Posted by: Melissa Bane Sevier | June 8, 2015

The potato kingdom

I like to think I’m the patient type. I have so many faults, so I’m sometimes hopeful that impatience is not one of them.

However, when I read this kingdom parable I see myself in a different light. I’m extraordinarily impatient when it comes to planting.

I’m a gardener, and I’m okay with plants once they get above ground. For the most part.

In planting season, and thereafter until the last harvest, I stop by my garden nearly every day to see how everyone is doing. There are little miracles each day.

That zucchini that was just an inch long yesterday is 2 ½ inches long today. I know that a day will come before long when I will happen upon one that’s been hiding under the leaves and has become the size of a small submarine because I missed seeing it.

The tomatoes are getting interesting. Lettuce is about done and will need to be pulled up soon to make room for more beans. The okra is blooming earlier than usual this year. We already have some small peppers.

But it’s the things that grow underground that give me fits. That’s because I can’t see them.

Potatoes are the worst. You have to wait until harvest to see if anything is there. We grow in raised beds, with very loose soil, so sometime soon I will explore the soil very gently with my hands in the soil to see if I can feel any mature potatoes.

When I find one, I’ll break it off from the root and pull it into the light so I can see it.

A beautiful reward for waiting.

That’s what the kingdom of God is like. And no, I didn’t make that up. Jesus said it. You scatter seeds. Go to sleep. Wake up. Repeat. Then one day it’s harvest time and the wheat is mature.

The kingdom of God is as if someone would scatter seed on the ground, and would sleep and rise night and day, and the seed would sprout and grow, he does not know how. [from Mark 4]

I think God’s kingdom may be more like planting potatoes. You can’t really see what’s happening until harvest time. But all the while, the thing you planted is developing into something valuable. Invisible, yes, but growing nonetheless.

The kind way you raised your children will probably someday, some way, help to make them into kind people. The justice you work for now may not be harvested for years, even decades. The way you treat someone else will likely come back to you in similar form. The time you spend in volunteering or study or prayer and meditation or family life or your job will make you a better person, and those around you will also benefit.

One day that potato will see the light of day, and when you add the butter and sour cream of experience, the product will be rich and delicious.

Too much on the potato metaphor? Yes, I think you’re right…

Patience is the key.

Do the right thing. Then just wait.  The kingdom will grow.

© Melissa Bane Sevier, 2015

Posted by: Melissa Bane Sevier | June 1, 2015

Life as adventure

Life is so unpredictable, and yet we attempt to predict it. I check the weather on my computer or phone at least three times a day (which is a good thing, since the forecast is always changing). I’m currently planning a trip for work and yesterday as I typed up my schedule I realize that I have left very little time for serendipity.

Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. … So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal. [from 2 Corinthians 4]

It’s easy to lose heart when all you’re looking at is lists, calendars, and tasks. It makes us feel as though we are wasting away because our vision is necessarily myopic. We’re afraid that if we take even a minute to look up from what we’re doing we’ll lose our place and there’s no getting it back very easily. We have to stay aware and alert, on top of everything like Whack-A-Mole.

These are the things that are seen, the things that are right in front of our noses. But what about what is unseen? What does that even mean?

Being aware of the unseen is remembering that behind the lists, underneath the calendars, alongside the tasks are reasons that make us so focused. We have lists and tasks and calendars, because we know that without them we can forget something that’s truly important. And in the process, we sometimes forget something that’s truly important. I know. Makes your head spin, doesn’t it?

So what is truly important? What is the unseen?

The unseen is the adventure, the love, the people, the spirit. It is the thing that brings you life, not the thing that sucks the life out of you. It is moving forward, even with the lists, tasks, and calendars—not standing still.

The important thing is the journey, because you never know what’s around the next corner. We can’t plan for that, but we can be ready for it. Ready for the moment when the laundry doesn’t get done because you need to read a book or call up a friend. Ready for the moment when a co-worker wants to talk about something. Ready for the moment at the conference when, through all the long meetings, a wonderful connection is made, someone who will be a new friend. Ready for laughter, a meal, an invitation.

All of that adventure is hiding. Hiding among the lists, the tasks, the calendars. Hiding in plain sight, waiting to be discovered and unleashed.

We just have to be better about looking for it.

© Melissa Bane Sevier, 2015

Posted by: Melissa Bane Sevier | May 25, 2015

The family of God. Yes, that means you.

This is Trinity Sunday, a topic many preachers avoid, perhaps for good reason.

