Waking Up Earley

Thoughts, Ideas and Inspiration by Melissa Earley

Category: Uncategorized (page 1 of 5)

A Holy Communion

“What’s your name?” she asked again. 

“Melissa,” I answered again. “I’m the pastor at First United Methodist Church of Arlington Heights.” 

“Oh, that’s wonderful. Where do you live?”

“Arlington Heights.”

“That’s such a nice town. What church did you say you were from?”

“First United Methodist of Arlington Heights.”

“That’s my church.”

“Yes, I know. We have friends in common. I know the Robertsons.”

“How do you know the Robertsons?”

“We go to the same church.”

“What’s your name?”

“Melissa.”

I was visiting an elderly member of my church. Though her memory faltered, her hospitality never did. She was genuinely interested in me and glad to be making a new friend, again. 

I asked if she would like to join me in taking communion. “Oh, I would,” she said, so I set the chalice and paten on her bedside table, poured a bit of grape juice into the chalice, and put a piece of pita bread on the plate. Before I could say the customary words, and lead the familiar ritual, she reached out for the pottery chalice with both hands. 

“That’s heavy,” she said, and drew the cup to her lips, her face disappearing as she took drink after drink. “Mmmm, that’s good,” she said.

“Can I have a sip of juice?” I asked. She handed me the chalice and I drank. 

“Would you like a piece of bread?” I asked and tore off a piece of pita bread and handed it to her. 

“That’s good,” she said. “Would you like some?” 

“Thank you.” I took piece for myself and ate. “It is good.”

We chatted a bit longer. I ended our time in prayer for her, giving thanks for my new friend. Our sharing of the cup and bread didn’t follow the Book of Worship, but it was Holy Communion all the same. I think maybe that’s what Jesus intended when he said, “Do this as often as you gather in remembrance of me.” Nothing fancy. No long prayers or drawn out rituals. Just good food, new and old friends, and a chance to get to know each other a bit better. For me, the best communion prayer I’ll hear for a long time was said by a woman who couldn’t remember my name, “Mmmm. That’s good.”

Fickle Footsteps

“The stones would shout out.” I’ve always loved the image that as Jesus made his way into Jersualem all creation needed to praise God. That the need was so strong that like flooding waters that burst a damn, heavy snow that starts an avalanche, a wild fire whipped into fury by dry winds, it couldn’t be stopped.

36 As he [Jesus] rode along, people kept spreading their cloaks on the road. 37 As he was now approaching the path down from the Mount of Olives, the whole multitude of the disciples began to praise God joyfully with a loud voice for all the deeds of power that they had seen, 38 saying,

“Blessed is the king
    who comes in the name of the Lord!
Peace in heaven,
    and glory in the highest heaven!”

39 Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, order your disciples to stop.” 40 He answered, “I tell you, if these were silent, the stones would shout out.”

Luke 19:36-40

In the moment of Jesus’ triumphal entry, just days before his tragic death, everyone got it. The disciples who walked beside him, the bystanders who lined the streets, the people who waved branches and spread their cloaks on the road, all who Jesus was and their need of him. They had clarity about their deep need for a Savior, for someone who would meet them where they were and show them the way to God. Someone who would free them from being trapped in the identities of oppressor and oppressed, have and have not, insider and outsider and set them free to live as beloved children of God.

I know what’s coming next in the story. I know that in less than a week Jesus will be arrested, abandoned and betrayed by his friends, flogged, mocked, and crucified. 

We are a fickle species. I am all too aware of the inconstancy of my devotion, the unreliability of my loyalty. I know how easy it is to go from hope to cynicism, action to indifference, certain of God’s love to despair about God’s distance. But for now, for today, I’ll join the crowd in praising God and trusting Jesus. I’ll give thanks knowing that the way Jesus lived is the way of true life. I’ll make my way forward, following his footsteps. 

A Great Thanksgiving in the Midst of General Conference 2019

Leader: The Lord be with you.
All:         And also with you.
Leader: Lift up your hearts.
All:         We lift them up to the Lord.
Leader: Let us give thanks to the Lord our God.
All:         It is right to give our thanks and praise.

