Being Jesus

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cropped-key-and-kelly-in-train-station-oct-20143.jpgAnd the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me. Matthew 25:40

Jesus said whatever we do for “The least of these,” we actually have done for Him. This shows me that when we reach out to the poor, the marginalized, the prisoners, and the broken, we are not being like Jesus to them; they are like Jesus to us. – Christine Caine

Have you ever given money to a homeless person? Kept a care package in your trunk to hand out on the street? How about serving food at a soup kitchen, shelter, community cafe? What about at Christmas? Made a box for Operation Christmas Child? Or Thanksgiving? Dropped food off at the pantry? Cleaned out your closets and donated? During one of our many, many natural disasters – did you send money? Bought water bottles? Served on a board for a nonprofit? Donated your time, your talent, or your treasure in any way at any time? Heck, did you go on a mission trip or build something? What about Habitat for Humanity? Ever helped with one of their projects?

….

Put a coin in the red tin can so that the guy ringing a bell outside Walmart would think you’re generous? Showing that stranger that your Heart is in The. Right. Place?

I hate to break it to you.

You were Not Jesus in those moments.

You were simply a good and giving person. Another person that made a kind gesture. Maybe a human follower of Christ’s teachings. Not to belittle the gift, as the gift is still significant. It is. But.

You gave To Jesus.

The people drinking those water bottles. Taking your money. Living in those houses you nailed together during that summer in Belize. Opening those Shoeboxes. Eating that pantry food. Using the services of that nonprofit. Holding the cardboard sign you may or may not have answered while sitting at the red light on that corner just the other day.

They were Jesus.

I have had the humbling and overwhelming opportunity to give to Jesus and to be Jesus. Giving to Jesus feels good. Being Jesus, well, that’s a bit more complicated.

Here’s the thing. In the past when I have given of myself, it’s been a source of pride. Thoughts such as – I am blessed enough to give; At least I’m better off than the current person/ disaster/ situation that I am gifting; If I have more than the person in need, then it’s time to consider sharing my bounty – these thoughts flood my consciousness and the invisible compliment in my brain about how Good I am fires off those neurons and the day, well, it just seems more hopeful. Humanity restored for the moment, and all because of some kind act that I did. See how that focus just goes right on me? A kind act I did.

But being Jesus. Well….

That’s humiliating.

Being Jesus means being vulnerable and naked. Often soul weary tired.

Being Jesus means accepting the gifts of others on their terms and in their time. It means often accepting these gifts of soul and body nourishment even when they are wrapped in awkward packages. It means waiting for help from others because on your own is no longer feasible.

It means being open to the calamity of grace.

Being Jesus is one of the hardest parts I’ve ever played in my life. And right now it’s a part I will be playing for some more time to come, and all I can think is that Jesus has put me here on purpose. To humble me. To show me thankfulness. To show me my community. And let me tell you, the amount of support and gifting and lifting up is something I will never in my life forget. It has been tear streaking and breathtaking and beautiful and I will always be forever thankful and grateful to those people God has gifted to me for my life. So yes. He did it to humble me. But maybe, just maybe, also to make me think through all those times when I’ve given gifts myself.

Recently I had the privilege to witness a child receive a gift. Have you ever seen a child receive something precious? Maybe it was your own child on Christmas morning? Maybe it was the face of one adopted? Maybe that face came through mission work or summer camp or just a glimpse of pure happiness in a child’s expression in passing? The most vulnerable and naked and soul sensitive of humanity are the faces that bring us the most hope and joy and simplicity in our ability to love. They are the children of Christ and we, in our identical moments, become those faces of Jesus for others.

Imagine if in our giving, instead of feeling proud of our generosity, we felt anticipation and joy at the opportunity to meet Christ?

And….imagine if in our receiving we could see Jesus in ourselves?

Just Imagine.

 

Why Not Me?

