Friday, August 30, 2013

What Do You Want on Your Tombstone?

by Rev. Laura Barclay

"What do you want on your tombstone?" is not just a question for frozen pizza enthusiasts, but a real question for us to ponder. What would you want a complete stranger to know about you in a nutshell 10, 20, or 100 years from now?

A few weeks ago, my husband and I were walking through the famous Cave Hill Cemetery in Louisville, resting place of Colonel Sanders, George Rogers Clark, and the teacher who wrote the "Happy Birthday" song, Patty Hill, among others. It's also well known for its gorgeous and sometimes wacky monuments.

While the eye is drawn toward the showiness of Colonel Sanders' marble columns and stately bust, it's the understated tomb of his grandson, Harland Morrison Adams, that stuck with me. Harland's inscription states, "I HAD A GREAT TIME!" Of all the loving and touching inscriptions on various tombs, this one was my takeaway. What was this person's life like? What made this person live to the fullest? The only information I could find out about him was that he donated money to charity, loved his wife, was an avid skier, and had a ski slope named after him in Aspen.

What is holding you back detracting from your happiness? Are you not following through on your dreams because of your fears? One of my favorite quotes is from Eleanor Roosevelt who said, "Do one thing  every day that scares you." I can just see Harland flying down a ski slope shouting and afterward hugging his wife at the ski lodge.

I tend to weigh the negatives of a situation a lot. It's in my blood. I come from a line of worriers and my sister is an insurance defense attorney who can quote accidents and death rates like nobody's business. Yet, I'm compelled to board a roller coaster, zip line, or otherwise statistically stupid ride or experience to push me outside my comfort zone. If I don't, I tend to find that fear, routine, and complacency creep in. And, honestly, humans struggle with fear quite a lot. The Bible has quite a lot to say about fear, with various passages and authors imploring us not to fear because God is with us.

In addition to trying to love to the fullest, let us also live to the fullest. Let's push the boundaries, try repeatedly to assuage our fears, and remember that God is always with us.

Friday, August 23, 2013

The Benefits of Being Five Years Old

by Rev. Laura Barclay

My niece, Téa, recently turned five and wore this fabulous number. If you can't tell, she is wearing red cowboy boots, a floral skirt with a blue plastic grass skirt on top, a green shirt with flowers on it, a lei, and a multi-colored, peace symbol headband. And to that I say, rock it! More than one, partygoers kept looking at her and saying, "I wish I could still dress like that."

In addition, she completed an art project, which consisted of painting her own treasure box, fit as many of her friends as possible in a giant chair, ate copious amounts of pizza and cake, and played on giant bouncy slides and castles for an hour. She had a blast and it was fun to watch. 

Remember when birthdays started to go downhill after 21 or so? At 25 you could rent cars at a cheaper rate, but that was the last real milestone of adult freedom. Now, birthdays seem to be ignored due to shame ("I'm 29, I swear. Shut up!") or subdued due to indifference ("I think I'll just stay in. Nobody cares that I'm 52."). 

What if we just donned our grass skirts and went for it? Are we afraid people will judge us for having a good time on our birthdays? Afraid that people will think we are too old for that? We all deserve to be happy and celebrated as children of God. Our births are special, no matter if we are 5, 55, or 105.  

So, the next time you see a kid in a tiki, mermaid, or pirate outfit screaming, "Oh yeah, it's my birthday!", consider throwing a pirate-themed fiesta yourself. I might even help plan it with you if there's a cutlass and eyepatch for me! 

Friday, August 16, 2013

A Surprise Resurrection Flower

by Rev. Laura Barclay

A few weeks ago, Ryan and I were surprised to find a bunch of stalks shooting up through our yard that we neither planted nor knew about. We began to notice them all over Louisville.

A few days later, they shot up about two feet and exploded in a wonder of pink and purple. The flowers were transforming ordinary yards into fairytale landscapes all over the city. If you examine the petals closely, they shimmer in the light.

Now the petals have fallen off and they've mostly disappeared, but for weeks we were astounded at one of many surprises our new home city, Louisville, had in store. Our neighbor told us that these flowers were planted decades ago and still shoot up every year.

It's a bit of a reminder that in the humdrum routine of life, everyday miracles can happen. We can still be surprised, no matter how cynical or immune to wonder we tend to be. So take a walk, look around, and prepare to be amazed.

Friday, August 9, 2013

Has Anyone Ever Told You That You're Going to Hell?

by Rev. Laura Barclay

If someone has condemned you to hell, at least I'll be in the same boat with you!

Here is a sampling of the reasons I have been told definitively or warned by conservative Christians that I was going to hell:

  • Not being baptized at 5 or 6. How is this different from infant baptism? My parents encouraged me to wait until I had thought through it and I was baptized at 11, which was significantly older than most in my church.
  • Criticizing the Catholic Church for exclusion of women in an academic paper, with cited sources.*
  • Having gay and lesbian friends. This, in my view, was the worst. Jesus said the greatest commandment is to love. Whatever you personally believe about sexuality, you should never exclude others or criticize people for loving their friends.
  • Telling a professor I was wrestling with Jesus' divinity. Isn't talking through this with Christians the way you are supposed to work these issues out?. *
  • Being a female minister. 

