Monday, April 6, 2015

Sacred and Profane in Holy Week

sacred space
shared with strangers
stumblers on the setting
in the cavernous sanctuary

hushed whispers of anticipation
the moment
building
growing
moving

the music of humanity
accompanied by piano
and the snore of the man behind me
What is sacred?
What is beautiful?

He comes off the street
and has a place to sleep
as the voices of angels fill the room.

Lullabye
Sleep
Child of God.

A couple weeks ago I was in Chicago to attend the Progressive Youth Ministry Conference at Fourth Presbyterian Church. One of the mornings there I walked into the beautiful old sanctuary to sit and listen to the Orpheus Choir from Olivet Nazarene University. This choir had some fantastic singers, with really high class musicianship. Their voices lifting to the ceiling of that old cathedral style sanctuary was enough to send chills down your spine and make the hairs on your arms stand on end. It was a sacred, holy space.

Fourth Presbyterian Church allows anyone to be in the sanctuary all day as long as they remain upright in the pews. People experiencing homelessness often spend time in the church, able to sleep as long as they don't lie down. Sitting directly behind me during that concert was such a man, dirty and a little smelly, exhausted from life on the streets and grateful to be inside for a bit. Only five minutes into the concert, in addition to the beautiful sound of the choral voices rising into the rafters, I could hear the distinct and sudden snort of a snore. Yes, right in the middle of this magnificent concert the man behind me was snoring.

To be honest I was a bit frustrated at first. This man was interrupting an incredible concert! Then I got to thinking about sanctuary, the very nature of the word. For some of us the sanctuary is the place of worship, the sacred space for beautiful songs and choruses praising God. But for this man, sanctuary was safety, was an opportunity to get out of that biting Chicago wind and somewhere where he was welcome and warm. Is that not sacred? In that sanctuary on that day, the line between sacred and profane was blurred.

There is something fundamentally difficult for us in that close proximity of sacred and profane. The beauty of Holy Week is that it brings us to a time when those things come so close together. Death is the profane and perceived enemy we have fought from the beginning. Resurrection, life, is the sacred that Christ brings us toward. Problem is, the thing that we consider profane may actually be holy: Christ rising can't happen without Christ first dying.

Perhaps it makes us uncomfortable when we get these so-called profane moments happening alongside and in close relationship with the things we consider holy. Perhaps they are so close, in fact, that we can no longer tell the difference between the two. Let us walk through Holy Week with this discomfort in our hearts, eyes open to sacred and profane both made new in Christ.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Christmas Letter 2014



Disclaimer: I actually wrote this 2 weeks ago and just remembered to finish it up today, 12/23. Whoops.

It was on my list today to write a postcard or letter to some friends, and as I pulled out my stack of postcards (my preferred method of communication) I thought about how close we are to Christmas and how really, I should send some sort of Christmas communication instead. How about a Christmas letter? You’re 27 for God’s sake. You don’t have to piggyback on your parent’s letter forever (although, to be fair, they always write about your accomplishments and all the good you’re doing in the world, so it’s a really great ego boost to read about yourself). All told, it seems it is time for the inaugural Christmas letter of Luke. Probably past time, really, but it seems like something those real adults are supposed to do--people that talk about things like buying a house and kids being born. Mularkey, I say! Christmas letters for all!

Dear Loved Ones,

2014 dawned like a winter morning--sneaky. It kind of just happened really. Darkness, then BOOM. It's a new year! I don’t think I even was able to stay up till midnight on New Year’s Eve. Lord, that tells you something about how old I’m getting. Yikes.

To start, I’ll review the fact that I have pretty much the coolest job around at the First Presbyterian Church in Baker City, OR as the youth director. This means I get to hang out with an absolutely incredible group of youth, plan youth group activities, and attend more middle and high school sporting and music events than you thought possible. It’s a blast, and I really mean that.
These are a few of my youth groupers. They're pretty awesome.




