Waking Up Earley

Thoughts, Ideas and Inspiration by Melissa Earley

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Happy “TurkEastVent” Day

Thanksgiving is a great holiday. There are limited decorations. No mandatory cards. No trying to remember how much was spent last year on presents that weren’t really appreciated in the first place so that you can spend the right amount on presents this year. No wrapping, packing and shipping the presents. And no debate on Facebook about the right greeting to strangers around Thanksgiving. It’s just “Happy Thanksgiving.” “Happy Turkey Day” is also acceptable.

One of my favorite Northbrook Thanksgivings was the year Rabbi Sid invited me to join him and his family for Thanksgiving. My plan had been to celebrate with friends on Friday and spend Thursday working on a quilt. I had turned down invitations from church folks with this plan in mind. But the day before Thanksgiving Sid insisted my plan was a no-go and I should join them on Thursday night. I did. It was also the first night of Chanukah.

We had turkey and cranberry sauce. And latkes. The pumpkin pie and the ice cream for on top were both dairy free. We debated whether or not this was truly keeping to the spirit of kosher. I realized at that moment that the wine I had purchased was not kosher and internally winced and hoped they could use it as a host gift elsewhere. After dinner we lit the menorah and sang a song. Well, they sang and I listened. And then they opened gifts for the first day of Chanukah and there were even presents for me. Coffee and chocolates I remember.

It was the first Thanksgiving that my husband was gone. Really the second. The first Thanksgiving I didn’t know he was gone. Misplaced, maybe, but not permanently lost. It was so good to be part of Sid’s family for the night. To have jokes tried out on me for an upcoming performance. Hear about college. Get lost in foreign family stories.

The Sunday after Thanksgiving is almost always the first Sunday of Advent. We begin to prepare for the love of God taking on human flesh in the person of Jesus. On the Emmaus Road, after Jesus had been crucified, two followers of Jesus met a man. When they stopped for meal he revealed himself as the risen Christ in “the breaking of the bread.” That Thanksgiving with the Rabbi’s family was for me Turkey Day, Advent and Easter all rolled into one.




Why I Call Them the Cleveland Ball Club

I don’t call the ball club from Cleveland by their name. Seeing close-ups of their players makes me cringe.  It’s not superstition or anxiety about the game.  Every time I hear their team name and see their cartoon mascot I think of the Sand Creek Massacre.

I visited the site of the November 29, 1864 Sand Creek Massacre this summer when I was in Colorado. I took an interstate to a highway to a narrow road to a dirt road to get to this sacred site that is a long way from everywhere.  I couldn’t even see the Rocky Mountains from this sun-baked patch of south-eastern Colorado.  I squinted even wearing sunglasses. Sagebrush and cottonwood trees marked the landscape. The Sand Creek riverbed was dry.  The rangers warned of rattle snakes.

John Evans was the Colorado Territory Governor in 1864.  He exploited the growing tensions between White settlers and Native Americans for his own political and business gains.  His speeches added to the fear-filled air, even issuing a proclamation in August, 1864 for citizens to “kill and destroy…hostile Indians.”

John Chivington was the commander of the Third Regiment of the US army.  He had been a popular Methodist Episcopal preacher.  His regiment wasn’t seeing any action and Chivington was eager for advancement.

Evans and Chivington invited “friendly Indians of the plains” to go to designated places of safety.  One of the negotiated places of safety was Sand Creek.  By mid-October there were 700 people living at Sand Creek, mostly Cheyenne and some Arapahoe.

When the sun rose on November 29 the village at Sand Creek started to stir. Children and grandparents, young men, old women, mothers, fathers, tended to chores.  They heard the beating of hooves and called out, “The buffalo are coming.”  But the thunder wasn’t from buffalo.  It was from hundreds of U.S. soldiers.  Peace Chief Black Kettle raised the white flag and the U.S. flag.  And still the soldiers came.  Cheyenne and Arapahoe chiefs walked toward the soldiers to ask for a parley.  The U.S. soldiers fired and all the chiefs except Black Kettle were killed.

On top of horses, the U.S. soldiers chased the fleeing Cheyenne and Arapahoe.  Some, mostly women, children and the elderly, dug sand pits in the river bed. Chivington ordered the U.S. soldiers to fire the howitzers. The soldiers executed those who surrendered.  They gunned down those who fled.  The firing stopped when the U.S. troops ran out of bullets.  Between 165 and 200 Cheyenne were killed, two-thirds of them were women, children and the elderly.  Another 200 were wounded or maimed.

The following day U.S. soldiers ransacked and burned the village.  They took trophies from the fallen bodies – scalps, fingers, genitals.

