Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Little Revelations

I confess I do not believe in time. I like to fold my magic carpet, after use, in such a way as to superimpose one part of the pattern upon another. Let visitors trip. And the highest enjoyment of timelessness - in a landscape selected at random - is when I stand among some butterflies and their food plants. This is ecstasy, and behind the ecstasy is something else, which is hard to explain. It is like a momentary vacuum into which rushes all that I love. A sense of oneness with sun and stone. A thrill of gratitude to whom it may concern - to the contrapuntal genius of human fate or to tender ghosts humoring a lucky mortal. - Nabokov in Speak, Memory.

Mr. Nabokov has been to my thin places.   Trespasser!  Who gave him access to these spaces, wherein I keep my secret channel to the Divine?  Here, my telescope (or periscope, depending on just how buried I am on any given day) gets a sly shake as I gape skyward and it becomes the kaleidoscope through which God is clear.  My God is fragmented color.  My God suggests shapes but the form keeps changing, always.  My God is beautiful even in the dim light, but pops to bright realization against the sun.  My God does not translate for me, but filters the universe.

And it seems Mr. Nabokov has no regard for the civility of space.  Yes, I am collapsing the space between him and I, thin as the page, small as the typeface.  I am treading the track of his words and thoughts, his very memory as it speaks.  But, to be fair, he did invite me here.

Imagine then my shock to discover, as I walk the cove under his cover, the labyrinthine made familiar!  I happen upon him sitting there, sunning himself like a lizard, bearded dragon of a bearded Russian, as my butterflies alight and dance away again.  He is smiling.  Very pleased with himself to have this secret garden of delights all alone.

I don’t suppose he’d be thrilled at my traipsing in at the last minute, six decades later. 

Does he not know or does he not care that he is trespassing in the sacred space of another?  Doesn’t he see that blue morpho there, the same shade and shape as the one on my arm in ink?  Doesn’t he recognize those monarchs from my childhood days, rich green jewels and pale yellow promises, audacious insectary that got me through many, many years.  My mariposas.  My papillion. 

They are my secret code between God and me.  I see a butterfly.  I hear a promise re-made in God’s image.  Not your cardstock go get ‘ems, the misplaced Bible verses ripped out of context and flogged for mother’s day greetings and sympathy sentiments for the wordless in situations where words cannot be spoken and won’t be recalled.

No my butterflies speak God’s truth – to remember home and remember that the call was never to rest, stay home under the gentle guise and gaze out, heady with wine and fire warmth, at the cold night of human kind, faithful husband by my side and faithful dog at my feet.  My butterflies don’t bid me an early night and a good sleep.  They don’t proffer a sip of tea and a great book, in this ridiculous oversized chair and a half I had to have.

My butterflies speak to my memory and insist on an even greater journey tomorrow.  Walk walk walk walk walk on.  Know that you are called to give and admonished, warned against ignoring the call of an insistent God.  Eli, was that you?  Please let it be you this time.  I’m sleepy and the bed sinks only just as much as I like.  Walk on and on and on. Run when you must.  Sink, swim, sprint, half-drowned, pull yourself up the rope and swing out over the jungle ravine.  Go.  Until you think you can go not one more step, and there, the next butterfly will wait, patiently opening and closing, collapse and expansion, death and resurrection, on it’s promise of time, ready to point the next way.

If nothing else, I want this to myself.  Let it be a silly symbol to the rest of life.  Let it be a trite agreement to the everlasting, a nod and a wink and a kiss blown to the heavens after every homerun.  In this private space, I am known by God.  I know I am seen, because I see them – my butterflies.  And that is enough.

So now, I hope, you can imagine my incredulity, my outrage, my absolute apoplectic self to realize that this wasn’t my space at all.  Someone else has walked these paths.  For how long?, I am left to wonder once I regain my composure.  And how many before him?  How many yet to come?

We don’t expect each other, Nabokov and me.  But we are all each other has in this moment and on this page.  Each other, and our butterflies.

Above us, there is percolating color.  A dance, not frenetic but fast.  Like bouncing lottery balls in the machine, waiting to be selected for hedonistic glory and riches.

They are the butterflies, too numerous to count.

They are not Nabokov’s, and they are not mine.

