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Disruptions don’t mean death

Full blog to follow.

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Season Three

I’m doing it again. I’m five weeks into a new lease on life, and I’m exhilarated and terrified. Did I hit rock bottom? I doubt it. I’m sure things could have gotten worse – and that’s the part that scares me. I’ve done this all before and yet here I am again. I think this time it started with Lent. Considering spiritual disciplines I could take on, I started thinking about the changes I needed to make in my life. I recognized that I was deeply unhealthy.

I don’t need to go into the details, but I looked in the mirror and hated everything I saw. Heavier than ever – way too close to 400 pounds. Aching back, tingling feet, chronic fatigue. I was cruel to myself, “You’re a piece of shit” was my multiple-times-a-day mantra. I hated things that I once loved. I leaned into terrible habits, stopping at McDonald’s between meals, eating handfuls of Oreos before bed, buying candy bars in the checkout line. I ate to experience a small dose of happiness in the midst of a world that was so full of evil, apathy, and pressure. This winter, as the world started to come out of pandemic – even as it lingers – I started to see what I had done and what I had become. I realized that I was slowly killing myself because I was convinced that the world – my church – even my family – would be better off without me. I never harmed myself, but I was destroying myself slowly. I was choosing the slow burn into oblivion.

Then I knew it had to stop. My family deserved better than a husband and father who was slowly destroying himself. Lent came and it was the catalyst I needed to make some changes. I made an appointment with my physician, fearful that I had already done irreparable physical damage as I massaged my toe that hurt for no reason. I found a therapist who seemed compatible and enjoyed our first session even though I knew she wouldn’t tell me anything I didn’t already know. We renewed our membership at the local fitness center, and I made a plan to go every day after dropping off the girls from school. I decided to join my daughter in the piano lessons that she started.

I took control. I had a plan. I found a goal – a 5K in June that I decided I wanted to run. I asked my daughter if she wanted to run it with me, and she was excited. I told my daughters that I started going to therapy. I shared with them my struggles, and told them how sad I had gotten. We cried. We hugged.

I started posting pictures of my workouts on Facebook and Instagram. I told people about the theme song I found – “Living My Best Life,” by Ben Rector. I told my girls that every time I get on the elipitcal machine, when I get to the last three minutes of my workout I start playing it and it motivates me to finish strong.

I close my eyes and lip sync “Can’t believe I’m a grown ass man, but you know what they say of best laid plans. But I’m holding on to my daughters’ hands, and I’ve got a reason to live,” and I throw my fist into the air and beat my sweaty chest and go harder. People might wonder what the heck I’m doing, but I don’t care, because “Baby I’m thriving. I’m living my best life. I wake up with the sunrise. It does not look a thing like I thought that it would. I’m getting my steps in, and I sleep with my best friend, It’s the best that has been in a long time.”

And that’s why I’m scared. I’m terrified because I’ve done this all before. This is the third time in my life that I’ve looked at myself in the mirror and hated everything I saw and felt and started to make some changes. Twice before I’ve lost 80 pounds. Twice I’ve started doing 5K runs and felt the addictive joy of trimming times off of my mile. Twice I’ve felt like I had made the kind of permanent changes that would save my life.

So now I’m in season three of the same show. I’m getting my steps in. I’m wearing my Fitbit and tracking my calories. I’m making smarter choices. I’m skipping McDonald’s. I’m choosing fruit instead of fries. I’m making protein smoothies instead of eating sleeves of cookies. I’m finding ways to get to the gym instead of finding excuses to avoid it. I feel good. I’ve lost 20 pounds. My heart rate has improved. I’m getting stronger.

This time I’ve added a few characters and twists to the show. I’m going to therapy, and feel good about having a place to articulate my depressive feelings. I’m inviting my church to participate in the 5K. I’m taking piano lessons. I love the creative outlet. I took piano lessons as a kid and always regretted quitting. I love that I’m doing it – and I love even more that I’m doing it with my daughter. It gives us this beautiful shared experience and shared sense of accomplishment, confidence, and pride.

Things are better right now than they have been a in long time, but I’ve been here before. I’m terrified that I’m going to mess it up again. I’m so scared that I’m going to do all of this work, make all of these changes, and then let it all fall apart again. I post all the selfies and soak in the likes and encouraging comments, but what happens when it stops? What happens this summer when I don’t have the built in reason to get up with my daughters and get to the gym? What happens when I go on a trip for work and there isn’t a gym at the airbnb I’m staying at? What happens if I strain my calf again (which ended season one)? What happens when I take my foot off the gas?

