This world is God’s good creation; yet all is not well. We are a broken people. As the year descends into darkness and winter approaches, we feel in our bones the coldness and need of the human family. Evil abounds. Cruelty is policy. Injustice reigns. Racism, greed and sexual violence crowd the news. Hope flickers among dark shadows. We cry to God with Isaiah, “O, that you would tear open the heavens and come down!” (Isa. 64.1).
But in our longing we do not just gaze at the sky. We get ourselves ready. We don’t just wish; we prepare. We trust God is at work in the midst of the mess with a transforming, life-giving power. Like Mary, we say Yes to that power unfolding within and among us. We become the change we want to see in the world. We become people of peace and gentleness, of love and courage. We become candles shining confidently in the darkness.
2017 for the Gemmer family has been a year of living faithfully right where God has placed us: daily ministry at Camp Indianola, piano lessons, church volunteering, honest dinner table conversations, theater tickets, camping trips, mountain hikes, playing at the beach, trick-or-treating, kitchen remodels, buckets of homework. And this Seminary season for me has become an Advent season: a journey of waiting, of trusting, of hoping, of doing preparatory work even though I don’t know exactly what I’m preparing for. There are some hints being slowly revealed. There are confident prayers and there are desperate prayers. There is hope and there is trust, but there is worry around the edges. There are dreams whispered in fear and in faith. There is an expectation of being surprised because so far it seems God likes to work that way with me. So as I sit in the darkness of Advent and light my one small candle, as I marvel at the God of the Universe entering into our darkness with his own Light, as I hug my family tighter and whisper to them the wonder of the miracle in the manger come to show us just how much love God has, I wait with hope.
These words hang on my wall this Christmas season and challenge me anew each time I see them: “a weary world rejoices.” This world feels weary, it hangs heavy with darkness, but Christmas shows us that God is here. God is not afraid of the dark—even the darkest of human hearts. Jesus, the Light of the World, entered into this darkness and by his presence, as a friend recently reminded me, redefined what darkness is, redefined how we are to experience darkness. May we rest in the light of God’s embrace, and may we soak up enough of that light to join Christ in his incarnational work of bringing hope to our weary world, of redefining darkness. Rest, wait, hope, and bring light. It is simple and it is full of mystery.
This is a collection of things that have caught my eye out there in the vast internets recently. Perhaps something here will catch your eye as well…
Disney Newsies: The Broadway Musical I have a long history with the musical Newsies, and have many fond memories of HOURS watching the original movie version with my girlfriends in middle and high school. So yeah, I was thrilled when Disney created this amazing Broadway version, and even happier to hear it was being filmed to experience in movie theaters nation-wide earlier this year. I went by myself to the theater when I was in Portland last February and the whole experience had me grinning from ear to ear like a lovesick girl. The music, the dancing, the acting, the dancing. Oh man, the dancing. Now you can purchase this show and watch it in the comfort of your living room. And if you’re anything like me, make your family sit down and watch it with you. And expect profound levels of gratitude to come your way upon completion. Man, I love theater. I love art.
to put on a wishlist:
Hamilton: The Revolution
If you are a Hamilton mega-fan like your’s truly, this gorgeous book should definitely be on your wishlist. I don’t have a copy for myself yet, but browsing through it at my local store had me drooling with desire. The photos from the original cast are gorgeous, the stories and behind-the-scenes information is such a treat, and the whole feel of the book is just lovely. Here’s to hoping it’ll be wrapped up under the Christmas tree for me this year.
to listen to:
Dear Meby Nichole Nordeman undoes me every single time I hear it. She is singing my story. And maybe it’s your story too? If you have wrestled with faith, with Jesus, with church, with “magic words,” with what it really means to love…give this a listen. But be prepared with a box of tissues and a space to really surrender. It is healing music here friends.
I have been searching for more vegetarian meals to add to our collection and this one was a HUGE hit with all the members of the family. We don’t need Gluten Free, so just used regular whole-wheat rotini pasta. And served with a dollop of sour cream on the side. Super delish.
Your turn: What caught your eye this week on the web? Share a link in the comments.
