My Brother’s Keeper

26 November, 2014 Posted by liascholl

Based on Genesis 4

You’ve probably heard this story before.

An old grandfather said to his grandson, who came to him with anger at a friend who had done him an injustice, “Let me tell you a story…”

“I, too, at times have felt a great hate for those that have taken so much, with no sorrow for what they do…It is as if there are two wolves inside me. One is good and does no harm. He lives in harmony with all around him, and does not take offense when no offense was intended. He will only fight when it is right to do so, and in the right way.

But the other wold, ah! He is full of anger. The littlest thing will set him into a fit of temper. He fights everyone, all the time, for no reason. He cannot think because his anger and hate are so grewat. It is helpless anger, for his anger will change nothing.

The grandfather continues, “Sometimes, it is hard to live with these two wolves inside me, for both of them try to dominate my spirit.”

The boy looked intently into his grandfather’s eyes and asked, “Which one wins, Grandfather?”

The grandfather smiled and and quietly said, “The one I feed.”

They had a crazy childhood. Just after Adam and Eve got kicked out of Paradise, they had two sons, Cain and Abel. Cain grew up to be a hunter. Abel grew up to be a gatherer. They were as different as daylight and dark.

But surely you understand their differences. Cain was the first born, born just after Adam and Eve were kicked out of Paradise. Adam and Eve must have been traumatized. Trying to find a place to live that was safe for animals. Trying to understand how to hunt, and how to gather. Trying to figure out how to build some sort of place to live.

And surely, while Eve was pregnant with Cain she worried. Cain was the first child ever born. She and Adam must have had no idea how pregnancy worked. Not to mention the fact that she had just been cursed with pain in childbearing. Do you know that stress pre-natal stress hormones affect our whole lives? You know that current trauma studies believe that what happens in the womb creates our beliefs about the world.

Abel, on the other hand, was conceived when his parents were working hard on the land. They were used to life out of the Garden. Perhaps he was more settled than Cain was. Calmer.

What does trauma do to the brain? Many of you know this… but here is a layperson’s understanding:

The traumatized brain responds to stress moments in one of three ways: fight, flight, or freeze. When triggered, either by external or internal stress, a part of your brain gets activated that sends out messages to your entire body. Your heart rate increases, your knees become weak, you begin to sweat. I know you’ve felt this way—think about the last time you were pulled over by a police officer for speeding.

And when you feel that way, you do one of three things. Fight, flee, or just stop. And note that I said internal or external stress. Cain’s stress was internal—a feeling of now being good enough, again. It set him off and he fought. Viciously. Until he killed Abel.

Let’s look at the text again:

Now the man knew his wife Eve, and she conceived and bore Cain, saying, “I have produced a man with the help of the Lord.” Next she bore his brother Abel. Now Abel was a keeper of sheep, and Cain a tiller of the ground. In the course of time Cain brought to the Lord an offering of the fruit of the ground, and Abel for his part brought of the firstlings of his flock, their fat portions. And the Lord had regard for Abel and his offering, but for Cain and his offering he had no regard. So Cain was very angry, and his countenance fell. The Lord said to Cain, “Why are you angry, and why has your countenance fallen? If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin is lurking at the door; its desire is for you, but you must master it.”

Why do you think the writers would have said that God was unhappy with Cain’s offering? I believe it’s because they needed to understand, just like we do, someone’s bad behavior. We tend, all the time, to come up with a reason that someone behaves badly. In the Ancient Near East, the reason could be that God was displeased. In our times, it’s because the person has stress triggers that made his brain behave badly.

And perhaps Cain believed that God did not love him as much as God loved Abel. Perhaps Cain believed that he had never measured up. Perhaps Cain always felt like the bar was just a little bit away, just out of reach, and he never reached it. Perhaps felt like Abel easily surpassed people’s expectations, but he always fell short.

