Pentecost, Preventing Elder Isolation, and Preachin’ with Red Hair.

Hey, y’all! It’s good to hang out in your inbox again : ) I hope that you all are having a really wonderful Easter, and that signs of resurrection are making themselves known to you and your community.

Over the course of the Lenten season, I had the privilege of sharing with you about my ministry with both my local church community and with FriendshipWorks. Together, we waded through the challenges of elder isolation, aging trends in general, the generous and tired hearts of caregivers, diverse volunteer experiences, and more. Did any of these stories bring up memories of one of your loved ones? A neighbor? A friend? Maybe you didn’t find yourself inspired, exactly, – maybe encouraged? troubled? …at the least, educated?

I ask because I have an opportunity for you to help make a difference in the life of an elder (and of a volunteer). FriendshipWorks is having our first ever Walk-a-Thon on May 15th (appropriately titled FriendshipWalks) and I would be so honored if you would support us in our endeavor to raise awareness about elder isolation and raise funds to help us continue making connections for elders within their own community. Funds raised go directly to maintaining and expanding our free services for elders in Boston.

I would love to tell you that I am walking in the Walk-a-Thon myself and taking physical steps on May 15th. However, preaching duty calls, and I’ll actually be preaching at my church that morning. (After the service, I’ll be joining FriendshipWorks for the afterparty, held at the office I of which I am the director!) So, since I won’t be walking in the walk, and therefore can’t incentivize your donation by saying that for ever dollar you donate, I’ll walk xx amount of steps, I’m instead taking a more…creative approach. Listen, it involves hair dye, so get pumped.

May 15th is Pentecost Sunday, the Sunday where we commemorate and celebrate the receiving of the Holy Spirit by the early church. Flames are one of the many images associated with the Holy Spirit, and so the color red is the color of this liturgical holiday and season.

If my community can together raise $1000 for FriendshipWorks, I will dye the ends/tips of my hair bright red in time for May 15th. Yes, this means preaching with my hair partially dyed red…on Pentecost Sunday.

If you found yourself touched by any of the posts written about elders or volunteers, I encourage you to donate. You can donate in honor of a special elder in your life, or maybe even in honor of a great volunteer! You can give from the bottom of your heart – the place where you know that practicing generosity and gratitude in turn creates a more generous and gracious spirit within us. You can also give from the place in your heart that doesn’t give a flip about elder isolation but very much would like to see me preachin’ on May 15th with flame red hair. That is also a great option. Maybe your heart includes both of those inclinations! Even better. (To clarify, this is at least 2-3 inches of my hair, and it will stay in until it fades a few weeks later.)

With the generous support I’ve received so far (including from some of you! Thank you!), I’m already 36% of the way to my goal, which is incredible. A donation of any amount (even $5) helps us reach our overall goal! If you are interested in donating, or even just learning more about the Walk-a-Thon, you can visit my page here:

Samantha’s FriendshipWalks Page – Preachin’ with Red Hair!

Also, feel free to share widely! You never know who wants to help end elder isolation or see a preacher preachin’ with red hair on Pentecost Sunday.

Thanks for reading, friends. I promise this is the only pitch post I’ll make about the Walk-a-Thon. : ) Plus, today is National Walking Day, so it just felt right to write this today.

Until next time!

Samantha

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Christ is Risen!

He is risen indeed!

Are we really at Easter already? There is a part of me that feels like we just started Lent a few days ago and that time has flown by. However, I’ll admit that my dominant feeling is that Lent has lasted for-ev-er, and that I’m kinda crawling toward the finish line here. I knew that taking up the discipline of daily blogging was going to be challenging, but oh my—hello Easter, I am so glad you are here!

Don’t get me wrong—writing here at The Generative Garden was been a terrific experience. I’ve been stretched to dig deep for words and for things worth writing about. Because of this, I’ve re-learned that inspiration and grace can hide in very small, commonplace, everyday actions, objects, and places. Like blue nail polish, achievement ribbons, hymns, laundromats, planes, buses, and hot cups of tea. I’ve also been reminded of the beautiful power that resides within written prayers, blessings, scripture, and hymns.

