a letter to congregants regarding the vagina monologues

(Names have been removed to protect confidentiality)

I got the mailing you stuck in the door, from the Clare Boothe Luce Policy Institute on The Vagina Monologues. Whew. Quite a letter, huh? No wonder your friend was worried. The language of this letter is intended to strike fear and panic in the minds and hearts of everyone who reads it. While I respect your ability to make your own assessments of The Vagina Monologues, and of the Clare Boothe Luce Policy Institute, I wanted to give you a bit of my take.

Especially since I am, after all, a former cast and crew member of multiple Vagina Monologues performances! :)

My seminary produced a performance of it my last year there, and it was incredible. I had been crew for another production in Iowa City, prior to the one in seminary. I am proud to say many faculty members and our dean at Pacific School of Religion were also in the show. The feedback was that it was one of the most powerful community events at the seminary in years. So, a bit more about The Vagina Monologues, and V-Day.

V-Day is a "global movement to end violence against women and girls that raised funds and awareness through benefit productions of Playwright/Found Eve Ensler's award winning play The Vagina Monologues and other artistic works." You can find more information at http://newsite.vday.org and http://www.randomhouse.com/features/ensler/vm/

V-Day is celebrated on Valentine's Day each year, making an effort to shift the emphasis from consumer spending and marketing of Love, to building a movement of love that will permeate our relationships and end violence, especially violence against women. Eve tells a story of a woman who had been in a terribly abusive relationship for decades. Along with many years of broken bones, emergency room visits, social alienation, and depression, this woman knew that each Valentine's Day would bring an enormous bouquet of flowers, a big box of chocolates, a fancy dinner downtown--all by the man who beat and raped her almost daily. Clearly not a celebration of love.

So. While I could go on and on about VDay and The Vagina Monologues, I'll try to keep it short and trust we'll have another conversation soon.

So. A "vile feminist play," "attack on decency and traditional values," "women openly discussing their sexuality and sexual experiences," "complete with perverse language and vivid examples of homosexual seduction," "glorifying lesbianism...while mocking men," "disgusting and depraved production"?

Yes, women openly discussing their sexuality terrifies many, especially those set on controlling and exploiting women's sexuality. The play does include "graphic" material. R rated, you might say. It is, after all, about sex. And bodies. And love. And child birth. And women exploring their own bodies for the first time. And discovering sex as a form of pleasure, rather than domination or control. And living in and leaving abusive relationships. And women living in war torn areas. And women raped by soldiers as a tactic of war. Some of it is very, very hard to watch. And, as long as 1 in 4 women in college are sexually assaulted, as long as 32 million women in this country experience domestic violence, as long as rape is used as a tactic of war to destroy and humiliate communities, as long as "lesbianism" is "perverse" and "feminism" is "vile," it SHOULD be hard to watch. Because it is attempting to portray truths about women's lives and love that do indeed run counter to conservative agendas.

And regarding tax payer money? As long as my tax dollars are used to fund, for example, wars I believe to be immoral, covert operations using tactics of terror and violence, and government policies that restrict women's rights and continue inflicting violence against women, I am grateful beyond belief that they also go to funding V-Day and Vagina Monologues. This is, however, misrepresenting, as each production of The Vagina Monologues is paid for by the fundraising efforts of cast and crew, and by V-Day and Eve Ensler's organization. I do suppose the Universities provide the building space, and occasionally sponsor the student groups that put on the productions. To say "young women are forced" to participate in or attend the productions is simply false. Not true. At all. Though when I think about all the things young women are forced to observe, I wouldn't mind making this "required reading."

This letter fears the stories of "explicit depictions of child rape, a six-year old's description of her vagina, graphic discussions of gay/lesbian sex, and a series of speeches portraying men as cowards, abusers, and rapists." As long as children are raped, six year olds are taught their bodies are sites of shame, gays and lesbians are vilified and demonized, and (some) men in fact are abusers and rapists, I value having safe spaces where these stories can be shared, where the women can find solidarity and healing, and we can collectively break the silence and shame that continues cycles of horrific abuse.

But then again, the folks at the Clare Boothe Luce Policy Institute would likely say I'm simply a "vile feminist," and "glorifying lesbianism." And, I suppose, they'd be right.

Oh. And, while my copy of the monologues was lost in my latest move, this has motivated me to order another copy. It should be here within the week. You're welcome to borrow it, if you want to read it for yourself.