I want to say that this time will be different, but I don’t know that it will be. Season one was ten years ago. I wrote about my first 5K. I knew that time I was doing it for them – for my girls. Season two was four years ago, and I realize now that a lot of that was about dealing with the grief of my Mom’s death. I was doing it for her. This time feels different because I’m doing it with my girls. I’m talking to them about my mental health. We’re sharing our joy of learning piano together. We plan on doing the 5K in June together for Pride Month, which is important to us emotionally and spiritually as well.

Yet I’m still scared that I’ll fall into the same traps. Four years ago – back in season two – I said that “I don’t believe in Before and After.” Do I really believe that?

Four years ago I wrote this:

“I can be good all day, light breakfast, healthy lunch, smaller portions at dinner. Then a few hours pass and I’m cleaning up the kitchen or watching some TV and the hunger sets in. I suddenly want to EAT ALL THE FOOD. One cookie turns into a handful. And a bowl of cottage cheese. And some yogurt and granola. Suddenly all the gains I made all day are gone. I’m not alone. Losing weight is hard. According to some research, keeping it off is nearly impossible. Apparantly it is a natural reaction for your body to be more hungry after losing weight. It’s as if your body is screaming “You’re starving yourself!”

So what’s the answer? I checked out some websites, and basically the only way to maintain this lower weight is to keep doing what I’m doing. In other words, there is no before and after. There is only now and the next choice I make.”

It’s still true. I’m just really hoping that it’s a lesson I’ve finally learned. Considering how low I got this time around, I’m not sure I could survive a season four.

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The wedding at Cana

Reading: John 2:1-11

A wedding is the start of something. A wedding is a celebration. It is a joyful event. It is a public declaration that a family has been formed and promises have been made. It is a time of worship and celebration, but it is not a marriage. A marriage is a life of choices to keep the promises that were made. A marriage is sacrifices and compromises and celebrations and disappointments. A wedding is a celebration, but a marriage is a relationship.

Jesus ministry starts at a wedding. It is a joyful celebration which begs many questions. Whose wedding was it? Why did they run out of wine? Why did Mary know they ran out of wine? What’s the deal with Jesus’ curt response? Who knew about this “sign” (The Gospel of John does not use the word ‘miracle.’ Instead, the word ‘sign’ is used to describe these actions that reveal the divinity of Jesus).

Some speculate that this may have been the wedding of a relative of Mary. This would explain not only their invitation, but also her position of authority at the party. Most speculate that the families involved were poor and could not afford the amount of wine needed for such a celebration (that some commentators claim may have lasted a full week).

As to Mary’s request of Jesus, we yearn to know more. Did Mary know that Jesus could do such a thing? Had he done it before at home? Why was Jesus reluctant? Why did this seemingly small crisis prompt Jesus to step forward in such a public manner.

In the Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke) Jesus begins his ministry much differently. In all three of them, the catalyst that starts his ministry is the arrest of John the Baptist. Then he begins with major teaching—either the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew or his reading at his home synagogue in Luke.

Here though, Jesus becomes “public” without really going public. After all, in the end no one really knows about this sign but the disciples and the servants. The headwaiter simply thinks it is an act of extreme generosity by the bridegroom. The servants know what happened, but their response is unrecorded.

We who believe know that this is the start. This is the first sign that Jesus is the Son of God. This is the beginning of the wedding celebration that the people had been waiting for for centuries. A wedding has been a way to describe the messianic hope of Israel since the time of the prophets. A marriage was a metaphor for the relationship between God and Israel for centuries.

Here, Jesus turns water into wine and we know that the wedding has officially begun. This is a celebration. The coming of Jesus initiates a party—an extravagant one at that. One that had over 120 gallons of the finest wine (600+ bottles in today’s measurement).

The Word of God became flesh, and this is reason to celebrate. John tells us that Jesus’ life on earth is a time of joy, generosity, and celebration. It is not a reason for solemnity, fasting, or judgment. At the crucifixion, we find that the party is over. At the moment Jesus was crucified, this sign was reversed. On the cross, Jesus is given sour wine to drink. Upon his death, he is pierced in the side and water comes out. At this wedding water is turned to wine. At his crucifixion the wine is turned back into water. The crucifixion may have been the end of the wedding, but the marriage was just beginning. The ongoing relationship of Jesus abiding with us didn’t end when the wedding was over any more than a new couple’s marriage ends when people leave the party. Discipleship is a marriage.