But let’s look at God’s response after Abel’s death:
T

hen the Lord said to Cain, “Where is your brother Abel?” He said, “I do not know; am I my brother’s keeper?”
“Am I my brother’s keeper?” Cain asks. And God’s response, in so many ways, is YES! You are your brother’s keeper. Pastor Charles Ewing, uncle to the slain Michael Brown asked this question, too. Am I my brother’s keeper? And the response is still a resounding YES! We are our brothers’ keepers. And we are our sisters’ keepers. And it is our responsibility to… hmmm. Well, it’s our responsibility to follow God’s admonition to Cain, “And if you do not do well, sin is lurking at the door; its desire is for you, but you must master it.”

Now I know that talking about sin is not one of our favorite things. But let me give you a definition for sin in this context. Sin is bad behavior toward another person. And if we do not tend to the violence of our own souls, we will act out that violence as sin. But we have the ability to master the sin.

And our own violence is created by trauma.

Many of you know that I worked in a transitional home for women exiting prison. Their charges ranged from petty theft to embezzlement, to armed robbery and drug charges. I would say that 99% of them had faced violence in their lives, if not prior to being incarcerated, certainly after.

So we had a program full of shell-shocked women. Loud noises could set people off. Heck, a clap could set people off. Not to mention someone yelling at them. Or someone requiring them to do something that they didn’t want to do. Or asking a difficult question. Or just feeling like someone wasn’t listening to them. Anything could set them off. Sometimes it made no sense.
Short of padding the room, it was necessary to give the women (and ourselves) some life skills in not getting hooked into their past by something that was happening today.

And the reality is, we live in a society where everyone needs these life skills. We live in a time that is anxious. I believe it’s because we’re in a hinge moment where the world is making a substantial shift, and we’re in the middle of it. We’re learning that capitalism and democracy don’t make everything perfect. We’re losing a sense of privacy as our nation is become more militarized. There are more and more things that we don’t know about what’s happening in the world, all the while we’re inundated with violence on our TVs, computers and gadgets.

This is where the ancients have it right, and didn’t even know it. There’s a way to return your body to even at any given moment. There are ways to relieve your stress response.

Breathe. When your amygdala goes crazy with a fight, flight or freeze response, there’s one way to tell your body that everything is okay. You breathe. Take a deep breath with me now. Remember to make it a belly breath.

But breathing doesn’t come naturally. We have to practice it. And whether you practice it through meditation, prayer, or yoga, you have to learn to breathe. And in moments when you feel your hackles coming up, you remind yourself, BREATHE.

Second, we have to practice sitting in discomfort. I’m reading Barbara Brown Taylor’s Learning to Walk in the Dark right now, and she talks in there about “Entering the Stone,” or going into unexplored caves. This is what she writes about being in a tight cave space: “Learn to watch your thoughts…Notice how your mind leaps from thought to thought, creating emotions as it goes. Pay attention to which thoughts give rise to which feelings, and what causes them to recede again.” I like to call this “only noticing.” Not acting, just watching.

Let’s go back to our text:

And the Lord said, “What have you done? Listen; your brother’s blood is crying out to me from the ground! And now you are cursed from the ground, which has opened its mouth to receive your brother’s blood from your hand. When you till the ground, it will no longer yield to you its strength; you will be a fugitive and a wanderer on the earth.” Cain said to the Lord, “My punishment is greater than I can bear! Today you have driven me away from the soil, and I shall be hidden from your face; I shall be a fugitive and a wanderer on the earth, and anyone who meets me may kill me.” Then the Lord said to him, “Not so! Whoever kills Cain will suffer a sevenfold vengeance.” And the Lord put a mark on Cain, so that no one who came upon him would kill him. Then Cain went away from the presence of the Lord, and settled in the land of Nod, east of Eden.

Was Cain unloved? This, too, is where the writers of the Bible seem to miss the mark. Was Cain unloved? Absolutely not. We know from our perspective of God as a loving God that Cain was loved. Did Cain face the natural consequences of his actions?Absolutely. Exile, broken relationships, exclusion. Yes, they are natural consequences of his actions. But did God stop loving Cain? Absolutely not, as it’s proved by God’s protection of Cain’s life. Cain went on to have a wife, children, build a city.