When people tell me they aren't Christians or don't go to church because they have serious issues with hypocrisy, even to the point where they question the existance of God, I get it. I have had similar experiences to most of these folks. Some of us who had these experiences decided to stay and work with more moderate churches and others decided that they needed to leave (or had no other option as they were surrounded by intolerant congregations). I see this as very similar to the Protestant Reformation--some Catholics were involved in an internal reformation and some got out and started/joined other denominations.

As part of a healing process, whether you stayed with the church or left, I would encourage you to forgive those who condemned you. I am an unabashed lover of Jesus, and whether you think he was Christ, a prophet, a nice man, or a crazy person, I'm sure we can all agree that he had some fantastic teachings. The miracle of forgiveness is that it releases you from the negative energy of hatred. When you don't forgive, you are chained to the person who wronged you indefinitely. The hatred grows and you become defined by it. In a sense, they win. But if you forgive them, you are released and love can take its place. Forgiveness transforms who you are and perhaps will change the person who wronged you in the long run. Maybe they will see that you live by the one rule that counts--love. Because, as John reminds us in 1 John 4:8, "God is love."

* Note: My college experience at was fantastic. Only two out of the dozens of professors I had were fundamentalists when it came to religion. The freedom of my college years allowed me to explore my thoughts and feelings in a way no church I had attended, until late in my junior year, allowed. Ultimately, this freedom brought me back to the church in a healthy way.

Friday, August 2, 2013

Loving Our Frailties

by Rev. Laura Barclay

This weekend, I attended a new members class at Highland Baptist Church in Louisville, KY. The 100 year old sanctuary is gorgeous, decorated in an English Country Gothic style. In the 1970s, stained glass windows were installed with pictures of apostles and saints throughout history. One panel in particular struck me. Each of the apostles had two symbols representative of their lives in each hand. 

Peter in the middle, top panel, holds a key in his left hand. This is indicative of the passage from Matthew 16:18-19 where Jesus says, 
And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock. I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.
On this passage is the basis for the Catholic tradition that Peter was the first pope--the first head--of the one global church on which Jesus laid the foundation through his ministry.  Whether or not you interpret the passage this way, it is inarguable that Peter had a profound impact on the shape and spread of Christianity after the death of Jesus.

Yet, notice what Peter has in the other hand. He is holding a rooster, which is the symbol of his betrayal that Jesus predicts in Matthew 26:34: "Truly I tell you, this very night, before the cock crows, you will deny me three times." This becomes true later when Peter pretends that he does not know Jesus after his arrest. So how is it that the man with the keys to the kingdom also betrays Jesus? 

The apostles are portrayed almost as comic relief in the gospels. They don't understand Jesus' message or miss the point, allowing Jesus to clarify. In the famous "Feeding of the 5,000" story in Matthew 14, the apostles want to send the crowds away rather than feed them. Jesus says to them in what I can almost imagine as an exhausted eye-roll of a tone in verse 6, "They do not need to go away. You give them something to eat."

While the apostles keep screwing up during Jesus' life, they are forced to organize after his death. They realize what Jesus' teachings meant to them and that it's up to them to spread the message. Jesus is entrusting it to them, for all their bumbling imperfections. In Matthew 28, they are asked to go throughout the nations and spread the teachings. 

If we believe that Jesus was both fully human and divine, then we must understand that he knows the horror of human fear. In the garden before his arrest he was sweating blood (Luke 22). This is a very real condition called hematidrosis, which is brought on by extreme fear and anxiety. Imagine Jesus in the garden in the dead of night alone, sweating blood, crying, in the midst of a panic attack, pleading with God to "take this cup from me." Most of us would have a similar reaction to the possibility of being crucified. 

I think Jesus would absolutely understand Peter's betrayal in the face of death. This is why Peter's commitment to Jesus' message after the crucifixion is even more profound. The theologian Origen would later go on to confirm Peter's upside down crucifixion in Rome, showing both Rome's continued cruelty to perceived insurrectionists and his willingness to die for his beliefs. 

Each of us is a bundle of courage and fear, loyalty and betrayal. We must come to terms with this and love ourselves, as God does, not in spite of our frailty, but because of them. Humans are beautiful, messy creatures that are far from perfect, but we are made in God's image. And if we believe that God understands humanity even more intimately through Christ's experience, then we have to trust that God is there when we are paralyzed with fear or, God help us, when we betray one another. If anything, we must learn to forgive ourselves as God forgives us so that we can begin to see ourselves as children of God. The next time you fall short of your expectations, don't dwell on it. Know that God is there, cringing with you in sympathy, and ready to remind you that you are loved. You just have to accept that unconditional love, which may be the hardest lesson for humans to learn.