Trinity is not some ethereal concept made up by theologians to confuse, though it has sometimes become that. The idea of God as three yet one is simply a description of how many experience God: as creator, genesis of all things, ground of being; as forgiveness, reconciler, co-sufferer in the human condition, one of us; as indweller, companion on the journey, one that enables us to live the right way. Maybe it’s true that our innate understanding of God is Trinitarian. The church has long said that our experience of God is Trinitarian.

For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God. For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received a spirit of adoption. When we cry, ‘Abba! Father!’ it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ—if, in fact, we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him. [from Romans 8]

We are all part of a family. That is another thing we all have experienced. Birth family, adoptive family, step family, foster family, institutional family. Family determines so much of who we are, whether we’re talking genes or experience, family of origin or the people we now call family.

But we are also all part of God’s family—children of God, says Paul. Loving, supportive, accepting, encouraging, helping. That sounds easier than it is. Because real life is made up of real people, we usually act like real people. Meaning: imperfect, flawed people.

We gather together, greet each other with good words and handshakes and hugs, hear one another’s joys and worries and pain, pray for each other with thanksgiving and intercession, confess our sins together, experience forgiveness together, enjoy and encourage the children, and we laugh together.

Together. That’s the operative word. If allowed only one word to describe how Trinitarian thought impacts the world of the church today, I would choose “together.” It is relational, expresses equality and friendship, and has a hopeful sense to it. Together, we can be so much more and do so much more than we can alone.

Together. God’s family. All of us.

© Melissa Bane Sevier, 2015

Posted by: Melissa Bane Sevier | May 20, 2015

Your head’s on fire.

I’m about three weeks into the biggest change I’ve made in a very long time. I’ve said goodbye to the job I loved, taken early retirement, and am making my long-time, very part-time writing career into something more. We’ll see how that turns out. (Eep!)

But I will say this: as much as I miss the people I worked with, as much as I loved what I did for the last 23 years, as difficult as it was to say goodbye, I am excited about the future.

Change can be energizing.

Pentecost is all about change. Truly, there is nothing to this story except tremendous change. Change has already happened (Jesus is gone) and change is ongoing. As the writer pens this tale he knows what some of the upheavals are going to be for this group of believers. They’ll struggle with pressures from outside and inside their society. They’ll want to bring in newcomers but will not be happy with some of the changes newcomers bring. They’ll try to be inclusive, but not always successfully. They’ll attempt to carry on the way they think Jesus would want them to, and sometimes they’ll fail at it. They’ll argue about the best way to go on.

Change isn’t always easy.

But change they must. It’s part of life; it’s part of a life of faith. Invited or not, welcomed or not, it comes to all of us.

Change is inevitable.

As individuals or in institutions, we can resist change, ignore change, berate change. We often want to go back to those times when things were comfortable or exciting, important or fun, more free or more structured. But going back in time is impossible. Moving forward is our only choice.

When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. [from Acts 2]

Like that group waiting, praying, hoping, we look to see what’s coming next. The one thing we know is that it won’t be what we expect.

Change is coming.

Let’s meet it with our heads and hearts on fire.

© Melissa Bane Sevier, 2015

Posted by: Melissa Bane Sevier | May 13, 2015

In. Not belonging to.

Horace is walking down the hallway in his home, as he does several times a day when he goes between bedroom and kitchen, and he stops for a moment to look at the wall of family photographs. There are the old, faded sepia pictures taken on the front porch of a rickety home in East Kentucky, right next to the brightly colored modern photos of children playing in the park. Maybe he’s drawn to them on this particular Sunday afternoon because his grandson Will is set to graduate from college next week. He looks at a recent picture of that young man, playing the keyboard in a band, head thrown back in song, or maybe it’s laughter. On the other end of the photo arrangement is an image of Horace’s grandfather Gus (it’s amazing how he and Will resemble each other), about the same age in the picture as Will in his. There isn’t a hint of laughter in Gus’s visage. Horace remembers his grandfather as strict, very religious, a man who didn’t countenance dancing, card playing or alcohol. “Be in the world, not of the world,” he would say when he took the set of Old Maid cards away from the grandchildren on the porch.

And now I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world…
They do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world…
As you have sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world… [all quoted from John 17]

At church this morning, John 17 had been the gospel reading, and it took Horace’s mind back to his grandfather. Gus was strict, but he loved his family and cared about the world, the earth. He’d taught his grandchildren, both boys and girls, to work hard on the farm when they spent long weeks there in the summer. They learned to get in the hay, to drive the tractor, to cut tobacco. It was tiring, but they all loved it. And after supper every evening, Gus would pull out his banjo and play it on the porch that’s in that photo. Never gospel music, it was music that seemed to spring from the farm, the hills, and a soul that was fuller than Horace could imagine back then.

