christian, and I believe we are called to welcome the refugee and the immigrant. It is a part of my faith.” I believe we are call to stand up and say, “I read the Bible, and I read that Jesus told Peter to put his sword away, and Isaiah wants to turn weapons into farm equipment.” I believe we can and should be voice of question and we should be ready to be in hard conversations and name where we are coming from. I believe it is up to us to reject absolutes in favor of conversation and compassion, to acknowledge the shades of gray and make room for depth over bumper-sticker statements. It is up to us to get serious and ask the hard questions of ourselves and our community daily: What gives live?

© Rev. Debra McKnight, Urban Abbey

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

I'm So Happy To Be Here

By Charles Schlussel                                                                                                  

Pastor Debra recently asked if I’d be willing to share what the Urban Abbey means to me. I hesitated for a moment or two and then said of course I’d be happy to. I’ve only been here for a few short months but I must say that the Urban Abbey has some of the most friendly people I’ve ever met, either that or I’m guessing it’s just hard to miss a six foot five tall bald guy with a huge smile continually plastered on his face and just maybe curiosity got the best of you wondering what in the heck all the non stop grinning was about. Seriously though from the very first time I walked into the Abbey I was greeted so warmly and made to feel so welcome that it was incredibly easy to feel at home almost instantly. As to what all the non stop grinning is about I’ve shared some of my back story with a lot of you but in the words of the late great Paul Harvey soon you’ll know the “rest of the story,” and if you don’t understand that dated reference, as Debra would say, congratulations!

To start this story we’ll need to jump into our trusty DeLorean, or for you of a younger generation we can borrow the good Dr.’s Tardis… Our first stop is the 1960s where I grew up in the small town of Norfolk Nebraska, all in all it was quite idyllic. I had a fairly happy childhood and everything was going well, the hippy movement was in full swing and had finally inched it’s way to Nebraska, I still had hair, a full head of shoulder length hair no less.    

Life seemed pretty grand, that is until around circa 1974 at which point I turned fourteen and the hormone monster visited me full force and suddenly my world spun out of control. All of my guy friends had started noticing girls, but for me they were speaking an unknown language and I was starting to have feelings for which I had no known reference point.
  
A side note here, I know this will be unbelievable for anyone born after the 1990s but there was no internet NONE! and there were a total of about four or five TV stations to pick from, I had really never heard the term gay or homosexual ever used in any conversation. I was terrified. I didn’t know what was wrong with me and I had absolutely no idea if anyone else had ever experienced this before. There was no one to talk to because I was sure no one could possibly understand and if they did, they would surely be utterly and completely repulsed.

Fast forward to my high school years and I did find that there was at least one other guy who had similar feelings and I had my first awkward and fumbling experimental sexual encounters. Of course all of this had to be completely hidden for fear of hateful verbal ridicule and or the very real potential of physical violence or worse.

Fast forward again to 1980 and I found myself lonely and alone working in a strange city and was approached by some charismatic Christians who told me how to be born again, all my problems would be gone and life would suddenly become magically wonderful.

All I had to do was confess all my sins and promise to never do them ever again and I would escape all the terrors of hell. Actually sins were all bad but were easily forgivable by a quick I’m sorry prayer, except for one sin, the sin of being gay, this was the grandaddy sin of them all. This particular sin was so offensive it was labeled as an abomination to God and there was no passing go just a straight shot into a fiery hell of eternal torment.  There was one loophole to the abomination of being gay though, you could admit that you had a same sex attraction as long as you remained celibate and never acted on it. I really did love God so I took the pledge and at age 21 gave up my sexuality and remained totally celibate for three plus decades until after years of talking about it I finally had the courage to start the process of coming out and started dating for the first time in my adult life.

So how did I end up here at the Abbey? Approximately four years ago after spending multiple years in prayer, studying stack after stack of theological books combined with years of tearful heartfelt talks, and encouragement by some of the best friends anyone could ever ask for, I finally came to the conclusion that I needed a new theology, One built on love, grace and inclusion rather than fear, judgement and exclusion. I left the charismatic evangelical church where I had faithfully served the last few decades.

It was a terrifying journey to set out in search of a new church home but a journey I knew I had to make.

Now please understand that the pastors at my old church are wonderfully sincere in what they believe and really do care about their people, but they have absolutely no idea of the hurt and unimaginable pain and harm that is inflicted on their LGBTQ members and that’s the reason I found myself on a journey looking for a new place to call home.

I had searched the last four plus years looking for somewhere to belong, a church that would accept me for who I am and encourage me to grow and that trek ended here when I walked through the doors into this beautiful loving community ensconced in this coffee shop-bookstore-church called the Urban Abbey.

The Abbey is a place I’ve dreamt of and yet conversely never imagined could really exist. For me it’s been an oasis that is quenching a thirst deep within my heart and soul. For the first time in my adult life I no longer have to compartmentalize and hide parts of who I am for fear I’ll be discovered, I’m understanding what it means to fully integrate myself into one person and to let down all my guards and know that I’ll still be completely accepted and loved and this is transforming me in ways I would have never thought possible.

I’ve heard it said many times that almost everyone respects Jesus and his teachings, it’s always the Christians they have the problems with…

What I’ve encountered here at the Abbey though is a true living out of Jesus teachings summed up in loving God and loving our neighbors as ourselves and who is our neighbor? Everyone!… and since I’ve been coming here the one thing I’ve seen truly embodied in this community is the actualization of those teachings in a total and complete acceptance of absolutely everyone regardless of race, creed, gender, lesbian, trans, gay, straight, believer or unbeliever everyone is welcome here. I’ve been equally astounded by the sheer volume of out reaches, special events and speakers that are touching peoples lives in very real and tangible ways. And finally I love that the only qualification for communion here at the Abbey is the question, “Are you hungry”? … Kinda sounds like someone else’s dinner parties that caused a bit of scandal because of who he dared to eat with. I for one am ready to see if we can cause a bit more scandal with our outrageous loving inclusion of absolutely everyone.

I still pinch myself almost every time I drive down to the Old Market and walk into the Abbey wondering if all this can possibly real and then I see all my new friends and that’s why you’ll see the big smile on my face as I walk in the door and “now you know the rest of the story.”

Wednesday, May 9, 2018

Collective Effervescence

Scripture
Luke 24: 13-17 (NRSV)

The Walk to Emmaus
Now on that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, and talking with each other about all these things that had happened. While they were talking and discussing, Jesus himself came near and went with them, but their eyes were kept from recognizing him. And he said to them, ‘What are you discussing with each other while you walk along?’ They stood still, looking sad.

Sermon:
Our scripture features this most unusual moment, strangers talking on a road and not just talking about weather but being honest, vulnerable and sad. Brené Brown invites us to hold hands with strangers. “Hold Hands with Strangers” is the opposite of everything I have told my four year old about strangers! We grow up learning to feel strangers out and think about if we can trust them or if they are safe. Plus consent is important… we should ask before holding hands, especially with strangers. But these logistics are probably not the point; and we can take it as a metaphor for a bigger word, Collective Effervescence.
 
