Posted by: Melissa Bane Sevier | April 16, 2018

You are known

Countries and cultures often create a picture of themselves, using symbol and metaphor. Norwegians see themselves as Vikings, Central Americans recall the images of Inca and Maya warriors. Sometimes countries use animals as cultural symbols—eagle, lion, jaguar, wolf, stork, horse, camel, bear, owl, elephant. Not a single country lists a sheep as its national animal. Pity the poor sheep—not very emblematic; not regal or fierce; not large or imposing. They are fairly docile, susceptible to predators, and not the sharpest knives in the animal drawer.

Even so, sheep are valuable, and they were extremely important to an agrarian society like the one in which Jesus lived. They were important to the survival of families, providing meat, milk, leather, wool.

The shepherd was low on the status ladder, but nevertheless a vitally important member of society. He’d watch over the sheep of many different owners and they’d travel many miles to get to green pastures so they wouldn’t overgraze. He lived with them 24/7, keeping them together and protecting them from wild animals or thieves. And he wasn’t supposed to lose any of them.

I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. The hired hand, who is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and runs away—and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. The hired hand runs away because a hired hand does not care for the sheep. I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me…” [from John 10]

When the scriptures use the metaphor of the good shepherd, we are encouraged to think of being protected, and of being known.

When sheep wander off from the flock they can get into trouble. They get confused by not being with the others, and they will do anything to try to get back. It’s their instinct.

They are not unlike humans in this sense. We can get into trouble by doing whatever the crowd does, and we can also get into plenty of trouble by ourselves, by leaving those who love and care about us behind.

In either case, it can be really b-a-a-a-a-d.

The metaphor in John about the good shepherd is significant, especially to an agrarian culture: a good shepherd will protect us. We know that bad things still happen. But we are also encouraged to remember that we are not just one of the crowd. We are not nameless sheep. Every single life, every single heart, is important.

This sense of being important to God is best, and most often, expressed to us through the caring acts of those around us.

Anna May Chain is a Karen Baptist theologian from Burma (Myanmar). After Japanese occupation of her country ended in 1945, the Christian minority feared for their lives because of outlier Buddhist-related mobs. Her family was taken in by Muslims (who put their own safety at risk), sheltered in a mosque and safe houses. For their protection they were placed in a prison where some Buddhist friends bravely brought them food, medicine, and clothing. Eventually they were cared for in a Catholic convent, though Anna’s family was Protestant. Despite their religious differences, all these people, she says, showed the caring of God to them.

Every congregation I know has some type of list of people to pray for—by name. We have people we check on. We have family, we have church, we have neighbors, we have friends. They know our names.

We are known. And that knowledge itself is not just psychologically pleasant and reassuring. It is, in ways that we don’t even understand, protective. black and white lamb 2,LR adjusted, copyright, low, blog 4-18

© Melissa Bane Sevier, 2018


Posted by: Melissa Bane Sevier | April 9, 2018

What’s for supper?

Luke’s version of Jesus’ appearance to the disciples is both similar to and  different from John’s (that we read last week). Luke brings his own details.

While they were talking about this, Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, ‘Peace be with you.’ They were startled and terrified, and thought that they were seeing a ghost. He said to them, ‘Why are you frightened, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? Look at my hands and my feet; see that it is I myself. Touch me and see; for a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.’ And when he had said this, he showed them his hands and his feet. While in their joy they were disbelieving and still wondering, he said to them, ‘Have you anything here to eat?’ They gave him a piece of broiled fish, and he took it and ate in their presence. [from Luke 24]

“Shalom,” says Jesus, which is sort of a cross between “Peace” and “Hey.” It’s both a meaningful greeting and a casual, everyday one. The friends did not experience it as either meaningful or casual; to them it was terrifying. The dead one is among them, and acting as though nothing weird has happened.

“C’mon, people. Here I am. No, really. Look at my scars. You can touch me and see that I’m not a ghost. It’s okay.” Some of them are starting to come around and then he asks for something to eat. They give him some fish and he eats in “in their presence.” Luke is obviously writing for those who say that the resurrected Jesus was not physical.

