"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.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Tidings of Comfort and Joy

{In response to the shootings in Conneticut on 12/14}

Advent 3c
Zephaniah 3:14++

            Like the sermons that many churches will hear today, this is not the one I was planning on preaching today.  I was dutifully slogging away with the name-calling John the Baptist and his good news that didn’t feel like good news.   When I woke up in the wee hours of Friday morning, I had several things on my mind:  finish a sermon, make our house spotless so that you would think that’s how we keep our house, and prepare some dishes for you to enjoy as you’re at our house this afternoon.  But by 1 or 2, the whole world felt like a different place.  None of those things that seemed so pressing mattered much in the wake of the news that came out of Connecticut.  28 people lost their lives in a massacre.

            There just aren’t words.  There are no beautiful words that can make any sense out of it, no words that can make it ok.  There are only prayers, the kind that are beyond words, the kind that comes in gasps and broken utterances.  There are only tears that weep boldly for those that have lost—that dare to express a hope that Christ reigns even in the midst of all the things

  Long before the world woke up yesterday morning, I was sitting in front of the fire—with its lights and two stockings.  The dogs were snoring beside me, and as I opened up my computer, trying to figure out what to say, the Vienna Boys choir began singing Silent Night.  It was the perfect picture of a quiet Advent morning.  And it undid me.  Because juxtaposed with that was the headline that showed up on my news feed:  Connecticut school shooting: Witness inside school: 'I've got bodies here'.  And juxtaposed with that  was my virtual Advent candle that was waiting to be lit.  Yesterday’s candle still heralding peace, today’s—the one that we haven’t lit yet here either: joy.

On Tuesdays during Advent, we’re praying through the Advent candles. I shared with the people that were there last Tuesday as we were talking about peace that in 2011, during the second week of Advent, several things happened in the world and in my community.  The 70th anniversary of Pearl Harbor happened.    There was a bombing in Afghanistan that killed 56 people.  And in Fayetteville, just a few weeks before, there had been a shooting at our mall on Black Friday.  How do you begin to talk about or pray for peace when those things are happening around you?

How do you begin to talk about Joy, when the sound of mothers and fathers and brothers and sisters and grandparents weeping can be heard all across our country? 

And even if that weren’t the case, how to you begin to go there with a congregation who has lost so many of its loved ones within the last year?  In the horrible words of the headlines, “We’ve got bodies here”.  The sense of loss in this congregation is strong. The names you’ve named for me have become a litany of grief—because those that you’ve lost haven’t just been people that you casually worshipped with.  They’ve been dear friends.  They are the people that you still almost see when you take your regular pews—the ones who were such a fixture of the church that you can’t imagine how life in the church can go on without them.   And not only is the church in mourning, but many of you as individuals have faced great loss this year.  You’ve gotten devastating news that has rattled everything you thought you knew.  You’ve been touched by the very frailty of life.

How indeed do any of us begin to talk about joy when the grief is just so great?  Do you simply light a candle in hopes that the sentiment given to that candle will one day be true?  Do you read scriptures that feel just a little bit too glib to be helpful right now?  Or do you sit with the things that break your heart?  There’s a verse in the book Jeremiah, that’s later quoted in Matthew, that says, “This is what the LORD says: "A voice is heard in Ramah, mourning and great weeping, Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted, because her children are no more."  And maybe that’s where we are right now.  I’ve never done this before, and I have no idea how it will work or what will come of it.  But I’m going to stop preaching for a few minutes—and leave some space.  And maybe this is the time to name some of those things that are just too heavy—whether you want to name them outloud or silently.  But maybe this is the place to name the places where you are broken hearted, to name the ones that you miss, to cry out to the Lord.   So I invite you to do that, to shape a word or two into a prayer—to lift it gently to this holy space.

We long for the Lord to redeem our broken places—to comfort us, to hold us tight, to promise that we won’t be left alone to defend ourselves from the world.  And we admit that sometimes it’s hard to hold on to our joy.  Sometimes, it feels like it’s gone from us all together.

I had an experience in my former church that I swore I’d write about sometime.  We had oil-filled advent candles—which were great.  They lit without a problem.  Except the pink joy candle.  Every year, for four years, we had to fight with the pink candle to get it to light…the church folks laughed and we had some good natured, but awkward moments trying to light the candle of joy. 