I think the theme for my year might be travel. My fellow youth pastors here in town, whom I consider good friends, consistently give me grief over how often I’m gone on various trips. I think of much of this as a perk of being tied in with a denomination that is so interconnected, and I’ve taken advantage of those connections to work with many groups doing good work. To be fair, I’ve also taken some trips of my own for pleasure and vacation, but you’ll hear about those in various detail shortly.

January gave me the opportunity to travel to Israel and Palestine with a delegation from the Presbyterian Peace Fellowship, working in tandem with Interfaith Peace Builders. Here, I’ll gladly promote both organizations: http://presbypeacefellowship.org/, and http://www.ifpb.org/.

Happily, I was joined on this trip by a few longtime friends, and made plenty of new ones during the adventures we shared. I can’t share such a transformative trip easily, but suffice to say it was difficult, it was beautiful, it brought grief and despair and hope and love. Literally every day was a battle with my emotions and prejudices. So much of what you hear about the Holy Land is bad news. I'm here to say there is such good work taking place there, dedicated people across the spectrum giving their lives for peace, justice, and reconciliation. I was so lucky to go and see it, for all its flaws and beauty.
Looking out over Jerusalem.

One of my favorite shots from the trip. This is from the Aida Refugee Camp outside Bethlehem.





Spring saw me helping with the local high school tennis team, which was such a fun and rewarding experience. More great kids, willing to have fun and work hard. Plus, for the first time in probably 2 years, I was working out regularly. Shocker. I was in really great shape from like March to late May. Maybe even a little bit into June. Then I got lazy again. Dangit.

My girlfriend Kady left for Peace Corps Indonesia mid-March, so I consoled myself by spending my spring break week with Jacko on a road trip from Denver to the Grand Canyon. We froze our butts off at the South Rim, but witnessed such overwhelming beauty it was all so worth it.




In June I was able to attend the 221st General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA) in Detroit, MI. I was there in a couple roles. I’d helped organize a Young Adult Volunteer Alumni gathering prior to the assembly itself, so I was helping with that, and then I was there to advocate for and testify on what I’d seen in Israel and Palestine that January. General Assembly was a rollercoaster of emotions, but in the end, a lot of great things came out of it that made me proud to be Presbyterian, and proud of our representative government and how it makes decisions. It was quite an experience.

The morning I helped lead worship  at breakfast (and all those tables and chairs were filled!)

July was maybe the most rewarding time of my work thus far at the church. I was able to take 10 youth and 4 other adults from our congregation down to Hollywood for a week, working with the DOOR program (http://www.doornetwork.org/) and staying at the First Presbyterian Church of Hollywood. It was incredible to watch our youth (and adults) learn and struggle with issues of homelessness, race, and stereotyping. I discovered I really love the questions that come in those bouts of vulnerability, when we are outside our comfort zone and confronting things like privilege and race. It was a truly transformative experience for many of our youth and adults, and I’m so grateful to the DOOR staffers that made that trip possible for us, as well as our church congregation that gladly gave to support the youth.

The Hollywood Crew outside First Pres Hollywood!
This October I was able to fly across the Pacific and visit Kady in Indonesia. Kady is teaching English at her school in a small village near the southwest coast of Java and is doing some really great work. I'm so proud of her. Indonesia is a beautiful, vibrant, and green country. There are also some real difficulties, including severe inequality and a frustrating school system. Kady’s village was an incredible group of supportive people, excited to meet and get to know me despite a pretty glaring language barrier. I was even able to attend school with Kady for a day and help middle school students with their English. It was an incredible opportunity to see my wonderful girlfriend, and BONUS, I got to see a part of the world I’d never seen before.

On top of a mountain near Malang (right before I para-glided off the mountain!)

Kady and her trusty bike

In Kady's words, "the stereotypical Peace Corps picture"





Other than that, life just keeps moving. I’m so grateful for the family, friends, and loved ones that I’ve been able to see over the course of this year, and I hope next year brings more of the same. My work with youth is teaching me many things, but chief among them is that you can program all you want, you can do every activity out there, but the things you really hold onto are the relationships you have with the people you love. If you’re reading this, consider yourself one of those people. May you be surrounded with loved ones and filled with hope this Advent and Christmas as we remember and wait for the Prince of Peace.