They never were.

Yet I feel the promise to which they led me all along – that I am known, and seen, and watched over.   No, that’s not quite right.  I am danced over, jubilated over, celebrated by ultimate beauty.  We all are.

It is better than enough.  It is everything.

Monday, May 4, 2015

Losing my Religion

 Hi Friends -

This past weekend I got to preach for friends and colleagues at the Presbytery of Plains and Peaks, tie-dye t-shirts with a fabulous youth group, and enjoy watching the faces of the congregation I serve as they realized yes, we were going to play REM's Losing My Religion in church.  All in all, a great weekend.

A few of you asked to see the manuscript from Saturday / Sunday's sermon so here you go.

with joy,

Romans 12:2

Psalm 22 , John 21:15-19

1 John 4:16 -21

Losing my Religion
Presbytery of Plains and Peaks
May 2, 2015
First United Presbyterian Church, Loveland on May 3, 2015
Rev. Laurie Lyter

            And a reading from a more modern prophet.

The barman looked…. And He suddenly shivered: he experienced a momentary sensation that he didn't understand because no one on Earth had ever experienced it before. In moments of great stress, every life form that exists gives out a tiny subliminal signal. This signal simply communicates an exact and almost pathetic sense of how far that being is from the place of his birth.
-       Douglas Adams, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

