Grace found in Small Steps

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An uphill journey might seem hard, but the view at the top is worth every step.

The other day I was listening to the Rich Roll Podcast and his interview of Zach Bush, MD. You can listen to it here: RichRoll Podcast – Zach Bush, MD

There was much to be alarmed about in this podcast, especially in the way our farming and use of pesticides is responsible for much illness and other problems. But the message from Zach was also one of hope and promise for the future.

The most impactful statement…the one that made me stop what I was doing, find some paper and pencil, and make a note was Zach’s scientific definition of grace.

Previously I’d never thought of a scientific definition of grace. Here is what he said:

Grace scientifically is that you heal faster than you injure.

I love this definition and can find so much truth in its simplicity…not just scientifically but in life. There is so much hope in these words.

You heal faster than you injure.

Simple decisions that lead to simple changes can lead to healing. This idea is not that making a small change will lead to overnight improvement. But rather our simple changes (which if truly simple are also small), lead over time to big transformation.

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Oatmeal and berries…much better than what I used to eat for breakfast.

Some examples that come to mind:

  • Choosing healthy food will lead to a healthier body over time. The effects of past poor choices don’t disappear immediately but they do over time. My own experience of this is that by (mostly) eliminating processed food from my diet and replacing it with real, wholesome food, I’ve lost 80 pounds. It took a few years.
  • Choosing to move a bit every day can lead to better fitness. If it’s hard, then start with walking and move from there (or even stay there if that works for you). When I decided to be more active and start running, I could only run 30 seconds before needing to walk. Over time, my body grew stronger and in 2018 I completed my 10th marathon…and marathon number 8 was Boston.
  • Choosing to limit online media can lead to a healthier attitude. I confess that this one is a struggle for me. But I do notice that my decision to refrain from pointless online arguments and to no longer follow certain people has made me a much happier person. I need to take daily steps to further limit the time I spend here (especially on Twitter 🤔)
  • Choosing to mediate or pray regularly helps to clear the mind of distractions. Haha…this one is a work in progress too.

All of these transformations – or potential transformations have been gradual. They are perfect examples of healing (or better health) coming about through small changes. Of course we must acknowledge that better health can also be relative. The starting point often dictates how far we can go, but that doesn’t mean we cannot make some improvement.

Sometimes we fail to take those initial, small steps because the change we seek seems to be so far out of reach that we give up before we start. Or it is painful to start moving. But the experience of grace is that when we take one small step after another we are eventually able to look back and see that we’ve travelled so incredibly far on the road to better health.

How have you been able to experience this grace in your life?

Growing up racist – #1

“for the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable.” (Romans 11:29)

I’m writing today to my white skinned sisters and brothers…

Racism is the great challenge facing our country today (and yesterday and the day before that). Because most of us, being white, don’t usually experience the outright racism that we’ve seen in our country this week, we often don’t think there is a real problem. We can easily dismiss the cries for justice. We can easily choose to close our eyes and our ears.

And when we’re identified as racist, we indignantly cry, “NOT ME!” This cry makes sense because we reject white supremacy, we reject Nazis, we reject white nationalism. So how can we be racist?

I had a professor (in seminary) who used the analogy of fish swimming in water to describe culture. The fish cannot see the water just as we cannot see the air we breathe. The same goes with culture in that there is much we “know” and “believe” without actually being cognizant of it.

This morning I ran a nice, easy and enjoyable 5 miles. My run was, as is often the case, a good time for me to think about my sermon for Sunday. The verse above, from Romans, is part of the text for this week. I love the message that the gifts and calling of God are irrevocable. Not only are they irrevocable, but they are free and they are unconditional. Unfortunately we don’t always hear this message and when we do, we have trouble believing it.

It was as I contemplated this, I remembered something from my childhood. Maybe you remember it too. Indian Giver.

Do you remember this? It was what you said to someone who was not honest. It was what you said to someone who reneged on an offer to give you something. It implied the revocation of a gift. It was an insult. What makes it doubly insulting is that our nation were the one who were not honest with the indigenous. It was (and still is) our nation that stole (steals) land from the indigenous. It was our nation that broke treaties.

But to justify the horrible way we’ve treated the indigenous, we projected our sins on to them…as a culture. So that when I was a child, Indian Giver, meant thief and until I learned otherwise I accepted that.

This is just one of many examples…it happens to be the one that came to mind while I ran this morning. I plan to share more examples as I remember them. I’m glad I remembered because we need to remember these things. It is in remembering that we can repent and hopefully start down the road towards peace.

Please know that God’s gift of grace is irrevocable and it is for you. I hope and pray that as we live into this gift we better see our siblings as God’s beloved.

What examples can you remember?

How Long Does a Dead Tree Stand?