French Sociologist, Emile Dukhiem penned the phrase, “Collective Effervescence” as an “experience of connection, communal emotion and a sensation of sacredness that happens when we are a part of something bigger than ourselve.” (Brown, 130). These experiences shift us from a focus on self to a focus on community or group. Later researchers Brown sites weave this thread of collective Effervescence with a sensibility they name as Collective Assembly. These collective experiences link us to one another, they make us less lonely, more happy and more healthy; they help us experience meaning, peace, joy and connection.

Brown gives flesh to these theories by reminding us about how major events and gatherings of both pain and joy connect us. These moments of the collective experience are not so much when we need to cry with people we don’t know, but people with whom we are inextricably linked by a collective experience of pain, like the Challenger Shuttle explosion, the Sandy Hook School shooting, or the destruction of 911. These moments when we need to hold hands or give hugs or just gather in person, face to face. These moments remind us of our connection to one another. This connection is forged in pain and joy. These are not only tragic, but also thrilling and even surprising events of communal joy. Epic movies where we know the words or concerts where everyone sings in unison and the band drops out and there we are all together, heart pouring out, waving our hands with strangers.

We know this because we are in Nebraska where almost every fall Saturday can be a moment of collective effervescence as the football stadium fills and the marching band makes a tunnel for the team to run on… maybe it’s just me, but when you cry at pre-game you feel pretty connected to 90,000 people. And the striking thing is that most of the time I would probably disagree, a lot, with half to two-thirds of these folks in red. We probably come out on opposite sides about almost everything - but in that moment we sing and clap and cheer and hug and hold hands. That’s the power of collective effervescence that binds us up beyond the differences that divide us all the time.

I love this notion of Collective Effervescence. Not just because I think it would be a great band name, but because I think it describes what we do and why we gather here each week, or at least what we try to do each week. We gather, we sing together and pray together, we connect with ancient stories, modern poetry and we give, literally give together. That’s pretty collective, and every week we make time here to listen to one another’s moments that give life and to hear each other’s voice around the scripture. Every week Kyle and I plan Sunday services and we think about the different ways to highlight a theme or experience, the difference in learning styles and social locations and also the hope that, in our differences, we at the Abbey will connect with one another and God. And sometimes it matters and offers meaning, and sometimes it works and sometimes, well, I or you or we learn something about what we could have done differently.

Because this is a church, sometimes we do it well and other times (because we are just people) we can be awkward… at best. We say the wrong thing without meaning it, we say the harsh thing meaning it, we have agendas and ego, and we avoid pain.

Showing up is hard work for us. It’s not like a Hallmark Movie where a good cry will be contained in two hours and we know it will end happy. We don’t know what to do when other people’s pain, hope, grief or joy spills out all around us. We don’t often know what to say or what to do, which might be the start of the problem. We are not often too great at just being present for it. Letting it be what it is and allowing it to be a part of us, too. That’s why we have all kinds of stupid, theologically bankrupt phrases. They are easy… like “God has a plan” or “God wouldn't give you anything you can’t handle.” I have heard good, loving church people say these things to people in their grief and their loss, and I don’t know anyone who has said, “Thanks that was so helpful. It’s nice to know that God is so confident in my abilities.” We not only apply the quick clash to pain and grief but to joy as well. We prepare people to experience heartbreak before it happens, like “Don’t count your chickens before they hatch.” In fact, if you look this little proverb up, you can find one website that shows you all the sayings like it about keeping it cool and not getting your hopes up in almost every language.

Jesus was nothing like this. He sat with people. He asked questions. He had hard conversations and honest responses. He taught in parable and in practice. He reached so deeply into his tradition that he could live it out. He touched people, when no one else would. He talked about abundance and then he practiced it, he talked about filling the poor with good things, and he actually fed people. Here we find him in the text today in those hazy accounts that come after his crucifixion and resurrection. Here in the Gospel of Luke, two men are walking on the road to Emmaus and they encounter a stranger. They could have kept going, processing their grief together, ignoring the stranger… you know, like normal people. I would have said, “It was nice to meet you but we are really having an important conversation right now… so thanks… bye.” But they don’t. They include the stranger, just like Jesus would have done. And they do something else unusual… they are real with him. They talk about their real grief rather than, “Oh, the weather in Jerusalem has been so nice," or "Have you seen the price of olives?” they do what Jesus did, and they are honest. The stranger listens to them in their distress and their grief. They recount the life and death of Jesus and their bewilderment and hurt, they say, “We had hoped he was the one to redeem Israel.” They process this all together. Then there is the moment in the narrative where the stranger starts to quicken his pace and seems to be walking on and they do what Jesus taught them to do; they invite the stranger to stay with them, saying the evening is drawing near. There they are in their grief and pain and they are doing the practice that Jesus taught them, and then suddenly this stranger breaks the bread and they look again. Now this stranger is sacred, his face bears the resemblance of Christ. That collective ritual broke through, drew them together, and helped them see a stranger.

Everyone in this story is showing up, being vulnerable, engaging the collective, and then this ritual elevates the moment. If that’s not collective effervescence then I don’t know what is. That is why we gather, because the collective is hard and it takes practice. Jesus practiced his faith. When times were hard, the poetry of the Psalms and the wisdom of the prophets rolls off his tongue, and the thing that makes him powerful is not that he knows so much. It’s that he practices so much. He actually does what he reads, learns, and shares. That’s why we practice each week. So we are ready to show up and hold hands with strangers.

Brown tells the story of Sheryl Sandberg and I commend her book Option B to you. She shares the story of practice that begins on a vacation. She and her partner are on vacation, a special vacation without the kids, enjoying the day together, then they part for a moment. She thinks nothing at first of him not being in the room, but eventually the time to prepare for dinner is approaching and she seeks him out. After looking she thinks… the gym. Then she finds what I imagine is every partner’s worst nightmare. She finds him on the ground, breathless, bloody. She starts CPR, she calls for help, she takes the longest ambulance ride, she hears people say, “I am so sorry for your loss,” and she doesn’t want to let him go. She writes, “When we arrived at the cemetery, my children got out of the car and fell to the ground, unable to take another step. I lay on the grass, holding them as they wailed. Their cousins came and lay down with us all piled up in a big sobbing heap with adult arms trying in vain to protect them from their sorrow” (Brown, p134). There, piled in a heap of grief and tears and wailing, surrounded by family, she says to them “This is the second worst moment in our lives. We lived through the first and we will live through this.” She didn’t give them a cliché, she didn’t hush them, she reminded them, I think, of how resilient they are and then she began to sing a prayer from her faith; something she sang as a child, something that is a part of the service, a Jewish prayer of mourning. She began to sing and soon the adults joined her and then the children. The collective carried them in these moments.

