Reclaiming Oils

In my ongoing quest towards claiming those things that really matter to me in ways that actually show up in my life, I’m experimenting with and learning about essential oils and nature-based hair products and cleaning products.  I continue to see connections between these products and…life…and occasionally write these connections down.  Here’s one such reflection:

Yesterday I attended a church service of a ministry that is just getting started. We met on the ground of the construction site where the church will be located in the future. We began with a ritual of blessing over the space, praying for peace for all who will enter the space in the future. Meanwhile, our synod is actively preparing to welcome a new bishop through the rite of installation, which will include a laying-on-of-hands, where other bishops surround this one who has been chosen and called and lay their hands on his head with words of blessing. Meanwhile, I’m beginning to think about the season of Lent where we will share anointing oil with pastors and others who anoint babies in baptism, and others in times of sickness and death. THEN (yes…this is going somewhere!!), this morning I saw this link about the rationale for oils in Monat hair products. And it all got me thinking (here’s the connecting point!) about how oil on the head and in different spaces has often been a sign of anointing, set apartness, prayer, etc. So what if using good oil in hair products and diffusers rather than chemicals is kind of like reclaiming that practice of anointing and setting apart? Whether it’s using essential oils to say something about what I want my space to be (tranquil, peace and calming, stress away, etc), or whether it’s using good quality oils in my hair products, perhaps there’s a way to reclaim all that oils can mean–not just for religious rituals.

Reflecting on the Wilderness

Reflection on Exodus 33:12-23 (October 22, 2017)

I was invited to share a reflection with a Spanish-speaking congregation.  This was my reflection, which was translated and shared with those who attended.

When Moses was praying to the Lord on behalf of his people, there was a separation between people and God.  The people expected Moses to intercede for them.  They had received a promise from God of the Promised Land, and were traveling through the wilderness trusting that promise.  But a promise is not the same as a relationship, and at the end of Moses’ prayer we see that as God passed through the community, it was like they looked up just in time to see God’s back pass by.  The relationship—the face to face conversation—was Moses’ responsibility.

But God invites them into relationship—even in the middle of the desert, and even though they don’t always respond to that invitation.  They were no longer in Egypt, but they were also not yet in the Promised Land.  And yet—even in the wilderness—they are not lost to God.  “I know you by name, and you have found favor in my sight,” we hear in Moses’ prayer.  “My presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.”

Moses heard and could repeat these messages from God because he entered into God’s presence in prayer on behalf of his people.

Continue reading Reflecting on the Wilderness

Open Space

“To keep the heart space open, we need several things.  First, we almost all need some healing in regard to our carried hurts from the past…  And to be fully honest, I think your heart needs to be broken, and broken open, at least once to have a heart at all or to have a heart for others.” (Richard Rohr, Breathing Under Water, p. 11, 12)

These quotes pretty much explain my spiritual journey since college.  I probably came to the second part first.  Rohr talks about the importance of re-aligning the head, heart and body. In my head-centered religion, I realized during college that my heart was not open.  I remember singing the praise song, “break my heart for what breaks yours,” and realizing that my heart didn’t break for much of anything.  And then my friend Nicole died (14 years ago yesterday), and my heart broke.  I began to FEEL instead of just THINK.  A little bit to avoid feeling, and a little bit to get better at feeling, I went back to Kenya and worked in a children’s home, where I met a young girl named Wamaitha who broke my heart a bit more.  Sitting on the bench in the children’s dorm, a crowd of kids tugging at my hair to braid it, and Wamaitha sitting next to me–holding my hand and rocking back and forth singing sounds and words that only she understood–my heart broke open just a little bit more.  When I came back to the States and got involved in a community that didn’t need me to think my way to spiritual maturity, I sensed my heart opening to those around me, and more deeply to a Spirit that is mysterious and beyond comprehension.

At times along the way, I have also realized the need for healing in regard to past hurts.  This has meant counseling and spiritual direction, where I have been able to sit with that inner 8-yr. old who was dropped off at boarding school and give her some space to name her fears and tears in new ways.

I can see the difference it makes as my heart space becomes more and more comfortable being open.  It’s overwhelming and scary–because an open heart space inevitably means the possibility of pain.  Not just pain others might cause me, but I find myself feeling the pain of others…of our culture…of the world more deeply.  Maybe that’s what Rohr means when he talks about a broken heart leading to a heart for others…

Looking under the hood

Last weekend I was in Washington, D.C. for a work thing.  It was an interesting experience to be in the nation’s capital city at this time.  Here is one reflection I had:

If you look under the hood, there’s still enough to work with.  What if we can get this thing running again?

There was a video floating around social media a while ago:

These guys are trying to get this beat up junker of a car running again.  They punch out the glass, rip up the seats and hot-wire the engine, but eventually they get the car running.  They drive away hollering in glee.