What attracts me most, though, is Jesus’ humanness. After three days of being closed up in a tomb, he’s hungry. Who wouldn’t be? When he walks in, his friends are so frightened they forget to show common hospitality. They don’t offer him a place to sit, something to eat and drink, a traditional welcome.

He smells the food and looks over their shoulders while they are backing away from him and crowding around him in equal measure. Finally, in the midst of reassuring them, he can’t wait any longer: “Uh. Do I smell fish?” Someone catches on to his hunger and goes to get him a plate, and they watch him chew and swallow. (Ghosts can’t eat, can they?) As they are assessing him in a more friendly manner, he’s simply having some leftovers. Finally, after nourishment, he’s ready to engage in real conversation.

Spirituality and relationships are so often connected to eating. It makes sense. It makes us human. We talk about “being fed” spiritually, or we call friends and make plans to eat together. Eating is human. Relationships are human. Spirituality is human. Those things are linked by the realities of life. While we cannot exist without food, it’s also true that our existence is deeply impaired if we lack significant relationships or some type of spiritual awareness.

That’s why it’s rare to experience a social gathering without food: because we sense in some elemental way that feeding our bodies feeds our souls and moves our relationships to deeper levels.

We live better when we eat, especially when we eat good things together.

What’s for supper?

© Melissa Bane Sevier, 2018

Posted by: Melissa Bane Sevier | April 2, 2018

The opposite of faith

Theologian Paul Tillich said, “The opposite of faith is not doubt; it is certainty.”

This story in John’s gospel is about faith, doubt, and the desire for certainty.

When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you.’ After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, ‘Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.’ When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.’ But Thomas (who was called the Twin*), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, ‘We have seen the Lord.’ But he said to them, ‘Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.’ A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you.’ Then he said to Thomas, ‘Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.’ Thomas answered him, ‘My Lord and my God!’ Jesus said to him, ‘Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.’  [from John 20]

Called “Doubting Thomas” by many, I think the disciple is instead an honest example for all of us who can’t believe, or who want to believe, or who have re-evaluated—maybe even changed—our beliefs along the way.

Thomas needs proof. Jesus doesn’t disparage his doubt. Jesus offers the very proof Thomas seeks by inviting him to explore that doubt.

I even get the feeling that the less certain Thomas is the one to be emulated in this story. Jesus praises him.

The opposite of faith is not doubt; it is certainty.

I’m amazed every week when I look at Facebook and see what some folks believe. How are our beliefs and convictions formed?  What makes one person believe something, and another person believe the total opposite? Sometimes it’s the certainty that is concerning–the idea that one couldn’t possibly be wrong, the inability even to look at another opinion, much less consider it.

When we refuse to listen to the beliefs of others, we are being unfaithful. Maybe we’re afraid that some idea that defines who we are will be rightly challenged.

Beliefs typically come through the people and institutions that are constants in our lives. Schools, faith communities, teachers, friends, partners, co-workers, and that all-important first breeding ground of belief: the family. It’s not just what is said at home that puts those deep grooves in our brains; it’s everything about how we live.

Even as adults, we can still have the kinds of experiences that change our beliefs. This is why it’s so incredibly important to expand our circle of friends and acquaintances, to read about the experiences of others, to pay attention to subtexts, to try to suspend our own heartfelt beliefs and maybe even call them into question—listening to the experiences of other individuals or groups with empathy, because it’s expanding for our own hearts, our own faith, our own humanity. This can take practice, and it can be hard work. But it is rewarding work. Every time you listen to someone else’s experiences, and try to imagine what it’s like to be them—a different age, different gender, different nationality, different sexual orientation, different race—your own personhood expands. And your beliefs and convictions can be altered.

We sometimes become less certain of some of our strongest beliefs, even as we become more faithful in seeking out what new thing God might be teaching us.

Think about the experiences you’ve had that make you you. Give voice to them in your head and in your heart, so that in reflecting you may continue to learn more about yourself, and may be open to change and growth.

Jesus looked at Thomas with compassion and friendship. He responded to doubts with love and invitation. All those early disciples were working through their beliefs in their own, individualized, halting way. And they were all accepted. They all shifted from certainty to faith.