My sisters and brothers, my colleagues and mentors, acquaintances and dear friends, pros and cons, retired and active, rulers and teachers, I have this clear sense that we are very, very far away from home.  The more I notice it, the more clear it becomes to me – maybe it’s not all of us - but I, for one, am losing my religion. 
Religion was once a stronghold for me.  It was that weird paradox of freedom giving and social control, that let me know clearly where I stood, and that I was a good person.  It let me know that Jesus loved me, which was, you know, pretty cool.  Religion was where we figured out what was expected of us, in Sunday school and VBS, in sermons and song.  Where I grew up, religion brought us together in a suburban neighborhood where we rarely knew who lived at the other end of the street.
But it seems the deeper my entrenchment in the institution of the church, the less patience I have for religion at all.
When religion clings on to old grudges, operates in little circles designed to keep clear lines of power and clear boundaries of “teams”, when we define one another solely by our votes, living and dying by Roberts Rules of Order and a frantic grip on a church that might be but never was … I have no interest in that.  Maybe you think I have no frame of reference here, like a child who wanders into the middle of a movie… But I have to ask, what’s the point?  Though I know I am very much a part of this system at work.  When religion means upholding injustice, exclusion, fear, and contributing to systemic oppression, I am not interested in religion.
What I am interested in is people.  I am interested in you.  Yes, you.  In what brings you to this place, and what brings you to these people, and what keeps you here, in spite of everything.  I am not sure if we could call that religion but we could definitely afford to pay it some Godly heed.
But when religion means I will throw myself down on the altar, not to secure food for the hungry child, but to bar access to the table for those whose views oppose my own.  I have to confess I have no desire to participate in religion like that.
Religion is locked in that moment when Christ asks me if I love him, and I answer yes of course.  With what I imagine was the same “duh” voice that Simon Peter delivers in Scripture.  How could you even ask me that?  Look at what I am doing with my days and years!   Look at how hard I work for love of you!
And then when he asks me again in the form of a trafficked eight year old, sold again and again for the same surgically re-created virginity in the slums of Calcutta, Christ asks … and do you love me?  And all I can answer is my most defeated…. yes and for such a faith as this, I shall form a committee.  I shall analyze and provide thoughtful, long-range studies and try to be just with my personal economy but anything more than that would be a lot of work and maybe even some personal risk.
So instead, as the institutional church, my response to Christ’s question of “do you love me” is a clear and resounding resolution to redecorate!
You know, that rug really tied the room together, and we used to have flowers at the pulpit every Sunday.
The church answers in her behavior – that I will shout down the voices of those who disagree with me, and carry shoulders full of hurt into my next meeting.
We shall dismiss each other.  Feel no compassion for the stress and strain we each experience.  Condescend.  Fight.  Gossip.  Shame.  Is this all that the followers of Jesus Christ can be?
No.   No.  That might be what religion has descended into, but it isn’t faith.  Or hope.  Or love.  Or God.  Though maybe those are all the same thing.  There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear; for fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not reached perfection in love. 19 We love because he first loved us. 20 Those who say, “I love God,” and hate their brothers or sisters, are liars; for those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen. 21 The commandment we have from him is this: those who love God must love their brothers and sisters also.
We have gone over the line to a point where the church stands only for herself.  We have become idolatrous of our own institution, and this aggression we have against each other and therefore against God – this will not stand.   We hurt one another in an effort toward self-perpetuation in the form of institutionalized performance.   This is an expression of fear, not love, and I am glad to lose religion such as this.
I – and surely not I alone – I am beginning to think that religion was never the point.  Institutions like this one will die and die again, and it’s time to step out of our fear of what that might mean for us.
So I hope I am losing my religion and finding something else.
For the love of Christ, I hope we are finding a way to feed his lambs.  Not just the sweet lambs it is easy to pity and comfortable to help.  Not just the lambs we find funny and gracious and easy to talk to.  But those mean and smelly sheep who wander around and stir up trouble and lead the herd astray and generally trek mess everywhere they go.  Let us tend to those sheep.  Let us love each other, or perish. 
While we’re at it, let me reiterate that pivotal point of why I agreed to get up here in the first place today.  Because I need to tell you - I am losing my religion.  My, me, mine, I, I , I, aye, aye, aye.  That’s me in the spotlight.  Look, we all do it.  We all advocate a God who is personal, invested in our individual lives, seeking us out for relationship.  I can only speak for myself – I am tired of facing down the God of my own creation.   This is not a worthy adversary or deity.  I’m learning in amidst a culture that teaches all of us to fear for our own income and insurance and security and pension and predictability first and foremost, I am learning that life does not stop and start at our convenience, and nor does God.  The fact that I ever thought religion could make God “mine” illuminates multitudes.  I am willing to lose the religion that was mine rather than ours.  We need to lay down the life of the church comprised of the Holy Me.
So I am losing my religion.  It is not where I left it and I don’t even know if I want to find it again.  I have a natural predilection for getting lost.  Call it a gift.
Sincerely, I couldn’t with one hundred percent accuracy tell you how to get to my house from here without double-checking a map.  My internal compass is almost always entirely, ludicrously, comically wrong.  I’m no stranger to being lost in a city – new or familiar – and depending on the kindness of strangers to steer me right.  I recently returned from a trip to Belfast where the common refrain was “oh don’t worry, love.  It’s just down that pass there, up the cobbled street, over the main road, part way up the alleyway, just tucked in on the left.  You can’t miss it.”  Wanna bet?  For the record, they were ALL cobbled streets.  So please believe me when I say I know what it is to be lost.
It’s a look we can all recognize.  Eyes scanning for signals of the familiar, for landmarks and known entities.  Worry bubbling just below the surface, not knowing where we were, where we are going, or whom we can trust to get us headed on the right path.  Being lost tends to come out in just a few different tones– fear, bravado, or just a sad little signal that we realize we have wandered very far away from home.
We are living into perceived scarcity and loss and the jaw-clenching, gut-dropping anxiety that comes with it.  We are conforming to the pattern of a world enveloped in the language of fear.  Danger.  Hostilities.  Terrorism.  Riots.  Looting.  Death.  We are conforming to the same fears in our own institution.  We are choosing to choose sides and trying to keep our grip on understanding who stands where – you’re either with me or you’re not.  In or out.  Black or white.
Except if we are well and truly losing – if our institutions are crumbling and we are letting them die for the sake of Jesus Christ, if we are losing our stronghold of power and our tight grip on declaring public morality, maybe our fists can finally unclench, and our hands can be opened.  Maybe losing our sense of rightness in the community and in the world is exactly what needs to happen to us.  There’s really not much point in being found if we aren’t willing first to lose.
Christ insists that those who love Him walk in with eyes entirely open.  He’s not trying to trick us.  The cross is no quaint symbol of comfort or ease.  Loving the least of these might hurt.  Following the shepherd might mean leaving behind every known green pasture.  It might mean we are losing our edifice, our building, our money, our religion.
And yet – it never means losing hope.  Hope does not live in our walls, our stained glass, our well-worn pews or comfortable hymns.   Hope lives in people.  In that mysterious place that is neither you nor me, but God alone, drawing us back together towards a common goal of peace in an unjust world, compassion in response to violence, and hospitality for the weary soul. 
I am losing my religion.  I have lost my religion.  I am seeking love in the space between us.  I have lost my religion.  But I am finding God in each of you.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Pavement and Prayers

We're running just as fast as we can... which, in my case, isn't saying a whole lot.

