A Moratorium on Christmas Cookies

That's it. I'm saying it. I'm calling a moratorium on Christmas cookies. Not because I don't love the sugary goodness, but because it borders on madness. They have arrived slowly. One package at a time from one blessed member of this community and then another. And now, on the fifth day of Christmas, I could build myself an entire new home with the enormous supply of Christmas cookies I have received.

The gym is the first thing to go when stress strikes (or illness, as that came first last week). And I don't need any more cookies. But, I can't say no. I didn't say no once again when they arrived again after the funeral this morning. And they are really, really good cookies. But, the madness must stop. So I officially call a moratorium. So there.

Saying Goodbye to Those Unknown

Christmas is one of those hard times for those of us that have lost dear family members. I remember my mother and miss her. I wish my grandmother would still serve her amazing feast. There are others. Sometimes it seems like too many others, like now.

I hugged a church member on Christmas Eve who was in tears. He had just lost his wife a month ago. My heart broke for him.

This morning I met with the daughter of a man that breathed his last on Christmas Eve. Tomorrow morning, together, we will say goodbye. I never knew this man and yet he sounds wonderful. He sounds like someone that we would all love to have in our families. And yet, how do you remember someone you never met? My own grief bubbles up. It's hard not to let it. But, so it is. Here we go. My first funeral.


Lessons & Carols

The Senior Pastor's wife (who is also a pastor) has been recounting her first call as an Associate Pastor over and over and over again to me in the past few weeks. It has been annoying, but she actually helped me yesterday. She remarked that she feels sorry for those that don't get to be in the pastor's role on Christmas and Easter. As pastors, we get to experience something that others don't. We are (as she says) "right in the thick of it" where everyone else is "on the fringe." I wanted to remark that it's probably the reverse actually as pastors don't get to truly worship in quite the same way. We are concerned that little Joanna is able to reach the lecturn to read the Fifth Lesson and making sure that the mic is on for the lighting of the Christ candle. We don't close our eyes while we pray on behalf of the congregation, but look to see how our words are echoing with the hearts of those that gathered with us this night.

But then, it happened. Kinda like the Word of God. It happened again. As we sang "Silent Night" and the chior carried their candles out of the sanctuary, I watched as the only light in this sacred space walked out. No one in the pews noticed, I suspect. But, the light of Christ went out of this space and into the world. It happened. I saw it.

And so we can sing that mysterious verse that echoes with every emotion I have at Christmas:

O little town of Bethlehem, how still we see thee lie!
Above thy deep and dreamless sleep the silent stars go by.
Yet in thy dark streets shineth the everlasting Light;
The hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight.

It's those hopes and fears that I think prevent us from seeing the miracle of Christmas. So ready? Here is what I have learned in the few hours I have spent on my first Christmas away from family. The past few years, I have found myself disappointed by Christmas. The miracle never happened. I never felt the transformation. And I wanted it. I wanted that miracle to arrive. But, my expectations were all over the place. It had to be big. It had to be God Incarnate. It had to be... well, you get the picture. As a child, it always happened. My favorite Christmas celebrations were spent in Long Island in my great aunt's home. In the back room that overlooks the canal, the entire extended family would gather on Christmas morning. And without fail, the miracle happened. I have no idea what caused it. I don't know if it was the mound of presents that erupted under that tiny tree for all 22 of us or if it was the fact that we were all together. I don't know what caused the miracle. But, it always happened. In recent years, I have not felt this miracle in the same way. Maybe family has changed. Maybe we started fighting too much.

But, on this first Christmas without my beloved family, I realize that my hopes and fears never allowed for the simplicity of the child to come. It didn't need to be big. I just needed to see God right there ushering in yet another miracle like a beautiful (though snowless day). Another day where peace might be possible. Another day where love will be shared. Another day where joy is omnipresent. And all of this revealed in the simplicity of a child. And so we sing:

What Child is this who, laid to rest
On Mary’s lap is sleeping?
Whom angels greet with anthems sweet,
While shepherds watch are keeping?
This, this is Christ the King,
Whom shepherds guard and angels sing;
Haste, haste, to bring Him laud,
The Babe, the Son of Mary.


Do you believe in reincarnation?

I've never really had a solid answer to this one. With my mother's death at a young age, there is always part of me that wonders if this new person in my life might have part of my mother's spirit. I know that I'm instantly drawn to people that remind me of my mother, but I hesitate to settle on the fact that it might be reincarnation.

I posed this question to a congregant this week as she remarked that she feels like she has known me for a long time. She explained that there is something about my spirit that makes her feel like I have actually come home. I'm not a new minister, but someone she has known for a long time. I suppose this is not unlike my feelings about seeking my mother's qualities in friends and companions. She hesitated and said that reincarnation limited the possibility she spoke of. But, I'm stuck with this question as I think and pray about the incarnation of God in our midst -- once again.

I will be spending Christmas Day with my church administrator as well as an assortment of other women with or without a place to call home on this miraculous day. It hit me as I was talking to my parents this afternoon that this new friend reminds me of someone I have not seen and heard from in a long time. It's not the same feeling as connecting with friends that remind me of someone else that I know and love (which is the case for another one of my favorite Portland people). This woman actaully reminds me of my grandmother. Both my grandmother and this woman share the same zest for life, dark sense of humor and compassion for all. They even share the same name. I remarked this to my stepmother. And she said, "well, you never know." This is the mystery that I love. It doesn't matter if my grandmother's spirit does or does not live on in this new friend. Instead, I am relishing in the mystery of the incarnate God revealing Herself to me yet again.


Stealing Jesus

Baby Jesus is missing. A family in Buffalo, NY was reunited with their plastic Christ child earlier this week after Jesus went on a road trip. He arrived on their doorstep with a photo album entitled The Baby Jesus Chronicles. Jesus travelled all over NY state with a group of young people that didn't want to see him cooped up in an attic all year. There he is smiling somewhere among New York's exciting tourism sites. But, now, he's home safe. Reunited with the family that loves his plastic divinity.

But, don't breathe too easily because he's still not safe. Jesus is truly missing. And this time, he's disappeared from the Angelican Cathedral of St. Paul in Portland, ME. RIght here in my home town. See the empty creche? Doesn't it make you want to weep and mourn?

Actually, what depresses me from this story is the comments that were posted on the local newspaper's website. One remarked:

Someone stole a wreath of our front door the oterh day too...thats a hate crime. I want action!!!

Another commented:

I hope when the catch whoever did this they are charge with a hate crime.

There were several other comments that attacked those that posted, as well as a horrible and irrelevant attack on Islam. Was it a hate crime? Was it something that requires action? I appreciate the priest's concern to not report the theft to the police so that the police can focus on more important matters, but should there be action at all? I'm not convinced. I'm not convinced that this is another attempt to remind us to put the Christ back into Christmas. It just seems impossible. In all of these harsh words, it seems imposible to realize the simple mystery of the incarnation of hope, peace, joy and love. Certainly, Jesus has been stolen from us.


Shelter for the Spiritually Homeless

It's a season of Christmas cards. And though this might be a trite way to share the spirit of the season with our loved ones, it is something I enjoy. As someone that is terrible about using the phone and likes to get mail, I love the Christmas card season (mind you, I have not sent mine).

And this week, I got a card from my denomination. It was actually sent to the previous associate, but really, I don't care. It's a really pretty card that proudly declares "God is still speaking" which comes as no surprise to we in the proud UCC. But, what I really like and have never noticed in the other GISS campaign materials, is what appears on the back of the card in plain old 12 point font: Shelter for the Spiritually Homeless.

My peer in ministry retorted, "if only we could live up to that!" Perhaps it is a lofty aspiration, but a noble one I fear in this world where our Episcopalian brothers and sisters are fighting about the full humanity of God's children to the point of division. I should read more about this Nigerian Bishop to understand what the real matter is underneath the rift. But, it only depresses me. It depresses me that this is what we fight about when Jesus sent us out to love. Didn't he? Or did my exegesis go totally haywire?

As I sit here composing my Christmas prayer, I realize that I'm stuck in darkness. I didn't really think about it until I tried to write this prayer for Christmas -- not Advent, but Christmas. I can talk about the darkness and the longing. But, I wonder if our hope is met with dissatisfaction. Two thousand years later, it seems that I identify more and more with the shepherds shock and the wisepeople still on a journey toward peace and light. I really, really want Mary's confident prayer "Here am I, the servant of the Lord, let it be with me according to your word" (Lk 1:38, NRSV). But, I'm stuck in the darkness wanting to proclaim light more than anything. But, how can I?