Leader: It is right, and a good and joyful thing, always and everywhere to give thanks to you, Almighty God.
You created us in your image.
You created us male, female and non binary.
You created us cis-gender and trans-gender.
You created us gay and straight and bisexual.
Each one of us is your beloved child.

We have told and believed lies denying our sacred worth.
You continue to call us back to you and to our true selves.

And so, with your people on earth
and all the company of heaven
we praise your name and join their unending hymn:                    

 All:         Holy, holy, holy Lord, God of power and might,
Heaven and earth are full of your glory.
Hosanna in the highest.
Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.
Hosanna in the highest.

Leader: Holy are you, and blessed is your Son Jesus Christ, 
in whom you have revealed yourself, our light and our salvation.
In Jesus you drew close to us,
showing us how to live in relationship with you and others.

Throughout his life Jesus ate with all sorts of people. 
He dined with sinner and saint, 
insider and outsider, 
upright and downtrodden, 
making of that motley crew a beloved community.

On the night before Jesus died, he took the bread and the cup.
He gave thanks to you and gave it to his disciples and said: “Take eat and
drink. I give myself for you.
Do this in remembrance of me. 

On the day you raised Jesus from the dead 
he was recognized by his disciples in the breaking of the bread. 
In the power of your Holy Spirit, the Church continues to eat with Jesus 
as we offer ourselves in praise and thanksgiving as a holy and living sacrifice, in union with Christ’s offering for us, as we proclaim the mystery of faith.

All:         Christ has died; Christ is risen; Christ will come again.

Leader: Pour out your Holy Spirit on us gathered here and on these gifts that in the breaking of this bread and the drinking from this cup we may know the presence of the living Christ, and be renewed as the body of Christ in the world.

If we are wounded, restore us.
If we are lost, redeem us.
If we are dead, resurrect us. 

Through the power of your Holy Spirit
make us one with Christ, 
one with each other and one in ministry to all the world 
so that through us the world might know your limitless love, 
your boundless mercy and your unending welcome.  
Through Christ, with Christ, in Christ, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, all honor and glory is yours, almighty God, now and forever.

 All: Amen.

No Candles Required

It was all so beautiful on Christmas Eve. The candles and Christmas tree lights revealed a sanctuary full of red-and-green plaid bow ties, Santa socks, sequined sweaters, and taffeta and tights. We really meant it when we raised our candles and sang, “Joy to the world, the Lord is come! Let earth receive her king!” Our hearts expanded to prepare him room.

But then we blew out the candles, turned on the lights and everyone bundled out to their cars. Some of us stuck around to be sure that there weren’t stray candles to be extinguished, the doors were locked and the bathroom lights were turned off. In the glare of the sanctuary lights we could see candle wax on the pews, dropped bulletins, and smudges on the windows. A dropped glove lay on the front sidewalk.

The true light that shines on all people was coming into the world.
John 1:9 (CEB)

Is the true light like the make-up mirror that magnifies and spotlights every blemish? Is it a giant neon arrow pointing out every flaw? Is it a blinking caution light warning the world that we are damaged?

Someone once came on-to a friend of mine by saying, “You look beautiful in candlelight.” My friend replied, “We all look good in candlelight.” We all do. It’s easy to believe that God would choose to dwell among us when all of our imperfections are hidden by the flame’s flicker. But then we go home to the reality of dinner-table tension and family spats. It’s hard to imagine that God would choose to be in that muddle when we’re looking for a way out of there.

What if the true light isn’t either candlelight that hides our imperfections or a spotlight that highlights them? What if the true light that comes into the world in Christ is a light that reveals who we truly are, like the art restorer’s light that discovers a hidden fresco?

What if the true light is a light that shows us the way? A trekker’s headlamp that helps us pick out our next step in uncertain terrain; a porch light in the distance that tells us that we’re almost home. What if the true light is the light that floods out the front door to welcome us back from wherever we’ve been?

The true light of Christ exposes the truth of who we are with such love that we don’t have to run away. Christ’s light invites us into the heart of God where we can be forgiven for what we’ve done wrong, healed of deep hurts, and freed to share the true light of God’s love with the world.