I recently read a piece from Jan Richardson that begins this way: “Perhaps what we call mystics are persons who have become thin places within themselves. They live fully open to the things of heaven and the things of earth. In their own being, they have become a place of meeting.” (Sanctuary of Women, pg. 202)

My soul is not yet a balanced place of meeting between the things of heaven and the things of earth. But, through this Lenten journey, I think I’ve come just that much closer to embracing the thin places within myself and within my experiences. And those thin places? They make me want to preach, to point to the good news and grace of God present in my life, your life, our life together. To speak whatever word is given, whether that’s a word of encouragement, of comfort, of calling, of challenge – but always a word of grace.

I have felt a bit like Mary Magdalene, and like the two fellows walking on the road to Emmaus (both are stories that appear in today’s Easter Morning and Easter Evening liturgies). When Jesus appeared to each of these people after his resurrection, none of them recognized him at first. But when they did, they ran to tell the story to others. I have often struggled to notice the divine’s presence in my life, but when I do notice, I want to share the news!

Before Lent began, I wondered to Nelson if one of the things pushing me toward blogging was the desire to create an outlet for the things within me that typically become my preaching. I can now affirm that this feels true. And because the prep for and delivering of my writing through blogging has felt like preaching a lot of the time (I often write how I speak), it has felt simultaneously energizing and exhausting.

And I thank God for strength to complete the task.

And I also thank you – all of you who have been reading. Thanks for hearing me, for traveling along, for holding me accountable to writing, and for offering feedback and encouragement. This whole endeavor would have been so incredibly different had you not joined in on the journey. So, thank you.

Many have asked if The Generative Garden is going away. The answer is no, though I have no concrete plan at the moment for how I will use it in the future. Another writing project needs my attention (aka full-connection/ordination paperwork), though I’m pretty sure some of The Generative Garden material will end up within those pages. : )

Thanks again for joining me here in the garden.

Happy Easter!

“Now to the One who by the power at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine, to God be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen.” (Ephesians 3:20-21)

Holy Week: Holy Saturday (and Simple Saturday)

{Welcome to the seventh Simple Saturday post. Nothing fancy, minimally-researched, in 300 words or fewer.}

First Reading: Job 14:1-14

Psalm: Psalm 31:1-4, 15-16

Second Reading: 1 Peter 4:1-8

Gospel: Matthew 27:57-66

Today’s passage in the gospel of Matthew tells a story of how the chief priests and Pharisees go to see Pilate after Jesus has been buried. “This imposter said he would rise from the dead in three days. It might be smart to have some of your guards make the tomb secure so that his friends don’t try to steal him away and fool everyone twice!” Pilate grants their wishes and sends a few guards to seal the stone that hides Jesus body in the tomb.

Actually, I have a similar recommendation. Don’t steal Jesus out of the tomb today.

It can be difficult to sit with sorrow, with death, with pain. But we must. Yes, we know that Sunday is around the corner. Resurrection is on its way, thank God. But for today, maybe we can imagine the sorrow and confusion felt by the disciples and the women who were close to Jesus. I conceive of them waking up and, like someone who got drunk the day before, or someone who was blindsided by tragedy, asking “…Did that really happen yesterday? What’s real? What now?”

Our celebration tomorrow will be full. But if we move on past death today and go right to new life, skipping the uncomfortableness of suffering and confusion, we miss out honoring that suffering and confusion, and we cheapen the arrival of grace.

Today, you are invited to join me in praying for those whose suffering does not seem to have an end. Maybe this means people suffering from depression, women and children and men caught in abusive relationships, refugees searching for a home they fear they’ll never have again, people who’ve lost a loved one and who aren’t sure the grip of grief will ever let them go. Pray God would join them and sustain them in their suffering, and pray for the hope of new life to make itself known.

Tomorrow, we celebrate. Today, we pray.

