Sunday, December 21, 2008

Home Longing on longest nights

I'm well aware in this season of joy that there are some very long nights.

When I was 11 in 1982, both of my parent's mothers died within 9 days of each other, right at the beginning of Advent. This has become a part of the family remembrances right around this time of the year.

And then three years ago today, Berkeley UMC in Austin said goodbye to one of its saints--a woman who taught us how to both die and live, Pat Currie. Her favorite holiday was Christmas, but when she learned that her cancer was untreatable, she began cross-stitching an Easter banner for the church. She had each of her daughters and daughter-in-laws take stitches and then a member of her covenant group finished the edges about 2 weeks before her death. She died after having been in hospice for several days on December 21. We had her memorial service--a service of lessons and carols--on December 23 and we dedicated the banner at the Christmas Eve services the next day.

She is close to my heart this year for some reason. It's the first year I haven't been at Berkeley, and I still am feeling that in-between sense of being a guest in my own appointment. By next year, I will be fully there, but this year, my heart is tugged in many directions.

Which hopefully means that all of the tugging can lead me into the heart of God. When my confidence is waning and I'm not sure even which star I've been looking at, much less following, that's when I start to let the God of Impossible Things guide me.

Six years ago, I preached a sermon on Isaiah 64--about there being many different ways of being "not home" for Christmas. There's the not home when a family member is ill. There's the not home when home is different than you've ever imagined. There's the not at home when you're an empty nester for the first time or the not at home when you've lost someone. At those times we long for Home. But the point of the Incarnation is that Home longs for us too. So I hope and pray that Home comes to you this year--and that you turn around and find it there, impossible but true, waiting with outstretched arms.

May your long nights bring Home to you.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

This Blog

I've been hearing more and more lately about how to write a successful blog. Since I'm not convinced that many people except myself actually read this on a regular basis, I am curious to know if there's anything more I can do. Or should I even want to?

And it occurs to me that I seem to be asking a lot of questions lately. Is that my problem? Or is that your problem? Or do I just need to get over my self-fascination and keep writing?

Perhaps my next blog will be entitled "Eternally Curious: the Blog for those who don't know everything yet".

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Blue Rock Concert

So I'm pretty much a sucker for any concert that David Wilcox plays (see: my blog title). Billy Crockett has also been a favorite of mine since college. And when I found out that Billy and Dodee Crockett were hosting a concert in the round at the Blue Rock Studios in Wimberly with both Billy and David and Beth Wood, I jumped and determined that the 4.5 hour drive one way to such an event was not only worth it, but necessary. I even stayed up until just after midnight the day that they started taking online reservations! knew there was a concert geek in me.

In any case, I went with friends Tina and Bill Carter and Laura Merrill. It was an awesome space and an awesome evening. 3 hours went by extremely quickly with a mix of Christmas themed music and songs that commented on each other in that "round" way.

And I thought again about how much great art takes place in community. We'd like to think of the lonely, starving artist. But I think the really cool stuff happens when you get different minds and styles together and see what comes out, how they play off each other (literally and figuratively in this case!).

And we wonder why we get so lonely as clergy people. Where does our creativity come out? And when it does, who do we find to play off of?

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Illinois politics

My new favorite line:

The governor of Illinois puts the "goober" in "goobernatorial".

I think that may be true more often than not...for many governors!

Tuesday, December 9, 2008


This past weekend, I helped coordinate a workshop on Change in our Conference as a part of my responsibilities as the Co-Dean of the Holy Boldness Urban Academy for our Conference. (That sounds like an important mouthful, but truly I say unto you that the person who has done most of the coordination and work has been Lynette Ramon, who serves as the administrative assistant to our other Co-Dean...I'm just one of the mouths in front!).

We had Lori Smith, who is a lay person in the Nebraska Annual Conference and has worked with them on restructuring and revisioning, lead the workshop.

And I remembered again, in listening to the comments around the tables, how much people long for the idea of change, but are a little afraid of actually doing it...or going through the sometimes painful work of helping birth it.

Birth is not a bad analogy and is one that is pertinent this time of year. Every baby is a change to the family it comes into--not just an addition, but a foundational change. But this Jesus Christ is born, not only to Mary and Joseph, but to the whole of humanity. Our family is foundationally different because Christ is born.

And that makes me think about what is different in my household because of Christ's coming this year. How will we celebrate? But also, what changes are imminent because of this Incarnation? What changes will we have to birth in our own lives and our life together so that this Christ may have sway?