Driven by admiration for my friends and colleagues who have the discipline to run, I've decided that this is the year I'm running my first (and, quite possibly, only) marathon.  I want to have that discipline.  I want to know the parameters of my own capabilities.  I want to know what it is to balance my life sufficiently that I have time and energy for those long training runs.  I want to know if I can do it.  Maybe that's a little petulant sounding, but I have found the greatest developments in life tend to happen when I take a flying leap over the walls of what I previously knew was possible.

I'll be running the Colorado Marathon on May 4th (Star Wars day!), 2014.  It will be probably a little comic to watch (I run like an ostrich... a very, very slow ostrich), and it definitely won't be pretty, if my training thus far is any indication.  But I'll finish.

And as I go through those 26.2 miles on race day and the hundreds of training miles to be run before that, I'd like to take you all with me.  In spirit - don't worry, I'm not going to try to make you run.  So (also inspired by a friend), I'd like to commit each mile of this journey to a different prayer.  Whether you follow the same faith as me or a different tradition or no formal faith at all, I want to meditate and pray for anything on your minds and hearts.  It can be serious or silly, full of thanks or righteously indignant confusion, for yourself or someone you love or a situation with people you've never met.  Just a way for us to run side-by-side on a particular level of consciousness. 

So just send me a note ( if you'd like it to be confidential, or leave a comment below and I'll bring you with on my next training run.  Thanks in advance for joining me in spirit.  Here's to the pavement and the prayers!

Monday, June 17, 2013

I'm Back!

Hello Friends,

I can't even fathom wrapping up the last year's happenings in a few short paragraphs.  Some highlights:

- First year in solo ministry at First on Fourth has been beautiful, shocking, wonderful, and strange.  The job of the pastor is full of the random and the mundane, life and death, perceived crises, so many meetings, but mostly reading, writing, listening, and, above all, loving as best we can.  I've learned to appreciate my role as a spiritual leader and confidante, and gained tremendous respect for people who've been at this for decades.  It's about living in community, even when that feels a little impossible.

- I bought a house!  It's 120 years old and quirky and tiny and gorgeous.  It suits me well and my puppy (Dr. Rufus T Barleysheath) is enjoying having his own yard very much.

- I'll be starting a PhD in fall 2013.  I'll be studying at CSU, in the school of education.  The professor who will be my primary adviser is an incredible woman who works primarily with multiculturalism in education, specifically with vulnerable and oppressed populations.  My own research will be focusing on the ways we teach the "terror texts" of the Bible at a seminary / theological training level, and how we speak of / remain silent about violence against women in a preaching and pastoral context. 

- My first half marathon is next weekend - the Slacker Half which is entirely downhill from Loveland Pass.  I would not have survived the training for this without the support and love of family, friends, and an incredibly supportive congregation.  Come to think of it, most everything I do comes to fruition from such encouragement, care, and grace.  Not entirely sure how I got so lucky, but I'm grateful.

Part of my sense of call in the world is continuing to respond (in writing, preaching, and activism) to injustice.  I've come to appreciate that having first hand encounters with the people who live in such places gives me the courage to keep speaking out.

I would not have traveled to Calcutta or London to do anti-trafficking work without your help.  So it is with hat entirely in hand that I ask for sponsors as I attempt a trip to Palestine.  The opportunity I'm hoping to pursue is with a peacemaking organization (Pilgrims of Ibillin) which promotes understanding of life in Palestine and connection amongst Christians, Muslims, and Jewish people in the Holy Land.  I've got tremendous respect for this organization and am very keen to travel with them.

I would be delighted to speak with any organization interested in having me about my travels and present what I learn.  Thank you in advance for considering sponsoring on my next adventure.

