A post in which I almost apologize for not posting

When I was little, I would get lots of diaries and journals for gifts from my parents. It made sense to them: the teachers said their daughter was a good writer, and therefore she must enjoy writing and then we’ll give her these blank notebooks that she can turn into stories and tey can sell as books and make cash money and retire early off their daughter’s genius. Ka-ching! But most of those journals my parents got me, today they sit in their attic only filled in about 10 pages deep, with the last entry starting “Dear diary, Sorry I haven’t written in a while, but…”

My parents are still working.

True story: When I was accepted into seminary, my letter included an addendum informing me of the writing center at VTS, and that I was ‘strongly encouraged’ to seek help from it.

It’s hard to justify coming back into blogging when you could never really justify why you were in it to begin with. Let me try this: I’ve written to be seen and heard before and I’ve also found joy in those times and I’m not sure if it’s correlation or causation. And if it is causation, I’m not sure which is causing which.

So I’m back. Humbly, but not too humbly. Confidently, but not too confidently. Caution be damned.

Like Jesus.

Sermon- Easter 2b

So I’m an entire week late in posting this, but it’s my sermon from last Sunday at the church I grew up in, Christ Episcopal Church, Bowling Green.

John 20:19-31

 

When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.”

A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.” Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!”Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.

Let me ask a question that many of us might have been asked before, but it probably wasn’t in an Episcopal Church: do you have a personal relationship with Jesus? Maybe it seems like a loaded question- we live in a part of the country where it’s commonly used as a pretext for an agenda or as a litmus test for judgement, but since you can trust that you’ll get none of that from me, I’ll ask again: do you have a personal relationship with Jesus?

The thing is, personal relationships are sticky. They’re imperfect.  Personal relationships mean that we show both our good sides: our devotion and affection, as well as our less-than-flattering sides: our vulnerabilities, jealousies, and insecurities. We give our whole self to our relationships and don’t get to pick and choose.

In this morning’s gospel, we heard about Thomas looking for a hands-on faith. Literally. After missing out on seeing the resurrected Son, he’s dubious.  He couldn’t believe the resurrection until he touched Jesus’ own wounds. His so-called doubt isn’t about any lack of faith.

Put yourself in Thomas’s shoes: In a week, you’ve seen the person you’ve devoted your life to arrested, tried in a kangaroo court, tortured, and killed in the most humiliating and degrading way possible—and then, only a few days later, you go out to grab some food for your friends while you’re together mourning your loss, and you come back to them insisting that your teacher has come back to life!

Do you think maybe that will all seem a bit implausible—particularly in an emotionally raw state? It’s less a matter of “I’m not sure that really happened” and more a matter of “my heart simply can’t come to terms with that.” And he waits. He stays, and waits for one whole week.

Rachel Held Evans is an author just a few years older than me, from Dayton, Tennessee, and she wrote her book Evolving in Monkey Town: How a girl who knew all the answers learned to ask the questions. (her hometown, Dayton is famous or maybe infamous for being home to the Scopes monkey trials, where in 1925 the State of Tennessee accused school teacher John Scopes of teaching about evolution in the classroom) It’s a book about how her own faith grew from being full of unquestionable answers,  to one more open and honest. In it, she writes “Doubt is a difficult animal to master because it requires we learn the difference between doubting God and doubting what we believe about God. The former has the potential to destroy faith; the latter has the power to enrich and refine it. The former is a vice; the latter is a virtue.”

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Jesus did make himself known to Thomas. Thomas’ vulnerabilities, jealousies and insecurities did nothing to scare Jesus away. In fact, Jesus addresses the problem even before Thomas says anything to him—note that right after entering the room, before Thomas has a chance to say anything, Jesus tells him to touch his hands and side. At this point, Thomas has told just the other disciples that he wouldn’t believe until he’d seen. But Jesus addresses Thomas’s doubts even before Thomas has talked to him—and there’s no rebuke there, no judgment.

This is what our best relationships are like, right? People who know us so well that they just walk into a room and see us and instantly know what’s wrong, who love us for our quirks but aren’t afraid to take us to task when the things we value most about ourselves are getting in the way of our moving forward.

That’s the same way our personal relationship with Jesus can work. As luck would have it, God’s omniscience even includes knowing you inside and out, backwards and forwards, your past, your future, your present.

If Jesus walked into this room right now, he’d know exactly what you needed to hear and say it.

What do you think Jesus would say to you right now? would it be a word of comfort? challenge? rebuke?

—-that’s the seed of the personal relationship with Jesus – let him talk to you – too often prayer is about talking at God or using a conversation with God as a pretext for talking to ourselves or to others – what would you and Jesus talk about, if he were here?

I get a lot of comfort from those last words Jesus says in this gospel — “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet come to believe.” — he’s talking about every one of us here today. In a few moments when we share a meal we call the Eucharist and eat and drink the bread and wine that we somehow come to believe is Jesus. However we get there, it’s in that coming to believe that we will be blessed.

Good Christian B****es

Okay, Hollywood- are you really giving us this show? I sometimes get edgy when the entertainment industry takes on spiritual issues. It often feels like they have no regard for their great contributions to the dialogue on faith. It’s my understanding that hospital shows like ER, Grey’s Anatomy and even Scrubs employed actual medical doctors to sit with the writers and tweak out the details of their profession to be shown accurately. Hollywood seems to take no similar measures with theologians.

But I’ll still watch it. Chalk it up to morbid curiosity. And that Kristen Chenoweth cracks me up.