One of the most important clues to the meaning of this story comes in the very first words. “On the third day.” This wedding happened on the third day. We know what else happened “on the third day.” The third day is the day of resurrection. It is the day of joy, generosity, and celebration. The third day is the end of fasting, mourning, and judgment. This wedding is a foretaste of the Resurrection which we are allowed to live every day.

Jesus’ life—the time when the Word was flesh and walked among us—was a wedding. It was a celebration. It was a time that was marked by turning water into wine, and at his death the wine was turned back into water. Yet this wedding at Cana gave us another clue as to what really happened. On the third day there was celebration again. On the third day there was so much joy it overflowed. On the third day shame was turned to joy. The wedding at Cana was the initiation of Jesus’ ministry and a foretaste of our lives as Christians. The wedding started it all, and in our life of discipleship we will live into the marriage which is abiding with Christ in our lives.

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A Puppet Christmas Script

Our set was designed quickly one day at Sunday school by one of our parents. The kids all participated in coloring it. Pictured is a scene with reporter Camilla Camelo interviewing Sam Shepherd and Sheep.

This script can be downloaded as a pdf file. WPPT News Puppet Christmas News is about 10-15 minutes, depending on your scene and set transitions.

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Wisdom shouts

This devotion was published first in the IGRC for Unity weekly email. IGRC for Unity is a group of Illinois United Methodists who have rejected the Traditional Plan for the United Methodist Church and are working to create a United Methodist Church that is truly open to all. These devotionals will be taken from a text from the Revised Common Lectionary, and will often have a theme of inclusion and welcome.

The Revised Common Lectionary reading for September 12, 2021

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Container_Ship_%27Ever_Given%27_stuck_in_the_Suez_Canal,Egypt-_March_24th,_2021_cropped.jpg

Gospel Reading: James 3:1-12 and Proverbs 1:20-33

When the author of James wrote, “Consider ships: They are so large that strong winds are needed to drive them. But pilots direct their ships wherever they want with a little rudder. In the same way, even though the tongue is a small part of the body, it boasts wildly,” there is no way that he could have envisioned what happened near his homeland in March 2020. In the early days of a global pandemic and mass shutdown, the enormous ship Ever Given, roughly the same size as the Empire State Building, got wedged in the Suez Canal, devastating global trade. The eyes of the world watched with great anxiety as the ship blocked traffic for six days in one of the most important waterways in the world.

In the case of the Ever Given, the rudder was not enough to keep the winds at bay. The ship got turned in a way the pilot could not avoid and the result was an economic disaster. While the Ever Given’s rudder was not enough, the point is still made: The tongue is powerful. Words matter.

We live in a world full of talking. The cacophony of 24-hour news, click-bait articles, pithy memes, social media ‘researchers’, talking heads on TV, and political maneuvering, feels as if we are surrounded by fire. Foolish words are doing real damage, and as the song of Wisdom declares in this week’s reading from Proverbs, “Wisdom shouts in the street; in the public square she raises her voice. Above the noisy crowd, she calls out.” And yet it feels as if no one is listening.

Last week I shared an image with different petri dishes, each showing the growth of bacteria after breathing, coughing, and singing into the dish with and without a mask. I felt is a was a graphic representation of the wisdom of modern science. I believed it showed perfectly why masks were important, and that no one would be able to argue such a graphic and clear illustration.

As soon as I shared it though, I regretted it. Even as the likes start to count upward, I realized something. People are going to like the image or not like the image, but no one is going to gain anything from it. I was not sharing wisdom. I was sharing my perspective and making it clear that anyone who disagreed with me should feel ashamed for doing so. I deleted the post.

Was this a small step in “taming my tongue”? Maybe. I decided that it was more important to share compassion and kindness. Social media has created a world in which throwing matches on fires is easy. In fact, it is rewarded with little hits of dopamine called “likes.” There is little doubt in my mind that the comments sections have been set ablaze by the fires of hell. Intentionally rigged to fan the flames.

I cannot expect to bear good fruit on the vine of a rotten plant. Instead, I will try to cultivate true relationships. I will share kind words in hopes that wisdom can be heard above the noise. As the world seems to dig deeper trenches and divide along clear lines of demarcation, I will recognize my own tendency to bless God in one moment while cursing God’s image with the same mouth. Like James said, it shouldn’t be this way. I hope a voice of change can start with me.