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Last week a student sat in the hard wooden chair to my left, brow furrowed just a bit, focused on the notes, violin under chin, playing away. Her dream is to go to college for veterinarian medicine. Fiddling is her fun hobby. Her mother said she wants to get into a really competitive school. Only certain top students get in.

A few weeks ago, my own son toured Notre Dame University, wide eyed and lovestruck with the culture the school oozes from its very own pores. Notre Dame accepts 18% of their applicants yearly. The current freshman class beat out thousands of other applicants, over 100 of which graduated high school scoring  perfect SAT’s and ACT’s.

What would change if my sweet violinist and my gifted son ask themselves – Why. Not. Me?

Somebody is at vet school. In fact there are lots of people at vet school or it wouldn’t exist. Lots of somebodies make up that 18% that Notre Dame tells YES each year. What if, instead of looking at the wall, we looked at the opportunity?

How could simply changing the dialogue change the outcome?

Where in your life should you be asking Why. Not. Me?

Amen, y’all

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Went to church this morning. Honestly, the whole family barely made it, since at 9:25 am we all of us Hatches sat about the living room, tired and in pajamas, wondering if our presence could be excused this week. 35 minutes til 10 am start time, 20 minute drive….you do the math…

But our church, Allison Creek Presbyterian, decided awhile back to join forces with Liberty Hill AME Zion Church, and it was our turn to go to them. The Hatch family’s first time experiencing a traditionally “black” church. I mean, Liberty Hill had brought some of their worship to us in the past, but this time we got to go worship with them in their sanctuary. Now I’m wondering if anybody from Liberty Hill had their first “white” church experience that day? For many reasons, in the south we still segregate when it comes to religion.  I’m curious if this is a southern thing or an all over thing?

Alas, we both tend to self segregate here.

African American churches have a reputation for being loud and emotional with a tendency to drag their services out past lunch. Hunger pangs, anyone?

White churches have the equal and opposite reputation of being stuffy, reserved, and appreciative of pastors able to summarize quickly. Stand strong and mumble through a few old hymns, right?

Now, when you throw two of our groupings together, it can be quite the experience for everybody.

We hadn’t been there five minutes when my leaky eyes started. It’s a curse all women in my family carry. Easily leaking eyes. First off, right in the front pew sat a mother from our congregation whose son died two days ago. Her daughter died not but a few months back, and this week, she lost her son. Well, seeing her not just at Liberty Hill, but sitting in the front row, made me flash back to going to church for the first time right after my momma passed, and Lordy. It’s a hard thing to sit through a service, composed and holding it together or not, after losing family. Every time I glanced in her direction my eyes leaked.

And the energy in the place. I kept sweating from the very beginning, even though the air conditioning was running. Maybe when a naturally reserved person joins in a lively worship service, the whole body chooses to jump into action. All I know is, now I get why all the regulars carried fans. We sang and praised God and stood up, speaking out, proclaiming, “Amen” with all the good and all the hard and even the funnies. By the time my pastor got to speak, we’d been carried on a wave, swaying to and fro (even some of the ACPC folks joined in) and calling out, showing our appreciation through clapping and singing. Clapped half the service, probably.

Now, just as a little background, our poor Pastor Sam had to follow their Reverend Thelma Gordon with his sermon. She’d preached at our church before, so it was his turn to preach at Liberty Hill. He’d admitted getting nervous earlier in the week, being that Pastor Gordon is known all over the whole York County for her preaching. Yet, honestly, he had no reason to worry. Liberty Hill is nothing if not gracious, and we were all just glad to be worshipping together. And when Pastor Sam preached, he delivered a fantastic sermon, one from his own voice, that spoke to all listening. It spoke of the oppressed becoming oppressors who oppressed who then became oppressors. We travelled from Scotland to Ireland to America to South Carolina to Liberia, this same theme repeating generation after generation. And how hopefully, through our love, we might be able to move past it in our community. How the pattern of sin carried our ancestors away from God and how our two communities, linked through a cruel history, could come together today in love to worship the God who loves us all. A straight arrow kind of message for the day.

