What just happened?

I'm not sure what just happened. Really. I mean, I was there. And I know what I thought was going to happen. But, something different. Far different than I expected just happened. I just taught my first class of my Lenten series: Way of Torture, Way of the Cross. I thought that it was going to be a challenge. I thought that it was going to be really difficult.

Instead, the Spirit surprised me. There were about 20 people -- far more than I ever would have expected on a Wednesday afternoon at 4:30. And most of the gathered were grandparents, who chuckled when I mentioned that the UN Convention Against Torture was held before I was born (1975).

We explored the image of God in three Biblical passages. And honestly, they dug their heels in and really explored these three passages asking tough questions about the image of God and the implications in torture. I'm just amazed. I never thought it would go so well.

It's one of those moments. One of those moments that you remember: YES LORD! This is why I am here. This is why. I remember now. Thank you Jesus.


Take One

This is my first attempt at starting my sermon on Luke 13:31-35 for Sunday. I have abandoned it, but I'm using my blog as storage. I know. That's not what a blog is. But, I do it sometimes.


Are we there yet? You may have heard this nagging cry from the backseat of the car. Or the question might have come from the passenger seat in disbelief that once again, you could not stop to ask for directions. Or maybe this question echoes in your head after you have safely parked the car in the garage. It’s the question that you ask yourself when you arise in the morning. And the question that tucks you in at night. Are you there yet? Are we there yet?

Today, tomorrow and the next day, we are still traveling. Never more certain what we are seeking or what our travels might reveal, we know that we must be on our way. We must move on. Scurry about. Get going. Doesn’t it feel that way? Like we are perpetually on this journey? Doesn’t it feel like our travels are endless?

This is how Lent always arrives for me. It gives me pause and makes me wonder: Are we there yet? It nags at me like I once whined from the back of my parents’ car. It feels like we have been on this journey for far too long. But, we are still waiting for something to click. We are still waiting for that moment when suddenly everything will make sense. That moment we will know that everything is as it should be. It seems like an impossible moment, but one that we believe will come. No matter how stubborn this belief might be. No matter how often we are tempted to give up, we believe that somehow our faith will explain the horrors and pains that we see around us.


Can this sermon really end up being about theodicy? Am I ready to preach about that even for myself?


Oh my gosh!

One of the area sea chaplains just stopped by the church looking for ashes. I couldn't offer him ashes but sent him off with palms to burn. Fire is healthy. And then, we got to chatting about ministry on ships. And I AM GOING TO GET GO ON BOARD! I don't know why this excites me so much. Maybe because my grandfather was a sea captain. But who cares? I get to go minister to the seafarers and friends. Woo hoo!

Happy Lent to me.

Ashes to ashes

There is something about Ash Wednesday that I just love. It's not a familiar service as it was something that my Catholic friends did. They came to school with ashen smudge marks on their foreheads. I never really understood it then, and it didn't help that none of these friends never really knew what those ashes were about.

It wasn't until seminary that I first participated in an Ash Wednesday service. It was my first year in seminary that I received that ashen mark upon my own forehead. The service was powerful. I remember that unique affirmation that was tangible in the ashen mark upon my forehead. Yes, I was dust. I would return to dust. I would always be part of God's living, breathing creation. And no matter if I am dust or will be dust, God loves me. God created me from dust and God will lovingly mingle me with the dust of my ancestors in death. I'm not sure how to articulate how powerful this was for me. Perhaps it has something to do with the fact that Ash Wednesday arrives so close to my mother's anniversary. That reminder made it easier. It gave me peace. It soothed my soul.