I’ve kind of begun to see that as a metaphor—sometimes Joy is the thing that’s hardest to get started in us.  We can do love and peace, and on most days hope—but it feels like joy takes a bit more work for us.   It takes a lot of work to ignite joy within ourselves.

But here’s the thing that I didn’t tell you.  The pink joy candle was not only contrary at the beginning of the service.  It was also contrary when we tried to put it out.  It was like one of those trick birthday candles that you thought was out, but would slowly come back to life.   And maybe that’s as much a metaphor as the fact that it was hard to light—it’s just as hard to make it go completely out, once you’ve gotten it lit.  Maybe that’s something important.  Because maybe we know that we aren’t the ones who make joy.  We don’t make it at the holidays, or at the times when we need it most, or any other time.  But there is something that lives deep in us that tells us that we bear witness to a joy that shall soothe all the tears, that the Holy God of Israel is working to redeem all the broken places.

Our weeping last for a night, but doesn’t joy come in the morning? It comes, when we open our eyelashes that have become stuck together with tears—when we peak out and see that the Lord isn’t finished. It comes, when we have wailed to the Lord—and a voice whispers back to us from the silence “Do you know how much I love you?  Do you know that I won’t leave you—not ever?”  Joy comes when we’ve been emptied out by the world, and our neighbor scoots a little closer to give us a hug and make us smile.  Joy comes when all we’ve known is the night terrors—the silence that last for hours, the questions that speak louder than anything—when we feel a presence that will. Not. Let. Us. Go.

I wrote something several years ago after I went to pray with a woman who was going into surgery—a woman whose life was shattered by violence.  But it seems to fit today—after the events of the week—after what has surely been a hard year for this congregation.

It's darkest before the dawn, or so they say.
Before even the surgical waiting room has been opened, or anyone is ready to wait.
Before she has been taken back.
Before the visitor's desk is staffed, or the parking deck, for that matter.
Before the cafeteria has opened.
Before the nurses are fully awake.
Before the rules are thoroughly enforced.
Before the sun (or son) has started tinting the world a lovely shade of pink.
It's darkest then.

But it's there, in the before, that God feels closest.
Because the light of love is waiting to break in.
And for the ones, waiting and watching,
the great divide between heaven and earth seems a little thinner.
Because we need God just a little more,
and we're a little less guarded and a little more vulnerable.

It's darkest before the dawn.
But not really.
Because in that great darkness a voice gently whispers in my ear,
"I am the light of the world.  And the darkness has never, will never, put the light out."

Weeping lasts for a night, but Joy always comes in the morning.  That is the very real presence of Christ in our midst. 

God rest you, troubled gentle ones—let nothing you dismay.
For I bring you tidings of comfort and joy. 

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Before the World Wakes Up

We (DH and I) both woke up at an ungodly hour this morning--spontaneously and with no  hope of going back to sleep.  So we did what any normal people would do on a Saturday morning.  We bundled up and braved the 28 degree morning of our mountain town and went for a walk.  It was beautiful and dark and starry-- a marvelous, holy mystery of a morning.  We walked around our town--this new home of ours-- just watching the world wake up. We breathed deeply the brisk air, and took the time to notice things that we'd always been too busy to see: Flowers that, despite the cold, were standing tall and proud.  A seemingly useless set of stairs that went to nowhere-- except perhaps a delightful cottage that we couldn't see.  We talked and daydreamed and watched our dogs smell-- despite the hour, we were more awake than it seemed like we'd been in months.  We even stumbled on a geocache, which reminded us how much we've missed doing that.

And I realized this is what I've been missing.  We've settled in a new town, a new job and a new house, and we are marvelously in love with all of them, but something has been missing.  It's been a madhouse of busyness as we've gotten settled and had company and, and, and...  and I've missed having a chance to wander around with eyes open in holy wonder.

I've missed sabbath keeping-- not that I've ever done a stellar job of being a sabbath keeper.  But it has always, always been a deep longing of my soul.  And that's especially true as I'm now serving a much larger (ie much busier) church,  and despite the need for extroverted tendencies, I'm still a solitude loving introvert.   On a whim, I picked up MaryAnn McKibben Dana's Sabbath in the Suburbs, and have been savoring it one delicious bite at a time. Perhaps I love it so much because she struggles with creating a sabbath practice as much as any busy person, and unlike many of the other books on the subject seem to, her practice of sabbath does not take place in a vaccuum.  She has three small children and serves as a pastor, and the world refuses to slow down for her.  Yet, she creates a real sabbath practice, at turns by doing things "sabbathly" or by having sabbath moments when the world won't stop long enough to have a whole day of sabbath.