{The Generative Garden will NOT be post-free tomorrow! You didn’t think I was going to let Easter arrive without a post, did you? See you then.}

Holy Week: Good Friday

First Reading: Isaiah 52:13—53:12

Psalm: Psalm 22

Second Reading: Hebrews 10:16-25

Gospel: John 18:1—19:42

The Jesus we find in the gospel of John is a Jesus in control. A Jesus in the driver’s seat, if you will. This characterization is seen clearly in today’s passage in John. To name just a few instances of Jesus being in control, we have Jesus knowing everything that is going to happen to him (18:4), Jesus somehow never skipping a beat and simply repeating himself when the guards present to arrest him somehow fall mysteriously to the ground and get back up (18:6-7), any conversation Jesus has with Pilate, Jesus (from the cross) bringing his mother and the beloved disciple into new relationship to one another, and bowing his head and giving up his own spirit at death (19:30).

Jesus is cast as being in control of himself, though not necessarily in control of other people (can I get a woop woop for free will in the house this morning?). He couldn’t get the disciples to stay awake in the garden yesterday, and most of them had definitely made themselves scarce during the trial and crucifixion of Jesus. And I get that—when your trouble-making-for-the-authorities leader gets lynched, it’s probably not good for your own health to hang around and identify with him.

This makes it all the more interesting to me to see who shows up to bury Jesus. It’s Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus. John says Joseph was a “secret” disciple of Jesus because he was “afraid of the Jews” (aka afraid of the authorities and leaders…cause Joseph was a Jew himself). The threat of his secret leader now removed, thereby removing the threat of punishment from Joseph’s own head, he shows up to care for Jesus’ body. Nicodemus was a Pharisee (religious leader) who had shown interest in Jesus’ teachings, but also kept pretty quiet about it.

These are the two people who show up to make sure Jesus’ body gets properly laid to rest before the Sabbath comes. Two people who didn’t want to be out-in-the-open associated with Jesus for the longest time, until it seemed he was no longer a threat.

Damn – isn’t that me sometimes?! Not really wanting to put my neck out there for justice, peace, and love in a radical, making-trouble-for-the-authorities kind of way?

And yet, without Jesus controlling them into it, here Joseph and Nicodemus are in the story, showing Jesus care and compassion. Showing up after the fear has died down. When it’s safer. When it’s a little easier. When they’re covered by the shadow of night.

It seems like they were a little late to the party.

But they weren’t.

 

 

 

Holy Week: Maundy Thursday

First Reading: Exodus 12:1-14

Psalm: Psalm 116:1-2, 12-19

Second Reading: 1 Corinthians 11:23-26

Gospel: John 13:1-17, 31b-35

I had a hard time remembering what “Maundy” means in “Maundy Thursday” until a few years ago. It was my birthday, and my husband (then just a friend) sent me a birthday card from across the country. Well, he sent me a thank you card with the “Thank You” on the front crossed out in pen, and he’d written “Happy Birthday” in below it. (He is thankful I chose to think of this act as expressing frugality and creativity, and not laziness.) Inside he wrote a sweet message of some kind that included something along the lines of, “For your birthday, you should do something fun! Go out! This isn’t a suggestion; this is a command, a mandatum. Fun fact, mandatum is Latin for ‘command,’ which is where we get the name Maundy Thursday from, when Jesus gives a new commandment to the disciples.”

Yes, all written in my birthday card. And now he’s up to his ears studying Latin and teaching all about Maundy Thursday to his students : ) As much as I like to rag on him for writing all this in a birthday card, the meaning of Maundy has been stuck in my head since.

The new commandment is this – to love one another as Jesus has loved us. Jesus demonstrates this love earlier that day by washing the feet of the disciples before their shared meal. This act was something reserved for servants of the household, so when Jesus starts to wrap his robe around his waist like a towel, kneels down, and starts washing everyone’s feet, it’s a little unexpected, to say the least. Peter even refuses to have his feet washed by Jesus until Jesus makes it pretty clear that this is the way things are, if they’re gonna be family.

The kind of love that Jesus shows us is a servant-hearted love, in action. Saviors, messiahs, kings, lords – these people are seated high, the ones being served. But Jesus turns this notion on its head by insisting on being the one doing the serving.

This is the way Jesus loves us, and so it is the way we are commanded to love others – serving them, even those (especially those) whom we think should be serving us, instead.

