Answering An Old Question

You know that song Should I Stay or Should I Go by The Clash? Was it really The Clash that sang that? I had forgotten half of the lyrics were in Spanish. Or perhaps I'm too busy bopping on the dance floor that I don't pay attention. Oh well.

I have an interesting soundtrack echoing in my head right now as I settle down to bed before I wake up at 5:30 am to get ready to fly to Ohio. I hate early flights. And it's supposed to snow. Again. Anyhow, the soundtrack... After spending the past two days on the couch struggling with some unknown illness (that I assume to be exhaustion), I watched the movie Dreamgirls with a friend tonight. So now I have these two songs playing in my head. One of these songs is crooned by Effie in the middle of the movie as she asserts herself and well -- the lyrics are strange. Great song to belt out in frustration -- though I'm not sure that Effie really meant what she is singing here.

And I am telling you
Im not going
You're the best man I'll ever know
There's no way I can ever, ever go
No, no, no, no way
No, no, no, no way Im living without you
Oh, Im not living without you, not living without you
I dont wanna be free
Im staying, Im staying
And you, and you, and you
You're gonna love me

You're gonna love me, yes you are
Ooh ooh love me, ooh ooh ooh love me
Love me, love me, love me, love me

You're gonna love me

These lyrics seem to affirm the old question asked first (in my mind) by The Clash. Honey, you should go. Go. Go. Go.

Of course, as I watched this scene and marveled at the strange word choice, I pictured her as a pastor singing this to her congregation. Yeah. Not good. Go. And now, I shall go to sleep and away for a few days.


1000 Steps at Christmas

Before the hustle and bustle of the Christmas celebration began (I'm keenly aware that I need coffee), I got a little reprieve with my friend Songbird. I love that she joked that it might not be wise for us to have wine or beer before celebrating the birth of Christ with our church families. We might not have the wisdom of wisepeople to entertain such a thought -- but I'm grateful that for the gift that this friend is. I'm grateful for the gift that she has been to me in this year. And I'm so grateful that she continues to push me on my spiritual quest.

It's funny that she can do this in giving a gift. But some people are just that talented. After our collective decision not to imbibe, we exchanged gifts like wisepeople -- and she has pushed me to think and ponder what this moment of birth is all about. My dear friend gave me a candle with these words spoken by Lao Tzu written on its side:

A journey of a thousand miles must begin with a single step.

So I'm thinking about Joseph and his journey of 1000 miles. I've never really considered Joseph until this year. I always dismissed his side of the story -- until I had the opportunity to preach it yesterday. Joseph's story is a difficult one but there is such an amazing story of possibility and hope in his story.

I'm thinking about Mary and her impossible journey across 1000 miles of "virginity" compelled by a bravery that I can only dream about. I wonder what her single step was. I wonder what made her say those brave words in Luke: "Here I am, servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word" (Luke 1:37, NRSV). I wonder if she tripped. I wonder how she found the footing. I wonder how she could have been so brave.

And I'm thinking about the child that is about to be born and wondering what steps he took. I'm wondering what shit he stepped in and how in the world he inspired so many (including me) to take 1000 steps with him. And I'm wondering where we are going. Perhaps this is the biggest question that I have on this Christmas Eve. I'm wondering where this child will lead us -- and particular where this child is leading me beyond the starry night. I'm wondering about this light that my friend has given me. I'm wondering about where I'm supposed to shine my light and how far I'm supposed to walk. And as my mind wanders to 1000 places, I'm blessed to know that I have friends that will walk with me and talk with me and show me that they care. I'm blessed on this Christmas night -- even when I can't find the energy to express it -- because I have friends.

That went off the deep end with schmaltz, right? It sounds a bit too much like I'm George Bailey. Oh well, it's my favorite movie. Why not? It's Christmas, right?


Advent ARG!

Last week, I was talking on the phone with a friend from seminary and we both remarked that we didn't feel like we were stressed enough. It's Advent after all. We're pastors. We should be stressed, right? I don't think that this was a healthy thought. But we laughed about it in that fabulous way that you laugh with friends from seminary.

This week, I'm stressed. No. That's not it exactly. I'm annoyed. I'm really annoyed at things that are out of my control. How have I handled this matter? I've whined to anyone that would listen. I whined to folks in New York. I whined to colleagues in the Snowy North. I whined while I protested for peace. I whined to our Church Administrator. I whined and I whined. Again, perhaps this is not the healthiest thing to do. Eh. Oh well.

I finally realized what I needed to do to overcome this matter as I left church to meet Fantabulous girl and her partner at the Lesbian Coffee Shop. I was able to wipe the tears away from my face (Oh yeah, this is one that I'm crying about) to meet these two awesome women to talk about their journey. We talked for two hours. I'm officiating at their wedding in August. And I think they are going to join the church. Honestly, this is what I love about my call. I get to sit and have the best conversations with amazing people.

This is my Advent frustration. Sunday brings the last Sunday of Advent -- where I will be preaching the "Christmas" sermon. We don't have a Christmas Eve sermon so this is it. Even though, well, never mind. I'm crafting a conversational sermon between me, Mary, Joseph and Gabrielle (the Angel of the Lord). I have no interest in writing this sermon. It's conversational. Do I really need to write it out ahead of time? I would so much rather sit in a coffee shop and share in the ordinary joy of life. I would rather hide under a blanket and read as more snow falls and will continue to fall until midday Friday. This is my ARG.


Gimp Santa

I just picked up a call from one of my favorite colleagues in the area when I was opening a box of Christmas presents. The box had arrived today from my parents. Of course, I had to tuck everything under the tree after teaching a class on Trade Justice. I feel a little hypocritical teaching this class and wanting anything for Christmas. Thank you Sojourners.

After squealing with delight that my colleague called, I started laughing into the phone. My parents had sent a bag of our old ornaments from the family collection. There was a note enclosed saying that I might want these for my new tree. And I do. I really do. It was a wonderful thing to open tonight. So I started to hang these new ornaments on the tree after hanging up the phone. And then, I realized why these were really sent to me. They were from the Land of Misfit Ornaments. Meet Gimp Santa. He's only got one leg. That's love right there. My parents are funny.

Post Secret

While I was at the gym this weekend, I watched a segment on CNN about Post Secret. It was actually a newsbit about Post Secret's creator Frank Warren's new book.

I've been thinking about it ever since. Post Secret started a few years ago as a website that publishes anonymous postcards sent to release the burden of caring a secret. As you can see, I borrowed two of these postcards from the Post Secret site. One is slightly tragic. The other is hopeful. Anyhow, it made me think about secrets and how they can burden us. I believe that the news commentator actually used the word burden. I found this to be a really interesting word choice.

In our faith communities, we attempt to give a space for these burdens. I attended a Blue Christmas service last week. I was awed by the two gentleman that willingly got up and lit a candle admitting to the most sensitive of secrets. One had lost of his children in a divorce -- to no fault of his own. The other admitted that his relationship with his teenage children was shattered which may have been complicted by his struggles with cancer. It was amazing to be in a space that actually gave voice to these things -- even if the officiating minister moved far too quickly from the blues to hope. It seems that we need some space to sing the blues and accept that it is ok for our despair to be shared. And in this case, it was not anonymous. It was personal. Very personal. Amazingly, sacramentally personal.

In January, we will be introuducing a new way to give offering in our church inspired by a Giving Card in the UCC stewardship resources. Among the many things in the pew racks, there will soon be a card that anyone can fill in with the gift that they have given that was not monetary -- be it their time or talent. While I think it's important to shift from an emphasis on money so that those without money feel welcomed, I still think that there is something missing from this. There is a possibility that seems to be missing. Instead of asking to give more, we could ask people to release what is weighing them down. We could ask them to not bear their cross but share it and feel the affirming embrace of others. Our fabulous church administrator had the thought that there could be stones available that you could put into the offering plate to release yourself of your secret. And then, she added that maybe you gave it to someone else. Maybe you allowed someone else to symbolically carry your secret in the form of a stone.

I'm not sure that this is something that my congregation could welcome. Like Joseph in this week's Gospel Lesson, this community seems so concerned about rules and doing the right thing. I wonder when we might break out of that mode and welcome our secrets into our experience of our stories. I wonder. I wonder.



I'm not even sure where to start. I'm just so excited. And I know that I shouldn't be too excited because you know this is a season of waiting and expectation and what not. But, I feel like Christ has already come. I feel like he showed up in church over the past few weeks. (This fact has nothing to do with the child that keeps signing his name in the friendship pads.)

On a Friday night two weeks ago, we showed the film For the Bible Tells Me So. It was a huge step for our church after becoming an Open and Affirming congregation several years ago. It started with an email campaign to get this film to come to our local independent theatre. And then, the Associate Pastor (who is a little brassy) asked what it would take to show the film in our church. Next thing I knew, we were hosting the film. I'm not taking any credit for this. It was truly the work of the Diversity Committee in our church -- and I'm so freakin' proud of them.

