I feel like lately my blog has been a little unbalanced, as it's mostly been spiritual postings. I am going to post some recipes soon-tomorrow, I am hopefully making a rum key lime cake as a belated Father's Day gift to my dad. Posting recipes takes a little more time than the spiritual stuff, because I have to upload pictures and find the recipes, etc., but there will be more diversity here soon. Also, the spiritual stuff is really on my mind nowadays, because I am studying theology with my minister. So bear with me another day, as I talk about more spirituality.
Yesterday I led the worship and preached at my church, Circle of Grace. It was a great experience and I think I did a good job. I find it very validating to be allowed to preach at my church, especially considering that I have never been to seminary. In my sermons, the talk is always centered around recovery, which is something I do have credential in-that is, I have great life experience in recovering from mental illness.
Today I am posting the scriptures I used and my sermon. My sermon has a lot to do with Circle of Grace, but hopefully you can still get some meaning out of it. (Just so you know, the scriptures come from The Inclusive Bible.)
But you, YHWH, don’t be far off! My strength, hurry to help! Rescue my life from the sword, my dear life from the power of these dogs! Save me from the lion’s mouth, my poor soul from the wild bull’s horn! Then I will proclaim your Name to my sisters and brothers, and praise you in the full assembly: “You who worship YHWH, give praise! Daughters of Leah, daughters of Rachel, glorify YHWH! Sons of Jacob, fall down and worship! For God has not despised-not disdained-the suffering of those in pain! God didn’t hide but answered them when thety cried for help!” You are the theme of my praise in the Great Assembly, and I will fulfill my vows in the presence of your worshipers. Those who are poor wil eat and be satisfied, those who seek you will give you praise-long life to their hearts! The whole earth, from one end to the other, will remember and come back to you; all the families of the nations will bow down to you. For yours is the kindom, you Ruler of nations!
Before faith came, we were under the constraint of the Law, locked in untl the faith that was coming would be revealed. In other words, the Law was our monitor until Christ came to bring about our justification through faith. But now that faith is here, we are no longer in the monitor’s charge. Each one of you is a child of God because of your faith in Christ Jesus. All of you who have been baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. In Christ there is no Jew or Greek, slave or citizen, male or female. All are one in Christ Jesus. Furthermore, if you belong to Christ, you are the offspring of Abraham, which means you inherit all that was promised.
I am really happy to have another opportunity to lead worship and preach today. I feel that before I get into the sermon, I should explain myself though. Right now, I am studying the Bible and theology with Connie, because I feel called to preach. I have actually felt this way for a very long time and it is only recently that I have had the self-confidence to say that I would serve the call I felt. The call is this: something will happen and I get the urge to talk about it. Words come into my head and they become a sermon and the sermon does not leave my mind until I have a chance to talk or write about it. When I say a sermon does not leave my mind, I mean it-what I need to say may stay with me for months! I want to thank Circle of Grace for giving me the opportunity to speak my piece.
Dwight told me that I need to say something funny or an anecdote, so I am going to begin with something funny! This morning, when I was looking over the scriptures for today, Harry was barking extremely loudly and driving me crazy. I was reading Psalm 22 and the phrase “Rescue my life from the sword, my dear life from the power of these dogs!” really came alive. Those words became a literal prayer for me.
As many of you know, I volunteer with NAMI-the National Alliance of Mental Illness-as a facilitator. When I first started facilitating, inwardly, I had a lot of trouble, because there was a woman who told me she did not want to recover. My first instinct was to tell her to leave. I didn’t and I tried not to let my anger show, but it really got to me, because I take my recovery very seriously. Later on, I was talking with the executive director of NAMI about some of the problems I was having and I asked him, “Why would someone come to our group if that person does not want to recover?” and he replied, “Some people come to NAMI’s support groups, because they are the only place where they feel safe. She must need a safe place of no judgement to talk about what she is going through.” As soon as I heard those words, I immediately thought of our covenant to be “safe haven” to each other and I felt as if Godde had just hit me on the head! I felt slightly ashamed that I had to be reminded. I take our covenant very seriously and I strongly feel that I should carry its principles to everyone I meet, for we are all children of God.
When I read the lectionary for today, the message that stands out to me is that we are all descendants of Abraham and Issac-we are all God’s children. It seems that is the message that God has been trying to remind me for a while now, because before that conversation, when I was talking with my sponsor about my feelings, she kept on telling me, “You must be more patient with people-remember they are also a child of Godde!”
