Yellow Ribbons

3200 US soldiers have died in the Iraq war. The toll gets higher and higher everyday. Never mind the number of Iraqis, Iranians, Afgahnis and how many others have died. By the way, if you have not counted the numbers recently and said your own prayer of lament, here is your chance: http://www.antiwar.com/casualties/. [Prayerful silence.] Amen. So, you understand my concern. But, this death toll only struck our community a week ago. In this new home of mine, the community mourned the loss of our first loss. He was only 21. He was recently married. His name was Angel Rosa and he was Hispanic. I didn't think that last fact was important detail.

That is, until this week. This week, our community mourned the loss of another young man. He was also recently married and only 24. His name was Jason Swiger. And Jason was white.

And it was after his death that the yellow ribbons started to appear. They outline my drive from home to church like breadcrumbs to prevent any of us from getting lost. They are all over the place. I understand that this path was created from the tender grief of the friends and family of Jason Swiger. But, I have to wonder. Where were the ribbons last week? Why did they not appear until after our second loss?

I didn't think that race was important. I didn't think that it mattered that Angel Rosa was Hispanic. But, there were no ribbons when we were mourning Angel. There was confusion and sadness. There was woundedness. But, there were no ribbons. And now, there is an entire path. I hate to think that it's a race thing. But, I wonder.


The Poor Will Always Be Wih You

On her reflection of the service on Sunday, one of my confirmands wrote,

It is a "sad realization that 'no matter what you do, there will always be suffering people.'"

She quoted the sermon. The sermon about the text in John 12. The text that scolds, "the poor will always be with you." It's a text that I love -- and hate to love. Too often, it's not exegeted. Too often, it's read without enough grace to understand that Jesus did not literally mean that poverty would not be overcome. But, there I was on Sunday, listening to my colleague preach that the poor will in fact always be with us.

I was furious. Visibly furious, I suspect as I couldn't find the words to invite our tithes and offerings. If the poor will always be with us, it seemed futile to collect an offering to feed ourselves and elevate the place of our church. No, friends, there will not always be poverty. Someone does not always need to be poor for us to understand our own bounty. Someone does not need to be less for us to be more. And there may be joy in that, but it's a false joy. Jesus taught us to be with the least of these. Not above. But with. As Christians, we are called to break down boundaries. We are called to abolish the structures of the world. We are in the world, not of it.

But, I serve in a church where this clearly needs to be pushed. Is it my job to push my colleague? Or shall I just start taking the homeless to church with me, serve them communion first and see who gets angry first?

Perahps this is the lesson to teach our children. Perhaps we should stop speaking and listen to our children. For indeed, that is a sad realization. A very, very sad realization.

I miss New York

I found this poem by Tomas San Diego on Textweek. I used to go to this church. I used to live in this neighborhood. It makes me wonder about this story. The paradox of a protest in light of what is about to happen in the story. The confusion of emotion. The charge of the city and the energy that it ignites.

Today, I miss New York.


On Palm Sunday in Holy Week
i ride the A train uptown to St. John the Divine
high art gothic looming over lowly Harlem
where liturgy is divinely rendered by a bishop
wearing a purple zucchetto
and pita bread replaces the wafer
falling crumbs to the cold
concrete floor of the grand cathedral
i stoop to pick up the pale fragments
of His broken body offered as sacrifice
of praise and thanksgiving for us careless
caretakers of the Holy Mystery


In Manhattan as hard rain falls at midnight
lady artist, Jesse, poet David Henderson
and i break bread and drink wine together
talking books, cinema, politics and personalities
like Cornel West selling out to Harvard's black elite
In ecstatic conversation we celebrate the word
made flesh on Sunday nite in Mekka on Avenue A


An American President

It seems that the controversy over what kind of candidate America is ready for have died away. It was two weeks ago that there was an article in my copy of The Nation reported on the issue. Perhaps we are no longer concerned about a black president. Or worse -- a woman. Perhaps we are maturing.

