Monday, December 23, 2013

Your Part in the Power of Social Media

As the year ends, I am seeing more lists on Facebookfrom lists of regrets old people have and how to avoid those regrets to things that food banks need but don't ask for. I'm not going to make a list here. Instead, I want to talk about how social media like Facebook is problem for impressionable minds and how to be part of the solution.

A fundamental human tendency is to compare ourselves with others. It starts when we are born. First world parents are given statistics like the percentile their new infant occupies in weight and height and their baby's Apgar score. I realize these statistics are important to help monitor healthy growth and identify potential health trends that bear watching.

But soon, moms and dads are also comparing notes with other parents on their baby's first tooth, rolling over, sitting up, first step, first word, and so on. There are beautifully designed fill-in-the-blank books for parents to memorialize these milestones. The comparisons become internalized by the children themselves as they grow and are perpetuated by the report cards and parent-teacher conferences beginning in pre-school and extending through high school.

We can't help ourselves in making these comparisons of ourselves with other people. It's in our culture and our mass media. Television shows and commercials send subtle as well as overt messages to developing brains about who we should be, or be like, and what we have to own and do in order to achieve those statuses. Many youth grow up internalizing feelings and self-images of inadequacy, and many parents internalize guilt when their children don't have the opportunity or the desire to achieve these externally, commercially driven models of ideal childhood and youth.

Perspective and countering positive, affirming messages have great difficulty wending their way through the commercial messages geared towards selling products. Young people already feeling challenged to mature in a complex world are particularly vulnerable to external messages of social standards that have nothing to do with who they are or where theyre at. They dont yet possess the judgment to know the difference between whats real and possible and whats fantasy and advertising.

In the last few weeks, as we have entered the holiday season that began with Halloween, then Thanksgiving and Hanukkah, and soon, Christmas, and New Year's, I am especially aware of these social messages that besiege us. I am aware of acts of terrible disappointment and despair that have resulted in violence against othersdomestic, vehicular, and gun abuseand violence against self, including attempted and successful suicide. The violence begins with the individual, but affects untold numbers of people far beyond the immediate families. The effects last for years and in some cases, become internalized and generational despair that has power to harm and destroy families and communities.

From my perspective, I see how social media like Facebook plays into shaping our thoughts about ourselves. In social media it's very easy to compare one's self and life to another person's life and feel disappointment and crushing despair that it won't or can't get better. I felt that way a number of times as a teenager, and I would weep because I could not see how my life could be as beautiful as what I encountered in the wider world that was light years away from my daily existence as a poor teenager from an immigrant family.

Facebook is seductive. I posted a status just a couple of days ago about planning some 2014 vacation time with good friends, because I was feeling happy and wanted to share my happiness. But, since that post, I have felt like maybe I was also being boastful, because my husband and I can afford such vacations. And I have worried about contributing to the despair of those young people who don't feel like such aspirations are possible for them. It's not just what we say, it's also how we say it.

It's important for us users of social media to be consciously responsible in what we say to the world, because we are, indeed, talking to the worldour part of the world, multiplied by the nature of the sharing that happens in social media. It's important to express ourselves in ways that point to the light and not to the darkness, that express gratitude and hope, and not anger and despair. I think it's especially incumbent on those of us who are leaders and elders by virtue of our positions, age, and experience to walk in the light continuously, as exemplars of our love and hope for our children and youth.

Acknowledge, encourage, affirm, and express gratitude. You will never go wrong doing those things on social media. What you think about someone else can matter to them, especially if you choose to share a positive thought that uplifts. You just might make someone's day and give someone something to hang onto in the midst of a tough time. You will be glad you did. 

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Radical Hospitality Sermon

Radical Hospitality Sermon
Third Sunday in Advent, Year A of the Revised Common Lectionary
December 15, 2013 at St. Mary Magdalene Episcopal Church, Boulder, Colorado
Lelanda Lee

Isaiah 35:1-10
James 5:7-10
Matthew 11:2-11
Psalm 146:4-9

Me Ke Aloha Pumehana. Aloha Kakou. Mahalo E Ke Akua No Keia La. Amen’e ~ I greet you with the warmth of my love. May there be love between us. Thanks be to God for this day. Amen.

I am delighted to have been invited to be among you this morning. It is a huge privilege and joy to be here with you. I was excited to read your parish profile and learn more deeply about who you are and who you seek to become. Among your parish goals you listed two things that jumped out at me:

·      To transform your warm welcome to a deeper understanding and practice of genuine hospitality; and
·      To clarify and deepen your understanding of church membership and develop more intentional practices of integrating new members

Today’s Gospel about John the Baptist in Herod’s jail resonated in the context of our conversation this Sunday. I picture gnarly John the Baptist, he of the wilderness appearance and itinerant lifestyle, stuck in a jail cell that must have caused him untold stress and uncertainty. That uncertainty caused him to send his disciples to ask Jesus, "Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?"

