Monday, December 5, 2011

pondering incarnation

I've been called out by The Screaming Kettle.  I laughed out loud, nodding in agreement at number one, then raised my hand "guilty as charged" (while still laughing) at number 2.... but in all seriousness, I'm taking up their challenge.  Here it goes.

Incarnation.  Google dictionary defines it as,
  1. A person who embodies in the flesh a deity, spirit, or abstract quality.
  1. (in Christian theology) The embodiment of God the Son in human flesh as Jesus Christ.
Christmas is about THE incarnation.  Madeleine L'Engle writes so beautifully about that here (shared from my friend Tracy).  And so yes, I ponder that ... who couldn't ponder that?  Mary had experienced it all first hand and she pondered it. The Incarnation. Amazing.

But I believe incarnation continues.  Just as mysterious, just as ponder-worthy as God-Himself-in-Mary's-womb, the infinite God, our Maker, indwells us, is our very Spirit.  The seeds of Truth planted there, the convictions of Love, the callings and challenges, are all meant to be incarnated - fleshed out - in very real, physical, human ways.  To say "I believe" means nothing if there's no incarnation (James is ringing in my ears right now).

So I see the advent season and its culmination of Christmas as an invitation for us to participate more fully in this incarnated life, as truly incarnational people.


Well, I can't tell you that and neither can anyone else.  Incarnation means to embody what is already real.  What is real within you?  What Truths has the Spirit shown you, what changes has Wisdom wrought in your thinking, about which paths has She whispered, "Take that one".

Three years ago, incarnational living meant boarding a plane to Ukraine to go put flesh on our "belief" that orphans should be welcomed into families.  Specifically, five-year-old-lanky-long-legged-big- grinned-loud-squealy-one-more-sloppy-wet-kiss-please flesh ... named Mary.

This year our family is living a new advent-ure (did you like that? wink)  We are spending this season incarnating something that began with a twinge of conscience, then formed into thought, conviction, finally actual conversation... but never fully incarnation.  Until now.

We have chosen to spend this season worshipping with a faith community that is completely (and specifically) unlike our "own", starting with the first Sunday of advent (a week from yesterday) and  through Christmas Eve. What happens after Christmas is completely open-ended, as far as we are concerned.

How is this a big deal?  To you it may not be.  To us, it is.  (this is our incarnation, go find your own!)  Yes, it is a very big deal.  We have spent 9 years highly involved in our current church.  We know and love so many people there, it is a familiar and wonderful place for us.  Now, for five weeks, we are loading up our four children and driving into the city.  We walk up brick steps to a small sanctuary highly reminiscent of the small Baptist church we were married in almost 18 years ago.  Only, it's not Baptist - as both my husband and I were raised.  And it's not Presbyterian - as we later came to join.  It's also not "modern", which is the only church our children have ever known - big screens and a full band and lights.  It's a small, simple Lutheran church.

As we enter, there is a basin of holy water that we honestly don't know what we're supposed to do with, but I like that it's there.  Everyone who greets us has a felt warmth about them.  There are more gray heads than at our church, something else I like a great deal, but there are also wee ones who are always fun to see.  The children are present for about 2/3 of the liturgy - only our youngest is trotted off for a brief "children's church" mid-service, then returns following the sermon and prayer for communion and more singing.

Speaking of the liturgy ... oh, the liturgy, it's so beautiful.  And it makes so much sense!  Our first week I told the children, "Follow along in your bulletin now (is it called a bulletin? program? can't remember...anyway!) We have to pay attention - this is like a script and we have lines to say!  All the dark bold words, those are ours!"  They ate this up.  Even during the intercessory prayer, the one praying pauses at increments to say, "Hear us Oh Lord" to which we reply, "Your mercy is great".  It keeps us all focused on what's being said and done, and I love it.

We sing - a LOT. I've decided, from the limited experiences I've had with Lutheran liturgy, that it must be a requirement for any Lutheran pastor to be able to SING.  Much of what Pastor Nancy says/does is in song, and we love that, too.  I also love that we use hymnals, but there's only a piano, no other instruments, which is a big change indeed.

