Thursday, April 30, 2009

On the Capitol steps

Yesterday I joined with several local clergy to lobby our legislators on behalf of the 150,000 children in Missouri living without health care coverage.

We came prepared with our "Testimony to our Legislators," signed by seven of us from the Jefferson City Clergy for Justice (and yes, I realize I'm not a member of the clergy. They let me play because I like justice and am in seminary.).

It starts by saying: "As people of faith, we believe that Missouri's budget is a moral document which should reflect our deepest values: compassion and justice. Compassion and justice — the core values of each of our faith traditions and of our state, whose Seal and Capitol declare: 'let the welfare of the people be the supreme law."

We appealed because we've seen that food pantries can't find enough food to meet the growing needs and because hospital emergency rooms are loosing millions in charity care; because we believe that regardless of where one falls on the political divide, that children ALWAYS deserve the best -- and that includes having access to a doctor when they are sick.

We asked that our legislators translate compassionate concern into fair and equitable public policy -- and outlined s few specific ways they could accomplish that.

And I must admit that overall, it was a frustrating experience. I left feeling talked at rather than listened to. Our representative is a dedicated Catholic who says he prays before "pushing the button."

And yet, I was left with the impression that the Capitol steps were more important than the 10 people who die each week due to lack of health care coverage.

We let our legislators know that we are praying for them as they make decisions. And we assured them that we will be back.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Keep swimming, runners!

(cross-posted from my training blog)

The morning was perfect. Nervous chatting as folks adjusted bib numbers, the "serious" runners logging warm-up miles. "Are you pumped?" asked a random guy, approaching Tiffany and I. He rubbed our shoulders, and I was relieved to discover he was a pacer -- and we just so happened to be standing where his pace group intended to line up. Everyone was all-smiles. And it was raining.

Race day is like a portal to another world. There is a recognition that we have all arrived for the same purpose, and the brother/sisterhood takes over. Someone need only make eye contact and the banter begins.

Fifteen THOUSAND people lined up — in the rain — to run either the half or full marathon in St. Louis.

T and I crossed the starting line 15 minutes after the race began and marveled at the mass of people spread out in front of us. We were somewhere between the back of the mid-pack and the front of the back-pack, but the folks in front of us seemed to go on for miles -- and given that the elites started 15 minutes before we reached the starting line, I suppose we literally DID stretch on for miles.

Garmin was off almost immediately. Seven minutes after we crossed the start, it beeped at me that we'd completed a mile. While we'd surged in front of the pace group we were lined up with, we knew it was impossible that we'd run that fast.

The course passes by a lot of fun things in the downtown area -- the stadium, Union Station, the brewery. The brewery is at one of the first loops, and we circled around it to the parallel road, where a Clydesdale was waiting to cheer us on (or stand there proudly as we all oohed and aahed).

I was impressed that I actually recognized a lot of the course from last year. Familiar buildings and intersections... and even remembered enough to know some of the changes. "Didn't we continue on that street last year?"

All along the route were spectators. This was especially impressive due to the rain. Favorite signs along the route: "You are nowhere near 'almost done'" (just after mile 1), and "Keep Swimming, Runners!" (somewhere around mile 6, I think). There was also a group of guys -- one playing guitar, another with a tambourine. No umbrellas.

We runners were insane for being out there, but the spectators were certifiable. I spoke to a few as we ran by, to thank them for cheering us on -- "we're the die-hards," I was told. And they were. And certainly appreciated as the miles ticked by, and I found myself daydreaming about dry socks... and a towel.

By the time the course split and the marathoners and half marathoners went their separate ways (just after mile 9), the rain got harder. While my wicking fabrics had done a good job of making me feel as if I wasn't drenched (even though I was), there was no fooling me now. And with the wind, it was no longer just wet -- it was COLD. And I was losing steam.

I took one of Tiffany's gels (granted, a bit late in the game) and grabbed a gatorade at the fuel station and began feeling a little bit better... but by mile 10 I was ready for the end. If folks in deserts see mirages of water; in the midst of all the water, I could practically see dry socks! But I still had a lot of up hills to conquer to reach the finish.

When I saw the 26 mile marker (the half and full courses came back together and finished at the same spot), I began picking up the pace. Passed the 13 mile marker and spent the last .1 mile trying to figure out if my running skirt was falling off. It wasn't, but apparently the faster pace made me realize just how drenched it was and gave me the illusion. So as I crossed the finish line, I was busy holding up my skirt!

Got the medal and stumbled over to the post-race area, which was essentially a giant mud puddle. Lots of folks were joking around "well, if you didn't twist an ankle during the race, you will now!"

We waddled back to the metro station and rejoiced at the chance to FINALLY sit down.

Overall, it was a good day. My finish time wasn't too far behind my time last year, which was amazing since I walked more this year (and encountered more hills.... in the rain!). I'm pleased with the result.

My shoes, which are STILL drying, may be forever mud covered. I'm just hoping they lose the mildew scent they were starting to develop yesterday.... hmmm, they may go into early retirement!

Any suggestions for my next half?

