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 harm...so 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 gloating...no 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.