Barefoot Reconciliation in Wisconsin on Transfiguration Sunday

8 03 2011

I preached this morning’s service barefoot.

I don’t usually do so, but this morning the dance theater group enacted 2 Peter 1:16-21

which lead directly into the meditation.

We were all barefoot, so there I was proclaiming the gospel as I had received it.

It is a vulnerable thing to stand barefoot before 200 people.

It is a vulnerable thing to preach a word you’ve received from G-d.

It is a vulnerable thing to speak the heartache and fear you hear in your neighbors’ voices and see in friends’ faces.

It is a humbling challenge to risk trying to sculpt an image of divine hope out of stony realities.

But, this is Transfiguration Sunday – a day of light and dark, of revelation and reality.

We recognize light and dark only in relation to one another.

By their contrasts they are revealed.

We have a habit of presuming that the light is good, right and holy.

We have also given in to a bad habit of associating the dark with everything else.

We want to take sides.  We want to be on the side of all that is light.

Not like…those people.

We take sides, presume we are on the side of light,

and separate ourselves from the other, the dark, the different.

We have learned our bad habit from the Greeks and their binary divisions:

light and dark, good and evil, male and female, spirit and flesh…

We have forgotten our Hebrew roots.

The Jewish tradition knows better than the Greek that while G-d separated light and dark,

together they made one day, and G-d saw that it was… “good.”

We forget that good news is not about taking sides against each other, even the side of light.

The good news of G-d’s message in Jesus is reconciliation!

Reconciliation brings together that which is separated.

God didn’t call the light “good” and the dark…something else.

Dark and light together make a whole day “and it was good.”

We are in need of some good news, aren’t we?

The past three weeks here in Wisconsin have been filled with

anxiety and anger, fear and resentment, betrayal and embarrassment.

Some fear for our state budget, some for our schools,

Some are anxious about their jobs, their health care.

Some have heard and some have said hurtful things.

Some have lost friends and some feel simply lost.

But G-d of Transfiguration is a G-d of change who is calling to us on that mountaintop.

Calling us up the mountain to remember the way of the prophets.

Calling us back down to the valley of everyday life.

Calling us to cherish the dark and revel in the light.

Calling us to be reconciled.

Calling us to love our neighbors –

regardless of whether they are union members, tea party fans, retired folk, students, wealthy or unemployed.

The dark and light need each other like we need to be reconciled to one another and to G-d.

The dark by itself is hopeless.  The light by itself is frivolous.

We need the good news of reconciliation for the sake of our communities and for G-d’s sake.

The past weeks in Wisconsin have also revealed the dark of division and the light of burning anger.

But I believe that most people in Wisconsin want efficient government.

I believe that most people want businesses to thrive.

I believe that most people want strong schools.

I believe that most people want fair wages and benefits.

I believe that most people want fairness and justice.
We don’t know how our elected officials will reconcile the budget.

We don’t know how G-d will reconcile all of us.

But I believe we are called to the work of reconciliation.

Reconciliation requires that we leave the mountaintop for the valley.

It requires that we leave the light of G-d for the sake of the dark of G-d.

We discover the good news of reconciliation amongst us

when we love the other,

when we risk being vulnerable,  bare feet and all,

and G-d calls it “good.”


Biblical reflections on suicide

2 10 2010

Some believe that there are sins which are unforgivable.

I do not believe this.

I believe the Psalmist who writes in chapter 139, “Where can I go from your spirit?  Or where can I flee from your presence?  If I ascend to heaven, you are there; if I make my bed in Sheol, you are there.  If I take the wings of the morning and settle at the farthest limits of the sea, even there…your right hand shall hold me fast.”

Some believe that one poor choice can erase a whole life of gentle goodness.

I do not believe this.

I believe the prophet Isaiah’s words of promise that G-d is making all things new – “I am about to create new heavens and a new earth; the former things shall not be remembered or come to mind.  But be glad and rejoice forever in what I am creating; for I am about to create Jerusalem as a joy; and its people as a delight. (chapter 65)”

Some believe that certain choices we make, make us unredeemable, unlovable to G-d.

I do not believe this.

I believe the apostle Paul, writing to the Christians in Rome (8:38-39) for “I am convinced that neither death, nor life, no angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Some believe that only some of us are worthy of burial in sacred ground.