So, I wouldn't wipe that ashen cross off my forehead. I would wear it out into the city (and I went to seminary in New York City). I would wear it on the subway, on the bus, down the street. It was an obvious demonstration of my faith, though it was often assumed that I was Catholic. I remember one homeless man challenging me on why I had the ashes on my forehead and I remember explaining to someone on the subway why my face was dirty (after she had tried to wipe it off for me). In Girl Meets God, Lauren K. Winner talks about walking around my old neighborhood with this same demonstration. She talks about it as evangelism. It's a subtle act of evangelism, but by the brave act of wandering into the streets to declare I am a Christian. I am dust. I am loved by God -- and so are you.

I will miss this this year, as I will be leading the service tonight. I won't get to participate in a service where I am not in leadership and I won't get to attend the Episcopal service at lunchtime because of the demands of the parish. But, I will miss this today. So, I share my story hoping that it reminds you to love God's creation today and everyday.


I'm unsettled.

The New York Times photographer Robert Nickelsburg snapped this image that appears in today's paper. The caption for the picture is this:

"Brig. Gen. John R. Allen, left, at a well atop a deposit of oil and natural gas in the desert of Iraq's western Anbar Province, near Syria."

A little creepy though, no?

Deep Thoughts

http://www.journeywithjesus.net/ provides this insight for this time as we approach Lent. I like it. I wish I could remind myself of this while sitting through board meetings. Ah well.

Somehow I have to trust that God is at work in me and that the way I am being moved to new inner and outer places is part of a larger movement of which I am only a very small part.

—Henri Nouwen


It's snowing again.

Yesterday, I confessed to our church administrator (who is essentially my grandmother reincarnated) that I'm dating. She seemed unimpressed. Am I insecure? Probably. But, so be it.

So last night, toward the end of the day where I'm tirelessly trying to pull together a logical curriculum for our Lenten study "Way of Torture, Way of the Cross" (if any of you are doing this program, email me!!!), GOPBoy calls. That's right. He's Republican. A progressive Democrat really with some strange GOP tendencies. Does this matter? A little. Anyhow, he was out of town over the past few days and now he's back. He left a message (of course, I'm coy enough to let it go to voicemail) asking if I would like to grab a glass of wine later. I was destined for the gym, so I called to say so. It turns out he and a friend are down at fratty bar by the water (ew). Do I want to come? I declined insisting I was going to the gym. I need to pretend that I have will power sometimes.

And then, two hours later, I get a text message. GOPBoy is at neighborhood bar. Come get a drink with us. Meet my friend, he texts. Sucker. I go. Of course, I go. Turns out he is actually a good kisser. A gentleman. A nice guy -- albeit Republican. No one is perfect.

We declared a snow day yesterday. Before the snow started to fall, we declared we were not going to the office tomorrow. So, I'm working from home. Ok, I haven't done anything yet. But, it's also the dreaded red heart Hallmark holiday which drives me crazy. So, I wonder: can you hang out with boy you just started dating on V-Day without it having extreme weight? Isn't that silly? I don't think St. Valentine would really care. Like my congregants, he just wanted everyone to get married. So, what's the big deal? I know. I know.

At my alma-seminary, the ladies that I spent last Valentines Day with reading the Vagina Monologues are actually performing it tomorrow night. They are reading my prayer. My Prayer for Our Pussies. (It's in the archive, by the way.) My fave prof Janet sent me a sweet email commenting on the power of the prayer. God I love her. It makes me miss my friends -- my amazingly strong women. And I love that this is what this day has become for me.

Growing Toward

This is my sermon from Sunday (the one where I sang) based on Jeremiah 17:5-10 and Luke 6:17-26. I wasn't going to post it, but I have developed a slight ego from all of the affirmations I have received from my congregation this week. One of the members of the Search Committee cried (I learned yesterday). There were emails and notes under my door. It's hard not to feel overwhelmingly affirmed. Anyhow, I am sharing it with you.

It was in pieces on the ground. No longer OK. It’s fresh wood was pale pink against the muddy ground. A jumble of bits where there once stood a relic. This is how you find things in the forest. It had snapped in half below the last living branch. A branch that had big filmy greens leaves last spring. That had buds fat with promise all winter.Is it dead now? Will its roots go on living into the spring and summer longing for food from leaves that will never unfold? Where trees are concerned the exact time of death is hard to figure. Perhaps it is the point where they can’t grow back.

