Don’t Conform!

This is one of those few occasions when I love Paul. He clearly states, in Romans 12:2, “Don’t conform yourselves to this age, but be transformed by the renewal of your minds, so that you can judge what God’s will is – what is good, pleasing and perfect.” And how do we renew our minds? By trying new things, going new places, listening to different viewpoints.

(To hear the full audio version of this sermon, click here.)

In the movie Dead Poets Society, Robin Williams plays a literature professor who, at one point, stands up on his desk and says to the class, “Just when you think you know something, you must look at it in a different way.” Robin WilliamsAnd then he has all his students climb up on his desk to experience a different view before they are dismissed. Excellent!

To be transformed in our personal, professional or spiritual lives, we cannot be stagnant, predictable, stuck in routines and habits, closed-minded or fearful. Transformation, epiphanies, growth, “aha” moments, are more likely to happen when we’ve risked, stepped out of our comfort zone, sought out new information and ideas, and tried to see things from a new perspective.

Sunday morning I illustrated this to the kids by standing on my head. Things look completely different when standing on one’s head. Just try it! So, metaphorically, we need to practice standing on our heads. It’s so easy to fall into the same routines, or ruts. We eat the same six meals, drive the same routes day after day, go to the same restaurants, hang with the same people, read the same authors, travel to the same places. Not to mention we conform to church rules and expectations as well as societal and gender norms. How will that renew our minds and transform our souls? Well, it might, but it was Einstein who said something like, “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.”

So, don’t conform! Do something new today and as many days as you can. Seek out new thoughts about the Divine, learn about a different religion, try a new spiritual practice, talk to someone about their spiritual journey. Explore, grow, renew your mind! Truly amazing things can happen.

Love & Light,
Kaye

The Scratchy Voice

I had a dear friend once who was questioning her call into the ministry when a seminary professor said to her, “People need to hear your scratchy voice.” And, no, this was not referring to a throat condition causing her to speak in a hoarse whisper. The message delivered was clear. We need people who will not simply kowtow and fall in line with the powers that be. We need voices who speak the truth to power, even if their voice shakes. We need voices who aren’t always silky smooth and easy to listen to because they rattle us out of our complacency. We need voices who challenge the way it has always been so that we can live into what can be.

There are many, many of us who are wondering what on earth is happening to our world. Sad doesn’t even begin to describe my feelings about the situation in Ferguson, and at the Mexican border. Concerned doesn’t even touch my feelings about the health care system, the lack of respect for women’s choices about their bodies, unemployment and underemployment, education, poverty, homelessness and bullying. Fed up doesn’t come close to my frustration with the religious right with their rigid, dogmatic, patriarchal, fear-based preaching.

Truly, the issues are overwhelming, and the polarity in our country and world becomes more and more pronounced. It feels like we’re getting closer and closer to the breaking point, and then what?

I have no answers. But I do believe that this is part of the process of evolving. It is messy, ugly, frightening and maddening, but history shows that we need these times to grow into the next stage of becoming (if we don’t annihilate the human species in the process). And with that I have hope.

In the meantime, the one thing I know I can do is be the scratchy voice. I can declare a different, more inclusive, loving, justice-filled, non-fear-based way of being Christian. I can stand up against the bullies. I can refuse to be silenced as a lesbian and a woman.  I can sign the petitions, I can march in protest, I can call my government officials, I can vote. I can show love to those whom others dismiss or discard. I can pray for peace… peace of heart, mind, soul and body. And I can hold the crucible of hope for better days when we’ve finally evolved into a deeper spirituality and a world in which all persons are of sacred worth.

Be the scratchy voice.

Kaye

You can run but you can’t hide

In the last of our sermons on Jacob, this is exactly what he finds out: you can run, but you can’t hide. After leaving his home 20 years earlier because he’d been such a little shyster to his brother that Esau wanted to kill him, God has told him it is time to go home. Jacob realizes that it’s time to face the music, time to be responsible, time to make amends. But it isn’t easy. This will perhaps be the hardest thing that Jacob has ever done. But for him to become the person he was created to be, he must face his past in a creative, healthy way.

It’s the same for all of us. We’re more apt to run from the things that have hurt us, or from the things we’ve done to hurt others, than we are to deal with them. And the longer we put off dealing with them, the harder it becomes. Yet, for us to be free of their grip on our souls, we have to face our “demons” (if you will) to take their power away and move on.

In Genesis 32, Jacob’s inner struggle about going home is illustrated by the story of how he wrestles with “someone” (Jewish Midrash tells us it was an angel, protector of his life and inner identity) through the night until he receives a blessing and a new name.