The opposite of faith isn’t doubt; it is certainty.Francis with Easter eggs

© Melissa Bane Sevier, 2018

Posted by: Melissa Bane Sevier | March 26, 2018

To be continued

There are three very different endings to the gospel of Mark. Check the footnotes in your Bible. But modern scholars agree that the original ending is the one below, and the others were added later, probably in the second century, because those early scribes found the original ending unsatisfying. You’re about to see why.

When the sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices, so that they might go and anoint him. And very early on the first day of the week, when the sun had risen, they went to the tomb. They had been saying to one another, ‘Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance to the tomb?’ When they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had already been rolled back. As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man, dressed in a white robe, sitting on the right side; and they were alarmed. But he said to them, ‘Do not be alarmed; you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised; he is not here. Look, there is the place they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him, just as he told you.’ So they went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid. [from Mark 16]

If you were to make a movie of Mark’s gospel it would not have a nice, rounded ending (as the other three gospels have), with Jesus and the others sitting around a campfire, or meeting in an upper room, or eating a meal together, with a happy conclusion and the words THE END scrolling up over the screen as we hear a soaring musical score.

Nope—the end of Mark’s movie is like the dread of every lover of a serial drama. The season finale comes around and one of your favorite characters has been in a terrible accident. All the other characters are in the hospital waiting area, the door to the operating room swings open, the surgeon comes out looking exhausted, prepared to let them know what’s going on, they look up at her expectantly and the screen goes dark. The scrolling words say, TO BE CONTINUED.


That is often God’s way, isn’t it?  We want the ending of the story to say what we want it to say. Here, let me write a better ending for that. That’s what those second century editors did. I get it—they wanted to turn that unsatisfying ending into something more complete. But God is always writing unexpected endings that can be frightening.

“He has gone ahead of you,” the young man says to the three women. They are seized with fear and amazement.

Once the tomb has been opened, there is no telling where the story might go from there. There is no stopping the places Jesus might show up. At your dinner table. In the middle of an argument. In the unemployment office. On the battlefield. In the hospital. At the workplace. In the funeral home.

We might be afraid for Jesus to enter our stories, to enter our homes, to hear how petty we can be, to see our relationships, to listen to our conversations, to see how we spend our money, to watch our ethics at work.

Still, fear isn’t the last word. Though “they were afraid” are the last words of Mark’s gospel story, this isn’t the end of God’s story, it isn’t the end of the women’s story, and it isn’t the end of our story.

Yes, Jesus becomes harder to recognize when he no longer walks among them in the flesh, but as they learn to look harder and to see differently, they can recognize him—sometimes in each other, sometimes in people outside the faith, sometimes in circumstances.

That first Easter morning, those early followers flee because they are afraid.

A hundred or so years later, some writers go back to tell the rest of the story, how the Jesus people had lived in courage, even though they couldn’t imagine it early on.

Two thousand years after that, on this Easter Day, Christians all over the world pause to remember. Even though hatred and narrow-mindedness and evil and fear took Jesus to the grave, we are inspired to remember how God’s light refused to be darkened, and God’s voice refused to be silenced. We remember that Love burst from its place of burial out into the world. Like the women, our nature is to resist it, even to be afraid of it. But we are also amazed, because we have sometimes seen how love can overcome hatred, inclusiveness can obscure narrow-mindedness, good can overshadow evil, and courage can take the place of fear.

When we see these things, when we live these things, we are writing the continuation of God’s story:  that God’s love is not entombed.

As the dim light of sunrise illuminates an empty tomb on Easter morning, we are sent out in both terror and amazement to face whatever is before us.

The story of resurrection is not to be told by standing and staring into the tomb. It is to be lived by turning and running headlong back into life. It is bearing in our very bodies and souls the promise of Easter—the promise of resurrection, the promise of new life—as we encounter new people and situations, or the same old people and situations. It is living in hope that the depth of the tomb is not God’s final message to us.

Every day you decide to live your life in faith and not in fear, you are writing the postscript of this gospel. Every day you share God’s love with a fellow human being, you are writing the epilogue of the Jesus story.

We face forward and run toward a new day, where the future remains shrouded in mystery, but bears the imprint of resurrection.