Finally, after all was said and done, we fellowshipped. I love how us church people like to call chatting, “fellowshipping”. We gathered in their building and we ate together, a simple lunch of salmon sandwiches and summer tomato salad with fresh baked cakes for dessert. Delicious, made by their hands, again the gracious hosts.

Rev. Gordon told two women joining their congregation that today would be a day they won’t soon forget. We’re home now, back on the couch we left at 9:25am.  And I have to agree.

Amen, y’all.

Amen.

 

 

Making Room for Resurrection

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***Twelfth Night – January 5th on the Christian calendar, the mark to an end of Christmas and the start of the season of Epiphany***

***A Beefeater***

Growing up, each and every Twelfth Night demanded The Boar’s Head Festival, a celebration of merriment, complete with carolers and beefeaters and a boar’s head mounted on a plaque and a yule log and dancers and hand bells and the symphony quartet. It was magnificent and grand and extravagant, and it grew year after year. Being Episcopalian in small town Tennessee usually meant to be a minority, except for Twelfth Night. It was our church’s grand gesture to the whole community. And in a show of curiosity and graciousness, the whole town attended The Boar’s Head Festival, save for the few anonymous fundamentals each year that wrote to the local paper (without fail) calling for an end of our pagan festival and animal sacrifice.

So a couple of weeks ago, I happened to be home on January 5th, eating lunch with Steve, the current priest of my hometown church. Being that I hadn’t been home on this date in years, I asked if St. Andrew’s still put on The Boar’s Head Festival.

And Steve said no.

The church chose to let it go due to the expense and the man hours and hiring the singers and the production of the whole event and how it was mainly the community but not any actual church members coming anymore and so on.

But that letting it go made room for Resurrection.

And the Resurrection may not look like The Boar’s Head Festival.

Initially my thoughts focused on imagining what on Earth could ever replace The Boar’s Head Festival. It had always been.

It was hard to picture anything but what used to be. Why change something that isn’t broken?

Except for those words, the making room for Resurrection.

And I thought about how many, many places in our lives need us to make room for Resurrection.

We as Americans especially, it seems, pride ourselves on busyness and rushing. We clutter our lives and our homes and our time. We spend not only our money, but our energy, and our focus, and our decision making, and our time on being busy, and therefore important, and ultimately proving our value or our wealth or our smartness. And yet, we are drowning under our busy clutter.

Over three million copies of The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing have sold. I haven’t read the book, but my understanding is that it helps readers walk through everything in their possession so that they may truly only keep those things that bring purpose and joy into their lives. And all the rest may go. The idea of a micro wardrobe has also taken many by storm, inspiring people to clean out closets, again keeping only those articles of clothing which bring joy in the wearing. The small house movement continues its evolution into tiny houses and mobile units and re-imagined buses. People are desperate for room outside of their stuff and for less to maintain and for relief from the daily stresses of choice.

It makes me ponder the question – What areas of my life could pass on by to make room for resurrection? We homeschool and work and volunteer and cart the kids from sports to music to events to field trips. We are always busy, always, and the list of things we yearn for, that could bring us joy, we keep postponing, and the list of somedays continues to grow. But what if?

What may need to die so that the Resurrection can take place?

Because that’s what Resurrection starts with – death. From the very first Resurrection to our modern day society, death leads to make room, and it can form in so many unsuspecting pathways of our lives.

Standing in the snow, watching my ten year old suffer through an early soccer game, I again questioned if club sports might be one of those things that could die on the vine, be pruned from our lives, in order to explore new avenues and interests. It may be that tomorrow when the sun comes out, soccer again wins the day, but asking these questions remains important. In prioritizing support groups and co-ops and weekly activities, in discussing what we do from day to day to day, we are allowing ourselves to truly recognize which ones bring joy and inspiration. And which ones bring us stress or fear or worry. These are sometimes easy decisions. But sometimes they can seem agonizing, compounded with a mixture of emotion and feelings of attachment or guilt.

