Items abandoned by immigrants crossing from Mexico into California. (A crossing not unlike the flight into Egypt by the One born in a humble stable.)

One aspect of humility is acknowledging that so much of what we have is unearned and even undeserved. I’m humbled to realize that some people would risk their lives in pursuit of just a fraction of what I have.

The card in the display case says, “Donna Tisdale is the owner of Morningstar Ranch, 1.5 miles north of the border with Mexico in the desert of San Diego County. These are some of the many objects that immgrants left behind on her property while crossing from Mexico. The pieces of fabric and wire are what some people wear over their shoes so they don’t leave footprints the Border Patrol can follow.” At the Oakland Museum of California.

#adventword #humbleJoin an international community in prayer as we create a global online Advent calendar: see adventword.org

When I was younger my spiritual advisers would counter my impatience by telling me that the things I so dearly desired would happen in God’s time, which I took to mean somewhere in the indeterminate future, if ever. But over the years I’ve come I realize that the only time that really matters is now. Now is the time when God is present. Now is the time to be grateful for. Now is the time to live life to the fullest–in fact, now is the only time when I can experience myself as truly alive. 

#adventword #time Join an international community in prayer as we create a global online Advent calendar: see adventword.org

Back when I was trudging through the discernment process for ordination, I was asked to write short answers to a series of questions, including this one:

“What is your favorite story from the Hebrew Scriptures? Why?

That is a hard question, narrowing it down to one, because for me loving the faith is about loving the stories; more than anything else, I think the narrative is what shapes our understanding of who we are and who we want to be. If I had to pick one Old Testament favorite, it would be the story of the three visitors to Abraham and Sarah in Genesis 18. Laughing at God as Sarah did seems a perfectly understandable reaction under the circumstances. I love the suggestion that God comes to us in unexpected forms, and that providing hospitality to strangers might in turn bring us unexpected blessings. However, given my personal circumstances, being a 58-year-old woman who is asking to start over by going to seminary and being ordained, what resonates most strongly with me in this story is that God didn’t judge Sarah as too old to bring new things to life.”

Well, that answer had legs, I made it through the process, and the rest is history. And I think I’d give pretty much the same answer if I were asked that question today. We women have been working with God all along to bring new life into the world, not just through the fertility of women like Sarah and Mary, but in so many other ways—including ordained ministry.

#adventword #visit
Join an international community in prayer as we create a global online Advent calendar: see adventword.org

We can never really be sure what we’ll find waiting for us just around the bend in life, whether we’re looking ahead an hour or a year. Advent prepares us for the #unexpected, us to ground ourselves in Love and to wait in hope, trusting that Love will be with us come what may.⁣
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#adventword⁣ #unexpected
⁣Join an international community in prayer as we create a global online Advent calendar: see adventword.org

I don’t blame you if you can’t imagine what this is supposed to be a picture of. At first glance it may not look like much, but I see it as an image of love, loss, and grief.

It’s the stump of a holly bush that was cut down recently by the guys who rake our leaves and tidy up the property at the end of the season, a holly that sprouted at my childhood home, offspring of the huge holly tree that grew there for more than 50 years. My father, who loved that tree, died 10 years ago last June, my mother died five years ago this month, and the house was sold not long after that. Sometime during the years when all of this was drawing to a close, I dug up a seedling and brought it back to Pennsylvania, where it seemed to be thriving until the day it disappeared. I don’t know why they cut it down. They must have mistaken it for a weed, that’s all I can come up with.

And when I realized it was gone, I was nearly overcome by a mix of anger and grief.

I’m trying to let go of that anger because it’s just poison. It can’t bring back the holly, and there’d be no point to punishing the lawn crew. I don’t know what they were thinking, but I’m sure they had no idea what that thing they were hacking down actually meant to me. I could fan that hot anger into smoldering rage, but it would just burn me up from inside.

The grief, of course, is about something much larger than losing a prickly plant. It’s the bridge that joins all kinds of loss, beginning with the love that nurtured me in the beginning. It’s about the relentless letting go of things that have mattered in life, a necessity that comes more often and more insistently the older you get, as I’ve been learning lately. Best to let that grief go, too, but not right away.

I’ve been thinking about how much of this world’s pain is tied up with not knowing when to be angry, when to grieve, when to let anger and grief go, and when to share them with others.

Anger at injustice is an expression of righteousness. It can and should fuel the impulse to action. Righteous anger isn’t meant to be carried alone; it cries out to be shared.

And grief, too, is a heavy burden to carry alone. It’s easier when someone else bears it with you—not that it becomes lighter, necessarily. Grief can’t bring back the holly any more than it can bring back my old home or the people who spent their best years there, but something changes when your own deep mourning is affirmed by someone else.

So as I breathe deeply and pray to release my anger, I invite you into my grief. Let us lament, together, for all that we’ve lost. And then let it go.

I’ve been reading Howard Thurman’s “Jesus and the Disinherited” for the Sacred Ground discussion series I’m co-facilitating, and this stood out for me at the start:

The conventional Christian word is muffled, confused, and vague. Too often the price exacted by society for security and respectability is that the Christian movement in its formal expression must be on the side of the strong against the weak. This is a matter of tremendous significance, for it reveals to what extent a religion that was born of a people acquainted with persecution and suffering has become the cornerstone of a civilization and of nations whose very position in modern life has too often been secured by a ruthless use of power applied to weak and defenseless peoples.

Words first written in 1949. True for so many centuries before then, and never more true than today. The significant question we ought to be asking ourselves as Christians isn’t just about what Jesus would do, it’s where he would be. I for one find it hard to imagine him in a Border Patrol uniform.

A sermon for the 23rd Sunday after Pentecost

It’s been more than 25 years now, since I saw the movie Schindler’s List, but there’s one scene in particular that still is very vivid in my memory. It’s the scene where the Nazi soldiers are carrying out the order to liquidate the Jewish ghetto in Krakow. It’s a chaotic scene. People are running back and forth, desperate to escape as the soldiers are rounding them up. You can hear the sound of sporadic gunfire.

The industrialist Oskar Schindler is watching this scene from a safe distance, and he’s horrified. As he watches, a little girl appears seemingly out of nowhere, and she moves with slow determination through this chaos. Your eye is drawn to her because although everything else in the movie was shot in black and white, you can see that she’s wearing a red coat. So you can follow her as she moves along. She slips unseen behind a group of people who are being herded into a truck. She goes into a building and climbs the stairs. She crawls under the furniture to hide.

It’s a dark scene of cruelty and fear and through the whole thing, that splash of color that is her red coat stands out as “the incarnation of hope.”

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Not long after I stopped to admire this scene, I opened the door to walk into a Target store and was nearly run down, literally, by a desperate-looking man fleeing the security guard. Hours later, I’m still seeing that expression on his face. Things we/I sometimes take for granted: the resources of time and money that make it possible to enjoy a cup of coffee with a friend on a brisk November morning, while others outside are struggling.