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Open Up

This devotion was published first in the IGRC for Unity weekly email. IGRC for Unity is a group of Illinois United Methodists who have rejected the Traditional Plan for the United Methodist Church and are working to create a United Methodist Church that is truly open to all. These devotionals will be taken from a text from the Revised Common Lectionary, and will often have a theme of inclusion and welcome.

In this reflection, I offer to you a prayer of illumination. Feel free to use it in your worship setting, and do not feel obligated to offer me credit.

The Revised Common Lectionary reading for September 5, 2021

Gospel Reading: Mark 7:24-37

“Open hearts. Open minds. Open doors,” has been the promise of the United Methodist Church since 2001. For twenty years the UMC has used this as a slogan in billboards, commercials, and websites. Today, if you go to umc.org, you will see the slogan at the very top of the page.

If you are anything like me, you have had misgivings about using the slogan. For many inside the United Methodist Church, it feels like false advertising. The exclusionary practices and policies of the United Methodist Church toward the LGBTQ community makes many wonder if the people of the United Methodist Church truly have open hearts, minds, or doors.

I still use the slogan, but I no longer think of it as a description. Instead, I see it as a prescription. I do not consider the word “open,” to be an adjective. Instead, I express it as a verb.

Today our passage includes Jesus healing two people. In the first story it seems as if Jesus himself is the one who is opened. This is a troublesome thought to many. They will use many dubious explanations about the diminutive form of “dog” to avoid what is clear in this story: Jesus acts in a closed-minded way. Yet this woman – a foreign woman from a foreign land – challenges Jesus and helps open his mind to the Gentile mission.

This is particularly poignant because this comes right off the heels of Jesus criticizing the religious hypocrisy of the Pharisees. Now Jesus is confronted by a foreign woman and he does the unthinkable – he changes. In the second half of this passage Jesus is confronted with a man unable to hear or speak. Jesus takes him aside, gives him a holy wet-willy (not really, but it is shocking how physical this sign is when the previous one was done at a distance).

“Then looking up to heaven, he sighed and said to him, ‘Ephphatha,’ that is, ‘Be opened.’” (Mark 7:34). With this word, the man can hear and speak. Despite Jesus’ best efforts to keep this miracle quiet, word about him spreads even more.

These are two stories of opening. First Jesus’ mind is opened. Then the man is opened. Sometimes open is a verb. Sometimes we are called as a church to do the opening. This is where the power of our slogan truly lies. It is our role as pastors, lay people, and Christian ministers all of us – to open up pathways to God’s power. We are to open our hearts and the heart of others. We are called to open our doors. We must always be willing to open our minds.

In my congregation, we say this prayer every Sunday before the reading of the Scripture. It is our prayer for illumination and keeps us mindful of our task as a church: “Holy Spirit, open our hearts to the story of your love. Open our minds to new ways of knowing you. Open our doors to all whom you would welcome.”

Many of us have been challenged by our own versions of the Syrophoenician woman. We were forced to open up our minds through encountering people who we may have at first considered “other.” Many of us have been opened up by Jesus himself. We were given ears to hear and words to speak by the power of the Holy Spirit. May all our closed spaces be touched by the grace of Christ. When I think of the United Methodist Church, I can’t help but look up to heaven, sigh, and pray, “Ephphatha.” Open up.

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Tamar and Simone

This devotion was published first in the IGRC for Unity weekly email. IGRC for Unity is a group of Illinois United Methodists who have rejected the Traditional Plan for the United Methodist Church and are working to create a United Methodist Church that is truly open to all. These devotionals will be taken from a text from the Revised Common Lectionary, and will often have a theme of inclusion and welcome.

The Rape of Tamar, by Estache Le Sueur, wikimedia.

First Reading of the RCL for August 8, 2021

 2 Samuel 18:5-9, 15, 31-33 The death of Absalom (who started a war with David because David did nothing to punish Absalom’s brother who raped their sister Tamar).

I played team sports my whole life. Baseball, football, and basketball were my great passions as a kid. Even as an adult I’ve played semi-pro football and church league softball. Now as a parent I coach as often as possible – helping out with my daughters’ softball teams. I think this is why my first reaction to Simone Biles withdrawing from the team gymnastics competition was overwhelmingly negative.

