Do you have a word for 2018?

I'm not sure when the tradition started but I love beginning each new year with a word. It's a spiritual practice to let my intuition take the lead and hover in a particular place.

I can remember one year when my word was "abundance." I was coming out of a long, hard season and abundance was God's invitation to me to accept goodness in my story again.

I can remember one year when my word was "surrender." I'd been struggling for a long time with some very clear ideas of what I wanted my life to look like. And the word of surrender was God's invitation for me to stop all my planning and just be.

But what about this year?  What will my word be? 

For now, I'm leaning into the word "connection." I think connection will be my word for 2018.

I believe I arrived here because the final months of 2018 have been filled with lots of frustration about the difficulty of creating community.

I've felt frustration with how complicated schedules keep local friends of mine from ever actually seeing each other. I've felt frustration with how following each other on Facebook becomes the only way I  "keep in touch" with people I love so much. I've felt frustration with how hard it is to do life with a group of people besides those who actually reside in my house.

And as much as I love doing life with the two awesome people who share my last name, I want more. I want more authentic community.

I want people to show up as big for me and my family. And I want to do the same for them.

I want our home to be more of a gathering point for more laugher and rest for those who need it the most.

I want more friends with whom have regular dates, traditions and "come hell or high water" we will hang out with one another evenings no matter if we have kids at home or not.

And I don't think this feeling I'm noticing is unique to me.

Back in September, I took on a new pastorate. I'm currently at the helm of a Washington, DC church. Such a role gives me a front row seat to people's lives, schedules and values related to community building.

And I have to tell you, what I'm finding all over again (as I did in other congregations) is that it's not just my household that struggles with connection. The temptation to isolate ourselves in our over stimulated age is very real especially in the Washington, DC area where I live.

We travel a lot.

We work a lot.

We have extra commitments that ask a lot of us.

And, in all of this: we're exhausted. Working on deepening our relationships just feels like one more thing. Showing up regularly for community building is something we don't have time for . . .

But as for me, I want to chart a different course. I wan to say to the universe, to God and to any of you reading this blog post right now that I want more connection in my life.

I want to host more weekly dinners around my dinning room table. (Who wants to invite themselves over?)

I want to be more intentional about hanging out with those who want to be intentional with me.

I want to open up my heart to new relationships that are full of soul-ful connection.

I want more. 

And I want more for the church where I'm serving too. I want them to know and love each other in deeper ways too. I want them to be community that becomes even more committed to each other in 2018.

What about you?

What's are you hoping for in the year to come? It's ok to long for more!

new-years-resolutions-for-2014-adjusting-financial-goalsLast week on New Year's Day, I was sitting among a table of family and one person asked,

"Where do you want you life to be at this moment in 2018 that you aren't in today?"

Everyone went around the table to share as we feasted on the traditional southern meal that Kevin put together for the evening-- greens, black-eyed peas, okra and fried chicken of course. So good.

Some folks talked about getting better in shape. Others talked about where they wanted to be in their careers.

We imagined what my 6 month old daughter would say if she could talk "I want to walk." (And we know she will after all the moving around she's doing lately. . . bring on the baby gates!)

When it came to my turn, I could only answer, "I don't know."

The folks around the table graciously accepted my answer and we moved on in conversation, but I wondered about it later.

How could I say, "I don't know?!!" Aren't I " a get stuff done, know where I am going" kind of person?

But, after 2016 being such a banner year, a year when so many BIG dreams came together, dreams like publishing my first book and welcoming a child into our home and continuing to have opportunities to help churches in the interim work I love-- dreams that were YEARS in the making, it's hard to imagine what I will get into this year.

It's ok that I don't know. 

Will 2017 be about preaching in a more full-time way in a congregation? Maybe.

Will 2017 mean devoting serious attention to my new book project about how God creates families in unconventional ways? Maybe

Will 2017 include more travel and attention given to the foundation that got going last year called Our Courageous Kids? Maybe

Will 2017 be about something that I can't even articulate to you right now? FOR SURE!

So maybe it's time to dream about new dreams? Or find strength to remain faithful to what I know for sure. 

One Sunday ago, I preached at Oaklands Presbyterian Church in Laurel, MD, my friend LeAnn's lovely congregation. I am the first to admit that often the material of my sermons always has connection to what I am struggling with in my own life.  Don't let a preacher tell you otherwise. 

So while sharing about the "Slaughter of the Innocents/ Jesus flees to Egypt" passage from Matthew 2, I couldn't help but add in another reading from four chapters over in the same book:

Jesus says, “Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into bars, yet your Heavenly Father feeds them . . . Can any of you by worrying add a single hour to the span of your life?

For it's such timeless wisdom. Everyday has enough troubles of its own, we need not take our mind on over to tomorrow's troubles!  Yet of course so HARD to practice. Who really does?

Yet, the point of my sermon was this:  God gives us the direction we need when we need it (though often not a moment before). And in response, our job is simply to listen and then do it. Just as God directed Joseph about where his family was to live, God will also direct us.