The collective experience doesn’t minimize pain; it connects it and connects us to one another. The collective depends on showing up all the time so the songs are there when you need to hum them. It depends on the courage to know your own emotions, to be there for the emotions of others. It is hard work to be open and present but it is the call of our faith. May we have the courage to hold hands with strangers.

Prayer:
Gracious and Generous God 

We are tender and awkward, loving and true.
We are worried and unsure, weepy and wrong.
We are focused independence and worried about if we belong.

We see difference and distance, we place ourselves in order and rank.

But you call us to community, to see your face in the stranger to take heart and take hands.

You call us to our best selves, you inspire our better angels, 
You grant us renewal and resolve, 
To show up in the hard spaces and sing out songs of great love
To take heart and take hands.

© Rev. Debra McKnight, Urban Abbey

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Braving the Wilderness (Guest Sermon by Melanie Peltz)

Exodus 13: 18-22
“So God led the people by the roundabout way of the wilderness toward the Red Sea. The Israelites went up out of the land of Egypt prepared for battle. And Moses took with him the bones of Joseph who had required a solemn oath of the Israelites, saying, “God will surely take notice of you, and then you must carry my bones with you from here.” They set out from Succoth, and camped at Etham, on the edge of the wilderness. The Lord went in front of them in a pillar of cloud by day, to lead them along the way, and in a pillar of fire by night, to give them light, so that they might travel by day and by night. Neither the pillar of cloud by day nor the pillar of fire by night left its place in front of the people.”

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For those of you who don’t know – my full-time gig is not Urban Abbey communion server – I’m an English teacher – in a public middle school.  I get to hang out with 7th graders all week.  So if there’s one thing I might know a little bit about – it’s surviving the wild.

When Debra asked if I would be willing to offer a reflection today, and that it would be a bit of a prelude to the series using Brene Brown’s book Braving the Wilderness, I immediately said yes.
Then I immediately stressed out. You might say I started making a home for myself in a wilderness state.

And of course to make matters even more wilderness-y, I started procrastinating.
But then I thought, “Tell everyone you know that you’re working on a sermon! That’ll light a fire under you!”
So I told…crap. I’m no pastor! What makes me think I can do this??

Well, this might just be one terrible example of a self-manufactured wilderness.  But it gets even wilder.
Having reminded myself I’m not a pastor, I began the hard work of trying to find the right books to get me close enough to offer a Sunday reflection.

As an English teacher and preacher’s kid, I do have a lot of books. Even Bible-y books … seminary-type books. Can lots of books help me navigate my way through this wilderness?
OR will I simply drag a bunch of people into the wilderness with me?

I guess if that’s the message…that we are all in the wilderness, then I’m done! You’re welcome.
But since I want to reflect on God’s presence and guidance with us through the wilderness – we’ve got lots more to talk about.

The scripture reading today is nestled in the midst of the high drama of Exodus. It comes after the plagues and the Passover and right before the parting of the Red Sea.

Picture Charlton Heston in the 1956 film “The Ten Commandments”.

And if the reference to UB40’s song “Red Red Wine” during communion doesn’t do anything for you, then I can guarantee you have no idea who Charlton Heston is and have never seen that movie. Trust me when I tell you it’s like nothing you’ve ever seen before. It’s just…really dramatic.

There are plagues of blood, frogs, and darkness (and by darkness I mean literal darkness AND death to all of the firstborn in Egypt – human AND animal),
Just listen to this list of plagues! If the Lord is nothing else, She is creative:
We have water turned to blood (I prefer Jesus’s methods of water to wine), plagues of frogs, gnats, flies, diseased livestock, boils, thunder and hail (my dog would die from this one if she survived the others), locusts (can you imagine the sounds?), and before the plague of death to the Firstborns, there is a plague of darkness:

And the scripture (Exodus 10: 21-23) says that the Lord commands Moses, “Stretch out your hand toward heaven so that there may be darkness over the land of Egypt, a darkness that can be felt.” And there was dense darkness in all the land of Egypt for three days. People could not see one another, and for three days they could not move from where they were.”

This plague of darkness – imagine. (Easy to do…this plague of darkness sounds a lot like winter in Nebraska)
Imagine for 3 days. No movement, no vision, no human contact.
I wonder if this was Jesus’s experience for 3 days.
I know that sometimes this is our human experience…blackness, utter darkness without sight, without human contact, without connection from one heart to another. This is wilderness.
And this might be the worst kind of wilderness we encounter.

It is the wilderness of ancient history; it is the wilderness of modern experience.

This inundation of natural terrors, these plagues, culminates in a confrontation between the Lord, the Israelites and the Egyptians at the Red Sea.

So here we are post-plague, post-Passover:

Exodus 13: 18-22 “So God led the people by the roundabout way of the wilderness toward the Red Sea. The Israelites went up out of the land of Egypt prepared for battle. And Moses took with him the bones of Joseph who had required a solemn oath of the Israelites, saying, “God will surely take notice of you, and then you must carry my bones with you from here.” They set out from Succoth, and camped at Etham, on the edge of the wilderness. The Lord went in front of them in a pillar of cloud by day, to lead them along the way, and in a pillar of fire by night, to give them light, so that they might travel by day and by night. Neither the pillar of cloud by day nor the pillar of fire by night left its place in front of the people.”

I want to point something out here – while God may have spared the Israelites from the plagues, God intentionally leads the Israelites to the Sea BY WAY OF THE WILDERNESS.

Stay with me for a moment as I go down a couple wilderness rabbit holes:

In Braving the Wilderness, when Brown explains the wilderness metaphor, she says the following:
“Theologians, writers, poets, and musicians have always used the wilderness as a metaphor, to represent everything from a vast and dangerous environment where we are forced to navigate difficult trials to a refuge of nature and beauty where we seek space for contemplation. What all wilderness metaphors have in common are the notions of solitude, vulnerability, and an emotional, spiritual, or physical quest.” (Brown p. 36)

God intentionally leads Her Chosen people by way of the wilderness, and I think Jesus can relate to their wilderness experiences through his own just as the early Christians related to being in the wilderness after the resurrection, and that we can relate to thousands of years later…to understand our belonging – to one another, to Christ’s redeeming love, and to a place at the table that God has set for us and for ALL of us. We have to be willing to see with new eyes in ways that journeys through the wilderness empower us to do.

Brown goes on to say:
“We can’t expect to take a well-worn path through these badlands…we all have to find our own way deep into the wild. And if you’re like me, you’re not going to like some of the terrain.
We’re going to need to intentionally be with people who are different from us. We’re going to have to sign up, join, and take a seat at the table. We’re going to have to learn how to listen, have hard conversations, look for joy, share pain, and be more curious than defensive, all while seeking moments of togetherness.
…it takes tremendous courage to knowingly walk into hard moments.” (Brown p. 37)

Other great authors agree with Brown.  Joseph Campbell “The Hero with a Thousand Faces” and “A Hero’s Journey” suggests that “the cave we fear to enter holds the treasure we seek.”