Anyhow, I feel like the Realm of God has arrived in our church. Perhaps that's a bit much -- but all of the sudden, our church has been flooded with young LGBT folks. Two Sundays in a row. I'm gushing. I'm so excited.

It also happens that I started blogging for church this fall. Church people are not used to the blogosphere. I know they are reading it as they comment to me directly -- but never on the actual blog. It's created some interesting conversations across the generations of our church. I've also come to realize that our older members love to read religious stuff online. God bless them. However, I've been lamenting that perhaps the blog is not worth it because no one comments. I wasn't sure that there were more than a few that were reading. And then, this young lesbian commented on my church blog and asked if we could have coffee. I emailed right away. I'm so giddy. And in the last line of her email, she wrote this:

Side note: how amazing is it that you are only 28 and have Rev. infront of your name. Pretty much think that is FANTABULOUS.

This is how I feel about church right now. Isn't it fantabulous?

Reclaiming Christmas

This is one of those posts that I'm going to get a lot of virtual hugs. So, I'm going to start by politely stating -- please don't offer me any hugs. None of this: ((Pastor Peters)). She doesn't need ((this)). She just needs to think aloud. And maybe get some amazing insight here and there without it becoming a pity party. Because it's not. It's not a pity party at all.

A few weeks ago, I read this article on Fidelia's Sisters. And since then, I've been trying to figure out how to be gentle with myself.

It has also invited me into completely new territory. By the way, I love new territory. I'm uncertain and nervous -- but a little part of me is ready to conquer it all. Punky Brewster comes to mind, for no certain reason. That's Punky, by the way in her very own Christmas special. Anyhow, this gift of gentleness has invited me to think about how I could reclaim Christmas.

I am a young, single pastor in a town far, far, far away from my family. There are no little itty bitty violins. I miss my family -- but I'm not racing home to see them. There is nothing appealing about getting in my car at midnight on Christmas Eve after leading three worship services to drive six long hours. Actually, it would be further. It would be eight hours to my grandparents (assuming that there is no traffic in the city). There is nothing appealing about an all-night drive to arrive glazed over like a donut to open stockings. Nope. I would rather sleep late. Sleep really, really late.

But because I'm not with my family, I really don't want to spend this holiday with another family. This just makes me miss my family more. I don't want that. I don't want the reminder of what I'm missing. That's depressing -- even if it offers a great meal.

Instead, I want to find some magical way to reclaim my holiday. I want to do something totally different. My lament is that I have no idea what that could be. I'm not sure where to turn because it's so new and so exciting. I want this day of freedom to be my Christmas miracle -- a day that is so unique that I find a new way to celebrate the incarnate God. And so, I continue my search like the wisepeople.


To Tell the Truth

A friend just sent me an eamil that I started a reply to from my email program until I realized that it was going to be a long, long email. This friend asked the question about how to preach when your heart is breaking. I'm thinking about this again as I condiser Isaiah 11:1-10 for this coming Sunday. How do you deliver the good news when your brother attempts suicide? How do you preach hope when the darkness of the world threatens your faith when a pimple appears on your breast? How do you tell the truth? Do you even dare? So, I'll tell you what I have learned in these past few weeks: You tell the fucking truth.

I'll say it again. You tell the fucking truth. You talk about scripture and how this is not new. People have been feeling exile, abandonment and loss of hope for centuries. You tell the truth of your own faith. For me, this is where my faith started. It started when things were broken. My mother had died. I asked big questions when others didn't want to ask them. I pushed and lamented and cried. This is what most of the people in our pews are doing anyhow. Give them the permission to do it aloud.

Tell them that you heart is breaking. Tell them that it hurts and you don't have answers but this is your church too. And as my colleague has said, ministry goes in circles. Let the circle envelop you so that you can feel that support, love and nurture.

I know that there are clergy who say that we need to hide these parts of ourselves so that we don’t bleed all over the congregation. I know there is a big risk there. Trust me, I know there is a risk there. But, damn it, this is what we are about. We are supposed to be vulnerable and humble and scared at what unexpected thing God has in store for us. Preach it. Talk about it Bible Study. Don't bottle it up. Or you will become like me -- and just blog about it.

I'm meeting this week with a member of my Pastor Parish Relations Committee to express this lament. I was told by one of those members of the clergy that I couldn't tell the truth. I couldn't share that my brother had just attempted his life. I couldn't talk about it at all. Because I didn't know the results and it would cause too much concern, I was told to keep it to myself. I have news for you. You would never tell anyone in your church to do this. You are a good pastor. You would never tell someone to hold back. You would encourage them to find a way that they could tell the truth -- in small ways perhaps. You would invite them to pray about it and think about how it could be heard. You would invite them to share because only in sharing can we grow. The question I will I ask the member of the Pastor Parish Relations Committee is not why couldn't I share, but what happens when we discern our ministry differently? This is a question really about the possible tensions between Senior and Associate Pastors. What happens when we disagree? However, this is not only a question for us. It is a question for our whole church. How do we hold each other together? How do we support each other when we disagree? How do we create a space of openness for everyone in our congregation to tell the truth?

When I was in seminary, I saw pastors share their heartache and I grimaced. Some people just don't want to see this in their pastors. And I gotta say -- I don't know how to be church for those people. I'm weak and human. Sometimes I'm confused and angry and heartbroken. Can I only share this with other clergy and friends? Ack! Now, I realize that what I witnessed was a victim mentality which truly doesn't help anyone. No one needs to see their pastor as a victim. The caretaker mode kicks in and what really gets lost is the opportunity for empowerment. And in my year of ministry (11 months of ordained ministry), I’m more and more convinced that this is what we are all about. We are about empowerment. We are trying to be so bold that we can turn to others after the sermon is over and tell the truth.

I just spoke with a member of our congregation today who experienced this when I preached part of my heartache two weeks ago. She turned around in her pew. She hugged someone she barely knew and they told their stories of loss. And today, she hugged me and thanked me for being so brave. This is what it is all about. We are supposed to be brave enough to tell the truth so that others can do the same. Tell them your heart is breaking. Do it with compassion, thought and love. Do it with tenderness and wisdom. Tell the truth because "you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free" (John 8:32, NRSV).


Advent Came

This week has been strange -- good, but very strange. For one thing, people are still talking about my sermon. I had a flood of pastoral care concerns after I preached this sermon that were both an honor and a surprise. I'm still a little amazed. And then, our church was attacked by the Christian Right Organization in the state. Why? We love the gays -- which makes us bad people. I'm being intentionally flip because I think it's ridiulous. We hosted the premiere of the film For the Bible Tells Me So in Maine and we got some flack. I think this is something to be proud of -- though I'm not sure everyone agrees with me. There is still this concern about holding tensions that I don't understand sometimes. I know that we are a beloved community that must make space for all -- and yet, I feel that we do this (at times) by telling some of those members of our community to silence themselves only to appease the folks that don't want to confront their own denial (racism, discrimination, homophobia, etc.). And then, dear friends, Advent came.

After church yesterday (and before the snow started last night), I went in search of a good book. It's one of the spiritual practices that I have committed to myself -- not only because bookstores are like church for me. If this makes me a nerd, then so be it. I'm proud. I discovered (or perhaps truly discovered) that this was a good discipline of me during Lent this year. Actually, it was during Holy Week. From Palm Sunday to Easter Sunday, I journeyed through this week with theologians and scholars Marcus Borg and John Dominic Crossan in their recent book The Last Week. I loved it. I loved reading every day. I loved thinking and praying about the spiritual significance of this day in our holy calendar. After Easter, I commited to myself that this would become my practice during the seasons of Advent and Lent. I would take a book and read it cover to cover. This is an indulgence for me. And yet, it is necessary and important for my spiritual life.

On the second day of Advent, I went in search of the book that will carry through this season in preparation for the incarnation of God. I have scanned the shelves of our local bookstores in the past few weeks and found nothing. The religion section in these stores leaves a lot to be desired. I did wander into the poetry section at Books Etc. wondering if poetry would carry me through Advent. I decided it would not. I needed to claim my nerdiness and read something a little academic. So, I went to Borders by the mall (the last place one wants to be on a Sunday afternoon in December). However, I was determined. I needed to find a good book. So, I scanned and I searched the shelves. I made audible noises of disgust at what some consider to be Christian. I wondered if the recent release of Mother Teresa's biography entitled Come By My Light would suffice. I decieded I wanted something more Christmas-y. I continued my search. And there it was. Tucked among the Bibles, I found this new book by my old friends Marcus Borg and John Dominic Crossan.

I raced home and read the first chapter. It's perfect. Borg and Crossan are good company for me as I journey toward Bethlehem this Advent. I'm grateful for their company as they lead me to places expected and unexpected. The journey will not be based on the holy days -- but will take me on a journey through the Gospels of Matthew and Luke as they each tell a different story of Christmas. And because it's a snow day, I get read even more today. Hope you are warm and reading something wonderful as well.


It Is Finished

Did I mention that the sermon was actually a response to a card that we added to our pew racks? Someone had asked for a sermon to be preached to answer the "How long?" question about grief. This is what I did -- twice.