Love,

Luke

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Detroit, or Bright Eyes on Faded Fabric

Bright eyes on faded fabric
The still-burning souls of places neglected
no-
forgotten
As they gather in a heap by the road.
Repurposed anew
art in the cinderblocks and
cement of the empty city
Life in what is always described as the desolate wasteland of
Detroit
Some ask-why would you go there?
Media makes it out
Cold
God-forsaken.

But how can we believe that
for we know that God does not leave
God does not forsake
And even when a city is seen as dull
And dead
There is life

Life is the
sparks in those bright eyes
like embers

Burn a fire too bright, fuel runs out.
Keep an ember alive, it smolders
Ready to be breathed back into life.

Monday, July 21, 2014

2014 General Assembly Newsletter Reflection

Abound in Hope

From June 12-21, 2014, I was lucky and privileged to attend the 221st General Assembly (GA) of the Presbyterian Church (USA) in Detroit, Michigan. My service there was as an observer (rather than a voting representative of our presbytery) and revolved around a couple different responsibilities, mostly as the Vice Moderator of the Young Adult Volunteer Alumni Leadership Council, and as the intern coordinator for the Presbyterian Peace Fellowship (PPF). I had a busy week, full of stress, struggles, and joy. To begin to reflect on the experience, I have to take a step back, to the General Assembly two years ago, in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

I was also an observer at the 2012 GA, working as an intern for the Presbyterian Peace Fellowship, serving as a committee monitor and helping with various PPF activities. Over the course of the week, I became schooled in GA procedure and policy: how overtures start at the local congregation, move on to presbyteries, and then finally are passed along from presbytery to the General Assembly. I learned how these overtures are divided into different committees, each focusing on different ministries and aspects of the life of the national Presbyterian Church, and then finally presented before the plenary session of 600+ pastors and elders casting the final votes. It was an eye-opening experience that connected me to the work of our national church in ways I never imagined possible.

That General Assembly, in 2012 in Pittsburgh, was a big step in my relationship with the Presbyterian Church, both nationally and locally. As I lifelong child of the Presbyterian Church, the grandchild and great-grandchild and great-great-grandchild and great-great-great-grandchild of Presbyterian pastors, I am invested in the PCUSA in the same way we invest in many of our familial relationships. I am wrapped up in the PCUSA, both in our local congregation and nationally. As with many relationships, I have hopes for the church. Great hopes. I don't set low, easy standards for the things and people I love. So I set big, bold goals, because I love our local church, and I love our national church. I love it enough to work in it even when it disappoints me.

At the 2012 GA, I was exposed to the disappointment of working and hoping for something that did not come to fruition. As happens in many of our relationships, I felt that our national church had let me down, had let us, its members in its many congregations, down. In a moment to show her maturity, to step out in faith and do something bold and prophetic, I was disappointed. That happens sometimes in all of our relationships. Shortly thereafter, I wrote this poem/letter:


To my church,

whom I love.

I am angry.

I am angry that we prioritize politics

over our relationships with each other.

I am angry that members of our community

threaten to leave when their

demands aren't met

the temper tantrum of a petulant child.


I am frustrated.

I am frustrated that hours upon hours

years upon years of work

done by so many different people

can be so quickly dismissed by those

newly educated on the subject

by those scared of change

or spending a little money.


I am disappointed.

I am disappointed that we

as a church

missed a chance to speak

the prophetic voice in our world

we could have no longer been a thermometer reflecting society

but the thermostat dictating change

I am disappointed that in efforts

to appease the loudest

we have allowed the silent to stay ignored.


I am sad. I am sad for our divisions.

I grieve for schisms rendered

and relationships broken.

I am sad we remain stuck

in neutral

able to go neither forward nor back.


But I have hope.

I have hope for the conversations I have seen

the dissimilar theologies and worldviews

committing to developing relationships

mending rifts


I have hope for the young voices I heard

voices that demand our ears

and our respect

not simply because they are young

but because they hold the 

passion

love

and commitment to reconciliation

that will guide this church forward.