Now Horace thinks about his grandfather and his grandson. Both making their way in the world in their own fashion, in such incredibly different cultures. Both spiritual, but in remarkably different ways and with different expressions of their spirituality. Both loving men, sensing some importance of their place in the world—one on the farm; one starting a career in business. Both playing their souls out in music.

In the world—yes. Gus touched the earth every day of his life and realized the connection between farmer and community. Will connects with hundreds of people daily on the college campus and in his job coop, some of them in person and some electronically, recognizing a worldwide community.

But belonging to the world? Gus thought he knew the answer to this seeming conundrum posed in Jesus’ prayer: stay away from things his culture considered sin. Even so, he reached out to others in his community who were quite different from him, because he instinctively knew that God loved them all. Will’s world is larger, in many ways. It encompasses people of other faiths and no faith, of different lenses for seeing the world. Will is stepping out in faith into a world whose limits he has yet to discover. He takes with him the traditions and experiences of his heritage that will accompany him into the future. He knows there is more to this world than just what his senses tell him. He is surrounded by the witnesses of the past, and they help him feel grounded to the world while his future expands in front of him.

In the world, all these generations have existed. But they’ve also been released from it to imagine the uncommon, the spiritual, the connections we share beyond what we can see.

Horace smiles at the thought, and continued down the hall to make himself a sandwich.

© Melissa Bane Sevier, 2015

Posted by: Melissa Bane Sevier | May 5, 2015


I like how Jesus came to call his disciples “friends.” I doubt if he would have been able to do that when they were first hanging out together. But over time, all relationships change.

‘This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father.” [from John 15]

A few months ago I was eating pizza with some of the church’s youth at a Sunday night service and I asked them what it means to be a friend. I wrote down all the definitions, because they were better than any I would come up with. “A friend is someone who is herself.” “A friend is nice.” “A friend cares about you, listens to your problems, and helps you.” “A friend thinks about you before he thinks about himself.” “A friend cares about other people’s opinions and beliefs, and respects them.”

I notice that all these definitions describe how a person acts, not just how she feels or what she says. The worst kind of friend is the kind who says he cares about you, but whose actions show indifference, or worse.

If this saying of Jesus, which is set on the night of his arrest, is about the church to come, then I think one thing is both obvious and interesting: people in the church ought to be friends. Friends are people who can count on each other, who say positive things about and to one another. The problem is, of course, that not all churches are places where friends are in abundance.

I know a woman who’s been super involved in churches for over 20 years. Recently she started attending Alcoholics Anonymous meetings. There, she says, she discovered the “church” she’d always been seeking. Her AA friends listen without judgment and, when she’s under stress, they simply call to check on her.

This may not be easy. Love can get tired. Our ability to love everyone is limited. None of us does it perfectly.

But God has a store of love from which we can draw when we have exhausted our own resources. And so we just keep trying.

We’ve been friended already. Now we just have to friend others.

© Melissa Bane Sevier, 2015

Posted by: Melissa Bane Sevier | April 30, 2015

The beloved community

Beloved, since God loved us so much, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God lives in us, and God’s love is perfected in us. [from I John 4]

I was interested to see this text from I John as one of the lectionary readings for the week. For this particular week. Because this week I’m saying my goodbyes to the worshiping community I’ve been a part of for ten and a half years.

I knew it would be difficult, and in my usual, analytical fashion I’m trying to wrap my head around why it’s so difficult.

It’s not because this church (or their pastor) is perfect.  “Perfected” doesn’t mean that we become perfect—I wish!—but that we’re getting better, maybe a teensy weensy bit closer to perfection, when we love each other.

Some are lucky enough to belong to a community that demonstrates something approaching the love of God. Of course, there are communities that need a lot of work, a lot of help, a lot of love. Those that rise above the ordinary are the ones that are generous, open, inclusive, honest and wise. They care for each other, even for those among them who aren’t easy. They care for those outside their boundaries, because their welcome is large and gracious. They figure out how to change without losing the essentials of their character. They consciously work to make community happen, because goodness and love aren’t just accidental benefits; those qualities are the result of intentional maturation.

Today is my last day in the employ of this community. As I hand off my keys and walk out the door, I’m leaving with amazing memories and as a changed person. A decade with a loving congregation alters the pastor in more ways than you might imagine. “No one has ever seen God,” says our writer. Maybe not. But we do see God in the people around us who make our lives hopeful or peaceful, who are the face of God to us, who are the love of God for us, who are the presence of God with us.

If we love one another, God lives in us.