The wilderness holds treasure!

Many literal wilderness experiences very obviously hold treasure and beauty.
These are experiences where it is easy to see and feel God’s presence:
witnessing the migration of the sandhill cranes through the Platte River Valley
watching the sky change hues of purple, orange, or red during the sunrise or sunset
sitting on a beach, gazing into the horizon, listening to the crashing waves, sinking your toes in the sand
watching puffins divebomb fish in the north Atlantic Ocean

Other literal wilderness experiences carry a little more fear and vulnerability:
watching the sky turn green as the clouds swirl in an ominous circle, threatening safety
trying to navigate through snow and ice-covered pathways
losing your GPS signal when you’re trying to find your wayAnd then of course:
plagues of gnats, locusts, frogs, and flies

But more so than these literal experiences – I think God means for us to enter metaphorical and internal wilderness; like Brown names the emotional and spiritual quests
Examples of wilderness quests that hold a 99% guarantee of abundance:
Wedding planning!
Reading books! Especially books like “The Call of the Wild”
Writing books – or thinking you’ll someday write a book; creating art – or thinking someday you’ll create art
Training for a 5k, triathlon, any sort of competition, weight loss
Dance lessons, swim lessons
First days of school or a new job or of retirement

These are physical, emotional and spiritual quests thru wilderness (or new experiences) with a more obvious treasure or a clearer route to joy.

But what about the metaphorical wilderness experiences where the terrain seems tougher, the pain seems more powerful and our defenses are higher? Where the risk is so much greater and we turn a blind eye to the pillar of cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night that are ever-present? Wilderness experiences like:
A conversation with a 7th grader who wonders, “Ms. Peltz, how do people get poor?”
Facing a friend or loved one after a fight, a misunderstanding, a disagreement, or other pain
Being laid off from your job in the midst of laying a foundation for a new home or while paying student loans or when bringing a new life into the world
Wondering how someone you love could have such huge differences in opinion from your own and not seeing a way to reconcile those differences in your heart or in your head, let alone face to face with the other person (like the 2 students in my classroom recently, one so adamantly pro-life and one so adamantly saying, “wait! It’s more complicated than that! We need to talk about this!”)
Not knowing how to share with your parents that you love differently than they do
Conquering a deep-seated fear of speaking in front of a church audience that includes people you admire and respect and you can’t possibly say anything that could be of value or that they don’t already know

Isaiah 43: 19-20 “I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert. The wild animals will honor me, the jackals and the ostriches; for I give water in the wilderness, rivers in the desert…"

You see, wilderness is a teacher and trainer, a challenger and a changer, a source of renewal and recalibration. Where our thirst is quenched and our hunger is satisfied.

God invites us into the wilderness, guides us there – with intention. So that, in the midst of our thirst, hunger, brokenness and fatigue, our eyes may be opened to God’s abundant love, God’s radical presence, and the inextricable connection that She so desires us to have with each other.  Because, you see, we don’t go into the wilderness alone. The journey is both yours alone and ours collective.

This means that on the other side of that tough metaphorical wilderness that you are in is the person who wonders the same things you do…whose way is being made through the wilderness just like yours is:
How did I lose everything? How did I get here?
How do I face the friend or loved one after our fight?
How do I release someone from this space to find something new?
How can I both disagree with AND love him or her? How can I discuss tough topics with both passion and compassion and still LOVE the person with whom I disagree? (We might be able to take a lesson from middle school kids on this one!)
How can I accept and love my child who has just come out to me?
Will I hear the message today or will I even understand it?

While preparing this reflection, I began to wonder. Maybe the wilderness IS God. Maybe as good Methodists who know that God is in the grass, in the clouds, and in the speckles of dust visible only through rays of sun or moonlight, that in this wilderness OF COURSE that’s where we meet God. OF COURSE that’s where She leads us. She IS the light, the pillar of fire and pillars of cloud – guiding us AND surrounding us.

And of course this means we cannot pick and choose our wilderness companions.

All of us are in the wilderness, and whether we’ve entered from the right or the left, from the heart or the head, from starvation or from abundance, from fears or from courage, from anger or from gratitude – we’re there.

And so maybe, is this what it is to be living the way of Jesus?
To be in the wilderness in all its manifestations…to survive it, to become it, to enter it and re-enter it.
To see crucifixion and resurrection over and over and over again. And to remain hopeful, wild, wildly hopeful and wildly loving.
To be Easter people even if our hearts break, our minds question, our backs bend, our lungs fatigue, our guts hunger, and our feet grow weary as we travel through this wild life.

We are all of us in the wilderness; and our Wilderness God is with us, too.
May we have the courage to enter the wilderness, thirsty for Living Water that sustains us and eyes open to Wild Fire that guides us, brave enough to see everyone who is with us, and vulnerable enough to discover something new within ourselves.
May it be so, Amen.

Washing More Feet (Guest Sermon by Sam Troia)

John 13:31-35 (NRSV)
31 When he had gone out, Jesus said, “Now the Son of Man has been glorified, and God has been glorified in him. 32 If God has been glorified in him,[a] God will also glorify him in himself and will glorify him at once. 33 Little children, I am with you only a little longer. You will look for me; and as I said to the Jews so now I say to you, ‘Where I am going, you cannot come.’ 34 I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. 35 By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

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Washing feet has always been something I detested. Don’t get me wrong, I have no problem washing my feet. But growing up during holy week, I would hear this reading and get disgusted. I would watch the priest wash everyone’s feet and beg my parents to not let me be apart of it. I’m not sure if it is because I was self conscious about my feet or hated the feeling of not being in control but there was something about it that made it feel like nails on a chalk board for me. I actually lost a bet with my sister that required me to get a pedicure it was the furthest thing from relaxing.

But then I got into occupational therapy school and had to get over that real quick. As OTs we focus on self care tasks and part of my job in DC was to teach people how to wash their feet or in most cases wash it for them. With my first patient, I had about 5 seconds of staring at their feet in the shower, knowing that because of their spinal cord injury I would have to wash them before I looked up and made eye contact with them. All of those feelings of disgust, hesitation, and doubt that were in my head faded as the two of us had a conversation with our eyes. He knew for the first time that he could not reach his feet and depended on someone to do it for him.

My emotions that I felt previously shifted as I began to feel their emotions of guilt, shame, and fear and all I could do was look at them and assure them I was with them.  In this moment, I was truly present with someone at their most vulnerable. As time went on, I taught that person how to wash themselves and they did not need me anymore but I consistently think back to that transition from being in my own head to being so connected and with that person. The more patients I saw the quicker that transition was but these experiences of full vulnerability has taught me so much more about humanity. The act of washing someone who cannot wash themselves leads to this powerful connection that Jesus talks about    in today’s reading. When Peter rejects Jesus’s offer to wash his feet, as honestly I would do, Jesus replies with, “Unless I wash you, you have no part with me.” Unless I wash you, you have no part with me.