Communion is held every week - every service - and is open to all.  Our second week there I watched the pastor address each one of us, including each one of our children, correctly by name as she looked them in the eye and offered the body and blood, broken for them.  That touched me.  She also remembered to have a gluten free wafer, just for me.

The sharing of the peace is another highlight for us all.  In our church, when they say, "Greet those around you" it's enough time to say hello to one or two folks nearby, then the service moves on.  Not here.  Literally every person in the sanctuary is going to make an effort to share God's peace with you.  It takes quite a while and it's beautiful!  And the children love it because they don't have to stand awkwardly wondering what they are supposed to say.  What must sound very formulaic and stiff is actually the complete opposite - it's free and warm and... well, it's just beautiful. "God's peace be with you."  "And also with you."  Love that.

All that I've described is part of the adventure, but I haven't yet gotten to the truly incarnation-al motivation behind it.  This church has one more defining characteristic, one that clearly differentiates it from our own.  I'll let their website speak for itself,

At Holy Trinity, we believe being supportive of LGBT persons is a given for followers of Jesus Christ. We don’t talk about homosexuality as a sin, because we don’t believe it is one. We don’t accept gay people as long as they keep quiet about who they are (as in “don’t ask/don’t tell”). We don’t try to convert gay people to become straight. (Just as we don’t try to convert straight people to become gay.) We don’t welcome LGBT people into our community with any restrictions on their level of participation. We support all people in their loving relationships and encourage commitment to those relationships, whether they are straight or gay. We celebrate sexual orientation as a God-given gift, no matter what that orientation may be. We encourage all people to live authentically and fully as the people God created them to be. You can read Pastor Nancy’s personal statement here: Where I've Landed on Homosexuality and Why.

This is where incarnation comes in.  We've been pondering over "the issue of homosexuality", we've been talking about "gay people", but we hadn't actually put flesh to any of that.  We hadn't sat our own family down in a pew behind a family with two dads and three beautiful children (who appear to have been adopted from central America).  We hadn't yet shared God's peace with a lesbian couple who are gushing over their new baby girl, who has a giant organza bow wrapped around her bald head.  We hadn't yet kneeled to receive communion alongside elderly men and women who watched most of their friends leave their long beloved faith community because the church chose to adopt the above statement.  They are straight - it would have been easy to leave too; yet, conviction led them to stay.  Doing these things - this is incarnation for us, right now.

Is this permanent?  That's not on the table right now.  We've agreed to treat this as an advent-ure (that was too good not to use twice).  A beautiful adventure.  A scary adventure.  One not without its consequences.  Yet, an adventure that, so far, leaves me feeling more alive ... like I'm embodying my truth in a fresh, authentic way.  Actually fleshing that out.


There's my attempt at a Christmas blog post ...  I hope The Screaming Kettle approves.  I welcome feedback - questions, concerns ... I know this is a highly sensitive and potentially divisive topic.  My only request is that you season it with Love.  


David said...

I absolutely love this. You get a gold star.

Also, I think I'm in love with the Lutheran church you're attending during December. Any chance of transplanting it to west central Ohio for us? Are you going to keep attending after Christmas?

AM said...

I read Pastor Nancy's statement. I think at this point, I still take those passages literally, as I do other passages on not committing adultery or sleeping with your step mom (def not a good idea). but the interesting question to me is more about the meaning of Grace... Is Grace enough for where we are all wrong, or just some of us? And about what 'sins'? Are there levels? Can you have a growing relationship with Jesus and have sin in our lives that we are not aware of as sin (or have not been taught is sin)? So, the question is... what IF they are wrong, OR I am wrong. Is there Grace for our fallability when Christ is being preached either way? All questions I've been pondering for some time.
Your Advent-ture intrigues me. :)

Michelle said...

thanks AM. my official position on how we are to interpret those passages is "I don't know". and "I don't know" isn't enough for me to exclude anyone or assume anyone doesn't love Jesus as much or more than I do.

always appreciate you, friend.

Michelle said...


I don't know.