Some time later, The Congressional Joint Committee on the Conduct of the War found that Chivington had “surprised and murdered in cold blood….unsuspecting men, women, and children…who had every reason to believe that they were under [US] protection….”  No one was every indicted or tried in military or civilian court.  Chivington remained an ordained clergy person of the Methodist Episcopal Church.

I’ll watch the World Series tonight. I’ll cheer on the Cubs.  I’ll admire good plays by their opponent.  And I’ll remember Sand Creek.


Go, Cubs, Go!

I was in Wrigleyville the night the Cubs clinched the NLCS championship. When my friend invited me to go I turned him down at first. It was a Saturday night and Sunday morning always comes early. I’m not really into crowds. Parking in that area was going to be a nightmare. But I realized that if they won it was going to be historic.

We watched the game from the street. Stadium neighbors had turned their TVs to face outward. A bar had put a couple of large screens on its outside walls. We could hear the roars from Wrigley Field. The crowds inside and outside the stadium were willing the Cubs to win. With every run people high-fived each other. Strangers congratulated each other, grasping shoulders and giving pats on the back. We landed in a small Korean restaurant for the final innings. Sitting at tables around us were Hispanic, African American, and Asian fans and Chicago cops. A community of hopeful longing formed in our restaurant. When the Cubs won the whole restaurant lifted off the ground a few inches. People poured into the streets. There was no destruction. Only celebration. I’ve never experienced anything like it.

I know it was only baseball, but it felt like a real Kingdom of God moment.

We have a chance to come together in an even more meaningful way by giving to Hurricane Matthew Relief in Haiti. Our Bishop, Sally Dyck, and the Bishop of the East Ohio Annual Conference Tracy Smith Malone have challenged each other to a cross-conference rivalry to see which annual conference can raise the most money for Hurricane Matthew relief in Haiti. Click on the link below to give your gift, be sure to mark Northbrook UMC so that our conference gets credit. Invite friends to give too. Dare Cleveland fans. Let’s do all we can to let Haiti be the winner of the World Series!

Give to Hurricane Relief

Join the World Series Cross-Conference Challenge for Haiti

A Misfit’s Heart Strangely Warmed

I was surprised that I wanted to go to church. I was in the middle of a six-week renewal leave from local church ministry and had purposefully avoided anything to do with church the first few weeks. I ended up in a small church in a small town on a high mountain of Colorado.   I had been invited by a friend who couldn’t go with me. When I walked into the sanctuary almost half way through the worship service the entire congregation turned to look at me – all seventeen of them. There was the guy with unwashed, shoulder length hair who had his own oxygen tank. The woman in mismatched shoes. The family with the two children who ran around the edges of the sanctuary. The boy, about 10, pulled his arms into his sleeves and fluttered his hands like wings while he made wet motor sounds with his lips. I wanted someone to sit on him. There was one woman who looked like someone who could be my friend. “What an island of misfit toys,” I thought.

And then something happened. The prayer of confession’s words were familiar, “Most merciful God,
we confess that we have sinned against you
in thought, word, and deed, by what we have done and what we left undone…” The difference was that in this church we knelt to pray. We knelt on the floor. We knelt on the worn carpet and muttered our prayers together, “We have not loved you with our whole heart;
we have not loved our neighbors as ourselves.” Tears pricked my eyes. They weren’t tears of guilt or shame. The prayer of confession became a moment of unexpected grace. Something snuck in.

And then the pastor sat on a pew facing the congregation and led us in a conversation about the scripture passage, Jesus’ story about a man whose harvest was so plentiful he decided to tear down his barn and build a bigger one but dies that night. The conversation touched on the congregation’s successful badgering of a local supermarket chain to provide food for the free community meals that they host several times a week. Among these folks, many of whom looked like at one time or another they had trouble paying their rent, or an electricity bill or buying groceries, I thought about how my own anxiety about money traps me. And how it traps my church.  I thought of how we want to be the “cool kids.” And in that moment I wanted to be one of the misfit toys.

As I worshipped with this strange little congregation I let down my defenses. This congregation couldn’t worry about slick church growth strategies or programs attractive to young couples with attractive children and baby boomers with money to give. One day they may not be able to fix the roof or pay their pastor. But for now they’ll follow Jesus in their little church in their little mountain town.  And my heart was strangely warmed.

Thoughts on the 15th Anniversary of September 11, 2001

When we say, “Never forget,” what are we trying to remember?

If it is the heroism of those who rushed into burning buildings and smoke stuffed stairwells — yes, let us remember.

If it is the bravery of airplane passengers who stormed a cockpit to prevent more murder – yes, let us remember.

If it is communities from across the nation sending their doctors and social workers and counselors and fire fighters and nurses and money to help repair the damaged bodies and souls and places — yes, let us remember.