Peace to you both.
Pastor Anna

"here i am"

Anna Blaedel
18 January 2009
1 Samuel 3:1-10

“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere…We are caught in an inescapable web of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny…Whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly.”

These are words written by Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Words echoing the gospel, the Good News of Jesus our Christ. Calling us to remember, calling us listen, calling us to respond.

“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere…We are caught in an inescapable web of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny…Whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly.”

Let us pray: Have thine own way, God, have thine own way. Thou art the potter, we are the clay. Mold us and make us after thy will, while we are praying, and listening still.

On April 16, 1963, Reverend King penned a letter, written from a jail cell in Birmingham, Alabama. This letter was written after King’s arrest four days earlier on Good Friday. It was written as a response to a statement made by eight white Alabama clergymen four days earlier titled “A Call for Unity.” The clergymen agreed that social injustices existed but argued that the battle against racial segregation should be fought solely in the courts, not in the streets. Don’t trouble the waters. Don’t create tension or cause a stir. A call for unity. “Wait,” they told King. Wait for a better moment. Wait for a less tense time. Wait for the slow process of social change to unfold. Wait until more people agree with you. Wait until the law is on your side. King responded that without nonviolent direct action, civil rights let alone justice or equality, could never be achieved. “This Wait,” wrote King, “has almost always meant never.”

This morning, we open scripture and read the story of Samuel’s call. We learn that listening for God can mean sleepless nights, tossing and turning and coming a bit undone. We learn that God’s call can and will interrupt us, again and again. We learn that living faithfully means we will respond, again and again. We learn that God’s grace will comfort us, and it will change us. Our faith will teach us, and it will transform us. This is, after all, the mission of the United Methodist Church—making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. God’s transformation is rarely if ever scheduled according to our human calendars.

Samuel, still just a boy the story says, is sleeping in the temple with Eli, his mentor. Out of the darkness, the boy heard a voice. “Samuel! Samuel!” And the boy said, “Here I am!” and ran to Eli, and said, “Here I am, for you called me.” Eli, groggy with sleep, said “I did not call you. Go back to sleep.” Samuel went back to lie down. And, again, his sleep was disrupted. “Samuel! Samuel!” Again, Samuel got up and went to Eli, and again Samuel was told to go back to sleep. A third time, “Samuel! Samuel!”

Wouldn’t it have been easier to put in ear plugs and sleep soundlessly through the night? Imagine. The phone rings at 1:30 in the morning. You rouse yourself enough for a groggy, “Hello?” only to hear a voice say, “I didn’t call you…go back to sleep.” Then again, at 2:00, another call, another “Nope, still didn’t call.” Then again, at 3:00. If the phone rang a fourth time at 4:30, would you get out of bed? Pick up the receiver with any intention at all of listening? I would likely curse through the night rather than pray, pull a pillow over my head rather than listen attentively, and complain all the next day about my dreadful night of sleeplessness. And miss, altogether, the opportunity to respond to God, “Here I Am. Speak to me, for I am listening.”
Thank God, Samuel was more persistent and more patient than I. Thank God, Samuel had a mentor, guiding him. We all need help, after all, listening for God and hearing God’s call.
Here I am, God. Speak. Your servant is listening.

This story of call is about the moral responsibility of living as people of faith. From his jail cell, King wrote about the moral responsibility of Christian action, of creating Christ’s kingdom, building beloved community. The moral responsibility to listen for the call of God, moral responsibility to obey this call to justice, moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws when they run counter to God’s call. God’s call is for justice, and God calls us by interrupting injustice, calling us to risk ourselves for our faith and for each other. It was St. Augustine who first put to writing, “An unjust law is no law at all.” An uninterrupted life is no life at all. A risk free faith is no faith at all.

St. Augustine wrote it, but it was Jesus who taught it. Christ who caused quite a ruckus everywhere he went. Christ who
overturned the law of order and purity, and proclaimed a law of love. Christ who first defied laws of segregation, breaking bread with people the authorities called “unclean.”

These teachings of Christ, the ones King tried to teach and to live are, well, uncomfortable, disruptive, extreme: “Love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who persecute you.” The consequences can be costly. Let us remember, Christ was placed on the cross by calls of insurgency by the Roman rule of law. King was assassinated five years, almost to the day, after writing this open letter.