Not all of us will find ourselves in a position like mine where you will have to legitimately wash someone’s feet. How does washing feet translate into today’s realty? I like to translate this quote as, “Unless I see you, you will not see me.” The Jesuits brainwash you to Find God in All Things. Look to the birds and see them fly freely as God intended. Look to the people who have brought you all the blessings in your life and thank God for the opportunity to use those blessings. Look to the most vulnerable and see God in them as God sees you. In my eyes, this is the basic element of service. Looking at a person as that individual and reminding them that I see them, I am with them.

So many people in my life have washed my feet, again, not literally, but they have looked at me and reminded me that they see me. They have washed my metaphorical feet and have allowed me to go forth to wash for and with others. With every person I advocate for, treat, or meet in the streets, I hold their blessings they have bestowed on me close to my heart and try to set the example that had been set for me.

I take this Easter as an opportunity to reflect and recognize those people who have blessed me with their presence in the hopes that their presence carries on throughout my future, whatever that holds. I recognize that I have gifts and blessings that should not be kept from my community. But I also recognize that so do you. As Jesus washed his disciple’s feet, and you all have washed mine, I ask us, how can we wash more? Jesus said, “Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you should wash one another’s feet.” I believe that this lives beyond one act. This embodies all of our actions.  Jesus did not stop with his disciples. He set out to wash the world’s feet but setting the example for his disciples.

While we were meeting with our small group last night we reflected on our Lenten promises. Lent for me has transitioned from giving up sweets and meat on Fridays for 40 days to adding something to my life to bring me closer to God. For some people, their Lenten promise included leaning into difficult relationships, others wanted to read more, and some chose to give up chocolate. For me, I chose to acknowledge God’s presences when I saw Her. In times of pure bliss and times of despair, I made the conscious effort to say, I see you. So as Jesus’s disciples did not stop washing feet after forty days, I too aspire to wash more feet.

May our Lenten promises live beyond these forty days as we sit in this uncomfortable vulnerability of washing more feet through our personal hesitation and doubt may we see God’s presence and love more clearly.

Thursday, March 29, 2018

Church shopping? Here’s a question to ask... Okay, two questions to start with at least.



Friends,

This is a season where people you know may be looking for a place to celebrate Easter or a place to call home on their spiritual journey. I have met countless people who have been shocked, hurt and even surprised by a church... their church. The church they have called home has said they were welcome until, well, they were not. This is a season of church shopping. I want to offer one suggestion… a simple question to help: “Do you march in Pride Parade?”

It is true that I happen to be a pastor who has always marched in Pride Parade, and it is true that I would love for you to come to the Abbey. I started it because I want people to make it a home. But it is also true that folks have all kinds of things they are seeking in a church… like bell choirs and organs, and particular programs, or dark wood pews that we may not have. I will be happy to help you find that place. I have marched in Omaha’s Pride Parade since 2007, and every year there are more churches, and you have choices that range in style of music, and size of congregation, and one or two from almost every mainline Protestant denomination. So this question may lead you to the Abbey, or it may lead you somewhere else that makes you feel right at home and ready for spiritual growth.

Ask this question… even if you don’t like parades or never plan to march in one. Ask it because it is an action question. The answer is yes, or it is no... or maybe it is, "We have for 20 years," or "Yes, two years ago," or "We are this year," or "Sure, we could." It gets right past if the church defaults to a “Don’t ask, don’t tell” sort of attitude on inclusion. It cuts right though all of of the modern aesthetics and let’s you know right away if you are really just walking into some 1950’s worship dressed up in skinny jeans and high production value.

Every church says they are welcoming. I almost hate to write that about the Abbey because I have heard so many stories of people that got hurt at a welcoming church: People who were welcomed, and then when their partner came for the first time were pulled aside and called a sinner by people they thought they knew and loved. I know people who have invested in a church that decided their child fell under the category of “Hate the sin but love the sinner,” or has suggested it would be okay to be a Christian if they are committed to a life of celibacy. Which fails to celebrate the fullness of being that God created.

The other question I would ask is, “Can a woman be the senior pastor?” Recently, a family learned that the church they called home and supported financially did not allow women to lead as pastors. They learned this when they requested a clergy woman offer the eulogy and participate in the leadership of the funeral service for her uncle, and they said “No,” because she was a woman. That family left the church they thought they loved at a moment when one needs a church home. They had no idea. Know your church. Ask questions... and make them answer with action and with how life is practiced. Ask the question for the girls in your life that you believe should see a different kind of leader in church. Ask the question because you believe in equal participation, or because you want to give to support inclusion, or because you want to know whether this is about a system excluding women or if a Bishop just hasn’t gotten around to appointing a woman in leadership at that church… yet.

I think these two questions help clarify how a church really includes people… so ask them, because every church says everyone is welcome and that we are going to change the world together, but actions speak. Ask these questions and let them be a starting point to ask more. This, of course, does not mean these churches are perfect… people are involved. And that means someone is going to say the wrong thing or be incredibly awkward at some point. It means that, just like in any other human institution, there will be politics, privilege and struggle, but at the end of the day... even if imperfectly so… I believe they are in active pursuit of a robust and full welcome that expresses a radically, all-loving God-sized dream. Ask it, because you deserve something better than old theology dressed up in skinny jeans.

Everyone deserves a spiritual home, and if you need support in finding that spiritual home, I’m glad to help you find it... even if it's not the Abbey.

Blessings from your friendly, local Abbot,
Rev. Debra McKnight

P.S. There are many people who participate in church communities and they stand in the tension of disagreement about things like women’s participation in leadership and/or extending human rights to folks... sometimes LGBTQ+ folks and sometimes others. But this is with intention and not by accident. This is a hard and holy place, to dissent and love community at the same time. I understand this--there are aspects I long to see changed about my larger denomination, and I stay in that tension on purpose. And it is different from finding out by surprise. This is different from being shocked or hurt by a church you didn’t realize couldn’t love your gay brother.

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Praying with Hamilton: "Wait For It"

Prayer: “Wait” by Rev. Debra McKnight

Timeless God, Living Water;

I stand waiting. I stand asking, “What is it all for?”

I can’t find the right answers; they are unwritten,
not mapped but crafted from within,
not listed by command but awakened, not directed but driven.
The answers take the time that they take, they demand wait.

The world says get on with it. What do you stall for?
Push on, get going, move ahead,
get to part of the story where the action is,
where the verbs dance, the tension grows and the stakes are high.
Get on with it, find the steps and start to climb, get in the race, even if its the wrong one,
stop wasting your time.

But You, Gracious One, You say, “Wait. Get uncomfortable, dive in and find out who you are.
Find the life-giving pause, pregnant with possibility and growth.
Wait, study your call, know your own soul, you’re not falling behind or standing still.
Wait; Grow your gifts, find your own path, go your own pace
Pray like you never have before, pray like it’s all at stake,
Because You are a work of art, a masterpiece of dynamic co-creation,
beautifully and wonderfully made,
take courage when it seems like others fly by,
take heart when you get past; its not your race and this isn’t a competition.”