I thought of that video yesterday as we toured the Capitol building and then later as we toured the monuments.  The tour guide at the Capitol was amazing, and kept coming back to how this country was founded on “We the people…”  The Constitution is a contract that CAN be renegotiated and revised.  Plenty of history is remembered incorrectly.  The Founding Fathers had some good ideas, but were also deeply flawed.  Those were the highlights.

As he lifted up the hood and described how the car was originally designed and built, I saw the whole thing in a new way.  Right now it feels like a wreck.  But what if there’s enough of the original stuff to restore it?  That stuff of the original design…the vision of the designers and manufacturers…what if there’s enough of that stuff still in there somewhere? What if the best wisdom and vision of those represented by the monuments was not forgotten?  What if the devastation and hurt was addressed honestly and directly?

We’ve gotten off track and added all this stuff that makes driving hard.  Some would say there were some significant flaws in the original that need to be re-done altogether.  Some really important parts aren’t working the way they should.  We may need to pull up the seats, remove the glass and hot-wire the starter.  But…what if there’s enough in the guts of the machine that can be repaired?

What if this vehicle CAN run again???

the space between us

My Lent devotional this year has been A Way Other than Our Own, by Walter Bruegemann.  There are several quotes throughout the book worth pondering, but here’s what he says about Maundy Thursday that has me thinking today:

“The drama of the towel provided an example for the disciples to replicate:

  • Replicate the truth that you have come from God; you are not on your own.
  • Replicate that the truth that you will go to God; your future is assured.
  • Replicate that the space between you and others is filled with a towel.
  • Replicate that as you travel with towel and basin, you will be safe in vulnerability, treasured in obedience, and free from anxiety” (p.88)

What do I make of this image of the space between me and others being filled with a towel?    The towel is the symbol of vulnerability and humility.  If the space between me and others is filled with a towel, we are open to that vulnerability–both in ourselves and in the other.  We are mutually serving each other…at each other’s feet.

That means not only am I serving my neighbor, but I am open to being served by my neighbor.

Deaconesses (and others) use this image of basin and towel to describe our call to the world.  We receive a basin and towel at our Consecration service.  So I can intellectualize and spiritualize this ritual with the best of them.  But, personally, I am all too aware at how easy it is to keep distance between me and others that is not filled with the towel of service and vulnerability, but is filled instead with fear, criticism, and self-protection.

So what would difference would it make to see the space filled with a towel?

I imagine it would make quite a difference.

As Bruegemann says, as we travel with towel and basin, we will be safe in vulnerability, treasured in obedience, and free from anxiety.

Safe.  Treasured.  Free.

Yep.  I imagine it would make quite a difference.


Redemptive Violence and 24

A few weeks ago I listened to a Robcast about the “lie of redemptive violence.”  In this podcast, Rob Bell explains how this idea of redemptive violence–that violence in retaliation for wrong-doing can be justified–is deep in our society…and even in our theology.  But it’s really a myth, and he goes on to talk about how the “Jesus narrative” provides a powerful alternative to this myth of redemptive violence.

So I had this podcast in my mind and was pondering this concept of redemptive violence, when I had a brief window in my regular schedule of television shows and was looking for something to watch.  So (don’t judge me) I settled on the final season of the show 24.  In this final season, counter-terrorism expert Jack Bauer is called on once again to save the U.S. from the threat of a terrorist attack.  Jack Bauer spends the next 24 hours trying to neutralize the threat in order to preserve peace.  And, of course, in quality mediocre television drama fashion, lots of people are tortured and killed in the race against time.  And at the last minute, the president of the United States has to decide what lines can or cannot be crossed for the sake of a signed document called a ‘peace treaty’.  To the show’s credit, it does not tie all the pieces together nicely at the end, and the whole thing ends with a bit of a question about who exactly ‘won’ after all that fighting and revenge.

Continue reading Redemptive Violence and 24

A poem to celebrate 40 years of marriage

 (roughly to the theme song from “Fresh Prince of Bel Air”)

In western Kenya born and raised
At the missionary college, I spent most of my days,
Walks in the forest, Sunday night devos
Right from the start, you guys were my heroes.
You walked hand in hand, no matter the case,
Standing side by side, giving ‘faith’ and ‘love’ a face.
You’re committed to others, but without seeking fame,
Above all else, giving glory to God’s name.

You raised seven quality kids, impacted many more,
You lived what you believed, and moved from shore to shore.
Even through those dark years, when words were hard to find,
The words from Psalms and Romans, would often come to mind.

You gave us what you could, and it was always just enough.
You cared more about people than about flashy stuff.
My guess is there’s more than even what I know,
Regarding who you touched and all the love you showed.

So now here we are, to celebrate the day
You chose to stand together and journey on the way.
You’re not ones for show, for streamers and noise makers,
In fact, you’d have things to say about those ‘movers and shakers.’