But isn’t that the whole point of Resurrection? The first one didn’t come without pain and agony, without conflicting feelings of guilt and sadness and yet still, hope. It came with a whole bunch of mess. But once the death of Jesus happened, once Jesus left,  a space remained. And the Spirit came to us to fill that space up.

We get in ruts and routines and we can’t imagine anything else other than what we do, day after day after day. But what if we stopped? What if we made room in our lives for Resurrection?

Just, what if?

 

 

 

 

 

The Church with Bluegrass

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When we moved to York, we searched for a church on the internet. Certain needs dictated the types of churches we’d consider attending, with one main issue being the time of service. We found Allison Creek.

Now, Allison Creek sits up high on this hill that’s been there for centuries. Roads have formed and neighbors have popped up in homes and communities around the hill, and for the past 165 years, Allison Creek Church has watched and welcomed from a top its perch. It’s a pretty church and a common marker for those describing the area. You know, the big white clapboard church on that hill that y’all can see from…..

We had obviously seen Allison Creek from the road driving by, so when the search parameters matched the church, we tried it. What we found was a wonderful church home.

After we’d attended for a few weeks, someone invited us to the bluegrass concert that Allison Creek hosts twice monthly. It’s open to the whole community, it’s free, and there are hamburgers and hotdogs and baked goods for sale. Well, we went. And then we went again. And then the boys couldn’t wait to go back again, and again. My youngest asked for a banjo. My oldest asked for a dobro. Then a guitar. Then a violin. The bluegrass there is always quality and the community welcomes my whole family into their folds. Never in a million years would I think that by finding a church on the internet, we’d gain the support of a whole community of people AND bluegrass musicians. (Of course, church is largely about community, but I was mainly aiming for a 10am service and some coffee afterwards.)

It’s been three years of bluegrass concerts and two years of banjo lessons and one year now of violin lessons and I am blown away at God’s creativity. My boys soak up the music and the attention from the old guys and the opportunities to jam with some of the best musicians around. And these people gladly and patiently offer attention and tips to the next generation of bluegrass players. And all the time, God knew we would land here.

I think back to years ago, when my banjo player was at most two years old. My sister plays banjo and she pulled him up on her lap and sat him there with just the two of them and her instrument and I still remember how he stopped fidgeting. He gently reached down and plucked those strings, mesmerized. She grabbed her phone and snapped a picture of his chubby little fingers. It was one of those small quiet moments that ends up staying with you. A pause in a day that can cause pause years later.

I think to the year I’ve spent teaching my older son violin and how much joy it’s brought us both. It’s a unique kind of happy to play music with your child. He’s a natural, catching on quickly and teaching himself new notes before we even practice them.

Yep, God knew we’d go where the music played. God knew because He put the bluegrass here and he planted the music in my boys. And I am so very, very grateful.

What Single Decision Changed Your Life?

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There was an essay contest, and I wrote a piece for it.  And then, I wrote another piece.  And what I couldn’t rectify is that my life isn’t really made up of single decisions.  It is a world of decisions each and every day that could have gone differently.  Little moments defining and shaping character in the mundane.  And in my quandary and my inability to edit my writing, I missed the deadline to win my $3000 and a trip to New York.  Alas, all is well.  Because now I still own my writing and can share it here, with you. Here is one of several answers I could have written.

What Single Decision Changed Your Life?

“Are you Christian or hippie?”

I stared, a little confused, not understanding the question.  She went on to explain that the only other person she’d met that homeschooled children had told her that all homeschoolers were either Christian or hippie.  (That other person turned out to be my future homeschooling momma friend who falls squarely into the hippie category.  I mean, she’s certified La Leche and she makes her own sunscreen.)

Meanwhile, I was standing in this woman’s Annie Sloan paint shop, holding a quilted cloth bag I had sewn myself, wearing a tank and shorts and a bandana doorag for hair decor, when she asked me that question. And I believed in Jesus. Oh, the indecision was excruciating!