Timeless God, Grant us holy space to learn and grow,
Grant us discernment between waiting and controlling;
between intention and hesitation,
between courage and comfort.

Holy Waiting, steady and disciplined, neither grasped by fear nor afraid to move,
determined to draft the path from within, to rise and fall again and again,
determined to answer Love’s purpose with deep resolve.

Free us for something more, brave enough to wait in that hard space where growth happens,
dropping the guise of control and forgetting the race for power.
Liberate us to wait for good things.
For the right reasons and the right seasons, neither sinner nor saint,
but faithful, faithful to the question, “What was it all for?”

And so we, your impatient, imperfect children answer with our every breath and we say, Amen.

Scripture for Reflection

Psalm One

Happy are those
   who do not follow the advice of the wicked,
or take the path that sinners tread,
   or sit in the seat of scoffers; 
but their delight is in the law of the Lord,
   and on God’s law they meditate day and night. 
They are like trees
   planted by streams of water,
which yield their fruit in its season,
   and their leaves do not wither.
In all that they do, they prosper. 

Sermon: “Wait For It… Easier Said Than Done!” by Rev. Debra McKnight

Waiting is not something we are built to do, at least not well in our context. We have instant messaging, fast food and same day delivery. Waiting feels like a waste of time or poor planning, and if we can’t avoid it, we at least try to accomplish something or distract ourselves on our phones. There are a few places where we have to wait. There are literal waiting rooms. When we check in with the doctor’s office, we wait until we are called back to an exam room, then we wait some more. We wait for the exam and then sometimes we have extra waiting… a top secret waiting room… for the overachievers who wait for a blood draw or an extra test, then we have to wait for the results. This kind of waiting might actually be more about patience; it is waiting that is beyond our control or intention and when we say, “They have the patience of a saint.” Or “Patience is a virtue,” we are typically celebrating how someone responded to an inconvenience or annoyance or difficulty or hurt. It means, “They handled that situation without exploding or imploding.” Which is important, but not quite what I think “Wait For It” is getting at.

In his book, Hamilton: The Revolution, Miranda notes a different kind of waiting: this powerful waiting. He names the challenge of creating a song about waiting, “How do you dramatize stasis?” (1).  How are the discipline, resolve and self-control required of waiting interesting, dynamic and powerful? This is the part of the story we usually skip, it’s were we make a video montage because it doesn’t look like much from the outside. The sometimes slow process of learning and failing, all the growth and change and discernment doesn’t look like action. I think this is the beauty of Miranda’s Hamilton. We are gifted with a foil to Hamilton; Burr is cool and calm, reserved and resolute to choose his path, to write his own story, and ever mindful of his legacy. While he and Hamilton share drive and ambition, they have their own path and each brings their own gifts. Hamilton brings non-stop energy, writing like he is running out of time, leaping over boundaries and obstacles that would have kept anyone else in their place. Burr is characterized like his legal arguments, succinct and persuasive; he is disciplined, discerning and determined and resolved to choose the right path in the right moment. And just as Hamilton’s gift of non-stop energy elevates him beyond boundaries, out of check it is part of his self-destruction. So, too, it is with Burr. Waiting is good for you… until it’s not. So we are invited into Burr’s narrative with an eye to hold that same tension. Burr’s narrative asks us to look at our own discernment, to notice when waiting is hesitating, when discipline is an attempt to control, where comfort is avoiding the challenge of change. Waiting isn’t about fear of failure or anxiety at the next step; it is the intention of choosing who you are rather than avoiding your risks.

We are a part of a tradition that names waiting as holy, and we have two seasons in our church calendar set aside for waiting: Advent and Lent. Advent is the season that leads into Christmas. It doesn’t always feel like a season of waiting as our culture pushes us to shop and spend, buy the gifts, decorate the house, make the food and sing the carols. We are too busy to wait, and holy waiting probably doesn’t have much in common with waiting for Santa. Advent is intended to be a season of holy waiting. With Mary and Joseph, we prepare ourselves for new life; we change, perhaps under the surface and deep within, to be ready for a new season. Lent, our other season of holy waiting, is sometimes expended more as a season of penance. Our tradition has taught us to approach Lent in what is, I think, the worst possible way. To feel bad and to give something up, like chocolate or coffee or meat or… happiness. And that isn’t really waiting either. We would do better to think of it in terms of alignment; a season of going so deep into ourselves. Spiritual practices help us do this, but we do it with the purpose of being more clear about who we are. That is holy waiting, discernment that guides us through the uncharted roads we are called to take. And that requires the courage to know who we are. 

The world around us teaches holy waiting; it is woven into creation. We see the most obvious example in winter. When it snows we slow down; literally we drive slower, there are no short cuts, arriving will take the time that it takes. Winter is a season of waiting, and it is holy, and it is essential. We look around at the brown earth and the sometimes gray sky and start to feel like everything is dead, like nothing is happening; but below the frozen crust, life is happening. The creatures so small we miss them are hard at work creating nutrients and preparing the earth for spring’s rebirth. Waiting is holy and active, and it gives life. Our own bodies enter a cycle of waiting. Every night we sleep and our body heals, restores and makes us ready for a new day. Waiting is seeded within us. It can be holy.

The thing is, no matter how holy waiting might seem or could be, it is still hard for us to do, let alone do well. Perhaps we can identify with Burr, when he watches Hamilton soar past, feeling disappointed, disregarded, longing for his position or role or work. Perhaps you have watched classmates earn approval you wanted or noticed colleagues climbing the ladder and feeling left behind. I remember a time, when I was getting a divorce and all of my highs school friends seemed to be welcoming newborn babies. It was hard to be happy for them while I wondered if I would ever have that chance. 

I know this is going to shock you, but sometimes in church work… politics and egos find their place. It can be hard to watch people get appointed to particular churches when you think…“Why them and why not me?” As a new church start pastor, I am typically surrounded by other pastors, all of whom are men. I have even been asked if I was a pastor’s wife and had to explain that actually I was a pastor and yes, I have actually been to seminary and I am actually ordained. These gatherings are filled with visionary people and usually a lot of ego. It can be dangerous, because if you succeed you think it has a lot to do with you, and if you are not succeeding, well, that can feel like it has everything to do with you, too. And I have had seasons of feeling pretty unsuccessful. In fact, one Bishop said, “Debra, I know you are not used to failure,” as she warned me of the high rate of failure among new church starts and campus ministries. There is this added pressure, with so few women and so few out of the box ideas. I think to myself, if this doesn’t work out they will be less likely to let someone else dream a wild dream… like a coffee shop, bookstore church or worse… they will be reluctant to support the next woman who asks for a big grant. These of course are my own fears, which I am not required to carry. But the truth is, there is a high focus on results and growth, and this is powerful when it is about including people in God’s love, and it is less powerful when it is about amassing people and numbers to prove something to someone. And so over the years, as a new church start pastor of a weird church, in a hyper-competitive, and I would say male dominated environment, particularly early in my journey, I have had to make peace with uncertainty and get clearer about who I am and what the vision of the Abbey is really about. I do this with Psalm One. This Psalm is about a tree planted by the stream of water, and it gives fruit in due season. This Psalm has been my liberation. Especially when I look around and thought, “Oh my God, where is the fruit…I have to turn in a report.” It has nudged me to think deep about what is fruitful. And about what is faithful, what does it mean to be planted by that stream of divine, loving water and to wait, wait for the due season? 