I do not believe this.

I believe all ground is part of G-d’s good creation described in Genesis 1 and that we each are part of that created goodness, “God saw everything that [God] had made, and indeed, it was very good.  And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day.”

Some believe that G-d spitefully rejects us, if we give up on G-d.

I do not believe this.

I believe the assurances of Isaiah 43: “Do not fear for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine.  When you pass through the waters, I will be with you…when you walk through the fire you shall not be burned, and the flame will not consume you.  For I am the LORD your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior…you are precious in my sight, and honored, and I love you.  Do not fear, for I am with you.”

Some believe that the only way to end their own pain is to end their own life.

I do not believe this.

I believe in the Holy vision for us described in John’s Revelation in which, “God will be with them; and will wipe every tear from their eyes.  Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more. (Chapter 21)”

If you have lost someone to suicide, it is not your fault. You do not have to grieve alone, but please grieve.  Unresolved grief – anger, guilt, depression – makes us more susceptible to illnesses and trauma.  If you know someone who might be thinking about hurting themselves, you can help – ask them specifically if they are thinking about suicide and if they have a plan, stay with them and listen to them attentively, then call for help (911, the National Suicide Hotline: 800.273.8255 or your local crisis line).  Online help is @:  If you are hurting so much you just want it to end – there is help!  It’s ok to ask for help.  Please ask for help by calling 911 or the crisis line, or anyone you trust.  You don’t have to be alone.  There is life beyond grief.

Blessings of deep peace.

Prayer for Restorative Justice during “Crime Victim Awareness Week”

20 04 2010

We gather as members of this community.

We gather as wounded people.

We gather as advocates of justice.

We gather as broken people

in need of you;

in need of redemption;

in need of reconciliation.

We hear a promise of good news for the poor,

liberty for the captives,

sight for the blind

and freedom for the oppressed.

Help us receive these gifts:

For we are poor when we feel no hope.

We are captives if vengeance fills our hearts.

We are blind when we do not recognize the humanity of our neighbors.

We are oppressed if grief paralyzes us.

Help us to forgive ourselves and each other

as we seek restorative justice in our lives, our families, our communities.

Help us to accept your movement in our lives as you reconcile the whole world to yourself.

Help us to learn new ways to love one another,

so that all people may know peace, justice and love.

What Is Emerging?

19 04 2010

Thanks, Julie Clawson for asking folks to synchroblog on the question: “What is emering?”  Here are a few of my thoughts.

If Phyllis Tickle is right in The Great Emergence, then emergence is something that describes broad cultural changes that might be global in reach, but has many very particular expressions. Capital “E” “Emergent,” as Shane Claiborne described last week in his Sojo post, is the Emergent brand, which may have little or nothing to do with the particular expressions of emergence around the world.

When I created my website, I was hoping to create a space for particular expressions to be voiced. I described my hopeful vision this way:
“Godpots is intended to be a place of hospitality, a place of open conversation, a place to consider new ideas and reflect on actions that may reveal a more whole and holy way to live with one another and with the world. The name reflects creation as vessels for the Creator’s spirit – our usefulness, our fragility, our center being filled by the divine being. It is a place to reveal the heart, the struggle, the hope we have. I believe the world as humanity has shaped it is not how G-d intended it to be. I believe we have and are broken vessels, but G-d, as a potter, never let’s resources go to waste. Every scrap of clay can be reclaimed. Every drop of water can slag down the mistakes. Every shard can be ground and reused as grit that will strengthen the next batch of clay. I believe G-d can redeem even our most shattered realities.
“Therefore, I also believe that we have deep ethical responsibility to redress our wrongs, clean up our messes, apologize for the hurts we’ve caused and make right our injustices. We are responsible for reconciling our relationships with one another and creation as far as we can, unless doing so would cause further harm. This means we must be open to hearing from others how we have injured them – even if we didn’t intend to do so. It means acknowledging someone else’s experience – even if we don’t share it. It means we must bear another’s burdens and tend their wounds – even when doing so might seem more than we can. To say it is too hard to hear someone else’s terrifying story is to admit cowardice to imagine what another, a sister or brother, has already lived through, or did not survive. It is our ethical responsibility to listen. It is our responsibility to accompany. It is our responsibility to reconcile. Through care-filled attention to our relationships – we begin to experience the redemption that is a holy gift. Welcome! Share your questions, thoughts, experiences – your journey. Peace.”

