Thursday, December 21, 2017

Longest Night reflection (2017)

Of all the services for the Christmas season, this one has become my favorite.  It has seemed the most genuine, not marked by the trappings of a more secularized Christmas.  It highlights the harsh reality that Mary and Joseph faced as Jesus was born among us
–  difficult travel over rough terrain when 9 mos. Pregnant
-          Under the control of the Roman gov’t that could demand such a journey
-          No place to rest after a weary journey except amongst the orders of a stable
-          No welcome or hospitality – could it have been b/c of the questionable situation regarding Mary’s pregnancy

But this year, while I knew that I needed this service, that I need the grace of this service, I have been scared as well.   Do it want to face my own pain?  How can I pastor others in the midst of my own sorrow?

This service invites us, invites me to be vulnerable, to touch those tender and hurting places that I have tried to keep busy and ignore, push aside for another day or just take a deep breath and endure.  It offers a place of rest and comfort away from my own attempts to be strong and carry on

I looked through a variety of books and other resources so that I could avoid my own sorrow and focus elsewhere.  There is surely someone else’s words that will suffice and will be acceptable under the circumstances.   I have gotten fairly good at putting aside my own emotions, for the most part, over the years.

Death and sorrow are no strangers.  I have faced many deaths and leavings throughout my life
-          From the time of my birth when my twin sister died
-          The death of my birth father before I was four
-          While I was blessed to have five sets of grandparents, all 10 of them have died – the last and most difficult one being my Grandpa Berg to whom I felt the closest
-          The death of my stepfather a year or two before I met Michael
-          Have presided over at least 100 or more funerals in my years as serving as a pastor (with as many as 10 of them in the past few months)
-          I have experienced a kind of death when I resigned from my last congregation and was on leave,  from call, unemployed, for a year
-          As well as the ending and changing of various relationships over the years

Death is no stranger and I have even “prided” myself on being a survivor amidst all these deaths; pulling myself up by those “proverbial boot straps” and getting on with what needs to be done until my grief catches me off guard and slides down my face

But this service, these words that I speak, that we share together this night are calling me to face the pain, the sorrow, the grief – to be honest with myself in the presence of God.  It brings us to the manger, along with Mary and Joseph in the harshness of their own reality, in the dark nights of our own souls.  And it is here that we meet Jesus.

God knows the pains and sorrows of our hearts better than we ourselves.  While we may not always be able to name them – God knows them.  When we don’t even want to voice them, the Holy Spirit intercedes for us in sighs too deep for words.

Christ was not born to brush away all the sorrows of this world, to whisk them away on the wind so that we would live a kind of “don’t worry, be happy” kind of life.  We are met by Christ at the place of our sorrow.  We are met by the One whose love is so powerful that it would face death itself, showing us that love never does end, that love overcomes death and sorrow, offering healing, hope and peace.

We come this evening to name our sorrows, our frustrations, our pain.  In the naming, we are offering them to the Christ-child, not to “fix”, but to help us carry them.  In the words of scripture, we hear the words of hope spoken by those who have gone before us, those who have faced pain and sorrow of their own.  They share their own journeys through the “valley of the shadow of death”, knowing that God accompanied them in those times.

As we come to name before God our own sorrows on this longest of nights, we come seeking the peace and comfort of Christ.  We come, magnifying the name of God – for he is the One from whom light shines in the darkness.

I end with a Blessing for the Longest Night written by Jan Richardson, following the death of her own husband a few years ago.  May her words shine Christ’s light on us as well.

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

International Womens Day

As I sit here in my red shirt in my office (no, I didn't "strike" today), I am reminded of countless women who have been influential in my own life and so I want to honor them here with brief tributes (this is most certainly not an exhaustive list; and I suspect that I will continue to add to it).

Amanda Peterson Alquist, my great-great grandmother who came from Sweden by herself at 18 to build a new life in the US (we still make her Swedish rye bread today)

Edla Bloomquist, grandmother of my grandfather who spoke only Swedish raised my grandfather and took in boarders to make ends meet

Margaret Berg & Altjie Manske, maternal & paternal grandmothers who's gifts of hospitiality, faith and love reflected throughout their lives.

Elaine Berg, mother extraordinarie who lives as an example of living your life to its fullest no matter the obstacles, setbacks or curveballs that life throws at you.  She showed us what it means to be a "right on woman" and to not accept any less

Marilyn Dyer, "wicked" stepmother whose does celebrate life in all its fullness with love and laughter

Cristina Dyer-Droback, "favorite" sister whose creativity finds its expression in work and play, setting the example for the next generation of "right on women" with Serena

Consciousness-raising women (Mom, Bernice, Pam and Dorothy) who, while they didn't "burn their bras", sought to be and raise "feminists" in their midst

De Brown who helped me to "not take any shit" from others and stand up for myself

Marie Jerge, pastor/bishop/friend  whose gracious leadership and spirit-filled faith serves as an example to me daily (she is also a mentor)

Female Clergy Prayer group (Susan, Ruth, Marie, Maryann) with whom I journeyed in faith during my time in WNY.  Their prayerful support and witness continues to undergird my journey today

Clergy sisters (Lena, Nicole, Stephanie, Lydia) with whom I meet with now as we share the joys, struggles and laughter of parish ministry

Patricia Lull, pastor and internship supervisor helped this "PK" (pastor's kid) find her own voice as a pastor, challenging me and helping me clarify "why I wanted to be a pastor"

Marion Love, Theatre dept. chair at college who encouraged and supported me both in quite literally finding my voice as well as in the discernment process of going to seminary

Through her-story
Suffergettes such as Susan B. Anthony, Sojouner Truth and so many others that we do not know their names who fought so hard for their own rights as well as the rights of others so that I have the privilege and responsiblity of voting

Historical figures like Sybil Luddington, Abigail Adams and the like who only seem to get a footnote in our history books and yet played much larger roles in our history than they are given credit for

Nobel peace recipents like Malala and Leymah Gbowee  for standing up in the face of injustice, despite the dangers, to bring peace and hope into the lives of others

Celebrities like Michelle Obama, Beyonce, Ellen and Oprah who don't like the world define or direct their identity

I thank God everytime that I remember each of you and pray that, inspired by your life and witness, I may help others find their own voice and be bold in the use of our gifts for the sake of all people