Sunday, August 30, 2015

A Young Man Named Pablo and the Syrophoenician Woman

Mark 7:24-37

A few days ago I got a window into the utter courage the woman in the story before us now displayed. For I surely saw its opposite. Not that I'm judging that, believe me, I am not.

Here is how it was. I spent the last week on a cruise with some of the dearest people in the world to me. It is not normally how I vacation, but then, to tell you the truth, I don't typically vacation all that 'well,' if you know what I mean. (I expect at least some of you do.) The real advantage of these seven days away was that I was quickly 'away' and unable to be reached for once the ship left the shore, mobile phones didn't work and wi-fi prices were exorbitant.

Now this was a first for me, but I am told that our overall experience was not unique, for as we traveled, our every need was met by an attentive staff: most of whose primary language was not English. From all over the world, these young people have come to find work and perhaps along with that, some kind of a 'step up.' For instance, on the first night, a young woman from Thailand served us dinner. I asked her if she had been here long. "Oh yes!" she replied. "I've been here four months!" And she went on to say, "I need to call my mother tonight..." Oh yes, I'm certain these last four months had felt like an eternity to her.

I especially got to thinking about the Syrophoenician woman in today's Gospel,though, when we went on a shore excursion. It involved a trip by ferry to the mainland of Mexico where we were met by our guide, Pablo. Pablo is a young man with seemingly boundless energy, a ready smile, and a quick sense of humor. Only almost all of the time? The joke was 'on him' as he laughingly spoke aloud many of the stereotypes held about Mexicans --- applying these stereotypes with an eye roll to himself. And oh, he was a master at it: quickly putting a group of twenty North Americans at ease. Indeed, I'm sorry to say that for the most part it was only as I looked back at the day we shared that I found myself uncomfortable.

In fact, I so enjoyed Pablo that as we were filling out our evaluations at the end of the day, I tucked $20 into my nephew's hand to give him as a tip. I was fairly confident that such tokens beyond the initial cost of the excursion were the primary way he was contributing to his family's support.

And yes, this was confirmed for me a few minutes later when he told the group as much, inviting us to show our appreciation for his work that day by giving him a tip. Part of his pitch was that, tongue in cheek, he spoke of a fictional society which our gifts would support --- a 'society which had been formed to keep Mexicans in Mexico --- for we did not want to find Pablo in our back yard.'


And while I hope my response would be the same for any person anywhere whom God had created and so loves, somehow I felt it even more so then. For this is a gifted young man who had somehow kept twenty citizens of the United States from slipping and falling as we made our way down into caves, from bumping our heads when the ceiling was low, and from drowning as we floated through an underground river. And he is bi-lingual to boot --- to the point where in a language which was not his first, he had become a master at self-deprecation, making it clear that we were somehow "above him." He did this even as he kept us all safe and alive and as he managed to work in some interesting learning about Mayan culture, the ecosystem of a cave with a river in it that serves, still, as the main source of drinking water for the local people, and what to look for should we wish to purchase tequila to take home with us. Indeed, why wouldn't I want to find Pablo in my back yard?

Oh yes, Pablo did what he felt he had to do. I do not judge it, even as it makes me so sad. Still, as I witnessed this in Pablo and in a number of others who took care of us on our journey this week, I realized again how very unexpected the Syrophoenician woman's behavior was in the story before us now.

For at no point in her conversation with Jesus was she apologetic. Perhaps the purpose of her errand was such that she felt she simply had no choice, but she was, quite simply, bold. She was bold to approach Jesus in the first place --- a woman in that time and place when such was simply not done. And yes, she was bold to continue to engage him even after he attempted to dismiss her because she was a Gentile. It is only at the end that she acknowledges her place in this whole social system and she says what she must in order to get what she needs. At the very end she points out the truth of her experience that crumbs may be all she'll get, but that even the crumbs would be more than she ever had before: and more than enough to make her daughter well again.