We know that God didn’t abandon Cain. We know that God didn’t stop loving Cain. And we know that God forgave Cain. We know because of Matthew 18:21-22 says:

Then Peter came and said to him, “Lord, if my brother sins against me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times?” Jesus said to him, “Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven times.

And you heard me right. The Greek says “my brother” which, of course, would be inclusive of sisters, too. Not church member, like it says in the New Revised Standard Version, although it has a broader scope, too. If my brother or sister or friend or neighbor, or fellow church member, or mother or father, or anyone else sins against me, how often should I forgive? And, by the way, the Greek also says seven times seventy times. Not seventy seven times. But 490 times.

Barbara Brown Taylor says, “Every human interaction offers you the chance to make things better or to make things worse.” Forgiveness is how you make things better. Kindness is how you make things better. Respect is how you make things better. Humor is how you make things better. Love is how you make things better.

And, frankly, love is hard to do. Because our brains have survived trauma, too. Our bodies go into a fight, flight or freeze response, too. We put up our dukes, say “feet don’t fail me now,” or we stop, drop and roll. And it’s exhausting.
Now you know there’s a different way. Let’s feed the right wolf together.

Let’s pray:

Loving God, there are two wolves scratching at our hearts. We are at once Cain and Abel. Help us to feed the right wolf. Teach us to love. To forgive. To be kind. And to laugh about our foibles and other’s foibles, too. Most importantly, let us remember how much you love us. You love us deeply, perfectly, and wholly. Thank you. Amen.

A Pep Talk

23 July, 2014 Posted by liascholl

A sermon based on Colossians 3:12-17

As I mentioned, I was recently in Bali, Indonesia for six months. While I was there, I learned to surf. Everyone who has known me for more than two weeks has exclaimed, “What? You?” These are comments I heard when I told people I was going to learn.

Better be careful. You know how clumsy you are.

Is your insurance paid up?

Be careful of the sand, waves, water, and salt. 

OMG. You’re going to die!

Because it’s true. I’m clumsy. And in the past, when I’ve done things that were pretty risky (jumping off cliffs, snorkeling, and stuff like that) I’ve ended up hurting myself. I gashed my ankle getting in the boat snorkeling in Belize. I hit the bottom of a very deep river jumping off cliffs in Arkansas. I tore up both my knees diving off of different cliffs in Tennessee. Really, ya’ll. I fell while I was in Bali, not trekking in the woods, not doing anything at all dangerous… I fell walking down stairs in a tile pavilion at the Botanical Gardens.

And the antidote for being clumsy? It’s “Don’t do risky things.” I tried that. But not doing risky things means having a boring life. It means not going to Indonesia. It means not learning to surf. It means not welcoming new people into my life. Because loving people in life involves risk.

How many of you know Kid President? Kid President is a young African American named Robby who has osteogenesis imperfecta, which has resulted in over 70 bone breaks. Robby says brilliant things. If you haven’t looked him up, please, go home today and google Kid President, and watch his pep talk video. 

In one Pep Talk, Kid President says:

A poem: “Two road diverged in the woods…” “… and I took the road less traveled.” “AND IT HURT, MAN!” Really bad. ROCKS! THORNS! And GLASS! … NOT COOL ROBERT FROST. But what if there really were two paths? I want the one that leads to awesome.”

Rocks, thorns, glass! It’s promised. 

The recipients of our letter this morning, the Colossians and the Laodocians understood rocks, thorns and glass. Colossians was written by Paul or another follower of Jesus somewhere between in 60 CE and 80 CE. This 20 year era was full of rocks, thorns and glass. 

The government of Rome gave the illusion that they let the people worship and live how they wanted to live and worship. The reality was that you could do what you wanted, as long as Rome didn’t get upset with you. And they got upset with you if you didn’t worship the emperor. 

Christians and Jews wouldn’t worship the Emperor. In about 64 CE, Christians in Rome were accused of starting a horrific fire, which was probably set by Nero, and Nero murdered Christians brutally, just to prove that he could.

And in 70 CE, the Destruction of the Temple is coming. So the Christians are constantly being confronted with violence.