With many thanks for your support and prayers,

Thursday, July 5, 2012

First Year in Ministry or Why I’m Learning to Fly

Nope, this isn’t some sort of bizarre nod to 90’s R & B, because I am actually learning to fly. 

This morning, I had my first flight lesson.    It was incredible and I can’t wait to get back for more.  It uses completely different parts of my mind than I stretch most days at work, it’s a challenge, and it’s fun.

Now the literature geek part of me loves the metaphor of flight, particularly for a first year solo pastoring.  There is nothing about my job that isn’t, in some way, learning to fly.  Things I have some experience doing – preaching, youth ministry, visits – I’m doing with a totally new group of people.  And things I have never done before – running session, long range planning in Christian ed, concerning myself with things like the budget and a beautiful but aging building and all the millions of details – are a total wilderness.  So, a lot like flying -- there isn’t much to do but try to learn the vehicle, rely on the system and your lay-leadership / co-pilots, and trust that God’s got you in the right place at the right time.

              The slight thrill seeker in me (hidden pretty deep) loves the adrenaline of both adventures, but most of all, the faith part of me loves the freedom, the jaw-dropping beauty, the wide-open possibility of being up, up, and away.

Friday, June 8, 2012

At the request of a few friends, here's the manuscript of the rhyming sermon I wrote for last week.  It was a whole lot of fun to write and I'm grateful for a job that lets me be creative!  Thanks for the support, friends.  Coming soon - reflections on my first quarter-year as a solo pastor.

Trinity Sunday

Isaiah 6:1-8

John 3:1-17

Commissioned by Confusion

Ah the trinity.
The great mystery.
The nature of God and of who God might be.
The question that’s plagued the church from the start,
Just whom do we mean when we say “that thou art”?

Trinity Sunday has arrived now and here,
And I, like most preachers, approach it with fear,
But still, undeterred by trepidation and doubt,
I’m determined to grasp it, and sort this thing out.

So what is the Trinity and why should we care?
Should we try to uncover it? And do we dare?
Isn’t God simply… God?  Isn’t that all we need?
What’s the point in exploring our source and our creed?

Yet again and again on the same old church calendar,
Appears the Trinity, making us all feel like amateurs.

We need to know, both small and grand,
Who our God is, and where we stand.

Like many before us, the question is what beckons,
God’s playful interaction, with which we must reckon.

We are each of us commissioned to this confusing situation
That causes all seminarians such frequent consternation
Who are the three persons of this God unseen?
What does it mean to be “homoousian”?

It means of the same essence, in case you were wondering,
This trinity business leaves much room for blundering…

So perhaps a metaphor can help, if we might,
Jesus certainly loved a good parable, right?

Is God really a butterfly – caterpillar, cocoon, and wings?
Is God instead like water – ice, liquid, and steam that sings?
Is God like in the Shack – the sassy lady, the carpenter, the sprite?
Is God like an egg – with shell, yolk, and white?

What about the naming ?  Where does that fit in?
Do names truly reflect God , or can they only  begin?
Do all three parts create, redeem and sustain?
My gosh this Trinity stuff hurts my brain.

Do all three persons bring all God traits we trace?
Does each part of the Trinity bear fellowship love and grace?

What of the gender?  Is God really a girl or a boy?
I feel like Nicodemus here… simply put, just “oy!”
What about Mother, son, and holy feminine divine?
Is that just confusing, or does that suit us just fine?

Should we follow our creeds and be doxological,
Leave room for the Spirit?  Be more Christological?
Perhaps this whole conversation is just plain old illogical?

That first part, the traditional God the Father,
Is “he” the most-God?  The most in charge?  Why should we bother
Trying to rank them when the Nicene Creed
Helps clarify that it’s all three we need.
Is this God the creator?  God at the start?
Or just Old Testament God, the hardener of hearts?

And if that’s what’s first, and to Christ it gave way,
Does the Son then matter the most to us today?
Is the new birth of covenant, betwixt us and God,
Created in love what defines us here on the sod?
Does this personal connection mean we know that God cares,
And stays directly involved with our human affairs?

The holy Ghost, that’s a fun one… just what does that do?
The unseen and unheard and yet still shining through,
The Holy Spirit which enables us to keep fresh today,
Reading scripture and listening for what God now has to say.