Where is change coming for you?

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Reflections on Baptism

As I posted a couple of days ago, we grieved for our loss but celebrated the HomeGoing of Rev. Kathleen Baskin-Ball. One of the things that I learned after her death was that the Sunday before she died, she baptized 37 people at Suncreek UMC in Allen. What a gift to the church and to them--to have one of her last acts be an act of grace in that magnitude!

Baptism has been on my mind lately, and some of it is tied up with Kathleen. I presided over 3 baptisms this past Sunday, and I was trying to bring across some of what it means to baptize infants to our congregation. In the United Methodist Church, the baptism of a child or one who is not able to speak for themselves begins a journey that is completed by confirmation or a profession of faith. But in the meantime, we promise as a gathered congregation to watch over and care for, pray for and teach those whom we are baptizing.

When Kathleen stood before the General Conference in Ft. Worth this past April for the last time, she said this:

"I am Kathleen Baskin-Ball, clergy from the North Texas Conference, Chair of the Committee on Ministry and Higher Education. More importantly, I am the mother of a precious little boy by the name of Skyler, who at four months of age attended his first General Conference; and I'm here to confess tonight that he voted illegally on the floor of General Conference 2004. But now at age four Skyler is watching the proceedings on live stream on his dad's computer at home and so I promised I would wave to him since this is my last time to be before you because it is our last petition to share with you tonight. Woo hoo!

"I want to say one other thing before I introduce the one who is going to give the rationale for this petition. I want to say thank you to my brothers and sisters who are shaping Skyler's young life with such love and who continue--I want to say thank you to all of you who continue to find ways to make the church and the Gospel of Jesus Christ accessible to all God's children. This church of ours, even with all its imperfections and its disagreements and its brokenness is absolutely the greatest blessing in my life, in my family's life.

"I want to say thank you to the Church, for in my battle with cancer these last 14 months, we have known no greater joy than the love and the fellowship of the Church. And so thank you for these last two weeks and for the privilege of chairing the Legislative Committee and for being a part of the love that, no matter what we have done these last two weeks, I believe God will continue to share with the world in a bold and ferocious way. And so the victory will be Jesus Christ's and I believe that and so it's with confidence that I move on to be the church after this event."

What I heard in those words, in addition to her confidence in the love of God, was a love for the Church. And I also heard her saying that she would now turn to the Church and ask to take them up on that promise that we make in baptism...that we will do our best to raise these children in the faith. Because she knew that she might not be around to do it.

And now we face that particular reality. I have no doubt that Skyler will have more love and care growing up, even without his mother physically present. But I also want us to take seriously the other children who grow up in our midst with one or more parent absent. They are all our children, whether they live in our homes or not. They are all loved by God, and we all bear the responsibility of helping them to know and understand that love.

Thank you, Kathleen. Skyler will never be alone...because of Jesus Christ and His Body, the Church. May all God's children have that kind of love and attention in which they know they are loved.

Godspeed and Glory Be

We just received the news that Rev. Kathleen Baskin-Ball has died. One of the ways she lived and loved was by the phrase "Glory be." I pray the strength for all of us to live into those words.

When Thomas Ken died, he requested that his funeral be held in the sanctuary (where they used to do burials too back in the early centuries). The sun began rising through the windows right as they began singing the hymn that he wrote:

Praise God from whom all blessings flow
Praise Him all creatures here below
Praise Him above all heavenly host
Praise Father, Son and Holy Ghost.

Even at the grave we make our song, "Alleluia, Alleluia, Alleluia!"

Calm in the Storm

My husband and I had a great Thanksgiving weekend with my parents and sister and our three collective dogs. And this past Sunday, we got to baptize three children in church and received three more adults into membership.

And then stuff started happening. Confusing stuff. Painful stuff. Stuff that we had no idea was coming. Like a tornado can just appear and then leave with the destruction accomplished.

But I'm thankful for my friends. For my parishoners. For my DS. For all those who seek to minister to people when they want to be on step #832 and they need to just concentrate on figuring out step #2. For all those who don't make assumptions, but simply want to support.

It doesn't take away the pain and confusion, but it meets pain with strength...with grace...and with the love of God.