And I have faith.

Even at my lowest points

when I doubted God's presence in our midst

when I questioned the motives of voting members

even as the dreams and visions I held for this week

dissolved as chalk on sidewalk in the rain

I have faith.

For while I lament

timing

urgency

immediacy

I know it is not our will, but God’s will be done

and while we may not know where that takes us

my dear church

it's exactly where we need to be.


Even in

my anger

my frustration

my disappointment

and my sadness

my dear PCUSA,

I love you.

-Luke, 2012

I can admit it, I was carrying some personal baggage into General Assembly this summer. As I signed up to testify before the Middle East Committee on what I’d seen in Israel and Palestine this January, I was already cynical. At the last GA, we had worked hard, poured our hearts into our work, and seen it fail in the midst of politicking and threats. What difference would my words make? What difference would my work make?

Even when overtures passed in committee that I held dear to my heart, good things, great things, I kept my hopes at bay. This had happened last time, too, only for decisions to be reversed at plenary. I didn't want to be disappointed again.


But this time, my beloved PCUSA, our beloved PCUSA, came through. The Presbyterian Church, into which I was baptized while infant and in which I will someday die, has made me so, so proud. We stepped out on same-sex marriage, giving pastors the discretion to choose whether to perform marriages for same-sex couples in states where it is legal. We overcame fear and threats and chose to divest from three American companies involved in non-peaceful pursuits in Israel and Palestine. We passed an interfaith stance that allows local congregations to reach out to multi-faith partners around them. Some of these were tough, contentious issues. Many results brought polarizing joy and pain to various parties.


My pride, my joy in the events at General Assembly may not mirror everyone’s response. Even as the results were counted and displayed in plenary sessions, bringing laughter, joy, tears, and shock, I was thinking of our own church family. I knew not everyone would share my joy in these developments, and I grieved for the loss of trust or comfort that this news might bring. The results of this General Assembly may be shocking, may be painful. As is often the case with difficult moments of discernment, stepping out in faith can lead to uncertainty. Congregants may question the denomination or our place in it. Can we be a part of something with which we might disagree?


The final sermon at General Assembly talked about the role of wilderness in our faith. The ancient Israelites wandered in the wilderness, John is a wild man in the wilderness, Jesus is tempted in the wilderness. The wilderness plays a key role in each of our individual faith journeys and in our journey as a church. Those moments where we are uncomfortable, scared, and worried? They come right before moments of incredible faith and spiritual formation. The ancient Israelites are delivered, John prepares the way of the Lord, and Jesus refuses to give in to temptation. Perhaps we also are entering a wilderness where we feel uncomfortable, scared, and worried. Perhaps new opportunities and spiritual growth are ahead.


I know from a lifetime of experience in this church family that we know how to have difficult conversations. While growing up in this church I was lucky enough to have modeled in front of me differing opinions given with respect, differing theologies heard with an interest in genuine understanding, and differing pragmatisms embodied in joy together. Simply put, I have seen in this church that while we don’t always agree, we do always love each other. We do always seek to understand each other. We commit to each other to be family, to be church, in the midst of those differences. Our journey as a church continues, always together. Praise God.

-Luke Rembold, General Assembly Volunteer, 2012, 2014

Monday, May 19, 2014

Thank God for teachers

I don't know
as students
that you are ever fully aware of
just
how
much
your teachers care
about you

that long after you are gone
they strive to keep track
of what you are up to
genuinely invested in each of your
successes and failures
it is like playing a game
without realizing you have
cheerleaders on the sidelines
fans in the stands
it is easy, sometimes
to think that you are alone
but it is never true.

I don't know as students
that you are ever fully aware of
just
how
much
your teachers care about you

until 9 years after your final class with them
13 years after the first one
they get tears in their eyes
talking about what it is like
to watch students grow
and how hard it is
to watch them graduate and go
out  into the world
never knowing if you'll see them again

that is when you know
that is when I knew
just how much those teachers care.

