True Worship, True Mission

A couple weeks ago I “told” Isaiah 6:2-8 for the ordination service of a young pastor.

It’s a dramatic passage.

Isaiah tells the story in first person. “I saw the Lord!” he writes, and if he were writing today he might have used several exclamation points and a couple of emoji’s. Even without them, his excitement is clear. He sees the Lord sitting on a throne above the temple. The long train of his robe fills the temple, and six-winged seraphs fly above him, crying out, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts!”

At the sound of their voices, the temple shakes and fills with smoke, and suddenly Isaiah is overcome! “Woe is me! I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips and I live among a people of unclean lips—and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!”

Ah! One glimpse of the Lord and he is undone.

I understand this. It makes perfect sense to me. I imagine that if I got a single clear sighting of the Lord in full power and beauty—thereby seing how very, very small and inglorious I am in comparison—I would be flattened to the floor. I, too, would cry out, “Woe is me!” (or the 21st century equivalent).

But what comes next amazes me—and I imagine it surprised Isaiah as well.

Immediately after his cry, one of the seraphs flies to him, bearing a burning coal the seraph plucked from the altar with a pair of tongs. The seraph touches Isaiah’s mouth with the live coal and tells him, “Now that this has touched your lips, your guilt has departed and your sin is blotted out.”

Wait? What? Just like that? Without major groveling, without a lecture, without a big deal being made of it, Isaiah is simply declared clean and worthy to stand in the presence of God?!

It’s over-the-top goodness! It’s God being the restorative, loving God he is—without any fanfare or hype.

In previous readings of this passage this graciousness of God was what jumped out at me most; the speed at which he restored Isaiah and his deep sensitivity to Isaiah’s cry.

But there is more to this story. God doesn’t dwell on Isaiah’s restoration; He moves straight ahead to the business at hand. He has messages He wants spoken to the people of Israel, and so He asks, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?”

And Isaiah, rather than feeling shy or rendered speechless by answering a question posed by God himself (both fairly “normal” reactions, in my mind), answers right away. “Here am I; send me!” He’s excited. He’s bold and passionate and ready to go.

As I prepared to “tell” this passage at the ordination, I was struck by Isaiah’s willingness for mission, and I examined what led to his willingness.

It was worship and the sheer graciousness of God that inspired Isaiah!

Isaiah saw the glory of God. He heard the seraphs proclaim the holiness and glory of the Lord. He worshiped the Lord, acknowledging him as King and himself as lowly and unclean before Him.

And this worship led him to mission.

Just yesterday I read an article titled “The New View of Heaven Is Too Small.” It’s written by J. Todd Billings, a professor at Western Theological Seminary (I just added his latest book, Remembrance, Communion, and Hope: Rediscovering the Gospel at the Lord’s Table, to “Jen’s wish list” on my husband’s Amazon page). In this article Billings pushes back a bit on the “kingdom work” focus of many theologians today. He’s not discounting or even de-emphasizing the “kingdom work” focus on the truth that “(r)edemption restores God’s good creation” or even that all Christians are called to embrace “kingdom work” in the here and now. But he is suggesting that in emphasizing the individual kingdom work(s) we are called to in the here and now, we are in danger of losing “a cosmic view of God’s work in restoring the whole creation.” In other words, a “kingdom work” focus, too, can be twisted into individualism, into a focus on what we are doing rather than on God’s great work for us. “The central question,” writes Billings, “is … what drama will we be incorporated into? If this is our question, we find our acting instructions in receiving God’s Word in worship exalting Christ our Lord…”

I see this question at work in Isaiah’s encounter with God. He sees God, high and holy. He sees and hears the seraphs worshiping God, and he gains a clear view of himself and his unworthiness. As soon as he is restored, this grace, coupled with the grandeur of God, propels him into God’s work! He doesn’t even know exactly what he is being sent out to do, he just says, “Here I am! Send me!”

Worship comes first.

Mission follows.

It makes me think, then, that the two MUST go together. Mission that has any other starting point than worship could very well unravel into nothing more than personal activism. Equally troubling is worship that never leads to mission, that never leads to a willingness to say, no matter what is asked, “Here I am! Send me!” If there is one without the other, then that one must be examined, for there is good reason to believe it is not true.

For true worship leads to true mission.

And we need both.

 

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Ash Wednesday 2018, noon service

At the end of the service,

When the ashes are crossed on my forehead

With the words, “Remember that you are dust,

And to dust you shall return,”

The liturgy plunges bone-deep

And a strange weariness overcomes me.

