Thursday, February 21, 2013

Living Water is Available to All

I wrote this for my preaching class at Princeton Theological Seminary and I preached it this week. I wrote it with my classmates in mind, but it is a message for everyone to hear.

The scripture is John 4:1-26

When I was nine years old, I went to an annual family church camp that we went to every summer. One afternoon I was hanging out with some slightly older kids at the camp. The only reason I clearly remember my age is because the older kids wanted to go on a walk without me, so they told me that only people who were double digits in age could go on that particular walk. I was disappointed. I remember thinking, "But I will turn 10 in two months," as they went walking away and I was left out of a cool adventure: Going to the railroad tracks to throw rocks. I was outcasted because of something so trivial as my age, something I couldn't change about myself.

Often times I feel that is how the church feels to outcasts in our communities, even if we try to deny it. We say everyone is welcomed, but really is everyone welcomed at our churches? Would the town outcast be welcomed at your church like any other person? How would we end up acting if a woman, who reeks of cat odors, comes in for the 11 o'clock service? Would we give her the same time or attention that we give the matriarch of the family who comes to church each Sunday and sit in the fifth bench? Do we openly invite these people in and offer them grace?

In the scripture, we just heard, Jesus shows us what it means to really invite someone into the church. He offers grace and the Living water to a Samaritan woman. She is an outcast and we do not exactly know why she is an outcast. But she is at the well at a rather unusual time. We know that she has had many husbands, so that may be a reason. Maybe this town was her husbands' family town and the family despises her now that her husbands are gone. Let just say dealing with in-laws is not always easy, right? Whatever happened to her, it is clear that she is not part of the in-crowd in this small town. She has internalized this: Why would anyone want to have anything to do with me, much less a stranger hanging out by the well?

This Lenten season I have devoted myself to writing about my anger and with the source of this anger. Through therapy over the last year, I have found out that I have had a lot of anger towards God and Christianity. Growing up I was picked on by Christians and saw others being picked on by Christians. "Why did God let this happen?" I thought. Their actions didn't look like God's Love to me. I started to internalize the taunts and the mistreatment I faced. I thought that God hated me and gave me this impediment for some sort of misdeed I did in a past life. Why else would God give me a speech impairment? Why else would God do this to a kid? I remember crying at night when I was young and saying, "Why me? Why God?" just wanting a clear answer yet never receiving one. I felt like the Samaritan woman at the well. I felt outcasted.

In the last year, I have realized that, even through the painful times, God was/is always with me. I stand here today bringing the word of the Lord by God's grace alone. There were times, I thought about leaving the faith. During these dark times, I doubted myself and what I had to offer the world. There were times when I couldn't feel loved by anyone, but now I know that God and my family always loved me. They all loved me even when I was a difficult person to be around, in the midst of an angry rage. When I felt alone, the Living Water was still available to me. God did not give up on me because, like the woman at the well, I did not immediately understand what God was offering me through Jesus. God was still there when I decided to come back and accept what was being offered to me. Now I do not wonder why I am the way I am. I see my life as a gift, not a daily burden. I have stumbled along the path to God, but God has always been waiting to receive me.

Jesus shows us that the living water is available to all that seek, to all despite who they are, even if they are an outcast or feel outcasted. Before this scene in the Gospel of John, Jesus had only encountered other Jews and the disciples did not fully grasp how far Jesus' grace extended. After this scene with the woman at the well, the disciples are surprised, "What are you doing, Jesus, with that woman? We went to get some meat and now you are talking to an outcast?" Jesus was showing them and is showing us through His actions that Love, Grace, and the Living Water are available to all, not just a select group at a select time. It is available to people we meet in everyday life, whether it is in a church, at a well, on the street, or in the check-out line, even if they are the worst sinner. If they ask for forgiveness or the Living Water, it is always available to them. Even if they do not understand at first, what is being offered, it is still available to them. Jesus could have left the woman at the well after her first misunderstanding by saying, "I give up! Bye! That was your only chance." But Jesus does not give up, He remains there with the woman in her time of need and continues to offer a new path for her. God has offered us that same thing time and time again. Do we have that kind of patience for others?

That is the good news! The Living Water is always available to anyone who thirst, anyone, despite their pasts, despite our misdeeds. Although our churches can often function like a social clique, where only certain people are welcomed, we can change this. We can reform the church with our leadership saying that anyone and everyone is welcomed. We can choose to treat everyone like they are a child of God. Jesus shows us in the Gospel of John that the Living Water is open to all, who thirst, not just the privileged, or the morally righteous or even the people whose ages are in the double digits.