Today will be at least partly a work day for me-- a day of catching up from two days of sickness.  But before any of that, there was a thin place of reawakening holy wonder.  Before the world woke up, there was sabbath-- a chance to be fully presesnt with those I love in a place I love.  As I sit working by the fire, my day is different.  I am different.

Turns out there was nothing "ungodly" about the hour...

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Shower the People

{Thoughts in a series as I transition from one congregation to the next}

When I think back on this time of in-between, I wonder what I will remember. Will the stress of moving be what I hold on to? Will I cling to the good-byes and the hellos? Will I remember all the conversations with not one, but two churches, that had to happen in order to go? Will I remember all the anxious prayers and the "thank you, thank you, thank you" prayers that have gone up from me?

Maybe.  But what I hope I remember from this time is just how much love I've experienced.  The church I'm saying goodbye to has poured its love out on me, from the moment I announced my departure.  It's given me a chance to reflect and appreciate all the times we have shared together and to remember the ways I've both loved and been loved.  There have been tears (lots of tears) and hugs and goodbye dinners and "are you sure you won't stay?" conversations.  There's a goodbye party planned.  And if I ever doubted, these people are helping me remember that I mattered to them.  Of course it's not about that, but it's nice to know all the same.

But this church isn't the only source of love.  The church to which I am going is also making my mind spin with how much they love me-- and most of them haven't even yet met me. And maybe it isn't even that they love me, but thats how they treat their pastors--with love for the light of Christ those pastors bear. I've been blown away by the gestures of kindness and caring that I've already experienced, and I haven't even arrived yet.  One family has offered us a cottage to stay in while the manse repairs are completed.  One lady asked us for a wishlist so that church folks might contribute to the small items necessary for the move. Another lady always asks about our pets and tells me how she is looking after the plants we already brought up there.  The manse restoration project has turned out to be quite a labor of love, which has become an "all hands on deck" event.  And 28 people piled in cars and the church bus and drove an hour and a half to come see me as I was received at the Presbytery meeting.  Folks don't just go to Presbytery meetings because they are fun...

Yet, even these two churches are not responsible for all the love I'm feeling.  My friends and family and sweet husband are filled with words of "I'm proud of you" and "I'm so happy for you", even as they give me space to grieve the transition while  knowing that I'm simultaneously excited for the destination.

I wouldn't choose to spend much time in between.  But if I have to be in this place, then I'm really grateful for the love.

Maybe James Taylor has it right:  "Shower the people you love with love, show them the way that you feel. Things are gonna work out fine, if you only will..."

Craigslist Galore! (Or a theology of "stuff")

{Thoughts in a series as I'm transitioning from one congregation to another}

My husband loves the show "Hoarders".  It makes me want to run for the nearest shower to get the feeling of the creepy crawlies off of me. I keep saying, "How can anyone let it get so bad?"

And we're not anything like that, but wow...does stuff ever accumulate!  We've lived in one house for four years and have amassed more "stuff" than I would've ever imagined.  When we moved in, we looked at all the room we had and said to ourselves, "We'll never fill that up!"  But of course, we have. Now we have to deal with it-- either schlep it to the new place, or trash it, or sell it.

I choose selling it.  I've put all sorts of things on craigslist-- things that were just cluttering up our lives-- things that, at some point, we must've believed were important.  My husband had 11 complete seasons of "South Park" (which is probably 11 more than anyone needs!) We had tacky "newly marrieds" furniture that we stuck in a dark nook.  I had a huge bag of yarn--which doesn't even include the good stuff that I'm keeping.   It's such a strange thing, but I'm getting a great sense of satisfaction out of selling these things that have just been lurking in our house.  Sure, it's great having extra cash (though perhaps we sold our refrigerator a week too early, but eh...) but it's more than that.  It's a feeling of liberation.  I like knowing that I'm not going to be unpacking stuff I don't care about in our new home.  It feels like a chance to unbury ourselves and start over, with only the important things.

Happiness isn't in stuff.  It's in watching your doggies snore peacefully on the couch.  It's in taking the journey of a lifetime with the one you love the most. It's in learning to make peace with your surroundings and believing that your life might just be better simplified.  For everything else, there's craigslist.