And the words scroll on the screen of God’s story and of yours:


IMG_1969, copyright, low, blog 4-10-17

© Melissa Bane Sevier, 2018

Last week, students all over the country led walkouts at their schools for at least seventeen minutes to honor the seventeen lives lost at Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. The next day, teachers here in Kentucky held “walk-ins” to protest proposed funding cuts to their pensions—gathering outside the school buildings to protest, then walking in to start the day with their classes as they do every school day. While these two events were widely promoted on Facebook pages, another statement simultaneously made the rounds: Walk Up, Not Out. Initiated by the father of one of the Parkland victims, this statement encourages young people to pay more attention to those around them, to be inclusive, to be fair—the kinds of active, soft intervention that leaders of faith communities always advocate—in the hopes that kids on the edges might be acknowledged and helped by simple, positive human interaction.

These three ways of expressing viewpoints in a free society have all moved me. Each is like, and unlike, the others. One is a demonstration that, in some cases, involves risk (suspensions, other disciplinary measures). One is a way of expressing opinion without sacrificing work. One is a pretty low-risk way of simply doing the right thing.

Which one is right? Honestly, all three can be effective, faithful responses to disagreements over important cultural issues.

This Sunday most Christians observe Palm/Passion Sunday. The gospel readings are from Mark and John, and those are quite similar to the accounts in the other two gospels, Matthew and Luke. What always strikes me about the stories of Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem was how public and over-the-top it was. Yes, the descriptions were written so that readers will compare this event to Psalm 118 and Zechariah 9, but this parade seems so different from the ways we’ve seen Jesus up to this point.

How many times did Jesus tell people who’d experienced or witnessed a healing or seen a vision (like the transfiguration) not to tell anyone about it? How often is Jesus a simple teacher, even if before a great crowd?

But here? Here this procession celebrates a leader for all the people, even though a humble one. And the parade involves cheering, not prayer; shouts, not silence; palm branches, not dust even on the feet of the donkey. In Luke’s version, the religious leaders cite the unseemliness of the spectacle and tell Jesus to silence the crowd, to which he replies that even if he were to try, the very rocks along the path would cheer. And John tells us that Jesus’ popularity deeply worried those same leaders.

So, what?

While these gospel stories have nothing to do with our current cultural divides in the U.S. over guns or teacher pensions, they remind us that faithful expression takes many forms. Sometimes it carries the mantle of quiet prayer. Often it lives in individual encounters that encourage and support. Occasionally it is focused through particular teaching in houses of worship. And, on occasion, it may take the form of a mass in-your-face demonstration to focus attention that couldn’t be obtained any other way.

Let’s encourage all these forms of expression, and not disparage any of them. Whether you plan to share welcome and support to the people around you, make your opinions known while carrying on your responsibilities, or attend public rallies to show your support for an issue—good for you.

You’re following in the footsteps of Jesus.palms, LR adjusted, copyright, low

© Melissa Bane Sevier, 2018

Posted by: Melissa Bane Sevier | March 12, 2018

Stories of the heart

Jeremiah uses his prophetic imagination to envision a new time, when things could be different. The prophet often bemoans the fact that though God’s people have been carried through incredibly hard events, they’ve not done what the law requires.

The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah. It will not be like the covenant that I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt—a covenant that they broke, though I was their husband,* says the Lord. But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. No longer shall they teach one another, or say to each other, ‘Know the Lord’, for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, says the Lord; for I will forgive their iniquity, and remember their sin no more. [from Jeremiah 31]

They’ve worshiped other Gods. They’ve not taken care of the poor. They haven’t welcomed the immigrant. They have observed neither the letter nor the spirit of the law that was given by God through Moses. Over the heads of the people hangs the anvil of doom, the threat of war and exile.

Here in this passage we get a glimpse of the prophet’s real dream. After all the trouble is over, after the people’s behavior has come back on them because it has weakened them, then maybe they will have the opportunity to become something new, something better, a people that doesn’t have to worry so much about the particulars of the law because that law will now be written on their hearts.

People and cultures always have trouble with law and heart—two things that are sometimes hard to reconcile. One may seem too hard; the other too soft. We all struggle with how to pull them together.