It didn't go so well at the Chapel service. I was afraid of that. I was without my mauscript and I wondered around as I tried to get these frigid New Englanders to talk about their pain. You could see it in their eyes -- but no one talked. It's one of those rare moments where I wanted the safety and protection of the pulpit. Alas, it still preached and it resonated somewhere with someones. That's the Holy Spirit, isn't it? Even when it's not just right, the Spirit guides. Thank God.

At the 10 am service, I did it. I preached it. I didn't cry. I got choked up once -- as I clung to my manuscript. I was too emotional to memorize it. I wish I could have but you can't do it all, right? I was so nervous about the poor grandchild complex that this would cause. You know, where these church ladies suddenly feel the need to care for me. No one did. There were so many hugs in the receiving line after worship my arms got tired. It was met with tears and thanksgiving. Someone had finally told the truth. I got that comment a lot. I heard about people's pain that I never knew before. And God said, Amen.

To all that were praying for me this morning: I felt it and thank you. Thank you for listening and reading. Thank you for your wisdom and grace. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.


A Rough Draft

I'm nervous about this. I cried while writing it. I'm terrified of preaching it. I'm not sure it works. I'm not sure that it's all I want to say. It's more than I had intended to say. And yet, it feels like gospel truth... But, I'm still have enough fear that I wonder if colleagues would cringe. So, do you?

What do you think of my sermon based on Psalm 137?

Denial. Anger. Bargaining. Depression. Acceptance. Elizabeth Kubler Ross chartered unfamiliar territory when she named these five stages of grief. And with these five words, Kubler Ross gave me a vocabulary for what I already knew. When I was seven years old, I hung up my harp. There were no words to sing. Like those that lament in this old song, I was displaced.

I was not exiled from my homeland. Those that first crooned these lyrics were forced out of their home in Jerusalem just after the temple was destroyed in 587 BCE. They had to recreate their lives in the foreign land of Babylon. My foreign land is not a place you can find on a map. I was not forced out of my geographical home. But like the exiled community in Babylon, my entire world was destroyed.

My mother died. For those of you that know grief, the past tense of this statement is irrelevant – just as it was to the exiled community singing this song. Our foreign land is in this non-place between what we knew and what we have created. This is the foreign place of grief where past, present and future converge in ways that don’t make logical sense. And in this place, it is so hard to sing. Nothing sounds like it did before. Somehow everything familiar has changed – like the world before and after September 11, 2001. Indeed, how can we sing the Lord’s song in a foreign land?

We can’t sing the songs we always sang. It seems safer to hang our harps on the willows and just weep for things we can’t possibly understand. Their sorrow is overwhelming. Our pain is too great. And yet, this exiled community in Babylon doesn’t just assume the position on the ground like mourners. They name their sadness. They didn’t shy away from it. They sing about their loss. They lament their lost home.

It seems an easy enough thing to do at this time of year when others talk about family reunions during the holiday season. For me, Christmas was the last time she was healthy. My mother died only a month later. There are no lyrics for my lament – and I won’t offer words for your pain at this time of year.

No one can tell you what grief is until you have been there. Joan Didion discovered this after her husband suddenly died. “Grief,” she said, “turns out to be a place none of us know until we reach it. We anticipate (we know) that someone close to us could die, but we do not look beyond the few weeks that immediately follow such an imagined death.” With her sudden loss, Joan Didion realizes what I already knew. No one can tell you how to feel or what to do. It is your place. It is your exile. It is your experience of loss.

I cannot tell you how to feel or what to do. I won’t tell you that it will all be over soon. Because Joan Didion is right. Grief is not like we imagine it. It hurts more and it lasts a lot longer. For me, it has been twenty years of trying to understand what I don’t know how to explain. I can’t tell you how much it hurts or when it will hurt. I can’t anticipate what will trigger my grief. I only know that it is part of my daily life. It is my exile. It is my experience of displacement.

And because of this, I don’t want to edit it. I don’t want to make it sound like shining ever-present hope because there are days where it hurts too much to bear. There are days where I want my mother back more than anything. And for those days, I need to know that I can express my rage before my God.

I know it sounds horrible and perhaps doesn’t make any theological sense. But, there are days where I need to be able to smash something. I would prefer that it wasn’t the head of baby – but this is the language that is passed down to us. For this exiled community wanting so badly to reclaim their home, the language of the conquerors creeps in. We could edit this part out. Or just ignore it. But would this really ignore this last insult upon a conquered city? When a city was overtaken, the conquerors took the most innocent and defenseless and dashed their heads against rocks. It’s gruesome and violent. It violates our understanding of justice. And yet, there are days when this is just how I feel about my mother’s death.

It’s not enough to hang up my harp. It’s not enough to lament. I want justice. And in the words of this ancient song, I can find words to voice my outrage. These words release that anger so that no harm can be done to myself or others. Maybe this psalm teaches us to say things that we would never actually do but invites us to release our fury.

Perhaps that’s a stretch for you. Perhaps your foreign place has no space for that kind of violence. But again, I can’t tell you how to feel. I can only tell you about my exile in my foreign land – where I need to be able to release the rage that I felt for the receptionist at Breast Care Center only a few weeks ago. I was informed by this woman that because I was only 28, I was not eligible for a mammogram. It may as well have been baby heads smashing into the phone as I told her that my mother died of this disease at 33 and I did not intend to meet the same fate. She offered a polite excuse. And I slammed the phone into the cradle. Hot tears rushed down my face as I picked up the phone to make an impossible call to my mother. This is my exile.

I may not be crouched on the ground weeping by the river every day – but there are still days that I need to hang up my harp. In my exile, I still look back and wonder what life would have been like if she had lived. I still yearn for her wisdom and miss her when the rest of family has gathered. But, like the exiled community in Babylon, I have created a new home in this foreign place. I have tried to make sense of what I can’t possibly understand and I have relied on the embrace of God through it all. And in this embrace, I can find the hope to sing.

I like that about this time of year. When our holy calendar ends, we begin again to tell the old, old story. In the darkest month of the year, we call upon the wisdom of the prophets to imagine the impossibility of realizing all of our hopes. This is a song I can sing.

In tune with the prophets, I can sing about my longing. And yet, just as I know that grief is not what we expect, I know that the incarnation of God is not what was expected. The prophets expected a warrior or a king – just as I thought I would be healed of my loss. Just as the exiled community in Babylon longed for restoration of their home. It is not what we expected – and yet, God comes. And God is with us in this too. When we want to hang up our harps and when we can’t find the words to sing, God is with us. God is with us.


Entertaining a Fantasy

I'm writing the easiest sermon I have ever written. I hesitate. I edit. I rewrite. All of these writing acrobatics allude to the fact that this is sermon feels like the sermon of my life. For the first time in my pastoral experience, I feel like I'm writing something that I really truly know. I feel like I can impart wisdom. I feel like I can really, truly tell the truth (and still wonder if I am telling too much or too little).

I'm loving it. It's hard. Don't get me wrong. But, I am loving every single second of the writing process. Amy has spent this month working on a novel in honor of National Novel Writing Month. Last week, I overheard a mother and her son talking about their novels while I was trying to read at a local coffee shop. I was distracted by the fact that this particular son was dashing -- and then I tripped over his bag on the way out. Awesome. Did I mention that this might be one of the reasons I'm single? Anyhow, this has got me thinking about one of my grandest fantasies. I want to write a novel. The idea of writing 50,000 words in a month is thrilling and exhausting. But, what would I write?

Since we started the ezine, I have dreamed of a complete book celebrating all of the exploits of Lexi in The Gospel According to Rev. Lexi D. Vina. I still wonder if Lexi should be found at your local independent bookstore -- after several months of her saga unfold. And yet, I admit. I want to see my name on the cover of that book. I have been thinking about writing about the adventure of the search and call process. I have been thinking it would be so great for there to be a book out there about a young clergy woman -- but what's my angle? So, I'm entertaining a fantasy. And I'm telling this to all of the women that I already know love to write...


Parking Garages & Boobs

On my way to protest for peace, I pulled into a parking garage -- as I have every Wednesday for a month. It was the second time this week that I had ventured into a parking gargage. I had been forced to park in one the night before because I was late. As I pulled into the garage this second time, I breathed deeply. Parking garages have become scary places for me. I have forced myself to imagine the things that transpired with my brother a few weeks ago. It was in a parking garage -- a deserted parking garage -- where he affixed a hose into the interior of his car. It was here that we was found suffocating himself of carbon monoxide. Each week, as I have parked in this garage, I have thought of my brother. I have gazed at the view from the top floor of this garage and wondered what my brother saw. I wonder what music he was listening to and what he was thinking about.

Perhaps it is morbid to have these thoughts. Perhaps I should be concentrating on his safety and the fact that he is home rebuilding his life. Perhaps I should rejoice -- and yet, I'm struck by the fact that I'm called to understand how anyone could feel at a given moment. I'm called to listen (even when I'm not able). I'm called to be attentive to those things that others might not want to hear. And in listening, I believe my call is to celebrate both the highs and lows of the human experience. So, my mind wanders in the parking garage. And I try not to cry.