A Liturgy of Tears

{Thoughts as I'm transitioning from one congregation to the next}

The office--no longer "my" office-- is almost completely packed up.  Anyone who would peek inside would think me ready to go.  The bulletin no longer bears my name, but says only "Members of the congregation: ministers". There's no longer much proof that I was here--that I loved people in these walls, that I married and buried and baptized their loved ones.  It's quiet, maybe too quiet for my taste.  The only sound is the sound of my tears gently falling on the farewell liturgy I'm trying to finish.

But the joyful liturgy of transition I had in mind just won't come.  It's not ready to be written.
For now, there are only tears.   Holy tears.

Tears for the ones I love, and for the ones I haven't loved enough.
Tears for the opportunies we've found, and for the ones we've been too scared to realize.
Tears for the great memories made, and for the ones that aren't so lovely.
Tears for the amazing work of the Holy Spirit in our midst, and for the times we felt like a valley of dry bones.
Tears for a bright and lovely future as we go separate ways, and for a holy rememberance of the past.
Tears for all the broken hearts, and for the ways they've been bandaged up.
Tears for all the things done, and for the ones I wasn't brave enough or strong enough to do.
Tears for my next love, and tears for my first.

Tears, always, because I've loved, and learned what it is to be loved.
Tears of joy and grief and love and hope and trust--these are my offering of tears.  They're all I have right now.  And right now, they are enough.

Until now, I haven't noticed how powerful the words are.  But today, maybe I understand a little bit.
Maybe some of the biggest words in all of scripture are these:  Jesus wept.

And maybe it's the ability to weep with and for, and not the "Reverend" in front of my name, that makes me a pastor.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Saturday, May 19, 2012

A Taking Giving Prayer

A week of taking, taking, taking
Worship and word and rest
Of listening and thinking and dreaming

But now back to weeks of giving, giving, giving
More to do than can ever be done
And an unexpected funeral besides

So much for my ivory tower, my protected bubble
Because the very things I went to study are calling.
Funny how that works.

I'm sitting with Isaiah 6 and that nagging question,
"Whom shall I send, who will go for me?"
I eeked out a quiet "me", some years ago.
I meant that, didn't I? 

Go, go, go... or maybe... oh, oh, oh:
Oh, bless me now, my Savior, I come to Thee
Oh, bless me now, my Savior, I come to Thee
I need Thee every hour, teach me Thy will
And Thy rich promises in me fulfill

I need Thee, oh, I need Thee
Oh I need Thee every hour
I need Thee, I need Thee, I need Thee every hour
I need Thee, I need Thee, I need Thee every hour

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

What is Essential?

[Thoughts from the Festival of Homiletics 2012]

I've listened to fascinating conversations this week about the emergent church. I've engaged in thought about the future of the church, and how to reach generations beyod what currently fills (at least my church's) pews. And I've heard people talk about the "post-moderns"-- and though I think I'm of the generation that produces post-moderns, I've never had a big understanding of what that meant. Because probably, at least in thought, this is not the group with whom I identify. I've not yet felt run out of the church because it doesn't fit my needs or expectations. In fact, I'm a little bit cozy with the church. I like (at least to an extent) that people still dress up for worship. I appreciate liturgy that is far older and wiser than I am--words that stretch beyond our present experience. And while I like the accessibility element that our sanctuary's projector and screen lends to our worship, I'd be ok if it didn't work for a week or two. In fact, I guess I'd be ok with going back to the very basics--I'm a big fan of the early church: Groups gathered together to celebrate and wonder at the mysteries of God.

So that got me thinking about a question that I'm at some point going to have to devote a lot of time to. Because some day the church's survival may depend on being able to meet the needs of a new generation. What is it then, that is essential?

I can only start by naming what is superflous. For me:
-pews are not essential. Seating is necessary, but I'm not convinced that all the pews have to face forward. The word of God will still be proclaimed even if people are looking at each other instead of the "preacher." In fact, sitting in the round might just offer a sense of community through which the scripture might be interpreted.
-Bulletins, while nice, are not essential. I'll admit I had a few moments of panic as I've worshipped in various spaces this week when I've discovered that there were no bulletins. I found lost and always wondering what was happening, but the world did not shut down as I supposed. In fact, I'd argue that worship happened in a new way that left room for the Holy Spirit's new workings. I like things carefully controlled but perhaps spontanaeity it is beautiful as well. And under this same heading is carefully constructed prayers and liturgy. I love them both--how I love them. But they are not essential.
-Dress Code. Again, I like the fact that worship is special enough to require a different dress in the minds of many. It helps me worship to feel set apart from the needs of "out there". But at the same time, I both get and truly appreciate that God takes us as we are and it matters very little what we look like.