There’s a hymn “They’ll Know We Are Christians (By Our Love).” Lines of “We are one in the Spirit, we are one in the Lord, and we pray that all unity may one day be restored,” and “We will work with each other, we will work side by side, and we’ll guard each one’s dignity and save each one’s pride,” are bounded by repeated phrases of “and they’ll know we are Christians by our love, by our love.” I’ve heard some argue that this whole “recognizing someone as a Christian simply by if they are loving or not” is problematic: Lots of people are loving, and many even are loving in the way that Jesus was, but they are not Christians,” is part of the argument. My point is this – the hymn doesn’t say “you are a Christian because you love others like Jesus did (though I think there’s definitely some room for exploring this).” It says that they’ll know that we are Christians because of how well and how often we love others.

Step out on the street and ask someone for some adjectives for Christians. I can assure you, “loving” is not at the top of anyone’s list. Try “hypocritical” or really, essentially “unchristian.

I’d gladly live in a world where when someone does an act of loving service for another, the assumption is that they might be a Christian. This isn’t to say that I don’t want other religions known as loving, because that would be AMAZING. It’s that if the Church could love people so well that love became our defining perception, we’d be on the right road.

But Rome wasn’t built in a day, and we do not suddenly become completely servant-hearted lovers overnight. We can, however, pray for God to form us each day just a little more into a people who serve and love others well. Even those, especially those, who the world says ought to be serving us.

This is my prayer this Maundy Thursday. Maybe it’s your prayer, too.

Holy Week: Spy Wednesday

First Reading: Isaiah 50: 4-9a

Psalm: Psalm 70

Second Reading: Hebrews 12: 1-3

Gospel: John 13: 21-32

Disclaimer: You can tell how excited I am about this following subject because of how many exclamation points I use in this post. Really. It’s ridiculous. But the enthusiasm is all real, folks.

Y’all I have been looking for a reason to talk about Lent Madness on this blog since day one and IT IS FINALLY HERE!

Yes, you read that correctly – Lent Madness. If you do not already know what this is, I shall now take great pleasure in introducing you to said fabulous Lenten tradition!!!!  (You can also visit this Lent Madness post, where an explanation of the name “Spy Wednesday” is given.)

Lent Madness, a program connected to the Episcopal Church, is essentially a bracket-style competition between saints of the Christian faith (go ahead and think March Madness). A year prior, saints are selected into the bracket, and when Lent begins, it’s on! Two saints go head to head (descriptions of the saints are provided by so called “Celebrity bloggers”…whom I stalk on Twitter because they are so amazing), and the voters choose who advances! There’s the Round of 32, the Saintly Sixteen, the Elite Eight, the Faithful Four, and then….the battle for…yes, wait for it…THE GOLDEN HALO!!!!

It’s magical, people. Trust me.

I’ve been following Lent Madness for about three years or so. I unofficially vote whipped on Twitter for Charles Wesley as he advanced, that’s right, all the way to winning the Golden Halo in 2014. I was so thrilled that this saint so important to the Methodist tradition (and lots of other traditions with all those famous hymns he wrote) had won, I even purchased a Charles Wesley Golden Halo Winner 2014 mug. See?

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This photo was taken for LM’s #mugshot competition this year. I didn’t win, but I did manage to get included in one of the Lent Madness videos, have Lent Madness like a slew of my tweets, and gain Lent Madness and one of its creators as Twitter followers so…I did my ecumenical happy dance anyhow!

Tuesday’s second Final Four match up was the most difficult voting decision I had made (for Lent Madness) this Lenten season. Dietrich Bonhoeffer vs. Sojourner Truth. I mean, c’mon! Both of these individuals had such powerful Christian witnesses. Someone named “tonip1” commented on the post about the match-up: “This was particularly difficult because both of them speak so clearly to the troubles of the world today and both of them were tireless in their devotion to living the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Whichever of them wins today, we are all winners to have both of these saints as witnesses for our lives and our journey.” Yes.