If it is the awareness that the executive who works in a corner office with a great view of the skyline and the commander in charge of a mighty military are vulnerable to random violence like the little black girl with braids in pink plastic bow shaped barrettes watching cartoons in the front room of her house in Chicago (or LA or DC or Detroit) and that knowledge spurs the executive and the commander to make decisions that benefit the girl in the pink plastic barrettes watching cartoons — yes, let us remember.

If it is the fear of our country being under attack and that fear helps to grow in compassion for those who do not know what it is to live in peace – yes, let us remember.

If it is the memory of September 10 when someone with dark skin or a headscarf who spoke a language we didn’t understand wasn’t automatically our enemy — yes, let us remember.


But if remembering lets us turn strangers into enemies;

if remembering gives us permission to send smart bombs and guided missiles to fight the “War on Terror” without also counting the cost to the innocent in lives and livelihood and landscape;

if remembering cons us into believing that we only need the military to protect our freedom and not also our full participation in our democracy;

if remembering tricks us into trading our rights of free speech and assembly and religion for the illusion of safety;

if remembering the 2,996 who died in the terrorist attack on September 11, 2001 , makes us blind to the 13,286 people who were killed by gun violence[1] and 1,615 women who were killed by men they knew[2]  and the 760,000 children around the world  who died  because they did not have clean water[3]

then it would be better if we forgot.

We should forget if remembering September 11 makes us bullies. But if it makes us brave, noble, and generous may we always remember.




[1] in the United States in 2015. Source: http://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-34996604

[2] in the United States in 2015.  Source: Violence Poverty Center

[3] in 2011.  Source:  http://www.unicef.org/media/media_68359.html

You’re Climbing a Mountain, It’s Supposed to Be Hard

“Shush, Nellie. Stop that whining. You’re climbing a mountain. It’s supposed to be hard.” If I wasn’t vigilant, Nellie’s constant whining and naysaying was all I heard on my way up Shuksan Mountain. “You’re not in as good of shape as everyone else,” she said. “They’ve all climbed Mt. Rainier, and you never have. Who do you think you are?” “You are already so tired, do you really think you’ll make the top?” “If you quit now you could spend the next several days hanging out in the hotel.” “You’re too old to be doing this.” Nellie smiled smugly when I swayed a bit after putting on my full 45lb pack at the trailhead. She crowed when I vomited up water and Kind bar on the first day of the hike (likely caused by insufficient salt intake).

Nellie wasn’t a registered member of our group of seven hikers and four guides. She is the voice in my head who points out my weaknesses, keeps track of my mistakes, keeps a running commentary of why I won’t make my goal, and tries to convince me that people are only pretending to like me. I learned from a friend to give Nellie a name (some of you may remember Nellie Olson from Little House on the Prairie) and to keep her occupied. As it turns out, Nellie is pretty good at counting steps, a helpful activity when on the slow slog up a glacier, and she likes to sing. She and I gave new words to the song “We are Climbing Jacob’s Ladder.” Over and over again, she sang in my head “We are climbing Shuksan Mountain…” and then “Every step goes higher, higher.” Sometimes we would both get distracted by a stumble or steeper part of the ascent and Nellie would start complaining again. That’s when I reminded her that it was supposed to be hard, that we were in it together, and that I was going to keep putting one foot in front of the other. Sometimes I had to get tough, “Nellie, you are not the boss of me.”

The Gift of Not Knowing

“It’s a gift to not know what to say,” was my writing teacher’s response to my whining about the weekly grind of producing a Sunday sermon. I was looking for an escape from being caught between the wall of what I am supposed to say and the ocean of silence of what I can say with conviction. When Diana Goetsch, our writing instructor, met with us the first night she said that, “writing is not self expression. It is other expression.” She explained that the goal of the workshop was to slip the noose of the ego because “the lease creative force is the human ego.”

I like being told that my writing is good. I enjoy likes on Facebook and praise comments on my blog posts. During class Diana would give us writing prompts and we would write for five or ten or fifteen minutes. If we wanted we could what we wrote. But we didn’t give feedback. In the silence after sharing what we read I could feel the little ego inside of me jumping up and down and asking, “what did you think? Was it any good? Am I any good? Do you like me?” But writing, or any art for that matter, that is motivated by the ego’s need to be admired will never tap into the holy.

And that’s not the only way the ego gets in the way of art or revelation. The ego likes to be in control and thinks it has the right answers. We can’t truly explore if we already know where we’re going.

During one class we spent a significant portion talking about “negative capability,” a phrase coined by John Keats in a letter to his brother. He writes, “…several things dove-tailed in my mind, and at once it struck me what quality went to form a Man of Achievement, especially in Literature, and which Shakespeare possessed so enormously – I mean Negative Capability, that is, when a man is capable of being in uncertainties, mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact and reason…”

Negative capability is demanded by true spirituality and so often squashed by the church. We like our doctrines and our disciplines and our clear understandings of right and wrong. We like to pin God down, and stick him behind glass where we can point at him with admiration and pride and say, “see what I found.” Negative capability invites us to understand the Holy as a hummingbird that flits into and out of view in the same moment.