In the immediate aftermath of hearing that she withdrew because of mental health considerations, I was frustrated. I was disappointed that she wouldn’t compete. I was mostly angry on behalf of her teammates. “She let them down,” I said to no one in particular. “They are supposed to be a team. They are supposed to pick each other up.”

My righteous indignation was raised on behalf of three women I had never met. “Michael Jordan never quit on his team,” I thought. “Tom Brady played through injury!” Then I saw a meme that reminded me of Kerri Strug, the gymnast who clinched Team USA’s gold in in 1996 landing a fantastic vault despite having an injured leg. At first, I thought Kerri was the true champion, and Simone had shown weakness.

Then I thought some more.

While I do not want to take anything away from Kerri Strug, I want to recognize something that we should have known then. She should not have vaulted on an injured leg. Strug was a part of a system and a culture that treated the women on the team as commodities that could be traded, replaced, and whose only value was reflected in the scores they achieved.

Since 1996, “many fellow gymnasts who endured the rigors of coaches Bela and Marta Karolyi’s ranch believed Strug was conditioned to push through her pain under an abusive environment where girls were afraid to challenge authority.” (Holly Ford, https://www.nbcphiladelphia.com/news/sports/tokyo-summer-olympics/1996-olympic-gymnast-kerri-strug-praises-simone-biles-decision/2900065/). Strug, Dominique Moceanu, and Mckayla Maroney are just three former gymnasts who have come out in support of Biles.

They were all a part of a system that compelled women to lose their autonomy, erase their dignity, and submit to the desires of more powerful people – often men. It was a culture that devalued questions and demanded obedience – or the girls would be replaced. It was a culture that produced gold medals, and it was a culture that allowed for emotional, physical, and sexual abuse.

Simone Biles survived abuse. She has stated that she returned to Olympic competition in part so that her voice as an abuse survivor would not be silenced. She wanted to hold USA Gymnastics to the fire and not go away quietly. Her platform as the greatest gymnast of all time gave her a power that no other gymnast has had.

Simone Biles became famous for doing athletic feats that no other gymnast has done before. She has four moves named after. She altered scoring systems, and now she has altered cultural systems. By withdrawing, she did something no other gymnast has done before. She stood up for herself. She stood up for the hundreds, maybe thousands of girls who were abused by powerful coaches, trainers, and doctors. She stood up and claimed her own autonomy, not for the glory of USA Gymnastics – a group that helped create a culture of abuse – but for her own self-care.

As I watched the events unfold – tape delayed on NBC – I saw the faces of her teammates turn from shock and disappointment to fierce determination and I realized that Simone Biles owed me nothing. She is a champion in the truest sense of the word. She championed for those little girls in gyms across the country who are pushed too far. She championed for those who suffer from mental health in silence for fear of being mocked or belittled. She is a champion – no matter what color medal hangs around her neck.

And what does any of this have to do with the Biblical texts this week? Very little, unless you read the story between this week and last week in 2 Samuel. The lectionary skips from 2 Samuel chapter 12 – in which David rapes Bathsheba and skips to chapter 18 and the death of his David’s son Absalom. Skipped is a civil war between David and Absalom. Also skipped is the rape of Tamar, David’s daughter.

While the Biblical text is ambiguous about Bathsheba’s rape (Biblical authors did not have the same concept of power dynamics), Tamar’s rape is explicit. She is raped by her half-brother Amnon. It is a violent exchange. She pleads with him – first not to rape her – and then not to discard her. Amnon’s actions are vile. When Absalom finds out, he tells her to be quiet. David does nothing to Amnon “for he loved him like a first born son.”

Tamar – much like dozens of American gymnasts before Simone Biles – was silenced. Yet her actions stood defiantly against her rapist. Wilda Gafney writes, “Tamar proclaims it publicly so that it may be Amnon’s shame and ultimately his death sentence. But she will have to wait years to see justice done. Tamar rips open her royal dress just as her body was ripped open, using that sartorial wound to make visible her vaginal wounds and those of her soul. She cries, not silent tears but a cry loud as the cries heard in battle, the cries of women in labor, and the cries of desperate people to their God. Tamar’s cry holds Amnon accountable – even when their father does not.” (Gafney, Womanist Midrash, Westminster John Knox Press, 2017; p. 215)

Life is messy. It is not always easy to draw easy lines of cause and effect. “Everything happens for a reason” is seldom a helpful way of understanding God. Why did Absalom die? Was it because of Joab’s ruthlessness, David’s ineffective leadership, Amnon’s lust… How far back do we go? Is it because of David’s lust after Bathsheba? Was it because David himself rose to power because of killing Goliath? How far back do we go? 