But, then, as I read the continuing reports on the health of Elizabeth Edwards tonight, I wondered. The New York Times quotes Mrs. Edwards: “I expect to live a long time. I expect us to have lots and lots of years together. I do believe that. But if that’s not the case, I don’t want my legacy to be that I pulled somebody who ought to be president out of the race. It’s not fair to me, in a sense.” I have an unsettled feeling about this comment.

Please forgive me for whatever insensitivity I might imply here. My mother died of cancer. And I spent this week in the hospital with a dying patient (who apparently has not yet died -- according today's paper). I'm a little sensitive myself. But, if this seems insensitive, please forgive me. Now, without further apology, my heart wonders if Mrs. Edwards is kidding herself. In no way do I think she should reveal to the public how long the doctors expect her to live, anymore than I understand that science has all the answers. But, this comment seems naive. It seems so deliriously hopeful that I fear for both John and Elizabeth Edwards.

I wonder if our conversation as a country should focus more on the personas in leadership. Not black. Not white. Not male. Not female. Not Republican. Not Democrat. Instead, I wonder if we should wonder about the emotional stability of the person that we ask to lead us. As a culture that does not grieve, can we really be lead by the grieving? Whether or not Mrs. Edwards faces an imminent death, we do know that her cancer is incurable. It's fatal. Like all of us, she will die. But, it seems that she will die soon. We don't know how soon. Only that she will die soon. This is going to impact the lives of the Edwards family. It may cause rash choices. It may cause more conservative choices -- none of which may be political. But, this news will cloud everything that happens in every day to come in the lives of both John and Elizabeth Edwards. And so I wonder. Are we able to walk with them in their grief?

I don't know.

Chasing Tears

Since I moved to Maine, I have been crying a lot. It's one of those things that you are not supposed to admit. And I hesitate to tell most people because then I end up with a pity party on the other end of the phone, which doesn't help either. But, it's true. I have been crying a lot. I have shed many tears simply from being lonely. As one of my friends reminded me via email this week, it takes 2 years to form real friendships in a new place. I couldn't help but think about the number of associates that feel God pulling them elsewhere after two years. Is that ironic?

This week, my tears have not been as much about being lonely. Instead, I was surprised by a spurt of tears on my way to church on Wednesday morning. I had been at the hospital the night before ministering to a family. Their father and husband is dying. He collapsed of a heart attack on Monday and has been undergoing various treatments until Tuesday night, when he was put on life support. I went to visit with the family.

Obviously, it was an emotional experience. And I thought that I might cry for sadness, but that's not what happened on Wednesday morning. I cried out of the joy that this is my calling. I am called to be by bedsides. No matter how many tears I might shed. No matter how lonely I am. I am called to be right there. And now, my mind races wondering how the family is. He was taken off life support on Thursday afternoon. I know. I was there. But, he was still alive on Friday morning. I am having a tough time enjoying my weekend as I wonder how this family is doing. As I busy myself with errands, I wonder if they are beginning to make funerary plans. I suppose it is the burden and the joy of our work. But, it's hard to focus. It's hard not to curse my laundry and race to the ICU to see how they are. It's hard when you are called to be by bedsides.


Light Snow

Some snow flurries during the morning hours will give way to cloudy skies this afternoon. High around 35F. Winds W at 20 to 30 mph.

I can't believe it is snowing again. We just had a storm, and now it is snowing again. The roads are barely plowed as there was suspicion that it would all melt. But, no. It's Sunday morning. And it's snowing again. My bed is calling me like the last hymn we shall see this morning. Softly and Tenderly, my bed is calling. Come home. Come home.



I am writing the Prayer of the People for tomorrow's worship service. So, I was looking for inspiration from my trusted friends at Textweek. And they steered me toward this awful prayer that scares the holy crap out of me, which I am not going to share all of with you. You can find it yourself, if you feel so moved. I don't recommend it. Just read this part. Not as a prayer, but a concern that prayers like this might be uttered anywhere.

Sovereign Creator, we exalt you for the United States of America and all countries. We thank you for our president George W. Bush and for leaders and citizens everywhere. Bless our soldiers around the world. Make us instruments of your peace. Surround us with glad cries of deliverance. Help us to lay aside envy, resentment, and judgment so that we may focus on reconciliation and rejoicing.



