Divine Irony

Yesterday, I dropped my phone in the snow. I just saw on CNN that our unexpected snowfall yesterday is national news. It was quite a bit and not expected to be. So, we were all a bit surprised. I was tootling about in the morning on my way home from Musicman's. Somehow, this meant dropping my phone in a snow bank. The cover came off. The battery got wet. However, it still worked.

That is, it still worked for about 30 minutes. Then, it crapped out. Nothing. I was told to put the battery in rice and allow it to absorb the moisture. Yeah, that didn't work. I panicked.

It wasn't until later that I realized why I was panicking. I had already decided what my Lenten practice is. I'm going to use the phone more. I'm terrible about keeping in touch with friends that are far away. I want to be better. I use Lent as a time to resurrect relationships -- and this year, I intend to do that by picking up the phone and calling people I love. The fantastic irony is that my battery is stuck in rice and won't work for me. God truly does have a sense of humor, doesn't She?

The problem was solved when I finally went to the Verizon store. (I love their customer service. It will be hard to leave them ever, even if I want one of those fancy phones that I covet so.) They took my phone and stuck a new battery in. Presto. It works. God tells me to chill out. It's not pancakes exactly, but there was a bit of a dash as I flipped out. And with this, Lent will begin.


Where Is Your Joy?

This is the question that my colleague asked me yesterday at the end of our time together yesterday. We chat every Monday. He was aware that I was not so excited about my ministry yesterday. I wasn't convinced that my sermon was a good thing. I was struggling with whether or not I told my story in a way that allowed others in. I wasn't convinced it had worked.

You know why, right? There was that one jerk who asked me after worship, "So, I don't understand why you can't get over your mother's death." He then told me about a friend he'd lost in his 20s and how the death haunts him. I smiled knowingly and told him we all have stories that haunt us. This is mine. Really, I wanted to hit him for saying the one thing that I never want to hear again. Then, I went to talk for 90 minutes with a group of parents about our teens interest and involvement in Confirmation. We're going to make some changes (though church people define change differently than clergy do). It was exhausting. I walked away feeling like hired help. I was deflated. I still felt like that when my colleague asked this question about joy.

I wanted to think that there was joy in my ministry -- but I couldn't think of anything that was really exciting me. So, I turned the question back on him. He talked about his family. That's nice. I'm not going to tell you about my relationship. It's not particularly joyous right now. Arg. I walked away annoyed that I couldn't name any joy right now in my life. So, I got back to work. I sent an email about the next steps in the Confirmation conversation, and that's where things changed.

I got a phone call and then an email. Then, there was another email. Each celebrated how good the conversation was yesterday and how hopeful these parents are about the work that the church is doing with their kids. And then, the emails started about my sermon. The best one didn't come until much later that night -- but all of the sudden I felt assured. I felt actual joy. It's the people that matter to me. I want to feel like our covenant is working. And then, the comforting assurance came. Yes, we're ok. There is joy. We're doing good things. All will be well.


Let Your Demons Speak

I'm preaching on Sunday. I can't wrap my head around Simon's mother-in-law, but demons? I can sure talk about demons. Of course, this is a huge, huge risk. One that is bigger than this risk. I posted the first draft on Monday, but this is the sermon that I actually preached on Sunday.

He would not permit the demons to speak, because they knew him. They knew him. The demons knew Jesus – and still we’re not sure what they are. Part of me can’t resist seeing gremlins being silenced by a cool and collected Jesus. Gremlins, like in that movie from the 80’s. Little things that you think you can handle until they get wet and mutate into something terrifying. Gremlins was the scariest movie of my childhood so perhaps that’s why part of me defaults to seeing demons as gremlins.

But, I don’t really believe that. Not really. I don’t think that’s what a demon is at all. Demons aren’t creatures outside of us that take on a physical presence, like a gremlin or a monster. Demons are far scarier than that. They hide within us. We incorrectly name them – as our ancestors did – as illness or disease. But, that’s not right. Diseases have a cure. Not demons. Not in the Gospels. They are cast out. They are banished. They are sent away. And yet, they never seem to really disappear. They keep popping up. They keep talking – as they do for Jesus here. The demons try to speak to him, but he won’t permit it. Jesus silences them because the demons knew him. They know who he is. They know what he is. But, Jesus won’t have it. Jesus wants who he is and what he is to be a secret. But, the demons know.

Demons always know who we really are, don’t they? That’s what a demon is: our deepest wound, our most painful story, our greatest truth. Demons are the very things that we keep silent because if anyone found out who we really are without seeing what we can do and the wonderful words we can offer… well, (sigh) we just hope that doesn’t happen. Ever.

Still, demons have power. The Gospel’s audience would know that demons are higher in the cosmic order. They had power. Real power, but don’t tell me that’s not just as true now. Your demons have power over you, don’t they? They possess you. They know you well. Still, you try to silence them as Jesus does. I can’t think of anything worse. This isn’t something I’m just saying. It’s something I know. I’ve tried to keep my demons silent. I’ve tried. It doesn’t work. It’ll break your heart. It’ll break your soul. It’ll separate you from God. And I know, there’s nothing worse. So, we must let our demons speak.