The main problem with my internal struggle was not exactly how I might answer the question, but that I would have been mistaken for any kind of homeschooling momma in the first place.  I hadn’t actually started homeschooling anybody just yet.  It was summer.  All I had done to that point was pay sixty five dollars so that I could legally pull my kids out of the public school system and join a private accountability group.  So maybe, technically, I was a homeschooler. But seriously, I was clueless.

It all started when my husband, Michael, took a job that moved us from our big capital city with a NASA public school and a park in our front yard to a small farming community with an overtaxed school district and overcrowded classrooms.  One small, southern Baptist, private school offered our only nearby alternative.  While touring the public elementary school, I just kept asking over and over again how they met the needs of their students.  The principal, my tour guide, continued to point out the new iPads and bulletin boards in order to reassure me they had it all under control.  In the first grade, the student ratio could be as high as 28:1 before the district would send in help.  No assistants.  One literacy coach or reading recovery employee per school.  In order to qualify for thirty minutes a week with said employee, a student must be two grade levels behind in reading.  Coming from my sweet suburbia with a 12:1 ratio in first grade and assistants provided and support staff available, I wasn’t quite sure what to do. Our little one struggled with reading, but at this rate, he wouldn’t qualify for help. The principal offered the PE coach as a tutor, if we got to school before 7am.  All I could think was that I had quit my sweet part time job to do this whole move for the husband’s career, and now that the little one was going off to school, I had plans.  Career re-entry was on my horizon.  It was time to go back to work.  And that school tour was messing with me.

At the end of the tour, I shook that principal’s hand, told him thank you, and that I’d see him in the fall.  He answered back with doubt about our reunion and went back to his office, leaving me wondering what in the world he could mean.  There were only two choices – his school or the southern Baptists – and I really wasn’t aiming for devotionals in math class.

Back in the city, several friends had gone the whole homeschool route, and I had laughed, saying they were C.R.A.Z.Y.  Yet somehow they must have planted that seed, because some nights later, I told Michael I wanted to consider homeschooling. His main concern was that I would become overly stressed and take it out on him when he got home from work.  Or worse yet, make him teach the kiddos something.  I promised that just. would. not. happen.  (Wives and husbands everywhere know I was totally lying through my teeth at this point.)  We agreed to let the idea sit with us for a week before making any rash decisions.

The next morning, the kiddos had soccer, and when I walked up to the field, an old friend was standing there. First thing out of Dee’s mouth, she blurted, “Don’t think we’re crazy, but we’ve made a big decision.  We’re homeschooling next year!”  And with Michael standing right there, I ran up, hugged her, and exclaimed, “We are too!  How wild is that?!”  Poor, poor, Michael.  He never stood a chance.  

In that brief moment, a random encounter with a rare friend in a parking lot out of town, I impulsively declared a path that changed my whole family.

Four years later, we have started another year of homeschooling.  We’ve all grown up quite a bit in these past seasons. I work harder than I have ever worked before. Life is very, very different than any of us imagined. Our educational lessons now extend far beyond classroom walls and seven hours for 180 days. We can also more easily handle the questions thrown at us, such as Christian or hippie?  Inclusive is the correct answer, by the way.

We are inclusive.  We soon discovered that homeschoolers are what I affectionately call fringe people.  People that dance on the fringe of society.  Fringe People.  There are a lot of reasons to choose to educate children at home, and no one family holds the same reason.  Therefore, it is easy to band together as a minority, but it is also easy to segregate because of the plethora of differences.  We have attempted fitting in the various boxes to no avail.  Years one and two hosted many trials with other people’s boxes.  Year three held the dream for something more.  And this year, we embark on a new journey, an educational cooperative that two friends and I designed ourselves.  It is aptly named Learn Bravely.  

Sometimes we play the What IF game at our house.  And then we thank our Jesus we chose the winding, hippie, occasionally rocky, path we did.  Me with a spontaneous declaration to a trusted friend, Michael with his support for his slightly off kilter wife, and the kids with their enthusiasm for adventure – I wouldn’t change any of it.  And none of it would have been possible if we hadn’t made the leap, however C.R.A.Z.Y. it may sound.