The reality of maintaining an active site/blog has given way to the easy connections of Facebook and Twitter, but the vision still gives me hope. I see amazingly faithful particular expressions everywhere, as well as resistance and rejection of some of those expressions by faithful people. It is my hope that we can listen to one another well enough and long enough that we begin to love one another more than we love our own ideas, theologies, denominations, traditions, politics and cultures.

I believe emergence is happening in churches, temples, mosques. I believe emergence is happening in faith, in medicine, in education, in industry, in politics and in art. I believe emergence is happening in our personal lives, in families, in countries and cultures. I believe emergence describes how so many aspects of our lives are shifting as a result of changes in information flow, how we gather and filter information, how we attribute authority to the sources of such information and how we are shaped in our relationships as a result.

Dying and Being Reborn

15 09 2009

(Originally published in Presbyterian Outlook, Sept 21, 2009

On Tuesday morning, I got the call that Kennedy had been born and everyone was doing well. At eleven I gathered with family and friends to celebrate Clara Mae’s life as we grieved her passing.

We are people of faith.
We are “both / and” people.
We are dying and being reborn at the same time.

Some of us reminisce about what was and some long for what will be.
Some have never been members anywhere else and some of us haven’t yet joined a church.
Some of us prefer private faith and some of us live our faith through relationships.
Some of us love the old hymns and some of us love the new songs.
Some of us wish for more organ music and some of us are excited about new instruments.
Some of us find deep joy in the presence of children in worship. Some of us find kids distracting.
Some of us grieve the end of one kind of worship service. Some of us are finding spiritual renewal in third spaces and in new ways.
Some of us worry about finances and some of us believe that God will provide.
Some of us want more adult study options. Some of us take advantage of what has been offered.
Some of us fret about what isn’t being done. Some of us show up and make things happen.
Some of us are willing to try new things, if we believe that they will help us be more faithful. Some aren’t.
Some of us are scared for our own failing health. Some of us are willing to ask for care.
Some of us are frustrated. Some of us are hopeful. Some of us wish someone else would do it.
Some of us love this church. Some of love it and struggle with it too.
Some of us haven’t been to worship in a very long time. Some of us attend twice a week.
Some of us are comfortable volunteering. Some of us don’t feel we have much to offer.
Some of us are growing in spirit and service to others.
Some of us don’t realize we stopped growing.
Some of us are emerging. Some are traditional. Some are contemporary. Some high, some low.
Some of us feel blessed. Some of us feel gifted. Some of us feel useful. Some of us feel faithful.

I initially wrote these observations about the congregation I serve in small town Wisconsin, but I have realized that many of them reflect experiences of congregations across our denomination. These observations were given to church members to spark conversation about who we are, so that we might better discern who we are becoming. While I don’t believe that “maintenance ministry” has ever been a faithful option, it seems clear to me that maintenance is simply no longer an option at all. “Becoming” though means change.

All life is change. All that is faithful is change. We change as we seek to be faithful to the One who creates, loves, redeems and sustains us as we live into new circumstances, altered conditions, shifting global realities. I make this ridiculous claim because I know God isn’t finished with me yet. I am not yet the person God would have me be. If I am to be open to the movement of the Spirit in my life, then I must be open to changes. To resist is to refuse the work of the Holy. This is a personal choice. It is a congregational choice. It is also a denominational choice.

Marcia Clark Myers, Director of the Office of Vocations for the Presbyterian Church has recently been cited offering some intriguing statistics regarding the gaps between ministry candidates and positions available. She writes, “The future leaders of the church will need to be flexible and creative, able to serve at a time of new denominational and religious realities… Among the types of ministerial leaders the PC(USA) will need: church planters; those who can transform older congregations into new ways of being; and those capable of “hospice” ministry, who can guide congregations that won’t survive faithfully through their final days.”

