Reflections

Rev. Miller Hoffman
Open Door MCC
September 3, 2017

Grace

In his poem, “Psalm,” Stuart Kestenbaum writes of the potency of grace. So powerful, so transforming, that a moment next door to grace is enough to get us through an awful lot. How much grace is enough? Or, more accurately in Kestenbaum’s construction, how little grace is enough?

What if all the grace you get today is someone’s sloppy seconds? A friend, partner, co-worker, family member, complete random stranger standing next to you at the bus station is experiencing some incredible bit of grace and they are literally radiating with the relief, the joy, the pure enough-ness of their good fortune. And all you get to do is witness their response.

Is that enough grace for you today?

What if all you get today is a fading memory of the grace you got yesterday or last week? Today is just hard, and grueling, and exhausting, and your last experience of grace is blurry around the edges and a bit out of focus.

Is that enough for today?

What if all you have is the stubborn insistence that grace will come? Maybe not today or next week but Sometime — and in time. Today you are spent, and it looks that way for a while down toward the horizon, but you refuse to give up because you know that grace will come again.

Is that enough?

Psalm
Stuart Kestenbaum

The only psalm I had memorized was the 23rd
and now I find myself searching for the order
of the phrases knowing it ends with surely
goodness and mercy will follow me
all the days of my life and I will dwell
in the house of the Lord forever only I remember
seeing a new translation from the original Hebrew
and forever wasn’t forever but a long time
which is different from forever although
even a long time today would be
good enough for me even a minute entering
the House would be good enough for me,
even a hand on the door or dropping today’s
newspaper on the stoop or looking in the windows
that are reflecting this morning’s clouds in first light.

Peace.

This Sunday is the tenth Sunday after Pride and it’s the beginning of the end for Jesus. Jesus is starting to prepare himself and his disciples for the culmination of his ministry, which was for him what is for many who boldly encounter and confront fascism. And that ain’t tea and cake. As usual, he doesn’t stop there. Guess what? When Jesus says he wants you for a sunbeam, what he might mean is a ice dragon blue flame laser that rips down epic walls to create passage for an army of wights… Oops. Mixing metaphors. But still, Jesus wants us to risk everything to make a difference. Join us as we encourage one another. Stay afterward for coffee and fellowship. Open Door is and has food for our journey.

Peace.
Rev. Miller

Reflections

Rev. Miller Hoffman
Open Door MCC
August 20, 2017

Trust Your God

The idea of going to college was scary for me. I’d never left home before and I didn’t know what would become of me there. I almost didn’t go. I remember asking my mom if it would be okay if I didn’t, if she’d think less of me. (She wouldn’t, she said, but I did end up going, of course.)

My roommate had a childhood friend who came to say hello to her and found me in the room instead. She would become my closest friend for the next ten years.

It was her idea and initiative to get us a corner room on the second floor the next year, when we became roommates. A year later, a redheaded freshman would arrive in our house in the room three doors down. (She was in the flag corps and looked hot in a band uniform, if you’re into that sort of thing, which I was.) My roommate and housemates would invite that redheaded band hottie to my 21st birthday party, and she would become the love of my life.

We took some grammar class in my sophomore year and befriended a willowy, cynical, doe-eyed semi-misanthrope from another house who ended up married to my dad and sharing a Francophile, NPR- and classical music-loving household with him for twenty years and counting.

All of these things happened in my life and in the lives of people I love because I went ahead and did a new, scary thing.

I think about that all the time. And I’ve been thinking about it again lately. The future is uncertain, unknown, scary, and potentially (probably?!) filled with wonderful old things and also amazing new relationships, new wisdom, new transformations.

I’m hoping that sometime in the not too distant future, you look back on this transition and remember how doing a new, scary thing resulted in amazing new adventures and growth. I want to hear all about it.

Love.

This Sunday is the eighth Sunday after Pride and the third Sunday of August at the Movies! This week’s film is The Beasts of the Southern Wild, in which Hushpuppy lives in Louisiana on the fringe of community, on the edge of land, on the brink of orphanhood. That she survives is due to her strength, resilience, ferocity… and imagination. Join us Sunday morning to explore her world: nature and mystery and desolation and history, and bring your own questions and meanings. Stay afterward for coffee and fellowship. Open Door is and has food for our journey.

Peace.
Rev. Miller

Reflections

Rev. Miller Hoffman
Open Door MCC
August 13, 2017

Kindness

I hope the people you meet are kind.

I hope that you encounter so much kindness that it splatters and stains you, soaks you to the bone, so that you can’t help but be yourself kind in the world.

If you do encounter unkindness, I hope it spurs you (not to prolonged hurt or anger, but) to a thousand random acts of kindness.