This is community. This is the Body of Christ. Not trying to manage the situation or the people...but in prayer and supporting the truth and looking for God's grace within the situation.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008


I have a love-hate relationship with Advent. I love it while inevitably, most of my congregation either doesn't understand it or hates it. I found the argument condensed in a liturgical resource I was looking up this morning. Here is the conversation:

I hate waiting for anything and anyone!
Me too! I'm an "instant" kind of person, you know, everything instantly, like instant coffee, instant food, instant celebrations!
...the story was read about John the Baptist, but I'm ready for the baby Jesus. What's this waiting all about? I want Christmas right now! (from the Cokesbury free resources for Advent 2B)

It's as if the waiting and the anticipation is so deadly dull that we can't expect anyone to find anything in it--like the desert wasteland of experience in this experience-driven society.

But I was reading again a different resource that reminded me thusly:
"The word 'advent' comes from the Latin adventus, which, for the Romans meant the coming of the emperor. It generally refers to the coming of something important or expected. The word's roots are ad, meaning 'to' or 'toward,' and venio, meaning 'to come'. Advent became an official season of the church calendar under Pope Gegory VII, as a spiritual preparation for the Feast of the Nativity. It is interesting to note that the word 'adventure' also comes from those roots."--Katie Cook

Is there adventure to be found in anticipation? Is there adventure even to be found in waiting? I'm reminded of the many things I have waited for in my life--to celebrate my birthday on the day, to open presents not before Christmas Day, to get married before I lived with someone, to consecrate the elements for communion only after I was given pemission. Sometimes I wonder if I'm just a little bit more rule-driven than I ought to be (I think about the time when I flatly refused to wear a stole because I hadn't been ordained yet).

But at the same time, I have had adventures because of my willingness to wait--adventures that I might have cut myself off from otherwise. There is adventure in waiting to purchase something until you have the money. There is adventure in living life as it is now...not as it will someday be. There is adventure and creativity in living out the days before Christmas as they are, instead of how they will be.

What adventures have you had while waiting? Where has God blessed you in anticipation?

Sunday, November 23, 2008


I found out a couple of days ago that a colleague of mine, Rev. Kathleen Baskin-Ball, has decided to enter hospice care instead of continuing to fight the cancer that has now invaded her brain.

It made me sad. She has a 5-year-old son and wonderful husband. She is a young, dynamic pastor with a gift for preaching and leading. Her graciousness and non-anxious presence is an absolute blessing.

It also made me mad. Mad at cancer, and mad because I can't figure this out. I'm frustrated that rain falls on the just and unjust alike. I've cried off and on these past few days, and I'm not sure whether more for sadness or frustration.

I don't know Kathleen well enough necessarily to go and visit her--I've experienced her in only a few personal ways. She came and was a presenter to my clergy group with the Texas Methodist Foundation. I've spoken to her at various church events. She knows my husband. But there are many many many who will want to be with her in whatever time she has left. And so I will pray and perhaps send a sign of love. Her husband said that when she was first diagnosed with the cancer, people from her church hung signs of love and healing from the trees outside of her house. What a beautiful gift.

Maybe I cry because her death will be beautiful, but it will involve loss of so many kinds for us. Maybe I cry because it's a time to cry and perhaps soon we will be facing time to grieve. Maybe I cry so that when it's time to celebrate resurrection, I will be able to do that without tears. Probably not, but believe in resurrection I must.

I preached today about the power of God given to us all wrapped up in the grace of God bestowed upon us. It is the same power that raised Jesus, that power that dwells within us. My prayer is that Kathleen and those surrounding her might know in whatever time she has, this power is for healing and not for that they might know the presence of God is and will always be with them.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Just Can't Do It Right

I really hope that I'm not a perfectionist. Sometimes all indications are for YES. Sometimes, I just can't bring myself to the amount of energy it would take to get it perfect.

But I don't want to ever stop trying to do it right.

Someone asked me the other day about enabling. I was brand new to the language of addiction when I started ministry about 8 years ago, but when I received a couple of desperate phone calls from people in my church who had either gotten into financial or legal or some other kind of trouble because of their addictions, I began reading and understanding more about the addiction community and those who are tied to it because they are connected to people who have addictions.

And I wondered if it shouldn't be a required course in seminary. So many things function like an addiction in the church...and in life. And as a pastor, if all I'm supposed to be is "nice", then I end up doing nothing more in some circumstances than enabling others. On the other hand, if I'm not nice, I end up getting poked at for not upholding graceful presence.