So in the end, maybe Pablo and this woman are not so different after all?

Either way, both point to a world divided by difference and stratified by class or race or citizenship. Both speak of a world God must grieve all the time.

For in spite of Jesus' initial response, can't you almost sense him yearning to give her a different answer? Indeed, don't you see how quickly he turns, finally granting this woman her dearest request? For that matter, we could be safe in presuming that the deaf man he heals in the next sentences was also a Gentile. And in the following verses we about Jesus feeding a crowd of four thousand people in that same region.  Could it be that many, if not all of them, were also Gentile?

Oh yes, in spite of what appears to be his initial struggle, we hear that Jesus is, in fact, crossing racial and religious boundaries all over the place, bringing people together by sharing the remarkable gifts of God with one and all. I wonder, don't you, what it would look like if you and I were agents of such as this in our world today? Oh, I do wonder what that would mean for Pablo and for you and for me in this world we live in now.

  • What do you think? Were Pablo and the Syrophoenician woman alike or not?
  • How have you seen racial or class differences play out in your world?
  • What would it mean for you and me to cross the same kind of boundaries that Jesus did?  What would that look like in your neighborhood? In your congregation?

Sunday, August 23, 2015

On Hand Washing, Shells, and Our Oh So Human Traditions

Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23

This is true. I never thought much about what was behind the Jewish tradition of hand washing before today. I have always simply jumped to what appears to be Jesus' main point and skimmed over the roots of the tradition which is at the center of this week's controversy. And yet, I was having trouble finding faithful parallels in my own experience, so I decided to go a little deeper.This is what I learned:

Apparently, the basis for hand washing in Judaism was originally related to the Temple service and sacrifices as outlined in Exodus 30:17-21. Before going into the tent of meeting, Aaron and his sons were to wash their hands and their feet. In the wake of the destruction of the Temple, however, everything changed. There were no longer ritual objects and processes to be followed. Still, the rabbis did not want to lose the importance of hand washing, so they moved it to the dining room table or home "altar." In essence, they attempted to bring the holy into every day life. (Enter ritual Jewish hand washing into your search engine and you'll get all sorts of background information. I found EHBlogger to be especially helpful.) At some point, though, what was meant to be a life giving practice became a means of designating insiders and outsiders. Even more than that, from what Jesus offers today, in some cases, at least, it had somehow become an empty ritual which no longer, in fact, led people closer to God.

And oh, it is so, isn't it, that we still sometimes find ourselves where the Pharisees were today? Something is put in place with all good intentions and is perhaps, quite meaningful to many. After a time, we find ourselves believing there is only one way of doing things because that is the way it has always been done. Or we have done it so often it has become rote and loses meaning altogether. And yet, somehow it gets all caught up in our experience of faith.

I think, for instance, of how acolytes are taught to light the candles in the place where I worship. Somewhere along the way we learned there was only one way to do this. Oh, one would have to stretch to find scriptural basis for lighting them and putting them out in a certain way. It is just human tradition. And yet? I, too, find myself twitching a little when one of our youth starts on the outside when instead they should be starting on the inside.

Or I think of how we find ourselves most at home with a certain version of the Lord's Prayer. You know the one --- where it rolls easily off my tongue without my thinking about it because it is the one I have recited since I could first speak. I don't even really have to think about it. Only might it be so that this is exactly what Jesus speaks of now when he says we 'honor him with our lips,' but our hearts aren't truly in it? And perhaps, even somehow as detrimental as that, might it be so that the words to the version I so cherish no longer speak in a language that can be fully understood or embraced in today's world?

Or I think of this, of a very human tradition which somehow became "sacred" in a place I once served. And mind you, this human tradition was of my own personal making.

This is how it came to be. I was walking on a beach in Florida where I was on a quick getaway before the start of Lent. As I walked I started picking up seashells -- those little clam shells which are so common. I was thinking about the children of my congregation and I was thinking about baptisms. I was remembering that the shell is an ancient symbol of baptism. (Now mind you, I have looked and looked and have not been able to come up with exactly why this is so. If you have insight into this, please let me know.) Pretty soon, I had a whole bag full of little shells which I stowed away in my carry on luggage, sand and all.