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Hope fulfilled

I awoke with a great sense of relief. Easter is FINALLY here. It may seem a ridiculous thing to say, as Easter is a celebration of something that happened long ago. But in many ways, Easter is new for me every year. The Lenten season drains me. Self reflection is hard, painful work. Between recognizing myself for who I really am and experiencing the mental and emotional journeying with Christ toward the cross, I usually find myself stumbling around toward Easter.

And somehow, the Holy surprise finds me. Like the women who approached the tomb over 2,000 years ago, I never find what I expect. I come carrying my burial clothes and arrive to discover a flower blooming in a tiny mountain crevice. Life has overtaken death; grace has overtaken my guilt.

As I drove home from services today, I found myself struck that this holy day isn't as much about new life as it is changed life. In other words, Christ didn't die to create something new or start over, but because of great love for the people all around. Christ looked at what was and saw all that could be. He died not to make me a new creation, but to remind me (us) of the creation I (we) already am (are) - of the identity God already gave me (us).

In reading John's depiction of the graveside encounter, it is easy to laugh at the way he writes about himself. He outruns Peter on the way to the tomb -- and let's not forget his favorite way to refer to himself, as "the one Jesus loved." As this Lenten season progressed, I can't help but wonder if his reference was a reminder to himself -- that he was, in fact, loved. When all seems dark, it is easy to think that a perfect Christ is repulsed and turned away by all of our failings. In the midst of self evaluation, it is easy to adopt Paul's idea that I am the "chief sinner." Perhaps one of Easter's greatest messages is that while I am chief among sinners, that I am also the one that Christ loves... and that he doesn't love the perfect vision of me, but the me I am now. Christ loves me -- loves all of us -- in the middle of our failings.

And honestly, that is hard for me to grasp. Like the women at the tomb, I'm completely flustered by the news of Easter and don't quite know what to do with it. Mark suggests they ran away afraid and, in their astonishment, kept silent. Other gospels suggest the disciples didn't believe until they saw for themselves -- and even then they saw and walked with Christ without recognizing his presence among them.

While exciting, hope fulfilled is also scary. I think it is easy to feel as if the job is completely done -- and there is a sense in which that is true. I believe that Christ's life, death and resurrection ushered in the kingdom of God. Might our new responsibility be to actually live there? What does it look like to live the good news? How might we live out the love that Jesus poured out upon us?

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Moments of grace

Holy week is upon us, and I'm exhausted. After a hard week and action-packed weekend, I feel like I'm hobbling toward Easter. I'd been reading "The Last Week" this past week, attempting to read each chapter on the day (a week ahead) that it corresponds with. As I focus on the original Holy week, I can't help but wonder about the exhaustion of Jesus during this week. I suppose it may be fitting that I'm stumbling along.

Today's gospel reading is the "triumphal entry" -- a goofy, creative and subversive entrance preceding the Passover festivities. As we discussed the passage this morning, I was struck by the inclusion of Christ. Jesus invited his friends and followers, as well as strangers along the way to enter into the bringing of the Kingdom of God.

The Upper Room noticed something similar in today's daily devotion -- Luke mentions that "they set Jesus on [the donkey]." Jesus didn't climb up alone, but relied on others as he rode into town, Pamela Hawkins writes.

This weekend I covered the Baptist Border Crossing in Liberty, MO. The three-day event was designed to bring Baptists of all stripes together in order to "cross borders" -- to get to know each other and respect each other in order to bring peace and understanding.

The event was full of invitations to be creative. The opening sermon was a call to "color outside the lines," following in the footsteps of little children who "have no political commitment to the lines."

To follow Christ requires a creativity that stretches beyond the lines that the powers that be have drawn. Indeed, it is the type of call that would lead Jesus to parody the triumphal entry of the Roman leaders by riding on an unbroken donkey. While others have suggested he chose such an animal to show his power over all creatures, I prefer to picture the donkey behaving as an untrained animal -- not wanting to stay on course or be lead... Jesus laughing while the animal weaves back and forth throughout the crowd.

Because this new kingdom isn't like the kingdom of Rome. It isn't about showy war horses and demonstrations of power. It isn't the traditional system that values the haves over the have nots. Instead, if is a spontaneous celebration among the peasants. A goofy ride into town showcasing an animal that has never been given a chance. An invitation for the least of these to be in a position of honor -- to serve and BE served by the King.

Moments of grace.

I had a chance to witness another such moment after urging a friend to speak to Tony Campolo after the session he lead at the Border Crossing. She was intimidated due to his popularity as a speaker and author of 30+ books. I pushed her forward, offering to photograph the meeting (which I did). And I saw him turn to her and ask about what she was doing with her life; his rejoicing when she mentioned that she is in seminary. And then he embraced her, whispered a blessing and kissed her cheek (He then proceeded to do the same with me, the girl who stole his seat while he was speaking).

Not that Tony is comparable to a king, but as a keynote speaker for the event, taking the time to care about a stranger in Missouri -- call her by name and learn something about her -- is a beautiful expression of grace, a depiction of the little ways that we have the opportunity to bring about the kingdom of God here and now...

What moments of grace will you offer this week?