"Graceland" is the name of my favorite song and album. It's by Paul Simon, but more importantly, it's what "home" sounds and feels like to me. We always listened to this album as we traveled from my home in Tennessee to my parents' childhood homes in Florida. But today, it's also a pretty good snapshot of my theology. Somewhere I really believe that the Christian journey is all about a wild trip to Grace-land. As I see it, Grace-land is the place where God is waiting to meet even us–with all the baggage and brokeness that we tote with us. Grace-land is the place where we will be received with open arms, even though our attempts at “getting it right” have been miserable failures at best. But, I think, every step we take is a step on the journey to Graceland.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Black Friday...Year Round

My mom (and probably countless other folks) have taught me over the years that it's not ok to push and shove.  I thought that was something we got over as we outgrew 5 year-old meltdowns in the grocery store.

But as I was running errands yesterday, it felt like there was a lot of pushing and shoving going on.   I lost count of how many cars almost ran me over, not because they didn't see me,  but because they were convinced that if they moved in on me, that it would be no problem for them to come on in.  I'm glad I drive like a granny, because were that not the case, I'm certain I would have been in a serious accident yesterday.

Even at the stores, it was the same thing.  Angry people with buggies who just weren't going to stop, nevermind that your buggy had the right-of-way. (Yes, there is such a thing...it's just like driving.  You don't make a left turn on top of someone who is going straight.)

And I got cussed out at the gas station for pulling into a pump.  Apparently, someone across the station had their eye on that particular pump and made a beeline toward it just as I was pulling in.

The lady that helped me at an office supply place treated me like I was dumb as a rock when I asked for a box to mail something.

What's going on, that people are boiling over all the time?  What has happened that people have become convinced that if they don't push and shove, they won't get anywhere in life?  I hate to feel this way, but I've come to expect this on Black Friday.  People want the deals and the parking spaces. Parents will do whatever it takes to get THE toy. I dread it, but at least I know it's coming. I've called it "the angriest day of the year" for many years. But for one day a year, I can handle it.

Black Friday attitudes are taking over.  It's an angry world out there...

Monday, October 24, 2011

Dancing before the Lord

Prayer is a dangerous thing.  Before you know it, you get answers and instructions that you couldn't even imagine praying for.

For two days now, I've gotten an instruction that seems, at least to me, a bit ridiculous.  As I've been laying in bed, praying that God will work through me and open my eyes in the coming day, I've heard "Dance before the Lord."  My mind has been flooded with songs that talk about dancing, including "The Lord of the Dance" and John Michael Talbots "Canticle of the Sun"--which says "Come Dance in the forest, come play in the fields." (You can see it on youtube here: http://www.youtube.com/watch v=OGMIjwf0SVw )

Certainly, King David danced before the Lord-- the ESV says "David danced before the Lord with all his might."  The message renders it as "David danced before the Lord with great abandon." Well, that's lovely.  I've always enjoyed that mental picture and believed that folks shoud dance a jig of joy before the Lord.  Other folks...not me.

"So You Think You Can Dance" is nowhere on my radar, because I know I can't.  When it comes to dancing, I'm a frozen chosen to the core.  I have no rhythm.  I thought that spending 3 months in Kenya would help me get some rhythm, and at the beginning of my time there, the kids assured me they could help.  But by time I left, we all knew that rhythm was nowhere in my future.  I would argue that my heart is just about as joyful as anyone's, but I don't dance.

But what do I do with the instructions that have been given me?  Maybe it's not about physically dancing, though if God has that in my future, I'd say miracles certainly still happen.  But maybe it's about submitting all of my days to the rhythm of God's movement in my life.  Maybe it's about coming before the Lord with erruptive Joy that can't be contained.

Any thoughts?

Saturday, October 22, 2011

With what shall I come before the Lord?

"How can I stand up before God and show proper respect to the high God? Should I bring an armload of offerings topped off with yearling calves? Would God be impressed with thousands of rams, with buckets and barrels of olive oil?  Would he be moved if I sacrificed my firstborn child, my precious baby, to cancel my sin?" (Micah 6:6, The Message)

There have been days, lots of them to be exact, that I've wondered what would impress God, or what God required of me.  There have been days when I've missed the mark...badly. But today, as I've had a week "off" (though most of it was spent doing continuing ed-- in the beautiful mountains-- poor me!) and I've had a chance to collect my thoughts and do some things just for me, I realize that the things that God asks of us are to live "holy and joyful lives, even as we watch for God's new heaven and new earth." (A Brief Statement of Faith--PCUSA).