Are you a heretic?

I can't sleep so I'm reading other blogs and taking online quizzes. And in the midst of my lack of slumber, I found out something I already knew. I'm a heretic. And proud, baby.

You scored as Socinianism. You are a Socinian. You deny the doctrine of the Trinity because you think God exists in a simplified unity. Since this makes the Incarnation impossible, you see Christ's work as simply exemplary.













Chalcedon compliant
















Are you a heretic?
created with QuizFarm.com

My seminary had a basketball team called the Heretics. I should have played basketball with them -- if only I could play. But, I can play in church even if I am a heretic (don't tell my congregation). This quiz doesn't leave room for reclaiming our ancient traditions. I had a weird conversation with one of the priests at one of our local hospitals on Thursday. He jumped into this theological reflection that was too traditional for me. It's not where I am. It's not that I don't believe in these things, it's that I claim them in a different way. This is true for the Trinity for me. But, there's no room for that in this quiz. Interesting though, right?


Jingle Bells

I wrote this piece for our church newsletter this week. And I kinda like it, so I thought I would share it beyond the church community.

On the Christmas Eves of my childhood, just as I nestled into the warmth of my bed to force myself to sleep, I would hear jingle bells. They were out on the lawn ringing away. And I knew whose bells they were. I didn’t need to look out the window. I knew. I would squeeze my eyes even tighter hoping that Santa would not know that I was still awake.

It was the same every year. I would always hear the bells, until my mother grew ill. I didn’t know then that she was the one standing on the lawn ringing jingle bells so that my brother and I might believe. I can’t imagine my mother standing in the cold with those bells, but I believe.

I believe in the love that inspired my mother to ring those bells. I believe in the generosity of spirit that inspires the work that we do through so many of the ministries of this church. And I’ll admit it. I still want to squeeze my eyes tightly shut while dreaming of endless possibility. I still want to hear those bells jingling on the lawn. It won’t be my mother that rings them anymore. But, she taught me to believe. And I do. I believe in Santa Claus.

Standing on the lawn ringing those jingle bells, my mother invited me to believe in something greater than myself. And no matter how old I get or how much I come to understand about the world, I cannot give up on the magic of this figure.

Do you remember the magic of Christmas of child? Have you seen that magic sparkle in the eyes of your own children, grandchildren, nieces, nephews or extended family? Have you heard those bells jingling to remind you to believe? I pray that we all experience the magic of Christmas that invites us to believe in a possibility beyond our imaginations.


Advent Devotions

I've always struggled with devotions. Most of the time, they infuriate me. Two years ago, I tried to do some Lenten devotions written by Jimmy Carter. I threw the booklet out the second day as it upset me so much. That's not what is supposed to happen, right?

This Advent, I have been meditating with the Mennonites at Goshen College. A friend from seminary is actually a visiting scholar there and since I cherish her wisdom, I thought it sounded like a great idea. There have been a couple that have been wonderful. They have shaped my day and made Advent deeper and more meaningful.

And then, there was today. So, you might have guessed from my previous blogs that I'm in my own wilderness. I'm struggling with where in the world God is in this moment. Was She in the call process? Is He present right now? Or is God just having a good laugh at my expense? (Um, I doubt that.) So, I open the devotion today and the scripture reads:

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus (Philippians 4:4-7, NRSV).

I can do nothing but rejoice (although a little defiant) that God is indeed "near."


And so it happened.

A friend and I met this week for a lectionary study group. Though he was not preaching, he was perfectly willing to enjoy a beer with me on a Wednesday afternoon as we talked about the Bible. He brought an article he had found by Walter Bruggemann. And somewhere in that expository on Luke 3:1-6, Bruggemann remarked "And the Word of God happened." We chuckled over our beers and thought this was a silly statement.

But then, sure enough, I was in church this morning and it kept echoing in my head. And the Word of God happened. And it happened again and again and again.

I've been having a rough week. I'll admit that I'm lonely and a tad homesick. It takes a lot for me to admit that -- especially on the internet where anyone can read it. But, it's true. I've been really, really lonely these past few days. I think the reality of the holidays and the absence of family and friends has started to eat at my heartstrings. So, I've had these terrible passing thoughts that you are not supposed to admit that you are actually having. Thoughts about being in the wrong place. Thoughts about running away. Thoughts that argue with God.

And then, the Word of God happened. I was sullen and didn't want to hear the voices that I was preaching about. But, there it was echoing my ears at coffee hour. "We're so lucky to have you," they said again and again. It came from all kinds of different voices. Not just my dear favorite little old ladies. But, men and young women. It came from all over the place. ARG! So there. The Word of God happened. Even when I did not want to hear it, there was God offering me the loving reminder that I needed.

Of course, I'm trying my hardest to let these moments rise above the one negative conversation with an older man after the pre-dawn service (ok, it's 8:30 am). Of course, he was passive aggressive about it. Some other members said something to him about this "new young lady" (oh so patronizing) who refered to God as SHE in the church newsletter. Of course, he cited the Lord's Prayer. Jesus taught us to pray to God the Father. I patiently explained that we need many metaphors to understand the mysterious presence of God. I explained that for some of us, fathers are not the perfect metaphor (my father is now annoyed having read that -- NOT YOU!), but there are other women that struggle with the male image. There are men that struggle with this image. I resisted the temptation to explain how the Biblical canon came together... I wanted to, but I didn't. I even managed to resist when he told me that the feminist movement was a blip that we have "gotten over now." Ooooooh. I excused myself at this moment and went to my office, closed the door and jumped up and down in rage.

But, the Word of God happened. I need to stay with that.

And I am Listening

This morning, I preached. A sermon entitled "And I am Listening" when I feel like I'm not doing enough listening. I feel like I'm missing the voices that really matter to me -- those justice-seeking types. Those are the voices I miss. But, it was my first sermon being the associate pastor so I need not barrel in with prophetic wisdom. Needless to say, it did not come together easily.

The text is our familiar story of John the Baptizer crying out in the wilderness as read in Luke 3:1-6. But, this was not the only sacred text we shared. In the spirit of our still speaking God, we read a poem entitled "Voices" by 18-year-old Ashley Blount of Iowa City. I found her poem on a website of Poets Against War. And it goes like this:

Sitting here in absolute silence transforms my reality
Like lightning striking a tree mid night.

Suddenly the darkness becomes blinding light
And the light, infinite darkness,
The kind of darkness that envelops all
And can be felt from deep within.

And the silence will no longer remain silent!
Thousands of inaudible sounds suddenly make themselves heard.
Voices from across the globe fill my ears
Crying their song in silent agony
Wishing only that they be heard.

I am no longer myself.
My eyes, so well trained to see black as darkness
Can now see rainbows of colors.

I can no longer recognize even my own image
Because I am not myself
I am you
And you are me.

Your pain swells into my heart
Flowing with the river of my blood.
But I accept it willfully
Because I know it will not last.
And for one moment,
I wish for nothing more
Than for you to experience the joy that fills my days.

I have heard your voice
And I am listening.

And then my sermon begins, something like this:

One voice. One voice calls out in the wilderness. It is just one voice calling out. Not many. Not a few. There is just one voice that is calling. So, who gets to speak for us? Whose voice is it? Is it a prophet from afar? Is it my voice? Is it yours? Whose voice is it that calls from the wilderness?

Certainly, it can’t be my voice. I have called my own answering machine and cringed at the voice on the other end. No, that voice should sound something like… Something like what?

Whom do we let speak? There are anchors that convey the news on television and columnists that comment on the world’s affairs. There are storytellers that we love to listen to. And there are those that we defer to – those that we listen to without even realizing that we are giving them the power of speaking. They are the ones that get to speak for us.

Luke knows this – as he lists the people that get a voice in Roman society: the Emperor Tiberius and Herod who ruled Galilee and the list goes on and on. In our own political sphere, a woman is taking on the role of speaker of the House. Like the voices that Luke lists, Nancy Pelosi has the power to speak. And perhaps appropriately, she told us honestly that she is struggling with her voice. When it really matters, she tells us she will use her “mother-of-five voice.”

Is that that voice that John the Baptizer used? When he “came to the region around the Jordan to proclaim a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins,” did he sound like a stern “mother-of-five”? Is that the voice that we use when we long to be heard?


Or is there merely silence? A silence that seems to pervade in such harsh ways that in the midst of December, we wonder what the Christmas season is really all about. And so we wait. We wait for something to happen. We’re not sure what. Perhaps it is just one voice that will break through the wilderness of our silence.

