A Lenten Devotion

My seminary extended an invitation to students, faculty/staff, alumni and friends of the seminary to write a devotion for our daily series of devotionals during Lent. The following is the one I wrote, which was sent out earlier in the season.

1 Peter 3:18-22

For Christ also suffered for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, in order to bring you to God. He was put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit,  in which also he went and made a proclamation to the spirits in prison,  who in former times did not obey, when God waited patiently in the days of Noah, during the building of the ark, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were saved through water.  And baptism, which this prefigured, now saves you—not as a removal of dirt from the body, but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ,  who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers made subject to him.

Whenever I try to put into simple language the heart of the gospel, I always go toward abundant life.

My “big picture view” of God’s involvement with creation is characterized by intimacy and caring: God is intimately involved with creation now, and cares deeply about it: its wholeness, its brokenness, its synergy… All aspects of our world, our lives, matter greatly to God. And God’s hope for us all is abundant life, the kind we get when we let go of our anxieties and love each other freely.

Jesus showed us how to do that. Jesus also empowers us to do that. Today’s Scripture reminds us that Christ suffered once, for all of us, to bring us to God. We don’t have to suffer for our soul’s sake, nor do we have to suffer for each other’s. We don’t have to weep and wail and rent our garments out of despair for our world; no, Christ has suffered once and now lives. As far as the author of this passage of Scripture is concerned, the sacrifice is done, and now it’s time for life in the spirit.

So what do we do this Lenten season to become a new creation in Christ? May I suggest this: allow yourself to enjoy the abundant life you are given through Christ, in and through those who love you. Allow yourself to see all the blessings and joys and ways you can grow in this Lenten season. Allow yourself to release anxieties and become fully alive in Christ’s spirit. Allow yourself to find hope in the midst of troubled times, and allow yourself, even if only for a few moments, to have an island of peace. Lean on us, and we’ll lean on you. That is abundance.

That is Christ’s creative work.

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A 5 minute, memorized sermon

The following was delivered in my Preaching class last week. The assignment was to deliver a 5 minute sermon without notes of any kind.

A friend of mine has taken up a Lenten practice that is new to me. She has a list enumerating what she will give away or throw away each day of Lent. For example, two grocery bags full of shredded papers. One bag of girl’s clothes. I think the idea is to release ourselves from the material things we hold on to so we can embrace the full value of the things that do matter.

It reminds me of the story in the Gospels. A woman has a jar of very expensive ointment, a perfume. It is worth a year’s wages, so it’s probably the most precious and expensive thing that she owns. Scholars speculate about what the purpose of this ointment was: some say it was intended to embalm her body at burial. Others think it was for cosmetic purposes. Whatever her intent was when she purchased the ointment, she didn’t fulfill it.

Instead, she interrupted a dinner at which Jesus was a guest. She broke the delicate, alabaster jar on ointment and anointed Jesus with it. She gave up something of great value for no reason, as least as far as the onlookers were concerned.

But Jesus saw meaning in this gift. He saw value in turning over something precious to God.

Maybe this woman intended for her actions to be symbolic and anoint Jesus’ body for burial. It certainly seems fitting, and Jesus acknowledged this was true. Maybe she had multiple reasons for giving up this gift.

I wonder if this woman was caught up in what so many of us are caught up in: owning too many things, valuing too many things, trying to maintain our status through things. I wonder if this woman displayed this costly possession on a shelf in her home, so that all the visitors she entertained could see it.

I so often find myself trying to display my self worth through things. My jewelry must make a statement about me; my car’s upkeep and initial value must make a claim about my dedication to working hard and earning money; Would you like to come over to my house to watch a movie? I have a lovely entertainment center with surround sound. (Well, that last one isn’t true right now)

I think we all do it, I think we all misplace value in things. I think my friend and this woman in the text are both seeking to re-prioritize their lives, one possession at a time.

We don’t just misplace value with our possessions. Sometimes we misplace value with our lives. People who go to developing countries for volunteer work are often asked why they are going somewhere dangerous; why are you giving up years in the prime of your life to serve, when you could be making so much money?

Another seminary friend had a career as a research scientist at a university. Then she quit her job and came out here. Why?

The short answer: because God called. I can see the woman in our Gospel text sitting in her home, admiring her costly perfume and then hearing God’s gentle voice: “My beloved child, your life means much more than this. Won’t you give this up and depend on me?”

The dinner guests scoffed at her. She might have started to have second thoughts, her precious perfume spilled all over the ground and now what?! But no need to fret, because Jesus defends her. “Let her alone”, he said, “because she has done a good thing.”

This season of Lent, I invite you the do some spiritual housecleaning. Are you holding on to some material possessions too tightly? Are you using a status symbol to give you value? Remember that you are Christ’s own. You have value because you are a child of God, and no possession or lack thereof can change that.

