Faithful Friends,

            With each new year, we tend to look ahead with hope that we can leave behind things we deem mistakes or failure or that did not serve us well in the previous year and get a fresh start to do things differently.  We put pressure on ourselves to do and be better—to lose weight, exercise more, pay down debt, spend more time doing things we enjoy or with loved ones, and the list of “if only I was…I’d be happy” goes on and on.

            When we cannot accept ourselves as we are, I cannot help but wonder if we are somehow also judging God.  If the God who began a work in us will be faithful to complete it, then are we judging God’s handiwork when we deem ourselves as anything less than worthy?  We state we believe in a God who loves others exactly as they are, so why do we believe we are somehow the exception to that rule?

            As you’ve heard me share before, Don Miguel Ruiz writes in his book, The Voice of Knowledge, that the great “sin” of the Garden of Eden was not eating fruit from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, but it was accepting and swallowing the lie that we are separated from God and each other.  When we swallow that lie, it sprouts an entire belief system in us that we then base our lives upon and, what’s worse, we then share that lie with others.

            I appreciate Anne Lamott’s post that went viral in 2013 (see below) in which she speaks with her usual humor about the conditions that plague us all and the spiritual solutions of gentleness and self-compassion we can bring to ourselves.  It takes someone willing to state truth to us to break our cycles. 

            Unfortunately, the truth of God can be hard to find these days as many have either abandoned scripture or so twisted it that it is beyond recognizable as a comfort and guide for finding meaning, transformation, and hope.

            We who seek justice often do not want to be seen as “those” kinds of Christians, so we avoid associating ourselves with scripture.  Or we fear reading in scripture the very judgment that began being sold to us by the rise of fundamentalism in recent decades.  But when we leave the interpretation of scripture to those who warp its meaning out of fear, ignorance, and the need to control and judge, allowing them to frame scripture for our society…

            We.  Are. Complicit.

            I’ve been surprised at the number of congregants in the UCC who still believe in the concept of Original Sin—the idea that we were born into sin because Adam and Eve sinned in the Garden and are therefore inherently sinful and worthy of suffering.  This is not how we understand scripture, at all, but it has been handed down to us through a culture informed only by the fundamentalist and literal interpretation of scripture.

            There is another way!  That is why I am calling us to reclaim scripture, to improve our Biblical literacy, to repent of our Biblical ignorance and heal the fears that keep us from scripture.  The better we understand what the Bible really does, and does NOT, have to say about us and others, the more solidly we can stand up to offer an alternative Christian voice and debunk the myths that hold so many away from a loving God.

            We will be reading and studying Marcus Borg’s book, Reading the Bible Again for the First Time.  It does a beautiful job of helping folks better understand a historical-critical interpretation of scripture rather than the relatively new method of literalistic interpretation. 

            I’ll be recommending folks get a good study Bible, like the New Interpreters Study Bible in the NRSV (New Revised Standard Version) with good notes and references

            I’m asking folks to read the Lectionary passages for each week, which are the scriptures I usually preach from and our sister churches around the world often use to help us get through much of the Bible in 3-year cycle.  We’re in Year C right now and in the season of Epiphany.

            If we resolve to do anything, may it be to heal the negative messages we have picked up from society, our backgrounds, and from the misinterpretations of scripture handed down to us in recent generations.  May it be to find more grace, more humor, more light and love and hope and goodness in ourselves and the world around us that is already there once we peel back the layers of yuck piled upon us day in and day out.

            Let us begin by finding a new relationship with God informed by a knowledgeable study of scripture that is a far different book than we have been led to believe.

            It is time, my friends, and we are worthy of taking our book back.  There’s a world out there that needs us to know and be able to articulate a far different narrative than the one being spoon fed to them through ignorant memes, half-truths, and judgment-laden cliches that only further-enslave rather than liberate.

            By the grace of God, may we find that new way and new message to help create a new world.  Amen.

Pastor Carla

Anne Lamott

“About that diet you’re about to fail…”

We need to talk.

I know you are planning to start a diet on Thursday, January 1st, I used to start diets, too. I hated to mention this to my then-therapist. She would say cheerfully, ” Oh, that’s great, honey. How much weight are you hoping to gain?”

I got rid of her sorry ass. No one talks to ME that way.

Well, okay, maybe it was ten years later, after she had helped lead me back home, to myself, to radical self-care, to friendship with my own heart, to a glade that had always existed deep inside me, to mostly healthy eating, but that I’d avoided all those years by achieving, dieting, binging, people-pleasing, and so on

Now when I decide to go on a diet, I say it to myself: “Great, honey. How much weight are you hoping to gain?” Here is what’s true: diets make you fat. 95% of the time, we gain it back, plus 5 lbs.

I may have mentioned several hundred times that I have had the tiniest, tiniest struggle with food and body image for the last–well, life time. Hardly worth mentioning. It is a long story, having to do with childhood injuries to my sense of self, terrible anxiety, and the inability of my parents to nurture my soul: so starving and chastising myself cannot possibly heal this. I hate to say it, but only profound self-love will work, union with that scared breath-holding self, and not a diet that forbids apples, or avocado. Horribly, but as usual, only kindness and grace–spiritual WD-40–can save us.

Can you put the scale away for a week? Okay, then how about 4 days? I have been addicted to the scale, too, which is like needing Dick Cheney to weigh in every morning on my value as a human being. Can you put away your tight pants? Wear forgiving pants. The world is too hard as it is, without letting your pants have an opinion on how you are doing. I struggle with enough esteem issues without letting my jeans get in on the act, with random thoughts about my butt.

By the same token, it feels great to be healthy. Some of you need to be under a doctor’s care. None of you need to join Jenny Craig. It won’t work. You will lose tons of weight quickly, and gain it all back, plus five. Some of you need to get outside and walk for half an hour a day. I do love walking, so that is not a problem for me, but I have a serious problem with sugar: if I start eating it, I sometimes can’t stop. I don’t have an off switch, any more than I do with alcohol. Given a choice, I will eat Raisinets until the cows come home–and then those cows will be tense, and bitter, because I will have gotten lipstick on the straps of their feed bags.

But you crave what you eat, so if I go for 3 or 4 days with very little sugar, the craving is gone. That is not dieting. If you are allergic to peanuts, don’t eat peanuts. Have an apple! Have some avocado.

It’s really okay, though, to have (or pray for) an awakening around your body. It’s okay to stop hitting the snooze button, and to pay attention to what makes you feel great about yourself, one meal at a time. Unfortunately, it’s yet another inside job. If you are not okay with yourself at 185, you will not be okay at 150, or even 135. The self-respect and peace of mind you long for is not out there. It’s within. I hate that. I resent that more than I can say. But it’s true.

Maybe some of us can try to eat a bit less, and walk a bit more, and make sure to wear pants that do not hurt our thighs or our feelings. Drinking more water is the solution to all problems. Doing a three minute meditation every day will change your life. And naps are nice.

I’ll leave you with this: I’ve helped some of the sturdier women at my church get healthy, by suggesting they prepare each meal as if they had asked our beloved pastor to lunch or dinner. They wouldn’t say, “Here Pastor–let’s eat standing up in the kitchen. This tube of barbecue Pringles is all for you. i have my own.” And then stand there gobbling from their own tubular container. No, they’d get out pretty dishes, and arrange wonderful foods on the plates, and set one plate before Veronica at the table, a plate filled with love, pride and connection. That’s what we have longed for, our whole lives, and get to create, now, or on the 1st. Wow!

Join me in not staring a diet January 1st. And God bless you all real good, as my pastor always says.