From there I put together a children's message which I used again and again and again at baptisms. It went something like this: "We use water in baptism. Shells come from the ocean which is full of water. Have you ever been to the ocean? ("Yes!" some would reply.) Can you see across the ocean? ("No!" they would shout.) And God's love for us and for our new brother/sister is even bigger than that!"  And every child would get a shell every time.

As I said, I made it up. And yet it seemed to work. For pretty soon parishioners returning from winter vacations would bring me bags of shells. The children knew the answers to my questions and would chime in enthusiastically. And yes, before long, children were lining their shelves at home with these shells. Some parents, bless them, even had the foresight to write the names of those baptized on those very shells in magic marker so their children would make the connection to those newest to the family.

Eventually, I left that congregation to serve another call. I had not been there long, though, before the new pastor called me up, begging for the children's sermon about shells. Apparently the children were clamoring for it. Somehow for them, it had become so that it was not a baptism if there were not shells.

Oh yes, even the youngest among us can get caught in this. Our very human traditions somehow become central --- even "sacred" and we can wind up missing the intended point altogether.

The ritual of hand washing was meant to be a good thing. The practice of giving children shells at baptisms was meant to be a good thing. Both attempted to bring the faith "home" in a memorable way. But neither are central to the gifts that God intends us to carry with us: gifts which include forgiveness and peace and healing and hope .

So yes, this is one of those weeks when we are called upon to take a look at that which has somehow become "sacred" which is not, finally, central to who and what we are called to be and do. The church word for this is adiaphora --- as in, it just doesn't matter for God's Word doesn't indicate either way. If you are called to preach this week, however, I would caution you just a bit. I may well be wrong of course, but it could be that those Pharisees so long ago were not only trying to be mean spirited about the disciples. Hand washing may well have meant a great deal to their journeys of faith, just as those shells and the ritual we shared became so important to the children in a congregation I once served.Those things which are somehow unimportant to you and me may hold a precious place in the hearts of those we are called to lead. Surely we must take the time first to listen and seek to understand why. Having done this, even then I would start with a story about one's own struggle with this. For it is a struggle we all share. (For an example of this, see what I put together in this space three years ago: What Matters and What Doesn't. )

  • In your experience, where have you fallen into the trap of believing human traditions were sacred as the Pharisees did? How might this inform your preaching and teaching this week?
  • How is it that we "abandon the commandment of God and hold to human tradition?"
  • One avenue I have not yet explored is why some of the disciples had abandoned the practice of ritual hand washing.What might have been their reasons for this? Practicality? Principle? What do you think?
  • How do you hear the Pharisees today? Were they mean spirited? Judgmental? Confused? Just plain befuddled?
  • Jesus comes down pretty hard on the Pharisees. Why do you think that is? Are there "human traditions" you and I are called to address in the same way? What would that look like in your context?

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Do I Choose or Am I Chosen?

Joshua 24:1-2a, 14-18
John 6:56-69

"Choose this day whom you will serve..." --- Joshua (Joshua 24:15)
"Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life"                                          --- Simon Peter (John 6:68)
"Did I not choose you, the twelve? Yet one of you is a devil."                                            --- Jesus (John 6:70)
First a disclaimer: I find my home in that line of theological thought which insists that God chooses us long before we begin to give thought to choosing God. And yet. In both the words of Joshua today and in the words of Jesus in this week's Gospel, we are told it is ours to choose.

And yet again, I have to say that as I look back over my life, it appears to me that a whole lot of the time the choice was pretty clear. As though it wasn't really mine to choose at all.

