Some of my recent sermons and conversations at Mountain Community Mennonite Church (September 2016 to the present).
Buddhist philosopher Jack Hamblin, plus a happy cat.
Photo courtesy of Jack Hamblin.
Click here to listen to the full conversation.
Guest speaker Jack Hamblin specializes in Indo-Tibetan Buddhist philosophy; his work takes an interdisciplinary approach to questions of consciousness, ethics, and social justice. He has a Master of Arts in Philosophy from Colorado State University.
As part of our sermon series on spiritual practices, I wanted to learn more about a spiritual practice that Buddhists are known for: meditation.
In our interfaith (inter-philosophy?) conversation on November 4, 2018, we shared our perspectives from our different traditions, and I asked some hard-hitting questions like:
--What does your meditation practice look like? Why do you meditate?
--Christians have a long history of meditation, with practices like lectio divina, centering prayer (that Quakers are known for), and meditating on the natural world. How are these similar to and different from Buddhist meditation practices?
--If someone were to make a critique that meditation (whether Christian or Buddhist) teaches disengagement and trains people to be disconnected from the reality of life, what would you tell them?
--What do you wish people understood about Buddhism in general?
--Why did you agree to come and have interfaith dialogue today? Why is it important to you to talk to people outside of your philosophy tradition?
Click here to hear Jack's insightful answers to these and other questions.
Jephthah's Daughter by James Tissot (circa 1896)
This story reminds us that women are not safe in this world--that violence happens to women all the time . . .
This man--Jephthah--made a horrifying vow to God [to murder the first thing that walked out of his house if he won a battle] and kept it; he murdered his own daughter. This type of behavior must be condemned. It's not okay for men to lord it over women. It's not okay to intimidate her, to put her down or call her names. It's not okay to control what she does, to make threats, to hurt her. It's not okay to make her ask for money. It's not okay to make the big household decisions without her input. It's not okay for us to look the other way while some men are allowed to be predators.
This is a problem that is ancient and yet new again every day. There's a statistic that has haunted me for years--it's from the book Half the Sky by Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn: More girls were killed in the last 50 years, precisely because they were girls, than men killed in all the wars in the 20th century combined. This is why I'm speaking about abuse against women rather than all abuse, because statistically, it's more dangerous to genetically be born a woman in this world than to choose to go off and fight in war. This should be incredibly concerning for peace churches like ours.
What is it like for women to live in this world, with these statistics? . . .
Click here to listen to the full sermon.
I would highly recommend checking out my main source that inspired much of this sermon: Just a Sister Away: A Womanist Vision of Women's Relationships in the Bible by Renita J. Weems, one of my theological heroes. I would also recommend Never Enough Flamingos about sexual abuse in the Mennonite Church by a wonderful and talented friend of mine, Janelle Diller.
In my theology class at Duke, someone asked my favorite professor Willie Jennings about faith and doubt and death. In particular, these hard questions: What do we do with depression or other mental illnesses that seem to steal peoples’ faith from them? And how do we understand dementia or disability—when people lose the very memory of who they are and what they believe about God? How does God see that?
Jennings said, “What constitutes a good death is a death in which the person is not alone . . . where there are people around who say, 'Even if you’ve stopped believing, I’ll hold on to the faith for you. And even in death, I’ll pray for you.' A good death is one in which we won’t let death have the last word."
Jennings told us about his father, who is 96. "My father doesn’t know who I am,” he said. “But I know who he is. When he was in the hospital, his church family came around his bed. We prayed for him. We believed for him. When he forgot our names, his own name, God’s name, we remembered for him. We spoke those names over him. You, here in this bed, you are our father, grandfather, brother; we love you. And God loves you.”
This is what we can be for each other. When we are in the darkness of doubt or suffering or death, when we have forgotten who God is, when we have forgotten our own names, we can be a community that speaks these names for one another. We can pick up the faith and carry it for each other because we were never meant to carry it alone in the first place.
Listen to the full sermon here.
Zambian photographer. Photo by Mark Neufeld.
My kid seems to have no issue with observing Sabbath. Photo by Amy.
What would it be like to rest? Really rest? Mirror God in ceasing from creating anything, and instead, enjoying the creation? Celebrating, reveling in the goodness of life?
I wondered what that Sabbath orientation might be like. I have a little bit of holy jealousy for this aspect of Judaism: the Sabbath. Of course Christians can take a day off like anyone else, but to have it celebrated as a way that you and everyone around you orders their lives--to have it as a spiritual practice, an offering to God--this is something I'd never deeply delved into before. I don't know about you, but I sneak rest in here or there and pretend that vegging out with Netflix is Sabbath-like rest when I know it's probably not. I'm consumed by a consumer culture that congratulates constant busyness--the ability to continue working despite complete exhaustion.