A Good Movie

History repeats itself. Who was it that said that? Something about time going in cycles so that events repeat. One would think that we would learn, but somehow we instead repeat things that have already been. I'm not sure this is something that we should scold ourselves about. After all, it's why we read sacred text. There is something about the stories that we tell -- and retell and tell again -- that speaks to our very experience as human beings. Perhaps because we repeat things that have already been. Or perhaps because we need companions along the way. Perhaps we need to be reminded that the divine is indeed in this too.

Like it was for William Wilburforce. He had his faith and maybe that's what helped him through the struggles of bringing about abolition in England. Maybe. Maybe it's a little preachy for having just seen the movie Amazing Grace. But, it's what ran through my head. And isn't it so? I wonder. In the midst of Wilburforce's courtship with Barbara Spooner, where he recounts his activity in this struggle, she remarks that the tides are changing. She says something to the effect of: "And they won't be afraid anymore. And when there is no fear, there will be compassion." I thought of our current struggles toward peace and recognizing the humanity of Iraqis, Afghanis, the tortured and too many more. History repeats itself.

The other moment that struck me was a blip upon the screen. But, I never really thought about it. The camera panned over a shop in London that prominently displayed a sign declaring: "The sugar sold here has been refined by free hands." Why can't we be as proud about fair trade coffee? I admit that's my current gripe. But, I know that there are others. Too many others that we sacrifice for the luxuries we enjoy. And so, I'm thinking about things that are unrelated to my sermon. But, it's a good movie. You should see it.



I was subjected to a conversation on Friday night that has left me disturbed. Perhaps that is not the word. I'm actually a little angry. I'm angry that intelligent people can be so narrow. I'm angry on several levels.

The conversation happened at a bar in Portland. It was an innocent outing that went horribly wrong. I just wanted to go sit at a bar, eat yummy food and meet some new people. But, instead, I was met with GOP Boy. There he was. He was the first thing that I saw when I walked in. Damn it. I couldn't turn around and walk out. I had to go and pretend like it didn't bother me. I had to pretend like I hadn't decided earlier that day that I never wanted to speak to him again. Instead, I had to eat dinner with him and two of his friends at the bar. I was disappointed that this was how the evening transpired.

But, it gets worse. All three of these types are really involved politically. They are all rather active in the political realm actually. With one candidate that I support (no, not a GOP). But, the conversation was strange. As usual, GOP Boy dominated conversation. This is what I decided that I can't stand about him. He doesn't ask people how they are. I realized in this conversation with his friends that it wasn't with just me -- but all of his friends. I don't have any patience for that. But, somehow, this frustrating conversation turned to the bizarre topic of what women want. And guess who started that conversation? Yeah. So, there were several sweeping stereotypes made about women. I felt that I needed to defend my gender and I asked for support from the other female in the conversation. But, she conceded. She thought that GOP Boy was right. She actually affirmed that it was legitimate for GOP Boy to feel that he needed to be an asshole to get a girl's attention. Being a nice guy wasn't getting him anywhere. Did I mention that I was sitting right there? The girl (who as far as he was concerned) he was dating. Are you kidding?

What really annoys me about this conversation is not the affirmation that he is not someone I want in my life -- by any stretch of the imagination. But, what annoys me is that these are the people that are running our political realm. They are running our political sphere in a world where everything is either black or white. Everything is this way or that. There is no inbetween. No grey area. No exceptions to these stereotypes. These are the people that have created red against blue, Democrat against GOP, liberal against conservative. There is no nebulous space. It has all been determined by the narrow definition of who you are because you fall into a certain demographic. How depressing.


Forgive me Mother, I have sinned.

I find this meme a little silly. But, More Cows did it and I was curious. The questions were ridiculous, but I'm a sinner. I'll own that. That I can certainly own.