On this steamy Saturday morning in August, I found myself driving past cornfields on my way to run errands. I was taken back to a similar drive shared with my dad some thirty years ago. We were driving east on Route 38 between Rochelle and DeKalb here in Northern Illinois. The purpose of our errand is long forgotten. This moment I still remember:

He was driving. I was looking out over an endless sea of green: corn and beans in patchwork, flourishing in this richest of farmland. I sighed and said, "I think this is the most beautiful place in the world." He nearly drove off the highway as he jerked his head to look at me. "Really?" he asked. "Really!" he exclaimed. It occurred to me then that his sense of beauty had been shaped by another ocean entirely: one that was blue and gray and capped in white and was and is as endless as these cornfields in Northern Illinois appear to be.

My point is this. I can no more help loving the sight of lush green fields than my dad could help loving the sight and sound and smell of the ocean. It was never really a choice for either one of us. To this day, for all of my appreciating the beauty of ocean and mountain and dessert, this is it for me, for this is what shaped me. This is still home.

So I ask, did I choose it or did it choose me?

Or this. I was a freshman in high school. My best friend talked me into trying out for the volleyball team. Now I am not at all certain I had ever laid eyes on a volleyball before. Remember, this was back when competitive athletics for girls was still quite new. More than that, I have never been very athletic. As a child I would have been described as 'bookish.' Then (and yes, still today) I loved most of all the interplay of words and ideas and how they shaped stories. And yet, I said yes. I tried out for the team.

I made the team. My friend did not. I expect I was chosen for my sheer grit. I tried to make up for lack of skill with just plain hard work. However, my athletic career was doomed from the second day of practice when I went to set the ball and sprained both of my thumbs. Though they kept me on the team for three years, I never got my confidence back. I spent most of the time on the bench --- more and more terrified that they might actually put me in to play and then what? Finally at the start of my senior year I decided that particular anxiety was not worth it. I chose to put my time and energy into my place on our Speech Team --- spending many an after school hour discussing the issues of the day with my coach and developing my file of newspaper and magazine clippings so as to be ready for Saturday meets where I competed and did pretty well in extemporaneous speaking.

Oh yes, I made a choice. And yet? I had no natural athletic ability. My gifts for reading and thinking, reasoning and shaping positions had been nurtured and developed for years already by then.

And so I ask again, did I really choose or was I chosen?

And finally this. Like many of you who will read this, I grew up in the church. My folks took me to the font when I was but a couple of months old. Sunday morning in the 1960's and '70's in my family was only for worship and Sunday School. I was sent to church camp, went through confirmation, and was encouraged and invited into leadership at a very young age in the congregation I called home. In the end, I chose, I suppose, to respond to a call to full time ministry. But my sense is that I was chosen long before I ever packed up my yellow Dodge Colt and drove to Luther Seminary for summer Greek in the summer of 1984.

And so once more I ask, did I choose or was I chosen?

It seems to me this is what Simon Peter finds himself struggling with today as he hears Jesus' demand to choose. For he responds by saying there really is no choice at all, even though others have clearly chosen not to follow. And as Jesus points out, the twelve were chosen, yes. But one of the twelve chose another way.

So I expect in the end it is perhaps some of both. Indeed, it goes without saying that out of great love, God has chosen us all. And yet, at the same time, you and I are called to choose every day 'whom we will serve.'

And so I am called to wonder every day as I begin a new day:
  • Will I choose to live in kindness or will I let old hurts taint my responses to those around me?
  • Will I close my office door or will I respond to the cry of pain in the outer office? Or on the other end of the phone line? Or in our neighborhood and beyond?
  • Will I work for justice in the world or will I cower in my fear that I might offend?
  • Will I entrust to God a portion of what I have been given or will I hoard it all away in fear?
  • Will I begin and end my day in prayer or will I try to go it alone?
And on and on...

Oh yes, with Joshua and Simon Peter we do choose 'who we will serve --- who it is we will follow.' This being so, I thank God every day that God made the ultimate choice for me first. Because of this, all of my choices every day are made under a benevolent cloud of grace.