I'm not sure what I need to be right now, when I've had several reports today of people being upset about one thing or another. I'm sure that they would be upset whether or not I had acted the way they wanted me to. But I'm trying to make sure that I don't get into a spiral of trying to make people feel good...but rather I'm always looking at what is right.

And the inverse is true as well. I've been trying to look lately at the places that I'm upset. Am I upset for the right reasons or am I upset because I didn't get my way? Or because I felt slighted? Or because I had different expectations of someone, whether those expectations were reasonable or not?

How about you?

Thursday, November 6, 2008


You know there are many deadly vices. We have a whole list of 7 of them in our religious lexicon, which you may know: extravagance (also known as lust), gluttony, greed, sloth, wrath, envy and pride. A quick check of wikipedia shows that there was an even more original list of eight evil thoughts from the 4th century: Gluttony; fornication; avarice; sorrow; anger; discouragement; vainglory; pride.

It strikes me how much these not only have an affect on the person life of the person practicing them, but also on the community. How is your community affected if you have much more food than is good or healthy for yourself and others are going without? What happens if your anger goes unchecked in your community?

I say this because I need to add a couple more: bitterness and gloating.

I have been looking with some interest at "flair". For those of you unfamiliar, "flair" was originally what restaurants called the buttons that they had their servers wear: "Ask me about the Big Burger!", supposedly meant to show that servers had personality and/or knew something about the restaurant--much like a walking billboard. Flair has now made it into online social networking sites, and you can put virtual buttons on a virtual bulletin board or send buttons to your friends. You can even make your own flair.

The flair that has popped up all over the central warehouse for flair on facebook has been remarkably bitter about the election--most of the ones on the first page say things like, "O crap" or "Got change? Hide it before Barrack [sic] can take it" or "Obama: wrapping socialism in a smile". My favorite: "To [sic] smart to vote for Obama." I don't know if the creator of that flair realizes the irony.

I submit that this, in addition to all of the similar badges that showed up about Bush 4 and 8 years ago IS NOT HELPING. I don't know whether it can truly be cathartic (as some of my friends tell me) to post or make statements like this.

On the flip side, gloating has to be among those things which kill community as well. And I don't know where the line truly is drawn between celebrating a victory and gloating over your enemy. Four years ago, I had a prayer service the day after the election for all those who had not been elected as well as those who had. Last night, I had a similar service. They are never very well attended, either because it's difficult to get the word out about them or because people simply don't want to let go of their immediate reactions in order to find a new pathway with God.

I like that one site says these aren't just sins--they are vices. I like "vice" better as a descriptor for what these things do because a vice is something I do to make myself feel better...either about myself or about my cause. But it doesn't do anything to help anyone else, and in the end it hurts me too. The practice of vices is not what we need right now.

So, I submit that it might be better to practice those things in the wake of this election that create and sustain community, rather than the vices of bitterness or matter what side you chose to support. This election talked a lot about change and a lot about hope and a lot about heroes and a lot about strength.

Now is the time to embody those things in ourselves and in our communities, whether they are embodied on a national or local political front or not. To pray that they are--to be sure!--but not to depend on others to embody those things for us.

Monday, November 3, 2008

How Do I Do It?

It's funny how that question seems to come up more in the midst of death and funerals.

"How do you do it?" someone from the congregation or the family will ask. "How can you make it through these things?"

We had a memorial service this past Saturday for a much-beloved member of the congregation. The night before on Friday, another congregant, who had had two major strokes on Wednesday, was taken off life-support and died peacefully. Then on the Saturday, I received a call at 7:45am that another member who had been in a coma for 4-1/2 years (came through a routine surgery fine, but was left alone in recovery and went without oxygen for 15 minutes) had died suddenly and unexpectedly just a few hours before.

Did the service (what a lovely and loving woman), counseled with the Friday family, went for the grief visit to the Saturday family and wound up planning the memorial service.

Then we had All Saint's Sunday. Baked the communion bread in and around visits on Saturday for those services.

I know the impetus behind such a question--how do I keep from crying, how do I stay calm, why am I not scattered like they feel scattered by death? Part of my answer is the simple logistic that I am less intimately involved in the pain. Another part is that as a pastor, I'm called to be there and to do this. Yet another is that I do feel scattered...I just put that to one side and deal with it at other times when I don't have to look competent and in charge.

But the question also makes me wonder where people turn in the midst of their grief. The widower of the woman whose service I did on Saturday was in church on Sunday after she passed away on Thursday. This is unusual enough that I commented to him that I hadn't expected to see him. His response shamed me: "Where else would I want to be?"

