"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, February 26, 2011

The Holy Spirit is Still at work in the church...

It's been a long weekend.  I willingly gave up both of my days off--which I guard with my life.  And though I'm tired, I'm grateful.

I spent the weekend with our Presbytery's candidates and inquirers as I lead my inaugural Annual Consultation as the Committee on Preparation for Ministry's chair.  I've been to two other such events, and every year I dread the long days of talking (which is really hard for this introvert).  But every year, I walk away, again surprised by the ways that the Holy Spirit is still at work within the church, despite some folks' ardent protests.

The Holy Spirit is still setting souls ablaze with the need to preach God's word-- a word which has never yet been silenced.  The Holy Spirit is still shaping what the church will yet become through people, young and old, who believe that God is still active in the world, and are willing to give up their lives as they know it to make sure that God's presence is still seen in the community.

I'm grateful for the passion I saw in these ministers-to-be, passion that reminded me of my once urgent, unquenchable need to be a pastor.  These days, I'm more world-weary, I'm a little more skeptical, and most days, I'm happy if I've managed to get one thing checked off my list.  I no longer feel like I have to conquer the world right now.  I no longer slave over every single word in a sermon, because I know that whether or not I "hit a home run" this week, there will be another chance next week.   Oh, in a lot of ways, I'm more seasoned.  There are less things that I view as an emergency.  I breathe in, and breathe out, and most days believe that I have done my best to be faithful to my calling.  In some ways, I'm in a lovely, complacenet sort of groove.

And so I'm deeply grateful for the opportunity to spend a few hours being reminded of what that passion and urgency was like. I loved the ways they lovingly challenged "the way things have always been" as they dared to imagine a new(er) future for the Church, while still having a deep appreciation for the places from which the denomination has come. My favorite quote says "Some people see the world as it is and ask 'why?' Some people see the world as it could be, and ask 'why not?'"   These folks helped reopen my eyes to the fact that if you take out "world" and replace it with "church" that it would make a rather profound mission statement indeed.  The people with whom I sat and fellowshiped and prayed and (hopefully) imparted wisdom to relit a fire within my own soul.

No, the church has not yet become all that it is intended to be, but today, I am reminded that the Church is not a dying institution as some would suggest. The Holy Spirit is alive, well... and dare I hope it, active.  (Even amongst the "frozen chosen".)

Thanks be to God for the reminder...

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Best Ev-ar: Guilty Pleasure

I try to keep a bar of dark chocolate around to satisfy a sweet tooth because a little goes a long way.  Quality dark chocolate will keep me from just wanting to eat more and more sugar. (Besides, as all girls know, chocolate might as well be its own food group--absolutely essential to life.  Definitely adds a lot more to the quality of life than say, brussels sprouts!)

But this new thing from Ghirardelli might be hard for me to use in that way.  The Sea Salt Soiree is so amazing that it's hard not to eat the whole bar.  The idea of salted chocolate appealing to me is new.  One of my friends recommended the Salted Caramel Hot Chocolate from Starbucks, and when I sadly discovered they were out of my seasonal favorite, the Peppermint Mocha, I gave the Hot Chocolate a try.  Now I have two favorites...

The sea salt brings out the sweetness of the otherwise slightly bitter chocolate flavor.  Go ahead, give it a try.  You know you want to.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Friday Five: Words

From the original RevGals post: There is a dramatic and surprising venue for Spiritual Formation/Sunday School classes at my church: Each week a different person teaches about a "word" that expresses his/her passion or interest. The first week someone spoke about "hospitality" with abundant treats on her mother and grandmother's china arrayed on tables. Other words have been "connectivity," "Trinity," "money," and "dreams." No one knows which person will be teaching until the class convenes. I am teaching this Sunday and plan to talk about "stirrings."

For this Friday Five, please list five words that identify your passions, spirituality, and/or life. Describe as much or as little as you wish.

Ooh-- good question.  In no particular order:

Joy-- For me, as a Christian, Joy is one of the most important pieces in my life.  I think everything that we do bears witness to what we believe about God, and a person who radiates joy (which I think really is different than happiness) can't help but draw folks in. Joy is something I try to cultivate in my life at all times and all circumstances, but it is also probably one of the easier things I could be working on.  It's sounds cheesy, but I feel like I've got a deep well inside me, and sometimes it's just bursting to get out.