Greed:Very Low
Wrath:Very Low

Take the Seven Deadly Sins Quiz


Photos of the New Pastor

I arrived to the office earlier this week to find my photo (larger than all of the others) hanging on the new member bulletin board. All of the new members have their photos taken and displayed on this bulletin board. But, I was horrified to see my face smiling back at me. Not only was I having a terrible hair day on that Sunday (which reminds me that I MUST get a haircut), but I just look horrible. Yuck.

I opened my email to find more photos. These were taken on Tuesday of this past week while I was ministering with the Seafarers Friends in the ports of our city. This is a very New England ministry founded in Boston in the 1830s or so to care for the needs of sailors coming into the city ports. Then, it was the need for a safe place to stay. Now, it's to provide moral support and a ride to Walmart (yes, there was a heated conversation with the chaplain about the evils of Walmart). I am again disgusted by my appearance. But, of course, I'm sharing it with you.


Today, Tomorrow and the Next Day

Here is my sermon from this pas Sunday (which I finally edited to reflect what I actually preached). The Scritpure lesson is from Luke 13:31-35. There is a reference that is distinctive to the church. We are embarking on a Lenten journey through the NRCAT's resource Way of Torture, Way of the Cross. I have adapted it, but it's been very fruitful and profound. This is the conversation that I refer to in the sermon.

It was only ten days ago that a few of us gathered in this chancel to begin our Lenten journey. Ten days ago, we remembered that we were dust. Ashes marked our foreheads to remind us that we were created from dust. And one day, we will return to dust.

Like many of you, I did not grow up with memories of Ash Wednesday. And yet, I find these strange words to be so comforting. You were created from the dust of the earth, and to dust you shall return, the minister says as she marks your forehead with an ashen cross. I was dust. And like you, I will return to being dust. And we will always be part of God's living, breathing creation. No matter if we are dust or if we will be dust, God loves us. God created us from dust and God will lovingly mingle us with the dust of our ancestors in death.

And I need the dust. I need the dust of the earth to remind me that we are all connected. Perhaps it’s a longing that comes from calling New York City home. As much as I cherish New York, it is a place without earth. The earth is hidden underneath. Buried underneath the steel, pavement, streetlights and architecture. There is no earth to touch. To touch and remember our connection to God’s creation. To touch and remember our connection to each other. But then again, that’s the frustrating part about the city. In the city, it’s hard to make that connection.

It’s why I left New York. In all of my wanderings about the city, it was a rare event to bump into someone I knew. Most New Yorkers cherish this. There is a certain pride in the ability to travel from school to work to church to the supermarket without making a single connection. Without knowing a single person. Without having a single exchange with another human being. Instead, you make a decision to make that connection. You make a choice to go to the deli to get a cup of coffee, but really to talk to the man behind the counter about politics. Or you smile at the only other person in the subway car that is reading the Bible.

Or as it is for my friend Krista, you take the bus. Krista and I met in the earth of Appalachia. We spent a summer together getting dirty for Jesus. That was the name of the program that we used. Get dirty for Jesus. It’s a silly name, but both Krista and I came to understand in those few months living in an area that America has forgotten that we needed the dirt to find a connection. We needed to be willing to get dirty. We need the dust, even though it’s easier to make that connection in the mountains.

But, both Krista and I moved back to the city. I moved to New York and Krista moved to Jerusalem. And the “city may be the hardest place of all to recognize the presence and activity of God.” So, Krista takes the bus while she serves as a missionary in a foreign city that seems far from my realm of experience. In Jerusalem, the same city that Jesus weeps for in this strange gospel story, Krista takes the bus.

In her email last week, Krista explained the harsh reality of a flying checkpoint, where suddenly the bus taking her back home is swerved off to the side of the road and a soldier in a green khaki uniform boards the bus, carrying a very large gun. She explained how “everyone pulled out their light blue Jerusalem IDs and added them to the stack that [the soldier] was now carrying down the aisle” while Krista “slithered [her] dark blue navy passport- [her] little get out of jail free ID- out of its black holder.” The soldier didn’t give her a second glance before he disappeared off the bus with a “dozen Jerusalem IDs and one of the unlucky passengers whose ID was green, indicating that he is from the West Bank.”