This is true. There is no place that I would rather be. He articulated why I can do these things. Because I spend time in the midst of God. There's no place I would rather be. I could not do this without a continued sense of call. I could not do it without prayer. I could not do it if I didn't know where my HOPE rests.

But it makes me wonder if there should be more people in God's midst...and less people wondering how I do it. Because the same grace is there for them as for me. Perhaps not to the same vocation, but to the same baptism.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008


I've been letting Rich Mullins songs run through my head this past week, especially some of his older stuff. The very first album that I couldn't stop listening to of his was "The World as Best as I Remember It, Volume I", which contained a song called "Calling Out Your Name".

Sometimes, a lyric or two will start running through my head, and that's usually a sign that there's something deeper there to dig into. Today it was "shakes us forward and shakes us free," which, as it turned out, came from "Calling Out Your Name." The lyric surrounding this line is this:

From the place where morning gathers
you can look sometimes forever till you see
what time may never know...what time may never know
How the Lord takes by its corners this whole world
and shakes us forward and shakes us free
To run wild with the run wild with the hope...

The hope that this thirst will not last long
that it will soon drown in this song not sung in vain
I feel the thunder in the sky
I feel the sky about to rain
And with the prairies I am calling out your name.

I had a shaky weekend, what with my own worries about our family finances and what was a bit of a downer Sunday (for various reasons). I feel like there are so many significant concerns popping up all over the church that I can't quite deal with them all at the same time.

But then I wondered if this is being shaken forward. And maybe even shaken free. There are so many things I long to be shaken free from. And so, today, I am calling out to God and praying that I might be able to be shaken forward...and take a few people along with me.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Entering a new church paradigm

Not "new church" as in a new church start...but a new paradigm for me, at least.  St. Mark, where I currently serve, is by far the largest congregation I've ever had any kind of leadership role in, and I'm discovering that some of my assumptions about what I expect of myself as a pastor are never going to be true here.

Take, for example, knowing every single person in the congregation by name when I see them.  I had the sudden realization that even after we have a new directory, there's still going to be a huge chance that I won't be able to hold 300 names and faces together, especially if we begin to add more and more people.  

That's a complete shift for me, and it reminds me of what I knew when I first came to this church:  that I could not be central to everything that was happening there--that I had to train and lift up leadership among the laity because they had to be intimately involved.  

The whole thing is a shift simply because it involves me letting go of control, and I've got to figure out how to do that without also giving up pastoral authority and leadership.  To me it's one of the most difficult tasks as a pastor, and I think learning to do it will be my challenge in the next few months.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Being Back

I spent the last part of this week at Duke Divinity School, back for training as an alumni recruitment rep. My basic job is to be in contact with those who have inquired about, applied to or been accepted at Duke Divinity, and once a year, they bring us back to give us an update on what's up at the school.

This year more than ever, I miss being here. I'm about 8 years out, and the changes and additions are incredible. I was trying to identify why I feel so different here than I do in other places, and I think it was because I was most myself here. I think at heart, I'm probably a student (will someone please hand me a reading list?). But I think it might also be that I can identify more times of discernment here than anywhere else--the kinds of discernment that were foundational for me.

It's completely different in many ways--much of the faculty has changed; the library, chapel and even classrooms are remodeled or newly built. I love much of the new construction--the art installations and the opportunities to be in the light and airy hallways.

It's like the place of my standing stones. Joshua told the people to set up stones to remind themselves of the story and God's work after they crossed the Jordan. I sense that this is the place I will return in order to remember my story, even though my ministry is not likely to return here.

Where are the places you return? I have a few more, but none that I have spent so much time in--not even my undergrad institution. Where do you know yourself best? Where do you know God best?

Friday, October 10, 2008

Economics and Panic

When the people saw that their stock portfolios delayed to come up from out of the Recessional Valley, the people gathered around and told their favorite candidate, "Come, quell our anxiety and fear with a quick fix solution that will allow us to keep spending above our means."  And the candidates said to the people, "Bring us all your gold."  And the candidates took the gold and cast an image of solvency; and the people voted, saying "This is the right person for the job!"

Truly, our job in the midst of this economic crisis is not to panic.  To pray without ceasing.  To love one another.  To know that the Lord is near.  And to TRUST--that God is still in our midst. We are called to be faithful, not just fiscally successful.  

I had my moment of panic today.  I'm still paying off student loans based on my stock portfolio, and my ability to do that is severely compromised now.  