One voice of Ashley Blount from Iowa City. Not the mother of five, but a young woman. Not a booming baritone that echoes through the wilderness, but the soft soprano of an 18 year old girl. She describes that familiar silence as something that transforms her reality

Like lightning striking a tree mid night.

Perhaps John the Baptizer did have that voice quality – that sound that I do not quite know how to describe – that would have caught our attention. Like lightning striking a tree mid night. But, what would that sound like? Can you imagine?

I find myself longing to hear voices. Not of my own broken, disjointed voice but voices from the past and voices from the present. I long to hear some kind of sound so that the silence will cease – that silence that pervades. That wilderness that we each know. This silence that is all too familiar.

Last year, before the silence of Advent fell upon us, I gathered with a group of my fellow seminarians to pray. That night when the death toll of American troops in the war in Iraq reached 2,000, we prayed in the silence of the seminary chapel. We sat in the silence and lit candles for peace. We told stories of friends and loved ones. And into the too familiar silence, we sang. Out of tune, into the wilderness of the night, we sang:

O come, Desire of nations, bind
All peoples in one heart and mind
Bid envy, strife, and quarrels cease
Fill all the world with heaven's peace
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to you, O Israel.

That October night, long before Advent, we sang in one voice not knowing how else to express the longing in our hearts.

It was the only way that we could claim that longing. The same longing that Luke desires when we quotes the prophet Isaiah. Isaiah’s words boom Like lightning striking a tree mid night.

A voice cries out: "In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord,

That October night, our unprepared voices sang as one. It doesn’t matter if it was in season or liturgically appropriate. That night, I felt that longing. In my out-of-tune singing, my voice called out into the wilderness for hope. The silence of the wilderness disappeared. Perhaps that’s what Luke wants us to hear from John he Baptizer. Simply by quoting Isaiah, Luke urges us to remember that the wilderness is not a hopeless place. Instead, the wilderness is a place inbetween what is familiar and what is to come.

And so Luke invites us to hear the voices that call out for new beginnings. Listen to John the Baptizer on the banks of the river. One voice calling to the inbetween for change. One voice daring to imagine a new possibility. One voice calling into the silence.

It is still silent. Pause. Perhaps we are still in the inbetween. And we can only imagine what this silence – this awkward inbetween – will release when it no longer remains silent? Is it just like the young poet Ashley Blount writes?

Thousands of audible sounds suddenly make themselves heard.
Voices from across the globe fill my ears
Crying their song in silent agony
Wishing only to be heard.

Can you hear it? Can you hear the Thousands of audible sounds suddenly make themselves heard? Can you hear the song inbetween what has been and what will be?

In the silence of that October night, I heard what this young poet describes. As my voice mingled with others to sing of our hope, I discovered that I was not myself. I discovered that my out-of-tune voice mingled with those that gathered to light candles of peace. Our song was indeed like lightning striking a tree mid night.

Something happened. Something changed for those of us that began to sing of new possibility on that silent night. It was subtle, but it taught me to listen. And to listen carefully for those often unheard voices crying out. To listen in the inbetween to hear God still speaking.

I have heard your voice
And I am listening.


Friday Woes

It snowed last night. It's the first real snowfall that we have had after this unseasonably warm November here in Maine. I've been nervous about the snow and now that it has snowed, I don't really feel motivated to do anything. I have intentions of doing some serious Christmas shopping, but I have yet to find the motivation (or enough coffee).

Last night, I was at church until late for our board meetings. For some reason, I left feeling miserable. I think it was a combination of feeling lonely and inaffective. It probably has something to do with the fact that I don't really enjoy committee meetings of any kind. They are so important, but I detest them. So, I came home to pour myself a glass of wine, finish making my tree skirt (which looks great) while listening to Christmas carols and hanging the lights on my tree. My apartment is fully decked out for the Christmas season while I feel totally unprepared. Perhaps this has something to do with the fact that my sermon for Sunday is going nowhere.

Where does one find inspiration when overwhelmed by what is missing from your own Advent season? When all of my friends and family are emailing to ask when I will be coming home for Christmas, I find myself even more lonely and wonder if I can even offer the hope of the season in my presence in worship -- or otherwise. Not that this has to come just from me, but it might help. It might also help if I was able to open myself up to the possibility of discovering that warmth I long for. It's not always as easily done as said though.

It didn't help that I got a Christmas card yesterday that said something to the effect of "I hope things are getting better." That hurt. It didn't capture my own feelings and I felt it unfair in a Christmas greeting. So, now, I'm just sad.


Light a Candle

World AIDS Day was this past Friday. I have several friends that are struggling with HIV so that this is an important day for me. Having recently travelled to Africa, this day takes on a whole new meaning. While I struggle with my own terror of cancer, I can't imagine the horror that HIV/AIDS carries for people and countries where medication is too costly or hope seems impossible.

And I can only pray that hope is possible. It seems hard to imagine when I attended a service on the eve of World AIDS Day here in Maine where attendance seemed so pathetic. I wondered where was hope. I wondered how we become impacted by these horrors that are outside of our context, and I took my first step toward understanding that I am not in New York anymore. In NYC, World AIDS Day is an event, but for many of my fellow Americans, the day goes unnoticed. But, I pray that there is hope and if you do too, please light a candle.

Light a candle for hope.



None of that blood stuff

This morning was the first that I officially participated in a Communion liturgy. I have done it before actually. In seminary, I served many times. And even while I was serving as a Pastoral Associate during my studies, I did preside over the table, but that was at a Disciples of Christ congregation where they understand the priesthood of all believers more fully than we who designate ordained persons to serve the sacred meal.

Anyhow, I was nervous. Communion is a very big deal to me and I cherish the opportunity to serve in that role (or any role around the table). I was so nervous that I forgot part of the offering chereography. I was oddly tired this morning so that I felt groggy all through the service. Almost jetlagged, which I fear showed. I was talking too fast, one gentleman pointed out to me. Of course, he was kind to point out that it's my energy that makes me talk so fast. But, that didn't mask his critique too much. But, the truth was: I was tired and so very nervous. I was certain that I would mess something up, and I did stumble (whether or not anyone noticed).

I was very careful to choose my blessing over the cup. I chose words from the UCC Book of Worship for the most part for the prayer of Commissioning (not a prayer of thanksgiving, which I really don't understand theologically). But, as it was my role to serve the cup, I hate the blood language. I refuse to use it. I even refuse to word "forgiveness" for all that it infers. I just can't do it. I'm too much of a feminist, and may God bless me for that. So, I said,

"And in the same way, after supper, Jesus took the cup and blessed it. He poured out of the fruit of the wine and shared it with his friends saying, 'Take and drink for this is the cup of blessing shared among the many.'"

I wasn't sure if anyone noticed that I had used different language. I wasn't sure if I was going to hear it from the Deacons. But, I knew that I had to do what was in my heart. So, I just prayed that it was ok. But, I had no idea until I felt this hand squeeze my arm. She was coming up the stairs and stopped me as I was hurrying to Confirmation class. It was another little old lady. (God bless the little old ladies.) And she practically squealed. "Thank you so much for your words over the cup. I just love that! A cup of blessing!" She wandered off to talk about her daughter who rejects church because of that blood stuff. And then she said the words that I long to hear most, "I can't wait to tell her about your words! Maybe it will bring her back to church!"

Whether or not this woman comes back or stays away from church, it is my hope that a progressive voice is heard over and over again over the broken bread of the Communion feast. And may God bless the little old ladies who remind me that we do need this voice, even when they are not the same words that we grew up with.


Rain, rain, go away

It's raining today. It's not a hard rain. It's not spitting. But, it's one of those constant rains where you just seem to get wet no matter what. It's one of those rains that makes you want to stay inside and watch made-for-TV movies (whether or not you are able to admit that you secretly indulge in Lifetime Television for Women). But, I decided to go for a run this morning. In fact, I was on my way to the gym but as I was running down the street, I found myself turning and running toward the Back Bay. It reminds me of the reservoir in the middle of Central Park back in New York with a path that loops around it going nowhere particular around this strange body of water.

The rain matched my mood after attending a vigil last night to remember those that have died, are still dying and will continue to die of AIDS and HIV. The rain matches my sorrow. But, as I ran around Back Bay, I found myself splashing in puddles. Literally, jumping in puddles for the sheer joy of being soaked with water. I was already soaked by the rain. My shoes were making that gross juicy noise. But, I splashed anyway. And I remembered that even in the rain, there is still hope. It's a nice thought to begin Advent with so on this day, I just want to say thank you for the rain.