Today, tomorrow and the next day, these flying checkpoints will continue to happen. And even though, I can’t quite imagine this moment of Krista sitting on the bus, her email shares her thoughts, as Krista explains:

I wondered how the man sitting in the next seat must think of me- me with my blonde hair, my new backpack, my headphones, and my passport that gets waved away at flying checkpoints… Is he angry? Frustrated? Or is he just tired?

“Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills prophets and stones those who are sent to it,” Jesus laments. Jesus weeps for this city before he has even arrived there. He is still on his way. He is still on the journey toward this city where nothing insignificant happens. Everything that happens there has profound meaning.

It is where we will end our Lenten journey. Jesus will enter this city again on a path of palm branches. This city “will turn out to be the city which refuses him – in spite of an initial, enthusiastic welcome.” But, we are still on the journey. We are still in the midst of Lent. We have not made it there yet. We can look forward to what will come – for at least in the gospel story – we know what lies ahead. We know what will come. We know what this city will bring. But, we are not there yet.

That pause is difficult. We would prefer to look ahead. After all, we are Easter people. As Barbara Johnson says, we are Easter people living in a Good Friday world. A Good Friday world where flying checkpoints happen. A Good Friday would where human connections are hard to make. A Good Friday world that makes us feel “impotent.” That was the word that I heard echoed through our first Lenten conversation on Wednesday afternoon. We feel powerless, as we look around our world. We feel we cannot do anything.

And like Jesus, we lament. We weep for the possibility that this city “might have had and might still have.” But, it’s not turning out that way. We lament that things are not as we would hope. Some of us are angry. Some of us are frustrated and some of us are just tired. And so, like Jesus, we weep. Not just for the city, New York, Jerusalem, or even Portland, but for our Good Friday world – where too many things seem to have gone wrong.

So, we name the foxes that have caused the trouble we see. And we wonder, against hope, where the prophets are. We wonder why they can’t be heard and why we feel that we cannot do enough. After all, we are Easter people. We look forward to what will come because we are filled with the hope of Easter. We look forward to the spring for we know that it will surely come after the wintery mix.

But, we are still on the journey. We are not there yet. We are still on our way. Today, tomorrow and the next day, will we weep? Today, tomorrow and the next day, will we lament the unrealized possibilities? Are the foxes too powerful? Are the prophets too silent?

No. No, not if we truly listen to the weeping Christ. The weeping Christ who embraces this ancient city that even in our Good Friday world of today still seems broken. The weeping Christ who gathers all that seems to have gone wrong under wings, like a hen gathers her brood. Even in the midst of his tears, Jesus doesn’t allow the fox or silent prophets to make him angry, frustrated or just tired.

“I must be on my way,” he says despite his tears. This is not how it will end. Easter has not yet come. But, it will. It will. This we know for sure. And no fox can stop it, even if it is usually foxes that win. Not this time.

Not even when we feel powerless and impotent. It’s hard to believe because an embrace doesn’t seem to have enough power. A hen gathering her children under wings seems like a bad opponent for the fox. Surely, the fox will win. But no, friends, not this time.

Perhaps it seems naïve. Perhaps it seems like it is not enough. Surely, an embrace cannot overcome the world that we see around us. But, I think it can. In fact, I am certain that it can. I heard it on Wednesday afternoon in Davidson Lounge. I heard it as I listened to the conversation that began with the question: What is Torture? We read three Biblical passages together, and asked some tough questions. It was the last question that I did not think we would ever get to. But, it was the question that spurred the most conversation. How do we respond? If we believe these things to be true, how do we respond?

Indeed, we must be on our way. Today, tomorrow and the next day, we will look forward because we are filled with the hope of Easter. And like Krista, we will find a way to get on the bus. And because we are Easter people, we must not lose sight of our hope. In the end of her email, Krista names this hope.

I look forward to the day when I can ride a bus and just look out the window, watching for the gradual changes in the seasons, instead of being assaulted by the political realities that are always simmering just below the surface. I look forward to a time when buses will be a tool for transportation and connection rather than further division.