I sit in this for a moment,

But then remember:

There is much still to do in this day.

Decisions to be made,

Lessons to be taught,

School pickups,

Dinner to fix,

And another service, for goodness sake!

Action, energy are needed.

Caffeine is probably needed!

Yet in this moment, a memory arises,

From another Ash Wednesday several years before.

Following the imposition, the mother in the row ahead of me

Picked up her small ones from childcare

And returned for the end of the service.

All was well, till her son noticed the cross on her forehead,

The cross on my forehead,

The cross on the foreheads of every adult surrounding him.

He turned to his mother, and I heard,

“Where’s my cross? Why don’t I have a cross?”

and nothing could comfort him till my husband,

one of those who’d imposed the ashes that night,

marked the child’s forehead, too, with his still-darkened thumb.

To want the mark of humanity,

To long for the symbol that announces to the world,

we are but “frail children of dust, and feeble as frail,”*

Incapable,

Inadequate,

In dire need of mercy—

This desire seems nearly the complete opposite of

That which caused the first human hands to pluck forbidden fruit,

To doubt Goodness himself,

To seek equality with the Creator,

Independence from the Breath that gave Life,

Supposed self-sufficiency.

Oh, yes, give me ashes,

Give me symbol,

Grant me humility,

The posture, before God and man,

Of complete and utter need.

For then your mercy, too, can plumb bone-deep,

Heart-deep,

Soul-deep.

Breath can bring dust to life again,

So that all I am, all I do,

May be known and seen

As Your greatest grace.

 

*a line from the hymn “O Worship the King,” which we sang in early morning prayer at Austin Corinthian Baptist Church this very morning!

 

the unity of the Body of Christ

*This post is written from thoughts I jotted in my journal during a class I’m taking. Some of my readers may think I’m coming down a little hard on the white church in America, and it could probably be argued that I’m perhaps generalizing too much. But I would like to respond with a plea for repentance and humility rather than argument. 

This past week Canon Stephen Gauthier was talking about the unity of the Body of Christ. “There is unity in diversity,” he said. “United does not mean identical, yet it is impossible to separate the body without irreparable harm.”

Scripture does not present disdain for the Church as an optional attitude. The Church is the family of God, the Body and Bride of Christ. These are truths now; they are not ideals, and we are called to understand this as the truest of truths. When we are baptized into Christ, we automatically enter into the deepest of family relations with every other Christian on the planet and throughout time. These are bonds that will never be severed; they are permanent, existing throughout eternity.

Martin Luther King Jr’s well-known words about the most segregated hour in America take on new, deeply sorrowful meaning when we grasp this truth. The white church in American (of which I am a part) went far beyond saying to the African American or Chinese American church what the eye said to the hand in I Corinthians 12. “I don’t need you,” said the eye to the hand, but the white church literally tried to cut off the ethnic church in the States. It tried to kill it, to completely sever it from the body of Christ at large.

Today many in the white church have acknowledged a certain level of sin against minority brothers and sisters, yet, in my view, a form of the same sin continues, for though the white church is no longer trying to kill off minority churches, there is a very pervasive eye-to-hand sentiment. “We don’t need you,” the white church subtly but essentially says.

The attempted murder of the past and the current, pervasive, don’t-need-you attitude has caused and is causing irreparable harm, and it must be acknowledged that this harm is far greater than its political or legal ramifications. We—the unified Church—are the Body of Christ, and the actions and attitudes of the white members toward those they considered “less honorable” have done incredible, spiritual harm. The white church so often sees itself as superior, as holding greater knowledge, as having been the sending church of many, many missionaries, as the founder of seminaries and higher places of theological learning…

Yet the white church is responsible for great harm to the very Body of Christ.

What the white church has not realized is this: in thinking of the minority church as something like an extra, unneeded toe and in attempts to cut off this extra toe, it has misunderstood reality. Together the church in America—of all ethnicities—is a member, connected to the rest of the Body and joined with the Body to the Head—Christ. Though the historic white church did what it did believing it was cutting off a less necessary member (pushing that member away), what the white church has in actuality been doing is cutting itself off. The tourniquet applied strangled the white church. It cut off blood flow to itself, and until this tourniquet is loosened, the white church dangles apart from the rest of the member.

Belonging to the Church entire is not optional in the Body of Christ. The Body, whole and integrally connected is fact, is reality. We must live into this reality—or we will continue to do great harm.