Last Easter, we hosted three services and I felt it was risky. Would people be present? Maybe we should have stuck with two… and then it was life-giving and we had room to welcome more people than ever… plus there were bubbles and delighted children dancing in bubbles, which leaves everyone feeling pretty great. I was on what must only be described as a lit-phoria (Liturgical Euphoria is not a technical term), humming “Christ the Lord has Risen Today,” and posting Sierra’s photo of Lila and bubbles when I saw my friends’ posts (Use your most annoying voice for the following): “Oh so grateful to worship with 1,200 people for Easter.” “We served 800 people communion today.” “Three services plus one million people on Facebook.” “What a day! Christ has Risen and raised $80,000 in our special offering.” I looked through these posts and thought, “Expletive… what the expletive am I doing? We can never do that. How can I complete with that?” And as I was spinning out thinking about renting the Civic Auditorium and remembering it was being torn down, or considering the weather logistics of Heartland of America Park at sunrise, or how I could host an Easter communion parade down Howard Street. Then, thank God, someone who loves me and has stood by the Abbey dream from the start, my spouse, asked, “Is that even what you are about?” 

No. It’s not. That is not my path. Those are fine paths and fruitful. That is not the fruit I’m longing for. That is not the vision. That is not why I wrote and asked and asked and asked and that is not why people joined the team. That is not why you are here or why you show up and invite people. We are enormous and small at the same time. We host the whole community. We are a living sanctuary open all the time. And it might be the least efficient way to be church, but I believe these many small services give us a chance to see one another, to talk to one another, to hear one another’s voices, and that is the place in which we are rooted.  

Holy waiting is about knowing who you are, diving in deep and getting uncomfortable. Loving your call with such passion that you pursue it without worrying about the calls and paths and races other people are running. Wait for it. Amen.  

© Rev. Debra McKnight, Urban Abbey

(1) Miranda, Lin-Manuel and Jeremy McCarter, Hamilton: The Revolution, New York: Grand Central Publishing, 2016. P. 92.

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Praying with Hamilton: "It's Quiet Uptown"

Prayer by Rev. Debra McKnight

Please listen to “It’s Quiet Up Town,” pause, and join in prayer as you feel comfortable.

God of Mercy,

They say, “Just keep swimming.”
They say, “God has a plan.”
They say, “Buck up. Cheer up. Smile.”
“It’s for the best,” or “You’ll be better someday.”

But sometimes, brokenness just breaks you down to the core.
Words can’t reach, teach or even begin to name
and it would seem easier to just swim down.

Sometimes the world turns upside down and you lose the one you loved,
the child you carried, the future you dreamed.

Sometimes the world turns upside down and you lose the health you had,
the house you made a home, the business you built, the race you ran.

Sometimes the world turns upside down, your heart splits, ties break and bonds strain,
and you feel a shell of yourself, adrift or stuck or stunned or all of that and more.

Sometimes in one moment, you come undone and everything must change.

And then You, Loving God, whisper, “Breathe.”
You grant mercy in the pause.
You grant grace in tears and friends and cussing and casseroles,
and songs, void of cliches.

You, God of Mercy, with healing in your wings,
hold us in our deepest grief, our fury and rage,
our great uncertainty, our earnest loss and our honest pain.

And You honor it. You hold it up in the light of love
and remind us of our remarkable resilience,
our deep courage to live and move and rise.

You create us for relationship, making us vulnerable and durable,
and offering the gift of kin,
companions for the journey, a life-line of direction when we feel lost,
and nourishment when we feel so empty.
Kin to walk with, cry with, laugh and share with.

Until we rise, ever so slowly, ever so gently, little pieces of ourselves forming and reforming,
we rise, Spirit lifted in the midst of the unimaginable and
we, ever so lovingly, turn our deep wounds into powerful, beautiful scars.

Scars we can talk about to help others find their way.

Scars that allow all the hurt to give life.

© Rev. Debra McKnight, Urban Abbey

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Praying with Hamilton: "That Would Be Enough"

Prayer by Rev. Debra McKnight

Gracious and Generous God,

Enough, being it… feeling it seems so far away.
I’m never Satisfied.

I want more. I want more time. I want more stuff.
I want more pay, a better title and a vacation house;
one on a beach and one more in the mountains... to be satisfied.

I want to be smarter, brilliant, more resilient and honorary everything.
I want the highest GPA and A’s when the course is pass/fail.
I want the best recommendations and more awards… to be satisfied.

I want to tell the story and do it my way.
I want to be faster, stronger, smarter and win all the debates with the finest arguments.
I want the best house and the cutest family,
the right dress size and better selfies
to be good enough, to be satisfied.

I can’t even think in terms of enough. We didn’t learn that in school.
We run, and we run, and we run the race to be on top.
We keep working to keep up, a few more hours to be enough.

And then You, Loving God whisper, “You have no control.”
You weave your way through the narrative, nudging, urging, consoling.
You speak through the prophets and poets,
“You have no control. What are you going to do with your one precious life?”

You relax my shoulders heavy under the weight of wanting more.
You relax my grasp, weary with holding on.
You relax my mind and seed my heart with thoughts of something more.

You sing out, “Let go. You have no control, but you can have life and have it abundantly.
You draw us into a new narrative, with ancient rhythm and modern rhyme.
The story of striving for justice and equality,
replacing worry with wonder, stress with serenity,
debt with delight and greed with gratitude and generosity.
You co-create a new story, re-writing our schedules, re-balancing our budgets
focusing our time and gifts into a legacy of love and compassion,
that all may have life and have life abundantly.

And we, your beings so prone to fear and worry
say, “Thanks be to God.” Amen.

Scripture for Reflection

John 10:10

The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.