In his letter, he wrote, “I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro's great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen's Councilor or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to "order" than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: "I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action"; who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another (hu)man's freedom. Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will.”

Whew. Difficult words, for us, the white moderate. To those of us who are devoted to order, prefer the absence of tension, feel fear at the thought of breaking the rules… Difficult. Costly. And, faithful. Like Jesus throwing over money changers’ tables when the religious leaders are no longer good stewards. Like Jesus telling people to pray in private, because the hypocrites are those praying in public, making a show about it, wanting others to see and take notice, using prayer as a method of claiming and proclaiming social standing. Lest we think racism has ended, remember: Sunday morning continues to be the most segregated hour in our country.

King wrote, “Human progress never rolls in on wheels of inevitability; it comes through the tireless efforts of people willing to be co-workers with God…”

God’s grace does not save us because this saving is inevitable. God’s grace saves and sustains us because God loves us. Deeply. Abundantly. Unconditionally. Equally. And God asks us to share this love. Try our hardest, over and over, to live into and out of this love. When it means praying in private. Or staying up all night to listen. Or taking to the streets in nonviolent protest of injustice.

Yesterday I heard a story about a woman struggling to listen for God. A health crisis caused her to take stock and reflect on changes she wanted to make in her life. A member at her church, a man known for his hospitality and welcome, kept asking her to serve as liturgist, kept inviting her to assume more leadership in her faith community. She said no many times. Out of fear. Out of resistance. Out of self doubt and feeling inadequate. You know how it goes. When we don’t want to do something, we can almost always find a hundred reasons, at least, to say No. But. This faithful friend kept asking. And finally, this woman said yes.

To serving as liturgist. Yes, then, to lay speaking training. Yes, to serving as lay leader. Yes, to coordinating ministries and mission for the least of these. Yes, this morning, to offering the children’s sermon.
When we meet Samuel in later stories, he is indeed a trustworthy prophet. He has learned to listen to God, and share God’s message. Remember, he was once a boy, trying to sleep on a stone floor, interrupted again and again by a voice. He dared to listen. And respond. “Here I am. Speak, God, I’m listening.

When we meet King, in this letter from a Birmingham jail cell, he is already a civil rights leader. He has learned to listen to God, and share God’s message. Remember, he was once a young black man in the deep south, forced into separate and not equal schools, restrooms, park benches, train and restaurant seating. He dared to listen. And respond. “Here I am. Speak, God, I’m listening.

And when I met our own Jackie Reams, only a few months ago, she was already a liturgist, already a lay leader, already used to raising her voice in this sanctuary and community. Remember, she was once scared to speak, hesitant to read. She dared to listen. And respond. “Here I am. Speak, God, I’m listening.”

May we learn from Samuel. May we learn from King. May we learn from each other. May I find, may you, find, may we all cultivate, that deep faith, abiding courage, and holy commitment to listen, and respond: “You have called me. Speak, God, I’m listening. Here I am.”

Here we are. May it be so. Amen, and amen.

"with you i am well pleased..."

Anna Blaedel
Genesis 1:1-5
Mark 1:4-11

On Christmas morning, I opened a package from my dad. Inside were three light bulbs. Three CFL bulbs, or Compact Fluorescent Lights. My dad is known in my family for occasionally giving strange gifts, sometimes accompanied by cryptic notes requiring deciphering and, often, loud groaning. Three energy efficient bulbs. Ok, I thought. Do my part in a small, tangible way, to reduce my carbon footprint, use energy more efficiently. I value reducing, reusing, and recycling. I have read that CFL bulbs decrease energy consumption and reduce the of the greenhouse gases warming our planet and causing explosively destructive weather patterns. Replacing the bulbs in the parsonage has been somewhere on my To Do list since moving in, not quite high enough to have gotten done, but high enough to be a source of guilt whenever I thought to look at my regular old light bulbs, and each time I pay my monthly utility bill.

Three bulbs seemed like a good place to start. It wasn’t until I was packing up my car after Christmas, ready to return to Osage, that my dad alerted me to the symbolic nature of the three bulbs. And started hauling up from the basement the six bags full of CFL bulbs, enough to fill each light fixture in this big parsonage, enough for every room, every lamp, every chandelier…

Like the abundantly overflowing blessings and blessedness we read about in Genesis and Mark this morning, this Christmas I received the gift of light bulbs, flowing and overflowing. Each day, I climb on a chair or stool or counter, and replace a few bulbs. This has become a prayer time, of sorts. Doing my small part to care for the creation God gives us, to reduce my negative impact on the earth that God calls good. Remembering that I needed my dad, that we need each other, to remind us how we can live more faithfully. Remembering that we can always learn new ways to live more faithfully as stewards of God’s blessings, God’s creation. I could not help but connect this daily practice with our lectionary texts when I read and prayed this first story of creation in our scripture.