I’ll start. I’ll break the silence by telling you the story that hurts me most. I’ll tell you this story not so you will console me or comfort me. That’s not why I’m telling you this story. I’m telling you this story so that you will let your demon speak. Give it a voice. Give it a name. Don’t let it separate you from God anymore. Today, in this pulpit, I’m telling you my demon so that you won’t silence yours anymore.

My demon is my grief because my grief knows me. It shows up like clockwork every year on Groundhog Day. Twenty-two years ago, I knew my winter would be longer – not because of a creature that saw his shadow but because my father kneeled down beside me and told me that my mother died. Today, I’m going to let this demon speak. I’m going to tell you the whole story about that Groundhog Day when I was in second grade. We made cookies in school. I don’t remember why, but we made cookies that day. They had nuts in them. I was distracted because I was going to see my mom in the hospital after school. It seemed like it had been forever since I had seen her, but I was 7 so it could have been a mere 3 days. She’d been in and of the hospital for a long time. I didn’t really understand what was happening. I don’t think anyone said the word cancer, but even if they did it wouldn’t have meant anything to me.

I was more concerned about cookies and ice cream. That’s what distracted me that day in school. Last time I had seen my mom, I fed her ice cream. Chocolate ice cream. Her lunch came during our visit and I thought that she should eat – not the vegetables on the tray, but the ice cream. This time, I was going to bring her cookies. Don’t be fooled. It wasn’t that sweet. I would have eaten the cookies myself but I don’t like nuts. So, my teacher helped me wrap up the cookies and some stale marshmallows leftover from my lunch in pink tissue paper with a nice bow. I held that package carefully in my lap the whole bus ride home. I refused to put it in my backpack because the cookies would break, so there I was holding this pretty pink tissue paper when the bus slowed down in front of my stop. My father was there. I could see him through the window. It was then that I knew something was wrong. He was supposed to meet my brother and I at home. He wasn’t supposed to be there. Something was really, really, really wrong. His face was splotchy and his eyes were red. He looked terrible, but I had never seen him cry before so I didn’t know what these signs meant. I didn’t know that he’d been crying and I certainly didn’t know why he would be so sad.

He hugged my brother and I without saying a word. He just took our hands and walked us down the hill toward home ignoring my brother’s questions – of which there were many. He was just quiet until we got to the bottom of the hill away from the other kids and parents. He kneeled down beside us so that I could see the tears running down his cheeks and there he told us that mom had died that afternoon. My brother wanted to know if we could see her tomorrow. I wanted to know if my dad liked cookies with nuts in them.

This was the Groundhog Day that started my long winter of grief. This is what hides within me. This is the story that keeps talking: my deepest wound, my most painful story and my greatest truth. It possesses me. It claims me in a way that I’m often not sure how to explain. It knows me, just as the demons knew who and what Jesus was. This demon knows who I am. It knows what I am. It know that I’m a motherless daughter and when Groundhog Day comes again, I permit myself to be that 7-year old girl and cry the tears that I didn’t know to cry that day.

The truth is that I can’t cast it out. Not entirely. It will never really disappear. It will always pop up again. It will always be talking to me – but I won’t silence it. Not any more. I’ll permit my demon to speak so that I can be healed. I don’t know if it’ll work. I can’t tell you if it will make it easier. I can only tell you how much it hurts to have silenced my demon for so long. So, instead, I’m going to let it speak. I’m going to try to put myself out there like the sick and the possessed that went to Jesus after he healed Simon’s mother-in-law. They didn’t know about her. They didn’t know what happened. They didn’t even know who Jesus was – but they went. No matter how scared they were; the sick and those possessed permitted their demons to speak to this stranger. And he healed them. He healed them all.

I’m not healed yet. I don’t know if I’ll ever be fully healed just as I don’t know how the sick and possessed felt after Jesus touched them. I don’t think my grief will ever disappear. So, I will cast it out by admitting it – admitting that it hurts and that’s it still there 22 years later. This is how I’ll permit my demon to speak in the most publicly terrifying way that might allow me to heal – and this is all I hope for you. No matter what your deepest wound, your painful story, your greatest truth may be, I hope you won’t silence it anymore. I hope you’ll let someone hear it. I hope you’ll let God meet you there. I hope that you’ll permit the demons to speak.


With Authority

I listened to a sermon today about Jesus -- the one with authority. Not the one with power, but the one with authority. Perhaps the distinction is important but it was lost on me today. I didn't get it. I may not have been paying attention, but I didn't get it. I was totally lost.

Instead, I was thinking about my mom. It was the preacher's fault actually. He started worship by commenting on Groundhog Day being the exact center between winter and spring. I hate Groundhog Day. Not because it's random or because it was a movie but because this is the day my mother died. Everyone else is looking forward. They are thinking about spring and less darkness while I just want to shrink into that darkness. The sermon wasn't about darkness though. It was about authority and the authority we stake in God even when our lives are complicated. We (as Christians) claim God to be our Savior so somehow the rest doesn't matter. That's what I heard from the pulpit. I wanted to throw my shoe at the preacher. It's not that this stuff -- this human stuff -- doesn't matter! It's the possibility that God gives us in the midst of that darkness. Of course, I wouldn't call that authority. Maybe that's the problem. I would probably just call it love -- but no matter what we call it, it wasn't the sermon I needed to hear today. It wasn't the hope I needed to find. So, I'm taking a personal day tomorrow and I'm going to try to find it somewhere in my grief.