Perichoresis

Our little lives, our little minds

So easily focused on the me, mine,

Sometimes expanded to the we, ours

But so prone to “other” others,

To “they” them—keep at arm’s length,

Outside the inclusive circle.

At times we can step closer with “you,”

But we are most comfortable with its

Imperative and accusative forms,

And, ultimately, “me” trumps all.

And so our mind boggles at the Holy Dance

Of Father, Son, Spirit—

“I, you, we” embraced.

Mutual dance, distinct and one,

A glorious mystery.

Deeper secret still—that the perichoresis,

Without disruption to its perfect sphere,

Extends hands to us, and when,

Compelled by the gift of the Spirit within,

We respond, we are pulled into the dance,

Into abiding, into embrace,

Into partaking the nature of God.

In this we are consumed yet made whole,

In this we enter into choreographed freedom.

And we learn that what we thought merely ethereal

Is True, is Real.

For this the Son put on flesh:

That we might know Father, Son, Spirit,

our beautifully dancing God,

That we, drawn in, may see all as “we,”

And paradoxically discover—

In the giving of “I” to “us”—

That the “me” is best known.

“wear your grace like skin”

The song lyric loops through my mind all morning:

replacing the litany of lists

and the chorus of cares

that too often occupy my thoughts.

“…we wear your grace like skin…”

Just the one line.

No more comes to me, and

I hum the six words again and again.

On our school/work commute,

I ask my daughter to play the full song,

To hear the phrase within it.

Yet this morning, it is the one line that is for me.

“We should do that,” I say out loud, “put on grace like skin,”

and she, in the way daughters do, just nods.

We should wear grace—

Not as the coats we take off and on in the winter weather,

The extra layer.

Not even as the outfits we wear that are part of the selves we present to the world,

more like the union suits the pioneers stitched themselves into for seasons at a time,

the undergarments closest to our skin.

But perhaps it is all of the above: coat, outfit, undergarments,

Grace becoming to us protection, presentation, covering.

The Scripture says to

Be “clothed with Christ,”

To “put on the Lord Jesus Christ,”

and Julian of Norwich, pondering this, wrote,

“He is our clothing that for love wrappeth us,

claspeth us,

and all encloseth us for tender love,

that He may never leave us;

being to us all thing that is good.”

I remember a friend telling me she imagined being clothed with Christ

As the floor-length fur coat she once modeled at a charity function.

“It had weight,” she said. “Like a presence I carried with me.

I couldn’t forget I had it on.”

Christ and grace—person and idea. Christ, the face of grace,

The feet, the hands, the outstretched arms of grace.

In true knowing of Christ, I know grace.

Grace presses down on me,

clings to my body, embraces me, seeps into my inner being, into my heart…

I put on grace till it becomes like skin,

That I may never take it off.

manna and muffins

Last week a friend sat in my kitchen while I cooked dinner. She lives overseas, in her husband’s home country, where they care for children from their community (among many other things). As we chatted, and I chopped, I said something about not knowing exactly how much I was fixing. “It’s okay, though,” I said. “God taught me awhile ago that no matter how many gather around the table or who shows up unexpectedly, the food will stretch. There will always be enough.”

She laughed and then her face grew serious as she told me of a conversation she’d had with a well-meaning friend not long before. “She said my husband and I had taken on too much, that we shouldn’t have taken in all the kids, that it’s too much stress on our marriage.”

I stopped chopping and looked at her. “What did you say?”

She shrugged. “I told her I didn’t think we had any more stress than any other cross-cultural marriage, and, besides, what were we supposed to do? Turn the kids away?”

When the Israelites were in the wilderness, a place God describes in the book of Jeremiah as “a land of drought and deep darkness,” they understood they were completely at the mercy of God. They had no capability of providing for themselves. He had put them in a place of utter dependence.

And God provided. Manna fell from the sky, and there was always just the right amount of it. Some gathered “more, some less. But when they measured it …, those who had gathered much had nothing over, and those who gathered little had no shortage.” Those who purposely gathered extra—in case the Lord didn’t come through the next day—found their leftovers had worms, but on the Sabbath Day, when no manna fell from heaven, the amount gathered the day before was miraculously enough.