“And God said, ‘Let there be light,’ and there was light. And God saw that the light was good.” Especially, it seems, when the light comes from CFL bulbs…

Let us pray: Come, Holy Spirit, come. Come as the light and reveal, come as the fire and burn, come as the wind and cleanse, come as the dew and refresh, come as the dove and bless. Convict, cover, consecrate, and care, until we see that we are wholly thine…

Hear this poem, written by Sally Hoelscher, written after re-reading this morning’s gospel text:

“You are my Son, the Beloved,” the Spirit proclaimed
Affirmation descends in the shape of a dove.
Love exists in human form.
“You are my child, the Beloved,” the Spirit murmurs
Reassurance washing over me in moments of joy
Sustenance seeping into me in periods of despair.
“Each person you meet is my child, the Beloved,” the Spirit reminds
Blessing flowing around me in the faces of loved ones,
Challenge beckoning to me in the cries of those in need.

In the beginning…of Genesis, in the beginning…of Mark. In the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, in the beginning of our ministry… In the beginning, God creates. And then, God blesses creation. And God calls it good. In the beginning, the Spirit sweeps across the water—the waters of the earth, the waters of the Jordan River, of the womb, of our baptism. God pronounces blessing, over it all, in it all, through it all. And God sees that it is good. And God calls us to see that it is good. And God shares this good news with each and every one of us: “You are my child, Beloved. With you I am well pleased.”

I have read these words, heard these stories, of creation and Jesus’ baptism, many times before. You have read these words, heard these stories, many times before. And, I believe, God knows we need to hear these words, receive this good news, return to this original blessing, again and again and again. Let it sink down straight into our bones, seep into every crack and crevice of our fractures hearts and lives and world. Pour into us, the way water pours, moving around every contour, resting and pooling and ready for use.

“Affirmation descends in the shape of a dove. Love exists in human form.”

As I prayed over and poured over and studied these words this past week, I could not help but see their connection to, well, everything. From CFL bulbs to cloth shopping bags, from environmentally friendly ice remover to reusable coffee mugs, from how we see ourselves, to how we see each other.

There’s a line from a play I saw recently. A mathematician, working with high theory and formulas far beyond my comprehension, blessed by brilliance, says, “The whole world is speaking to me.” Everything he saw, every person he met, every event and interaction and encounter, became new data for his formulations, new signs and symbols for his process of meaning making. “The whole world is speaking …”

When, with every breath, we receive God’s blessing anew, the whole world is alive with God’s original blessing. When, in everything we see and encounter, we search for signs of this blessing, we cannot help but see the world differently. The whole world begins to speak to us of God’s blessing—holiness seeping through holes, the beloved, born among us.

In the beginning, God is creating. Sweeping over the face of the waters, covering the face of the deep, shaping the formless void into light and darkness, day and night.

And in the beginning of the Gospel story, we meet John the Baptizer, a strange character wandering through the wilderness, covered only by camel’s hair and a leather belt, eating bugs and honey. In the beginning, through a strange character wandering around, proclaiming forgiveness and new life, God blesses. And like the waters of the seas, the rolling river Jordan, these blessings flow and overflow…

Do you believe any of this? Do you buy into it, any of it?

I do. or, I try to. Our baptismal claiming and naming as God’s beloved children, with whom God is well pleased, is at the center of my theology, the center of Christian theology, the center of our understanding of salvation, offered in and through our relationships with the Holy. And yet, I forget and I fail. I meet someone who is strange, who is cantankerous or pushy or difficult or argumentative or belligerent or arrogant, and I quickly come up with descriptors other then Blessed and Beloved. Do you?

Or, I look at the fields around us, drink the water from the tap, eat the food grown from this land and see the wide open sky and watch the sun fade, and I forget it is the very earth we meet in Genesis. Created by God as blessing, created also to bless us. The face of the deep, the template of God’s handiwork, the canvas of creation.

Or, I face my own failures, see only what remains undone on my To Do list, berate my own brokenness and forget to see myself as God created me. Forget to look for, let alone find, in my own face, the image of God, reflected.