So then--back to my original question. What could I (and the church) not live without. What elements, if removed, would change worship into "other"?

For me:
-a sense of community. I believe that the "I am the vine and the branches" passage names us as tangly-uppy people who know and value and care--even enough to stick our noses into our neighbor's business. I believe that we must be responsible to God for each other as a community as well as individuals.

-the Word proclaimed. As a preacher, I can't imagine a world where carefully crafted sermons have outlived their usefulness, but what if the Word was something we proclaimed together. People have experienced Christ in powerful ways and they don't need a "Rev" in front of their names to bear witness to that truth. Yet the word MUST bear witness to the love of God in Christ. That's not negotiable.
-Prayer. If a community is not engaging in some sort of communication with God as a people, then perhaps the group begins to bear a resemblance to a social group. That being said, how might we rethink prayer so that it offers space for many voices to join in the conversation.
-praise. There must be a space for the gathered body to say "Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!" But maybe that can take lots of forms. Could praise be asking the question (and aiming for answers) be "Where has God amazed you lately? Where has God shown up?"

What isn't essential, but might positively shape the ways we worship?
For me:
-art. Maybe it's poetry or art art, or liturgical paraments. Things that both point to and paint a picture of God, while at the same time, allowing one to dream and hear the Word in a new light.
-music. I believe in stillness and silence, but I also think there is a place for the soul to sing out. I do think, however, that the music must make attempts at connecting with as many generations as there are represented in a congregation.

I am certain of little-- except that the church is changing. How do we remain true to what is essential and allow room for what might yet be?


[Thoughts from the 2012 Festival of Homiletics]

I would tell you that I'm "young". Or at least not old. (Nevermind that some days, I feel tired enough to feel 110.) But today, I felt like a dinosaur.

The theme of this year's festival is "Transformational Preaching at the Crossroads" and a word we're hearing a lot about is "emergent." That word hadn't entered my vocabulary very much, as I would also tell you I'm a pretty traditional sort. Yet, I believe that there ought always to be new energy in whatever we are doing. After hearing this amazing speaker that was brilliant, raw, phenomenal...and highly tattooed, do this mind warping lecture, I was excited for the opportunity to hear her preach. And double bonus: the subject of her sermon was pentecost.

But before we could get to the sermon, there was a time of praise music. "Great! I like music! I'm hip enough to appreciate this!" are the things I told myself. Only I wasn't. While the words to the songs were beautiful, the music made me absolutely cringe. It sounded like pure noise to me. And while I think the singer (also one of the speakers, whom I didn't get to hear) might have had some great things to say to the church, I couldn't quite stomach the face he had to make to hit these really high notes. The music felt awkward to me-- and hard to join in with as a congregation. I guess I felt left out. At least for that part of the service, I didn't feel like I was worshipping at all.

But there was an epiphany there too. As a young pastor serving a predominately older congregation, perhaps an epiphany I needed to have. While I've never pushed "contemporary" anything on them, maybe I've pushed them in other ways that made them feel like they were on unknown ground. Maybe what they are opposed to isn't the change or the idea of doing things differently...maybe they just can't figure out how to join the new song. Maybe the things that felt like worship to them have turned into what seems like "noise."

I'm all for new energy, and for trying new things-- but never, ever, at the sake of excluding people from the song.

So my challenge is this-- how can there be new life that invites all people in? I don't mind feeling like a dinosaur, but I'm not really up for extinction either. So...?

Friday, May 11, 2012

Sleeping Under the Stars

One of the most remarkable memories of my life was sleeping under the stars in the Masaii Mara in Kenya while I was on safari.  I'd been in Kenya three months by then and my time was coming to a close.  I was beyond homesick and consoled myself with the thought that in not many more weeks, I'd finally be sleeping under the same stars as those I love.  And it was a comfort, because at the beginning of my trip, I would look at the stars and think of my friends and family.  I would think of them when I saw the stars because I told myself that when it finally became night where they were, they'd be sleeping under the same stars.  Only I realized they weren't.  I had gone so far from home that I was sleeping under a whole new set of stars.  That's a long way to go...

