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?