 

What Christmas Cards Don’t Say

I received a Christmas card from a friend. The front of the Christmas card was loaded with photos of happy, smiling people living their Best Lives Now! The family update on the reverse was peppered with exclamation points, jolly news, and travel destinations in bold.

Then we had coffee.

Though we hadn’t talked for several months, we are close enough friends for honesty over steaming mugs. No surprise, the card only told the tip of the iceberg of her family’s life. There were travels and a family wedding. But there’ve also been family fights, job anxiety and loneliness.

I wondered about all of our image conscious cards. Why can’t we just put it all out there in our Christmas letters? Why not write, “This will be the last time you get a card from this address, we’re going into foreclosure,” or “As I blew out the candles on my birthday cake, I was pretty sure I’ve wasted my life,” or even, “I don’t really like my kids this year. I’m a pretty nice person. How did I raise this bunch of jerks?”

Why not? Because not everything is everyone’s business. Secrets are how we protect those tender places that aren’t read for public scrutiny. We all know that if we put our dirty laundry on the line, someone will point at it and say, “Ick. That’s really dirty.”

There is power in bearing witness to the complicated truth of our lives. When we tell someone else about our struggles, insecurities, and personal triumphs, we each get a little less lonely. When we can unfold the layers of lives before another person without covering a part with our thumb we create a holy text. I have found healing when I’ve shared my hurt places with someone else.

But it’s okay for Christmas cards to have only the updates that are okay for other people to talk about in the grocery store check-out line.

This year, when I open  cheery Christmas cards and read the enclosed brag letters, I’ll celebrate the joyous news. And I’ll pray for the very real people and all the complicated, difficult, messy stories they’re not yet telling.

 

 

 

Barking at the Wrong Things

It turns out that the dystopian novelists are right – the world really is coming to an end. At least according to the UN’s experts on climate change. If we continue at our current rate, by 2040 (I’ll be 72 years old. How old will you be?) there will be global food shortages and millions of people living on the coast will be displaced by rising ocean levels. The report released by the U.S. on the high news day of Black Friday said much the same thing.

Meanwhile, President Trump sent troops to the front with Mexico to engage the advancing army of Hondurans, Guatemalans, and Mexicans armed with diaper bags. They are such a mighty force that they walked all the way from their home towns; so fierce that they don’t need guns or missile launchers. But it’s a fair fight since we sold all of our weapons to Saudi Arabia who kills journalists.

My dog sits in my favorite armchair and barks. She’s alerts me to the car turning at our corner, the jogger, and the man trudging down the sidewalk carrying his belongings in two grocery store plastic bags. I assume he’s spent the night in our church basement as a guest of our Monday night PADS shelter.

That same dog grabbed a box of raisins from the pantry on Thanksgiving morning. While I puttered in the kitchen making the best pecan pie ever, she ingested what could have been a lethal number of dried grapes. A number of years ago she ate two pounds of Frango mints and a bag of Hershey kisses. That time she had to spend a night at the emergency vet clinic (costing me a winter vacation).

We face real threats. But our president barks at the wrong things.

 

Advice for Young Coots

If you have a question about your love life, pet care, or your next travel destination you might consider heading to the Salt Lake City Farmers’ Market and find the “Old Coots Giving Advice” booth. The only topics off limits are politics and religion (they do have voter registration cards available). The Old Coots is a group of retired friends who took their regular Saturday coffee klatch across the street to the farmers’ market to escape boredom.[1]Their banner gives fair warning, “Old Coots Giving Advice—It’s Probably Bad Advice, But It’s Free.”

They’ve been told that theirs is the most popular booth. I’m not surprised. We all need Old Coots.” We all need people who care but are not affected by the outcome of our decisions and whose relationship with us is unencumbered by living through our past.

Old Coots provide ballast. In the church they’ve outlasted many pastors, hymnal changes, and strategic plans. They’ve experienced heartbreak, health problems, problem presidents, technological shifts, and terrible storms. If you don’t have any Old Coots in your life, get some. I suspect Old Coots need Young Coots too. But don’t pretend for a minute you’re doing them the favor. Old Coots are in demand.

 

 

[1]The full article is from Cathy Free’s article in the Washington Post, September 27, 2018.