I hope that any unkindness that comes in your direction will be stopped by your protective loving shield and be transformed into glitter or a flock of doves.

I hope that any unkind words shot at your soft, precious heart like barbs, like bolts form a crossbow, will make only a scratch and fall otherwise impotent at your feet.

And then I hope that you will be kind in return, to a thousand strangers. To a thousand friends that you don’t know. To a thousand other humans sharing your world, our world. To yourself, a thousand gentle, forgiving kindnesses to your own soft, precious heart.

Peace.

This Sunday is the seventh Sunday after Pride, 2d Sunday Food Drive Sunday, Kids in Church Sunday, and the second Sunday of August at the Movies! Watch The Princess Bride and join us for a silly, lovely fantasy that asks hard questions while it makes us laugh. What is true love? Does revenge help us or hurt us more? What is inconceivable? Bring your own questions, bring your own popcorn. Open Door is and has food for our journey.

Peace.
Rev. Miller

Reflections

Rev. Miller Hoffman
Open Door MCC
August 6, 2017

Believe in Magic?

I met with someone once for pastoral counseling who told me that there was no magic left in the world. She said that the government was tracking and surveilling us with impunity, that our social and civil rights are trampled on, that we’re being regulated and restricted into non-existence. She said there was no magic left to transform the reality of life.

I could add to those concerns the pain and brokenness I see everyday caused by violence in relationships and families, the loneliness of folks who work second and third shift, or of folks who have had to move away from their home community for work or school, the ongoing frustration of tiny non-profits trying to do something to change the world with too little money. There’s no doubt that many of us are struggling with our personal and our shared demons.

But I still believe in magic.

Call me cheesy, but I drive home sometimes as the sun is setting behind me on the road, and its reflection in the rear view windows filled the car with a soft, dusky orange glow. Once, I swear it’s true, driving forward with that bright sunset settling in the car I headed directly under the arches of a double rainbow.

I have a friend who grew up in Alaska, and because of her stories there’s a pattern of swirling blue and black and bright lights that I see in my mind and on handmade coffee mugs sometimes that I imagine is the Aurora Borealis, and it makes me smile.

Most mornings I’m stumbling around with just enough time to shower and dress and drive to work. I’m “not a morning person,” which means more descriptively that I am cranky and kind of a jerk. And almost every morning when I come downstairs Someone has brewed me a pot of my favorite coffee.

At work, when a woman has come in and she’s being abused and controlled, and her kids are witnessing it and experiencing their own violence, one of my colleagues (who loves monkeys, and imitates them sometimes) rolls up her sleeves and starts talking about possibilities. And we go over to court, sometimes with a stronger, sometimes with a weaker petition, and lots of times the judge issues the Order of Protection or the emergency Custody Order. And my heart quickens because Somebody got it, the judge understood what the situation needed and responded to the need.

And sometimes Someone comes into church on Sunday morning and sits in the back and leaves without having a donut, but then we get an email a month later or three months later that says they still are struggling with their sexuality or their gender identity and they really needed to hear that God loves them, that we love them.

I think there is still magic in the world. I think that we make choices each day that uncover the wonder that transforms reality and creates pockets of joy for ourselves and one another. I think sometimes it happens without us even trying. And I believe that those pockets are enough, for now, until we deepen them and widen them and finally will be able to put down a foundation and live there.

Here’s to magic.

Peace.

This Sunday is the sixth Sunday after Pride and the gospel reading is not irrelevant but is not the centerpiece. Because it’s August At The Movies! Watch The Ten Commandments, again, and join us for a service that asks such questions as Why does Anne Baxter overact so much? Why is Yul Brynner so buff? What does it take for two men who grew up together as brothers to turn on one another and betray one another? Bring your own questions, bring your own popcorn. Open Door is and has food for our journey.

Peace.
Rev. Miller

Reflections

Rev. Miller Hoffman
Open Door MCC
July 30, 2017

Ask and Receive

Last Sunday we celebrated Christmas in July and focused on the joy and celebration of giving and receiving and what it means for God to intersect with humanity through Jesus.

The gospel reading last week was also about giving. What does it tell us?

It happened that while Jesus was praying in a certain place, after he had finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray just as John also taught his disciples. And he said to them, “When you pray, say, ‘Father, holy be your name. Your kingdom come. Give us each day the bread that we need. And forgive us our sins, for we also forgive our debtors. And lead us not into trial.'”