But I'm preaching on Sunday, and this is the text:  Exodus 32:1-14 and Philippians 4.  Aaron panicked and gave people what they wanted.  Paul reminds us that our primary job in the midst of crisis is not to panic, but to pray.

I'm praying now.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Anniversary Cake

A whole month! This is not the way I wanted to do this, but I will try to catch up.

The intent behind this blog is to record short bursts of thoughtful activity instead of leaving the thoughts in my brain and trying to think of them later--call it my own Pensieve (and read the Harry Potter books if you want to know more about that!).

In any case...anniversary cake!

Clayton Karrer and I got married last September, and I will admit that I became rather insistent about saving the cake topper. I loved both our cakes (he had dulce de leche buttercream frosting on top of chocolate cake, and I had white chocolate cake with white chocolate frosting and raspberry filling), and I wanted to have some later. We didn't even get to have a full slice of the bride's cake at the primary reception, though we got a little bit later on at the close friends and family gathering (they saved a couple of our sheet cakes).

In any case, Clayton (who had been married once before) warned me when our anniversary was coming up that I needed to prepare myself for stale cake--that it was never as good after having been in the freezer for a year, getting dry and freezer-burned.

Clayton still has a lot to learn about me.

That cake topper had been wrapped in three layers of plastic and then with tinfoil on top of that.

We got it out, bit into it, and it was every bit as moist (if not more so!) and delicious as the day of our wedding.

He said, "This is better than I thought!" is. It just requires some care.

May all our marriages be so.

Saturday, August 30, 2008


It's the first day I've been in the Valley without rain in awhile. The grass is tall (Clayton may cut it this afternoon). It's the first day of college football season, and we've still not made our final decision on who is going to provide our television services (cable? dish? directv?), so we're into our third solid month of only watching movies.

Somehow it feels right. We're unpacking today. I've had a phone call. We're arranging things on shelves, and we haven't gone anywhere in the car. Could this be sabbath? Could it really feel this renewing every week?

I've got a good friend who challenges me a lot about whether or not I'm being faithful to taking a sabbath. I confess that I'm not great at it. But when I actually do it, it frees me from a lot of stress and anxiety. And I wonder--are the things that I do that keep me from sabbath worth more to me than being faithful and getting the renewal God knows I need? They are obviously important to the people who ask me to do them...and sometimes that's me.

What would our culture do if it slowed down or stopped for a whole day and just looked outside...or went outside? What would happen if for one day, the stress and anxiety got a chance to leak out of us? Maybe the economy would suffer, but perhaps (just perhaps) we wouldn't need to care as much because we would be in a better place.

Of course, this implies that we might need to shift a lot of things (including the need for people to work 7 days a week in order to make enough to survive). But I am aware that this thing that I view as a luxury (and it would be a luxury for many people) is an integral part of who I am as a minister of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008


Moses had it pretty good at the moment. He had run away from all his troubles back in Egypt. He had found a woman to marry and had been accepted into his father-in-law's household, contributing to the family business by tending the sheep. All in all, pretty stable as stable went in those times.

Stable in my life and in the life of the church, however, sometimes looks like a rut. We're bound and determined to keep things stable because know, otherwise...!

And then fire comes into Moses' life. When we see fire, especially fire that's not being controlled by anyone, we begin calling 911 and sounding the alarm. Hurry! Let's get it put out! It's not where it's supposed to be!

But it could just be that fire that calls us out of our rut (which is an open-ended grave) and gets us moving, takes us back to the place of our pain and makes sure we deal with all that God has for us to do.

I love the prayers of Ted Loder, and this one is appropriate for me and in many ways for the church right now (I adapted it for use with my church council last night):

O persistent God,
deliver me from assuming your mercy is gentle.
Pressure me that I may grown more human,
not through the lessening of my struggles,
but through an expansion of them
that will unbury my gifts.
Deepen my hurt
until I learn to share it
and myself
and my needs honestly..
Sharpen my fears
until I name them
and release the power I have locked in them
and they in me.
Accentuate my confusion
until I shed those grandiose expectations
that divert me from the small, glad gifts
of the now and the here and the me.
Expose my shame where it shivers,
crouched behind the curtains of propriety,
until I can laugh at last
through my common frailties and failures,
laugh my way toward becoming whole.
Deliver me
from just going through the motions
and wasting everything I have
which is today,
a chance,
a choice,
my creativity,
your call.
O persistent God,
let how much it all matters
pry me off dead center
so if I am moved inside
to tears
or sighs
or screams
or smiles
or dreams,
they will be real
and I will be in touch with who I am
and who you are
and who my sisters and brothers are.


Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Hard Conversations

Life has been a series of hard conversations lately.  Fun inbetween, and it's been nice to be able to play some too, but I more and more I feel disproportionately dealing with situations that test whether or not I can be non-anxious in the midst of pain and anger.

Yet in the midst of that, I feel like actual work is being done.  Not just patting people on the shoulder and making them feel better, but uncovering scars and wounds and actually dealing with them--moving toward a path of recovery and hope.  And it makes me wonder what hard conversations I need to have with myself.  Something for my spiritual director and I to talk about, I guess.  Where is the work that God is trying to do in me (and on me!)?

Today I'm praying for Lizzie and Jessica as they begin Duke Divinity School.  I can't imagine 3 years that were more work...or more rewarding when the work was done, hard conversations and all.  

Monday, August 25, 2008

Eating Together

Yesterday, in the sermon, I mentioned my experience with a "Roman feast" in college.  The basic premise is that you show up for a big banquet, all dressed in a sheet...and then you find out that the only rules are that you can't bend your elbows in order to eat!  It's quite a feat to drop things into your mouth (especially beverages) until you figure out that the best way to handle it is to feed each other.  I used the Feast as an illustration of working together in community in order to help one another be nourished, especially centering around what that community looks like to Paul in Romans 12:1-21

I could have taken it farther.  And yesterday, as we were toasting (and roasting!) Bishop Mike Lowry in preparation for his leaving, Rev. Virgilio Vasquez-Garza did.  He was talking about Mike as a "companero", which we can translate roughly as a "companion" but literally means "one who eats bread with you."  He described how much this term meant for him--to identify people that he could trust at a time in her life when his life really did depend on who he could trust or not.  

And he said this:  "It is an intimate thing to put food in someone else's mouth."  

Especially having told a story just that morning about this subject, it caught my attention that I had left that part out of the sermon.  I had assumed that kind of trust, and perhaps that was premature on my part.  First you learn to trust...then you learn to taste.  

And I realized that's why some people are a little bit reluctant to come to potlucks in the church.  Figuratively, you really are letting someone else put food in your mouth.  And that is an intimate thing.  I want this for people, but I can't force it.  

Thank you, Virgilio.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

A Spot of Rain

I'm sitting in my office, and it just got done raining really hard here--lots of rumbling beforehand from the thunder and then just a downpour. Now the sun is out and everything's "back to normal."

It's an altogether too familiar pattern, though. Think about all the things we've planned for in the church. A lot of effort goes into it and it goes like gangbusters. But then afterwards, we think, "Ah, now that's done. I can just let things get back to normal." Or even in our personal lives, we'll sign up for a short term Bible study or start into Sunday School or regular church going and we'll do it with great gusto for awhile, but then we let our lives go back to what they were before--"back to normal."

I think one of the things that letting God transform our lives means, though, is that there's a new normal.

It was just a spot of rain. I've lived in Texas long enough to know that there are verrrrrry few circumstances in which we don't give thanks for rain--any amount at any time. Today's rain will help things not to get dried out so quickly and give all the plants just a quick drink, which, of course, usually always helps.

But our lives don't have to be inconsistent. They don't have to succumb to the "old normal"...but instead be "transformed by the renewing of our minds" to a new normal.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Living with the Scripture this week

Every week that I'm preparing to preach, I live with the scriptures. I read over them daily, meditate, muse, research, read again, ponder, trying to construct worship around them. Sometimes they're like a beautiful set of ingredients, all laid out and waiting for me to put them together in a way that they make something lovely and filling to the congregation. Sometimes they're gristle--difficult to understand and wrestle with, and I just have to prepare them the best I can and help people to get them in their own mouths and gnaw on them as well.

But sometimes they seem already prepared--like I shouldn't have to do anything except read them. That seems to be the case this week with Romans 12:1-21. Paul lays out an ethics, not based on humanity (as so many of our ethics systems are) but based on God and living in a community that claims Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior--and living as a community that claims Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior...within a world which doesn't.

So what should I say from the pulpit? Do I just point out where this is happening? Hand them the dish and say, "eat up?" The dish is lovely to look at, but it can be bitter too--especially when the ethics go against what would make us feel good or when it challenges our own (my own!) self-righteousness. Maybe just to say that this is Paul's idea of the food that is best...the food that is healthy...the food that is wholesome--and whole-making.