As I soon as Julie Zickefoose had said that last sentence and the radio show continued on NPR’s All Things Considered, I said aloud “Huh.” Perhaps it is the point where they can’t grow back. Huh.

The prophet Jeremiah describes a tree “planted by water, sending out its roots by the stream. It shall not fear when heat comes, and its leaves shall stay green; in the year of drought it is not anxious, and it does not cease to bear fruit.” It’s a metaphor. And it’s a really pretty one if… well, if you don’t feel like the shrub. That’s the beginning of the metaphor. A shrub in the desert. The poetry is not as eloquent, and perhaps rightly so. The shrub is withered and without water. Who needs poetry to describe something so bleak?

Well, maybe it doesn’t need to be poetry. But, there need to be words that describe how we feel. Whether in poetry or lyrics, we need words for those times when we feel like we are just pieces on the ground; no longer OK.

When we are no longer OK, we need words to calm. Words to soothe. Words to bless those parts of us that feel like broken pieces on the ground. We don’t need to be nagged about how to be happy. We don’t need instructions about how to make things better. We don’t need to be reminded about how miserable we might be. Instead, we need words that name the “assurance that [these words] are God’s word to us and that God’s word is not empty.”

That’s where Jesus brought them. Down from the mountain. Down among the people, the disciples followed Jesus to stop on a level place. And then, he looked up at them and begins this sermon of uneven assurances.

Blessed are you who are poor, Jesus begins. Blessed are you who are hungry, weeping, despised and rejected.

And woe to everyone else. Woe to the rich, the full, the laughing and the socially accepted.

Though sometimes hard to hear, these are Jesus’ words of assurance from a level place. These are not lofty ideas spoken above the people. Instead, these words of assurance are offered while everyone is on the same level. No richer. No poorer. Everyone is on the same plane, even Jesus who looks up to begin his sermon.

He looks up to the gathered people longing to hear words that soothe. Words that calm. Words that bless. He looks up at these people who “were poorly adjusted to things as they were. They were suffering under the conditions of their lives. Many were disinherited, insecure, hungry and oppressed.” They were pieces on the ground. No longer OK.

And he blesses them. He names their insecurity and hunger. But it is not just by standing on a level place and naming the reality of the parts that are no longer OK that makes these words an assurance. Jesus goes a step further and names what will come.

It’s like the song that has been echoing in my head all week – a familiar gospel hymn, though the words have often changed in the struggle for justice and freedom. Maybe you recognize the lyrics from our Call to Worship:

We shall not/We shall not be moved
We shall not/We shall not be moved
Like a tree planted by the water
We shall not be moved.

On the picket line, in freedom marches or mass meetings, these lyrics were sung to celebrate the risk of what might come if their hopes were realized. They were poorly adjusted to things as they were. No longer OK, they sang. They sang these lyrics looking toward something better.

We shall not/We shall not be moved
We shall not/We shall not be moved
Like a tree planted by the water
We shall not be moved.

Did you hear Jeremiah’s metaphor? Actually, these words don’t even belong to Jeremiah. It was a song long before Jeremiah borrowed the metaphor. It’s found in the first hymnal our sisters and brothers sang from. And we’ve been singing this psalm ever since.

Like a tree planted by the water. Knowing that most of the time we feel like shrubs, Jeremiah borrows this metaphor to remind us to trust. When we are poorly adjusted to things as they are. When we are no longer OK, Jeremiah reminds us of a tree planted by the water. A tree that does “not fear when heat comes, and its leaves shall stay green; in the year of drought it is not anxious, and it does not cease to bear fruit.”

Even when we feel disinherited, insecure, hungry and oppressed, the tree reminds us to trust. When things are no longer OK, to trust that somehow God is present in this. When we are pieces on the ground, to trust that our faith will somehow get us through.