Next Sunday, I will be preaching on Psalm 137. This familiar Psalm that reminds me of the aftermath of 9/11 has an ending that the Lectionary and my own mind omit. This lamentation for the little ones heads to be dashed among the rocks. Not a pretty picture. Not Christian, one commentator says -- but I wonder if it's part of the human experience. This is a text that laments grief. It's a song of displacement and longing. And anyone that has lost someone they love knows that grief is an experience of displacement. It hurts. You feel like an alien in a strange land -- where there are emotions you are supposed to have but somehow can't claim. You want to hang up your harp. You can't find a song. You just want to weep by the river.

This is where I wonder about those little ones. Couldn't this also be an expression of grief? Perhaps not the healthiest of emotions to express -- but isn't it true that it happens? Could dashing the little ones heads against the rocks be like my brother's plight on the top floor of a parking garage? Could it be the same pain that I felt only a few weeks ago as I took the steps toward getting a mammogram? I wonder if this pain is part of the human experience. Excuse me. I know it is. I know that this is part of the story too. And yet, I wonder if I can share my part of the story. Do I dare preach about my own fears of cancer and what this means for my grief? I wonder.


Thinking Aloud

For those of you that asked about Mr. Clinton, I will only tell you that my hometown is where he currently lives. It's too hard to try to explain this event with imitating his inquiry toward me. It's an entertaining story -- but not so good that you are really missing a good story. Nonetheless, I arrived at my college reunion to discover that this is what everyone knew about me (not that I was almost ordained). I found this ironic somehow.

This story is obviously far from my mind right now. There are other things that I'm worried about -- like the funeral I in a few hours and the conversation I had with my brother yesterday. He has been released and I'm still uncertain what to do and think about these events. I suppose one can never really know. I tried to disctract myself with literature this afternoon. After all, ppb had suggested bibliotherapy. I started reading Mary Gordon's new book Circling My Mother recently. So I induldged in my favorite luxury -- sipping coffee while people watching in a local coffee shop and reading a good book. I people watch perhaps more than I read. I was distracted by the very cute young man on his laptop who plopped himself right in front of me. And yet, I absorbed one line from my book:

I am miserable, but I learn something very important, that it will be one of the important jobs of my life to honor mourning. To acknowledge that the work of mourning is an honorable job, to insist that its wages be paid, that it be given its due.

The author is referring to her father's death when she was 12 years old -- but this line is true for me. It is my life work. Perhaps it is even my call. It is also my brother's work. Today he told me that he is finally ready to make this his work. He knows now that he must confront the grief of my mother's death when he was only 5 years old. It's painful and it's hard -- but this is the work that we must do.

I'm beginning to really posit the idea that this might be my call. I will preach a sermon about this just after Thanksgiving. This is actually why I picked up this book originally. The topic of grief has been the focus of most of my theological studies. It is what I'm working hardest to figure out. And now, I'm wondering how I share this with those that I serve. I have not told anyone in the church that this is happening in my life. I don't want to bleed all over them. I don't want them to feel that they need to take care of me. And yet, I feel that there is something that moves me toward offering my experience as a witness to these tragic things that we don't understand. In an ideal world, I could model how one handles these tragedies.

I won't tell the whole congregation -- not in my sermon, not in the prayers, not in any moment in worship. That doesn't feel right -- but there does seem to be an opportunity to share with a few. The natural assumption would be the Pastor Parish Relations people. This is an unsafe committee to me. They were established before I arrived and serve both the SP and me. They are in the midst of creating a review process for us -- and I just don't trust them. A colleague suggested that perhaps I form my own support group in the life of the church. Not a separate PPR, but a group of people that I can process with. A group that I can talk about my grief and my pain. A group that I handpick to be church for me. Will this alienate the SP? Is it wise to even ask the question to him that I am thinking about this? Would this create too much friction? Or would this be the first step toward actually caring for myself as a pastor (and having the church care for me)?


10 Things About Me

I've been tagged by the woman resting on sabbatical to do this random 10 things thingy. While Ladyburg rests, I've been a little distracted. I had one of those days where I didn't have much focus -- but lots and lots of anger. I went to the gym. I worked some of it out. But, that's not what this post is about. This is a post about 10 random things -- not the 10 things that made me angry today. So here it goes:

1. I sold my first painting when I was 12 years old. It was my grandmother's friend's rose bush. I got $12 for my afternoon of painting in her rose garden.
2. Until recently, I could only paint when I was in a good mood.
3. I am really, really snobby about food. Just ask the guy that I went on a date with last week (which you cannot because I will not see him again). Slathered anything in tomato sauce and mozerella does not make it Italian!
4. I have an addiction to coffee. I get headaches. No, I don't think that's a problem.
5. Bill Clinton hit on me. I kid you not.
6. When my sister was little, I taught her astronomy as we talked about how much we love each other. To this day, we still tell each other that we love each other to Pluto and back. We don't care that it's not a planet anymore.
7. I did not actually minor in religion in college. I refused to take Philosophy of Religion. Thus, I was one class short.
8. My first job out of college was dogsitting in London. It was rough.
9. As a child, I could not be excused from the table until I thanked the chef in Norwegian. This was the only Norwegian I ever learned -- despite the fact that it is my heritage.
10. I am too scared to hike at this time of year in Maine -- especially after the 5th email arrived in my inbox advising me to wear orange if and when I hiked so I wouldn't get shot.
11. (AN EXTRA) The very idea of hunting baffles my mind. I'm a pacifist. I don't get it.

And now, I get to tag my fellow bloggers. So, I tag: Besomami, Little Mary, Audrey, apbs and Teri.


Hitting Send

Recently Besomami and Little Mary asked interesting questions about blogging ettiquette. Little Mary is a little more direct. She calls it a pet peeve. I'm not sure where my gripe is exactly. It might be ettiquette. It might be a pet peeve. It might be a rant. (I know. Imagine!)

My lament is not in the blogosphere -- but a question about email. It is my personal feeling that people misuse email in horrible and abusive ways. For those of you that know me, you know that I hate the phone. I do email lots. I admit it. I email in my ministry more than I would like to admit. This is something that I agonize over daily. Do I take this as a teaching moment about good communication or respond to the passive aggressive email in the way that this person is contacting me? More often than not, I hit reply. It makes me cringe. I'm embarassed to admit it.

However, this email was not a church-related email. This was an email that arrived this afternoon from a member of my family to addressed to my parents and cc'ed to every relative in the family. It was an attack on my parents. It was one of those awful emails that makes you pause and wonder if this person should have counted to 10 before hitting send. This relative is angry. Very angry. Isn't it charming that not only do we express anger but pull up all past wrongs in the midst of disaster? This is what my relative did.

I did not reply.

Instead, I thought of Jesus drawing a line in the sand. I thought of how he turned the crowd and asked who among them was not also angry or guilty or sinful. A woman stands in the midst of the crowd. She is the source of their anger. They are ready to throw things. They are ready to hit send and draw deeper lines in the sand. This is why I did not reply. I don't want deeper lines in the sand.

My family is complicated enough. I have three families beyond my immediate family. It seems that there are always lines in the sand that I'm trying to traverse. There are always lines that I have smooth out. And there are lines that require me to ask everyone to resist the temptation to throw things. I don't want to do this anymore. When the only person who understands what it was like for me to grow up ends up in a Psych Ward, I'm refusing to play on these lines anymore.

Instead of precariously playing on these lines, I'm blogging. I hope this doesn't fall into anyone's pet peeves because it is a release for me. Even though she's cat blogging (one of my pet peeves), ppb encouraged me to do bibliotherapy. I haven't read anything since she gave this wonderful advice of reading to offer myself some therapy. I read some poetry on Thursday but I abandoned my books over the weekend. I can't seem to find the attention span to read. My mind wanders too quickly -- but blogging offers a connection that reminds me that others are praying. Others are listening. Whether you know me or not, you have been a blessing to me as I try so hard not to dance across the lines that my family draws. Your comments have supported me tremendously when I can't (or won't) share what is happening with my church family.


The Magic of Christmas

I know. It's only November -- but if you are a pastor like me, you have probably spent the past week or two beginning preparations for the season. It's not that far away at all. It's only a few Sundays until Advent arrives. In fact, before Advent arrives, The Magic of Christmas will start. This our local version of Christmas nonsense. You know the type. It's a little Broadway. A little orchestra. A little choral music and a random ballerina. I saw it last year with a church member. It gave me a headache not only because I'm a New Yorker and snotty about such things -- but because it displayed the things that I loathe most about Christmas.

OK, that's not entirely true. Two weeks ago, when I was shopping in Target, I squealed when I saw the Christmas display. Literally. I sent a text message to express my glee because there was no one to share it with. I realize it wasn't Halloween yet. I did not care. My best friend since first grade teases me about this -- as she is one of the few that has seen this obsession manifest itself year after year since we were both wee. She knows that I start listening to Christmas carols really, really soon. Too early by most standards. And if you are going to scoff at me, you can stop reading because the Christmas fun started yesterday.