Problems arise because we too often see law and heart as being at opposite poles, but the prophet shows us that they are far closer than we might think. Jeremiah’s people broke the laws of God, and thereby also broke God’s heart. It’s not that the law will disappear, but that the law, at least the parts that are truly important, will originate from God’s heart-writing. That has always been their origin, though we’ve been slow to recognize that.

As a storyteller, I like to imagine this writing by the divine to be a little “outside the lines.” What if we experienced this writing not as just laws, but as stories of how God’s law and God’s heart have come together in one person, community, and experience? These stories are God’s way of combining letter and spirit, law and heart.

Maybe it’s a story of a group demonstrating the law of love by sponsoring a refugee whose life is in danger (law: no murder). Or the story of an individual who cares for an ill parent with the help of the community (law: honoring mother and father). Or the story of a neighborhood that actually understands what it means to be neighbors, that has a culture of invitation, safety, openness, celebration, and relaxing with each other (law: keeping the values of Sabbath). Or the story of a person who learns the real meaning of relationship versus money (law: make no idol).

When we show hospitality to the stranger, offer refuge to the homeless, feed the hungry, work for peace and justice—when we do these things, we are living the stories that we’ve seen or experienced. We are living the stories that have been written on our hearts.©Melissa Bane Sevier, 2001

© Melissa Bane Sevier, 2018

Posted by: Melissa Bane Sevier | March 5, 2018

The dark night

Who isn’t sometimes restless, sometimes passionate, longing for something different—something more? It’s certainly a theme fit for Lenten reflection.

In the verses right before this week’s text, Nicodemus goes to Jesus because of a deep yearning. What do I need to do to be close to God? To be right with God? How can I have more meaning in my life?

Though he is a religious leader, something is lacking. He is educated, well-connected, respected. He’s unlike some Pharisees Jesus has criticized for hypocrisy, the ones who thought they had nothing left to learn, that there was no room for growth, that they never made a mistake, that God was on their side. Nicodemus is far less certain. He wants something more.

Jesus gives a long answer with many moving parts. It’s about salvation and eternal life, about God’s love for the world, and about darkness and light (a common theme for John’s gospel).

Why does Nicodemus come at night? Did he have to work all day? Is he afraid for people to see him—a religious leader—looking for something new, so he comes under cover of darkness? Or is night the time when his yearnings for something more get the better of him? He is hesitant. He doesn’t know what he needs, but his yearning sends him on this journey in the dark. He ends up knocking on the door of the house where Jesus is staying—that rabbi who sounds so engaging.

People are often troubled at night. Darkness can be overwhelming, and light so elusive. They can’t sleep because their minds are churning over the events of the day, or they are worried about how they’ll pay the bills, or they are watching over a sick child, partner, or parent, or they feel guilty, or they are afraid of tomorrow.

When the darkness descends, where do you go? What questions do you ask? What answers are beyond your reach?

The good news is that you’re not condemned for being afraid or guilty or troubled. Those feelings that generate darkness, or that are generated by the darkness, are welcomed, and invited into the light of God’s presence.

For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. moon-copyright-blog-2-20-17

© Melissa Bane Sevier, 2018

Posted by: Melissa Bane Sevier | February 26, 2018

Mad Jesus

Anger is a difficult emotion. It can, like most emotions, come upon us unbidden. It can create an unhelpful chaos, may cloud our judgment, may lead to violence. Anger can spill over into emotional, physical, or verbal abuse.

Sometimes, though, anger is an important element for change.

I know I’m not alone when I say that anger (mine or the anger of others) often makes me uncomfortable. I don’t like it when my emotions take over, since I sit pretty far on the “thinking” side of the thinking/feeling scale. And anger often makes me feel out of control. I often don’t know what to do with it, and I can’t always be sure in the moment if I’m doing the right thing. We use the term “mad” as a synonym for “angry,” because it can make us act a little out of our minds.

In the story we have about Jesus this week, he seems to lose control due to anger.