Indeed, we have before us now a central question for people of faith and so it is so vitally important to keep it before us. For while God did choose us, you and I are called to choose how we will live out the joy of having been so chosen. Shall I, shall we, live it in hope and love and promise? Or shall we not? Either way, what will that look like?
  • Do we choose or are we chosen? What do you think? What stories from your own experience shape your thinking on this?
  • What does it look like to 'choose' to serve God in the day to day? What choices are you faced with even now?

Sunday, August 9, 2015

Some (Not So) Random Thoughts on Bread

John 6:51-58

Every time I travel to Minneapolis, I do all I can to make time to drop in at my favorite used bookstore. Last week, like every other time, I managed to walk out of there with a number of books I just couldn't do without. This time my haul included a little book purchased for $3.50 titled Sourdough Breads and Coffee Cakes: 104 Recipes Using Homemade Starters by Ada Lou Roberts. It was published in 1967. I've always loved reading old cookbooks --- especially the commentary the author adds. In this case Ada Lou Roberts offers a brief 'history of bread." For instance:
In Scotland the finest white bread, known as "manchet," was reserved for royalty and the great landlords. "Cheat," the second finest grade, was found in the homes of the upper-class tradesmen. "Raveled" bread was made from the whole grain flour just as it came from the mill to be consumed by the country folk and villagers just above the servant class. "Mashloch" was baked for the very poor and the servants. It contained only coarse bran mixed with rye. In the great houses, the mistress or housekeeper carried the keys to the food safe where the fine bread and best grades of other food were kept to avoid tempting the servants to acquire a taste for the higher priced products. Later, the government passed  a law requiring the brown bakers to add a certain percent of wheat germ to the mashloch to improve the health of the working class. (p. 17)
And yet, we know today, don't we, that the grains used in the bread for the lower classes were actually better for you than the more refined flour enjoyed by the privileged. Indeed, I find myself remembering now a story told to me by my Uncle Harold. I could not have been more than nine or ten years old and I certainly cannot remember the context or the reason for him sharing this, but this is what he offered. Apparently at some time, hundreds of years ago, the only staple in the diet of a particular people was potatoes. The grown ups would scrape out the meat of the potatoes, leaving the potato skins for the children. The children survived. Their elders did not.

As I said, I have no recollection of why this was shared. I only know that I remember it now these more than forty years later. Both of these speak of 'reversals.' What we think is good for us, may not be. And in the end, it may turn out that those receiving the 'worst' are actually receiving the very best: the best which leads to life. I think of this when I think of the bread that is Jesus --- of how in Jesus things are always getting turned upside down. And that you and I eat the bread: the body of  the Unlikely One who was shamed --- crucified,even, on a cross. And this leads to life.

  • Where have you seen this to be so? Where have such reversals made themselves known to you? How have you known this to be especially so in the Bread of Life that is Jesus?

If you know me at all, you know that I have been baking bread all of my adult life. It was a skill passed down from my mother which came from her mother, which came from her mother --- and on and on. Yet, it is so that it is not so popular these "gluten free 'evil wheat'" days to talk about bread, unless it is in a critical way. And it is so that while not so long ago I could presume that a loaf of my fresh baked bread would be welcome at any table, now I think to check to see if those I would offer it to can tolerate it. A good share of the time they cannot.

Last Friday's Sourdough Bread

And yet, even with this, on most any given Friday I am measuring flour and proofing yeast and shaping loaves. I love the smell, the sight, the texture, and yes, the taste of homemade bread. I love how it connects me in a tangible way with those who have gone before. And yes, there is simply no comparison to any of that which I have been able to buy in any store. Often some of it gets frozen for later use. More often than not, I give some away.