On a recent vacation to Yosemite we witnessed the overwhelming number of dead trees in California. I read an article that places the number at more than 100 million in the state. Dead trees are normal, but not usually in such large numbers. The current dead tree phenomenon is the result of drought weakening trees and then bark beatles killing them. But they don’t seem to fall… standing tall… and dead.

As I looked at tree after tree, I couldn’t help thinking of them as a metaphor for some of our institutions. Standing tall, but really dead. Is the church one of these dead institutions? It is for those who don’t believe they can experience unconditional love and community at a church. It is if it chooses to remain silent in some misguided effort to “be nice” in the face of today’s rising intolerance. It is if it’s members don’t leave their pews and build relationships in their communities.

See these new trees? They’re a hopeful sign… a sign of new life, of God’s grace… a sign that God is indeed active in the world. Will we go out and join in that work? Or will we continue to admire our dead trees until they actually fall? 

Thankful Living

“There is therefore no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death.” -Romans 8:1-2

The promise is of forgiveness, of acceptance, of unmerited and unconditional grace. It is this promise that frees us to live…joyfully and freely. Sometimes we struggle with this freedom, telling ourselves (and others) that “you must do this, and this, and this, and that, so that God will truly love you.”

For all of us the this, this, this, and that is different. But I think that many outside the church hear a clear message of, “you don’t measure up and until you do God will not accept you.” In fact some hear the message, “God will not accept you until you actually invite Jesus in to your heart, which also means changing your behavior.” When I was younger I heard the message from Christians that my life was not one that Jesus would approve of. They didn’t approved of me either…so I wanted nothing to do with Christians or church.

Maybe that distorted message has its roots here, in Paul’s letter to the Romans. I say distorted, because to focus on what we must do, or on what others must do, distorts Paul’s words and makes the invitation to bask in the grace of Jesus unrecognizable. If we are required to do something to receive it, grace is not free and it is certainly not a gift.

But grace is a free gift. And because it is free and unconditional, we don’t have to believe the right thing. We don’t have to do the right thing. We don’t have to be anyone other than who God created us to be. This is the truly good news. It was when I began to understand this that I truly began to live.

Do I live perfectly? Far from it! But I make my mistakes knowing that none of them have the power to condemn me. For this I am grateful.

IMG_4366And this brings me to my tattoo. I told the story of why I got it last week (We Made a Pact!). Today I share what it means to me.

4 words: gratitude; breathe, live, run. A girl running.

Gratitude. The foundation. It is what grounds me, allows me to live, and sustains me through difficulty.

Breathe. When I think of breath, I think of the Spirit’s breathing over the waters of creation. I remember that without breath there is no life. To breathe is to live.

Live. We have one life to live here on earth. Let’s make the most of it. It’s easier to do when that life is based on gratitude.

Run. This is what I do…joyfully…except when it hurts in a hard race or a hard training run. Then I’m joyful at the end because I proved to myself that I could persevere.

The words form a hill, a visual reminder that we must do the hard work of climbing. The color swash also forms a hill, this time reminding that life is not all an uphill struggle. It is up and down, hard and easy.

What I Used to Think and What I Now Believe… Sexuality

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Last week I shared a link on Facebook that gives reasons to not support Operation Christmas Child this year. Along with sharing this, I commented that a much better choice would be making a donation to Lutheran World Relief. Here is the link: http://emilyjoypoetry.com/7-reasons-not-to-participate-in-operation-christmas-child-this-year?utm_content=buffera6fd8&utm_medium=social&utm_source=facebook.com&utm_campaign=buffer

A few days later I received the following request via message on Facebook. I replied that I would compose a response when I had some time to sit at my computer.

I have been pondering your post about Operation Christmas Child.
Can you help me understand what your position on homosexuality is,
it sounds different than what I read in my bible.

After thinking about it for a few days, I’ve decided to share a bit of what I used to think and how, through faith, I’m able to see a bit differently. So follow along as I a share a bit about how Jesus has opened my eyes.

What I Used to think: 

  • I have to first confess that I never really thought about sexuality much. I don’t remember having any gay or lesbian friends when I was younger.

What I Now Believe:

  • Upon reflection, I’m sure that I did have such friends (or at least acquaintances) but I was unaware…my loss.

What I Used to think: 

  • I also have to confess that when I began my own journey of faith towards ordination, I kind of resented my LGBTQ brothers and sisters without even knowing them. This was because I was in a church denomination (Lutheran Church Missouri Synod-LCMS) that did not recognize the call of God upon women leaders as pastors. A common argument against female ordination (that I heard often) was, “if we ordain the women, then the gays are next.”