In our Good Friday world, there are too many divisions. But, remember friends, the fox will not win. And we will lament. We will weep. We might find ourselves angry, frustrated or just tired. But now, get on board. Get on your bus – whatever bus you might ride. Today, tomorrow and the next day, ride your bus.


Sunday Guilty Sunday

This morning, I awoke at 6:30 (ok, I got up at 6:45) to begin my Sunday. The Men's Retreat was this weekend which means that the Senior Pastor was away with the men. I was running the show. Not only was I preaching, I was serving communion. It was my first time to serve communion (at least, in this church) all by myself. It's also the first time that I have done it alone since my ordination. And I have the appropriate reverance for communion -- you know, like church people used to have for the ordained. It's a big deal for me. But, of course, the mics didn't work so most of my words were lost as I invited, blessed and prayed. Most could not hear me yelling (as I knew that the mic was not working, so I projected as much as I could into the sanctuary). And I preached which drains every once of energy from me. And then, there was Confirmation class -- an even more draining experience that I can't wait to change next year -- followed by chats with two confirmands about their readiness to be confirmed. So, I am exhausted.

I came home to crash on my couch. After chatting with a seminary friend whom I have been playing phone tag with for literally a week, I watched some TV and napped. But, I'm still exhausted. My eyes have that heavy feeling where they can't quite stay open but won't allow me to drift into further napping rest. So, I find myself filled with guilt.

I feel like I should do something. At least, I should read the most recent copy of the Nation before the new edition arrives tomorrow. I should continue reading Obama's first book (which I am actually really enjoying), but my eyes are too heavy. I can't seem to do it. Of course, I feel guilty because reading is one of the practices that I have tried to add to my Lenten journey. I have found in my five months in the parish that I am too tired to read. No more novels. No more newspapers. No more magazines. Instead, I skim headlines and pour over church-related stuff. So, I feel guilty. Silly, isn't it?

It is not the only Lenten practice that I have adapted so I shouldn't feel so bad. As far as my other practice goes, I had a great weekend. Instead of giving something up (which I have not done for years, if ever), I have decided to push myself out. My Lenten practices are self-care oriented. It's the nourishment that I need in this period of reflection upon my own humanity. I need to be pushed out into God's world. No, I'm not doing justice though that would be nice. Instead, I'm pushing myself out to do things that I enjoy. I'm pushing myself out into my new home to meet people. And I did it this weekend. I made some new friends. So, it was a good week.

But, it's Sunday. And I'm wondering about GOPBoy. We had dinner a week ago and I have not seen him since. Though we have both been really busy, I'm not sure where things lie. And I think I'm interested... even though I went out on Thursday night with another man. Though I am a bull-headed feminist, this man did not pay for our $20 dinner. I did. Um, are you kidding? So, I'm wondering about GOPBoy who is returning from a conference this weekend and if this is actually going to go somewhere. It's funny how it can take one afternoon of being lazy on the couch to feel lonely and guilty.


Jesus Hugs

I'm writing for my sermon for Sunday while I listen to the snow fall outside (or is it rain now?). I'm having a tough time getting to the conclusion, as I seem to have ended up writing a social justice sermon. OOPS. But, this poem keeps echoing in my head. I used to read it to kids while I was serving in Appalachia. Before they ventured to the worksite, I reminded them of Jesus hugs. And all week they gave them. It worked well as a metaphor. I fear it's too cute for this sermon, but that doesn't mean you shouldn't hear it.


Have you ever had a "Jesus hug",
Do you know what one feels like?
If you've never had a "Jesus hug",
I pray one day you might.

A "Jesus hug" is different,
As far as hugging goes;
It's a little taste of Heaven,
Here on earth below.

Only those who love the Lord,
Can give a "Jesus hug";
It conveys God's grace and mercy,
And unconditional love.

Those who give out "Jesus hugs"
Always seem to somehow know
Just when you're in need of one
To make your spirit glow.

And if you ever need one
I hope that I will see,
So I can give you a "Jesus hug";
Just like someone did for me.

© 1996 Jan McIntosh