While I have been baking sourdough bread for years, to tell you the truth a lot of that time the flavor was pretty flat. Lately though I've been baking sourdough without added yeast. It takes a whole lot longer from beginning to end --- something close to twenty-four hours --- but the sharp taste is well worth it. I think of this now when I think of this walk of faith where, if we are fortunate, we feast regularly on the Bread of Life. Indeed, I am reminded that growth in faith is not always immediate. Sometimes there simply is no way to speed things up. And perhaps we are better off not even trying?

  • How have you known this to be so in your walk of faith? What has 'taken time' to grow or to mature?  What difference has patience made for you? How has patience been nurtured in you?

Last summer my baking routine got interrupted: my Fridays simply were not allowing me the time and space needed to bake bread. As a result, my crock of sourdough starter sat in the back of the refrigerator untended for many more weeks than are recommended. I would think of it when I didn't have time to feed it. Or I would think of it and simply dreaded peeking in to see what had become of it. Finally, I did anyway. It wasn't pretty. In fact, at first I was certain I would have to dump the whole crock and start over with a fresh one. Even so, I decided to give it a chance. I poured out most of it, reserving just a little bit. I added flour and water and stirred and let it sit. I added flour and water and stirred again and let it sit. And do you know? That starter not only survived, it thrived. This bread is resilient isn't it? And yes, I think of this when I hear Jesus saying he is the Bread of Life. As in so many of his parables, a little bit can do a lot. More than that, in his very living and dying and rising we learn over and over again that life triumphs over death --- even when it appears to be impossible.
  • What do you think? Is this Bread of Life resilient? How have you known this to be so in your own journey of faith? When have you experienced that a little can do a whole lot?
As I understand it, the bread that Jesus referred to would have been some ancient version of sourdough. When you think about it, it does seem obvious that there would have been no prepackaged yeast to aid one's bread in rising, so the only option the baker had was to hold back a bit of the previous day's batch and use it to 'start' a fresh batch rising. The yeast would already have been 'in' that little bit of dough. I am told the particular sourdough starter I use has been nurtured and passed down for more than 300 years. Just imagine for how many generations the starter for the bread that came to mind when Jesus first spoke these words had been passed along.

And yet, even while the dough would have been passed down, it is so that the bread takes on a different flavor depending on where it is nurtured. The naturally occurring yeasts in the air are actually different. This is why, as I understand it, one could carry a starter home from San Francisco which is renowned for its unique sourdough bread, and within a few weeks it would lose its particular distinctness, taking on a more local flavor.
  • And so I think of this. Our faith is passed down from generation to generation. While it is the same, it certainly takes on different flavors depending on where and among whom it is nurtured. Where and how have  you seen this to be so? How is the Break of Life different in the place where you live and serve now in comparison to other places you have known? How is it the same?
  • What experiences do you have of "bread" which might help inform your understanding and receiving and sharing of Jesus as the Bread of Life?

Sunday, August 2, 2015

God is Not Done

1 Kings 19:4-8

John 6:35, 41-51

Poor Elijah is surely in a bad place today.

We know this to be so because he says so. We also know this is so because of things he has done just prior to our encounter with him at this point in the narrative.

Just before this, he has received the message that Jezebel, his adversary, is seeking his life. And he responds in a way that seems downright surprising to anyone who has followed his ministry just prior to this news which terrified him. I mean, in the stories just told he has only known success. But now? 

He is heard to have dismissed his servant --- a sure sign that he is done with the ministry to which he had been called.

He is also said to have traveled a day's journey into the wilderness --- again, indicating that he is abandoning Yahweh's People.

When we meet up with him, Elijah has settled under a solitary broom tree and has announced he is done. Done with all of it. Done not only with his ministry but also done with his life.

It's hard to figure, yes, and at least to our way of thinking, the story doesn't give us nearly enough to go on. Indeed, for all of our guesses as to Elijah's psychological state, we really aren't told. And yet, it is a fair guess to say that exhaustion and now sheer terror have just caught up with him. And Elijah is just done.