Favorite Church Moment

This past Sunday, I preached with the interim who was leaving as I arrived. Reflecting upon Ecclesiastes many seasons, we talked about change and saying goodbye. We talked about how hard it is. We talked about how God is present in all those changes.

So during the service, I was doing a lot of walking back and forth across the chancel. I was wearing heels. One of my favorite pairs actually. But, the mics pick up every single noise that you make moving across the chancel. So, I was really insecure about the noise that my heels were making so I did tiptoe a whole lot. I had the passing thought that this was kinda silly as I shouldn't really be concerned about this. It's part of that wonder of me being a woman up front, right?

So, while we were in the receiving line after worship, this little old lady says to me, "I used to work in Monument Square and I used to wear high heels all of the time. And I just love the sound. I love hearing you walk back and forth in worship." Amen.

Prince of Peace?

I've started to watch the news in the morning before leaving for church. Usually, this is not the wisest move as I tend to get a bit angry. I tend to be furious actually. And so it is today. After the newsbit on breast cancer, CNN informed me that somewhere in Colorado someone had the audacity to hang a wreath that looked like this. A wreath in the shape of the a peace symbol. The entire town is in uproar. It's a slap in the face to those that have children, husbands and wives overseas. Oh no, but it gets worse. Apparently, these Colorado locals believe that the peace sign is actually a symbol of Satan.

No, I'm not kidding. I'm furious but I'm not kidding. But, she hung the wreath and even though she was forced to take it down, she explained “Peace is way bigger than not being at war. This is a spiritual thing.”

And it is a spiritual thing. We are approaching a season where we are awaiting the Prince of Peace. And if we are really awaiting such a revelation, it seems appropriate to hang peace signs and pray that world peace might be realized one day. Really, it's what Jesus would want.


That was No Burning Bush

It was totally innocent. I swear.

This morning, I went to get a bagel at a local coffee shop. Of course, I'm not in New York anymore so the thing barely looks like a bagel and most importantly, they don't prepare it for you with complete excess of cream cheese.

So, I took the bagel that I was already not certain about to work. I went to the little kitchen where the staff microwave is and discovered there was a toaster. I was excited because I was convinced that this required the need of a little toasty warmth. I walked away for 3 minutes from the toaster that I assumed would pop up by itself. I had a brief chat and went back to find a flaming bagel.

Literally, flaming. I didn't think bagels could burn like that (which again, makes me wonder if the thing would have been any good anyhow). Oh, and there is smoke everywhere. EVERYWHERE! I'm trying to play cool and think that it will all be fine. Nope, the new alarm system goes off. It's one of those fancy new ones that actually talks to you and slams all of the doors while scaring the living daylights out of you.

I'm so humiliated. The firemen show up. Big truck outside the church. O Holy God.

Ok, so they were cute. But, that's not a reason to be excited that they were there. I can't believe this is happening. This is totally going to be in the sermon on Sunday (which I am co-creating). I'm so ashamed. But, I did add insult to my own injury and smiled with the less cute of the two firemen.


It's 28 degrees outside.

I'm going to freeze to death in this arctic climate way up North. It's 28 degrees right now. Brrrrr.


Congregational Tradition in My Face

This morning, I went to have coffee with one of my new parishioners at her home. The objective was to talk about what women's spirituality might look like into the future of this worshipping community. Toward the end of the last week, I realized that my arrival had this salvific quality of "Oh good. The associate is finally here to make all of the programs that are dying revive again." It's all very humbling especially as I know that I can't launch in and just start a bunch of new stuff -- that's not how I understand my call into service.

That's a really fun part about being a process person and wanting to share in that figuring out task but not make any decisions (stop it with the Meyers Briggs). It's frustrating for everyone else, but the Search Committee knew this. I said it there. Good Lord I hope they heard it. Nope, I'm just here to listen. Just here to hear what God might be leading us toward. Just sitting here, sipping my coffee and listening while asking you these vast questions.

So, I have always loved the tradition of Congregationalism where we can all sit in the same church, worship the same God, eat at the same potluck and not believe the same darn thing about anything. I've always thought that was pretty amazing (and something our polarized political world could learn from, mind you).

But as I sipped my coffee this morning, I became aware of the fact that I am not sure how to minister to this woman. She started by asking me if I had seen this particular movie with a lot of metaphysical spirituality stuff (which I had actually seen). Actually, she started by putting me in my place which I tried to envision as her way of beginning the conversation, but it was a tad abrupt. But as we kept talking, I kept thinking "Are we still Christian?" and "What happened to Jesus?" I consider myself to be a liberal Christian who struggles with a slew of dogma in the tradition, but this woman was way out in left field for me. I think that needs emphasis. FOR ME this woman was out in left field. FOR ME. I'm baffled and I think I can do some gnostic stuff that might be actually helpful with the Sophia tradition and stuff. But, do tell. When did prayer become ineffective? Only Buddhist prayer and chakras work? Only those? Really?


The Dreaded Fear of Being Lonely

I just got off the phone with one of my dear friends from seminary who is struggling with where God might be calling her after graduation in May. I think she's pretty clear about it actually (if I don't say so myself) but she's just as overwhelmed as I am by the fear that we might be lonely. And I think that most pastors struggle with this. It doesn't matter if you are single or not. It doesn't matter if you have a brood of kids or not. Being a pastor can be totally lonely. Though I would really take the brood of kids and partner any day, I am struggling with this state of loneliness that my friend dreads.

So, in the first three weeks of my ministry, I will tell you about the community I have found in a place where I didn't know a soul.

I found a group of loving and supporting pastor-types that are eager and ready to welcome me into terror mentoring group. Though I have not yet met with this group, I have already felt their love. I have felt a similar sort of support from the 20s-30s group in my state (mind you, there are seven of us in the entire state).

And I found what every pastor wants, a good friend that will take you out to laugh about how silly life is. You will crash a wedding, talk to parishioners that you will later officiate for over their wedding and enjoy one too many cocktails at a gay bar. (Yes, the photo is actually at the wedding after we crooned around the piano in the hotel lobby.)

But, my friend is right. You can never stop being a pastor. This is the truth I realized when I was explaining the Biblical foundations of the condemnation of homosexuality and why I don't believe that over my drink last night. I was just trying to make some new friends. I wandered out by myself to try to find some fun young people in this city. But, no, I was just a pastor to them. Nothing more. But, we all find that select few that we can be just who we really are with. No pastor. Just me. It's a rare find. But, they are out there. I have every faith.


First Day Email

I just got an email from one of the parents of the this past Sunday's acolytes. Before church, I had plopped down next to little Sally to say hi. It was one of those moments that you are not really thinking but just trying to meet people. And then, in worship, Sally sat down next to me in the first pew after lighting the candles. So, she heard me sing the first hymn. Apparently on the ride home from church, Sally told her mother, "Mum, you know, when we first met Pastor Peters, she said that she didn't have a good singing voice. Well, I was standing right beside her and her singing voice is just fine!"



Some days I want to leave it all behind and go off again and really do the dirty work

This is what my dear friend and fellow pastor said to me tonight as we talked about the two movies we had recently seen. I had just seen Babel and she watched The Constant Gardener. We both share a heart for mission -- though her experience living with and serving the people of Bosnia for four years trumps my experience in Applachia. Nonetheless, we both love being in mission. We both love service and we share a common belief that poverty is unacceptable. So, we we talk tonight, she says this to me. "Some days I want to leave it all behind and go off again and really do the dirty work." And she's right. It's the same dream that I have -- even though I just got into this parish gig. There are always days that I wish that I was doing the "real" work (mind you, it's all real work).

So, she starts to tell me about this project founded by a Disciple pastor. The work is quite simple. No matter who you are, come to this Tucson-based ministry and head out into the desert to give water to those that would otherwise die without it. That's it. We decided that we would go whenever we could both get some time off from our other "real" work. And if you are as mission minded as we are, you should too.

Oh, and go to the website at http://www.humaneborders.org/ and if you are like me, you will start crying at the amazing witness of this simple ministry.


What will this day be like?

I wonder. This is how Maria begins her song in the Sound of Music as the Reverend Mother sends her to find herself (or perhaps realize her call) by caring for the Captain Von Trapp's seven children. She continues to sing.

What will my future be? I wonder. / It could be so exciting to be out in the world, to be free / My heart should be wildly rejoicing / Oh, what's the matter with me?