While I was waiting for my friend to arrive from NJ, I painted to the TransSiberian Orchestra. Oh yes, I did. I needed a little cheer. You know, like when Auntie Mame sings that we need a little Christmas, I need it right now. So I painted my emotional bleh and and along to Christmas carols. It was the perfect release. I needed that magic -- the kind of magic that is released from the end of a paintbrush in brilliant colors. I needed the magic that is promised with the incarnation. I needed the magic of century old lyrics that sing this magical hope. I neeed a little magical Christmas -- right here.


Remember Me

When only one person appeared for Bible Study this afternoon, I announced that I would need to leave early. I needed to worship. I needed to run for the hills -- but the best thing that I could do at that moment was go to worship. I wondered if it would be wiser to go the beach and cry -- but I already knew that my prayers were paralyzed. I needed others. I needed a community that didn't know my problems but would sing the Spirit around me. So, I went to sing with the Episcopalians at their Wednesday night Taize service.

I was still late -- despite my best efforts. And even still, once I settled into the hard wooden pew of the chapel, I started to cry. And it just came in that way that tears come. I cried as I croaked lyrics. I sniffled as I sang. I needed to be in prayer today because I don't know what to do with the news that I recieved yesterday. With the mammograms and delayed travel, I was really beginning to feel pretty great -- until yesterday. Things were pretty fantastic until I learned what was happening at home. I wonder if it's even appropriate to post on my blog. I wonder if I should reserve my feelings and not share the deepest sorrow I have felt in a long time. And though I shall reserve my boundaries for my congregation, I need to share this truth somewhere. I need somewhere to say -- other than to God -- that I have no idea what to do with this. So, I sang this chant:

Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom
Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom

This is not a chant we commonly sing at this ecumenical gathering -- but it is my favorite. I understand the Scriptural reference and what this refrain for our vision of eternity. And yet, I have always thought this verse has more to do with calling to Jesus to coax us into what we believe to be possible. Make the kingdom (ahem, realm) possible in our hands. Show us how! Show us how! Remember us as you share your vision! This is how I have always sung this chant. This is how I have always understood it -- until today. The universalist theologian in me that believes that everyone will be remembered was forced to pause. And here is the crux of my fears: my brother attempted to take his life earlier this week. I don't know what to do with this reality. I don't know how to pray -- but I want him to be remembered. I want Jesus to be there even if that's the last person my brother wants to be there.

My chants were riddled with this plea. I want my brother to taste this grace -- even though I know it is so far outside of his realm. My chant was for hope and peace. I didn't find either in this moment of prayer. I want both peace and hope and yet I don't know how they might be realized. So, I pray for Jesus to remember us -- all of us.


A Hidden Blessing

Let go.
Let God.

Though I have no idea who first said these words or why, they have been on my mind these past few days. They were said to me right before I left for my jaunt to the Midwest. I believe I even said them to the Senior Pastor in the midst of his recent struggles. These familiar and appropriate words even appeared on a church sign (because there are a lot of those in the Midwest). That still small voice wants me to hear these words.

Of course, all of this repetition didn't smack me until I zoomed from one airport to the next to try to be home in time for Sunday worship. I was eager if not determined to make it home. I wanted to be in church. I did. I really wanted to be in church. I had taken these few days to unwind with old friends that knew me before I became Pastor Peters. I knew that I needed to embrace this mantra. It's what made me take this little mini-vacation in October. I thought I had slowed down. I thought that I had completely abandoned my inner New Yorker pushing me to overdrive. I thought that she was gone -- until the knots in my back appeared and I found myself staring at the airport monitor.

I did what you are supposed to do in these moments. I called a friend. I told her I was stranded in her city. I wanted to wait and see if I could get on this flight. And of course, the Lord of the Airport laughed and reminded me:
Let go.
Let God.

I won't be in church tomorrow. I won't be at the denominational meeting to follow. I won't be there for the many things that perhaps should demand my attention. Instead, I booked a morning flight and came to have a beer with friend.


A Place for Fairies

In the midst of the woods yesterday, Songbird and I made a place for fairies. I don't know where this tradition came from but there are several places in Maine which have been claimed as Fairy Villages. In these communities, folks are welcomed to create natural shelters for the fairies that call this place home.

So this is what Songbird and I did after the dreaded appointment where I didn't actually get a mammogram. Teri sent me a text message telling me that it was National Mammogram Day and sending love. It would have been too obvious for me to get a mammogram on this day. I had a wonderful consultation with a fantastic nurse who listened, affirmed and advised me. I have a plan. I know what my care will include. I will be getting a digital mammogram in February -- which will make the whole month of February miserable (it's the anniversary of Mom's death).

Clutching my Starbucks cup that makes my breasts lumpier (I don't care), I held Songbird's hand as we admired our shelter for the fairies. It was fragile and gentle. It wouldn't have weathered a strong breeze -- but it was beautiful. It felt like a safe space which it was. I got to cry and tell stories about my mom. I got to feel that magic is still possible. I got to feel that magic in the words of my praying friend. We laughed and cried and talked about family. It was magic. It was a place for fairies -- fairies like me and Songbird.

We made that special place in the woods for magic to still be possible. As so many other friends have, Songbird reminded me to believe in magic. In her words and her knowing smile, she affirmed my need to believe that magic is still out there even when cancer looms. I want to thank all of the fairies out there. Many of you have been reading and commenting. Some of you have sent emails that made me cry. Someone even sent me a Save the Tatas tshirt. Thank you to all of the fairies that have been my magic in these past few weeks. Thank you so much.


Teaching Youth

I'm planning for our next Confirmation class right now -- which will focus on the meaning of the Sacraments. I thought I would start with a little Buechner (whom I adore) and define what these things are. In his words,

A sacrament is when something holy happens. It is transparent time, time which you can see through to something deep inside time.

Generally speaking, Protestants have two official sacraments (the Lord's Supper, Baptism) and Roman Catholics these two plus five others (Confirmation, Penance, Extreme Unction, Ordination, and Matrimony). In other words, at such milestone moments as seeing a baby baptized or being baptized yourself, confessing your sins, getting married, dying, you are apt to catch a glimpse of the almost unbearable preciousness and mystery of life.

Needless to say, church isn't the only place where the holy happens. Sacramental moments can occur at any moment, any place, and to anybody. Watching something get born. Making love.

Wait. Stop. Can I say that to 14 year olds? Making love? Have you heard about what is happening in Portland today? Let me clue you in. My grandmother sent me an email to ask what was wrong with my city. One of the middle schools wants to give out birth control to their students. I'm not kidding. Sometimes I wish I were. Read all about it here.

My confirmands are not middle schoolers. Nor do they attend this particular middle school on the other side of the bridge. But, can I say this? Really? The rest is so good. The whole thing is so good. I just love me some Buechner. See, it continues on page 101 of Wishful Thinking:

A high-school graduation.

See? See? That's relevant to kids -- even if they are freshman. Sorry. I'll stop interrupting. Buechner has the floor:

Somebody coming to see you when you're sick. A meal with people you love. Looking into a stranger's eyes and finding out he's not a stranger.

If we weren't blind as bats, we might see that life itself is sacramental.

Am I being blind as a bat? Is the whole city of Portland? Are our middle schoolers? Tricky territory, I tell you.


More Glee

Several clergy in our association of the United Church of Christ gathered today in the center of the city. Inspired by the monks in Burma, we thought it was important to dress in our vestments and stand vigil for peace. It was a wonderful hour. We'll be there every week for one hour -- until the war ends. There were jokes about LL Bean making down robes for us (you know, because it's cold up here). Laughter in the midst of our fears is a wonderful release, isn't it?

Do you remember that song from Mary Poppins? An innocent tea party with Uncle Albert turns into quite the scene. Mary is obviously peeved (even though she sings a refrain). Bert gets into trouble with his heart's desire because he gets swept in the moment. And everyone sings:

The more I laugh
The more I fill with glee
And the more the glee
The more I'm a merrier me
It's embarrassing!
The more I'm a merrier me!

I want to be the merrier me. In the midst of my conversation about feminism with the New Girls, we talked about this desire. Did you hear this? The Wharton School of UPenn says that men are happier than women. It's because men play more than we do. I'm not so sure. I'm also not sure that I'm willing to accept the definitions of feminism that others claim. I'm not sure that my lack of happiness has to do with overwhelming obligation. Now, my clergy sisters, I know that our work is hard. I know that there is a lot that is demanded of us. I know. And yet, I believe in play. I don't want my work to define me (even though I struggle daily with this). I believe in friends and laughter and merriment. I require these things, don't you? And I'll admit it. Most of my friends, laughter and merriment does not come from church. Some of it. I find my work very, very rewarding -- but it is not what sends me to the ceiling giggling like Bert.

So I'm trying to glee in difficult moments. I'm trying to laugh at injustice -- not because I think it's funny but perhaps because that it part of making peace. I'm trying to be brave and laugh at the things that I don't think are the least bit funny. You know, like war and breast cancer. On Friday, I will try to laugh with Songbird as we make a fairy house on Mackworth Island. I will try to giggle and remember what it was like to be a child without focusing on the pain and loss. I will try to be filled with more glee.