But we want to take a minute to say we really care,
About the love you’ve showed us, and about the life you share.
The thing I learned from you is that in the end, you CHOOSE
To live, love and pray together, and on the couch to snooze.

Happy Anniversary, and all the best to you.
I have so much respect for the things you’ve chosen to do
As you’ve followed your life’s convictions, regardless of the cost
The legacy you leave behind you will not easily be lost.

I am one of many, who wouldn’t be the same,
If on Feb. 28, 1976 you hadn’t shared a name.
Here’s to you and all that you have done.
In so many categories that matter, you two have definitely won.

Happy Anniversary


Love Has Come: a New Year’s Sermon

Sermon: January 1, 2017 (1st Sunday of Christmas)

“Love Has Come”

Matthew 2:13-23

A friend of mine is a missionary in South Sudan, living and working in a refugee camp. She homeschools her 3 boys while her husband does leadership training and discipleship in the community.  And she loves it.  Bethany shares through facebook and her blog the many ways she experiences the richness of life and love in the desert of South Sudan, amongst people whose language and culture she doesn’t always understand.  She wouldn’t trade her life for anything, as far as I can tell, and genuinely feels like she is where God has called her to be.  As you may know, South Sudan is a country that has been plagued by civil war for the last decade, probably more.  For as long as I can remember, there has been tension and violence in Sudan.  Bethany reported on facebook this week that they spent the days around Christmas literally lying on the floor in their house to avoid getting caught in the crossfire between warring militia.  On Dec. 27 all the missionaries in South Sudan were evacuated.  Bethany and Eli describe more about their Christmas weekend in this blog post.

Continue reading Love Has Come: a New Year’s Sermon

Put down the book and get into the story

I was setting up my nativity characters for chapel this week, and was reminded about a preschool chapel last year that became the central illustration in a sermon I preached on Dec. 20, 2015.  The sermon was in the context of a ‘Traveler’s Christmas,’ a Christmas Eve service for those who would be travelling over Christmas.  I found the manuscript to that sermon and realized I needed to hear it again this year.

Text: Luke 2:1-20

Last week in preschool chapel here at Grace, the kids were helping me tell the Christmas story.  I had a few sets of characters scattered around up front, and together we organized them to look something like a nativity scene.  And because I know that epiphany doesn’t come until after Christmas, the kings were a distance away from the rest of the animals and characters.  Someone noticed this and said, “the kings don’t have a star to follow!”  Without missing a beat, the kid sitting next to me holding the picture Bible put it down and jumped up, saying, “I can be a star…like this!” and he spread his arms and legs out while we sang “Go, tell it on the mountain.”


I tell you that story tonight because it was a moment full of joy and life that I just can’t get out of my head.  But also, the more I think about it, the more I think that kid got it right.  For many of us, this story we read in Luke 2 is really familiar, and every year we arrange the various pieces of our nativity sets to illustrate the story…and then we stand back and admire it from a distance.  In fact, I think if we’re honest with ourselves, we keep the whole message of Christmas at a distance.  We distract ourselves with questions about the historical accuracy, the literary details, the cultural specifics.  Maybe we honor the traditions of those around us.  Maybe we even find meaning in these traditions for ourselves.  But, for the most part, we keep this God who breaks into the world at a distance.

Continue reading Put down the book and get into the story

It matters who’s calling

A few months ago I called my credit union with a simple question, and ended up getting routed to the supervisor of fraud detection because after I answered the basic security questions the customer service lady said, “well, we don’t have that Michelle is a male, so I’m going to send you to my supervisor.”  I tried to tell her I’m not a male…I just have a deep voice, but she had already sent me on to her supervisor.  It was frustrating and a bit humiliating, and it brought back all the comments throughout my life that I’ve heard about my voice.

A few days ago, I made another call to the same credit union.  But this time, I had an advocate.  A State Farm insurance agent was on the phone with me.  So, ‘Mark from State Farm’ made the call, and when the customer service person answered, he said very quickly, “This is Mark from State Farm, and I have Michelle on the phone with me…”  Without a hesitation, I was given the information I was looking for.

This is the importance of advocacy–or at least one of them.  I realize that advocacy is more than just this, but I think it is at least this: Someone in a position of authority or privilege making the call while someone else is on the line and making sure they get the help they need.

This experience on the phone made me ask myself who would benefit from me ‘being on the line’ with them.  It was another confirmation that as an educated white person, my voice on the line is REALLY important.  There may be someone else who is frustrated, discouraged, and humiliated from trying to get through the system, or trying to get answers, or whatever.  And I can do all kinds of good by staying on the line with them, making the call, and making sure they get heard.

I’m not very good at this advocacy thing, I have to admit.  But now I’ve got another way to think about it.  Hopefully I can keep looking for ways of staying on the line.