I started watching this movie tonight (which by the way is one of my favorites) when I realized that Maria was singing the song in my heart. Holy God. This is exactly how I feel. I never knew Rogers & Hammerstein were so theological -- but God does surprise us in startling ways. Tomorrow, I answer the call that God has presented me with. Tomorrow, I begin to serve the church. Mother God has sent me out to find myself and realize my own gifts. And yet, here I am singing just like Maria.

I've always longed for adventure / To do the things I've never dared / And here I'm facing adventure / Then why am I so scared

About now, Maria realizes that she's being silly with her worries. Trust me, I know exactly how this feels. And yet, sometimes we can't help but be overwhelmed by all of these confusing emotions. And God bless Maria for her song that somehow managed to give me strength tonight. So, I shall just let you relish in her lyrics. I hope they inspire you as much as they comforted me tonight.

Oh, I must stop these doubts, all these worries / If I don't I just know I'll turn back / I must dream of the things I am seeking / I am seeking the courage I lack

The courage to serve them with reliance / Face my mistakes without defiance / Show them I'm worthy / And while I show them / I'll show me

So, let them bring on all their problems / I'll do better than my best / I have confidence they'll put me to the test / But I'll make them see I have confidence in me

Somehow I will impress them / I will be firm but kind / And all those children (Heaven bless them!) / They will look up to me / And mind me

Don't you just love the authority there? It's just fantastic in the midst of all of her confusion. Sorry, go ahead and keep singing (oh you are totally singing along, don't bother kidding yourself).

With each step I am more certain / Everything will turn out fine / I have confidence the world can all be mine / They'll have to agree I have confidence in me / I have confidence in sunshine / I have confidence in rain / I have confidence that spring will come again / Besides which you see I have confidence in me

The song goes on. But, I like the creation image here and I think I shall just have to repeat this last line as I fall asleep tonight: I have confidence in me.

45 Days Until Christmas

Our local paper reminds me that Advent is nearly upon us. In fact, Christmas is nearly upon us.

I know that this early arrival of Christmas irritates many people. But, lI feel more like this child photographed at the Maine Mall.

Isn't he darling? He reminds me that there is joy and wonder that awaits us -- so very much joy and wonder. I was just talking to a dear friend and her sentiments about the election this week (we were both a bit apathetic) reminded me of this unexpected joy. Despite our deepest longing in the darkest of nights, even when it seems impossible, we can still be surprised by hope, love, joy and peace. It can really happen and Christmas reminds us to await this mystery with wonder.


Breaking Out

Why O God should anyone over the age of 16 break out? Why must there be zits checkered across my face when I am trying to realize my pastoral authority? Why does this happen when my stress levels rise? Why O God must you send this plague upon me? If only I believed it was really your fault.


Am I really supposed be holy?

Why do we expect to see our ministers, clergy and other people of faith as holy?

Perhaps we need to first examine what it means to be holy. I spoke on a panel at my alma mater tonight about what you do after college when you major in religion. I was not the only clergy type -- to my great shock. There was a young woman three years younger than me who had just begun studies in rabbinical school. Before venturing to this event, I had snack and a glass of wine with my favorite professor.

Now, I don't pastor to my friends. I won't minister to my peers or people that I have known for a long time. In fact, I don't pastor to anyone that does not know me in the pastoral sense. That is, the folks that I have met when I have had the title "minister." So, when I am with my friends, I am fully myself. There is no song and dance. I don't mince words and sometimes curse. It's true. And dear friends, this is what makes me human. I am a real, true person so this is fully me. This is not how I behave in the church or with parishoners, but with friends, it's a different game. Such was the case for my dear professor. She's known me for nearly ten years now and I'm not going to pretend that I wasn't an insecure undergrad crying in her office. Instead, I shall be myself.

But, after the event as we walked back to my car, my dear professor made some comment about how unholy I am. She explained to another alum that I was talking a lot of trash earlier. I believe her exact words were "You should hear the mouth on her!"

Huh. So, what does that mean exactly? What did I do to offend? What could I possibly have said? Nothing. I was just myself. I recounted the search process of finding my call with true honesty. Why can't I be candid? I may have cursed, but I don't think I did. Or at least, not often. Why is it that even this wonderful woman who shared a very intimate struggle in my faith journey still thinks that I should somehow be holy? What in the world does that really mean?


For All the Saints

All Saints Day was officially on Wednesday but many of our churches honored and remembered the saints today, as happened at the church that I attended this morning. At this service the pastor lovingly asked the youngest members during Children's Time, what are saints? I realized in this moment that my seminary education has created a rift between me and most people in the pews. Perhaps this is something I should be more aware of more often. And yet, this moment surprised me.

We are limited by our understanding of saints. Somehow our Catholic brothers and sisters -- whom our founding mothers and fathers rebelled against by seeking religious freedom in the New World -- have defined the word saint for us. Saints are martyrs. They are worshipped. The Pope chooses a few a year that get to be canonized and added to this prestigious list of holy people.

But, we forget that saints are really just holy people. The term is used most often by the Apostle Paul to refer to all Christian believers. It's one of his favorite phrases in the Epistle to the Romans. He begins his letter, "To all God's beloved in Rome, who are called to be saints: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ" (1:7, NRSV). And then my favorite part of this letter reminds the followers to "contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers" (12:13, NRSV). It harkens back to that Old Testament stuff about hospitality. Be generous with hosptiality, as you are always welcoming saints. Your people. The people that God loves. I missed this connection in worship today. I wished that we were reminded that we are all the saints of God. God extends this generous hospitality to us, so it would be nice to be reminded with a few words in worship.

Something as simple as Blessed are all the saints of God. Perhaps we could even be so brave as to name saints in our midst. Maybe we would name the homeless men and women that gather in the Arts District. Maybe we would name the saints that labor at church bazaars. Maybe we would name Ted Haggard. Maybe we would name those that have died -- those that we miss. And maybe we would remember the tradition of the saints that lingers with us from those that have touched our lives yesterday, today and tomorrow.

For all the saints, who from their labors rest,
Who in the world their steadfast faith confessed,
Your name, O Jesus, be forever blessed.
Alleluia, Alleluia!


God Bless Ted Haggard

News has erupted about poor Ted Haggard. I admit that he's not one of my favorite characters. I don't like that he is on President Bush's speed dial and I can't find the heart to affirm the theology espoused at New Life Church. And that's the very problem, I think. Our theology doesn't make space to allow ourselves the ability to love self.

It seems simple. And evens so, I know that there are some that argue that this is twisting God to our own image. Perhaps it is wrong. But, we are created in the image of God. It's right there in the beginning of Genesis before we are given the responsibility to be the best steward possible of God's creation. And inherent in this responsibility is the promise to be good stewards of ourselves. This means that we should love and honor ourselves. We should protect our health and our hearts. We should do all of the things that we strive to do to care for Mother Earth. It is what God asks of us.

And instead, poor Ted Haggard has hated himself. He has made choices that don't honor his own value as God's creation. It doesn't matter to me if he did engage in these trysts or if he merely had a gay friend in the vast scope of his ministry. It doesn't really matter to me at all what he did or not do. Instead, I am saddened that there is no space for Ted Haggard to love and honor himself. I'm saddened that some member of his congregation struggling with sexual identity can't see God in these tough questions because his pastor has already condemned it. I'm saddened that Ted Haggard is not affirmed by the National Evangelical Association. I'm horrified that we get so concerned about naming sins. It seems that if we are to label sin, it is really the greatest sin not to love and honor yourself as God has commanded.



Today, I went shopping for housewares. It's a full time job with a new place. I can't help but think of Carrie Bradshaw's desire to host a shower for being single. But, there is no such thing and I AM single so I get to do it alone.

So, I was wondering around the World Over Imports looking at furniture when I hear "BEVERLY!". My name is not Beverly. But, I was acutely aware of this older man -- comfortably sitting in an arm chair --screaming at his wife across the store and pointing at me.

"BEVERLY, come here!" He tried to be more discreet but he was still pointing at me.

Beverly walked past me and nodded with a half-smile. I smiled at her thinking "Ah, this is what it is like to be a pastor in a 'small town.'"

I actually miss New York.

Holy Unreadiness

I moved two days ago. I am settling into my new home where my ministry will begin. And aside from the fact that all of Portland can see into my windows and see all of me (as there is no place to hide), I am beginning to feel at home. A little lonely, but I'm settling into this new place slowly.

Yesterday, I went to the church to unload the six boxes of books that were making my car go put put. It was the first thing on my to-do list as I had a lot of other stuff to pick up that would not cram in the car with these boxes of books.