Only God is not done with Elijah. And he lets Elijah know this by sending him a meal. Because without the strength that comes with eating, Elijah surely is done. And without the strength that comes with eating this particular meal from God's own hand? Elijah surely could not have done what needed to be done next. Or at least that's what the angel says. Without eating, this particular journey would simply be too much.

Perhaps at one time or another you have found yourself exactly where Elijah found himself. Oh, I would venture to say that our ministerial 'successes' pale in comparison to his and most of us have not lived under the death threats of our adversaries. Even so. I have certainly heard plenty of pastors wondering what else they could do with this particular degree. No doubt this is true for all of us, regardless of what work calls us.

Oh yes, it is so that more than once, I've found myself skimming the 'want ads' --- or today's equivalent --- and wondering what life would look like if I weren't doing this. And yes, it is so that in a very real way some time ago I wandered "a day's journey into the wilderness"... not giving up on life, no, but trying to distance myself from the beating down exhaustion of pastoral ministry.

It did not present as 'wandering,' of course. In fact, I certainly did not consciously think of it in that way at the time. Rather, to my way of thinking, it made perfect sense when I first ventured out 'into the wilderness.' It promised to be a good use of my gifts. Only, it turns out, not a good enough use of all that I been blessed with for living in this world where I have been placed. For once the first blush of 'freedom' passed, I found myself in a place which was not life-giving. And I was amazed at how quickly I found myself cut off from community I had counted on. More than that, I was amazed at how quickly depression set in. For I had given up a lot  --- a call to a wonderful congregation and, at least temporarily, my "roster status in my denomination" --- to take this "walk into the wilderness." And I found myself experiencing a profound sense of shame that this was not turning out as I had hoped. And at first I truly did not know how to find my way back.

Not unlike Elijah, I felt as though I was 'done.' But it turns out God was not done with me yet.

It came to me in this way. A friend of a friend had asked how I was. She was told that this new work was not all I expected it to be. And she said, 'You tell Janet she needs to start writing again.'

I wept when this message was relayed to me, truly I did. For I did not believe I had anything left to say.
In that wilderness of my own choosing, I had not had enough to 'eat' for a very long time. Not enough in terms of community. Not enough in terms of opportunity to exercise my best gifts. As a result, not enough 'pressing reason' to dig deep into and 'feast on' the best God yearned to give me. Yes, some of this was the result of my own foolish choices. Either way, I had not had enough.

Now, no,  my story was not exactly like Elijah's encounter with the angel. Elijah was told to get up and eat actual food. And yet, for people of faith --- at least this is how it has been for me --- the ability and freedom to engage with the Bread of Life, to take it into myself, and to somehow share it with others --- well, this is life. It is what makes this journey possible. More than that, I have found it is what makes this journey worth traveling at all. Perhaps I should have been able to find a way to do this in the place where I was --- even as perhaps Elijah 'should' have been able to figure this out on his own. But we don't always. Sometimes we have to have someone hand us the food. Sometimes, as was the case with me, someone has to issue a challenge to point us in the right direction.

Indeed, after a few days of despair. After some hours of believing I was 'done' with nothing left to say or to share, that is when I started writing in this way: for and with and alongside all of you who read and respond to 'Dancing with the Word.' And as I wrote. As I feasted again on the Bread of Life, I was led out of the wilderness again.

I was done. I truly was. But just was so with Elijah, God was not done. And that has been everything. Indeed, that is everything.

  • Have you ever found yourself where Elijah found himself? What is your story? Why were you 'done?' 
  • Has someone ever literally handed you 'bread to eat' so that you might keep moving in the direction to which you were called? Who was that for you? How did you learn God was not yet 'done' with you?
  • This part of Elijah's story speaks of actual bread. The Gospel speaks of the Bread of Life which is Jesus. How is it that we feast on this Bread of Life? Is the Bread of Life actual bread? Is this Bread also something more? What do you think?
  • My story is that of an individual realizing "God is not done." How have you seen this to be so for congregations or communities? Again, what is your story?