Signs — and Theology

Jesus -> That Way!
Jesus -> That Way!

I saw a bunch of signs on my recent vacation in Colorado and it got me thinking about our ministry of hospitality. One particular sign pointing to Jesus caught my attention as I was driving from Raymond to Allenspark. About the third time I passed, I decided I needed to check it out. I turned the car around, pulled into the driveway toward “Jesus,” and found the next sign, “No Trespassing.” Hmmmm.

DSC_0778
At one entrance

Another set of signs has intrigued me for several years. I see them when I walk up the canyon on my daily walk along the river. On my way, I pass two entrances to the same property. The first entrance sports a beautiful sign saying — in a very emphatic way —  “Keep Out.” The other entrance feels very open and hospitable, declaring, “Welcome Friends.” But the combination of the two leaves me feeling just a little bit uncomfortable. I’m not sure whether I’m in the category of “friend” (welcome) or “stranger” (keep out).

At the other entrance
At the other entrance

This is somewhat like our churches, isn’t it? We get all excited about showing the way to Jesus, but when people turn in the driveway, we’ve got other signs that tell them — no trespassing, keep out. (Or one of my favorite signs from rural Oklahoma, “Trespassers will be violated!”)

Or we say we welcome all people. (Open hearts. Open doors. Open minds.) But sometimes our guests have the distinct feeling that the welcome is not 100%. If you are not our “friends,” then the message is “keep out.” That’s the challenge, isn’t it?

I love this quote from Peter Storey:

SOME TELL US that following Jesus is a simple matter of inviting him into our hearts. But when we do that, Jesus always asks, “May I bring my friends?” And when we look at them, we see that they are not the kind of company we like to keep. The friends of Jesus are the outcasts, the marginalized, the poor, the homeless, the rejected — the lepers of life.

We hesitate and ask, “Jesus, must we really have them too?”

Jesus replies, “Love me, love my friends!”

– Peter Storey
Listening at Golgotha: Jesus’ Words from the Cross

From pp. 29-30 of Listening at Golgotha: Jesus’ Words from the Cross by Peter Storey. Copyright © 2004 by the author. Published by Upper Room Books. All Rights Reserved. Do not reproduce without permission. Learn more about or purchase this book.

Question: What have you learned from signs lately?

Fall Colorado Book Tour

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View from the Ouzel Falls Trail

Ok — It was really a vacation with a book signing thrown in. But I did get to talk about The Uncluttered Heart, pass out some cards, and have a book signing (I even signed a few books). I went to Colorado for the first couple of weeks in September. While I was there, I attended a conference that was carrying my book in the bookstore. (I think that Advent/seasonal books are a bit hard to promote like other books. I mean, who really wants to buy an Advent book in July — or September?)

On the other hand, this is the time that church leaders are starting to think about programming for Advent and are wondering about what to offer for Wednesday nights or for Sunday school during Advent. Might I suggest an Advent book? Perhaps: The Uncluttered Heart: Making Room for God during Advent and Christmas, by Beth A. Richardson.

The website for the book has been launched. Take a look when you have some free time: http://www.unclutteredheart.org.

For any of you who have blogs, write for newspapers or newsletters, etc., if you’d like to review the book or interview me, please shoot me an email – beth@betharichardson.com. I’ve got books to send to the first 20 who contact me.

Blessings to you all,

Beth

Disconnected!

Me, fully unplugged
Me, fully unplugged

On the 7th day of my vacation at a remote cabin in Colorado, the DSL line providing my internet connection went down, and I got to see how dependent I’ve become on my electronic relationships. It had probably been three years since I spent any significant time disconnected from my cell phone, my email (and all those other seemingly invaluable tools such as Facebook and Twitter).

The wireless router was still sending its signal — and I kept glancing at its strength – but there was no internet . And every so often, I launched a browser … just to check to see if the connection had been repaired.

There was a land line at the cabin (a cordless phone, even), but I felt anxiety starting to build. What if something really important from work needed my attention? What about all those emails that were going to pile up? How was I going to check in for my flight on Southwest?

Goodness, this is ridiculous, I said to myself. It’s pitiful … and it’s not healthy … to be this dependent on technology. This is what I write and preach about — disconnecting with email so that we can connect with God. How ironic it was to find myself in that void — separated from God, the only thing that could fill the empty place left by my sudden electronic interruption.

“You satisfy the hungry heart,” the song played in my head. Fill me, O God, with your presence. Forgive my obsession with being wired (or wireless). You are the Source of my true connection. Amen.

Overwhelmed with Love

Painting of me by Barbara Bailey Hutchinson
Painting of me by Barbara Bailey Hutchison

I seem to be overwhelmed a lot these days — but this time, it was with love.  We’ve had an art festival at my church this past week — “Art on the Edge.” Over two dozen of us Edgehill UMC folks displayed some of our artwork at the church. Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday night, we had a reception and received musical gifts from some of our professional musicians.