Shalom-- this is one of the most important biblical concepts in my life.  In the Hebrew Scriptures, the idea of shalom not only describes peace, but wholeness and harmony as well. As I go about my day, I try to seek peace and wholness and harmony.  I don't mean the absence of strife, though that would certainly be nice, but peace in the midst of.

Passion--not with the sexual undertones that the word usually conveys, but more along the idea of being passionate about the things you do--being set on fire about something. We all have things that we have to do, but I work hard to make sure that the non-necessary things I'm giving my time and energy to are the things about which I really care.  I try not to let my life get sucked away by things I tell myself that I should be doing, but instead work to invest in the things that really matter to me.

Stewardship-another important idea to me is that of taking care of that which has been entrusted to me.  I'm not just talking about money, but of all things.  I try to actively take care of my health and finances and environment and time.  I try to make sure I'm using my resources in appropiate ways instead of carelessly letting them go by the wayside.

Spirit-- In my personal prayer life, I often address my prayers to the Holy Spirit, who I see as the person in the trinity invovled in renewing energies and waking things up.  But the Hebrew has a word, ruach, that means spirit (or wind).  It also means breath of God--which is what we see God breathing into the adam (adam means man, but also reflects an idea of being from the earth-- the name, Adam, is based on that... but the man isn't really named Adam in the scriptures.) This idea also shows up in Ezekial when God breathes into the dry bones and they become alive.  This idea is important to me as I remember that I have God's very own breath within me-- that's a holy responsibility--and a whole calling to be responsible for that which has been breathed into me.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Rediscovering a lost art

If you've read many of these posts, you've probably seen me whining about wanting to be a writer more than once.  That's the thing that keeps nagging at my soul-- I want to write.  Oh yes, I love being a pastor.  But my soul seems to need to write.

I've been reading through Anne Lamott's "Bird by Bird" again, and attempting (again) to work my way through "The Artist's Way".  Lamotte reminded me about the joy (and need to write) short assignments.  The same week, Cameron challenged me to make time to write by sending out a few handwritten thank you notes or other pieces of correspondance.  Two hints in a week was enough to get my brain rolling.  Well, that, and I've been actively looking for ways to use my unique gifts as a female pastor to bring fruitfulness to my ministry.

So it dawned on me (finally) that somehow, all these things are working together.  And I've been writing notes, lots and lots of notes throughout the last month.  I've sent thank you cards to parishioners who have done something above and beyond around the church. I've hand-drawn birthday cards and other things.  I've carefully done calligraphy of applicable bible verses on the fronts of cards to say "I'm praying for you."  I've sent cards to people in whose eyes I can do no wrong, just because they make me smile.  And I've sent cards to people who pray that I'll leave the church soon, because they are both against me as a female pastor and as a person.  I've sent cards as attempts at peacemaking, as a way of recognizing someone's contribution to our life together, as mobile prayers.   There is something about receiving a note that perks up your day-- just knowing a person took the time to think of you, write something down, and then hunt down your address and a stamp means a lot.

And strangely, every time I write a thank-you note (even for something small) I find that my own gratefulness has increased.  As I send a "praying for you" card, I am the one that is blessed.  As I wish someone a Happy Birthday, my own day is happier.  And I find that my soul is fed because I am writing, because I am being creative (which is something for someone who used to do tons of drawing and art, but hasn't in years.)

Of course, email is easier.  But there's still an awful lot to be said about finding a hand penned note in your mailbox.  Today, I'll trade convenience for tending souls...mine, and theirs.


Saturday, February 12, 2011

Home is where your tree is...

[caption id="attachment_138" align="aligncenter" width="640" caption="Country Living..."][/caption]

Where we are isn't really home, but we've planted our feet here for a while.   But when I see this tree-- and it's absolutely huge-- I feel home, in much the same way that I feel home whenever I'm in the mountains.   The tree guards my comings and goings between the house and the cornfields, and it seems to provide a stopping point for the beautfiul hawk that we see on a regular basis.

It makes me happy to see this picture.  It was taken on a blue-sky day, those rare days when everything seems to be in harmony with everything else, on a day when heaven and earth seemed to be one.

Everyone needs a tree to sit under and watch the day go by...

Monday, February 7, 2011

Oh... You're a minister...