Ash Wednesday

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The season of Lent in the liturgical calendar has always stood out as important in my book.  As a child, it was the dreaded time we were forced to give up something we valued, such as candy.  It was a terrible season, and I tried my best to make it through by giving up brussel sprouts instead.  Frozen, out of the bag, straight into boiling water, style brussel sprouts.  They were hideous, and my mother served them for dinner.  So I quite piously refused them on my plate for 46 days each and every year.  Lent is technically 40 days, which allows one to exclude Sundays, but I always felt that was cheating, taking a break each week, especially when it involved olive balls of sludge.

Fast forward to today, and my family has been practicing Lent for several years.  Amazingly, the simple act of practicing Lent as a child translated into a deeper connection with my faith as an adult.  And even though I dreaded the season as a girl, saved only by the ability to escape slimy vegetables, as a woman and mother I cherish this time to refocus on my faith and refocus our guidance with our children.  Some years have been more meaningful than others, some easier, some incredibly difficult, but always important even in some small way.

Last year was the only year I remember not participating.  Looking Ash Wednesday in the face and refusing to try.  But I was also helping to nurse my dying mother and giving her up was more than I could handle.   Watching her deteriorate and my father lose his sole mate was more sacrifice than I had signed on for ever.  Even the simple act of refusing meat on Fridays was too much.  More than I could remember.  Losing my mother was an experience in drowning from grief and resilience and joy all tumbled together.  I spent time with and saw people I missed dearly, death bringing those together near and far, and yet I lost one of my rocks.  So while I didn’t get angry at God, I figured He understood my apathy towards that particular Lenten season.  Besides, He and I were on close speaking terms.  He was good with me.

And so now, here we are.  Ash Wednesday.  It is that time to give up and give outwardly; focus on our relationship with Christ, with God, with our Holy Spirit residing in us.  The kids have been involved in planning each Lenten season, oftentimes being the deepest thinkers and most diligent in their Lenten practice.  This amazes me, given my childhood track record. As a family, we’ve given up meat on Fridays, inhumanely raised meat completely, just pork, unnecessary shopping, and anger towards each other.  We have practiced disciplines, such as writing, drawing out daily prayers, making stations of the cross, and on and on.

This year is no different, except that the boys are getting older.  Each wants to dictate his own Lenten exercise.  For Key, we are to eat at the table as a family once daily.  Time where we talk to each other, discuss issues, debate thoughts, is valuable to him and he misses it.  Truth be told, we all miss it, and I am grateful to him in claiming this one.  For Kelly, and also Key, he is to practice his banjo each day.  Kelly’s music brings him joy, and he wants to focus on it.  Key has agreed that practicing violin each day would benefit him as well.  All of these disciplines are worthy Lenten exercises.

And for me?  Well, I am giving up Walmart.  I am giving up the big box super giant that makes me feel the need to shower after shopping.  Local businesses will be seeing me more often as I try to accomplish tasks, such as oil changes and buying Triscuits, without Walmart as a crutch.  Walmart stirs up emotions that I cannot clarify, such as guilt and stress and yet relief of its convenience.  Is it all bad?  Does it serve a purpose in a small town community?  Is it the evil cause for downtown’s current demise?  Can I find everyday items elsewhere without driving thirty minutes to the next town over? These are the questions Huffpost articles regularly tackle, and I will be researching answers for the York community for the next 46 days.  By ignoring Walmart, I can readjust my lens in search of local sources for my everyday needs.

How does this relate to my spiritual practice and my relationship with Christ?

AND YOU SHALL LOVE THE LORD YOUR GOD WITH ALL YOUR HEART, AND WITH ALL YOUR SOUL, AND WITH ALL YOUR MIND, AND WITH ALL YOUR STRENGTH.’ 31“The second is this, ‘YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.”

Mark 12:31

This is my humble attempt at loving my community.  Care to join me?