Friday night, Barbara Bailey Hutchison performed. We finished up the evening with an auction of some of the pieces from the show. (Proceeds from the sales were going towards the “The Red Houses” — two houses we are purchasing for ministries with the neighborhood.)

I was sitting there at the auction when a mystery item was brought forth — it was sitting on an easel covered with a green cloth. The auctioneer (Pastor Judi) said that the item was a painting by Barbara Bailey Hutchison and that we would begin the bids without even seeing the item. “$100!” someone called out. And then, “$200!” The auctioneer said, “OK, now we’ll pause the bidding and see what it is. When the cloth was pulled off, I looked at it, blinked, twice, and thought, “Hey, that’s me.” While I was staring at me, my friend Jenni finished off the bidding — “$300!”   “Sold!” cried Pastor-Auctioneer Judi.

I was still sitting there looking at the picture and feeling overwhelmed with love — by Barbara, by friends, by my family, the congregation of EUMC. What an amazing week — celebrating the Giver and the Gifts. (And raising a bit of money for The Red Houses — gifts of ministry for the Edgehill neighborhood.)

Thanks be to God, who gives us gifts. Amen.

You Shall Not Be Overcome

Seattle moon
Seattle moon

Life seems too full right now. Not all bad stuff … just too much of it. Too many opportunities, too many challenges. Sometimes I wonder about how I can handle all that’s getting thrown my my way. God, I ask, are you sure you know what you’re doing?

These are the things God tells me. Just breathe. Stay in the present. Do the next right thing. Trust me. Be grateful.

Julian’s Words

“These words, ‘You shall not be overcome’, were said very loudly and clearly. … God did not say, ‘You shall not be tormented, you shall not be troubled, you shall not be grieved’, but God said, ‘You shall not be overcome.'”

Julian of Norwich
Revelations of Divine Love

Prayer

Thanks, God, for the gift of life. For the opportunities as well as the challenges. For the blessings as well as the tears. For the love as well as the pain. I’m grateful. Amen.

Glimpses of the Holy

Taize cross
Taize cross

Yesterday afternoon I sat with other staff around the edges of the Board of Directors meeting for The Upper Room. Once a year, the board of Upper Room Ministries has its official meeting, hears about the work of the organization, and helps guide us in our work.

Victor Perez (International Spiritual Director, Walk to Emmaus) started the meeting with a devotional time that blew me away. He had everyone turn to the devotional for yesterday, August 6, 2009, in The Upper Room magazine. Different sections of the devotional were read by different voices — the long scripture was read in Spanish. The short scripture was read in French. The meditation itself was read in English. The prayer was prayed in Korean. And the thought for the day was read by our youth delegate in English.

It was powerful enough to realize that yesterday around the world people were reading that same meditation in all those languages, plus at least 36 more. But I was sitting in the back near the two women who were doing simultaneous translation of the proceedings — one translating to French for a board member from Congo. The second was translating into Portuguese for a board member from Angola.

During this time of meditation, the two translators were standing on each side of me, speaking quietly into their microphones, completing my impression that I was sitting smack dab in the middle of the world. It felt a bit like I had stepped into the scene from Acts 2 — all those different languages bringing to me the word of God. “Amazed and astonished, they asked, ‘Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language?  Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia,  Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes,  Cretans and Arabs—in our own languages we hear them speaking about God’s deeds of power.'” (Acts 2:7-11)

Meeting Sarah Wilke

We’d “had church” and could have gone home after that, but then we got to hear our new World Editor, Sarah Wilke, introduce herself to the board and to us. She joyfully and enthusiastically shared her spiritual journey with us. At the end of her sharing, Bishop Hee-Soo Jung led us in praying for Sarah and her ministry. We all stood and all of us, board members and staff, raised our hands toward her and poured prayers and love toward her. How remarkable … what a holy moment.

Ms. Mae

I had one more glimpse of the holy yesterday. Both our church’s pastor, Judi, and intern, Andrew, are out of town on vacation. So I got the call that our oldest member of the church has entered the final stage of her life. My neighbor, Deen, and I went by last night for a short visit. We sat with Ms. Mae and her daughter. I held her hand and we prayed with gratitude for Mae’s life and for God’s love, grace, and comfort to be especially present during the coming days.

O Holy One, I don’t know how it is that you blessed me yesterday with these glimpses of your presence in the world, in my life. But I’m grateful. Thank you for giving me open eyes and an open heart that I might witness you walking among us. Thank you. Amen.

I’m wondering — Where have you had glimpses of the holy in recent days?