So we’ve plenty of questions but no sure answers in sight,
The sermon’s half over!  This can’t be right!
If we’re solving the trinity in a few easy moves,
Surely the great theologians can give us some clues.

There’s the ancient Tertullian, from the second century BC,
Who wrote often and much to defend Christianity,
He wrote that the trinity is the pattern of salvation,
He wrote with such passion as to give palpitations,
He insists it is Three,
 Not in dignity, but degree,
In form but not substance,
A challenging idea perchance,
Not in power but in kind,
Of one essence and of one mind,
All degrees, forms and kinds devolve in their Holy name,
At least that’s Tertullian’s trinity of fame.

Now Augustine would go on the defense,
For the trinity, which really makes sense,
You need both body and soul to truly be,
Hence I Am is a trinity”
The corporal presence of a God with a body,
And the breadth of eternity – not too shoddy,
Affirming too the eternity of Christ,
Augustine shows some serious fiest,
And for him scriptural evidence abounds
Affirming God of the past, future, air, flesh, and grounds,
So three of one and the same essence is the way he conceives,
Of the Trinity in which he also believes.

And at the start of the Church Dogmatic,

We learn Karl Barth was a true Trinity fanatic,

We are only Christian because of our Trinitarian view, he insisted,

And that keeps our concept of revelation consistent,

Therefore, without the Trinity, God just isn’t God,

As we understand God.  Lost yet?  Just smile and nod. 

Now on the other hand there’s Schleiermacher,
And what he believes is a real shocker,
Forget the creeds, and focus on the healing,
What matters  'bout God is that religious feeling.
Yes Nicea in 325 gave us some ideas and a frame,
But religious type feelings is what gives God the name,
Through the existence of Christ we know that God is necessary,
And too much credence on dogma and such left him feeling wary.

Moltmann takes an approach more Romantic in tone,
With a capital R, he calls it a love story of one,
The gospel is a great love story he claims,
Of Father, Son, Spirit – a plot still remains,
Involved in the story of both heaven and earth,
All intertwined eternal, present, and birth,

Are we any closer to understanding
Just who God is, and what God’s demanding?
Now I don’t want to be a Pharisee
But I’m pretty sure Nicodemus knew way more than me,
And like Nicodemus we arrive – not with hunger of the physical kind,
But instead with hunger of the spirit and mind,
We want to know, though timid and worried,
Which is why he showed up at night and hurried,
And, though he came at night, God didn’t smote
Nicodemus, and listen, I quote
Everyone who believes has eternal life”
But believes in what, Jesus?  That’s what gives us strife.

But we ought to be calm and remember the promise,
Salvation, not condemnation, Christ didn’t come to con us.
It’s not a trick or a trap or a puzzle to solve
God so loved the world, the Son came to absolve,
And through the Holy Spirit still,
We know our hope can be fulfilled.

Isaiah’s promise that we are commissioned
The priesthood of all believers, set out on a mission
All of us asked for, each of us sent,
To a personal journey, on a road often bent,
Made difficult with twists and turns and stones,
But knowing we never walk it alone.
The call is simple and hard as can be,
And involves bearing witness to the full trinity,
To bring the kingdom closer, a Holy kiss,
Between justice and peace, it’s not to be missed,

The humbling that happens as a result of the call
Is enough to make any of us feel quite small
But we turn to face God with our questions and hopes,
Moving out in the world, and learning the ropes,
Send me forth, though I haven’t a clue,
I’ll trust that God will know what to do,
And if this is indeed God’s specific plan,
I’ll try to trust you, you Great I am.

For life has  little such reason or rhyme,
Unless you view it with infinite time,
And as ever our form remains in God’s hands,
Where we can leave our questions and plans,
Three in one or one in three,
I think God’s less worried with the trinity,
Than how we care for one another,
And live as though we are sister and brother.

So solutions and answers, I have very few,
But a commissioning charge, that we can do,
Go out into the day beyond and ahead,
And live like God is alive and not dead,
Live like the command to love with grace,
Remains alive in this time and this place,
And know that no matter your age, creed, or size,
God’s promise  to you lasts, God’s love is your prize.

For God’s love is one thing we all have in common,
And with that, there’s no more, so let’s end with Amen.