But it isn’t just state sanctioned violence. Remember that medical services weren’t available, and that children probably die at a high rate, and people just don’t live as long. The life expectancy in the Roman Empire went something like this: If you lived to be 10 years old, you’d probably make it to 45 or 47. But the actual life expectancy of this time was between 20 and 30.

These folks dealt with the same stresses we deal with. And on top of that, they had among them false teachers. Can you imagine what the false teachers might have said? They might have said, “These things are happening because of gay marriage.” They might have said, “That volcano erupted because you are all sinners.” Or they might have said, “Your children die because you don’t have enough faith.”

So Paul (or whoever) writes them a letter to refute those false teachers. It’s sort of a pep talk to the churches.

He writes:

As God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. Bear with one another and, if anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other; just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in the one body. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly; teach and admonish one another in all wisdom; and with gratitude in your hearts sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.

It’s Paul’s pep talk. My paraphrase would sound like this:

“Life is short. Be kind. Forgive each other. Love each other. Be people of peace. Give thanks to God for everything.” Or, as Kid President so eloquently put it, “You were made to be awesome.”

Let’s break it down:

Clothe yourself with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness and patience.

Carlos Santana said, “The most valuable possession you can own is an open heart. The most powerful weapon you can be is an instrument of peace.”

Paul goes on to say: Bear with one another and, if anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other. I was talking with someone this week about forgiveness, and he said, “Why should I forgive? She hasn’t apologized.” 

Miroslav Volf wrote:

Forgiveness flounders because I exclude the enemy from the community of humans even as I exclude myself from the community of sinners. But no one can be in the presence of the God of the crucified Messiah for long without overcoming this double exclusion — without transposing the enemy from the sphere of the monstrous… into the sphere of shared humanity and herself from the sphere of proud innocence into the sphere of common sinfulness. When one knows [as the cross demonstrates] that the torturer will not eternally triumph over the victim, one is free to rediscover that person’s humanity and imitate God’s love for him.

Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in the one body. 

You know, Psalm 51 says, “Create in me a clean heart.” But I always wonder why we don’t ask for a new heart, one that hasn’t been broken. Clothing ourselves with love is tough. Because it’s hard to love when we know it’s going to hurt. 

Like the band Nazareth sang, “Some fools think of happiness, Blissfulness, togetherness, Some fools fool themselves I guess. They’re not foolin’ me.”

And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in the one body. 

I just finished reading a book called Think Like a Freak, written by the two fellows who wrote Freakonomics… They did an experiment—

They asked people to let them (the writers) make decisions for them, small or large, by flipping a coin. People allowed them to do it, and they found that the decisions (whether yes or no) did not significantly change how happy the deciders were.

 
Finally, the writer admonishes us to give thanks. Maya Angelou said “Let gratitude be the pillow upon which you kneel to say your nightly prayer.” Give thanks for it all. Because at the root of all our sorrows, at the root of all our pain, is good stuff. 

Rocks, thorns, land glass, yes. But also, strength, love, peace. 

In case you’re wondering, even though I laid awake all night worrying about the sand, waves, water, and salt, and the healthcare in Bali, and sharks, stingrays, shrimp, and anything else I could worry about. I did surf. The sand, waves, water and salt were fine. And so were all the other things I was worried about. And you know what? It was hard! But there were a few moments of pure amazement. A couple of minutes (in the hours that I surfed) of pure heaven, of catching a wave and riding it, and standing up and feeling like I was the ruler of the world.

Risk it. You can’t go wrong.

Kid President follows the Robert Frost quote with this: 

What will you create to make the world awesome? Nothing if you keep sitting there. That’s why I’m talking to you today. This is your time. This is my time. It’s our time, if we can make everyday better for each other, if we’re all in the same team lets start acting like it. We got work to do. We can cry about it or dance about it. We were made to be awesome. Lets get out there. I don’t know everything, I’m just a kid. But I know this, its everybody’s duty to give the world a reason to dance. So get to it. You’ve just been pep talked. Create something that will make the world awesome.