What I Now Believe:

  • Really? What a self centered _______. I was very much tempted to not make this confession. But I believe in a God who not only forgives but lovingly gives us opportunity after opportunity to grow and to see the world differently. I now recognize that argument against women’s ordination in the LCMS to be logical. Only now I see it, not as a slippery slope to traverse but rather as an issue of JUSTICE. God loves me, just as I am and God has called me to be a religious leader…a pastor…even if I have the wrong body parts for some people. In the same way God has created, loved and called my LGBTQ sisters and brothers.

What I Used to think: 

  • But what does the Bible say? The Bible doesn’t really say much about homosexuality. There is a verse in Leviticus…there is something in Romans… and I’m sure there is something in another place. Just as there  are a few verses that people have used to justify the forever subordination of women, not only in the church, but in the home. I was actually told, in the LCMS, that women cannot lead men because of the order of creation (Genesis 2). The first time I heard this argument, I was still a long way away from thinking that God was calling me to be a pastor. It probably had the opposite of its intended effect. Read Genesis 2…so according to the logic of order of creation, women must be subordinate to men…and all the animals too?

What I Now Believe:

  • I am thankful to have learned, at my non-Lutheran, non-denominational, evangelical seminary (Fuller), how to read the Bible for the whole message rather than pull out verses here and there in an attempt to prooftext. I also believe that it is completely impossible to, as many like to say, “interpret the Bible literally.” The Bible is made up of many types of literature, was written over centuries, and reflects the context of the times that the books were written. Plus, we are faced with contradictions within this sacred text and so we must work together to discern the meaning of the text for us today. Take creation for example. Read Genesis 1 and Genesis 2. Which one is correct? Why are there two accounts of creation? Personally, I love that right at the beginning we are forced away from a literal interpretation. I also see God’s grace right there at the beginning (ahh…maybe that is a purpose of these stories).Super important for me is the end of that first creation account, “Then God said, ‘let us make man in our image, in our likeness…So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” (Gen 1:26a, 27 NIV).

    Isn’t that awesome? We – all of us – were created in God’s image. Male and female were were created! So to fully reflect God’s image we need to include all people… male, female, gay, lesbian, black, white, brown, short, tall, you name it! Not only that, but God looked at creation and called it very good. That is Grace!

What I Used to think: 

  • But the Bible (some more)…our scriptures speak far more about justice for the oppressed, and greed, and gossip, and the general failure to love those around us than it does about sexual behavior. Once, as I was learning…and not seeing fully, I made a personal analogy. You see, I have always struggled with my weight. I firmly believe that if I hadn’t been active for most of my life I would probably be morbidly obese, and when I have occasions of inactivity my weight will raise pretty quickly.So, it was a bit disconcerting to read about the sinfulness of gluttony in my bible. Here is a nice verse from Proverbs (23:20-21): “Do not join with those who drink too much wine or gorge themselves on meat, for drunkards and glutton become poor, and drowsiness clothes them in rags.”

    I was certainly thankful to understand that Jesus loved me and forgave me. I also saw, and continue to see, overweight people in the church, and I would wonder why their sins were forgivable and why they were welcome, but gays and lesbians were not (please keep reading!).

What I Now Believe:

  • That last paragraph is an example of someone good heartedly not understanding something important and thus being incredibly stupid and offensive. Here is an important truth (and a bible verse, Romans 3:23-24): “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by God’s grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.” This is good news for us all, as all of us sin and need forgiveness.But it is important to recognize that being lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgendered is how our dear sisters and brothers were created. So I cannot use my analogy of overeating. The truth is that it is not a sin to be who you are. The truth is that we are all created in God’s image and we are precious and valuable and lovable… all of us. Yes we all sin and thus need forgiveness. I am thankful for the gift of grace that we all receive and may I live out that grace in ways that are pleasing to God.

One last one! What I Used to think: 

  • It’s ultimately about God’s grace.

What I Now Believe:

  • It’s still all about God’s grace! This is why I am a Lutheran…this understanding of grace. So, as Lutherans we believe that grace (and thus being made right with God) is a completely free gift from God through Jesus. There is nothing that we can  do to earn this gift… it is truly free. So we don’t have to say a special prayer that accepts Jesus into our heart. Really, we don’t have to do anything…because Jesus has already done everything. What wonderful news for us all… and for my LGBTQ sisters and brothers as well.Jesus loves us and accepts us just the way we are. Anything that we do is a response to that love. And how does Jesus want us to respond? By loving the Lord our God with all our hearts and by loving our neighbors as ourselves. We don’t really need to know more than that.

And with all of this I am eternally grateful that God, through the years has opened my eyes so that I may see this world in all its glory. And some of that glory is reflected in the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgendered folks that I have had the privilege of knowing as friends and colleagues and especially as beloved sisters and brothers in Christ.

I hope this answers the question.