Then he said to them, “Suppose one of you has a friend and goes to the friend at midnight and says, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves, for a friend of mine has come to me from a journey and I have nothing to set on the table. And from inside the friend answers and says, ‘Do not bother me. The door has already been shut and my children and I are in bed. I cannot get up and give you anything.’ I tell you, even though your friend will not get up and give you anything because of your friendship, yet because of shamelessness your friend will get up and give you as much as you need. So I say to you, ask, and it will be given to you. Seek, and you will find. Knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks, receives, and the one who seeks, finds.

There are so many ways that this passage is troubling. Back home in Iowa, we learned a few things about social cues. One or two. You don’t show up on your friend’s doorstep at midnight asking for three loaves of bread. It just isn’t done. You don’t yell from the inside of the house and tell people to go away, neither. You lay there quietly and pretend to be asleep, like all well-mannered folk. And you always say please. There is nary a please in this entire passage of praying and asking and seeking and knocking. It’s shameless, really.

Jesus tells us to call God Father, and then proceeds to illustrate both father and friend. God is a father who knows, even better than we imperfectly know, how to love children. God is a father who gives not only fish and eggs when we ask, but gives us holy breath – that ease, that simplicity, that longing to have and participate in a world of Enough, of forgiveness and respite. God is a friend who will go next door to get bread for you when you arrive in the middle of the night. God is a friend who will get up at midnight to hand out the bread, though the door was shut and everyone was in bed.

I know this is upsetting to some folks who would say that I’m painting God in pastels and petticoats. Who would say that our image of God as Dad and friend is the very sort of namby-pamby, wishy-washy pansy God that is the very thing wrong with the world. (I’m using those particular words intentionally in a week when the White House has attacked trans servicemembers and LGBT workplace protections.) But, folks, as there is nary a “please” to be had in the text, there is not one word of fire, brimstone, wheat, chaff, or plucking out body parts anywhere in this passage. Jesus is saying that God is our parent, and God is our friend.

Moreover, when Jesus says that — “God is your parent. God is your friend” — God is revealed to us. The words are given magical power that transforms us. God, the all-powerful, all-knowing, Master Of The Universe is revealed to us as family and friend. A present God, a personal God. A God who knows us intimately and acts in love and compassion to bring us ease, to bring us enough, to forgive and carry us not to trial. A God who walks with us and talks with us, and tells us that we are God’s own. A God who calls us by a name better than sons and daughters. A God who rejoices and weeps with us. God becomes local. And radically local, I would argue. Because when we are fully and truly transformed through the magic of this prayer, God is revealed to us as our family and our friend.

The prayer, the parable, the sayings teach us that holy breath is given to us all. Each person you know, each person you sit behind waiting to make a left turn, each person who comes to you asking for bread at midnight is family, is friend, is God. Each of us carries within us divine spark, namaste, to provide, to forgive, to deliver from trial.

How many times do we keep our struggles to ourselves? How many times do we hide our hunger, loneliness, our broken hearts? Because we want people to think we’re holding it together. Because our boss or coworkers or clients might think less of us if they knew the extent of our daily need. How many times do we fail to ask, Friend, talk to me. Listen to me. Do you have time for coffee? I want to weep. How many times does our pride or fear or timidness stand in the way of seeking divine respite in one another?

Jesus says ask, and keep on asking. Seek and knock, and do it repeatedly. Do it until you find, until the door is opened. Not only is there no “please” in this text (a mid-west mortal sin) nearly every verb of the prayer that Jesus teaches is an imperative: let it be holy, let it come, give, forgive, lead us not. And there is the shamelessness. There’s nothing namby-pamby, nothing pansy about it. Boldly, fearlessly, shamelessly, we are instructed to ask, seek, knock, and keep at it until we are given what we need.

I believe, with all of my heart, that when we give an egg and fish to one another, when we rise at midnight to welcome a traveler into our home, when we come at a moment’s notice, when we talk, listen, share coffee, laugh and weep with one another, when we mow each other’s lawn, when we break bread together, then this is also Christmas. This is a world where God’s name is respected and honored, a world where God’s reign has come.

Peace.

This Sunday is the fifth Sunday after Pride and the gospel reading includes the wonderful parables of the mustard plant and the baker’s yeast. Why wonderful? Because these are weeds and bacteria, things considered dirty, contagious, unwanted, worthless. This week the White House has treated communities we care about deeply as weeds and mold, burdens and distractions. But just as Jesus proclaims the discarded to be priceless, so are the people on the margins (LGBTQ and shepherds! POC and eunuchs!) valued, beloved, and exemplars of God’s country. Join us at 10 am this Sunday to celebrate the margins and to lift up the so-called weeds and mold! Stay after to woo-hoo for July birthdays. Open Door is and has food for our journey.

Peace.
Rev. Miller