And I committed a clergy sin. I ended up staying at the church for two hours. I don't start there for ten days, but I spent two hours chatting and unloading. It wasn't that it was unproductive time. I spent most of that time unloading the boxes of books onto my new office shelves and chatting with the interim and others around the office. But, see, the problem is that I don't work there yet. I start in two weeks. I shouldn't be there. I should be doing all the other things that I need to do and starting that later. But in my lonely state without new community, I screamed sanctuary and spent two hours at church. Heaven forgive me for loving church too much.

I just wish I felt more prepared to serve her.


We Are the UCC

The UCC is turning FIFTY! And the celebration begins next weekend on All Saints Day! The whole thing will be webcast (because we are so cutting edge) and everyone is invited to participate. So, for about 2 months, the denomination has invited individuals, groups and congregations to post short, silly, innovative, creative, meaningful "digital videos" about the UCC and what their UCC identity means to them on YouTube.

I haven't had any strokes of genius about what to do. But, I love the creativity of this video -- and the male cheerleaders. So, I had to share it with all of you.

Aren't they cute?


Benevolent Creator

RevGals recommended this personality quiz on http://www.personaldna.com -- and you know, minister types love a good personality quiz. We wonder around explaining ourselves by the Meyers Briggs designations. I have always found this a challenge, as I can never remember where I am on the scale. I know I'm an I/E, but that's all I can remember (and I only remember that because I think of myself as an Introvert while the rest of the world thinks I'm an Extrovert).

As a "Creator" and artist, maybe I can remember colors better. Though, they don't tell you what they mean. Like, why are there 3 blocks yellow, green and blue in the same size? What does it mean?

But, they do give me a little advice for my "Benevolent" side which I offer to all minister-types as we all struggle with this:

You spend a lot of time taking care of others, but don't forget to take care of yourself!

Woes of Finding a Good Robe

In a mere two weeks, I will be serving my first church where I will robe in my very own clerical robe for worship every Sunday. Sounds wonderful, doesn't it?

Here's the problem: I don't have a robe.

And I don't know how many of you have decided to dress in male clerical garb, but I REFUSE! I refuse to not show my curves from the pulpit. Not that I am going to flaunt them or be distasteful, but I'm want a robe that says, ain't I a woman? And it appears that this is nearly impossible which I find so frustrating.

I'm not looking for anything super fancy. The male Senior Minister wears a Geneva robe in typical Congregational fashion. So, I'm thinking that these styles might work:

But, in black with the United Church of Christ logo where the cross is.

I'm really not sure how I feel about this one. You can "create your own robe" by replacing the black velvet with some lace or brocade as well as the liturgical colors of that red piping, but I'm really not sure if I like it. It looks a little stiff, doesn't it?

And then, there is this one (though it would be black) but I can't help but think it looks a tad frumpy.

I seek your guidance, wisdom and good fashion sense. Please, help me.


Obama for President

An Op-Ed in the New York Times earlier this week remarks:

Whether you’re liberal or conservative, you should hope Barack Obama runs for president.

Obama moved me at the DNC nearly four years ago. I loved his words and I'm so excited about his new book (and not just because he is a proud member of the largest church in my denomination). I have a slight crush -- a political crush without any romantic leanings. I'm excited to see where he will go and what he will chanllenge his own state of Illinois and the rest of the USA to imagine in our pursuit of justice and peace.

Isn't exciting when politicians can offer hope? It gives me chills. And I wonder if this Op-Eder has predicted correctly.

Not Listening to the Sermon

This morning while the minister that now pastors my home church preached, my mind wandered. In case anyone doesn't believe that everyone's mind wanders, there you go -- but that's not really my concern. Instead of listening to the sermon with way too many illustrations (pick one for the love of God!), I was mentally reviewing my Ordination essay. Earlier this week, I submitted it for those last few steps before I actually get ordained. And this weekend, I got a letter from the Committee on Ordination and Ministerial Standing inviting me to a meeting. It's the meeting where they get to question me about everything I have written (that is, if they have taken the time to read it in the past week).

I was thinking about Jessica and how she echoed my secret wonderings. Will they figure me out? Will they actually see that I'm less than the perfect Christian and that sometimes I am plagued with severe doubts? Jessica and I giggled about the fact that no matter how much we love the church, it just seems to good to be true.

And last night over martinis, I had a similar conversation with my dear friend Melanie who refers to the church as an abusive husband. No matter how frustrating it may be, she can't leave. As I told Melanie between sips of my martini, this metaphor sounds too severe and painfully violent. Egads! I love that word. Egads! I'm overwhelmed with nervous energy. Could all of my hopes and dreams be coming true? Could it really be? The blessing seems just too great. While in awe, I want nothing more to be in the fetal position. Awe is overwhelming.


Humility & Saying Goodbye

Yesterday, I had lunch with Brian and Eleanor, coffee with Claudio, a beer with John and dinner with Jessica. It was a full day of eating, drinking and trying not to say goodbye. It was a full day of trying not to say all that these people have meant to me in the past three years (they are all friends from seminary so I have only known them a mere lifetime of three years). See, I don't like to say goodbyes. I'm moving. I'm heading out into God's service to do new and exciting things, but I'm leaving behind friends and family that I shall deeply miss. And let's face it. I'm a total sap so I need to tell people how much they mean to me. But, I'm also stubborn as all get out and don't want to actually say goodbye because it's not really goodbye, it's "see you soon," right? I hate the whole thing.

But as I gathered with these dear and beloved friends, each one of them offered to list my good qualities. I thought it was my turn but as I relayed my amazement that I will actually be doing the work that I feel called to do so soon, these kind friends listed why it's not a surprise. They wanted to tell me why it was no surprise that it was all happening so fast. Of course, I wouldn't let any of them get these words out. Instead, I wanted to tell them how much they mean to me and how much they have made me into the person that I am -- and even more, the pastor that I am.

John remarked that humility is a byproduct of Christian love. If you love your neighbor and do all that, humility will come naturally. This was said before the beers were poured and we chuckled about being less than beacons of spirituality. But, I think it was Jessica that said it best. She loves the church as much as I do and refuses to give into the silly tides of politics. It feels like somehow they will figure it out. Soon enough, they will see that I'm not all that great. Soon enough, they will see that I still feel like I'm acting in the best feat of theatre imaginable. Soon enough, I'll get figured out. God bless Jessica for saying these words that I'm not sure how to articulate. It's not that our calls are not authentic, deep and true. Instead, it's the constant amazement that we could be so lucky to do this work. And who better than a good friend to understand these deep and confusing emotion?

But, I still don't want to say goodbye.


God is dead.

Friedrich Nietzsche said it first. God is dead. But, then Robert Hawkins said it again tonight on the The Colbert Report. Actually, he wrote a whole book about it.

I admit that I have a distinct bias here. I admit that it's really hard for me to patiently listen to his argument. And, it's not that I don't want to. It just makes me feel like I'm in college all over again trying to lovingly explain that this is my faith and I'm not asking you to subscribe to my faith, but I do believe in God. Do I need to explain it? Maybe. I don't think it's all that important.

Instead, I wonder why we can't allow somethings to be a mystery. Why is the mysterious so forbidden and unnerving to us that we must explain it? But, then again, Nietzsche said it first.

God is dead. God remains dead. And we have killed him. How shall we, murderers of all murderers, console ourselves? That which was the holiest and mightiest of all that the world has yet possessed has bled to death under our knives. Who will wipe this blood off us? With what water could we purify ourselves? What festivals of atonement, what sacred games shall we need to invent? Is not the greatness of this deed too great for us? Must we not ourselves become gods simply to be worthy of it? — Nietzsche, The Gay Science, Section 125, tr. Walter Kaufmann


Blessed are the persecuted

It terrifies me that humanity seeks to find more ways to divide than unite. As if there is not enough that works to separate us from our sisters and brothers, it seems that we seek out ways to divide ourselves from our neighbor. And even worse -- we name call, demonize and persecute those that are our kindred (if we were brave enough to see that all humanity is in fact kindred).

My prayers go up to my fellow Christians in Iraq who only meet further persecution. The headline in the New York Times reports: Iraq’s Christians Flee as Extremist Threat Worsens. And my heart breaks. The reporter mentions that Iraq has some sacred history as historians believe it to be the home of the Garden of Eden and the locale of the city of Nineveh (though that's not really a good thing). And yet, the Christians are persecuted. Just as Christians are everywhere. More and more these days as our faith is made into an institution that divides more than unites. The words "sin" and "sinner" frequent the lips of my kindred in faith. And so we forget that we are all kindred and we demonize. It's depressing.

