The Secret Postperson

I received more surprise mail this weekend. This time it was slipped under my office door after church. It's from Elizabeth, though I have no idea which child in our large church this might be. But, Elizabeth carefully labored over this beautiful pink construction paper masterpeice that reads:


(open card) for being a good minister
Love, Elizabeth
Do you like Pink?

It warmed my heart to get this wonderful note after worship yesterday.

But, there is a streak of vanity that plagues me. Yes, MoreCows. Me too. Bless her heart. Elizabeth drew a picture of me on the front of the card. It's a portrait just of my face -- and I'm a BRUNETTE!!!! I'm having a really hard time with the fact that my once tow-head self has become an older, mature brunette. It happened to my mother. I knew the day would come. But, must I be a brunette? It makes me want to run to the drugstore for bleach. But, then, I'm sure Elizabeth would really love her green haired minister. Sigh.


Pen Pals

When I was young, I remember being away from my friends during the summer. I spent the summers with my grandparents while some of my friends were at summer camp and others were at secret hideways. As we got older, we gladly went off to summer school (yes, I was that dorky) and explored the worlds beyond our sheltered home.

And all the while, we wrote letters. There were postcards and letters. My very oldest friend and I kept this practice up into college -- though it converted to emails rather than letters in the mail. But, there is something about getting mail. There is something about choosing the appropriate stationary and writing a letter. Perhaps it is to tell someone that you miss them or that you are thinking of them. Perhaps it is a birthday card. Perhaps it is just a note to say hi.

Today I received a letter like that in the mail. I have two friends who loathe the phone as much as I do (yes, that's why I don't call you unless I have had three glasses of wine). It doesn't mean that we don't miss each other or think of each other often. We do. And because we do -- and we love writing letters -- we have decided to be pen pals. One of my pen pals sent me a letter today. She's dating someone new she tells me. Things will be twice as magical and wonderful by the time I get her reply to my letter. And I'm just so tickled for her -- and her beautiful stationary. Oh! I just love my pen pals so much!


After the Flood

I have been waiting for the weather to change for a long time. It doesn’t feel like Easter without witnessing the resurrection of those little purple flowers from beneath the earth. It doesn’t feel like Easter until the buds on the trees start to appear. It just doesn’t feel like Easter could happen if hints of spring have not crept into my consciousness.

But, it didn’t happen this year. It snowed. It sleeted. And then, just after we celebrated the glorious event of the Resurrection, it flooded. Many of us lost our power. The worst storm to strike Maine since 1998 arrived. Alleluia!

And then, something strange happened after the storm. While we waited for power to be restored and our heat to come back on, the weather shifted dramatically. It happened suddenly, didn’t it? It happened abruptly. As all of the snow finally melted away and we helped our neighbors bail out their basements, the sun came out. Not only did the sun came out, but the people came out. People appeared on the streets. On their front steps. On their porches. In creation. In God’s creation.

As I drove through Cape Elizabeth I saw them. And then I watched others from the porch of my apartment on Saturday night, while the crooning of the radio called from inside my apartment. On Saturday night, I often tune into the Fitzgerald Theatre in St. Paul, MN. I have never been to St. Paul, or even traveled to Minnesota. I don’t really have a connection to this place. That is, until I moved to Maine. Once I moved to Maine, my understanding of the humor and wisdom of Garrison Keillor’s Prairie Home Companion became obvious. And so, I sat there listening to the News from Lake Wobegon, which concluded with Mr. Keillor remembered these words from an old friend: “I love this time early in summer when people are sitting outdoors, when it is still wonderful for them.”

And here I was sitting outdoors celebrating all that is still wonderful in our world – cherishing this new creation and this earth. I sat there on my porch this Saturday night and was reminded of the words God offered to Noah after that terrible flood so long ago: “I have set my bow in the clouds, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and the earth” (Genesis 9:13, NRSV). Peering through the rails of my porch, I did not see a rainbow. I did not see a bow in the clouds. But, I did see “every living creature” of “all future generations” enjoying the beauty of God’s creation when it is still wonderful for them. And I remembered that the storm had passed. The flood was over. And God had offered this beautiful day to remind us – “every living creature” of “all future generations” – that God has made a covenant with our earth and we are called to cherish it.