"When someone finds out you are a minister, sometimes you have to listen to more than their theories about God and the church. You also may have to deal with their assumptions about ministers." (Martin Copenhaver, This Odd and Wondrous Calling)

Well, at least I feel a little better about my hesitation to announce that I'm a pastor-- after reading the chapter in "This Odd and Wondrous Calling" entitled "So, you're a minister." It never fails that someone will introduce me as a pastor in a group setting, as if explaining what I'm doing there.  (Oh, you know...she's the minister... I had to invite her-- she represents Jesus, after all.  Thankfully they do not actually say this out loud, but it's always present in the exchanged looks.)  And usually if I know the person doing the introducing fairly well, I'll (almost) teasingly say something like "Hey! I was blending in just fine!"  But some part of me isn't kidding.  The reactions I get when folks find out that I'm a pastor never seem to be terrifically positive.  First of all, depending on the crowd I'm with, the fact that I'm both young and female registers with the hearer in a visible way.  Again, thankfully, most folks do not actually say those things outloud, but it's always apparent that they've realized that I don't really fit their notion of what a pastor looks like.

But the second, and probably bigger, reason why I don't go around boldly proclaiming what I do for a living is that people change how they are around me.  All the jokes they would like to tell either get cut completely, or ridiculously sensored so that they're not really funny.  If they were drinking, the tendancy is to try to cover it up.  I guess in their minds, ministers are so holy that they are offended by these things, but easily offended I am not.

I try to dodge the question "So, what do you do?" but never successfully. If I had a good answer, I might be inclined to stretcth the truth a bit.  "Oh, I'm a writer" (True).  "I'm a public speaker" (True).  "I design websites" (True).  "I'm a secretary" (True).  Somehow, though, I can't ever quite convince myself to do that.

And every now and then, I'm glad that I can't.  I was getting my hair cut the other day and generally cutting up with the fun loving women in the shop.  As it invariably does, the "what do you do?" question came up, and I answered it honestly.  Thankfully, the fun-loving women didn't make a terribly big deal about it, and only censored themselves a little bit.   But when I left, I noticed that the woman who had been her hair cut in the booth next to mine was sort of hovering around outside.  "Where are you a pastor?" she asked.  I tried not to grimace as I was thinking "Crap, crap, crap...here it comes."  But I told her.   Then the story came out that she was in a church where she was unhappy, but had been going there because that's where she was raised.  She said "it seems to be only about rules and what I can and can't do.  I don't feel like it's a community, and I can't tell you the last time I saw the pastor really laugh.  But you have a beautiful laugh, and you seem like you have a lot of fun wherever you go.  I'd like to go to a church with a pastor like that."

I don't know if she'll ever turn up at my church, but either way, at least for that moment, I was glad I had been honest about my calling.  I've never been great at wearing a "Preacher mask", but what she needed to see then was a real person who also happened to be a real Christian.

"So you're a minister?"

"Yes, yes, I am."


Sunday, February 6, 2011

Sunday Prayer


Wake me up--body, mind, and soul.

Remind me of your calling on my life, Fill me with passion for these your people.

Give me words to say--not my words, but yours.

Close my ears to the squabbles, to the petty complaints that have little to do with "Thy kingdom come".  Open my ears and my heart to your holy voice.

Instill in me the courage to say (and mean) "Here I am, send me."


Thursday, February 3, 2011

Plinky Prompt: Name Something intangible that you never want to lose

Plinky.com is a great site that offers daily writing prompts--which is lovely for folks like me, who want to write more, but don't always have something about which to write.

A prompt I love: name something intangible that you never want to lose.

Of course, there are lots of things: my husband's love, my desire to write, my hope that people will eventually learn to play nice, my sense of compassion.  But there is one that is so much at the core of who I am that it cannot be overlooked.  The thing that would hurt the most if I lost it, I think, is my sense of humor.   I love to laugh-- and to be a part of other people's laughter. On days when the world is crashing down around my shoulders, being able to eek out even a giggle somehow improves my outlook.   I think, if I lost my sense of humor, I might not actually be me anymore.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Best Ev-ar: Workout Equipment

I love this!  (I have it for the wii) but i'd imagine that whatever the platform that it's great.  The exercises are well thought out and the workouts are hard core--using lots of different muscle groups.   They even encourage you to have a healthy competitive streak, which is great for people like me...(who probably don't need any encouragement.)  Besides, being sort of a nerd-- I like all the stats.  I can see exactly how many calories I've burned and how long my heart was in the target heart rate.  There are three levels, and several programs to choose from, so it is appropriate for lots of people.  On the days when I'm not able to run or walk or something like that, this is a great substitute (or addition!)

Great, great, great product...