The Passover of the Jews was near, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. In the temple he found people selling cattle, sheep, and doves, and the money changers seated at their tables. Making a whip of cords, he drove all of them out of the temple, both the sheep and the cattle. He also poured out the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables. He told those who were selling the doves, “Take these things out of here! Stop making my Father’s house a marketplace!”

I’m going to assume that Jesus doesn’t walk into the temple courtyard on a day prior to Passover with the idea of taking up whips and overturning tables. Maybe he’s already been thinking about the excesses he’s seen and experienced there before. Maybe he is already working up to mad. But when he sees those people doing what they are doing on this particular day, anger overwhelms him and he gives in to the emotion of the moment.

What does he see that brings out his anger?

It’s not just people selling stuff on temple grounds. It’s not just currency exchanges. It’s the greed. It’s greed masquerading as something holy.

Let’s reconstruct the scene. It’s Passover, that most important of Jewish feasts. Thousands of religious pilgrims are making their way to Jerusalem to worship at the temple and offer sacrifices. If worshipers can’t afford to bring a large animal, they can bring a pigeon. In addition, a half-shekel is expected as a temple tax. This tax must be paid in Jewish coin, because Roman coins have images of emperors or gods, and are therefore not permitted.

Inside the courtyard of the temple are people who will help you. Some are selling the animals you need for sacrifice, and others are exchanging your Roman coins for temple coins. Why does that make Jesus angry? Because it’s likely that those who are selling and exchanging are in cahoots with corrupt priests.

Here’s how that would work: You might bring an animal from your own flocks, or purchase one from your neighbor. The priests, who examine the animals (which are supposed to be “perfect”), may deem yours unacceptable. Then, if you want to keep your religious commitment, you need to buy one from a merchant inside the temple grounds. Those merchants charge more than what the animal is worth, and likely give a kickback to the priests. In a similar way, the money changers can charge pretty much any exchange rate they want, and they have a monopoly on the business.

This makes Jesus really, really mad. Merchants and priests alike are taking advantage of all worshipers, but especially the poor who can least afford it. You go to pray, and you are required to spend a lot of money to do so, to be acceptable to God with your sacrifice.

Jesus is so mad that he grabs a whip and scatters the animals. He overturns tables. He yells stuff about God and prayer. Animals scatter and some people get out of their way while others try to corral them. The money guys are scurrying around for coins that are rolling across the ground.


When we bring this passage forward to our time, I’ve usually seen it as only about worship defilement—how it’s so horrible when TV evangelists and other pastors use their status to enrich themselves. It’s a travesty. It’s wrong, wrong, wrong and it should make us mad.

Today I’m reading the text as a more expansive statement on righteous anger, and how sometimes—sometimes—anger may be necessary in order to make a point.

Let me be clear that I’m terrible at this. I don’t get angry very often, and when I do I’m not usually very effective. For me, it involves taking a step (or several steps) back, engaging my reason alongside my anger, and carefully formulating a response. Jesus doesn’t seem to do any of that here, but then he’s, well, Jesus.

Righteous anger seems to come into play most justifiably and effectively in justice issues. We’ve seen how anger

  • fueled the Abolition movement in America,
  • brought about the vote for women, and the changing of laws to allow women to inherit property,
  • opened minds and hearts in the Civil Rights Movement,
  • made cultural shifts in our views of LGBTQ persons,
  • recently turned the far-too-common experience of harassment in the workplace into #metoo.

You’re right if you’re thinking that peaceful protest, voting, personal relationships, and reasoned arguments are usually what changed our culture. However, all these effective strategies sprang from widespread anger over injustice, unfairness, and ill treatment.

Just this week, we’re seeing how anger over yet one more school shooting, combined with sadness, fear, public and private conversations, political action, and peaceful protest are creating fertile ground for change. We don’t yet know if change will come, or what that change will be, but the angry (mad) voices of children and their parents who have been directly affected and harmed have touched us all. Some are still saying it’s not the right time to talk about gun violence, out of honor and respect for victims of survivors. If not now, when? Anger and frustration are, at least for now, moving the conversation forward, through the voices of those very survivors.

Jesus, out of his concern for both worship and the poor, showed us that justice issues and faith issues are twins. Faith without justice isn’t Jesus faith.

