Apr 21 2014

Madness of March

Share

By Katie Cummings

Katie shared these reflections with the staff of the Church of the Brethren and Brethren Benefit Trust on April 4, 2014 at the weekly chapel. 

In January, when I was looking ahead at my upcoming calendar, March was a month for which I was both anxious and excited. March has an odd way of filling itself up in the blink of an eye. Anyone serving the church can list off thing after overwhelming thing that made March, both stressful and sometimes enjoyable. For me, it was some travel, some hospitality, lots of meetings, and weekends away. Now with that month behind me, I hope to slip out of the madness that has gripped me for several weeks. This isn’t the only year that March has been maddening. Last year, I was in the office for five days in March– workcamp travel added up fast! Maybe you’ve experienced busy travel seasons, swallowed up weekends, or long days with meetings recently, too?

In the midst of my March Madness, I traveled to Roundtable at Bridgewater College. It’s the Regional Youth Conference for the Atlantic Southeast Region of the Church of the Brethren. I have been attending this event for a DECADE. WEIRD! That’s what happens when you attend the conference in high school, become a part of the planning team in college, and then provide leadership after your graduate! While on the coordinating team in college, the weeks leading up to the conference were nothing short of prolonged chaos. They were full of final details, meetings that started at midnight, and little sleep. Even in the midst of the enduring craziness, it was my favorite weekend every March. Fellowship, worship, games, variety shows, joy, people, #brethrenthings– I love all of it.

Despite all the swirling madness before, after, and during Roundtable, there is a sacred stillness that comes every Sunday morning of Roundtable with the anointing service. It’s a sacred space and I’ve cried on more than one occasion receiving the blessing. (No surprise there!) Every spring for the past decade, I’ve come to anticipate and cherish this anointed blessing for my journey. My heart becomes warm as the slick oil touches my forehead– marking me, reminding me to whom I belong, that I am enough, that I am blessed. March is mad and this reminder is needed. 
March is a month that is sometimes spring, sometimes winter. Teasing our sandals out of the closet for a day, before switching back to snow boots with a surprise storm the next day. The inconsistency of the weather is maddening. Our bodies have been bundled up for months enduring the harshness of winter temperatures and dangerous snow or ice. Weather whiplash smacks me so strongly my body doesn’t know what to think. I’ve even walked out of the house in sandals as it starts to snow. March is mad.

In the dubious climate of March, where my body doesn’t know what the weather is doing and my head is exhausted from the season of planning, travel, and little sleep – my heart starts feeling “some type of way.” O, March, you bittersweet month of change. This Roundtable the speaker, Eric Landram, talked about Seasonal Affective Disorder, which I would say after living in Chi-beria for a full, long, awful season, has definitely chipped away at my positive demeanor this winter. He talked about “winter blues”, “summertime sadness”, and he mentioned one less common seasonal ailment “spring sadness”. 

I thought “spring sadness” was a little ridiculous at first. The world is coming alive – baby animals, flower buds, and all that! What is there to fear about spring?! Yet, I thought about it. Spring is another season of change, like fall, but instead of the world falling asleep, it is waking back up again. There’s bound to be some discontent as the world transforms. Spring is a season of goodbyes – graduations, preparing for upcoming seasons– summer conferences or vacations, board meetings, travel for retreats or conferences, or the slow trudge of day-to-day, while the weather spins madly around you… doing whatever it chooses to do. For me, it’s been a season of unknowns from year to year…what will my life be like after I graduate, after I move away, after relationships end, after BVS and NYC. It is a time of discernment and questioning.

Lent’s another difficult thing in spring. It’s a hard season. The season of Lent retraces Jesus forty days in the wilderness, Jesus fasted for that time and some Christians choose to fast, as well. Some people scoff at this practice and laugh at people who give up soda, but the past several years I’ve found it an intentional space to grow in my walk with God. Granted I have done some weird things like give up abbreviated words in college (which was totes hard) and wore a prayer covering one Lent. But this year I’m journaling every day. I have found that the intentional things I add or take away to my daily routine during this Lenten wilderness walk, slowly and surely point me on a closer journey with God that I had been missing. This routine that forms over forty days helps me when the ground changes beneath my feet during the maddening spring. March is mad.

We’re about done with our wandering in the wilderness, according to the liturgical calendar, and I have to ask, “How’s everyone doing?”

It says in Matthew 27, when Jesus died, “at that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. The earth shook, and the rocks were split.” I wonder about Jesus’ disciples, about Judas who betrayed him, about Peter who denied him, about Mary of Bethany who anointed his feet, about Mary who birthed him – what kind of wilderness were they walking in now? What were they thinking as the ground shook beneath their feet? Their leader, their Messiah, their friend, their child was taken from them and the whole world was in upheaval. They might have started to grapple with questions like – “What will life be like after this?” … “What will happen to me?” … “Will life ever be normal again?”