Did Simone Biles quit on her team or did she reclaim her agency? Did she crack under the pressure or did she stand up and champion those who are all-too-often silenced? Tamar was silenced, but Amnon and Absalom were ultimately silenced too. David’s kingdom crumbled, yet God’s love is steadfast and endures forever. For the orphan, the widow, and the alien, for Tamar, and for Simone, God’s love endures forever.

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E and Me Season 2

E and Me 2-1(1)CLICK HERE TO LISTEN

The E and Me Podcast has started season two. Ellie and I have recorded four episodes, and have released the first one. We have all of our recording equipment at home, so we’re hoping to have more episodes this season. Episode 2-1 is about jealousy, and it features our special guest and number one fan: Lucy, Ellie’s little sister.

This is the podcast to help families have important conversations. I hope you listen with someone you love. Don’t forget to search and subscribe on your favorite podcast player.

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#GirlDad is not just about my daughters

IMG_3458Dear girl friends of my daughters,

I feel like I need to explain something to you. Hopefully you know that I love my daughters very much. Since you are her friend, you should know that my love for her is so strong that it spills over onto the people she loves, too. You are not mine, but I love you anyway. It is one of those things that has most surprised me about being a father. I always knew that I would love my girls no matter what. From the moment they were born, I knew that I would do anything to keep them safe, warm, protected, happy, and loved.

What I did not expect is just how much I would love their friends as well. I love it when you come over. I love watching you girls sit on the couch together and watch movies. I love hearing you singing the newest pop hit. I love hearing you giggle about boys and crushes. I love watching your dance parties and choreography.

I’ve long said, “If I love you, I feed you.” That’s why I love taking you out to dinner or making you smoothies. I love it when you sleep over and all pile in the big bed in the spare room. I love making pancakes for you all in the morning. You’re not a nuisance. You’re not too loud. You’re never annoying. There is no more beautiful noise than my daughters laughing with their friends. You’re actually providing me a beautiful gift when you come over. Thank you.

I will always give you a hug if you want it. I won’t put my arms out to you, or tell you “Give me a hug,” because I don’t want you to feel uncomfortable. I don’t ever want you to feel compelled to give me a hug, but if you put out your arms, it makes me very happy. I am an affectionate person. I love to give hugs, but consent is always my top priority. I want you to know that I’m always here for a hug, but only if you want. And if you don’t want to, I get it.

I will always give you a roof if you need it. I know sometimes you are going to go through difficult times with your own parents. If you have an unhealthy relationship at home, reconciliation with your family is always preferred, but my home will always be a safe place for you. This is especially true if you are rejected by your family for your sexuality or if you are gender non-conforming. I don’t want you to ever feel unsafe in your own home. If there is ever abuse in your home, physical or emotional, consider me your safe haven. I will listen to you. I will believe you. I will do what I can to protect you and keep you safe. If you are ever forced out – even if it is because you screwed up – we have an extra room for you.

I think you are absolutely beautiful, right now, just as you are. But I am much more likely to ask you about school, or your favorite book, or you softball team than I am going to tell you look pretty, or complement your hair or your outfit. I think you are beautiful, but I also think our culture puts way too much onto girls about how they look. You are so much more than your looks. Please don’t believe anyone that tells you that you are not beautiful. If I hear you insult yourself, I will intervene. If I hear you belittle your own body, looks, or anything physical about you, I will remind you that you are beautiful. I doubt it will matter much to you what I think, but I will not let self-deprecation go unchallenged. And it may not seem like a big deal, but it hurts me when I see you scratch out your face on Snapchat. The world is better when you are smiling, don’t blot that out.

I believe in you. I believe in your heart, your mind, your abilities, and your compassion. You don’t need a boy to define you. You are valuable, worthy of love, and worthy of affection. That is true whether or not a boy likes you. It is true whether you are single or in a relationship. If you find a boy (or girl) you love, I’ll be happy for you, but you are so much more than what you can offer to a boyfriend. You have a strong mind and an imagination. You have skills, talents and passions. I want to know about them. I want to hear about what you care about. Any boy that says he “likes you” should want to also. Please don’t ever mistake jealousy for love. Jealousy comes from fear and insecurity. Love should strengthen and uplift you, not hold you back. As you get older, you will have more intimate and powerful relationships. Always remember that consent is everything. Don’t let anyone dim your light. And if you are ever in a situation where you feel abused or in danger, I will help.