Our creation story calls us to remember. The waters of our baptism carry us still. “Just as Jesus was coming up from the water, the heavens were torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove, and a voice came from heaven, “You are my child, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”

This is our task, as baptized Christians. Through our baptism, we enter Christian ministry. You are all ministers, all called into ministry. And like the dove greets Jesus as he emerges from the River Jordan, God greets us each day. “You are my child, Beloved. With you I am well pleased.” How do we live into this blessing? Live out from this blessedness?
In the beginning, of each day, remember your baptism, and be thankful. When life seems good, when everything is hard, when the sun is shining and when the ice seems like it will never thaw, when you are prayed up and when you are spiritually deflated and defeated, when you respond with love and compassion, and when you find yourself grumpy, cranky, and cantankerous: remember you are blessed, God’s beloved, called good, with whom God is well pleased.

And remember, when you meet someone on the street, or find yourself cut off in traffic, or are last in a long, slow moving line, or when you encounter someone strange or read a news report or see a mug shot or pray about people living in war torn lands of Iraq and Afghanistan and Gaza and Zimbabwe and Congo…this person, that person, the one you know and the one you’ll never meet, is blessed, God’s beloved, called good, with whom God is well pleased.

And, remember, when we are tempted to pump more chemicals into the ground or buy another plastic container rather than reuse the old or use Styrofoam because it is easier or drill for more oil rather than look at why we use so much, so unnecessarily: remember this earth is blessed, God’s beloved creation, called good, our place of residence and worship, with which God is well pleased…

“All things bright and beautiful, all creatures great and small, all things wise and wonderful, Our God made them all!” Each little flower that opens, each little bird that sings, God made their glowing colors, and made their tiny wings. The purple-headed mountain, the river running by, the sunset and the morning, that brightens up the sky… Beautiful, beloved, blessed. Remember, and be thankful.

Back to the bulbs…Replacing a single regular light bulb with a CFL will keep a half-ton of CO2 out of the atmosphere over the bulb’s lifetime. If everyone in the US switched only one light bulb, the greenhouse gas savings would be equivalent to taking more than 800,000 cars off the road, permanently. And, each bulb saves about $30 in electricity costs over the bulb’s lifetime. If you still aren’t convinced, the OMU is offering a $2 rebate per bulb, if you buy it locally. And Hardware Hank’s has a special—5 bulbs for $10. With the rebate, the bulbs are free.

In the beginning…Jesus, the Beloved, love in human form. You, me, God’s children, Beloved. Receive this reassurance, allow this sustenance to seep into your soul. Each person you meet, God’s child, Beloved. Blessing us and calling forth our blessing and challenging us to find sacred connection. The earth, God’s sacred body. Calling us to tender care, good stewardship of the sacred creation.

Thanks be to God. May it be so. Amen, and amen.

"therefore, be it resolved..."

Anna Blaedel
January 4, 2009
First UMC, Osage
Psalm 72:1-7, 10-14
Matthew 2:1-12

Today we celebrate Epiphany Sunday. We usher in the New Year, together. We continue the Christmas celebration, of welcoming God into our hearts and lives and world anew. We celebrate communion, and remember the promise that in eating together, far more than our bodies are fed.

Today I want to share two stories with you, each of them delivered to my e-mail inbox in the last week. One of them, sent by one of you.

Story One: A pastor installed hot air hand dryers in the rest rooms at her church. After two weeks, she took them out. When asked why, she confessed that they were working just fine. When she went into the bathroom, however, she saw a sign that read, “For a sample of this week’s sermon, push the button.”

Hot air. Wisely or not, I’m going to hope this sign wouldn’t appear in our bathrooms. So, what do sermons and New Year’s resolutions and proclamations of faith have in common? Far too often, there is too much hot air. Sermons and New Year’s resolutions—traditions. Can be a whoosh to fill the time, to mark the day, whether January 1 or Sunday after Sunday, because, well, we always do it that way.

“Therefore, be it resolved…” The language of stuffy committees, presumptuous decrees, of grandiose plans of perfection that slip slide away shortly after midnight, or by Monday morning if not Sunday afternoon…”Therefore, be it resolved…” and, or, the language of hopes, of desires, of intentions, to do it differently, to rethink and reimagine the way we respond and resist. Stopping long enough to let our heart’s desires find us, to try again, and again and again and again to…what? What intentions brought you here this morning?