Sermon by Rev. Debra McKnight

Enough. Abundance. Generosity. These are great words but hard themes for us to work out in the day to day. In Hamilton, Lin-Manuel Miranda draws us in to this tension as the historic cast of characters raises the question of legacy. Eliza seems to anchor us with that would be enough, naming her desire to be a part of the narrative, and one not based in money but in connection and partnership. This is reflected back in a song springing from her sister’s lips about never being satisfied. And the thing that is compelling about this musical is not simply the opening of our eyes the the lives of historic figures, it is the felt experience of our every day that we see and hear. We dwell in these tensions. That’s perhaps why Miranda gets the rockstar treatment and history teachers are able to walk unassuming through the world. We love this story because we can feel it, we can hear George Washington singing, “History has its eyes on you”… and it’s not just to Hamilton. We can feel the tension in Hamilton’s quest to honor Washington's name… even to the point of violence, trying to control the narrative and hold General Lee accountable for slander with a duel. This theme to make a name and protect a name will come full circle when Hamilton’s own son does the same and dies in a duel, protecting his father’s legacy and name. Perhaps this question of legacy and the question of what we do with our life comes to a head when the musical concludes with Washington singing, “You have no control. Who lives. Who dies. Who tells your story.” This is where Eliza anchors us, perhaps in the way she anchored Hamilton to the questions of what is really important. She names her longing to be a part of the narrative, and in her heartbreak she takes herself out of the narrative, burning what is most important to her husband, his words, and by the end, she is the caretaker of the legacy. She is the author of the story and she does by discerning what is important. What really gives life. She does this by listening to all the men that fought with her husband. She does this by fundraising for a moment to honor Washington. She does this by creating safe space for children, just like her late husband, vulnerable children find a place of care in her orphanage. She creates a legacy built in love and service and generosity. And then the musical bids us to do the same.

That is the power of great art and beautiful stories. That is what draws us together in community, and I suspect it is what has drawn people together for as long as we could come together and make choices about what it means to be alive. That is why Jesus talked about abundance and living differently so much, I suspect. Because the question of legacy and the truth about who you are is typically most clearly told by two documents… your calendar and your budget. This is why Jesus spends a good deal of teaching time around time and money. “Stop what you are doing and follow,” he asks, transforming fishermen and tax collectors into disciples. Give it all up. Give up your time and your money. He preaches on individual budgets and community budgets… that keep poor people poor. He asks questions, he teaches and even flips over tables, and that kind of talk about money can get you crucified. Budgets and calendars explain and express values. What we value. Who we value. Perhaps even our sense that we can be enough if we have enough stuff, keep busy enough, or have enough control.

In fact, the one time Jesus says, “Today Salvation has come to this house,” is in Luke 19. And Salvation is not about Zacchaeus reciting a prayer and proclaiming Jesus as his personal Lord and Savor then getting back in his Jag (or the ancient Mediterranean equivalent) to go home. Zacchaeus is transformed and everything about his life changes, really changes. He was a tax collector, in collaboration with the Roman Government, and the only benefit to betraying your people in service is Rome is the chance to exploit them and grow rich. But then he encounters Jesus and he writes a new story. He crafts a new legacy. He gives half of everything he owns away and he repatriates, returns what he wrongly took with interest. He doesn’t need it anymore. He does not need the stuff to tell his story. He crafts a new one that replaces greed with generosity, struggle with serenity, and the false sense of control with community.   

Our tradition talks about money, too. John Wesley wrote and preached and expected people align their life and their story with God’s story. He said, “Earn all you can. Save all you can. And Give all you can.” When he said earn all you can, he had this deep intention about earning in a way that was life-giving. This work could not exploit your well-being or anyone else’s. Earning must be done with care for what is life-giving. He invited thought about spending with intention and mindfulness toward the others in the economy. We have the same questions of shopping in a way that minimizes our carbon foot print, thinking about the makers and the care of the retail staff, was this product made in a way that was fair. He challenged laws and practices that kept the poor in poverty and called everyone to generosity. Everyone gave in the Methodist Society because it liberated people from the narratives that say you are what you own or what you can buy. 

I don’t know where you find yourself in these stories. Maybe you are wanting to climb the economic ladder non-stop with Hamilton. Maybe you are ready to give everything away with Zacchaeus, or maybe you are thinking this whole earn all you can, save all you can, give all you can business is something you will consider someday… like in spring. I know where I am. I find this hard. I always have. If you looked at my bank account… or more accurately, my credit card bills about eight or nine years ago you would have said, “Oh, Debra McKnight loves shoes. She loves shoes more than anything. She loves shopping and has quite the shoe collection,” because that’s what my budget said, and it is where my free time was invested. Today I think I have gotten better, I wanted the story to say something different than I love shoes. And this liberated me to share, and the more I gave the more I gave, and the truth is I always had enough. But I still struggle… now it is more with the dollar bin at Target. All of those great little things that I could fill my home and Lila’s room with. Almost all of which is probably not fairly produced and is 100% something we don’t need. Mindfulness and intention are hard work when it comes to our wallets and our calendars. 

A few weeks ago I was in a clergy meeting with a Pastor named Mike Slaughter. His congregation looked at the story of Christmas. They looked at this day and found that the average church member spent $1,600 on Christmas, literally in the name of Jesus, a peasant baby that grew up to ask people to give all their stuff away, people spent $1,600 on stuff. And they looked a little deeper and a lot of the Christmas spending was on a credit card that took an average of four months to pay off… by then the toys might even be broken. And worse yet, some folks were taking out payday loans, predatory loans that pray on vulnerable people. And when you take out a payday loan in December for 500 dollars, you have to pay it all off in January. And the truth is, folks who don’t have 500 dollars in December don’t have 500 dollars in January or February or March or maybe June or August. And the ugly truth of this loan is that you can’t pay on the the loan until you pay it all, so every month folks are trapped into taking out another 500 dollar loan to pay off the old one and spending 50 dollars. All of this in the name of Jesus, literally a story of Christmas about debt looming over people and spending on stuff. And so they set to rewriting the story. They asked people to plan what they were spending on Christmas and cut it in half. This meant they had conversations with friends and family about giving and what it meant. It meant they were intentional about the gifts they chose for children and grandchildren and everyone else. And it meant that they planned ahead and refused to go in debt in the name of Jesus. And then they kept going. They gave the other half away. The half they were going to spend last year they drew together in a special offering, and because they gave, they created springs of life-giving water in Africa. They have astounding ministries for GED seekers, for folks in recovery from addiction, and they are the fuel behind the United Methodist Committee on Relief supporting local communities with life-giving water. This church re-wrote their narrative around Christmas. The incarnation of God’s Love was not about stuff but about sharing. It was not about wanting more, it was about giving more. And it was not about the stress of going into debt to keep up with somebody else's understanding of Christmas.

What is your story? What is the narrative you are creating with God? What do you see in your calendar and you budget?  The gift is we don’t have to struggle alone. We can write and re-write together. We can tell a story that is bigger than shoes or cars or titles or money or power. We can write a story about time spent loving and a life spent in gratitude and abundance. We are created in the image of God, beautifully and wonderfully made. We are enough, not one thing we can buy can make us better. Working 80 or 90 hours at the cost of our well-being or our family will not make us more worthy. We are enough. We are called to build a legacy of love. 

May it be so, Amen.

© Rev. Debra McKnight, Urban Abbey