The story begins with Amanda Vaughn’s lavish southern California house being repossessed after investigations into her late husbands illicit business dealings. In an act of desperation, Amanda and her two teenage children pick up and move back with her mother in a suburb of Dallas, Texas. If that prodigal son imagery weren’t blatant enough for you, Kristen Chenoweth’s character, Carlene Cockburn, takes time in church to recount that parable, except her version appears in no Bible I own, giving emphasis to the son’s deeply expressed repentance.

Except if this story really played out like the prodigal son, there would be no series, just a silly pilot that wouldn’t be able to sell it’s ad time. But maybe that’s the appeal of this show- highlighting that we are broken people living in a broken world, striving our best, yet failing horribly. And that in some places, it’s the most “Christian” among us that ignore this truth.

Hypocrisy can be funny. I’m going to give the producers of the show the benefit of the doubt and assume that that’s what they set out to show, but there’s a limited potential for humor there, in my opinion. I’m curious to see how long this show will last. Reviews were mediocre.

Did you watch the show- what’dya think?

(By the way, there’s a whole other rant I could’ve gone on about how I HATE the b-word. Another day, Cortney. Another day)

Sermon- Lent 2B, March 4, 2012

Mark 8:27-38

Jesus went on with his disciples to the villages of Caesarea Philippi; and on the way he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that I am?” And they answered him, “John the Baptist; and others, Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets.” He asked them, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter answered him, “You are the Messiah.” And he sternly ordered them not to tell anyone about him.

Then he began to teach them that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. He said all this quite openly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. But turning and looking at his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.”

He called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it. For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life? Indeed, what can they give in return for their life? Those who are ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of them the Son of Man will also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.”

“They tried to make me go to rehab but I said ‘no, no, no’
Yes I’ve been black but when I come back you’ll know know know
I ain’t got the time and if my daddy thinks I’m fine
He’s tried to make me go to rehab but I won’t go go go”

Before rumors get started, let me clarify, these words aren’t mine, but the catchy refrain from that soulful hit by Amy Winehouse. This song won her a Grammy for best song of the year in 2008 and last July, Amy died of an overdose. It was tragic and unsurprising and tragically unsurprising.

It seems like a common story among all sorts of addicts, famous and normal alike. Don’t get me wrong, rehab really works wonders for some, but for others, something in the process of fixing their addiction seems worse than the addiction itself and all its sever side effects. Somehow no matter how far, how low they sink, sobriety’s just not worth it. It’s perplexing.

This morning we heard Jesus called to both the crowds and the disciples about becoming one of his followers. He asks them to take up their cross. He probably knew about our tendencies as humans to avoid what is hard, what is painful, to grow comfortable with our dependencies. And he also knew that following him would at some point require simply getting over this. The Christian walk asks more for us.

So when I hear those stories of Amy Winehouse and other addicts and their struggles with rehab, I have to catch myself before I get a little smug or judgemental. I stop and remind myself, I’m not so different. None of us are so different. Maybe my dependencies aren’t chemical in nature, but I still struggle daily, and go to great lengths to resist looking my demons in the eye. I’m just as prone to run away from my cross instead of towards it.

Suffering is as much a part of the good news as resurrection is. Peter is the one who gives voice to how unjust this sounds. His indignant reaction speaks a little too well to my own heart. I like my grapes seedless, my chicken boneless, and my savior painless. They tried to make me take up my cross, but I said no, no, no.

Come this May, it will have been five years since I graduated college and as it turns out because of my vagabond tendencies, each of those 5 years marks a different community that I’ve come to love, worship with, share my heart with and then leave. The leaving part never gets easier and for me has resulted in a number of nights spent crying in my pillow, dealing with the grief. Leaving South Africa was especially hard, and I tell people my memories of my last month there are literally a blur because of the tears that seemed to well up in my eyes almost constantly.

Each time I’ve gone through this grief, there’s a brief moment of cynicism where I remember, “Cortney, you could’ve avoided this all together. You could’ve rejected whatever call or nudge it was that brought you here.”  It’s a fleeting thought, because I quickly realize that there’s nothing I would trade for the relationships and experiences these communities brought me.

This suffering isn’t for naught. Here in 2012 we get the luxury of hearing this gospel passage knowing good and well that the Jesus story doesn’t end on Good Friday. In fact, the story doesn’t end at all. Our suffering, our losing our lives in the name of the gospel, won’t be the end of us, either.

It’s a question we get to ask ourselves every day: “They tried to make me take up my cross but I said…”

Amen.

My apologies

This past week, I’ve been winning at life while failing at Lent. Can we say those cancel each other out? Here are some quick facts:

Miles run in Lent: 8. Somewhere got an idea I could do 100 for all of Lent. I can say I can run for 25 minutes straight now, which is great considering at New Years, 3 minutes knocked the wind out of me.

Days in a row I skipped blogging after saying I’d blog every day in Lent: 5. Damn. I must not really love Jesus.

Status in discernment process: Postulant. This pretty much means that you can go ahead and write in your calendars for early summer 2015 to attend my ordination to the priesthood. Write it in big black sharpie permanent ink.

Place I’m giving the sermon tomorrow: Christ Episcopal Church, Bowling Green. (8am only) These are the folks that knew me well as a snot-nosed kid who only saw the altar as the ultimate hide-and-go-seek hiding spot. Now they’re giving me the pulpit, which is, by the way, a horrible spot for hide-and-go-seek.

That’s that. And to make your Saturday better, here is a song that you will enjoy: