For the past 6 weeks our church has looked at the topics of fear, grief & sadness and shame.
The summer of bummer.
Ok, I don't think those emotions are a bummer, but it definitely causes us to access a place that many of us put effort towards avoiding. And these are conversations that are desperately needed in the church, because they aren't likely to come up otherwise in our culture.
But this Sunday we're going to be exploring the tension we hold in the midst of tough emotions.
We're going to be looking at the nature of hope.
Hope is a popular word in the Christian world, and for good reason. The Jesus narrative is all about hope in the face of suffering and injustice. That the difficulty of the current situation is not the forever reality. It was this hope that inspired the work of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and is resonant throughout his "I Have a Dream" speech.
What we want to explore is the complexity of hope and how to hold it in tension instead of a using it to avoid hard times. Hope is never meant to mask pain, but rather give us the strength to be in the pain.
Take a listen to a phenomenal woman willing to share her story of pain and the promise of hope she's been able to live into. I loved this conversation with Lisa Schmidt (aka The Sober Hipster)
One of the most destructive aspects of shame is it's baked-in certainty.
Shame can feel like a really squishy and uncertain emotion, but it has such a predictable outcome for every person who runs across it.
Some aspect of your being isn't enough.
You don't have enough intelligence.
You don't have enough training.
You don't have enough patience.
You don't have enough love.
You don't have enough discipline.
You don't have enough physical strength.
Most of us structure our lives in such a way that we never have to face the areas of our lives that we don't feel "enough" in.
We don't speak or sing in public.
We don't do games.
We don't engage in conversations outside of our area of expertise.
We don't speak up in our area of expertise in case we're exposed for not being expert "enough".
"Enough" is a myth. And when shame enters the picture "enough" always moves just out of reach to expose us for what we don't have.
So what if we heard the voice of God celebrating what we are instead of what we aren't? What if we felt a swell of joy for the way our brains, bodies and souls did operate when we faced the areas we don't thrive in?
The hope in acknowledging and releasing that repetitive voice of shame pointing to our "not enough-ness" is that we can enjoy and celebrate what is. On the other side of everything you're not is something that you are.
Your unique mix of skills, gift, insights and perspectives is desperately needed in this world and facing our shame can help allow that awesomeness flow more freely. To let the voice of shame paralyze those amazing gifts would be like a fish not swimming because it couldn't walk around on the land.
I have a love/hate relationship with small talk.
I know that it's pretty popular to despise small talk, but I can't get fully on board with that movement. I've had too many great conversations and connections come from chatting about work, the weather and the location of people's current or former home to completely write it off. I'm also aware that it can actually inhibit true connection. Sometimes it's just a swirl of information swapping and never gets to anything people are passionate about.
One of my least favorite aspects of small talk is when it comes to vocation. I never quite know how to ask the question.
1. I never want to assume that people are currently employed somewhere. It can deeply sting to have your identity reduced to employment and asking it as a first question can do just that.
2. There is this strange dynamic in the U.S. where we assume that you need to be passionate about what you do for work. In small talk I'm trying to discover the other person's passion and talk about work can sometimes do the opposite. This can expose a strange guilt in people that they've done something wrong by not earning money via their greatest passion.
3. I don't want to keep reinforcing the narrative that people's value is found in what they do for work. If this is consistently one of the first things we ask each other, we are saying that what we do for work is one of the most important aspects of our identities.
One of the places that this becomes most evident is in the crisis of identity that people feel in changing jobs, losing jobs or being without jobs that financially compensate us. We've wrapped up our identity in our jobs, which has about as much to do with our identity as our clothing or vehicle choices. They are all areas where our identity can find expression, but they are definitely not to be confused with our identities.
This message is a transition in our Liturgical Flow message series from Grief & Sadness to Release of Shame. We have the great privilege of hearing from Lindsay and Koes Bong, who share so much with us about seeing and letting the shame within us go.
As human beings we sure are funny about routine.
If you sit in any public space long enough you'll hear someone complain about the monotony of life.
"Another day, another dollar"
"Same stuff (or some variation of that word), different day"
"I just want one day where I don't have to sit in traffic for an hour"
It makes sense. A lot of our television, movies and books center around ordinary folks being pulled into extraordinary circumstances. We long for aliens to arrive, super powers to be bestowed or portals to another dimension to appear. We want there to be some break in the ordinary and expected outcome of our days to remind us we're still alive.
But how do we (and the characters in TV, film and literature) usually respond when the regular rhythms of life break into a drumroll? We long for the boring! We want to be returned to routine and met expectations. We long for the mundane to remind us that life isn't just wild chance and chaos.
In the midst of these competing desires is a truth to sit with. We need to mourn the loss of our expectations and dreams. We need to observe their passing and sit with the hold they had on our lives.
Whether the things we lost were incredibly painful and really beautiful, there is still a loss. Whether we lost the regular routine of our days or the dreams instantaneous adventure. Life has a way of exposing our expectations and these moments require some reflection and hospitality.
One of my least favorite stereotypes is that only Type A personalities like control. Type A personalities might be more inclined to take charge, but they are not any more inclined than the rest of us to be in control.
Most every person is trying to gain control of their circumstances through their tool of choice.
Some use passive-aggressive avoidance
Some use humor
Some use others-focused service
Some use effusive praise.
The desire to be in control is deep within all of us. We live in a wild and unruly reality and attempting to tame it is vital to our survival. It is the desire to control that leads people to feed the hungry, clothe the naked and shelter those living outside. To surrender trying to control the world around us is to surrender to a passive fatalism that is equally problematic.
The error is to believe that we've succeeded. When our desire to control convinces us that we have control, we stop showing up to parts of our own reality. We start eliminating information that demonstrates that we aren't in control and we start surrounding ourselves with people, places and things that support our illusion of control.
All of this is ultimately in service of keeping our fear at arms length. Control feels like the antidote to fear and it works for long stretches of life. But what happens when events like broken relationships, natural disasters or grim doctors consultations occur? We are forced back into a wild and unruly reality we've convinced ourselves doesn't exist.
It was Father's Day when this sermon was preached.
For some of us the weekend is a flood of good memories and a happy childhood.
For some of us it is loaded with harsh memories and deep wounds.
For some of us it is a combination of them both.
What's tricky is that the emotions around our fathers gets attached to our picture of God as father. This can become a really helpful pathway to understand and engage with God, or it can become a barrier.
As far as barriers to God, this is one that is really common and entirely unnecessary.
Jesus talks about God as His father. There are parables where Jesus tells about the nature of God through the metaphor of father. There are reasons why we think of God in terms of an older man up in heaven. But what do we lose if we keep the parental metaphor and drop the link to gender? If God is a good and loving parent do we miss something because he's not male? Can we hold space for people who love God as father and for people who love God as mother and for people who connect with a God outside of gender?