And I hear you. I know what you are thinking. What happens when trusting seems impossible? What happens when we can’t remember the power that these lyrics once held for our sisters, our uncles, our grandparents or ourselves? What happens when we can’t remember that longing – that longing that we have been singing about since the Psalms were recorded – that longing for something better? What happens when we stop singing?

We shall not/We shall not be moved
We shall not/We shall not be moved
Like a tree planted by the water
We shall not be moved

Can we trust that we will remember the lyrics? Can we trust that the song will continue? Or is there something deeper? Something beneath the surface. Something like what I heard on NPR when a commentator dared to ask the question: Will [the] roots [of a tree] go on living into the spring and summer longing for food from leaves that will never unfold?

This tree on the edge of Julie Zickfoose’s property had big filmy greens leaves and had buds fat with promise waiting to bloom. But, now there are pieces on the ground. Now, it’s just a jumble of bits. No longer OK. At least, that’s what it looks like. That’s what we can see. But, even this commentator reminds us that

Where trees are concerned the exact time of death is hard to figure. Perhaps it is the point where they can’t grow back.

Sometimes we must look a little deeper. Sometimes we must go back to the roots. Sometimes we must remember. Perhaps we can learn from the tree. Tree roots “grow where the resources of life are available.” That’s it. “They do not grow toward anything.” This ruins the beautiful Jeremiah’s poetry of a tree “sending out its roots by the stream.” Scientifically, the roots won’t grow toward water. They grow because they are in water. They grow where they are planted.

And this, this is where we have become planted. This is where we will grow. Even when we can’t find the right words to explain what this place is to a neighbor in aisle 14 at Hannaford, it’s in our roots. It’s where we are planted. Sure, we might still be poorly adjusted to things as they are. We might still be disinherited and insecure. But, we are not at the point where we can’t grow back.

We can see beneath the surface. We can see the roots. And as we welcome new members into our root structure, let’s trust God’s words of assurance. And let’s remember to keep singing ancient psalms about we have found and what will come.

We shall not/We shall not be moved
We shall not/We shall not be moved
Like a tree planted by the water
We shall not be moved


Janet would be proud...

My favorite seminary professor (of which I have several) always said that we need to be brave. That's Janet there with my dear friend Claudio. Wouldn't you listen to anything that smiling face said? Yes, you would. You might not know it. But, you would listen to this wonderful Catholic nun and you would follow her anywhere. Anyhow, she taught about art and how we need to use art in our experiences of worship to enhance our experience of God. I'm a painter. I can do the 2-D and sometimes even 3-D art. But, there are some kinds of artistic expression that I would rather let others do -- like music.

I can't play anything. I can't sing. I can't do the musical thing.

Ok, I can. But, it ain't pretty. It's praising God, but it ain't all that pretty.

But, I was using lyrics in my sermon today. It was a vital part of the sermon actually as I tried to articulate the power that spirituals -- specifically "We Shall Not Be Moved" -- have in our identification of what is and what will be. I went back and forth. And then I found myself in front of the congregation, and I sang. I sang. Not once. Not twice. Not even three times, but four times. And then we all sang together.

You never know how these moments will affect people (espcially since this was not the only different moment in our worship experience this morning), but there were two notes tucked under my door from two visitors to the church who wanted me to know how much my sermon had meant to them. Well, amen. Amen.


The Minister is Sick

Not me. I'm perfectly healthy (knock on wood). I'm feeling great.

But, my colleague is sick. He's been awfully sick since about Thursday so that for the third Sunday in eighteen years, he is going to miss church. He pointed this out on the phone yesterday. So, for the second time since I have been called as a pastor to this church, I will be running the show. Kinda funny actually as I will also become a member tomorrow. Somehow that seems ironic.