That jar of ointment could well be considered that woman’s life insurance policy. To preserve her from life into death. Let’s remember that we are made of dust and will return to dust, taking nothing with us. Won’t you rely on God to sustain you in the meantime?

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“Your abandoned clergy blog”

My buddy Alex referred to this as my abandoned clergy blog and he has a point. I stopped thinking about my blog and stopped updating it. I also stopped writing in general.

Putting word to page has always been cathartic for me, better than talking, really. I have always needed to process everything by writing it down. In high school, I was a meticulous journaler, filling up notebook after notebook with high school angst. Perhaps I was a more sufferable teenager because I got the emo out in a notebook. I still had blue hair, though, so the jury is still out.

I’m well into my second year of seminary. Time passed quickly for me once I got into the groove of life over here. I had my moments where I felt really isolated and alone, mostly because I was adjusting to living so far away from my family and being on my own 24/7. No roommates to share a meal with, no one to say goodnight to, so few hugs. It was hard.

I learned to reach out, though. I learned how to form the kind of friendships that you have to work at and put effort into, the kind that aren’t organic in the non-college-dorm-life world. I think I’ve grown just a little bit. Also I’m still in California and that says a lot in and of itself.

This coming week feels like D-Day for me: I’m going to be filling in as “mom” to the three daughters of a colleague as she brings the fourth daughter into the world. I’m responsible for worship planning two days this week as well, and this weekend is the Vagina Monologues. I’m very happy to be the Angry Vagina and yes, I’ve said “Vagina” twice (err, thrice) in my clergy blog.

Right now I’m looking for a full time, paid internship in the Bay area. I’d like to be able to commute from campus and I’d like to make enough money while working full-time that I can pay my rent without having to take out a loan. It seems ridiculous to me that many seminarians with great skills and qualifications can be working full time and not make anything close to a living wage, and in fact are often expected to work full-time for free; as if (wo)man really only lives not by bread (or shelter) but by every word for God’s mouth. God’s word is life-giving in many ways but I doubt the authorial intent here was to have your pastoral intern be homeless. Just a thought.

I’m not letting myself get anxious about an internship. This is new for me: refusal to give in to anxiety. I am opening my palms to God’s abundance.

Shalom for now,

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San Anselmo, Sweet Home

A friend said to me, “So many places can be home”. This resonates with me for this move.

I lived in South Carolina for so long, I was doubtful that anywhere else could feel like home without serious trench-digging and tears. Turns out, when you’re where God calls you, sometimes things fall into place. I have found some really lovely and kind folks out here, and am loving my apartment (which I refer to as my “cottage” or “house”, because I tend to had the clunkiness of the word “apartment”).

The weather is also fantastic. Is this going to be forever?!

The transition to living in the seminary community is going to be rough for me, in a good way. So far I can tell that I am not used to living amongst the kind of genuine, supportive and honest community that I am finding here. I’m nervous to be so real with people, but at the same time, excited for the growth it will bring. And very afraid I will put my foot in my mouth! I don’t think I am naturally a very kind person (okay, maybe that’s up for debate), and the thick skin developed from years of bullying will take some time to get through. On my level, too- continually distrusting my peers does them a disservice as well as myself.

I start classes on Tuesday. That is, if my class is ever assigned a classroom. I might be wandering aimlessly around campus, visions of Hebrew dancing in my head.

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Moving! (For real, this time)

It has been quite the roller-coster convincing my folks to collaborate with me and help me get moved out.

But today, finally, a one-way ticket has been purchased. Theoretically, my mom and dad will fly out later that week and help me buy a car and get home furnishings (girl cannot deal without curry spices).

Until then, I will be a foot-commuter in the great city of San Anselmo! I have walking shoes and a can-do attitude. We’re going to ship one box of linens out so I can make my bed, and everything else will just have to wait.

If anyone is in the greater Bay area and wants to visit me or help me get settled in, then the 20-23 of August is the time! I’m not intimately familiar with the area yet, although once I get my car I look forward to finding all there is to offer in my new neck of the woods.

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Welcome to my tiny corner of the internet.

This is a space in which I will blog my seminary journey- hence the title, Ordain This.

“Ordain This” is largely a joke started on my Twitter page, laughingly inscribed when I do something I suspect my often curmudgeonly denomination would frown upon. Like going to Pride or having serious conversations about jorts. They are jean shorts, and they are almost always awful.

For those of you looking to follow my stream of consciousness, please stop by my Twitter (@BrookieS). I am hoping that the process of blogging my thoughts and fears about seminary and ordination will be meaningful for me, and maybe even meaningful for the occasional reader. I look forward to having some folks along for the ride to challenge me, encourage me, or tell me that yes, they really will ordain this.

Now to the task of making this blog look pretty. I make no promises!


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