I've always loved stars because they've allowed me to dream--to look up into a starry sky is to know that you are but a speck in an infinite universe. To see the stars has always been for me a representation of God-- huge, and un-quantifyable.  And the stars have always reminded me to hope because I've always thought of them as tiny lightbulbs in a very black sky.  Besides that, there's a lot to be said that you have to be in the dark to be graced with the opportunity to see them.  There's something theological about that I think.

When I moved here almost four years ago, I started on my second quilt.  I designed the pattern and I collected blue fabric wherever I went.  And tonight, I will snuggle next to my love, listening to snoring dogs beside us, and we will sleep under the stars.  And I will dream, and imagine, and hope--beautifully, largely, gently.

It's just a quilt.  It's just pieces of fabric.  But it's more than that. It's a travel diary.  It's home. It's love. It's a thin place where the earth and heaven get all tangled up.  A place where God whispers, "You can't count them all.  But there is not a single one that's there without my knowledge."

Me thinks I will sleep well tonight, my loves and me, under these stars.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Saturday, February 25, 2012

White Heaven

I'm a girl who loves color-- big, bright, blues and greens and yellows.  I wear it, I decorate with it.  I seek it out in all things.  I guess that's the photographer in me coming out.

But today, I'm grooving on white.  White of my gently purring cat's fur, as she snuggles beside me.  White of the cool, crisp sheets.  White of the sunshine fresh comforter.  The gentle white light of the sun that's pouring in over me--and changing my world.  The quiet, uimposing, white noise of the fan.  The memory of the brilliant and lovely white snow that we saw earlier this week.

White demands nothing of you.  White has no agenda to make you feel a certain way-- unlike the cool blues and hot reds that try to pull you along.  White just lets you crawl in, and cuddle up, or hunker down.  And gently puts you back together until you're ready for the energy of a few bursts of color.  White lets you imagine, to paint your own picture of lovely-- to believe that something, anything, is pure and good, if only for a little while.

Certainly it sounds trite and preacherish--but there is a sense of the holy washing over me.  A white holy that meets me where I am, and holds me til I can offer something back.

It's white heaven, here between the clean, crisp sheets and the sunshine infused comforter.  Even the cat knows.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Pancakes and Ashes

We had a great turnout for Shrove Tuesday Pancakes.  We always have a great turnout, because we Presbyterians firmly believe that "If you feed them, they will come."  And God knows, we all want to be fed.

But Ashes just aren't as much fun as pancakes. Who wants to think about sin and mortality.  Even syrupy sweetness can't make that palatable. Still, a few will come.  Maybe they come because they want to support the preacher.  Or maybe because the doors are open, and they feel like they should be there.  Or maybe because it's strange and different, or because it's a statement of who you are to wear a cross on your forehead.  Or maybe because they want what's real--even knowing that Ashes aren't nearly as much fun as pancakes.

I always want to make a "no ashes, no pancakes" rule, or ask faithful pancake seekers to promise to show up for ashes too.  I want people to realize that the journey to the cross is hard, and that it isn't paved with pancakes.  But of course, I don't say that.  Because, every year, as I wear my "St Pious--keeper of all things" hat, I realize that I'm not a saint, nor am I pious, nor should I be the keeper of all things.   And so every year, I have this fight with myself. Apparently, at least on some small level, I value works--even though I preach grace.

But Christ takes me anyway.  And just as I take off my Tuesday Jester's hat, and put on my Wednesday robe, I remember the words I will say.  "Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.  Repent and believe the good news."  And I have to repent and believe the good news that God didn't come for just the ones who show up every time the doors are open.  I have to believe that Christ didn't come just for the ones who are brave enough to receive ashes on their foreheads, but just as much for the ones who are too scared to think about their lives that way.

"My grace is sufficient" are the words that never fail to echo in my ears. Sufficient for pancake eaters, for ash wearers, even for pastors who forget, and would like to make rules about how to be holy.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Christ comes...

I just crawled into bed, after what felt like the longest and most tiring weeks of my life.  It was 7:30 on a friday night.  It should have been my day off, but it was consumed with a committee meeting-- for which I was responsible for preparing and running. My sermon hadn't even been started, but I had grand plans for writing it in my pjs, with a cozy blanket and a cup of coffee.  That's no way to spend a Saturday, or get a much needed day of rest, but at least I could work from the comfort of home, and maybe catch a nap and do some of the laundry that's piled up. It was a lovely, workable plan.  And it held the wishes of a "traditional" 9 to 5 job at bay.