You’ve all been pep talked.

Palm Sunday Expectation: a sermon

13 April, 2014 Posted by liascholl

A sermon based on Luke 22.

Carly Simon sings a song about anticipation. The song starts like this:

We can never know about the days to come
But we think about them anyway
And I wonder if I’m really with you now
Or just chasing after some finer day.

and it ends like this:

And tomorrow we might not be together
I’m no prophet, I don’t know natures way
So I’ll try to see into your eyes right now
And stay right here, ’cause these are the good old days.

This is where we find our disciples today. Chasing after some finer day. Heading into Jerusalem with Jesus, their Rabbi and teacher, a prophet and king. They’re chasing after the idea that he is about to ascend to the throne of Israel. They welcome the pageantry. They see the donkey as a sign. They hear his words of warning about the future, and they think he’s talking about the future of his reign as king of Israel. They talk about being seated at his right hand, and they think they’re talking about in the palace in Jerusalem. 

Expectation makes us blind. In fact, it makes us deaf and dumb, too.

What the disciples were experiencing was hope. And Hope has an angry sister, Fear. Hope and Fear are two sides of the same coin. It’s a coin that will be spent in the future. It’s all about what is coming, the future, not in the moment.

Pema Chödrön writes:

Hope and fear come from feeling that we lack something; they come from a sense of poverty. We can’t simply relax with ourselves. We hold on to hope, and hope robs us of the present moment. We feel that someone else knows what is going on, but that there is something missing in us, and therefore something is lacking in our world.

It makes us blind to all the good stuff around us. It makes us think about what’s coming instead of enjoying what’s right in front of us. It makes us think that the time we’re in is not important, but is, instead, just a warm up, just preparation.

But let me tell you something folks… this is not a warm up. This is not preparation. This is your life. Whatever is coming around the bend (and let me assure you that it will not be what you expect) is not your real life. Your real life is right now.

I mean, look at the disciples! They have the love of their lives with them. They have a friend, teacher, buddy, guide, and example walking with them day in and day out. And yet, they’re not thinking about that. They’re thinking about what’s next…

The last line of Carly Simon’s song is “And stay right here, ’cause these are the good old days.”

Little did the disciples know that these were the good old days. They were too busy looking to the future with hope to see all the love, care, and tenderness that was present in their present.

What’s next for this congregation is a lot about hope and fear here. I have heard it many times here, it’s a common refrain, “When we get our new pastor.” And it’s followed with whatever hope or fear each of you feel. It’s as if you’re waiting to be a church until the pastor gets here.

But here’s the thing… You’re already a church. You’re already a body of people worshiping God. Pastor or no pastor, you’re already the church. And you’re already having the successes and failures that mark you as a congregation.

So abandon hope. Quit looking for the next pastor to be the king. Quit looking for the next big thing that’s going to make you an amazing church. Quit looking to the future, and look to the present. Because you are already an amazing church… I see it in the love you share with one another. I see it in the love you share with your families. I see it in the love you share with the folks in the prisons. I see it in the love each of you take into your professions. So many of you take this love into classrooms and factories and restaurants and spas. You are church, and you are, right now, sharing Jesus love.

When we look at the present we see two things. First, that God is present, right here and right now. Second, that we are present—look around you. There are people who love you sitting next to you, and sitting two rows down, and sitting across the aisle from you. We’re all here…

But we also see that the present in the present. It’s a present. A gift. This moment, right here, this second, and the one that follows it: it’s a gift. It’s a gift to be able to love one another right now. It’s a gift to be able to hug one another, to tell each other our burdens, to be with one another in this moment.

Lent Day 29

7 April, 2014 Posted by liascholl

Lent Day 29. #LentenDeepThoughts

Lent Day 28

7 April, 2014 Posted by liascholl

Lent Day 28. #LentenDeepThoughts

Lent Day 27

7 April, 2014 Posted by liascholl

Lent Day 27. #LentenDeepThoughts

Lent Day 26

7 April, 2014 Posted by liascholl

Lent Day 26. #LentenDeepThoughts

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