I spent the morning cooking for the week. (We're trying to quit eating out so much-- and cooking ahead and freezing are the only way we can achieve that.)  I even baked bread, using a recipe that my grandmother used to make--and made it with her mixer that my parents gave me as a wedding present. But there was a holiness to all of it, a holy luxury of just having one task at hand.  Then DH and I sat outside, enjoying a fire in our firepit.  I did some knitting and some reading (for fun! how bout that?) and then went for a lovely walk in the cornfields.  I watched my doggie smile as she ran and ran.  Then DH and the other doggie came out to meet us, and the light was magical--I took some great pictures (that at least make me happy).

And that is how I come before the Lord, at least today. Covered in the remnants of a very good day that fed my soul and gave me a few opportunities to see God in my midst.  "With what shall I come before the Lord?" the prophet Micah asks.

I come before the Lord with knitting and baked bread and a greatful heart, having stood on holy ground, having been made joyful at the presence of God in my midst, waiting to see what God is up to in the days ahead.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Being Jesus to the World/ Living for Christ in the World

[Thoughts from Montreat Wee Kirk 2011]

I've spent the last four days talking about Jesus.  I'm glad that's the case, but I figured with a title like "Wee Kirk" that we'd be talking a lot about church.  As a pastor, I find that many conversations are about church.  How we do it, how we can make it better, what's right, and what's wrong. Budgets. Committees. Polity.

But the thing I didn't realize until this week is that I have a lot more conversations about church than I do about Jesus.  No wonder I feel a little listless.  How did that happen?  When I took ordination vows, I don't remember thinking about all the ways I could do church. I remember being in love with Christ and wanting to share that love with as many people as I came in contact with.

Somewhere along the line, though, church became what I did.  Is it possible that church has slipped into the center of my focus, and pushed Christ to the margins.  What a terrible travesty! And if that is the case, how do I reclaim my love and passion for the One who has saved me from myself? How do I make "it" less about church and more about Christ (and why, why, why, do we live in a world where those seem to be different things?!).

Here are two things that I heard this week, that should have been common sense, but that have gotten under my skin.  Maybe these are starting places to shift me, and the world around me.

1.  Be Jesus to the World.  "Don't be like Jesus.  Be Jesus" is what one presenter said.  "The world doesn't necessarily mean across the ocean.  The world is where you are, the people even right around you" is what another one said.  This made sense to me, even though the governing philosophy for a while was "No one can be like Jesus, and it's blasphemous to assume that you are Jesus."  Well, maybe it's not assuming that I am Jesus, but rather about believing body and soul that I am an extension of Christ, that I am quite literally the "hands and feet of Christ" as Theresa of Avila called it.  How can I be Christ to all that I meet, especially outside of the church.  Maybe it's a smile.  Maybe it's a word of encouragement.  Maybe it's plopping myself down to listen.  Maybe it's radiating grace to people who have only known judgement.  Sure, I tell myself, I've done these things, both as a pastor and as a Christian.  But today, I am making the decision that I will keep those thoughts at the forefront of my brain. I will consciously work toward being Jesus to all I meet.

2. Submitting all that I am and do to Christ. I was blessed to hear Steve Hayner speak this week, about being the Aroma of Christ in the world and also about serving Christ in the 24/7 world.  He told of an exercise that he did with some students, where he asked them to write down everything they had done for a week.  Then he asked them to label each item with "Things I did for the love of Christ", "Things I did for the love of Christ's body" (and one other category which I can't pull up right now.  I'll edit this later when I remember!) Steve said that one smart aleck said "What about my laundry?" And then another said "What about my homework?" Even as I saw where Steve was going, I realized that there are so many things I do grouchily. I have never rejoiced at mountains of laundry--that's for sure. But what if I took that time and used it as a time to pray, not in the pious, wordy, head bowed sort of way, but in the way that is inviting Christ into that which is perfectly ordinary about my life? What if I viewed the yard mowing as a chance to be reminded that I'm standing on God's holy, ever-singing, ground? What if I view my time waiting in line at the store as a time to connect with or pray for those in front of me?  Perhaps that's one of the things I loved about Barbara Brown Taylor's "An Altar in the World"-- the sense of worshipping God in and through everything I'm doing.  So that's my second decision.  I am going to make every attempt to bring every boring and ordinary thing on my to-do list before Christ, not just the things I deem as holy.  I want my every day world to be flooded with the presence of Christ in and around me.

God's Paintbrush

[Thoughts from Montreat's Wee Kirk Conference 2011]

I can't always see God. I have days when I wonder what God is up to in the world. (Maybe that's funny for a pastor...or maybe that's just the reality of things-- that we're people too. People with questions and distractions and everything else that goes along with being a person, not a saint.)