In light of one of the major events of this Advent – our global celebration of the life of another once jailed individual, Nelson Mandela – I think of how that great man must have also experienced untold stress and uncertainty during his 27 years – 27 years! – of imprisonment. How he must have wavered, too, from his certainty of what is right and what is wrong, and how much his faith, his belief in his call and his purpose in life, must have been what he held onto in order to maintain his great discipline and commitment to that right and that purpose throughout those long prison years. In all that I have read about Nelson Mandela and his prison years, one thing has struck me as profoundly important and strategic – an early decision Mandela made, which was to show radical hospitality to his jailers. That hospitality also was expressed much later when he invited his primary jailer to sit in the front row at his inauguration as president of South Africa.

Now, you might ask, how can someone who is the prisoner, and not the jailer, be one who shows radical hospitality? Let us engage in some deconstruction of what radical hospitality means for us as followers of Jesus.

In the usual course of events, especially in this season of holiday preparations that began with Thanksgiving and extends to New Year’s Eve, we might be tempted to think of hospitality primarily in the context of a large family and friends’ meal with a roasted turkey or ham, or both, as the centerpiece of our celebrations and how we extend hospitality to those we invite to share our joyous and thankful times together. We might, through our charitable impulses and sense of gratitude for all that we have been given, even extend our sense of hospitality to helping to prepare, pay for, and serve such a holiday meal to those less fortunate than we are, to those who don’t have a home, or the resources, or a family, with which they can enjoy what we think of as a hospitable Thanksgiving or Christmas or New Year’s Eve gathering.

Let me help us find a new definition of hospitality in Radical Hospitality. The word “radical” is from the Latin “radix,” which means “root.” Radical Hospitality, then, is about hospitality that is at the root of who we are and what we do. Radical Hospitality is embedded in our identity as Children of God. Let’s start at the beginning and talk for a moment about who we are and whose we are.

As Children of God, we are created in God’s image with God’s attributes shaped in us. God is love. God is goodness. God is compassionate. God is merciful. God is about relationship with God’s Creation. God wants God’s Creation to be reconciled with God. In today’s Gospel, Jesus says, "Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them. And blessed is anyone who takes no offense at me." God cares for the least among us, for those who have the greatest needs. We often say, “God has a preferential option for the poor.” God wants to be reconciled with all of us. As Children of God, it is our “Attitude of Radical Hospitality” that sets us apart as belonging to Jesus, an attitude that we carry with us wherever we go, wherever we encounter the Other. The parable that stands out as an exemplar of Radical Hospitality is the story of the Good Samaritan who extends hospitality to the man lying in the street, to a man in need who was a stranger to him in a place that wasn’t his home but merely along the path of where he happened to be traveling.

I’d like to share with you some examples of Radical Hospitality that we find in various cultural settings around us.

·      How many of you have seen the blockbuster film of a few years ago, “Avatar,” about the science fiction planet and its blue people, known as the Navi? The Navi had a way of expressing love and caring for each other that I found very profound and moving. They said, “I see you.” “I see you.” Just think for a moment about how it would make you feel if someone said to you that they “see you, really see you. What an acknowledgement of your personhood. What a validation of who you are. Do you see the checkout clerk at the supermarket? Do you see the newcomer in church on Sunday morning? Really see them as individuals with their own stories to tell?

·      In the East Indian subcontinent, the greeting “Namaste” is often used, and we Boulder County people certainly are familiar with being greeted with “Namaste.” [Bow, with hands together in front of my chest, and say “Namaste.”] “Namaste” may be translated as “the not-me salutes you,” or more loosely and more commonly, “the divine in me greets the divine in you.” What a beautiful acknowledgement of your creation in the image of God from my creation in the image of God.

·      In The Episcopal Church, we have an Anti-Racism Training curriculum dating back to 2005 that is entitled, “Seeing the Face of God in Each Other.” Anti-Racism Training, which over time has morphed into addressing not just Racism, but the other “-isms” that we humans inflict upon one another, such as ageism and homophobism and other oppressions, is comprised of content and exercises geared at helping us, as Christians, to see God’s characteristics and divine spark contained in each person, and to learn to acknowledge and honor God in each person.

My purpose in sharing these examples of Radical Hospitality is to point out that this kind of hospitality is not about being the hostess with the mostest or the Martha Stewart of home entertainment. Rather, it is about exemplifying the Great Commandment, which is to Love God with all our hearts and minds and souls and to Love One Another as Jesus has loved us. That Great Commandment doesn’t say Love One Another, but only in your homes; it’s not place limited. The Great Commandment trumps all the other rules about how we behave towards one another as fellow humans created in God’s image.