We know the story doesn’t end here, but their three days of complete chaos and fear and doubt probably felt like an eternity. “How will we ever recover from this?”

In the book of Luke, Jesus appears to two disciples walking from Jerusalem to Emmaus, three days after his death. The disciples are wrestling and reeling with the horrible series of events that have happened over the last couple of days. They’ve lost their prophet, most everyone following the Jesus movement has deserted and fled. And some women just this morning said that his body was taken from the tomb. They don’t really know what to make of all of it. They’re so lost in their sadness, that they don’t even recognize that it is Jesus coming with them on the road. They’re wandering is some kind of wilderness.

They walk and talk all the way to Emmaus and yet, they still have no idea they’ve been journeying with Jesus this whole time. They invite this stranger to eat with them once they reach Emmaus. It’s not until Jesus sat with him – blessed and broke bread – that they see who they have been journeying with. The scripture says, “Their eyes were opened, and they recognized him” (Luke 24:30). What have your eyes been opened to this season?

This March season, this hard Lenten season, we’ve been journeying with Jesus this whole time, whether we’ve recognized him or not. Amidst the endless travel, the fickle weather, the exhaustion, the meetings that never end – Jesus shows up in the ordinary, even when we’re not looking, even when we’re not prepared for him to do so. In the midst of our own wilderness, we don’t necessarily feel it, or see it, or take notice. Sometimes it takes oil on our forehead…breaking bread with a friend… to remind us that God does show up, God has come down, and God is here.

While, Lent is hard and long, it doesn’t last forever. The rumbling of the Earth on a dark Friday, gives way to a torn curtain, an empty tomb, and God’s spirit among us forever. In the midst of chaos, anxiety, and disbelief, we meet God on a dusty road and we break bread together.

SAMSUNG CSCKatie Cummings is from the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia, which means she grew up with mountains on either side of her. She graduated from Bridgewater College in 2012 with a degree in Sociology and a minor in Peace Studies. After college she joined Brethren Volunteer Service, coordinating Brethren Workcamps for a year before coordinating National Youth Conference. She enjoys running for fun, cooking Indian curries, and making things out of thread. She’s not competitive, but would love to play Ultimate Frisbee, Bannagrams, or Scattegories – if you let her stretch the rules.

Share

Dec 19 2013

Wrestling with the Council at Jerusalem

Share

Here at Brethren Life and Thought we are trying out a new format of blog. Below is a brief excerpt from a sermon on Acts 15 shared by Steven Schweitzer, dean at Bethany Theological Seminary. Rather than post the whole sermon, Bethany has graciously provided the video of the sermon delivered on September 25, 2013 as part of a series on difficult scriptures. 

 

… We can approach Acts 15 from many starting points and methods. Questions of chronology and history are needed and helpful. Situating the passage in its literary context is useful. Placing this chapter in conversation with the biblical canon, a canonical reading, is beneficial, and I would say essential to elucidate meaning. Yet, this is not an easy text. If we stop to consider this Jerusalem Council, pondering this pivotal moment in the life of the Church, noticing how the story unfolds, and how it relates to other canonical texts, we are confronted with something that makes us quite uncomfortable. There is such a tendency to idealize and romanticize the early Christians—and we constantly read ourselves back into these formational stories. I believe we must at least begin by slowing down and paying attention to what the biblical text actually does and does not say.

In Acts 15, we encounter an intense conversation, some might say a dialogue, a debate, or perhaps a “knock-down, drag-out fight” among early Christian leaders. The Greek words used are rather intense, and this was certainly an animated event and not one governed by Roberts Rules of Order. The presenting problem: there are all these Gentiles becoming followers of Jesus; some of the Jewish followers of Jesus wanted these new converts to be circumcised and follow the Law and others thought they did not need to do so. The church gathered together its leadership—the text says “apostles and elders”—to discuss the issue and decide how to live into this new reality. …

Steven Schweitzer is Academic Dean at Bethany Theological Seminary. His PhD is from the University of Notre Dame. He has published a number of essays and articles along with his book Reading Utopia in Chronicles (T&T Clark International, 2007). Along with his courses in Hebrew Bible, he is currently teaching an elective on Theology and Science Fiction.

Share

Feb 12 2013

The Joy Candle

Share
5596921023_65784623d1_n

Image Courtesy of Flickr

The following sermon, by Katie Shaw Thompson co-pastor of the Ivester Church of the Brethren, was delivered on December 16, 2012. With clear pastoral insight, Katie places the then recent tragedy at Sandy Hook within the season of Advent. 

Instead of the words of John the Baptist, I feel moved to bring you a different scripture reading this morning. This scripture is part of the Christmas story that is understandably often skipped over.

It is also a verse that flew around the internet and Facebook after the tragic events at Sandy Hook Elementary School.These words are all too relevant for the grief experienced by so many.