One True Thing

As we sat on my back patio listening to the crack of fireworks, sipping Fat Tire and eating peach pie, a friend told me the story of the February night he nearly drowned in Lake Michigan. He had jumped in to save his dog. Good Samaritans were able to pull the dog to safety but they had to leave my friend in the water while they went for help. He tried to pull himself onto the ice, but it broke beneath him. He couldn’t climb the ten-foot retaining wall. With his fingertips he clung to a narrow gap in the concrete, only his head above water. He doesn’t know how much time went by, but he lost his grip on the crevice when his hands froze with the palms flat. His head dipped again and again under the water. With each dunk, he could feel the heat whoosh off his head. He thought three things. One, if this were how he died his ex would be totally vindicated. Two, his mother deserved better. Three, life, what the hell was that supposed to be? And then he thought, if these were the last moments of his life he should say something out loud that was absolutely true.

That’s where he paused in his story and looked me in the eye and asked, “What would you have said?”   My thoughts froze in the icy water. The only words that came to mind were “Help!” and “Fuck.” I could not think of a single, absolutely true thing to say.

As we sat on my back patio, hearing the crack of fireworks, sipping Fat Tire, and eating peach pie I was so relieved that he there was to tell me this story. And so angry that he was such an idiot that we almost weren’t.

He looked at me, waiting for an answer. I felt my hands sliding down the slick, icy concrete. Nothing. I shook my head. “What did you say?” I asked. “There is only love,” he responded. “Love in relationships is life giving. Love in neighborhoods is community. Love in systems is justice.” Until I have an answer of my own, I’ll borrow his: “There is only love.”


The Verdict

I walked into the Skokie location of the Cook County Court juror room behind a man who was about 63 years old, very fit, carrying a book called Elizabeth is Missing. I walked in lugging my red book bag loaded with four books, nine Christian Century magazines, 20 photocopied pages of scholarly commentary on the text for my sermon, a set of notecards, the church directory, a list of people who volunteered at the rummage sale, and my computer. I also had a wallet full of change for the vending machines, a cup of coffee, and a sweater. He looked like he was there to do jury duty. I looked like I was moving in, or at lease prepared to be marooned in eight feet of snow. He was an early retiree, I decided. He had the leisure to just read a book. I had real work to do.

A lanky white man in a pair of Dockers and a golf shirt carried his weathered brief case into one of the glassed-in “quiet rooms” equipped with a conference table and chalkboard. I raised an eyebrow when he obeyed the announcement to come out of his exile for the instructions from the jury attendant. He looked like the type who would consider himself exempt.

Though talking was allowed in the main room, my typing click-clacked like stiletto heels on the stone floor of an empty church. From behind my pile of work projects I couldn’t believe that no one was taking the time to get to know each other. Surely that would be better than playing games on their smart phones.

We were dismissed at 12:30 PM without a single jury panel being called. One case was pled, another requested a bench trial and the third the parties reached a settlement. Bummer. I would have enjoyed sitting in judgment of my peers. I’d be good at it.

It’s Time to Create a Brave Space

These are the words I wrote for the Interfaith Vigil in Support of the LGBTQ community that was held last night in our community.

I am so glad you are here tonight. What you are doing here matters.

There are a lot of voices out there telling us to be afraid. Be afraid of the transgender person. Be afraid of the gay person. Be afraid of the poor woman and the Black man. Be afraid of the Mexican immigrant, the Guatemalan immigrant, the Syrian refugee. Be afraid of the Muslim. Be afraid.

I won’t presume to speak for other faith traditions, but I know that the Christian community has given the LGBTQ community cause to be afraid. We have painted our bigotry with the patina of piety. We have taken the words given to us so that we might know and share the heart of God and we have turned them into weapons that we have used against our LGBTQ neighbors. We have done harm. And I am truly sorry.

I want to find ways to counter the voices that tell us to be afraid. How do we silence the voices of fear? We replace them. We replace the voices of fear with a voice that whispers hope, a voice that sings courage, a voice that lets out battle cry of love.

I can’t guarantee that tonight will be a safe space. No one can make that promise. Not any more. But together we can create a brave space. A space where we show up. We show up with strong backs and confident grips, and knocking knees and sweaty palms. We show up with clarity of purpose and wobbly beliefs. We show up as people who know they are loved and as those who are desperately lonely. And we bravely claim and proclaim that all people are beloved children of God. Something happens when we create a brave space like that – we experience love – we experience giving it and receiving it. Friends, perfect love drives out all fear.


Thank you for being brave with me tonight.

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