It makes me nervous though. I overslept church last time and though I just secured all of the volunteers that I need to make the service happen tomorrow, I'm a little anxious. Well, and because I'm not thrilled with my sermon. So it goes.

Pray for strength. Pray for strength.

Of course, in the midst of this prayer, I get to the local high school production of Footloose. And even before that, I have another date. This is boy three. Did I mention I'm distracted from worship and that's really what worries me? Yeah, well, at least I'm aware of it. We shall see what happens. But, he sounds very promising. Fingers crossed.

Pray for strength. Pray for strength.

Woe to the rich.

Dylan's Lectionary Blog referred me to this site which I find most humbling. Anytime that you think you are scraping two pennies togeher to make things happen, this will keep you in check.


Blessed are you who are poor. Blessed are all of us that remember that we are part of God's creation. Blessed are we who care and love for those that God has created...

There are not adequate words for the prayer on my heart.



On the eve before my ordination, one of my best friends was proposed to by the man of her dreams. They share passion, enthusiasm for life and a lovely dark sense of humor. She said yes. There is a beautiful ring (not that rings matter). And they are happy as can be. This might actually be a secret, not the engagement but instead how they met. I'm not sure how public she makes this. I don't know if she tells people, but they met on Match.com. Sssh. I'm not sure why that is something we don't want to confess. But, we do. We are nervous about admitting the truth. So, I will tell the truth. My best friend and her new fiance are one of two blissfully happy couples that I know that met through an online dating network. And how beautiful is that?

So, I came back to Maine and I decided that I would give it a shot -- again. I've done online dating before. I'm not really embarassed by it. But, I'm dating. I'm dating like dating is going out of style. There are three guys right now -- and another four emails that I could reply to but I can't date the entire city of Portland at the same time. There need to be limits.

I confessed this truth to a group of my clergy friends earlier this week. I didn't explain the Match.com part, but the fact that I'm dating. I said it. I'm dating. And it's fun. It's exciting. I even told my colleague at church. It felt good to tell the truth. But, the minute that I told this group of clergy friends I realized something that I had not really thought about before. My colleagues have not wrestled with what it means to be single in the parish. (This is not entirely fair to one person that will read this post. Forgive me. I know you understand.) My clergy friends were all married when they accepted the mantle of ordination. They all had serious relationships. They were all settled so that having kids in the church was the issue, not finding Mr. Right.

I'm not sure that these experiences are all that different. Each exposes something very intimate and very personal -- especially for women who become more and more visibly pregnant in front of the congregation. I can hide this part. Nothing about my dating life shows, unless perhaps a big ol' hickey appears on my neck. (But, really, that's just tacky. C'mon.) But, I run the risk of being found out. My church could realize that I'm a vital, sexual young woman and all hell could break loose. Ok, that's a huge jump. But, it makes me nervous.

In seminary, we talked about this a lot. There were several women that I shared the turmoil of the harsh reality that I was going to be dating in the parish. I was going to have to face the staff member that wants to set me up with her son (true). I am going to have to deal with the congregant that found out from her son that her son's best friend was dating a young minister in Portland and have her ask me about it on a Monday morning (true). But, most of my girlfriends from seminary seem to have gotten married. I'm thrilled that they met THE ONE. But, I haven't. I am still dating. And it sucks.

No, that's not true. It's really fun. But, I feel guilty and I feel guilty for feeling guilty. I feel silly for feeling guilty. Someone, somewhere, tell me not to feel guilty. Please.


Planted by the Water

I have been thinking a lot about trees recently. I'm preaching this Sunday and something about Jeremiah's text in the Lectionary this week has me spinning.

This teeny part won't make it into my sermon. But, it means so much to me that I needed to share it somewhere. Maybe just to save it for later for another reflection.

Have you ever gone for a walk in the woods and found a tree struck by lightening? Did you touch the wound where the bolt seared the tree in half? Like me, did you find yourself moved by the destruction of such beauty?