The Israelites forgot this as soon as they fell into some natural resources. “I brought you into a plentiful land to eat its fruits and its good things,” God said. But in the apparent ability to nurture one’s own sustenance, to provide for oneself—they forgot God. (See Jeremiah 2:6-8)

Even the slightest bit of abundance makes us, too, forget that every meal, every resource comes from God—just as much as the manna did. There is no sufficiency outside him. ALL we have is gift, is manna, given to nourish us and given to be shared—and to miraculously multiply in the sharing. Do we believe this? Do we believe God will stretch what he’s given us when we stretch out our hand to press it into the palm of another? We have been given the privilege of witnessing, like the disciples, the loaves and fish mysteriously expanding, being enough—and MORE—for everyone, filling and overflowing needs, becoming abundance.

But this miracle of multiplication and abundance cannot be set in motion without our sharing what is perceived as “ours” (money, talents, time, resources) with others. Sometimes, though, the miracle is hidden from our sight, and we continue to worry, to wonder, “Did we give too much? Will we have enough for us?”

Oh, to realize that the answer to this question is ever and always “NO!” In and of myself I cannot provide enough. But God has and IS enough and more. If we are honest enough to ask it, the question beneath is, “Will He have enough?” but we dare not ask that question because to say it out loud seems sacrilegious, a bit blasphemous, because, after all, of course he has enough. He’s GOD!

But what are we saying when we make the question instead about our own resources? Are we suggesting we can be sufficient without him? that we’d like to make it on our own? Are we essentially saying, Thanks but no thanks, God; I’ll call out when I’m really in dire straits, but I’ve gained some independence, you know. Grown up into a responsible adult, capable, hardworking.

Oh, but God didn’t grudgingly give the manna, and he didn’t provide the land with its resources to get the Israelites off his to-do list. He longs to provide for us; he longs for us to depend on and trust him.

There is reason Jesus calls himself—in one of his many, many self-descriptions—the “bread of life,” the sustenance that takes us through our days—and not stingily. A page from Lauren Winner’s book Wearing God* comes to mind. She writes, “I once asked a circle of people from church, if Jesus is the ‘bread of life,’ what kind of bread is He? Not a one of them said, ‘He’s that small round wafer we use at Communion.’ I wrote down their answers. I think they make a good prayer:

a bagel

rye

toast with jam

morning glory muffins

chocolate tea bread

rosemary ciabatta

my grandmother’s sourdough

my grandmother’s challah

French toast

a crusty baguette

“This gorgeous list,” Winner writes, “expands our attention from the usual thought ‘if God is bread, then God meets my needs,’ to the category of delectation.” I might add, if God is “morning glory muffins”—which sound both delicious and beautiful—then he is “company bread,” meant to be shared. He is the challah made by your grandmother, a gift that begs you to gather others around your table and enjoy with you.

All—I’ll say it again, all—we have is gift and we must, as disciples, lose the stingy, grabbing mindset of the world that fears dependence and scarcity far more than it fears separation and estrangement. Mother Teresa told us “…we have forgotten that we belong to each other.”

Share your bread,

Learn belonging,

And discover the abundance of God.

 

 

 

The Gifts of Epiphany

In the church calendar, Epiphany is celebrated on January 6. Depending on the particular church tradition, Epiphany celebrates both or either the visit of the wise men to Jesus and Mary in Bethlehem and/or the baptism of Jesus. It commemorates the manifestation of Jesus as God, as the Son of God. Here in the West, it is more common to celebrate the coming of the wise men, and I want to share a well-known hymn that is commonly sung as a Christmas carol. We generally sing only the first stanza and refrain, which is really unfortunate because these are really setting the stage for the second through fifth stanzas, and these are amazing! The second stanza speaks about the gift of gold; the third about incense; the fourth about myrrh; and the fifth refers to the bringing together of all those gifts–that we worship a God who is “King and God and sacrifice”! Just beautiful!

We three kings of Orient are;
bearing gifts we traverse afar,
field and fountain, moor and mountain,
following yonder star.

Refrain:
O star of wonder, star of light,
star with royal beauty bright,
westward leading, still proceeding,
guide us to thy perfect light.

2 Born a King on Bethlehem’s plain,
gold I bring to crown him again,
King forever, ceasing never,
over us all to reign. [Refrain]

3 Frankincense to offer have I;
incense owns a Deity nigh;
prayer and praising, voices raising,
worshiping God on high. [Refrain]

4 Myrrh is mine; its bitter perfume
breathes a life of gathering gloom;
sorrowing, sighing, bleeding, dying,
sealed in the stone-cold tomb. [Refrain]

5 Glorious now behold him arise;
King and God and sacrifice:
Alleluia, Alleluia,
*sounds through the earth and skies. [Refrain]

*In some versions of this hymn, this last line is “earth to heaven replies” (and I particularly like that, as it looks forward to when it will be “on earth as it is in heaven“).