Jacob came away bruised and battered, but he survived. And what I find incredibly poignant in the story is this… Jacob’s original betrayal was to put goat skins on his neck and arms to be hairy like his brother and go to his dying, blind father’s bedside to ask for his blessing and his father asks, “Which of my two sons are you?” And Jacob, lying through his teeth, replies, “I am Esau, your firstborn,” thus attaining what was rightfully Esau’s blessing. Now, 20 years later Jacob is demanding instead the stranger’s or angel’s blessing and is asked, “What is your name?” He replies, “Jacob.”  It has taken a long time, but he has claimed his identity, proven his strength, and he is ready to face what he has done.

Then the stranger says, “Your name will no longer be called “Jacob” or “Heel-Grabber” but “Israel” – “Overcomer of God.” He is no longer the Trickster and Betrayer of our story, he has grown, he has changed and now he is fit to become the father of the 12 tribes. This encounter has helped to wrench Jacob free from the past and release him from that and reorient him toward the future.

It is important for each of us to realize that we do not need to remain bound by our pasts or pigeon-holed into roles in our families and tribes. It may be a great inner struggle with ourselves and with our God, we may come out with a few scars, but at the end we will find that we have been blessed. The long festering wounds will begin to heal, and we are freed to move forward into a better future.

Love & Light,

Kaye

Broken Promises

Kaye took a well-deserved day off last Sunday and asked me to fill in for her. We were in the midst of a series of stories about Jacob in Genesis. It fell to me to talk about Jacob’s Uncle Laban promised to give his younger daughter’s, Rachel’s, hand in marriage to Jacob in return for seven years of labor on the farm. And then he broke that promise.

Uncle Laban threw a big wedding feast with lots of food and drink…lots and lots of drink. As the party died down Jacob staggered to his tent. Jacob’s uncle sent his older daughter, Leah, to Jacob’s tent. It was a really bad “morning after” for poor Jacob finding Leah in bed with him rather than the beautiful Rachel. Jacob stormed over to Laban and demanded to know why he had deceived him and broken his promise.

Uncle Laban had all the power in this transaction. He owned the farm. And he was the father of the young women. Further more Jacob had been sent by his parents to Laban to find a wife. It had been a long journey of at least two days. Seven years had gone by. He could not go back home without a bride. It was easy for Uncle Laban to simply shrug his shoulders and say, “It is not our custom to let the younger child marry first. Finish the wedding week with the elder and I will let you marry the younger for another seven years work.”

Jacob could do nothing but accept the offer. Laban had the power. In the ensuing years Jacob had sons by both Leah and Rachel, with their maids Bilhah and Zilpah thrown into the deal. Jaocb’s story in Genesis is the continuation of the creation stories earlier in the book. Jacob’s story is about the creation of Israel. His sons were the twelve tribes of Israel. (Israel being the name given to Jacob by God’s angel after Jacob won a wrestling match with him.) The story of Jacob is not unlike the earlier creation stories. They are true but not factual. They are stories that are true because of our faith in them over the ages.

Our God is a loving and patient God. Jacob had a lot of faults. He got his father’s birthright and blessing that should have been Esau’s, his older brother’s, through deceit and treachery. And because of that Esau was determined to kill Jacob.

Through our Judeo-Christian heritage we are children of Israel (Jacob). Today we live in a world of treachery, lies and deceit, resulting in wars, death, and destruction. Thousands are dying in Afghanistan, Iraq, Israel, Palestine and the Ukraine because of broken promises. Where do we stand? Let us look at troubles closer to home and parallel in a way to Jacob’s experience with his Uncle Laban.

I am talking about the tens of thousands of children spilling over our border with Mexico. They are fleeing from the violence filled lands of Central America.

In most cases their parents sent them. Rebekah and Isaac sent Jacob to a new land for a better life and away from danger of death. Many of these children are vulnerable to the wiles of human smugglers, the sex traders, accidents, and death in the burning hot deserts on their desperate journey to the land of the free. Many people call them “Illegals” or “undocumented”. They are neither. They are children. And they are, by any definition, refugees. Where as Christians, descendants of Israel, do we stand?

Give me your tired, your poor,

Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free…

Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me.

I lift my lamp beside the golden door.

That is the promise known around the world engraved on our Statue of Liberty. Uncle Laban broke his promise to his helpless nephew Jacob. As Christians let us take our stand. Let us make sure Uncle Sam does not back down from the promise to these refugee children.

Someone else said, “Let the children come to me.”

(Thanks to Rev. Glen Halbe, retired UCC pastor, for preaching and for sharing his words here.)