So this last month I waded into the waters of Sabbath, immersing myself in the theology of it, reading the words of Rabbi Abraham Heschel and Dr. Lauren Winner and Barbara Brown Taylor . . . but most of all attempting to practice it.
Here are some of the insights I've learned from this attempt: the who? what? where? when? and why? of Sabbath. Maybe you'll find these insights helpful.
Listen to the full sermon here.
"God is in the slums, in the cardboard boxes where the poor play house . . . God is in the silence of a mother who has infected her child with a virus that will end both their lives . . . God is in the cries heard under the rubble of war . . . God is in the debris of wasted opportunity and lives, and God is with us if we are with them." --Bono
Do we see our commonality with people on the move? Do we see the humanity in people on the move? And do we see Christ himself in people on the move?
Listen to the full sermon here.
" . . . I got up and grabbed a tree. I was so dizzy, I could only crawl. I tied my arm in a jacket and went to my house.
Then I heard voices. I thought it was the killers coming back for me . . . "
Elise Umuhoza Ngenzi shares her story of surviving the Rwandan genocide, including the miracles that happened during her harrowing journey and her eventual resettlement as a refugee in Colorado.
Listen to her story with her daughter Tina interpreting here.
Elise holding her grandbaby. Photo by Amy.
Susan Boyle on Britain's Got Talent
1 Samuel 16:1-13 " . . . for the Lord does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart."
Being a young female pastor has been a great experiment in discovering people's unspoken expectations of what pastors "should" look like. My favorite example was the day I met a complete stranger who was a professional woman herself.
"Oh you're at Duke? What are you studying?" She asked.
"I'm getting Masters of Divinity because I'd like to be a Mennonite pastor someday," I answered.
The woman stopped everything and literally stared at me, mouth open, with the biggest look of shock you can imagine. It was like I could see a fuse loose in her head as her mind was being blown. And she didn't even try to recover; she just walked away and never spoke to me again.
But haven't I been guilty of the same thing? The Susan Boyle phenomenon?
If I were to pick the next leader from a lineup of people I had never met before, who would I choose? Probably not the shortest person. Would I go with the ugliest person or the most beautiful? What age would I tend towards? Would I opt for a man or a woman? How about the person in the wheelchair?
And what does all that say about my bias?
Click here to listen to the entire sermon.
Click here for the clip of Susan Boyle's performance on Britain's Got Talent referenced in the sermon.
Click here for the article by Maureen Swinger about her brother Duane referenced in the sermon.
“At the center of the Christian tradition sits a table.” --Jennifer Ayres
I’m just gonna come out and say it right now: I love food. I love the smell of onions and garlic and oil heating up the stove. I love the first bite of my husband's freshly baked bread so hot from the oven that it melts the butter you put on it. I love dining at restaurants and ordering the teriyaki chicken burger or the Indian butter lamb or the pizza or even the kale salad. And don’t even get me started on my love of Rae’s key lime pie.
Maybe you can relate to my love of food.
And the church should have a lot to say about food. Humanity begins in a garden, with so much good stuff to eat. Christians believe that our bodies matter—the Word didn’t stay word, the Word became flesh—and flesh needs food. And Jesus himself is a regular foodie. He multiplies food, sits down and eats with all sorts of different folks all the time, he tells us that his own body should feed us, and we’re even dubbed the body of Christ.
So today we’ll be thinking theologically about food . . .
Click here to listen to the sermon.
Expressing my love of food in Bar Harbor, Maine.
Sunrise view from Mount Sinai. Photo by Amy.
“We have all known the long loneliness and we have learned that the only solution is love and that love comes with community.” --Dorothy Day, from her memoir The Long Loneliness
. . . Elijah has a death sentence on his head, and he’s freaked out about it, so he runs away with his servant. But then he even leaves behind his servant's support to go an entire day’s walk into the wilderness. He wants to be alone so that he can ask for death. He’s in a morbid place, complete with suicidal ideation.
It’s easy to believe the lie that we are, in fact, totally alone in our wilderness. That I am the only person who has ever faced this problem. That’s one of the first and most destructive lies of mental illness or loneliness in general—that we are alone and no one else understands or cares . . .
But I’m convinced that at some point in anyone’s life, this valley of loneliness, depression, or some other form of mental illness is a necessary valley. In other words, there are not “mentally ill people” and “people who never experience this,” but in the same way that our bodies will go through times of being sicker or healthier, our minds and souls will too—this is part of being human. That’s why normalizing it is so important, because it’s not some other community’s problem--this is a part of all of our lives . . .
Listen to the full sermon here.