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.