The Pharisees, Jesus, and Drawing Lines in the Sand
Growing up in the church it was always pretty clear to me who the bad guys of Scripture were. I knew that the Pharisees and Teachers of the Law were not down with Jesus and tried repeatedly to fool and shame him. But Jesus was too smart for them, instead skillfully and compassionately evading their traps: refusing to condemn a woman they wanted to stone, challenging them to study what is meant by God’s declaration “I desire mercy, not sacrifice,” and using a story of a beaten and bloody man cared for by the lowest of low to teach what is meant by love your neighbor. Jesus’ harshest words were always for these “whitewashed tombs” who “tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on the shoulders of others; but they themselves are unwilling to lift a finger to move them.” (Matthew 23:4) My childhood world was pretty black and white, divided into good guys and bad guys, and when it came to Jesus and his enemies, all was crystal clear.
But it turns out the world isn’t so black and white, and neither is Scripture. The more I learn and lean in, the more I see nuance, both/and, now/not yet and I am not as eager to fit things into neat dichotomous categories. A few years ago when I studied the book of Matthew in Bible Study Fellowship I found myself strangely empathetic to the Pharisees. As I began to put myself in their shoes I started to see how threatening the teaching of Jesus were to their understanding of God, of their holy book Torah, of righteousness, of their fundamental understanding of who they were as God’s chosen people. Jesus was upending everything they thought they understood. Now you can argue that Jesus was simply returning to the original intention, revealing to them who God had always been, showing them how they had missed the mark over the years. But change is hard, especially when the change is predicated on the fact that you were wrong. So often when confronted with our failures and offered a right perspective, instead of accepting new information we double-down, hold tighter and dig in our heels. I am speaking from years of personal experience here; humility is not my strength.
I started to get where the Pharisees were coming from. For Jews of the first-century, their framework for self-understanding was found in Torah, in the sacred writings of Israel. Torah gave Jews an identity as God’s chosen people and the responsibilities that came with this election. Jews viewed Torah as the eternal word of God, unchanging and normative in all times and contexts. But since life is ever changing, Pharisaic tradition was created to help Jews “continue to live in the present world but seek to discover in Torah itself the principles that would allow them to maintain its integrity as an absolute norm, yet relate it to the real circumstances of their lives.” The invention of this interpretive practice called midrash kept Torah alive, present, and authoritative.
Christians have continued such a practice with our sacred texts found in The Holy Bible (which includes the Jewish texts). We may not call it midrash, but the work of theologians and pastors to interpret these ancient texts in light of our lives and contexts certainly feels like this practice. For example, obviously Scripture doesn’t speak directly to my use/abuse of technology, but I can find principles for caring for others, the wise use of my time, honoring resources, etc. that help me develop a healthy ethic around this modern invention. I have noticed a trend of Evangelicals to happily camp out in the Epistles because these letters of Paul, James, and others tend to spell things out more clearly than a story from the Old Testament or life of Jesus might. And yet we still must wrestle. Was Paul’s admonition against women preaching towards a specific context, or for all time and place? Did Jesus really mean we should turn the other cheek if abused? Like the Jews with Torah, Christians believe our holy text is alive and relevant and has as much to say to us modern people as it did to early believers.
You may already assume where I’m headed with these thoughts, but here is where I spell them out for you. A few weeks ago a group of Evangelical leaders, with (what I’m asking God to help me see) the best of intentions, wrote out a sort of midrash on sexuality they called the Nashville Statement. This, they declared, is the proper way to view human sexuality from a scriptural viewpoint, and this, they were clear to note, is the only way for followers of Jesus to do so. A line in the sand was drawn. Insiders and outsiders were declared.
As I read and wept in anger and grief, not only at the tone-deaf timing of the statement, but also to the damage it would inevitably cause in the lives of sincere Christ-following LGBTQ people and their friends, family members, and allies, I couldn’t help think of Matthew 23 and the weeping Jesus did over the Pharisees. “Woe to you,” he cried again and again. “You lock people out of the kingdom of heaven.” “You tithe mint, dill, and cumin and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy.” “You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel!” “You are like whitewashed tombs, which on the outside look beautiful, but inside they are full of the bones of the dead and of all kinds of fish.” Jesus’ harshest words were always for these religious leaders and it is no wonder why my childhood-self vilified them too.
When Jesus walked the earth he declared that he had come not to abolish the law, but to fulfill it. He told us that he was the embodiment of the law, the personification of it. If we wanted to know what God was up to, sure we could look to Scripture, but we should first and foremost look to Jesus. Scripture is an important, living gift. But it is not central, not a fourth member of the Trinity. To understand any of our holy texts, old and new testament alike, they must be filtered through the lens of Jesus. Scripture is not Jesus.