Mathew 2: 16-19

 When Herod saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, he was infuriated,and he sent and killed all the children in and around Bethlehem who were two years old and under, according to the time that he had learned from the wise men. Then was fulfilled what had been spoken through the prophet Jeremiah: ‘A voice was heard in Ramah, wailing and loud lamentation, Rachel weeping for her children; She refused to be consoled, because they were no more.’

Sometimes I can read this passage and let it be something that happened far away a long time ago, or maybe never, maybe just another part of a great story. But not today. Now, after the news of yet another shooting I read this text and it hits close. Too close.

 

I don’t think you need to have an 11-week old son at home to feel how wrong, wrong, wrong this story is and how wrong, wrong, wrong the terrible violence that occurred at Sandy Hook elementary school was.

As the president said in his address,

Our hearts are broken today — for the parents and grandparents, sisters and brothers of these little children, and for the families of the adults who were lost. Our hearts are broken for the parents of the survivors as well, for as blessed as they are to have their children home tonight, they know that their children’s innocence has been torn away from them too early, and there are no words that will ease their pain.

Our hearts are also broken because we are reminded once more just how real evil and suffering are in this world. My heart is broken and my stomach is turned that any human being could massacre innocent children, whether it is a man in Connecticut, or Herod, or Pharaoh.

I wish that I could pretend I didn’t believe that God’s peace and forgiveness could extend to men like that. My heart is broken and my stomach is turned at the thought that those could have been children that I know and love.

I wish that I could have some guarantee that I could keep my baby safe from violence of any kind. It would be easy in times like these for parents like me to be tempted to want to deadbolt our doors seal up our windows, and keep the world away from our children.

Yet, we know we cannot. And we know that to do so, would be to let evil win. To do so, would be to let murderers win.

In my New Interpreter’s commentary on this passage of Matthew, one wise scholar writes: “God does not will these deaths, but until God’s empire is established in full, rulers will do such things.”

I would add that those who seek power over others by violence will do such things, until God’s empire is established in full. I do not believe that God willed this terrible tragedy in Connecticut or that God willed that long ago terrible tragedy in Bethlehem.

But I do believe that God is in the midst of those tragedies. God walks right in and sits beside Rachel as she wails, and God mourns too. I do believe that God is a God big enough to hold all kinds of grief. I do believe that God is the spirit that ignites a spark of hope, and love, and yes, even joy, in the midst of the greatest darkness.

It would be easy in times like these for Christians like me not to want to light the joy candle. But it is precisely in times like these that we must. For in lighting the candle of joy even in the midst of grief we declare that joy will come again.

We declare that violence and hatred and suffering do not get the last word. It is precisely in times like these that we need all the celebration of Christmas. Not to celebrate with superficial smiles and shallow warmth, but rather with defiant cheers and tearful gratitude.

That is the true spirit of Christmas, That is the message of Christ.

No matter how dark the night,the light of Christ is brighter. No matter how terrible the violence, the peace of Christ is stronger. No matter how hot the hatred, the love of Christ is warmer. THAT is indeed something to celebrate!

At the beginning of this week I heard songwriter Tracey Thorn’s new Christmas album, I was particularly caught by her the words of her song entitled simply, Joy.

“When someone very dear,

calls with the words everything’s all clear.

It’s what you want to hear.

But you know it might be different in the new year.

That’s why, that’s why, we hang the lights so high.

 

You loved it as a kid

And now you need it more than you ever did

Its because of the dark

We see the beauty in the spark.

 

So light the winter fire

and watch as the flames go higher.

We’ll gather up our fears

and face down the coming years,

and all that they destroy

and in their face we’ll throw out JOY.”

It is important to take time to grieve and not to simply glaze over difficulties and pain. Yet, experts tell us that re-establishing some routine and order is important after trauma to re-establish a sense of safety and normalcy.

Even in the midst of their grieving a local church in Newtown, CT did just that. They held a live nativity service Saturday re-enacting that first Christmas night. Their celebration in the midst of grieving flies in the face of all the evil, suffering, and pain they continue to experience and reminds us all of light that is stronger than any darkness.

So we must celebrate with joy this Christmas, not with superficial smiles and shallow cheer, but with faithful warmth and tearful gratitude.

So, muster all the joy you can this season and invite someone to share it with you. For I find joy is grown and amplified when we share it with others, when I see it in the eyes of children or in the eyes of someone who needed it badly this season.

This need to witness to the joy, this need to share and amplify joy is why we tell children about Santa Claus. Its why we give presents, and prepare meals and go caroling, to share joy with others.

We light the joy candle on our advent wreath this week

In defiance of all that is dark and evil in this world.

In defiance of suffering.

May the spark of Christ shine brightly in our hearts this season despite the darkness of our world.

May it be so. Amen.

Parker and KatieKatie is a 2012 graduates of Bethany Theological Seminary. She is  co-pastor of the Ivester Church of the Brethren along with her husband Parker.

Share