I have been asking colleagues, “How many of these three tasks (planting, transforming, grieving) can one pastor do well?” Several initial responses were simply, “Only one.” As I have thought about it, I don’t believe that most pastors serving existing congregations have a choice. We must be present for those people, programs, ideas, methods that are dying, while at the same time bear witness to and nurture the new thing God is doing in our midst. It is akin to those who are caring for aging parents while raising children – we don’t get to choose. We may be better at one, but we cannot faithfully neglect the other. We are dying and being reborn at the same time: holding Clara Mae and Kennedy and celebrating both.

Ms. Myers describes three types of ministry, but I suspect that they are really a combination of two. We must be hospice workers who can identify aspects of our lives, personal and corporate, that are dying and help them do so with grace and dignity. We must also be midwives attending to the birth of the new lives of faith, new gifts, new relationships, new ministries that are blessings. Nascent church plants need wise and skilled midwives. Congregations that would rather see the church (as they have known it) die than change need hospice chaplains. Most existing churches need someone who can do both: mourn dying ministries and support those who are birthing new and faithful possibilities. I think transformation requires discernment about what is dying and what is being born and transformational leaders must to attend to both.

We are people of faith.
We are “both / and” people.
We are dying and being reborn at the same time.
We are people who believe that Jesus redeemed life and death.

The Rev. Susan Phillips :: child of God, called and blessed, convicted and forgiven, mother, spouse, pastor, servant, trying to be a disciple :: Grinnell College, Candler School of Theology, Hebrew University :: I seek theology with passion, community with discernment, conversation with depth, friendship with truth, faith with heart, love with justice :: ::
Pastor, First Church, Shawano, WI or Facebook: Shawano Presbyterians

Dancing with G-d

22 07 2009

I was a teenager the first time I saw someone dance in worship. She was a kindergarten teacher, a former nun and I was mesmerized. I knew in that moment that I wanted to dance before G-d!

Nancy taught me her choreography for The Lord’s Prayer and after that I was on my own. I hadn’t taken a dance class since I was six, but I had been enacting, interpreting lyrics and music in my living room at home ever since I could reach the record player (ask your parents or grandparents to explain what that was). I began creating choreography for songs I like to sing at church. Then others began asking me to teach them. How does one teach what you haven’t studied? This was one of my early lessons in trusting my instincts and celebrating spiritual gifts.

I now teach sacred dance classes. The next one will be July, 2009 at the Synod of Lakes and Prairies Synod School.

Ten years ago, I began realizing that even after explaining the biblical history of dance as worship and my experience of dance as prayer, folks sitting in pews still understood it primarily as performace (this is true of other art forms in worship, e.g. music). So, I began using liturgy that incorporated movement, simple movements, as part of the congregation’s prayer life rather than using only solo or troupe work. As a community of faith, I think this choice has helped us understand ourselves – body, mind and spirit – and G-d as incarnate, enfleshed. As we reclaim our bodies as hands and feet of Jesus in the world able to move, touch, dance, we discover our bodies redeemed for sacred purpose.

Let us begin with confession

28 02 2009

These words are lessons from the PUP Taskforce.  I find them a faithful place to begin converstion that has a better chance of seeking healing in the Spirit, wholeness in G-d and well-being as we seek to follow Jesus.  So let us begin with confession:

* Those of us associated with the Anglo traditions that have dominated the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) came to understand how much alienation and pain we have caused by past oppression of other racial and ethnic groups and by currently maintaining barriers to the full inclusion of those groups’ members, cultures, and gifts.

* Those of us who identify our views as liberal came to understand how alienating it is for conservatives and evangelicals when their passionate commitment to holy living and upright conduct are labeled rigid and judgmental.

* Those of us who identify our views as conservative came to understand how alienating it is for liberals when their passionate commitment to justice and compassion are labeled unbiblical.

* Those of us who identify our views as moderate came to understand how alienating it is when those with passionate concerns on either end of the theological spectrum are labeled extreme and divisive.

* Many of us came to understand how alienating it is for gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender persons to be so regularly identified as a major threat to the peace, unity, and purity of the church.

* Many of us also came to understand how alienating it is for those who support a ban on the ordination of non-celibate gay and lesbian persons to be accused of prejudice, and how alienating it is for those who oppose such a ban to be accused of moral laxity.

* All of us came to see that the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), in its current factionalized state that we have all created together by our mutual stereotyping and misuse of power, fails to offer a suffering world a sign of the peace, unity, and purity that is God’s gift to us in Jesus Christ.