I have many things on my mind right now. Some of them are related to my previous post. I was reading a lot this weekend. The book that fits in my purse is Borg and Wright's The Meaning of Jesus. Ironically, I was reading Wright which further confirmed my sentiments to the previous post. Even while reading the more "conservative" theologian, I can confirm that I'm heretical. How do you like dem apples?

As you know, this is the week of the mammogram. That's on my mind. I have a plan but haven't called Songbird to ask her if she'll join me. I'll tell you about it later. Songbird, if I haven't yet called you, it means that I'm going to have lots to talk about on Wednesday when I see you. Wednesday is when we have our clergy lady group. I wonder if it's unwise to post that. Ah well. I'm having an issue at church that seems like a non-issue in most ways. I'm kicking ass. God has put me in the right place. I know this is where I'm supposed to be -- and I look forward to the things that we are going to do together. I just got a little giddy thinking about it. And yet, there is an issue. I'm not sure how to handle it. I welcome all prayers for clarity.

I listened to a lot of music this weekend. I went to a classical concert on Friday night. I heard piano music that was mind-blowing... in Maine. (I'm still a New York snob sometimes.) And then, I went to hear jazz on Saturday night. There is no jazz in Maine. I've missed jazz. Really missed jazz. So, there has been a lot of music. Lots of sound. Lots of noise bopping around in my head -- which has made me think a lot about silence.

What do you think about silence? This is a sincere question -- and I am looking for answers, please. Do you need silence to pray? Do you need silence to center? Do you need silence when you wish the theologically-problematic anthem is being sung in worship? Do you crave it? Is it something you seek? Does it need to be broken up by music or sound? What does silence mean to you?


One Lord and Savior

I had lunch today with a member of the church that has drifted. I met her at the soup kitchen on Saturday night. She was once very involved and committed -- and has wandered away. I was delighted by her. And as she is also unemployed, I offered to feed her. I didn't realize that I would be blessed by amazing conversation.

She has drifted because she is on a spiritual journey. She has started to practice shamanism with a local Native American tribe and has found it life-giving. I can't say that I blame her. As one that worships with other communities when I need to be spiritually charged, I relate. She still loves Jesus. And yet, in her wandering, she was told that at the end of the day she had to proclaim Jesus as Lord and Savior to continue membership in the church.

These words stung for me. I know that this is important to our faith. It's foundational to my ordination. And yet, it seems that so many of us wander. In our spiritual hodge podge, we find various practices important and relevant to our own faith perspective. So, I wonder if it's limiting for us to push the Lord and Savior as the only way to understand Christianity. Is this the only way that we understand membership in our faith communities? I'm not so sure.


Squish My Boob

Or in my case, slap a lot of gel on 'em and ultrasound 'em. That's right. A mammogram is on the horizon. It's officially been scheduled for a week from Friday. I've decided how I'm going to handle the whole health insurance thing (thanks to some great wisdom). I called and ordered my slides from the previous doctor. I've opted out of the MRI (at least, for now) and I get to have a serious conversation about DNA testing. It will be an important day for me.

All seems to be set.

Everything is in place. And well, I'm still not certain. What I mean is: I'm scared. I had a flashback last time I went to have a mammogram. It's one of those eerie parts of my grief. I don't remember certain events -- and then things come rushing back too quickly when I don't want them. This is what happened to me when I last got a mammogram. I cried hysterically. Not because of getting my breasts squished (get over it ladies), but because I suddenly remembered going to these appointments with my mother.

Of course, it was too late for her to have a mammogram. When she was my age, my mother woke up one morning and could not raise her arm. My father rushed her to the emergency room. Sometime later, they found out that she had breast cancer. Four years later, my mother lost the battle to this disease. The math is imperfect. I'm 28. She was 33 when she died. Whatever. There are parts that I remember very, very vividly about her illness. No one should remember their mother like I remember my mom. I hope no child does. Perhaps this is what motivates my heart toward justice -- but I don't remember the doctor visits. I know that I went. I remember her doctor and lollipops. I remember when she showed me the jagged scar under her right breast in our bathroom at home. But, I hadn't remembered the doctor visits until I was wearing a paper gown and my own breasts were poked and squished.

I wish that I didn't worry so much about my reactions. But, fuck it. I'm worried about how I will handle this for the second time. I've done it before. I will probably cry. I will definitely cry. But, it should be fine, right? Right. So, if you were me and you had a whole afternoon by yourself after getting a mammogram, what would you do? Go to the beach? Drink coffee? Read a book? Get a massage? Sometimes I wish my mom was here to talk to her about these things, ya know?

A Day to Be Proud

The President and General Minister of the UCC, Rev. John Thomas and Rev. Linda Jaramillo, the Executive Minister of the UCC Justice and Witness Ministries, arrived at the White House today with a stack of names. Some of those names belonged to members of our church. All of those names were against the war.

These two executive ministers were arrested today in front of the White House. They were trying to deliver the Pastoral Letter on the War on Iraq. Instead, they were arrested.

As Rev. Jaramillo said, "As a church, we can no longer be silent."

Amen. May it be so. Amen.


Increase Our Faith

A sermon for World Communion Sunday based on Luke 17:5-10 (NRSV). In honor of Indigenous Peoples Day, I used the story of The First Corn from the Penobscot Nation of Maine. You can read the whole story here.

“The people increased until they were numerous.” This is what it means to increase. To acquire. To hoard. To multiply stuff. Or in this story from the Penobscot Nation, to multiply people. And yet, this story is not about the number of people in this particular tribe expanding throughout Maine.

This story is about the Great Teacher and how he meets a boy and a girl who get married and have kids. Lots of them – until they were numerous. However, happiness doesn’t last long. Famine strikes and children are starving. No one is happy – and the husband notices strange behavior in his wife. She only seems happy when she is in water. Wanting nothing but happiness for his wife, he asks the Great Teacher for advice. And what does he tell him? This loving husband must kill his wife.

Doesn’t exactly sound like the slave in the Gospel Lesson does it? Here is a guy that is accused of being “useless” or “unprofitable,” or in this translation, “worthless.” No word of thanks is offered to this slave after he has plowed the fields and tended the sheep. No praise. No invitation to put his feet up and enjoy the feast. Nope. Like the apostles, we wouldn’t say “come here at once and take a place at the table.” We would ask him to set the table and serve us.

And Jesus knows this. He knows our downfalls because he’s been there. Jesus knows what it is like to be human. So, he begins this parable with a question where the obvious answer is no. Like it or not, we would answer no. Even though we would hope for a different ending, we would ask to be served.

After all, we all relish in someone else taking good care of us. Even though we would rather think that we would answer yes to Jesus’ question, we would say no. We would not invite this slave to sit at the table with us. And aren’t we just as worthless?

Well, no. That’s not how we think of ourselves. In fact, we don’t even think of slaves this way. We are not first-century Christians who considered slavery to be “against nature” while still upholding that it was not “morally wrong.” We celebrate the Underground Railroad. We are proud of our abolitionist Congregational mothers and fathers. For us, it is difficult to imagine anyone could be denied of “all dignity.” They are just as loved. They are children of God. So, no, we are not worthless and neither are they. But in the first century, slaves did what they were ordered to do – and they were still worthless.

I wonder if this is how the husband felt. I wonder if he felt worthless after the Great Teacher told him to kill his wife. Did he feel worthless on his way home? How did he feel when his wife assured him that this is what he must do? So, he follows her instructions and kills her. Just like the slave, he does what he is told. He does “only what [he] ought to have done.” I know. You hoped for a different ending, didn’t you? But, our story is not so different.

“Increase our faith!” Multiply our belief! Amplify our trust! More! More! We cry. Like the apostles, we rely on Jesus to transform our faith like a magic spell. But, that’s not how it works. Because faith isn’t just belief. Faith is something else. “An on-again-off-again rather than once-and-for-all. Faith is not being sure where you are going, but going anyway. A journey without maps.” At least, that’s the way Frederick Buechner explains it. Faith is the people that you meet along the way and the stories you tell. It’s the “social glue that binds one person to another.”

It’s not magic. Jesus can’t make the glue for us. We have to do more. We have to do more than we ought to have done. Not because we are worthless, but because we imagine a different ending. We believe that each child of God is loved. So, we must figure out how to increase our glue.

Today, we increase our glue with an invitation to “Come at once and take your place at the table.” Today, with bread and cup, we increase our glue in this sacred space where God comes to take a place at our table and celebrate “the relationship that the meal establish[s] among the diners.” This is our glue that reaches across oceans, boundaries, nations, enemy lines and even cultures. This is what binds us together.

But how do we increase our glue beyond this table? How do we share what happens to us in this sacred space? Are we waiting like the husband for the Great Teacher to explain what we don’t understand?

Because he does. The Great Teacher explains to the husband that his wife has become the first corn. Just as she had said, the Great Teacher explains that “her power should be felt over the whole world and that all should love her.”

