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.