And sometimes, sometimes, it takes a little anger to bring attention to a cause and to motivate others to join in doing the right thing. When we get mad over injustice, we’re reflecting part of the character of Jesus–creating a little holy chaos.IMG_9022, low

© Melissa Bane Sevier, 2018

Posted by: Melissa Bane Sevier | February 19, 2018

How to save your life without losing your soul

He called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them, ‘If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel,* will save it. For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life? [from Mark 8]

There are myriads of ways we risk losing our souls, and those ways, as well as the ways in which we attempt to save our lives, are reflected in our stories—the stories we hear, the stories we tell, the stories we live.

Your life is an unfolding story. It’s lived in the presence of God and the universe, lived in the presence of the people you love, the people you hate, the people who are casual acquaintances, the people who—generations from now—won’t even know your name and yet will somehow be affected by your legacy.

Denying self by taking up your cross does not mean hating self and seeking out suffering. It means, at least in part: self-examination, honesty in the living and telling of your story, denying the impulse to overlook the hard stuff, and realizing that suffering is a part of every human story—even yours.

What may be most important is a conscious reflection on your story. Reforming the narrative so that negative influences have less power over you, so that you develop deeper understanding of yourself and the others who lived parts of your story with you.

Claire Hajaj, author of Ishmael’s Oranges, has a personal story that is exceedingly complex by anyone’s standards. She was raised in Kuwait, the daughter of a Jewish mother and a Palestinian father. When she was ready to tell that story, she did so in a novel, in order to examine all the influences without hurting individuals. She was able to see both sides of the Israeli-Palestinian conflicts, which often made her unacceptable to people on both sides. In an online interview she talks about a recent clash between the two groups:

 “I find what’s been happening deeply upsetting,” she says. “For me, it replays what I saw over and over again as a child, watching Palestinians throw stones at Israeli tanks and feeling this sense of despair. But what gives me hope are the small moments of human connection I see across the divide – these are unsung and drowned out… Belonging to a tribe gives you all sorts of certainties,” she says. “It gives you a pre-inherited set of qualities – who is my friend, who is my enemy, what kind of life shall I live, which values shall I hold. But I chose not to align myself with either ‘side’ and as a result grew up feeling quite lonely. Am I Arab? Am I English? Am I Palestinian? Am I Jewish? What flag do I fly?”

No one has a singular story, do we? The stories we live are so complex, going back generations and extending for generations beyond us. They encompass everywhere we’ve ever lived, every person we’ve been close to, all the events that have affected us, positively or negatively. They include crosses we’ve carried, and crosses we’ve refused to acknowledge.

If we try to over-simplify our story by denying aspects of our past, we are in danger of losing our souls to the half truths we live, we close ourselves off to all the other stories that are part of us. We must incorporate the beautiful and the horrible, the joys and the suffering, the glories and the crosses.

Claire Hajaj grew up to become a UN negotiator who travels to troubled places in the world to bring peace. The story that she lived—that she still lives—is a complicated one. She learned to embrace its complexity. What could have been a soul-killing traumatic set of memories, she has turned into something that gave life to her soul instead. And it led her to work for peace.

I encourage you during this Lenten season to meditate on your own story, to imagine how you are continually formed by the events around you, and by your internalizing of those events. Bring to light the difficulties and disappointments, the successes and delights—the things you may have put aside or forgotten. And once those things have seen the light of day again, determine to let them give life to your soul.wood and black cloth , altered, copyright, low, blog 4-3-17jpg


© Melissa Bane Sevier, 2018

Posted by: Melissa Bane Sevier | February 12, 2018

The rainbow

There was talk at Grace Church. Sam Waters had come home.

Sam is Tom and Betty’s son, and even as a child he had been a handful. Veteran church school teachers suddenly decided to take a year off when it was their turn to teach Sam.

Betty and Tom also had trouble with Sam. Once he and some other boys broke windows around town, including windows at Grace Church. The church did not press charges and Tom and Betty replaced the windows.

Just after Sam turned 18, he was driving some friends around one night. He waited while they stole a bottle of whiskey from a liquor store. He didn’t know they had a gun. They emptied the cash register and shot and wounded the owner. Sam went to prison for 8 years.