Eesh. It may be too much for one bite.

So I'll struggle some more.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Starting Divinity School

My friend, Lizzie, is starting Divinity School next week.  I'm excited, apprehensive, and jealous all at the same time--she is going to my alma mater, and I want to go back and take the profs I never had (either because they weren't there at the time or because I just never got around to one of their classes).  I want to go back and immerse myself in study and the life of a community like that.  But I realize that it would be different.  I'm more than 10 years older now than when I started...and the group of people I went to school with has also aged.  We were young then, and I wouldn't be a part of the "young" group now.

I don't know if this is more extended "sigh" or hopefulness that Lizzie will have a fabulous experience of her own that will be different than mine, but contain at least some points of contingency that will allow us to still connect.  

But what I am definitely at this time of the year is ready for the Church to receive all that wisdom and knowledge and energy it gets from people who are young and idealistic.  We need that constant infusion so that we don't get jaded and cynical or begin to capitulate to the "way things are".  

So cheers, Lizzie!  Let us hear from the far country often, and see the journey through the eyes of another even if we can't (and shouldn't) live that journey again.

Monday, August 18, 2008


Yesterday, I preached on forgiveness. I think it's easy to preach. I think it's harder to live.

Several people came by and said they thought it was a good sermon. My standard line (which I, for the most part, did not choose to give yesterday) is "We'll see."

Because I can say it all I want. But if we don't begin to live it, all my words don't really make a difference.

And that goes doubly for me. I've had conversations today about the leadership of the church and about the qualifications for who ought to be "in front." I wish it really was as easy as "meet these requirements and you're in". But it isn't--it's more about can people see that you're reaching out for Christ, no matter how difficult that might be? Can people see that you're attempting to live faithfully, even if it means getting outside of yourself? Can people see you putting the rubber to the road and letting it make a difference?

That's more difficult to discern--both for me to discern in other people and for them to discern in me until they know me better and see me more.

I believe in Jesus Christ. And I believe in grace (God's love). And I want others to believe in Christ and in Christ's love more strongly when they walk away from our worship services. When they come to our programs. When they participate in (or are recipients of!) our service and mission.

Are you ready to show that face to the world?

This week, it started with a sermon on forgiveness. I hope it continues with the practice of forgiving and being forgiven.

Keep checking this blog for my thoughts during the week!

Sermon notes

While I like the thought of having almost an entire week in which to think about the sermon and what God is saying to me in the midst, I'm realizing that I have less time to let things stew than that. Yesterday, my sermon, which mainly happened on Saturday when I was getting over being sick, didn't match the paragraph I had placed in the bulletin.

I suppose I ought to be glad that people were listening for the content of that paragraph...which means they ended up listening to the whole sermon! But I can't be satisfied if all they took away from the service on Sunday was "she didn't preach what she said she was going to preach".

What is this preaching moment, and when we try to help people to catch ahold of our sermons are we locking ourselves into something?

Or am I just so disorganized that I can't find my sermon in the midst of everything else before I have to get the bulletin info to my congregation?

In any case, no sermon notes for this week. Sermon title, yes. Notes, no.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

My brother Joseph

A long time ago, I read Frederick Buechner's description of Joseph in his book, Peculiar Treasures: "Almost as much as [the story of Joseph] is the story of how Israel was saved from famine and extinction, it is the story of how Joseph was saved as a human being. It would be interesting to know which of the two achievements cost God the greater effort and which was the one he was prouder of."

My first love of Joseph was, ironically, because I thought I would be good as the narrator in a production of "Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat". There is something about the hopeful dreamer that puts him (or her!) self at the center of those dreams. And there's something humbling and really freeing about realizing that I don't have to be in the middle of the dream in order for it to be beautiful. The dreamer never gives up dreaming, and I happen to be one of those dreamers.

But God is finding a way, even now, for those dreams of mine to have a peculiar shape. It's a cruciform shape and it requires me to let go of as much as I hold on to. And to pray myself into the difference.

I also think about Joseph and the personal attacks he endured. Some of them were based on something that was real (he really was a brat in the beginning of his life)...some of them were based on a falsehood (the incident with Potiphar's wife). I think about attacks in my own life based on my personality or based on my own behavior. What way is being charted by God to show God's goodness through those?