Of course, I've realized, that there is nothing 9-5 about being a pastor. Which is why I shouldn't have been surprised to get a call that one of my congregants was in the hospital...an hour and a half away.  He had stopped breathing at dinner, was on life support, and they weren't sure what the future held.  They needed Christ.

But I was so bone-tired exhuasted that I couldn't even see straight, and my first thought was "I'm running on fumes and no gas station in sight.  I don't have anything to offer them, because I have nothing myself." I wept, being so overwhelmed and dried out.  Yet we went and spent Saturday in the hospital with them.  I got an email from one of the family members that night that said "Thank you, thank you, thank you for being with us.  I was at my lowest, and didn't even know I needed you, but you were Christ to us."

I once heard a speaker say, "Don't be like Christ.  Be Christ to the people you meet. Go where Christ goes, say what Christ says, and sit with the people Christ sits with.  Because Christ lives in you, you are charged with being Christ to the world." That's a big responsibility.  And sometimes it asks more of you than you believe you have to offer.

But here's what I saw again this weekend.  Just when you're busy giving it your all to be Christ to someone who needs it most, someone will be Christ to you.  It may come from a husband who holds you as you woke up crying because all of it was just too much right now.  It may come from a congregant who looks at you and says, "I have been praying for you all week" or from a family who asks if they can take you and your husband out to lunch following Church.  Maybe it comes from a church lady who says, "Tell me what I can do to help you out. You have a lot on your plate, and I don't want you to get sick because you don't have time to take care of yourself."

Sometimes you're busy being Christ to the world.  And sometimes the world is busy being Christ to you.  And in that way, Christ comes.  Christ always comes to those who need him most.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

A Place for Everyone

Last night, DH drug me to a drum circle. (Ok, maybe not drug-- it was a beautiful night, and the Fourth Friday celebration downtown is always lots of fun.) Before you get a funny image of a traditional drum circle with the fire dancers and all that, this is not one of those.  It's held downtown in what used to be the markethouse-- just good, clean fun.  Not being terribly musical (read: uh, God definitely didn't give me any musical talent), I was prepared to go and watch and be a good sport of a wife while my husband beat his little heart out.  But I forgot how much I love drum circles.

The children's home where I worked during my first call held quarterly drum circles.  This man with lots and lots of drums and percussion instruments would come and help the kids get started. And without fail, these angry, beligerent, lovely young folks were transformed into mesmerized musicians.  It was a miracle to behold.  But that's not why I loved them (or apparently love them still).

I love them because of the community aspect they bring.  All the instruments are held in common and are available for all to use.  Even the little girl who couldn't quite hold the djembe upright and sent it crashing to the concrete floor, as my husband watch happen to his.  But that's just part of it.  Because there's a very deep sense that all are on equal footing and that everyone, from the youngest to the oldest, from the most experienced to the least, has something to offer and add.  No one's instrumments are too good or precious to be used by all (though I suspect that the rare gems of instrumments were left at home.) Kids didn't have their hands swatted away, nor did they hear, "Don't touch that!"

 Drum circles draw out the best in everyone, because everyone can find a place-- even awkward flute kid who might have been lacking in social skills, even the slightly greasy looking teenager who came and parked his bike in the middle of the gathering, even rhythmically challenged me.  (And had I not been having a completely lovely time taking pictures, I might have even been brave enough to join in.)

There was something holy about that group of people that were otherwise strangers.  Some were business-folk, some were radio guys, some were middle aged and very well dressed women.  But all heard a common beat emerge as lots of collective beats became one.  And all who found themselves drawn together by that beat  were welcomed and discovered that they had a valuable place in the ongoing song.


Oops.  Several weeks ago I wrote a post entitled "Everything is coming up...tulips!" Only that is definitely not a tulip, but a lovely, frangrant, unexpected Blue-thingamabobber.  (If someone knows its actual name, I would love to know.)  I planted lots of bulb flowers last spring, and it's been lots of fun to watch these green sprout things start poking their heads out of the soil.  Bulb flowers definitely aren't the instant gratification sort of flowers, but more the surprise-you-when-you-least-expect-them sorts.  If the mean (though very cute) little moles didn't eat all the bulbs, I expect that I should have some Irises and Tulips and Jonquils coming up too, but I guess I'll just have to wait and see.