When we exchange the Peace in our Eucharistic services, it is an important theological part of our entire worship service. Exchanging the Peace is about acknowledging and extending to one another through the human touch of shaking hands, with family, friends, and strangers, the Peace of God – not my Peace, but God’s Peace – that is shaped in me, to another person, and receiving the Peace of God that is shaped in that other person. That is why I always say, “The Peace of God,” or “The Lord’s Peace,” when I shake someone else’s hand in the Exchange of the Peace. That is why I sometimes bow and touch my heart, when I exchange the Peace, as if to say, “Namaste,” “the divine in me greets the divine in you.”

There are other words for the exchange of the Peace from our fellow descendents who trace our heritage back to Father Abraham:  Shalom in Hebrew, and Salaam in Arabic. I was on a dual narrative study tour of the Holy Land – Israel and Palestine – in mid-November, with Churches for Middle East Peace, which was led by its executive director and an Israeli guide and a Palestinian guide, as part of my duties as a member of The Episcopal Church’s Executive Council, the board of directors of the church. It was largely a political tour in that we met with embassy, consulate, Knesset, and Palestinian Authority leaders, as well as with Bedouin chiefs in the Negev and Israeli and Palestinian activists on the ground. The Arabic perspective on Salaam is an important one, because the exchange of Peace for Arabs encompasses an element of safety as well as an element of welcome and hospitality. We eleven pilgrims on our study tour were extremely humbled by a Bedouin chief who greeted us with coffee, followed by tea, made with water that is trucked in at great expense, seated on blankets spread out under a tree, just one day after his village’s guest tent had been demolished for the 61st time in a continuation of that area’s land disputes. “Salaam” or Peace means Welcome and Safety and that we share what we have with you, a guest also shaped in our Creator’s image, even in the midst of our personal hardship. We expose our vulnerability and share what we have with you, our brother and our sister in the human family.

The word that I like best to express Radical Hospitality is the Hawaiian word “Aloha,” because I think “Aloha” really captures the sense of how Radical Hospitality is not place-bound, not limited to being expressed in only a particular place like your home. Instead, “Aloha” is carried in one’s heart and expressed as an attitude of love, peace, safety, and acknowledgement of the God-in-you from the God-in-me. We refer to “Aloha” as the “Aloha Spirit,” and we understand the “Aloha Spirit” to transcend the Hawaiian Islands and to be expressed by Hawaiians wherever they find themselves in the world. We non-Hawaiians could also benefit from and practice the “Aloha Spirit.”

I think it’s important to emphasize that Radical Hospitality also has a requirement for an ancillary or corresponding response associated with it. This idea of an ancillary or corresponding response is something that we probably don’t emphasize enough when we do Christian Formation work and prepare people for baptism and confirmation, or in other words, to state right up front, explicitly, that becoming a follower of Christ has a price. We are called to renounce “Satan and all the spiritual forces of wickedness that rebel against God.” We are called to renounce “the evil powers of this world which corrupt and destroy the creatures of God,” and we are called to renounce “all sinful desires that draw us from the love of God.” Renouncing is not just to say the words, “I renounce,” but it’s a promise to engage actively to resist and to turn away from all those things that draw us from the love of God, one of which is a failure to behave in a Radically Hospitable way to all the Children of God, including those we don’t know, perhaps don’t like, and feel judgmental towards. Radical Hospitality is about practicing the reconciling love of God towards all of God’s Creation.

So, dear friends, Radical Hospitality calls us to deepen our actions, to deepen the way that we live as the Children of God and as the followers of Jesus. Here are a few suggestions for how we might engage our call to living into Radical Hospitality:

·      First, let us identify God’s characteristics shaped in us as individuals and as members of the parish of St. Mary Magdalene. This entails both theological reflection and self-reflection, both individually and as a community, on an on-going basis.

·      Then, let us practice our “elevator speech” about our identity as Children of God and practice with intention opening ourselves to be known by the Other and to know the Other as our part of seeing the Face of God in Each Other.

·      In today’s Adult Forum between the services, we will be introduced to a few exercises that can be practiced on a regular basis to engage one another in sharing who we are and learning who the Other is, through some simple conversation starters.

·      And finally, there are a number of topics that could be covered in workshops here at St. Mary Magdalene, such as Racial Justice and Reconciliation, intercultural versus multicultural engagement, effective conversations on difficult topics, and so forth. I lead many of these workshops and would be delighted to be invited back to spend time with you. These may also be conversations that are timely in your parish search for a new rector, to help you explore your parish identity and goals more fully.

Let us pray:  Loving God, may the words and thoughts of our hearts and minds be guided by your holy attributes shaped in us, and may we remember that we are created by you and belong to you, Our Creator, Redeemer, and Sanctifier. Amen.