I will always have my daughters’ back, but I won’t allow her to be mean to you. If you and she get in a fight, I will tell her if I think she is wrong. If you hurt her, I will always be on her side, but I won’t stop caring about you. I have a forgiving heart. My love for you started with her, but it doesn’t end with her. Even if you and she just slowly drift apart, know that I will always have the light on for you. If you come back into her life, I will be there happy to welcome you back, too.

These are all things I hope my daughters know, but I want you to know it too. If you have a great relationships with your Dad, that is awesome. If you don’t, I know that I will never be your Dad, but I am, and always will be, a #GirlDad, so I’ve got your back too.

 

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Inclusivity Devotional 8 (Matthew 5:13-21)

This devotion was published first in the IGRC for Unity weekly email. As the Communications Director for IGRC for Unity, I compose a weekly email with news, resources, and reflections. IGRC for Unity is a group of Illinois United Methodists who have rejected the Traditional Plan for the United Methodist Church and are working to create a United Methodist Church that is truly open to all. These devotionals will be taken from a text from the Revised Common Lectionary, and will often have a theme of inclusion and welcome.

salt

The lectionary text for February 9 is Matthew 5:13-21. This come immediately after the Beatitudes, and serves as the beginning of Jesus’ most famous teaching in the Gospel of Matthew, also known as “The Sermon on the Mount.” I’ve told many people, ‘If you are only going to read three chapters in the Bible, make it Matthew 5, 6, and 7 – the Sermon on the Mount.’

Verses 13-16 include two famous lines, “You are the salt of the earth,” and “You are the light of the world.” Salt and light, this seems like an odd pairing. One is essential to life, the source of heat, the first step in Creation, and an eternal symbol of God’s presence in the world. The other is on our table at the diner. Salt however, is also essential to life. Some have argued that salt is the primary ingredient to civilization itself. It allowed for the preservation of food and the survival of people in times of scarcity and famine. If it were not for salt, people would have remained nomadic, simply following the food where it could found instead of settling into a place where life could be preserved. Light and salt. One is essential for revelation. The other is essential for preservation. Both are invaluable. Perhaps we can learn something from these metaphors Jesus used.

So many of our culture wars are framed in terms of “us vs them,” “liberal vs conservative,” or “progressive vs traditional.” Instead of framing his sermon in similar terms, Jesus lifted up the salt and the light. Illumination and preservation; these are the building blocks of the Kingdom of God. The Sermon on the Mount is Jesus’ articulation of an alternative way of being, but he is not inventing something entirely new.

This passage reveals that the Kingdom of God is at the same time built upon the foundations of God. The Law is still to promise of God. It is still the way people should live in relation to God and to one another. It is to be preserved, but not in the rigid and harsh ways that some think it should be. The light reveals something new. It reveals the heart of the Law, the relationships essential to the Law, the love that is at the foundation of God’s Law. Jesus came to proclaim something new that is not new at all. He came to proclaim God’s love which is revealed not simply through the law, but in its loving interpretation and application.

And this brings us to perhaps the most important part of the Sermon on the Mount: the audience. Remember who Jesus is calling salt and light. Remember who Jesus is telling “You are essential to life! You are essential to the Kingdom!” The audience came from “Galilee, the Decapolis, Jerusalem, Judea, and from the areas beyond the Jordan River” (Matthew 4:25). Jesus did not reserve his teaching to a privileged few. He preached to Jew and Gentile, tax collector and zealot, Pharisee and sinner. He came so that all may have life. All of them – poor, oppressed, hungry, downtrodden, and rejected, they are the “Light of the world.” All of us are the “salt of the earth.”

As we are moving forward as a United Methodist Church, we can remember Jesus’ call to be the salt and the light. We can preserve what is good, what is of Jesus’ love, what is worth preserving for the sake of God’s Kingdom. We can illumine new ways of experiencing God’s love. We can lift up our light of justice, grace, and mercy. We can lift up the light of Christ to those who have been kept in shadows. As we move forward as a denomination and conference, let us be wise in preserving our mission, our Wesleyan roots, and our traditions which are life-giving, and let us carry to the light of Christ to those who have yet to see what true love looks like.

 

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