To see god and trust that god sees us, to learn how to love each other and allow this love to permeate every fear, every insecurity, to build beloved community that helps us make meaning of our lives and see sacred signs and know god incarnate, and feel a little less alone, and resist the evils of destruction and fear and deadly, deadly, meaninglessness. What intentions did you name on New Years Eve? This year, like every year, I made my list. Hot air? Perhaps. A bit more? Wisely or not, I can only hope…

Story Two: A Jewish story, a midrash, tells of a rabbi who asked his disciples, “How do you know when the night is giving way and the morning is coming?” One disciple stood and said, “Teacher, won’t you know that night is fading when, through the dim light, you can see an animal and recognize whether it is a sheep or a dog?” The rabbi answered, “No.” “Rabbi,” asked another, “won’t you know that the dawn is coming when you can see clearly enough to distinguish whether a tree is a fig or an olive?” “No,” responded the teacher. “You’ll know that the night has passed when you can look at any human and discern that you are looking at a sister or a brother. Until you can see with that clarity, the night will always be with us.”

Epiphany Sunday. Epiphany, with Greek origins meaning to show, appear, reveal, make manifest. “Aha!” moments when we glimpse and get it. Discovering and rediscovering God among us. Recognizing our need for revelation, and then following and resisting and searching for some sign to appear, some wisdom to make manifest.

The wise ones we read about today had the benefit of knowing the sign they were to follow. And then, sensing danger, warned of destruction in a dream, they set out on a different journey. Their king, plotting destruction. Their wisdom, the only identifier. Their joy, the compass. Their wonder and awe, the guide. Their dreams, a means for discernment.

A dear friend of mine once found herself desperate for a sign. Feeling lost and confused and overwhelmed and unsure where to turn, who to ask, what to do, next. She knew she needed a sign, knew to utter this need in prayer. The wise ones in Matthew looked to the sky. She glanced down at the concrete, and saw a slip of paper. A fortune from a fortune cookie. “Trust your instincts,” it read. “You’re moving in the right direction.”

Have you ever actually tried to follow a star? To really walk towards it? The path is about as clear as knowing your instincts when confusion and fear set in, about as clear as learning how to trust them to move you in the right direction.

The wise men from Matthew, my dear friend in California, this pastor at this pulpit, I dare to say at least some of you—usually, we don’t know where we are going, and we don’t know what we will find along the way. We do know, we are told and called to remember, in scripture and story and community and dreams and deep hunches and slips of paper on sidewalks, that God goes with us, that we need to travel with each other, and that this journey is somehow sacred. The clarity we seek is less the ability to discern a sheep from a dog or a fig tree from an olive tree, and more the epiphany that we journey together. That we see the sacred signs God sends us when we are gathered in community, when we recognize each other, here, and in the far reaches of unfamiliar territory, as sisters and brothers.

The lectionary psalm we read and heard this morning is a royal psalm, read to mark a king’s birthday. Read, in Christian traditions, to mark the birth of Jesus, the Prince of Peace, the Anointed One, Emmanuel. In this psalm, we see a needy people, beginning again with desperate, deep hope. Hope for a more just leader, a king who orders the kingdom around justice and peace, who reverses and overturns the powerful patterns of violence and fear. A leader who defends the cause of the poor, delivers the needy, crushes oppression. Like rain falling on mown grass, and showers watering the earth—the yearning for this gentle, prophetic leader. A leader who will feed and nourish and enliven our needs, in body and soul. Help us cultivate instincts we can trust to move us in the right direction. Help us see clearly our connection, sisters and brothers, all.

Knowing their need, the people are crying out for one who will help those who have no helper, one who pays attention to the needs of the people, who can help us hope, yet again, that we can be redeemed from oppression and violence and fear. The wise ones, trusting their instincts, know they will not find this in King Herod. The magi knew the way back to Herod did not lead to life. They were wise, we are told, because they knew not to travel alone, wise because they knew moving into uncharted territory, with all the fear of the unfamiliar, was better than following the command of a corrupt king.

Our gospel reading begins, “In the time of King Herod.” The story is staged, centered around this ruler. In a world where time is measured by the ruler, in a place where the king (or prime minister, or pastor or priest or president) has upmost power and control… When the wise ones come to the king, they come not to pay him homage, but to inquire about the one they are longing to find. This frightens Herod. When power and domination are questioned and cracked open, world leaders, people in power, tend to get scared. So Herod gathers his people, his advisors, asks just what on earth is going on, and begins to form a plan to wipe out his competition.