And neither is the Nashville Statement.
 Luke Timothy Johnson, The Writings of the New Testament (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2010), 50.
My Baby is Having a Birthday and I’m Feeling the Ache
Note: This post originally appeared on my personal blog July 2014. I am sharing it three years later, this day my baby is turning 8. The ache is raw again today.
Once more it has happened, another year has gone by. And here it is: that ache that seems to be ever-present in my Mama-heart. An ache I am learning to live with, but that becomes almost palpable on these dates that mark the changing of a number. From four, or even four-and-a-half, to five.
And dear Dani, I think you feel it too. We are not together on this momentous day as you are off at Gran camp with your sister and your cousin, but last night on the phone when I asked you about your last day as a four-year-old, you cried because of that ache in your heart knowing something is past. Something you loved and treasured and aren’t quite ready to say goodbye to, is over.
You cried for the year that was over.
You cried for the knowledge that you were done with preschool, done with dear Miss Cindy and your carefree hours and your precious friends.
Your heart is tender dear girl.
Your heart is fierce.
Your heart is generous and loyal and kind.
And your heart knows the ache.
But here’s the thing I’m learning about this ache of ours: we can mourn over our loss but we can also rejoice at what is to come. So I do my best to take a few moments to be sad, to miss the little baby and toddler and preschooler you were. To look through a few pictures, and laugh at your antics in some home videos.
And then I say a prayer of thanks, step back from the nostalgia, and dream of what’s ahead. Knowing the ache will be there in the background, I have to choose to wonder with joy and amazement at what is next.
And this, your year of being 5, I’m pretty sure is going to be awesome.
So I won’t let the ache overwhelm my heart today if you promise to do the same.
I loved this liturgy of prayers from church on Sunday and wanted to share them with you, in case you are like me and are finding it difficult to know how to pray for our country these days.
We pray for liberty for each human being, that no one is oppressed or exploited. God of mercy, hear our prayer.
We pray for democracy, that each voice is heard, and no one is silenced. God of mercy, hear our prayer.
We pray for peace, that there be harmony, in which each person’s gift may flourish. God of mercy, hear our prayer.
We pray for justice, that there be a just and equal sharing of power. God of mercy, hear our prayer.
We pray for a spirit of patriotism, that we be faithful to one another as a whole. God of mercy, hear our prayer.
We thank you for our freedom, and those who protect it: teachers who teach to question, neighbors who act in covenant with one another, those who speak out against injustice. We give thanks.
We thank you for the gift of our diversity, honoring each person and celebrating differences. We give thanks.
We thank you for this land. Remind us to revere creation. We give thanks.
Temper might with humility, and power with compassion. Mend divisions, heal fear, and restore love of one another. Bless this nation and every nation the same, for we are all sisters and brothers.
Bless us, and make us a nation of justice and peace, a nation of benevolence and generosity, a nation of mutual sharing and cooperation, a nation devoted to healing. Bless this nation, that we be people of mercy.
This week I had the opportunity to lead the story/cinema station for our church’s afternoon daycamp. For four days I was visited by different grade levels, where we would review the Bible story for the day, learn our memory verse, and I would share a story of someone who lived out the day’s main point in their lives. It took a bit of searching to find just the right story to fit with each day’s point, and each story was inspiration to me as the leader so I hope it inspired the kiddos who hung out with me too.
Day 1 – Dream Big
The Bible story for the day was about Creation, so after we reviewed I asked the kids if they thought God dreamed up creation before he went to work creating. Then I asked the kids to share something they dreamed of doing, which got a lot of fun responses. (Turns out like 90% of the preschool group dreams of being as singer, just like their leader who shared first.) I shared that sometimes the dreams we dream are put in our hearts by God and that we show God love when we chase after them and don’t give up. Then we read Drum Dream Girl, about a girl who dreamed of playing the drums in her island community on Cuba but was told only boys could play the drums.
Day 2 – Be Bold
We learned about Esther this day and had a great time reviewing how she had to be bold to go to the king for help to try to save her family and friends. I asked the students if they had a time they had to be bold or do something courageous, and shared about how God helps us to have courage when we need to do the right thing. I searched high and low for a great story of someone being bold and kept coming back to Nobel Peace Prize Winner Malala Yousefzi and this great children’s book of her story. I was nervous to share with my younger students about her being shot point-blank, so I summarized her story as I showed the pictures and just told the children that the bad Taliban guys were so angry that she kept going to school when they told her not to that they hurt her badly. They hurt her bad enough to send her to the hospital. (One of my kindergartners was angry that I wouldn’t go into further detail about how they hurt her, LOL!) For my older grades I showed them this video from ABC News which showed just how miraculous her survival was. I especially loved that she claims that she survived because God was with her and the people prayed for her.