I pray for all of those Christians that are forgotten, neglected, ignored and persecuted. I pray for all of my sisters and brothers in faith who think that the rest of the world doesn't care. I pray for the destruction of the walls that separate us. I pray for the restoration of community and the unity of my kindred. I pray for all of these things knowing that God's time is so different from my own.


Good Stewardship

As many of our congregations begin the campaign to ask for pledges and tithes, stewardship is omnipresent. As we dream about the possibilities in our churches, I often wonder about the possibilities in our larger world -- the stuff of church with a Big C. And then, I open the New York Times to discover people that are doing that tough work.

And isn't this priest just the cutest on the roof with his solar panels?

Why solar panels? Why care about the environment when there are so many other disasters and frustrations to plague our weighted human hearts?

Father Charles Morris replies: “We’re all part of God’s creation. If someone like me doesn’t speak about its care, who will? The changes we’ve made here, that’s a form of preaching.” And isn't that a joyful noise unto the Lord?

This is what good stewardship is all about. Amen. Amen. Amen.

Election Season

Yesterday, I went to the Armonk Art Show with my family only to stumble upon this bumper sticker.

I was flabbergasted.

I chased my 15 year old sister out of the parking lot asking "Is there a candidate called Voldemort?" She rolled her eyes (she is after all fifteen). "Do you think that's real? No, it must be a joke." I insisted. She thought I was ridiculous. But, there it is. All things are on the internet -- but I don't think that this sticker will find its way to my bumper. It's funny. But, it's just a little too offensive to my GOP sisters and brothers. And that wouldn't be very pastoral, now would it?


Terms of Call

After worship this morning, I was officially called to be an Associate Pastor. I can hardly believe it. It barely seems real. And yet, here I am. Here I am actually assuming the role that I have hoped for. Isn't that amazing?


Mrs. Job’s Amen

The text below is the manuscript of my sermon for tomorrow morning. I opted for the lectionary text of Job 1:1, 2:1-10, while gleefully skipping the "women are bad and evil" texts from the Gospel among others. I decided to use this scripture with another familiar passage from 1 Corinthians 13 -- which I kinda like. It's a big sermon for me. The congregation votes me in after the sermon. I wish I was more confident about the sermon. Ah well. Here it goes:

What does your God look like? When you close your eyes and imagine God, what do you see? In your heart of hearts, when push comes to shove, when someone utters the name God, what do you see?

What does your God look like? This was the question posed by my minister when I first began Confirmation. My fellow confirmands and I looked quizzically at him. What do you mean? He smiled. What does your God look like? He said again as he handed us a box of crayons and some paper.

Uncertain what to do, we drew. I drew an old man – someone that looked a lot like my grandfather, but with less hair. He was a hearty man with a white robe that stood among the clouds. But even in all of my thirteen years, I was convinced that this was wrong. This must be a trick question. So, while I drew, I peeked at the other divine images on other pages. My minister was drawing something pastel. There were broad strokes, and he never asked for the flesh-colored crayon. I was convinced that this was another one of his endless jokes.

But, I was wrong. It wasn’t a joke at all. My minister’s picture revealed something that looked like a cell phone tower radiating with squiggles of color. It looked nothing like my picture. A cell phone tower? Squiggles of color?


I wonder how Mrs. Job imagined God when she uttered the seemingly harsh words: Curse God and die. It sounds so harsh, I know. And yet, she speaks to our confusion about what God looks like and even about how God might act. She speaks to our uncertainty, perhaps a little harshly. She speaks to her husband’s confusion by answering his question before he can even ask it. “Shall we receive the good at the hand of God, and not receive the bad?”

It’s not quite the same question that my minister asked me. But, for most of us, Job’s question is the most difficult part of faith. Why do bad things happen to good people? Job gets it. Job understands the frustration of not having an answer to this question.

But, his wife interrupts. Curse God and die, she tells her husband. Perhaps what we need is a strong woman to push us toward some reality that we are not ready to accept. Perhaps her one-liner pushes us to “be real with ourselves and with God as we work through the pain of suffering that we do not understand.” And there’s so much that we don’t understand, isn’t there? There’s so much that we don’t know what to do with. There is so much that we don’t know how to draw when asked, what does your God look like?

While we hold the crayon limply in our hands and make puzzled faces toward the heavens, I thank God that we have Mrs. Job. Not because she can teach us to create our image of God. But, simply because Mrs. Job tells it how it is. With her harsh words, she challenges Job to break free of his old notions.

But, her words still make the hairs on the back of your neck stand up, don’t they? I know. And even so, I wonder if Mrs. Job’s words might be just what we need. After all, haven’t we all found ourselves sitting just like Job on a pile of ashes? Or was it a garbage heap? It’s not clear, but what metaphor works best for your deepest despair? Sitting there on that pile and asking that difficult question: “Shall we receive the good at the hand of God, and not receive the bad?”

What does your God look like? Isn’t that Job’s real question? On that pile, Job is lamenting. And he should lament. “The only God Job can manufacture from his misery is a monster.” Skip ahead a few chapters and we can find Job’s drawings. One picture of God reveals lion hunting its prey. Another drawing reveals a taskmaster over his slaves. But, these don’t work – not for Job.


You can already hear Mrs. Job ringing in your ears. No matter how many times of you have found yourself on that pile, you can hear her shrill voice. She is someone you know well. Someone you love and care about deeply. Moreover, she is someone that adores you. Maybe she is your wife. Maybe she is your sister. Maybe she isn’t even a woman at all. Whoever she may be in your life, she is the one that you hate it when she’s always right. Her words are not always harsh. But, no matter how much you don’t want to hear it, she’s right. No matter how much you want to argue with her, you know she is right.

It’s that same nagging voice that urged me to peek at other drawings. Like Job, I knew that this wasn’t what God looked like. Not that there is anything wrong with grandfather-types. I just needed something bigger than that. I needed a bigger vision of God that made sense for all that I had known in my own life.

And so it happened for me. I was just seven when I sat on that pile asking Job’s tough question. I didn’t know what to do with the bad things, and I was constantly asking the question why? Why had my mother died? Why had she been so young? Why was there no cure? And like Job, I accepted blame. I thought it was my fault.

That’s when I hear Mrs. Job ringing in my ears. For me, she wasn’t just one woman. I saw her in the loving embrace of every person – young and old – that told me that I was loved. I saw her in each person that saw me “face to face.” And they were church people – people that would probably never say “Curse God and die.” They were church people that loved me and allowed me to be fully known. With this love, I picked up my crayon to draw a divine image that was “faithful to myself.”

This is Mrs. Job’s hope. This is why her voice is still ringing in my ears. She wanted me to see the divine within myself. But, this is my story. And as I much as I thought about this sermon, I really didn’t want to tell you my story. Maybe you are hoping that I will talk more about myself, but I would much rather hear about you. After all, that’s really Mrs. Job’s hope when she says those harsh words.

Mrs. Job wants you to honor every divine moment you’ve had – in all of your stories. Mrs. Job hopes that you might find your own creative expression to answer the question: What does your God look like? You might draw a cell phone tower with squiggles of color. Or a bird. Or a tree. You might even draw Jesus revealed in crayon.

Or maybe like me, you’re still not sure. Maybe you are still trying to finish your picture because right now, you have a God that you “know only in part.” Just as Paul wrote, you are waiting for everything to come together. It’s not that you want to peek at other drawings – though it couldn’t hurt. It’s really that you know you can’t do it alone. You need to hear other stories of sitting on that pile. These stories will help to fill in the missing parts.

And “then we will know fully, even as we have [each] been fully known.” Then, we will draw together. And together, we can create an image of God that is faithful to all that we are. And can’t you just hear Mrs. Job and her joyful Amen?


{{{Nervous Energy}}}

I have come to realize among my myriad of denominational friends that very few understand Congregational Polity. I love this part of my denomination, and I don't really want to defend or sing its praise here. But, up until now, most of my friends have understood my search process. That is, until now.

Today, I arrived for my Candidating Weekend -- which includes attending church board meetings, attending a meet-and-greet ice cream social and preaching on Sunday. All of this culminates with a congregational vote. After I preach my sermon (which I am still not certain about), I will be excused so that the congregation -- all 800 of them -- can vote me in (or out). Usually, this is an automatic. There isn't usually any question, but I'm still so nervous and no one ever tells you what to do with this nervous energy. I shouldn't be nervous. Things went fine today. Actually, they went quite well. But, I'm still nervous.