In our future lives we need to be asking ourselves: How can we spread this vital message in our ministries? How can we change our churches to better reflect Jesus' message at the well, that everyone is welcomed for a drink, no matter what. The church needs to make this change and we are the ones God have called to this path. If we allow ourselves to be God's implement, God will use us to continue offering the Living Water to everyone who wants it. Just as Jesus sends out the Samaritan woman to go tell all about what happened at the well, God is sending us out to tell all about God's love and forgiveness that is available to anyone.

Are we ready for this challenge?

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Giving Up Anger for Lent

For Lent I am giving up my anger.

Not a lot of people know about my anger because I have tried to keep it hidden from most people, but my closest friends, family and housemates have seen my anger side. For years I thought my anger came out of my social justice work and seeing  the inequalities in the world.

After working with my therapist for more than a year, I finally realize that the anger comes out of a self-hate. This self-hate has developed over the years due to growing up with a speech impediment and feeling less than equal. I remember crying to my mom when I was young and asking, "Why did God do this to me? Why me?"

I have always known that my family and my faith community love me for who I am, but I spent most of my time out in the world where any slight differences were good enough reasons to be bullied, treated differently, or to be largely ignored. After years of this painful treatment and feeling less than whole, I internalized this hate and started to see myself as not being whole. I would wake up in the morning hating myself and thought that I had to do other things to make myself lovable. This has led me to undertake a lot of different kinds of work to prove that I am worthy of love and respect.

But in the last year, with the support of Jenn, my fiance, and my therapist, I have finally gotten to a point in my life when I recognize that I am a whole human being and that I am deserving of love and respect because of being a person and not because of what I do or do not do.

In this season of Lent, which I am doing in solidarity with my fellow Christians*, I will focus on writing more about my trauma and on loving myself more. I hope that my writing can lead to more personal healing. In the future I hope to produce materials to help youth living with disabilities and their families through the challenges of growing up in a world that is not always accepting of differences. Also, during this Lenten season, I hope to further internalize self-love to rid myself of the self-hate that has plagued my life.  

*Quakers historically do not celebrate holidays because we believe that every day is a holy day. In the last 100 years Quakers have started to celebrate holidays and more and more Quakers are observing Lent, but we do not have any special commeration for the Lenten season as a denomination.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Lets Face It Quakers are Unique, and Other Denominations are too

I consider myself an ecumenical Quaker.


I am a lifelong Friend, who goes to a Presbyterian Seminary. Last summer, I interned at an United Methodist Church where I still am involved with the youth group during the school year. This school year I am working at the Episcopal Campus Ministry on the Rutgers University campus. I attend meeting for worship twice a week: On Tuesday nights at Canal Friends Worship Group and on Sunday mornings at Princeton Friends Meeting.

On an average week, I go to two meetings for worship, celebrate the Eucharist with college students, attend Chapel at the Seminary, and spend time with the youth at the United Methodist Church.

I made the decision to go to Princeton Theological Seminary because I wanted to see what the wider Christian world has to offer Quakers and I wanted to see if all denominations were just as dysfunctional as Quakers. I can happily report that the wider Christian world has lots to offer Quakers and yes, they can be just as dysfunctional as any monthly meeting. (Too bad sometimes I thought we took dysfunctional to a new level, but now I see that we have stiff competition.)

When I came here to learn more about the wider Christian world, I realized that people are interested in learning more about Quakers and what we have to offer other denominations. I have had several meal time conversations with fellow students. Several seminarians have attended Princeton Friends Meeting. A local hospitality house has asked me to come to talk about Quakers. My supervisor this year is interested in having me talk about silence at some point during Lent to the college students at Rutgers. Even at parties away from my seminary community, people want to know more about Quakers when they find out I am one.

We have a lot to offer the world, especially in the midst of daily chaos, 24 hour news cycle, smaller and smaller technological devices. How can we still hear the voice of God in the midst of all this noise and clutter? How can we be comfortable and even live into the silence?

Also the belief that anyone can be called to minister is still radical 350 years later. I have dear friends in the Catholic Church who are struggling for Women's Ordination. Also, I just met a woman, who was talking to her non-denomination church about being ordained. It has taken a year but she is finally making progress with her church and pastor to be the first woman ordained in her church. Being ordained will help her in finding a job as a hospital chaplain. Our pulpit is always open to anyone who feels led and our structures allow ways to nurture ministers and new ministries, if we choose to follow them.

We Quakers have a lot to learn from other traditions. We can learn about what it means to support young people with paid staff and offer opportunities for them. We can learn how to better support our elders as they age. We can learn that talking about our faith in public is not always bad. We can learn better techniques at letting people know we still exist and how to greet and welcome newcomers. Some monthly meetings do this well, but, based on my opinion, a lot do not. I have been particularly impressed by the United Methodist Lay Leader program.

Quakerism is an unique faith and we have a lot to offer our siblings in other denominations. We can also learn a lot from them too.