It’s not magic. But could this be our power? Could these words from another culture help us discover something of ourselves?

Maybe. Maybe these could teach us to tell our own stories. To take and eat and share what we have seen. To take and drink and increase our glue as we discover what binds one person to another. It’s not magic. But, it might increase our faith.


Donate a Mammogram

This has arrived in my inbox twice today so I feel the need to share it.

The Breast Cancer site is having trouble getting enough people to click on their site daily to meet their quota of donating at least one free mammogram a day to an underprivileged woman. It takes less than a minute to go to their site and click on "donating a mammogram" for free (pink window in the middle).

This doesn't cost you a thing. Their corporate sponsors/advertisers use the number of daily visits to donate mammogram in exchange for advertising. I'm the daughter of a victim of this disease. There are too many that share a similar story. So, please click on the Breast Cancer Site and donate today.


The Boob Update

I know that you are all dying to know what's going on with my boobs. Needless to say, they are still small and nothing has really happened. My complusive screening has shown no signs (I wonder if psychology factors into my self-exams sometimes).

Too much information? Tough. Do a self-breast exam. Once a week. October is Breast Cancer Awareness month. Talk about it in church -- if you don't cry when you start talking about it like I do. Then again, Katherine reminds me that it's ok to be vulnerable and cry. She wrote a great story on Fidelia's Sisters.

So, anyhow, I just got the call from the nice lady at the Breast Health Center. She wanted to the background information on my family history. I got to explain once again that it is possible that my Norwergian relatives carried the gene. They were cousins and aunts of my grandfather. Did you know that men can carry the gene? Did you know that men can even develop breast cancer? It's true. Bestafar might have had it. (Bestafar is Grandfather in Norwegian.) Though I don't know for certain, I'm left to speculate and worry. I could hear her nod encouragingly through the phone. She understood. She even understood that my family doesn't talk about it and I feel like a sleuth when I ask. But, with the recommendation of my doctor, Nancy is going to call me to make an appointment. I'm going to have a mammogram. I have to consider if I'm going to get an MRI and we'll talk more about DNA testing. I still don't know what I think. But, I feel enough peace now that at least I have been heard and an appointment will soon come.


The Curse of Email

I just wanted to say it was certainly a pleasure meeting you at the annual meeting this weekend. It is very encouraging to see young pastors such as yourself who are poised, articulate, and professional in both demeanor and dress taking leadership positions in the UCC. I hope we have the opportunity to cross paths again and I wish you the best always in your ministry.

This was the email that arrived in my inbox just now. Apparently, I met this person at our Annual Meeting this weekend. I don't remember who it was. But, I'm annoyed by this email. Why shouldn't I be "poised, articulate and professional" just because I am young clergy? And why is it necessary to comment on my clothing? I was actually pushing the envelope a little with what one of my colleagues called "catwoman boots." But, why is that needed? Why?


So, you already know the background. But, just in case...

This summer, I travelled to Washington DC to be with other clergy women under the age of 40 at the Cathedral College of Preachers. The conference was hosted by The Young Clergy Women Project.

I'm honored to sit on the board of this organization so after the enthusiasm of the conference had settled, I sat with the 10 other board members to brainstorm our hopes and needs for young clergy women. Want to see who we are? Someone took a cute photo of us after our meeting. You can see it here.

Our conversations in hot and sticky DC created Fidelia's Sisters. And guess what? It was published today! I'm beaming! I'm the editor of The Gospel According to Lexi D. Vina. Get it? If you are interested in continuing Lexi's story, please include your contact in the comments here. Enjoy!



I am still at the Annual Meeting of the Maine Confernece United Church of Christ. And I'm tired. I could be tired because the conversation has been tiring. We were prophetic -- or I like to think that even though I'm not sure what we did vote on was actually prophetic. Or maybe because we have been sitting for so freakin' long.

I started a blog for church. No one reads this other blog yet. That's not true. I know there is one reader. But, just one and there are no comments yet. I admit that I like the comments. It's part of what compels me to blog. Anyhow, I have been blogging for church during these decisions. And this would be DAY 12 without a day off. The 7 delegates of my local church don't understand this. They are hopeful and excited. But, they don't really absorb the idea that I'm working all weekend. One of them offered that it must be a break to have Sunday morning off. Actually, I would love to have had my weekend and work tomorrow morning at church. I wasn't there last week after the Confirmation Retreat. I feel disconnected.

OK, I admit. I feel tired. But, I'm plotting for the "extra" day off that I am taking on Tuesday. Erica asked for a little help in her blog. And I feel a similiar plea every time I take a day off on a day that others (I mean, non-church types) don't have the day off. How am I supposed to make friends if I have weird days off? Like a Tuesday? WHO AM I SUPPOSED TO HANG OUT WITH?

I know. It's whiny. But, I wonder this sometimes. I'm a little tired too. But, instead, I think I might get a massage. A friend gave me a very, very generous gift certificate to this place. Of course, the tension I feel is not as much in my feet as it is in the that between the shoulders space. So, I wonder if I should look a little further and save the gift certificate for cold Maine weather. So much to think about.


The Power to Heal

After a really difficult phone call yesterday, I wished that someone had given me this gift of the Spirit. I wish that somewhere between seminary and ordination, someone had at least taught me how to heal. Ya know, like those miracles that Jesus performed. "Your faith has made you well." Go. Walk. Love. Be healed. I so wish that I had this gift.

It breaks my heart to hear this church member cry because his son has somehow gotten lost in his teenage years. I want to be able to tell him that it will be fine -- but I know that it won't. Nothing will be that easy. But, I want to to tell him that his faith will heal him. And all shall be well. It's the same feeling that I get when I hear my friend talk about mourning the death of his father. I want to tell him, "Your faith has made you well." I want to offer these words to the Episcopal Church USA. Even in these struggles, all will be well. Even if things must change, "your faith has made you well."

So, I'm praying tonight for peace and love. I'm hoping for healing -- and wondering if I have any part in that process. I'm feeling defeated and wanting to do more. I'm a fixer. I can't help it. But, I want to kiss it and make it better. Why can't it be that simple?


Joys & Concerns

Gracious God, who somehow manages to sustain me through a three day retreat by a beautiful lake with six confirmands, thank you for the blessing of discovering again and again that your faith is active and alive in young people who continue to ask brilliant questions while pushing me to the brink of sanity. For this joy:

O Lord, Hear My Prayer.

Remind your church and your blessed creation of this youth so that I don't have to sit down with another pastor to talk about why young people are not continuing the minsitry of the previous generations. I know you have more patience for this. But, I find it darn near impossible to explain to anyone why my generation is not interested in church or the ministry beyond our church. These are things that I can't explain. And quite frankly God, I don't want to explain this. I can't figure it out and I don't want to have to apologize for my generation. For this frustration:

O Lord, Hear My Prayer.

Empower me with new energy for another week looking forward to another working weekend. Grant me energy, hope and love as I bound through this week to gather with your servants at the Maine Conference Annual Meeting at another beautiful place in this state. For this strength:

O Lord, Hear My Prayer.

Help me to figure out what I just witnessed on PBS tonight. Help us all to remember how important it is to tell stories across our generations so that we might remember the transgressions of the past. Remind us that only in telling these stories will we learn from our mistakes and only be hearing these stories will we learn more about the world that we have created. For this concern:

O Lord, Hear My Prayer.

Anticipate with me the fun that awaits me this week as I look forward to a new opportunity for connections. No matter how many times I struggle with loneliness, celebrate the giddiness of new friends with me, O God. Relish in the comfort of watching documentaries with friends and sipping wine. Embrace me with these small moments of grace through the love of friends. For this peace:

O Lord, Hear My Prayer.

There are probably many other prayers on my heart and mind. I could pray for the world and peace. I could pray for hope and possibility. But, for now, hear these prayers, O Lord. Hold them close to your bosom. Breathe upon them and enliven me with your love so that I might love the world as much as you have loved me. For these and so many more things, in the name of Christ Jesus, I pray. Amen.


The Breast Center

I called the Breast Center at the local hospital today. Can you believe that there is something called the Breast Center? The receptionist was lovely. She referred me to the right people to talk to about DNA testing -- and then transferred me to talk to the mammogram people.

If you are 40 years old and a woman with breasts, this should be routine for you. I'm not going to lecture you about it. Just do it. It's part of the self care thing and we just don't know what causes this cancer thing. So, please. Get a mammogram. Support the women of your churches and local communities to do so. OK?

If you are under the age of 40 and call something like the Breast Center at your local hospital to schedule a mammogram, the nasty woman on the other end of the phone will be nothing but nasty. Imagine the rudest voice possible asking you, "Why exactly do you waht to do this?" This is after she asked you if the appointment was for you or someone else (where she thought she was preempting the strike.)

I was not composed in this moment. I was angry. "BECAUSE IT KILLED MY MOTHER," I said. And she barked back something about needing to have permission from your doctor. Through clenched teeth, I explained that I had moved and had not needed this before. I hung up the phone -- still irrate. But I gathered my wits. And in the 15 minutes before Bible study, I made some calls to find a freakin' doctor. Ok. Ok. I should have done this a long time ago. But, I did it. Nice lady doctor in a nearby town that my insurance will even cover. Woo hoo!