Ugly Betty

Unemployment causes interesting side effects. Laziness is among them. I hate that, but it's true. And it's an awkward tension because I am not entirely unemployed. Instead, I'm waiting to be employed. I will soon be employed. But, the laziness is still omnipresent. So, I watch a lot more TV than I would normally like to admit. I have become a huge fan of Showtime's Weeds. I love Mary Louise Parker. I love the whole concept. It's insanely witty.

And last night, I added a new show to my repetoire. Meet Betty Suarez. She's the star of ABC's pilot episode of Ugly Betty. And Lordy I hope that they actually keep it on the air, instead of a two week flop like NBC's Book of Daniel -- a genius show that it seems most are not ready for. A minister with a gay son that still loves him? A minister who has his own set of problems? Not in America!

Likewise, Ugly Betty does not fall into the category of typical American stereotypes. She is not fashionable. She is not a twig that eats iceberg lettuce for lunch. She's real. And she's LATINA! I love that fact too. She's a young woman struggling to realize her own dreams. But, I wonder if ABC will be braver than NBC. I wonder if they will be brave enough to realize that young girls need to see the beauty within them. I wonder if they will have the courage to challenge modern conceptions of beauty. I wonder if thy will make a joke out of intelligent, strong women that do not fit into the images on the cover of Cosmo. I wonder if we will be brave enough to see the beauty in ourselves -- even if we have to see that on a TV screen.


All the Ladies are doing it.

All of the RevGalPal Ladies seem to be doing this, so I thought I would to.

What's the point? you ask. I have no idea. But, it's kinda cool.

And you could have one too.

Just a Comma

Apparently, earlier this week, President Bush explained that the Iraq war will be viewed as "just a comma" in an interview on CNN. A certain columnist for Editor & Publisher believes that this comment was actually a confused reference to the UCC's Still Speaking campaign. I'm curious what this reporter actually thinks about my beloved denomination's most recent initiative -- as it seems that he has never heard of it before. He used Google well and found some great references. But, I'm curious what he did read.

He explains that the UCC's slogan "Don't put a period where God puts a comma" refers to past events. It refers to a historical outlook of the Jesus narrative where God's redemptive story extends beyond Jesus' death into the Resurrection. But, this remains a historical event, no matter how you slice it. And this, dear friends, makes me sad. This is not what I have understood my beloved denomination's campaign to be about -- and I hope that I am not the only one.

To me, the comma that we have come to cherish as part of UCC "tradition" is about what God has yet to say. Sure, this could be something in the past. As people of the Book that are constantly looking back to move forward, it may seem inevitable that we look back. It may seem that the Resurrection is a one-time event that remains in the past. But, if this is the case, I fear that the good news is stuck. Christianity will surely become irrelevant, if it is not already. Our comma sings the power of the Resurrection into our future. There is something yet to come. There is something unexpected. There is something sacred yet to be revealed. And, this is the mystery that the UCC celebrates. Truly, God is still speaking, Alleluia. Amen.

I want to be a ROCKSTAR!

I want to be a rockstar. That's all there is to it.

Last night, I went to see the Rolling Stones at Giants Stadium. And while I was standing on the unsteady folding chair on the floor (on the FLOOR!!!), I suddenly understood why contemporary worship is appealing. I was nervous about the guy next to me that was literally worshipping the Stones. But, I understood why this works for so many people in my generation and younger. It's a complete high, which I can only hope lasts beyond the worship experience.

But, really, I just want to be a rockstar. I want to wear my leather and sequins and dance around the pulpit rallying the enthusiasm and energy of the crowd. Ahem, congregation. Will the people of God say amen?


Inextricable Connections

Denominations may be a thing of the past. We may be moving past them into a true embodiment of the whole people of God that is not sectarian. But, for now, I love my denomination. I'm so proud of the wonderful, prophetic actions we move toward. Two days ago, our President and General Minister Rev. John Thomas made a speech at United Theological Seminary in the Twin Cities. He concludes with these words:

At the same time, Jews and Christians remain, even in moments of deepest tension, inextricably linked to one another by the God whose covenants with each community have not been and cannot be broken. It is the witness of the General Synod’s Statement twenty years ago that it is God’s faithfulness, and not our own comfort with each other or our agreement on the Middle East, that binds us together. Borrowing from Paul, albeit in a different context, the church and the synagogue do not have the luxury of saying to one another, “I have no need of you.” Neither ghetto nor pogrom, in either their historic or contemporary manifestations, reflect the will of God either for Christian or Jew. The current state of our relationship, stretched almost to breaking by the dilemmas of the Middle East and the depressing regularity of new shipments of history, does not offer an encouraging atmosphere within which to commemorate the twentieth anniversary of the 1987 General Synod’s groundbreaking theological affirmations. Yet it is those very affirmations that offer the promise that this precious relationship cannot ultimately be broken and impels us, amid all of today’s challenge and confrontation to find ways
to embody the unbreakable covenants that bear witness to the faithfulness of God.

As the new year dawns with Rosh Hashanah this weekend, perhaps a new year in our relationships with our brothers and sisters will arise. We can only hope.

There's nothing like a good movie

Maybe it's trite. Maybe it is a tired theme after how many different movies and books about spelling bees. But, somehow these brainiac children warm our hearts -- as they should. Even if we don't want to be influenced by the touching narrative that Starbucks offers us, it's still sweet. And you can't help but cheer for both Akeelah and Dylan in the end!

But, what I really love is the self esteem booster that is offered by Akeelah's coach. It's a Marianne Williamson quote (who I admit I know very little about).* And I don't really care because her words are enough for me. They offer a sermon that I can take away after my popcorn is gone.

“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won't feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It's not just in some of us; it's in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same."

And that's really what matters. Go and be powerful beyond measure, because child, you already are. Amen. Amen. Amen.

* Ok, I just went to visit Marianne Williamson's website to learn more. Oprah likes her, but I'm a little scared. I love, love, love the quote in the movie. But, I was really hoping that it was going to have some more weight than something from a woman that writes self help books that are loosely based on religious beliefs. Oh. That was mean. Sorry honey, God love you Marianne. But, I'm nervous.


The Living Word

I have been looking at a lot of art recently. Or at least, I spent a weekend in the city and took full advantage of the cultural wealth in my fair city (which is not my city anymore, mind you).

At the same time, I was trying to write a sermon today. It's not coming together all that well. In fact, it's frustrating me. Most of my seminary peers will make fun of me as I'm not preaching until October 8 -- and it's already half-written. They all hate this about me. But, I'm a little neurotic. I can't help it. Anyhow, the point is that I have time. And I'm allowing it to have a lot of weight. After I preach this sermon, the congregation that I hope to serve will vote me in. It's a big deal. It's a really big deal. Sigh.

Anyhow, I'm thinking about the art that I saw at the Museum of Biblical Art on Friday. MOBIA is a teeny museum but tends to have really, really cool stuff -- espcecially for people like me that love art and religion. It's like heaven. The current exhibit is a travelling show of Illuminating the Word, which displays the selections of the Prophets from the Saint John's Bible. You can go to the website and read all about the project. While I like the idea, or maybe the intention, there is something about it that eats at me. It seems that the entire premise of the project hinges on the fact that the Bible is no longer relevant. Eeek. And yet, this team of artists seeks to capture a relevant interpretation of the text for our modern world. Some of this is just amazing. And some of it is a tad too literal. While there are images that capture refugees and pollution of our earth, there is still a lot of Jesus stuff that we could reinterpret with a little more vivaviousness. But, I digress.

Oh, but you should see the images. Here are two. I wish I could find a still of the page in Isaiah. The one that describes the Messiah, or what we Christians assume is the Messiah while the vote is out on what Isaiah really thinks. You know, the Wonderful Counselor, blah blah blah text. We read it at Advent. I'm spending too much time on this and should just look it up. But, I don't feel like it. Anyhow, here are two images from the Gospel of John.

But, my sermon isn't about the Living Word -- or at least, not directly. Instead I'm taking the Job text and talking about images of God. I know where I am going, sorta. These images keep popping in my head while I write though. What is it that we are trying to see in God? When do images limit our experience of God? Does Bonhoeffer offer us the most wisdom in trying to claim a God of the gaps? Perhaps. Perhaps. But, curse God and die. I hate it when sermons don't come together easily.

What's with the hat?

Ok, I am not a fashionista. I admit it. I like daring styles with smashing bright colors, especially reds. But really, dear Pope Benedict, what's the hat? What kind of statement is he making here?

I'm not sure that it's the festive attire that he should be donning. And I certainly don't think that it's a commentary on his beliefs about Islam. But, he's been seen wearing this before. He must like it, but I wonder what Peacebang would say.