Those glistening, teary eyes,
laid that soul bare.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

The Grand Canyon

Red rocks ringed
with ridges
of white
bright spots
in the dull grey of desert
layers
levels
long for the horizon
reaching for that
last lost expanse
of uninterrupted
sky.

See the colorado bend
twist and turn
as it yearns for
its everlasting home
in the gulf
the canyon it has created
like a symphony
individual notes together
a melody
the years of effort
of a small river
to create something
ineffable.

They told me once
as they were remodeling the church sanctuary
that places of worship
contained vertical lines and patterns
arrows pointing to God
yet as I look out on the
Grand Canyon
with its strata and layers
as horizontal as can be
I feel more grounded
and connected to the earth itself
Like God sent me a message to

be still

here

And I hear Rumi in my head
almost mocking me

“Lo, I am with you always
means when you look for God,
God is in the look of your eyes
in the thought of looking
nearer to you than your self
or things that have happened to you.

There's no need to go outside.”

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

There's 3 kids on the side of the road to Jericho...

We'd come to the Dead Sea in a cab, paying 60 shekels to get there from Vered Jericho, after paying 400 shekels in cash that morning to our hostess at the hostel (since she preferred that to the credit card). We'd also received a business card from her that she said would get us into Kalia beach at 50% off, which ended up not working, so we payed 54 shekels each for access to the Dead Sea beach. In the span of 3 hours, we'd spent 612 shekels of our cash. And, we found out that the national bus system wasn't running that day, as it was Saturday, the shabbat. Without an atm in Kalia, or a moneychanger to turn our American dollars into shekels, we were sitting in Kalia without money to get to Jerusalem. We had just enough to get to Jericho, where we could visit an atm or moneychanger to get more shekels, then grab a cab into Jerusalem, but at a much greater cost. After we'd swam and laid in the sun for a while, we decided that the stress of figuring out our next move dictated that we go up to the front desk and inquire about taxis.
          We were sitting at a table in the restaurant/bar area, thinking and talking about our options, as we watched a bus full of tourists arrive. Emily listened to some of their conversations and picked up that she thought at least a few of them speaking with Spanish accents from either Mexico or somewhere else in Central America. She then struck up a conversation with a couple of Episcopalian priests from Spain, telling them our situation, until their tour guide approached her and told her that they could not help us. We resigned ourselves to our Jericho plan, trying to laugh at our failures and lack of planning to get over the fact that we'd be spending considerably more money due to our lack of foresight. As Emily talked to a worker in the Dead Sea salts and lotions factory, the worker hailed the same tour guide and said, “Can't you help these kids?” The tour guide replied, “Ok, I'll check with my boss, and see if it's ok.”

So after waiting around for a bit while the group finished their time at the Dead Sea, we found ourselves loading our bags under the bus (the bus driver said, “This is not my group!”) and stepping on board a bus full of pilgrims, mostly from Spain, but with 1 or two from Mexico and Columbia. We boarded first, and were quickly greeted with many quizzical looks from pilgrims we hadn't gotten a chance to talk to before, along with some cheers and excitement from some of those who were hoping they would help us out.

In the words of the head tour guide (who greeted us jovially with great excitement) “There is no better way to talk about the parable of the Good Samaritan (which happened on the road to Jericho) than to act it out.” And we indeed felt that hospitality, as we were serenaded with Spanish hymns and readings from the Bible as we drove from Kalia to Abu Gris (or Bethany, where Lazarus, Martha, and Mary lived), and then on into Jerusalem. We rode along with our new friends and shared their joy as they looked out on Jerusalem the first time.
          As they learned their parable through acting it out, we experienced a miracle through their generosity and hospitality. I have rarely felt so reliant on other people as I did as we sat on their bus, listening as the landscape was described in their language. At one point one of the Episcopalian priests Emily had first talked to came up during a song and showed me they were singing Psalm 121 in Spanish, encouraging me to sing along with the words in front of me. I felt so incredibly lucky to be invited to share. It was one of those few moments for me that the Holy Land felt holy and sacred.


We're often told to put ourselves in the Bible stories, to insert our name, to make it real. How much more meaningful it is when we  have opportunity to truly live them out.