And then, I made a call to the DNA people and left a message. I'm not convinced that it's the right choice for me. One of my dear friends listened to me talk about this on Sunday night after I had read the dreaded article. We talked about my family history and all of my fears -- or at least, many of them. My dear friend has listened to me admit these things before. Those things that I dare not tell many people about how my mother's death and disease affect me. I'm so grateful for friends like him. But even with good friends to listen, I'm not sure that the DNA test is the right choice. And yet, I need to talk it out with someone in the medical community. I need to explore what it would mean. I need to figure out why God is putting this before me right now. Is this even God moving me this way? How can one be sure?


The Church is Still Standing

There is no place for them in the inn.

After I guided my small class of 6 students through the use of a Concordance and a Bible Dictionary, these are the words I wrote on the easel. And then, I asked questions. What do we need to know? What is assumed here? What might we want to know more about?

I don't know if The Thoughtful Christian had this in mind when they encouraged subscribers to use Biblical Interpretation 101 in their congregations. But, as conversation continued, I actually said that this journey probably never happened. I said that Luke probably made it up. And the looks of relief were astonishing. I didn't refute the church member that insisted that Mary was a virgin. But, I did say that it was highly unlikely that this lady made it on a donkey that pregnant. They laughed. And then, they asked more questions. Excited questions that you ask when you just want more and more information. Excited questions that can't quite seem to be get enough information. And then, I started talking about non-canonical texts. We talked about how the canon was formed and why these choices were made. There were no blank stares. There were no furrowed brows. There were looks of relief. There were looks of delight as I reminded these church members that there are stories that we believe because of faith, not because of logic. There are stories that we continue to tell that don't make any earthly sense. But, they matter. They really matter.

And the church is still standing. I'm in shock.


Why NOW?

Or perhaps the question is really: Why EVER?

I'm about to go to an event for church --- one that I'm running and then I read this article. This has been on my mind for weeks. I do self exams almost daily. I monitor what new pimples or marks appear on my breasts. You might think I keep a diary, but I'm not that compulsive. See, this is what beat my mother. This is what I watched as a child -- the scar, the silicone breast, the chemo, the radiation, the pain and death.

I recently learned that the hospital in my new town does these DNA tests. They have a whole unit. So, I'm wondering again if I should take the test. Is it better to know if I carry BRCA1 or BRCA2? Or is it better to not know? I assume the worst in these results, you must understand. And the woman in the article is 33. Why 33? That's how old mom was when she died. She was my age when she found the lump. So, I've been thinking about this a lot -- in that frozen, frightened kind of way where you don't actually do anything but quietly panic.

And I'm single and childless. So, then I have to decide if I could ever breastfeed my child. Which only brings tears to my eyes. But, I can't cry. I have to go to church. Fuck. I think I can curse here. FUCK.


What Is the Meaning of Success?

President Bush said it last night. General Petraeus said it earlier this week. Perhaps others are saying it too -- and I'm too impatient to read the article or listen to the rest of the audio broadcast. But, President Bush is convicted in his belief that we are showing signs of success in Iraq. We can't back out now, he insists from his own logic that I cannot seem to grasp. But, in his speech last night (which I can't bring myself to actually get through without screaming), President Bush announced that our success in Iraq may allow gradual troop cuts. This number is not clear. The actions that need to be taken are incredibly vague. And like many others, I'm frustrated.

In the week of the sixth anniversary of 9/11, I find myself once again eager to be in prayer and fellowship with others who share my hope for peace. Perhaps that is why this digs me most. This news comes this week -- when our nation mourns our wounds. This news comes this week as if to placate our fears. It just doesn't seem right. And I know that I am not alone.

I got an email from Jim Wallis today. At the very end of the email, he asked for prayer. He reminded his email audience of the power of prayer and that prayer can and will change our world. But, this was after he asked for money -- twice. He asked for donations in particular increments to support Sojourners work toward peace and justice. I deleted the email in annoyance. As much as I value the work that Sojourners does, the double request for money hit the same nerve that Bush seems to disregard human lives. Is it money that will solve this problem? Has money ever solved any problems in our world? Didn't our nation's greed send us to Iraq in the first place?

I admit that I'm ranting. I admit that I may be unfair to Jim Wallis and the hardworking people at Sojourners. But, I can't help but wonder what it means to have success. What is success in this particular conflict? Can anyone be bold enough to assert that success has been obtained? Perhaps I'm still grieving 9/11 or perhaps I'm still thinking about the funeral that I officiated at earlier this week. But, these words by Ralph Waldo Emerson come to mind:

To laugh often and much;

To win the respect of intelligent people
and the affection of children;

To earn the appreciation of honest critics
and endure the betrayal of false friends;

To appreciate beauty;
To find the best in others;

To leave the world a bit better, whether by
a healthy child, a garden patch
or a redeemed social condition;

To know even one life has breathed
easier because you have lived;

This is to have succeeded.

I wonder who is breathing easier on this day after President Bush and General Petraeus have annouced success. I wonder what part of the world is better. Where are the healthy children and blossoming gardens? Or where might we find a redeemed social condition? I cannot know. And this is why I join Sojourners and others in prayer. I pray with members of the United Church of Christ and I pray with friends who find the words for my prayer when I cannot. May it be so.


Dancing With God

Look! It turns out that I still have some artistic merit. I received my copy of The Response, a United Methodist Women's Magazine. As you know, I'm not a Methodist woman. But, I did serve a Methodist church briefly in seminary so I have friends among the Methodist women. And somehow, they think I'm an artist (a title that I'm not sure I can accept).

This week, I tried painting again. I tried to actually use the studio/guest room in my home. It was only a few weeks ago that I was in Cape Cod in a painting class. Long before that class, I had been asked to do this artwork for one of the stories in this issue of the Response. It's about evangelism, I think. I read it a long time ago and created some artwork related to the heart and impulse of the article. And I must say, it's strange to see your artwork in print. It's really weird when you struggled to put paint to canvas just this week. Somewhere this part of me is still there. And in all outward appearances, it's an active part of me. Funny though. Sometimes our lives don't mesh that well. Try as we might. There are separate parts. Sometimes prayers flow. Sometimes it's impossible it is to pray. So it is with paint, it seems.


Far Away

This is how I feel today. Far away. In Maine, if you are not from here (meaning that your mother's mother was born in this state), you are from away. I will always be from away. But, today I just feel so far away. It really started yesterday when I was struggling to write my sermon for the funeral that I officiated at today. I didn't realize that my own grief about this day was getting in the way. I didn't realize that what was making this endeavor so diffcult might simply be that I'm far from NYC today.

There were no worship services in my area to memoralize the day. There were no churches open for prayer, including the one in which I serve. But, I wanted this. I desparately wanted an intentional space for this kind of prayer. Instead, I held the hands of four daughters who buried their father today while I tried not to convey my own grief. Instead, I stood in the rain and commended this 90 year old man into the earth. Instead, I read Ecclesiastes 3 and wondered what season this was.

I wasn't there when it happened. I was living in London at the time. At 3 PM, I was urged to turn on the TV to see the destruction of my home city. I spent the next several hours trying to assure the safety of my mother who worked in Midtown. She was with friends uptown. She was fine. But, I was scared. And I just wanted to go home. Instead, I went to Italy. On September 12, I wandered the streets of Florence (another home for me) as the reality of this disaster followed me through the streets. I was with my Italian family there. And for the most part, I felt safe and loved. Perhaps this is what I miss today. Perhaps this is what I miss for all of us -- for the Iraqis, Afghanis, Arabs and others who are mistreated because of our country's racist ignorance. Perhaps this is what grieves me today. It all seems so far away. New York is too far. Peace is too far. Understanding is too far. And though it grieves me to say it, hope seems too far away.


A Little Teaser & A Game

You may have heard of the soon-to-be released publication of Fidelia's Sisters. I've already blogged about it. Perhaps you're already bored with the news. But, I'm a wee bit excited.

There will be all kinds of great columns and insights written and created by, for and in support of young women clergy. I'm writing one these articles on this Sunday night in my sweats before I go pick up a friend from the airport. It's a serial novel. Each month, there will be a new segment in the adventures of someone like us -- a young lady preacher. Her name is Lexi. She's divorced and lives somewhere in rural America. I imagine her to be something like the Simpsons. Only when her movie is released (yes, I dream that a movie will be released that actually debunks the myth of what we do) will we discover what state she actually lives in. Maybe that too will be decided by a game.

But for now, the game is simply to figure out the name of this quaint little town. I automatically go to Biblical names because I'm a big ol' Bible nerd. I lean toward Corinth because it was a racy kinda place. Oh, and it's a town in upstate NY. But, perhaps she does live in Springfield. Or perhaps she lives in Moline or Corpus Christi or... well, you decide. Where should Lexi live? Submit all entries below.