And this is what I deeply love about Lent Madness. Yes, it’s fun and I get to have lots of neat interactions with church folks (and people just interested in saints) who I normally don’t get to interact with. But I also have the opportunity to learn more about the lives of 32 saints (broadly defined) of the faith and be inspired by them. I get to say a prayer related to each saint during the Round of 32, learn about the way that grace inhabited each other their lives and discern what encouragement or example might continue to live on in them. Lent Madness is in fact fun and games, but it is also an opportunity to expand my faith and gain strength and inspiration from the witness of so many truly great people.

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us…” (Hebrews 12:1). Participating in Lent Madness really does invite me to consider the cloud of witnesses in my life and in the Christian life more broadly, and be strengthened to pursue peace, justice, and holiness as modeled by the saints.

It’s not too late to join in! Today is the FINAL DAY of Lent Madness where Julian of Norwich will face off against either Dietrich Bonhoeffer or Sojourner Truth (the results of this match up were not yet available at the time of this posting). If you have a spare moment today, check out the Lent Madness page, read about these saints, and maybe even cast a vote for the winner of the Golden Halo! But more than anything, take time to consider the gift of the lives of the saints—either the official saints of Lent Madness or others who make up the cloud of witnesses around you. May we gain peace, encouragement, and strength from their witness to the light of Christ in the world.

Holy Week: Tuesday

First Reading: Isaiah 49: 1-7

Psalm: Psalm 71: 1-14

Second Reading: 1 Corinthians 1: 18-31

Gospel: John 12: 20-36

I sometimes have a negative reaction to hearing others say of their accomplishment, “Look at what God did! God did this!” My instinct is to think, “No, you got that Masters degree. You put together that fundraiser. You walked away from X bad situation.”

On the other hand, when someone says, “Look at this amazing thing I accomplished! I did this!”my instinct is to think, “And I’m sure you had some amazing support along the way!”

I’m a little difficult, I know.

I think the reality is that life is both. Even the folks of the highest degree of privilege have to choose to act to accomplish some things. People who are incredibly disadvantaged and who still accomplish things do not do so completely on their own. (And everyone in between.)

This is where my brain first goes when I read Paul’s instruction in 1 Corinthians for anyone who boasts, to boast in the Lord (and not in themselves). However, Paul’s hitting at something a lot deeper.

“Consider your own call, brothers and sisters: not many of you were wise by human standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth.” I ask you to, as Paul says, consider your own call, your own life. Maybe you are pretty wise, or perhaps in a position of great power, or were born into the middle or upper classes. Can God use those talents and powers and situations to bring peace and justice to earth, to glorify God’s name? Yes. Talents and strengths and even positions you hold that you had very little to do with can be awesome! They are to be put to use in love for our neighbor.

But do you know what they can’t get you? God’s love. Salvation. Peace that passes understanding. Mercy. Forgiveness.

This is the thing about God’s grace—it doesn’t discriminate. To be a part of God’s family, we are not required to have certain talents or gifts or look a certain way or anything like that. I’d argue that sometimes we can get a big head about the things we are good at and that that actually gets in the way of us living in community with God and with creation (but maybe this is just me). Grace says that we’re welcome as we are. That God already loves us. That we don’t need to do anything to earn love or acceptance.

In Jesus, God shows us that the utter foolishness of a savior living life on earth, trying so desperately to teach us about love, and being put to death on a cross (and also raised to new life) is actually God’s wisdom for us. Through Jesus, God has made a way for all to claim their place in the family of God. A way for you to claim your place in the family of God.

And it doesn’t take wisdom or talent. Just a showing up and a willingness to consider what seems to be foolishness until the foolishness through faith becomes wisdom.

So, no one in the family of God may boast of their place in the family. None of us did anything to earn our membership here. We were simply offered an invitation, the invitation that’s extended to all, and we’ve, through God’s grace, said yes. God’s grace continues with us as we move and live and have our being in the world, growing as followers of Jesus. So if we boast, let us boast of the great love and grace of God that empowers us to do good works in the world. May others see the good fruit of our lives and may it point not solely to us, but also to a God who chooses to work in us and through us for the wholeness and healing of the world.