Day 3 – Imagine Anything
Our Bible Story for the day was about Jesus walking on the water, which I always love telling because of the ghost part. We talked about how Peter had to imagine something different then he knew to be able to step out of the boat in faith, and I asked the kids who gave them their imaginations. Of course they told me God did, and we talked about what a great gift an imagination is as we brainstormed all the ways we use it. I told them they could use their imagination to solve problems and come up with new inventions, and then shared this fun story of Margaret Knight, the “Lady Edison.” Even the youngest kids stayed engaged in this longer book.
Day 4 – Discover More
Today we talked about Pentecost and how God’s gift of the Holy Spirit lets us do more than we even thought we could. I shared about how we can take the things we learn in school or in life and honor God by making life better for the people around us. I had two stories of women who studied hard and then planted trees to make life better for the people around them. We read Wangari’s Trees of Peace about Nobel Peace Prize winner Wangari Maathai who empowered the women in her Kenyan village by planting trees and then we read about Kate Sessions in The Tree Lady, and how she became a “tree hunter” to find, grow, and spread trees all over the desert of San Diego, and especially Balboa Park. For the older kids I showed them the books and gave them a brief rundown, but then watched the first 10 minutes of this video on Balboa Park, and this tribute video to Wangari.
And while I didn’t set out with purpose to find stories about women, I loved that each story I shared this week was about an amazing and inspirational woman.
Let me know if you check out these books for your kids and what they think.
We have just under a month left before summer break, but I know for my friends in the south that means you have even less time. So today I’m sharing my favorite end-of-year teacher gift that has been excitedly received by our teachers the past few years. We have been blessed with amazing public school teachers that give and love and teach my kids in wonderful ways that we could never ever repay – but this gift is simple, thoughtful, homemade, and practical and a winner in my book.
A quick pinterest survey will yield hundreds of ideas for teacher gifts, some small and simple, to more extravagant. You’ll find posts from teachers telling you what they really want (cash, lol!) and cute stickers you can download to put on a bottle of wine. But I wanted to create a gift that was a real blessing after a long year of work.
Enter: the new mom meal. You know how new moms are blessed with dinners from friends and family members as they adjust to life with a baby? Well, what if we made a meal for the teacher to bring home the last day of school? A nice dinner so that she can relax, put up her feet, and have one less thing on her mind that day?
Here’s how to pull it off:
1. Email the teacher a few weeks before school is out. I let her know that our family would like to bless her with a dinner for the last day of school, but if there is another day that works better we are flexible. I ask about allergies/preferences and how many people will be eating the meal. (This past year both our teachers were grandmas who lived with their husbands, so I only had to prep for two, but the year before Dani’s teacher had three teenagers at home so I made a bigger meal.) Confirm the time of day for drop off as they may have after-school meetings, but are likely able to put things in a staff fridge until they are ready to go home.
2. Decide on what you’ll cook. One of our current favorite recipes is this healthy broccoli/chicken/rice casserole so that’s what we made last year. (And I planned ahead and made three casseroles at once so we had one to enjoy too.) We decided to add a nice roll of bread, some fresh berries, fancy chocolate bars, and fizzy drinks too.
3. Purchase tossable containers so the teacher knows she doesn’t have to return anything to you. As an extra bonus, we added paper plates, and plastic silverware wrapped in napkins. The fewer dishes the better!
4. Cook what you need to cook and package it all up. I used an aluminum baking pan but a box would work just as well. (The first year we did this gift only Daisy was in school and I bought a cute cooler tote to package the meal up in.)
5. Print cooking instructions. Last year I downloaded this printable and added our meal instructions to the menu. I think it turned out really cute.
6. Let your children help deliver the meal and enjoy the feelings of a special gift given and received.
One last thing: to make the gift extra special have your children include a thank you note. You can download adorable fill-in-the blank ones (what I’ve totally done) or practice writing skills with a traditional note.
There you have it: our very favorite teacher gift. Let me know if you decide to do something similar this year and how it works out for you.