Imagine if a world leader, if our president, summoned you. Asked something of you, commanded something of you, and your instincts, your deep whispers of wisdom, your dreams and prayers tell you the summons is not for good, the command will cause pain and destruction, will threaten the lives of another, will accentuate injustice and side with sorrow. I wonder… Would I, could I, say no? Listen to my heart and dreams? Ignore the loudest, clearest, most commanding voice, and dare to move instead into unfamiliar land? I’m afraid I’d come crawling back, too scared to resist, too used to following the commands and concerns of the powerful… Would you, could you, resist? Say no to Herod? To the king?

One of my resolutions, one of my intentions in this new year is to nurture the spiritual strength to resist when the rule or command does not lead to life. Cultivate the kind of instincts I can trust, that can carry me in the direction of love. Compassion. Connection. Care. For myself and for others.

To search for the clarity of wisdom not necessarily to distinguish one from another, dog from sheep, fig from olive, good from bad, but the clarity to recognize epiphany revealed, the “aha!” moments that make manifest our relation to each other, all of us, as sisters and brothers, and call us to care for this connection. And, I know I will fail again and again and again and again. And, I hope, that I will find the courage and strength to try again and again and again and again…to make this more than hot air.

This, I believe, is what the baby in Bethlehem is being born to teach us. This is what the psalmist cries for. This is what Herod is corrupting. This is what wise star gazers allow to guide their path.

This is our story to participate in and proclaim. Hopefully, to proclaim with more substance than mere hot air. Therefore, if you will, be it resolved: We journey, together, when its easy and when its not. We dare to dream. We resist rulers who ask us to be agents of injustice and fear and destruction and alienation. We follow a star, and search for signs, and travel on when we don’t know where we are going or how we are going to get there or what might find us on our way.

Come now, to the table. Receive this bread for the journey. Remember our connection, with God and with each other. Trust the instincts of our faith, a faith which calls us into life, into love, into justice and peace, to move us in the right direction. May it be more than hot air. May we feed, and be fed. May it be so… Amen.

christmas eve reflection

anna blaedel
first umc, osage
christmas eve
service of scripture and song

We gather to hear the Christmas story. To celebrate this season, and witness to this wonder… We hear and sing and share and become this story. We become the story we create.

The Christmas story means more than a mere child in a manger. Unto us a child is born. The one who gives us hope for the future, the one who calls us to care for the weak and weary, the one who asks us to speak truth to power when it veers out of control, the one who offers us creation requiring delicate care… We become the story we create, and this story means more than gift receipts and bargain bins, Santa’s sleigh or stockings, stuffed. This story means more, even, than houses full of family, or tending to traditions or singing soul soothing songs of the season.

We gather to celebrate this story because we agree that God has come to be with us and to be involved in our lives, when and where we need it most, the darkest of days…

We gather to celebrate this story because we are hungry, for deeper meaning, for real hope, for lives and communities connected to and connecting us with the Sacred…

We gather to celebrate this story because we need each other, and because we need God, and because, birthed into this world as a tiny, vulnerable, baby, God needs us…

“Do not be afraid,” the angels sing. “I am bringing you good news of great joy.” The angels know our fear often comes first, before we can receive the good news of great joy.

The sign we are to search for? The symbol of God’s mystery and majesty and might? A baby born, in a barn. Careful, now. Don’t miss it. Look. Listen.

Let every heart prepare room for God in the full storehouses of sorrow and grief…

Let every heart prepare room for God, for neighbor, in the loneliness that lingers still…

Let every heart prepare room for God, for wonder that walks alongside woe, for justice pursued with joy…

This story, where God comes to us again. This story, where over and over and over again God invites us into a new way of coming closer to God and each other, because we need the invitation, again and again and again. Jesus, Emmanuel, God with and among and within us. Anew. Because we need it. Because the world needs it. Because God, lying in a manger in the Middle East, with shepherds and sheep showing signs of welcome, is being born again. Anew. Here, now. We become the story we create. Or at least, this is God’s invitation to us, this Christmas. To become this story, anew. To enter this story, again.

A child is being born. A light is shining in the darkness. The story does not stop here. It is just beginning. On this, holy night. Joy to the World! Amen, and amen.