From the big details (where will I work in 2017?) to the in between (how will I find more time for my friends this year?) to the small (what will I make for dinner tonight?) I know a loving God who cares about it ALL.

And in my heart of heart, I believe this about my 2017 and I believe this about yours. God will lead you. Period.

Plans aren't all that necessary. In fact, often OUR plans get in the way.

Join me in listening, though.

God Calls You to Take Care of Yourself

I Corinthians 6:11-20

Today we begin a series of messages in this season of Epiphany all about God's calling to us.

It's the time of year that the Christian calendar asks us to do some consideration again about this life of faith that we've committed to live in. It's the time of year for us to hear from scripture again some of Jesus' hopes for our becoming as people called the Body of Christ. And, today's "God Calls You" blank inserts the words "To Take Care of Yourself."

As I was preparing for this sermon this week, I thought back to previous studies I'd heard on the Corinthian text and the topical sermon series I'd heard or preached before. And, I realized this. I'd never heard a sermon or preached one for that matter on caring for self. Not one. I wondered why?

It seems we tow a good line as leaders and faith seekers in Christian community on the topics of self-sacrifice, selflessness and extending beyond the bounds of our own natural abilities so that God can work mightily through us, but rare it seems that we ever talk about care of self.

While we are eager to talk about becoming something "more:"  more loving, more giving, more serving, more faithful, it is rare that we talk about the physicality of a body from which all of the loving, giving serving and faithfulness comes or do we ever talk about our limits of care.

I don't know why this is, other than generations of doctrine and preaching and study has seemed to do a great job disconnecting the body and the soul.

Because of humankind's fall in Genesis 3, we learn we're condemned to a sentence of bodily suffering, pain.  The body is bad and will die while the soul is good and will abide in the presence of God forever, if redeemed.  Yet, we have forgotten that God previously said over the words of our birth that we were made in God's very own image and called "very good."

As a result of all of this confusion, we easily think us regular church going people, what's the point when it comes to our own health and well-being?

If we really need rest or a day of solitude and someone from the church calls us to do something, then the "godly" choice is always to say yes to others and to the church.

Furthermore, if we want our lives to be pleasing to God, then we've got to learn to give up beauty, give up pleasure, or even lay our own medical problems on the altar of denial, so we have time for everyone else other than us.  Though we are taught all along about love and grace and all that jazz, we believe the only way God will REALLY love us is we die to self by putting ourselves last.

There's a poem about JOY which you may have heard. It is the acrostic for the word JOY: Jesus first, Others second and Yourself last.

I remember my father saying to the children in Vacation Bible School once that "If you really want to be happy in life, you'll learn to love Jesus more than anyone else, even yourself."

As I grew older and had the ability to consider the deeper meaning of this saying I saw so regularly, I doubted the claim of "I wasn't really loving Jesus if I was loving myself."

Is this what Jesus' own ministry modeled for us?

Did Jesus never eat, sleep, take retreats or be quiet from time to time? But, Christian culture seem to teach me and my peers--  loving yourself was a bad thing. It you took a mental health or catch up on your sleep day, you just didn't talk about it.

But, is this what our epistle lesson from this morning is seeking to say about care? Deign it? In the eyes of Paul, do our bodies matter?  How might our calling be to care for ourselves be the foundation of all our care for others?

We find our lection for this morning found smack dab in the middle of a long series of instructional teaching from Paul to the church in Corinth, a church we know that Paul helped to found and nurture in its infancy.

Paul sought to teach this gathered community-- new coverts to the way of Christ-- what living out their baptism (as we were talking about last week) would look like in the practical every day issues in a particular context.

(As an aside, this is often why, we as modern readers have a hard time with the epistle scriptures. While there is much to learn from the "big ideas" of these letters, we often reach dead ends of frustrating fundamentalism when we take the directives of Paul too literally).

In the verses previous to and after our lection we hear Paul describing his concerns for order in the church, legal matters, marriage and the process of worship.

So, with this understanding, it seems less random these verses about sexual morality and food before us today which say in verse 13: "Food is meant for the stomach and the stomach for food" or in verse 18: "Shun fornication! Every sin that a person commits is outside the body; but the fornicator sins against the body itself."

It's like we are listening into a thousand plus year old conversation, though one-way, about food and sex morality's place in the life of faith. Paul wanted the church at Corinth to know that even as he taught much about "freedom in Christ" and the truth that being in Christ meant they were no longer bound to laws about this and that behavior-- still limits existed.  "All things are lawful for me," Paul reminds them but adds, "not all things are beneficial."

It's his way of saying, in the story of Christ's grace, we are not left out of the family of God for what we do and our actions do not change the way God looks at us or thinks of us, BUT freedom in Christ has limits. The limits are meant for our good.

Such is summed up when we reach verse 19, "Do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit within you, which you have from God, and that you are not your own? For you were bought with a price; therefore glorify God with your body."

Like a young child who will not take instructions without their parent or caregiver answering their thousand, "Why?" questions, Paul gives the whys for his considerations for this particular community about how they partner sexually and what food they put in their mouths.