Strong, hearty, growing beneath the surface bulb flowers make this girl awfully happy (and not only because it seems like they can survive even my awful gardening skills!)

Friday, January 27, 2012

Back to Ordinary Time

I feel like I should be ashamed to admit this, but I just took down my Christmas tree this morning.  I've never ever done that-- I do try to be very liturgically minded and wait until the Epiphany because that's when Christmas is really over. But I do not ever wait until almost February to move away from Christmas.
This year, though, I just couldn't bring myself to take it down.  (Though I did take down the outside decorations so I wouldn't be that crazy lady that the whole neighborhood gossips about.) But my tree and inside decorations were my last vestage of a little un-ordinary time magic.  The weather was so warm that it never really felt like Christmas (I still haven't even unboxed my sweaters, and the flannel sheets that I tried for a week were back in their box a week later.) And besides, there is something a little lonely about living in the country at Christmastime.  The only Christmas lights I saw were ones I paid money to see, and I guess that made me a little sad, because it felt like we were the only ones who noticed that it was special time.

But now it's really back to the ordinary time that occupies so much of our calendars.  It's a strange time of waiting because the snowflakes that I usually use to decorate during January feel completely inappropriate. But it doesn't feel quite right to adorn my house with spring flowers yet either.  It's waiting, in-between, sort of time.  Made holy and special and delightful not by the events on the calendar or the confounding weather, but by the little everyday delights like being able to open the windows and bask in the gentle sunshine.  Ordinary yes, but also filled with great potential for the extraordinary.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Everything is coming up...tulips

I'm not a gardener.  In fact, I'm pretty sure God must cry when I plant things because I'm more likely to kill a plant than I am to nurture it on to abundant life.  So I guess it always surprises me when I see God at work in my "garden". 

But it always strikes me as holy when I see something taking root and... living.  I guess because I know that I had nothing to do with it.  Because something was going on without my knowledge or supervision. And because no matter what the winter has been like, spring always seems to come. 

(I wrote about my experience planting things last spring. You can read about it here)

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Before the dawn

[Written after a very early morning when I went to pray with a congregant before surgery]

It's darkest before the dawn, or so they say.
Before even the surgical waiting room has been opened, or anyone is ready to wait.
Before she has been taken back.
Before the visitor's desk is staffed, or the parking deck, for that matter.
Before the cafeteria has opened.
Before the nurses are fully awake.
Before the rules are thoroughly enforced.
Before the sun (or son) has started tinting the world a lovely shade of pink.
It's darkest then.

But it's there, in the before, that God feels closest.
Because the light of love is waiting to break in.
And for the ones, waiting and watching,
the great divide between heaven and earth seems a little thinner.
Because we need God just a little more,
and we're a little less guarded and a little more vulnerable.

It's darkest before the dawn.
But not really.
Because in that great darkness a voice gently whispers in my ear,
"I am the light of the world.  And the darkness has never, will never, put the light out."

Friday, January 6, 2012

A Picture a Day keeps the grouchies away

A Picture is worth a thousand words--or so I hear.  And as a photographer, I believe it.  And I've even made resolutions to take more picutres, but until now it's just been awfully complicated.  Oh, I've got my camera and lenses all in one always-packed bag, but who wants to lug all that around.  It's great for "serious" photography, but sometimes a girl has to be in the mood for all that.  I just wanted to take quick photos and record my (fabulously interesting) life for posterity sake.

Enter Iphone (which I love for many, many reasons).  It has an 8 megapixel camera (which is almost as good as my "serious" camera), and it's handy.  No lugging anything around.

So I did it.  I signed up for a photo-a-day project that I've seen other friends do.  And so far I love it.  I worried that it would become for me "just one more thing" but it's been a great experience.  It's helping me keep my eyes open to beauty and love that is all around me, and record the things that make me happy.  I'm again noticing things like the way the light dances, or the exact smile on my puppy dog's face. I'm finding a way to tap into my oft-ignored creative side, which will hopefully lead to other creative endeavors in other parts of my life.  You can keep up with my project here if you'd like.  But if you can't stand to wait for the time it takes to open up the page, here's a preview (mostly from my blue-sky day sort of walk this afternoon.)