I have been lucky enough to see God at work a lot lately, but for the days when I'm having a tough time:





How about that for a visual reminder? Thanks be to God, who goes to all that trouble to make the world spectacular for us.

Unplugged but Connected

[Thoughts while at Montreat's Wee Kirk Conference this week]

Spending several days in Presbyterian Heaven (Montreat) was an introvert's dream come true. Not only was it a beautiful time in a very Thin placee, but I found plenty of space to get away from everything and be quiet. Certainly we had been warned, but I suppose DH and I were a little disappointed to discover that not only did we not have cell phone coverage, but that the Wi-fi was pretty limited. It bothered him more than it did me that there was no TV in our room, but it added to a picture of being completely unplugged. Of course, since I'm an ipad-toting sort, I actually had 3G, which made me feel better as we arrived. Who could be completely unplugged, after all?

Turns out I could. I barely checked my email (I think I checked it once or twice in four days). I didn't look at facebook. Voicemail wasn't really an option.

It was holy quiet. And I didn't miss it at all.

I heard the things that I've been too busy to hear in recent days: the gentle whisper of God as the windchimes twinkled, the quiet flowing of streams, the voices of little bugs and animals singing the Living God's praises. I took time to notice things I might have over looked: flowers that were ordered just so, the face of Jesus staring back at me from many other faces, the mist that couldn't quite turn loose its grasp on our world. I felt things that have seemed cut off to me for a while: a sense of pure shalom, worship with my whole body, the poetry at work in the body of Christ.

Oh I was unplugged alright. But I've never felt more connected.


Wednesday, October 5, 2011

The Holiness of Being Sick

Despite my best efforts to take care of myself, I seem to catch a doozy of a cold or sinus infection a couple of times a year.  Just as the seasons are changing, and I want so badly to go and do and enjoy.  Just as I get the busiest.

I guess this is one of those times for me.  I've been rocking a fever all week that has left my body very achy. Sometimes I cough and cough and cough until it hurts to breathe.  And my throat feels like I've been swallowing steel wool. I don't have a voice to talk.   I wouldn't wish this on anyone.

But, I think there is a certain holiness about being sick--not something that can or should be sought, but an opportunity to make the most of when it comes your way. Though there are thousands of things you're supposed to be doing, you know that you're pretty much useless. So you excuse yourself for a little while, delight in the feel of your softest pjs, and read the book that's been calling your name for weeks.  You sleep some, and eat some, and pray some.

My sweet husband has been taking care of me, and my cats and dogs all pile on the bed, as if napping beside me will make me feel better.  And it does.  There is something very vulnerable about being sick, about knowing that you don't have it all together enough to take care of yourself, about letting the love of others surround you when you need it most.  Perhaps just at the moments when I have the most to do, God says "Be still (literally "cease striving", from the Hebrew) and know that I am God.  And on days like this, all I have the energy to do is listen, and allow myself to be loved and cared-for.  And for today, anyway, that is enough.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Seeking Solitude

In my "spare" time, I am a volunteer coach for Girls on the Run.  If you don't know about it, it's an amazing program for girls in 3rd-6th grades.  It's not just about helping them train to run a 5k, but about teaching them to have a positive sense of self worth and helping them celebrate their unique gifts and talents.  In the two or three hours a week that I spend with these girls, I'm constantly amazed by them and what they have to teach me.

I was caught completely off guard at our last session.  I read the curriculum for that day and it told me that the topic for the day was celebrating gratitude.  "That's lovely", I thought to myself.  But when the handy-dandy book instructed me to have the girls run or walk for 40 minutes in complete silence without even walking next to someone else (so that they could have time to think about the things for which they were grateful), I expected to have a mutiny on my hands. Our little darlings are social butterflies.  Sometimes they are so chatty that we have a hard time getting them to settle down.  But what happened that day amazed me.  Each girl did exactly what we asked of her, even the ones who sometimes have a hard time following directions.  Each girl set off at her own pace, and seemed to be completely at peace walking or running on such a beautiful day.  There was no peer pressure.  The ones who often seem to be distracted were completely focused.  And without exception, every girl finished more laps than she had ever done before.   When we talked with them again at the end of the session, most of them expressed how much they enjoyed that time, and how it was easier for them to achieve their goal when they were in their own zone.

I know I need solitude-- that's the curse of being an introvert. But I wasn't aware of just how noisy their worlds seem to be.  Maybe that's one of the greatest needs of our soul: to be silent and still, and to have a chance to hear the whisper of God.