Note: the highlighting above is my emphasis and is not in the hymn itself.

 

our upside-down King

The children are doing the Gospel reading tomorrow, and we’ve taken Luke’s telling of the Nativity and broken it into narration and dialogue.

We practiced today, and before we began, I told them they were the perfect ones to tell this upside-down story of an upside-down King ushering in his upside-down kingdom.

Kings generally want power and riches and comfort, I said.

But Jesus, King of the universe, kept saying things like, “I came to serve” and “I offer my life,” and his first bed was a feeding trough for animals and his first sight as a human was a poor girl’s face and maybe, if any of the nativity scenes are correct, the giant nose of a cow. The fancy presents didn’t appear till later and they came just in time to fund a run-for-your-literal-life escape to Egypt.

I finished my pretty speech, and one child raised his hand.

“Yes?” I told him, and he asked, “Can I have a big part?”

And I grinned at this unabashed display of human nature, so straight-up contrary to all the words I’d just spoken—because it was oh, so honest! And oh, so real!

Then we began, and though the rehearsal was chock-full of loud boys and stumbled lines, and missed cues,

And there was no strong sense that tomorrow would go off without a hitch or three,

There were some moments of deep beauty,

And when it was over, I could tell a child, with genuine sincerity,

“You are supposed to be Elizabeth, because when you held that baby doll oh, so gently, it did something to my heart.”

I could shrug and laugh when asked, “Well, how do you think they will do tomorrow?”

Because the upside-down-ness of the Kingdom must be embraced, despite all our tendencies to do otherwise.

If we’d planned the Nativity, it certainly wouldn’t have taken place in a stable, with rough-and-tumble shepherds as its witnesses (and if God had insisted they play a large part, at least they would have bathed). We would have had the wise men come that first night to provide some glitz and sparkle—wait, we do that!—some importance and sophistication to the occasion…

It’s a challenge to stay upside-down, to say, like Mary, “Let it be … just as the Lord has said,” to be emboldened, like the shepherds with their uncultured ways and uneducated language, to share the crazy story even when it doesn’t seem like we’re the best, most polished messengers.

So read tomorrow, children.

Tell.

Proclaim.

As upside-down messengers

Of the King laid in the manger,

the King nailed to the cross.

Our right-side-up God.

 

Telling the Story to Myself

BT pic, cropped

A Bible Telling session with children: I’ve already told the story a couple times; the kids have acted it out; now we are creating a Way to Remember with pictures so they can tell it, too.

My work as a Bible Teller (telling the narratives of Scripture and helping others to learn them, too) means I carry Bible stories in my heart. There is obviously an outward focus to this as I tell and teach stories, but I’m finding incredible inward blessing as the Holy Spirit uses these stored stories to speak into my life. For example…

The other morning I was nursing a grudge about a situation in my life. It felt good to feed this little monster. After all, hadn’t I given enough to the person in this situation? Shouldn’t I be justified in feeling offended, feeling a little used?

I pushed the grudge off to the side (like putting a pot to the back of the stove to simmer) and listened to my audio devotional as I chopped vegetables for the crock pot. The Scripture was a story: Luke 13:10-17, in which Jesus heals the bent-over woman on the Sabbath. The leader of the synagogue is indignant about this healing and tells the people, “There are six days in which work ought to be done. Come on those days and be healed, and not on the Sabbath day.” Jesus rebukes him for this and calls him and others there “hypocrites”!

I was feeling a little smug as I listened—Yeah, Jesus! Preach it!—until I heard the end of the passage: “…all his adversaries were put to shame, and all the people rejoiced at all the glorious things that were done by him.”

Ah! All the people rejoiced at the glorious things Jesus was doing!

I suddenly remembered the grudge that was still simmering and realized, Jesus is preaching to ME! I’m frustrated by this situation in my life–but I should be rejoicing! God is at work doing some pretty amazing things in this person’s life, and I’m feeling “used” because this work of His is involving me in some uncomfortable, past-my-boundaries ways (just like the synagogue ruler was miffed that Jesus wasn’t staying within the traditional “boundaries” set for the Sabbath). Jesus isn’t following the script I have written for this situation, and this is making me anxious and upset.

And here’s where the Bible Telling—all those stories hidden in my heart—was used. One scene after another played across my mind.