When Sam got out of prison he moved away, but he could not get work. He came home to live with his parents. They were thrilled to have him home again and tried to make life normal. Sam spent his days looking for work and helping Tom on the farm. On Sundays, they came to church.

This is why people talked. How could Betty and Tom want Sam back after all he’d done? Some didn’t like the idea of having an ex-con in worship.

One day Sam showed up at the pastor’s office. He didn’t know what to do. His parents loved having him in church, and he had found he actually enjoyed worship. It meant something to him to sit beside his parents who had been so faithful. But every time they walked into the church people turned away. He was beginning to think that it might be better if he stayed home.

The pastor had seen the way Sam and his parents were treated, and had heard the talk. She’d noticed how Betty and Tom always placed Sam between them in the pew, as if to protect him from unfriendly stares. Still, she trusted the goodness of these church people. She knew they did not want to see Sam take advantage of his parents again. She said she would bring it up, with his permission, to the board.

The board grew quiet as the pastor recounted her talk with Sam. Nearly everyone in the room remembered when Sam went away. They had prayed and grieved with his parents and some of them had written to him. Now that he was back, they were confused.

John Hughes was the first to speak. “Did you know that as a teenager I went to a reform school?” They had no idea. John said he could offer Sam a job.

Then Margaret Offenbach told a story of Sam in her first grade Sunday school classroom. (They had all heard this story before.) The subject was Noah and the ark and they’d made rainbows from construction paper. After class, she remembered she’d left her lesson book in the room and went back for it. There stood Sam, drawing with permanent marker a multi-colored rainbow on the wall. “I didn’t have the energy to remove it,” she said, “so I just left it.”

Another elder said he’d been teaching in that classroom and had tried to paint over that rainbow several times but it still showed through. Everyone laughed.

“So. What shall we do?” asked the pastor. They made a plan.

The following Sunday, Sam served as liturgist. The congregation listened intently to the readings, including the one from Genesis about the flood.

The pastor took a couple of minutes off her usual sermon length, and at the time for prayer requests, she called on Sam.

He thanked the board for allowing him to be liturgist. He thanked John Hughes for giving him a job, and his parents for sticking by him, even when it had been very difficult. He thanked the church for honoring the vows they had made when he was baptized. He said he knew they had not pressed charges when he had broken church windows as a boy, and appreciated that expression of love for his family.

Sam then told how the day’s readings had reminded him of something that happened when he was in the first grade in Mrs. Offenbach’s class. He knew most of them had heard he drew a rainbow on that wall, but they probably did not know the whole story. When Mrs. Offenbach came back into the classroom that day and saw what he was doing, she did not fuss or even tell him to stop. She stood for a moment and then said, “Well, neither one of us will make it to church on time if I don’t help,” and she picked up the purple marker.

When Sam told this part of the story, everyone laughed and looked at Margaret Offenbach, who appeared quite embarrassed by this new and complete version of the story she had been telling for years.

Sam said he’d gone back in that classroom one recent Sunday just to look, and to his surprise the rainbow was still there. Someone had tried to paint over it, but it still showed through. That morning twenty years before with Mrs. Offenbach had been the most memorable moment of all his years in church, because that day, while they drew together on the wall, a wise teacher had talked to him about grace. She spoke of how sad God was over the way people behaved, and how the rainbow was God’s promise of grace. She talked about how all of us—including grownups—make God sad sometimes, and she spoke of the rainbows of grace in her life. He remembered that she mentioned her family, her church, and his class, and even that time with him right then coloring on the wall.

Now, Sam said, he knew that his life had reflected that lesson. God grieved over some of the things Sam had done, yet God still showed grace. Sam had nearly covered up that grace by ignoring it. But the grace still shone through, just like the rainbow on that classroom wall.

The grace of God for him, said Sam, was in being able to come home again. He knew he did not deserve it, but he was grateful for it. Then he sat down, embarrassed that he had talked so long. No one else had noticed the time.

From that day, it was easier for Grace Church to live up to its name.rainbow, LR adjusted, copyright low, blog 2-12-18

© Melissa Bane Sevier, 2018

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