Godde’s children need to have a place that is safe haven. So what is safe haven? It is a place where people without fear can be all that they are created to be. Theologian John Spong in his book, Rescuing the Bible from Fundamentalism, writes, “Jesus touched the depth of being, and the Christ experience is nothing less than our call to be who we are, inside the love of God. I worship this Jesus when I claim my own being and live it out courageously and in the process call others to have the courage to be themselves.” (242)
My safe haven is Circle of Grace, because it is a place that I feel accepts all of me. It accepts who I was made to be in God’s image. Once when some of my NAMI friends were talking about certain issues within the organization, I told one of them that I trusted my church more than I did NAMI. The person I told got really upset and exclaimed, “That’s awful! If you cannot trust a fellow consumer with your troubles, then who can you trust? A consumer should be able to fully understand what you’re going through.” The problem is that I am more than a simply a consumer and I am more than simply the sum of my problems. I need a space where the people see all of me. I need people who say, as India Arie says in one of her songs, “I see the God in you.”
Lately, I have come to realize that Circle of Grace is my safe haven, because when I serve at Circle of Grace I feel like I am living up to my potential. I think the experience of living up to one’s potential or “being all that one can be” feels different for everyone, but it is a certain, specific experience. For me, I feel like I am a full, contributing, responsible adult. I imagine some people might feel this way all the time-maybe too much!-if they have someone that they are responsible for, and perhaps they need to feel more carefree, but outside of Circle of Grace, I rarely feel this way. Because I am still trying to find a job that will adequately support me and because I am still battling the consequences of having low self-esteem and depression, I often am afraid to make my own decisions and I feel like a little kid. Serving Circle of Grace gives me validation as a person of worth and a child of Godde.
It seems to me that to be a place of safe haven, we need to be accepting of all. If, as Paul writes, there is “no Jew or Greek, slave or citizen, male or female,” then that means there is no judgement. I’ll be honest, I have a problem with that. Now my own problem is not connected with what you may typically think of as prejudice-I don’t think I have major hang-ups over gender, nationality, race, sexuality, age or ability - my big thing, is does that particular person DO enough? I think to myself, “I have worked so hard to get to where I am today. That person over there isn’t doing what I’m doing. Therefore, he or she isn’t working hard enough. I must be better than that person.” My sponsor clued me in that when I think that way, I am really being resentful. I am resentful that I have worked so hard to be doing well, while other people aren’t, but the fact is that I choose to work towards wholeness. If I have a resentment, I need to take it up with myself. But I don’t think Godde wants us to be resentful, because to be resentful suggests that there is a hierarchy and we are all equal in the eyes of Christ. I think it is very interesting that in some of Octavia E. Butler’s science fiction, she says the greatest human fallacy is that we are hierarchial.
I have always had a problem with “doing.” I tried to live perfectly, but all that got me was an eating disorder. I thought if I did all the right things, then I would be accepted, but people still thought I was strange, because of my many obsessions. The good news is that I no longer think that following the way of Christ means being perfect-it means instead being all of who you were meant to be. This is a hard concept, because it also means that there aren’t a lot of rigid rules that one needs to follow in order to be right with God. As Paul says, “But now that faith is here, we are no longer in the monitor’s charge.” We no longer have to try so hard. Instead, I believe we need to lean upon each other in faith.
And what is faith? Marcus Borg writes in his book, “Reading the Bible Again for the First Time,” faith is often “believing things that one would normally reject.” For instance, believing in a virgin birth or that during Pentecost, flames danced above people’s heads. I propose to instead think of faith as following in Jesus’ way. Now faith is more of an action. We must follow the One who is all-inclusive and is full of liberating power. We must not judge or create barriers to growth in Godde. We are all one in Christ and need to be places of safety for each other, just as Godde is a place of safety for us. Let us be all that we can be together.
I must say that since I have been cat sitting for Connie and Karen this past week, I have seen Circle of Grace members be safe haven for each other. I have seen it every morning when Barbara makes me and anyone else who happens to be at the house breakfast. I have seen it when Brooke takes Harry to Wag A Lot. I have seen it when Brooke and Marlene make dinner for other people and I have seen it when Dwight listened to me yesterday say that raspberries are my favorite food and then gave me raspberries later that night. We are already helping, listening, and honoring each other and that to me is also what being safe haven is all about. I am truly grateful for it.
I’ve talked about how Circle of Grace is a safe haven for me. I was wondering how it has been one for you or if you have other places/groups of people that are safe haven, how have they been a safe haven? What does “being all that you can be” feel like to you?