© Melissa Bane Sevier, 2015

Posted by: Melissa Bane Sevier | March 18, 2015

Do we ever find what we’re looking for?

Lent is an interesting season. While we work through the scripture stories we are given, we find ourselves looking for something, hoping to find an answer to…what? Our own questions? The problems of modern existence? Everything?

Now among those who went up to worship at the festival were some Greeks. They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and said to him, ‘Sir, we wish to see Jesus.’ Philip went and told Andrew; then Andrew and Philip went and told Jesus. Jesus answered them, ‘The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there will my servant be also. Whoever serves me, the Father will honor. [from John 12]

A few Greeks (Gentiles) who were heading to Passover were looking for Jesus. Did they find what they were seeking?

It’s hard to say.

First of all, we don’t know what it is they hoped to find. I’ll bet they didn’t exactly know either. Maybe they were just curious about stories they’d heard. Maybe these God-fearing Gentiles were gathering all the learning they could from every promising rabbi. Maybe they had a spiritual longing that had yet to be filled.

The message from Jesus was likely not what they expected. He spoke of glory and cross.

We don’t know what happened to those seekers. I’d like to believe they went away with something new to think about. Glory and cross. Glory was easy to hear—who wouldn’t be attracted to that?

But the cross? Suffering isn’t an attractive concept, but it’s certainly a real one. And it’s a common theme in many lectionary texts during Lent. No human life exists without it. While it is certainly not the pathway to glory and is also not something to be sought, it just is. Suffering doesn’t prevent glory, but maybe it helps us to appreciate glory when we see it. As horrible as it is when we or someone we care about suffers, that very trouble highlights anything beautiful that comes along. Precious conversations and memories, taking nothing for granted, calm in the middle of the storm.

This winter has been a hard one in my neck of the woods. Record cold. Record snows. Perhaps even record whining on Facebook. But the bitterness of the winter (and especially an incredibly cold and snowy first week of March) has made recent spring-like days seem even more glorious. This weekend at my house we’ll be cleaning the asparagus bed of all last year’s dead stalks and dressing it with mulch. From bitterness comes hope that glory will spring up soon.

Did the ones who sought Jesus find what they were looking for? Hard to say. Maybe what they heard was that bitterness and hope walk together on the road to the cross.

© Melissa Bane Sevier, 2015

Posted by: Melissa Bane Sevier | March 12, 2015

Snakes on a plain

When I was a new third grade teacher I kept a file box of “emergency ideas.” An emergency, in this case, was an extra five or ten minutes to fill after the math lesson was completed, say, and before the class was scheduled to go to the library. Any teacher knows that five minutes of unstructured time in a third grade classroom is deadly. My “emergency ideas” included things like an oral math game that could be shortened or extended as necessary, the title of a picture book that could be read to the class in just a few minutes, a writing prompt. When I was discussing this with one of my fellow teachers she said, “Ask them if they’ve ever seen a snake. Every third grader has a snake story.” I doubted her, but she was right. Ask any third grade class if anyone has seen a snake, and every hand will shoot up into the air—even the hand of the kid who never participates in any class discussion.
The people of Israel have a fabulous, though quite odd, snake story.

From Mount Hor they set out by the way to the Red Sea, to go around the land of Edom; but the people became impatient on the way. The people spoke against God and against Moses, “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? For there is no food and no water, and we detest this miserable food.” Then the LORD sent poisonous serpents among the people, and they bit the people, so that many Israelites died. The people came to Moses and said, “We have sinned by speaking against the LORD and against you; pray to the LORD to take away the serpents from us.” So Moses prayed for the people. And the LORD said to Moses, “Make a poisonous serpent, and set it on a pole; and everyone who is bitten shall look at it and live.” So Moses made a serpent of bronze, and put it upon a pole; and whenever a serpent bit someone, that person would look at the serpent of bronze and live.  [From Numbers 21]

This snake story sounds more like magic than like faith, like something done by a shaman instead of by the monotheist who received the Law.
The people have been released from slavery—woohoo! They are on their way to the promised land, but they learn what all of us do: wherever we go, there we are. We don’t leave the bad parts of our selves behind. So, they start complaining about the food. They get impatient. And hateful. And snarky.

God sends a plague of snakes. Poisonous snakes. That gets their attention. When they cry out for help, the plague of snakes isn’t removed, but they are told to look at the bronze serpent and they will be healed of the poison.
It’s a terribly odd story, but it does capture the imagination. It captured Jesus’ imagination, and he used the bronze snake as a symbol of himself lifted up on the cross.

Just what is this wild story about?