First came the scene from Mark 3 in which Jesus heals a man with a withered hand. Those watching also disapprove of this healing on the Sabbath, and Jesus is angry and “grieved at their hardness of heart.” Yes! My heart was hard toward this person–and toward Jesus and his radical work!

But, right on the heels of this came the phrase from the story of Abraham putting Isaac on the altar: “The Lord will provide.” Ah, some understanding of my frustration: my sense of being “used” was based on my belief that I was the one providing. Not true. The Lord will provide. The Lord is the source, not me. I get stressed and self-focused when I begin to think I am the source. He is the source of all I need—salvation and beyond; therefore, he is the source of anything I offer to others.

Another phrase, this one from the parable of the unforgiving servant: I showed you mercy! Shouldn’t you have mercy on your fellow servant as well? This reminds me of my true place. In my current situation, it might seem I am the one continually giving, but in reality, we are both at the foot of the cross, both equal recipients of God’s great mercy.

And finally, the image of my little preschool students acting out Psalm 23, tiptoeing through their classroom, pretending to be afraid as they enter the valley of the shadow of death and then whooping and throwing their hands in the air as I proclaim, “I will fear no evil, for you are with me!” Yes, this situation has me feeling over my head, but I don’t need to fear, for you, my Lord, are with me!

All this from stories! They, too, are part of God’s Word–a very large part of God’s Word, and they are powerful and powerfully used by the Spirit!

If you have any questions about Bible Telling, please feel free to message me below! (It will come to my email account.) I love to talk with people about ways they can learn the narratives of Scripture.

Mama

Five-month-old Ruby is a Heinz 57 mutt

With a weak bladder, a lot of energy

And a ton of affection.

Much of her puppy love is lavished on me:

She follows me everywhere,

Cries when I leave the house,

Greets me after a 10-minute absence as if I’ve been gone a week.

Why? my children ask. Why does she like you best?

After all, they complain, that’s why we got a puppy.

‘Cause Chai is clearly your dog, and we wanted a pup who’d prefer us.

Well, I tell them, I can list concrete items, like water and food and walks,  

But bottom line is,

She’s knows I’m the mama.

I’m not just playmate or pal;

I’m Mama.

I know another Ruby.

I met her nearly a year ago

When both of us stood on an L platform together.

She asked for change,

But my pockets were empty that day.

I asked her where her coat was—it was bitterly cold.

She said she was only going a couple stops—

then gonna’ get herself some food and warmth with the Catholic Sisters of Charity.

“They’re good to me there,” she told me.

I’ve run into Ruby several times in the last few months.

Right now I know where she’s sleeping, and I purposely ride my bike through her particular tunnel on my way into work.

If she’s there and awake, we greet each other.

If I have a few minutes, I stop my bike and we chat.

Ruby has what some call “issues”:

physical—many probably related to addiction;

mental/emotional—she’s still a child in many ways;

social—she compiles some interesting things in her hoard.

Ruby’s forgotten my name.

At least, I assume she’s forgotten it—

Because she calls me “Mama.”

“Mama, I’m not having such a great day today.”

“Mama, the police told me I have to clean up my stuff. They say it’s too messy.”

“Mama, I don’t wanna’ stay overnight in one of them shelters, not till it’s cold. Too many rules.”

She calls me “Mama,” and it makes me wonder if she’s ever had one.

Our Ruby pup can actually count on me to act like a “mama” for her. I make sure she’s warm enough, fed enough, exercised enough. I check on her water bowl. I train and teach her. It’s nothing compared to the “mama”ing I do for my children, but it’s still enough that Ruby pup knows she can trust me; I am a safe and dependable person for her.

Did Ruby the woman—made in the image of God, bearing the likeness of God—ever have a mama who did these things? Did she have anyone? A sister, brother, auntie, grandfather?

Cain asked, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” He was the first of us to abdicate responsibility for a fellow image bearer. He was speaking of an actual family member, but this thought brings me to the question: who is my brother? My sister?

Who is my neighbor?

If Jesus expected the kind of care given by the Good Samaritan for his “neighbor,” what does he expect of his followers—who are called to love so, so many as brother, as sister?

Or—I’m thinking of Ruby’s vulnerability—as child?

What does it mean to “family” each other? To extend our notion of “kin”? To accept not just the crazy uncles we must put up with because they’re biologically related but also other broken, difficult, hurting, needy people? How messy is too messy?

Is there such a thing in the family of God?