Their bodies are not bad. Their bodies are not just flesh and bones with nothing to do with their souls. Their bodies gave life and thus were a part of God's very own Self.  Therefore, a call resounds to care for their bodies.

I wonder how many of us in this room made New Year's Resolutions?  And, among all of you who made resolutions, I wonder how many of your stated intentions related in some way to your body or health.  (Any brave souls to raise your hands?)

A recent article about our New Year's Resolution practices in one US city[i] states that the top five resolutions made this year included to:

1. Spend more time with friends and family

2. Become fit in fitness

3.  Lose Weight and tame the bulge

4. Quit Smoking

5. Quit Drinking

No matter that social studies say that 80% of New Year's Resolutions fail by January 20th (that's only 5 days away in fact), there seems to be a compulsion in most of us to improve our satisfaction with our bodies and an equally strong compulsion to not.

According the National Center for Heath and Disease Control, nearly 2/3 of adults and children in the United States are overweight; nearly 1/3 are obese.  And, if we single out the church going crowd the statistics are worse. A recent study by a Purdue University sociologist "found that religious participation in the United States specially, participation in the Christian denominations (for which the Baptist church was highlighted as a chief offender)-- correlates with status as overweight or obesity.[ii]

At first reading of this I wanted to shout, "Oh come, on, so not true!" But, sadly I think the statistics tell our story. Our relationship with our bodies is out of control. Our disconnectedness of body and soul is out of control.

Have you been to a church dinner lately? Have you met a group of pastors lately? Though our church and its leaders might be able to say that we've cared for the sick and dying and we've given good weddings and funerals, when it comes to taking care of our own health, our own well-being, and our own mental peace, we do a really lousy job of it.

We don't really think our bodies matter that much.

I can't tell you how many times I've been at clergy gatherings where fellow colleagues have boasted of "never taking their vacation" or "working from sun up from sun down."

I can't tell you how many pastoral encounters I've had in homes when a piece of cake or pie has been shoved on me though I really keep saying, "I'm full." I can't tell you how many times the sin of gluttony has been ignored in church life as if it is ok to eat and eat and eat some more and the sin of lust has been ignored and we all know what happens when that comes out . . .  We as the church global have problems with God's call to care for our bodies.

All of this talk this morning is not meant to knock those of us who in the midst of a life-long struggle with body image, time management and finding ways to love exercise (though we hate it so), but it is this text that asks us to stop and ponder what IS God's calling to our bodies again. It's our time now to ask us what God's calling to "glorify God in our bodies" looks like?

In my early years of faith, I heard a lot about salvation as the process of being made right with God.

Salvation as making a stated confession to a community of my sin, repentance and faith in God. Salvation amounted to a prayer of confession and a lifetime of service in the church, hoping to lead as many others as possible in this prayer of confession too.

It was such a big deal that people would ask, "What was the day that you came to Christ?" And, when you appropriately answered, your salvation story was complete.

But, even as my understand of salvation began to change over the years, a class during my 3rd year of seminary, shifted my theology in a completely different direction.

Salvation was not, as Dr. Esther Acolotse, put it in pastoral care class one afternoon about a moment or a limited engagement experience. Salvation, she suggested was about become a human being-- the human being God designed each of us to be at creation. Salvation was about a journey to be made whole.

Such words lingered with me long that day after class and have stuck with me until now. That, yes, God calls us to take care of ourselves because our salvation depends on it.

But, what does this look like, you might wonder? I'm still trying to figure it out, of course, but what I've learned is that there is no way that I can act on God's calling for care of self if my schedule is out of balance.

If we try to over work or under work, if we say "yes" when we should be saying "no," we wind up cranky, drinking too much caffeine, and eventually physically ill.

But, if we remember when we look at the week ahead that it is good to care of ourselves-- the time we need to cook meals at home, the time we need to go on walks, the time we need to decompress-- as much as we say "yes" to other things, a funny thing happens.

We feel better. We might just sleep better. We enjoy my life more, and we exude the joy of being exactly the person God created us to be.  And, sure there are always times in your life and mine when we need to go more than others, but afterwards we always must remember to take a step back and not let this constant rush be our norm.

The stakes are high with this calling, my friends, for you and I get into more trouble than we can ever know now if we don't live into this. Not only what we first might think-- facing life with preventable health concerns dragging us down-- but in our community relations with one another. If we are ever going to be the presence of God to one another as other callings upon our life will ask of us-- we must first start with ourselves.

After all St. Teresa of Avila once said to her community:

Christ has no body but yours,
No hands, no feet on earth but yours,
Yours are the eyes with which he looks
Compassion on this world
Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good,
Yours are the hands, with which he blesses all the world.
Yours are the hands, yours are the feet,
Yours are the eyes, you are his body.
Christ has no body now but yours.

So, what are you going to do to care for yours? AMEN


[i] Top Ten New Years Resolutions. Albrecht Powell.

[ii]Mary Louise Bringle. "Eating Well: Seven Paradoxes of Plenty."