Snakes, in ancient cultures, were nearly always the symbol of evil. Think Genesis. So when snakes overrun the camp, we might imagine it as symbolic of the evil that had entered into the camp already. What plays out in this story is the tangible metaphor—snakes—of the poisonous thoughts and attitudes of the people.

For although they thought they could get along without God out there, they’d already forgotten what God had done for them.

We may try to put evil behind us. We move to a quiet town in Kentucky, put our kids in safe schools, drive past horse farms on the way to work. But we cannot escape conflict, disorder, illness and death because they live wherever we are.

Snakes are a reminder that there are things we should be afraid of—our own behavior, for example—but we blithely ignore them. God’s punishment to the people in the desert was to show them what it’s really like to be confronted with our selves, with the evil within and the evil without. Most of the time those things are in check, but here’s what it’s like when they’re not: it’s like a plague of snakes.

Snakes suggest to the Israelites that there is still an unpredictability to life; that survival hangs in the balance between life and death; that God is the source of our help and strength.

God so loved the world.

We cannot on our own banish the snakes of our own bad behavior, the serpents of evil around us, the poison of our own words, shortcomings, failings. We lift our hearts to see the love of God who does for us what we cannot accomplish for ourselves.

© Melissa Bane Sevier, 2015

Posted by: Melissa Bane Sevier | February 26, 2015

Bearing the cross of compassion

Mark 8:31-38 Then he began to teach them that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. He said all this quite openly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. But turning and looking at his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.” 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?

Maybe this is the very hardest of Jesus’ teachings. Not because it is difficult to understand what he’s saying, but because it’s impossible to understand why he’s saying it.

“Taking up the cross” means taking on suffering. But why? Who on earth would want to do that?

Well, certainly not Peter. He surely doesn’t want Jesus to do it. “Come on, Lord. You’re upsetting the crowds. Nobody wants to join up with a rabbi who’s going to suffer and die. They want peace. They are looking for happiness, security. They are looking for God, for heaven’s sake. Not suffering. And certainly not death.”

Jesus tells Peter to stop it. Not only is he saying something theologically wrong, it is Satanic—tempting. Because nobody, not even Jesus, wants to suffer. It’s against every ounce of self-preservation we have.

And so Jesus calls together the whole crowd and here’s what he says: if you want to follow me, you have to suffer.

WHATTTT???? Seriously? He did not say that.

I think I’m on Peter’s side with this one. Sorry, Jesus, but nobody, nobody, wants suffering to be part of the spirituality package.

But, here’s the thing: suffering just, well, it just is. We can’t avoid it. It comes to all of us, in different forms. It is simply part of life, so don’t go around preaching some weak gospel that says we can—by our faith—get rid of it. That’s not divine. It’s a Satanic gospel. Because it sounds like good news, but it isn’t.

Suffering just is. If we try to deny its existence for us or to someone else, if we say “it’s not that bad,” or “you’ll get over it soon,” or “just have faith,” we are not honoring the depth of painful experience, we’re not paying attention to our own inner selves but are covering up something very important. We are closing ourselves off to God, rather than allowing ourselves and others to cry out to God from the depth of experience.

If we think we are beyond the fear of death, then what do we have to share with God’s world? We will have tried to save our lives, but will have lost our souls in the process. Only a soulless religion thinks nothing bad will happen. A soulful religion has arms big enough to encompass suffering.

Our lives are significant. They are significant not because we have succeeded in avoiding suffering, or have told ourselves that pain doesn’t matter.

Our lives are significant partly because suffering matters so very much.

Jesus believed it matters. He stands with the suffering in the most significant of ways. Not to make them feel better. To make them not feel alone.

And we stand with each other. We are better at this once our own hearts have been broken. Not that we have the answer after that, but we tread a little differently afterwards. We see a little differently. Our own hurt, if we let it, eventually can allow us to open our hearts to the hurts of others.

So, yes, the crosses that we bear weigh us down. But Jesus invites us to follow him in his cross-bearing. Toward the future. Away from denial. Into the path where cross-bearing is acknowledged, maybe even welcomed, and the pain is lessened by all the company we have around us.

We raise our questions and our pain to God, where they hang in the air. God holds them gently, and weeps. As hard as it is to look at suffering, God refuses to turn away.

This is the true gospel.

© Melissa Bane Sevier, 2015

Older Posts »


Ricky Tims Creative

Cultivating Creativity Together

Georgetown Pediatrics

Caring for your children.

My Journey as a Newcomer in Canada

New country, new life, new discoveries - A peek into the mind of a Canadian immigrant


Just another site is the best place for your personal blog or business site.


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 46 other followers