You Don’t Have to Be Good

You don’t have to be good. You don’t have to know the right answers. You don’t have to show up on time and well prepared. You just get to be you and God loves you. That’s what grace is. Trust grace.

For many, fall is an anxious season. The cooler days and crisp nights are a relief from the clingy heat of a humid summer, but they don’t give relief for the back to school, back to schedule pressure of September. We review all the summer projects that we didn’t finish and log our inadequacies. Even if we’re not going back to class, this time of year reminds us of all the ways we are evaluated and know we don’t measure up.

A friend shared with me, a particularly well-chosen moment, the poem that concludes this post. What good news, “the world offers itself to your imagination, calls to you like wild geese, harsh and exciting—over and over announcing your place in the family of things.”

Learn the right answer for math class. Show up on time and prepared for work. But don’t put on a false Facebook self for God. Don’t weave a list of “ought’s” and “should’s” into a lead blanket you wear in God’s presence. Just show up. Just show up with your incompletes, uncertainties, and unfinished tasks. Just show up. Don’t try to earn “extra credit” from God. God doesn’t hand out grades. That’s what grace is. The unearned gift of God’s love. Trust grace.

 

Mary Oliver
WILD GEESE

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting—
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.

 

I wish Jesus hadn’t told us to love our enemies

I’ve been thinking a lot about what it means to “love our enemies.” Jesus said, “Love your enemies and pray for those who harass you.” (Matthew 5:44) I suspect he really said it because it’s not something later followers would make up so that they could be popular. Loving enemies does not win friends or influence people.

Let me be the first to admit, I don’t want to love my enemies. I want to hate them. I want hate to fuel my momentum in working for change. But hate is not a fire in the belly but a weight around the ankles. Hate doesn’t help us get things done. It cramps our thinking, it stifles our creativity. Hate calcifies our spirits, making it harder for God to breathe through us.  When I first divorced I thought hate could protect me from hurt. It didn’t. It just kept me from healing.

Love does not exclude holding people accountable, calling on them to be better than they’ve been, calling them out for what they’ve done wrong. Love does not mean we do not vote political leaders out of office, break up with a lover, or unfollow a friend on social media. Love does not mean we do not tell the truth and tell it boldly. It does not mean we do not continue to work for a just society and insist on being treated decently by the people in our lives. Love does not make us weak. Love makes us strong because it is God’s force in the world.

I’m still figuring out what loving our enemies includes. I know from what Jesus said it includes praying for them. Right now my prayer is that God would erode their hard hearts until cracks are formed where droplets of grace might enter and exand until their  hearts are broken open by God’s love.

It takes the brave to create the land of the free

“Freedom isn’t free,” we’re reminded every 4th of July and other national holiday.  Veterans are applauded at parades and honored at civic events. We rightfully remember the honored dead who fought for our country. Freedom isn’t free. But it’s not just soldiers who die for it and it’s not just military who fight for it.

November 10, 1917 was dubbed “The Night of Terror” by suffragettes. 33 women who were protesting outside the Whitehouse for the right to vote were arrested and then beaten, clubbed and tortured by the guards at the Occoquan Workhouse. (Read more about the Night of Terror)

 “Rev. George Lee, one of the first black people registered to vote in Humphreys County, used his pulpit and his printing press to urge others to vote. White officials offered Lee protection on the condition he end his voter registration efforts, but Lee refused and was murdered.” May 7, 1955, Belzoni, Mississippi (Taken directly from the Civil Rights Martyrs web page of the Southern Poverty Law Center where you can read more stories.)

Sylvia Rivera was a veteran of the Stonewall uprising and a tireless advocate for the rights of transgender and transvestite people, particularly as the gay rights movement became more main stream.

Freedom isn’t free. We all a debt to many who have tirelessly fought, struggled, suffered, and died so that our country would live up to its promises. Today we should also remember all those who worked and died for civil rights for African Americans, women and the LGBTQ community. We should tell these stories on national holidays and incorporate them into our country’s celebrations. These are the people who shaped our country as much as Washington, Jefferson, and Adams. Let us honor them by working to ensure our country really is the “home of the free.”

 

 

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