Um, I'm bleeding.

Today I learned Lesson #5462 that was missing from my seminary instruction. I'm not sure where this lesson would have been included. If it should have been slipped into feminist theologies (which was not an actual class I took, but a recurring theme) or worship or sociology or even church history. But, it was certainly missing for no one prepared me for this moment.

I was having lunch with four elder members of my congregation. Excuse me. I was having dinner with these four lovely senior members of the congregation at 2 pm in the afternoon. It was an invitation that I agreed to thinking that "dinner" meant an evening gathering at 5 pm or so allowing me time to nap instead of rushing from worship to coffee hour to youth group to "dinner" (which in my case was actually breakfast). This is an interesting lesson about New England that would have not featured in any seminary classroom discussion. But, I do find it amusing.

I was invited to share in this meal and fellowship with these four wonderful people. We laughed and giggled as we shared food. I felt myself become slightly weighed down by the very rich, very creamy food that graced our table. We chatted and talked about worship and church life. It was really a lovely meal that concluded with coffee and sweets. And then, we retired to the sitting room to continue our conversation and giggling.

As I rose from the table, I realized something unsettling. Not only was I uncomfortably full, but I became distinctly aware that if I wasn't yet bleeding, I would be soon. The kind of blood that would remove me from being in the company of some Jewish men. The kind of blood that makes me impure. The kind of blood to which some of my sisters celebrate its monthly return. The kind of blood that I dare not speak its name. And of course, this was the time that these four lovely elders of the church wanted to learn those things about me that had not yet been revealed. This was the true bonding time. And I was bleeding.

Go and get a tampon and be done with it. That's what you are thinking, right? Yes. Well, that's a lovely idea and I really would have loved to. BUT I did not have any supplies in my purse. I had nothing. And I was bleeding. Or if not exactly then, soon. I could not go to their bathroom and poke around hoping to discover some lovely feminine product. There are some emergency tactics that I suppose I could have used. But, I didn't. I sat there in my beige suit shifting awkwardly and watching the clock while conversation wondered.

And I sat there praying. Oh God. Oh God. How do I excuse myself? This has been so lovely and I would really love to stay but... Um, I'm bleeding. I prayed and prayed that I would have the sense to know what to say in this moment that was never offered in my seminary instruction. Because really, how do you excuse yourself from a group of elder women that have just finished a conversation about menopause to say that you really must rush home for a tampon? O Holy Sophia, help me now. I managed to finally excuse myself claiming that I must nap. O Holy Sophia, I think that was the wrong exit but forgive me please because I'm bleeding.


Do you believe in ghosts?

Seriously. Do you?

Recently, I have had a number of strange experiences where I think I see someone out of the corner of my eye. When I turn there is never anyone there, but I still feel like I missed someone. Or something.

And then, last night, I woke up to that same feeling. As if someone was in the apartment. I thought I heard something. But, of course, there wasn't anyone there. It could have been the wind that is still blowing after the storm. But, it's strange.

Even though it's an odd feeling -- there is something comforting about it. Perhaps it is because when I was a little girl, I was kissed good night every night by the ghost of my mother. She would come in and kiss me goodnight even after she died. She would brush my hair with her hand in that way that only a mother can and make me feel at peace. Something in me wonders if I am looking for that presence right now. Yearning for that feeling of peace.


Time Management

In my field education class in seminary, we had to do this annoying assignment of filling out an hourly chart detailing how we budget our time. The purpose of this task for us seminarian justice-seeking overachievers was to establish the fact that we need to take time for self care. Our professors were looking for that hour cup of coffee with a friend. That three hour block watching a movie and laughing with a gaggle of seminarians. That 20 minutes of reading for fun on the subway ride to church.

I failed at this assignment because I felt Big Brother's presence. I felt that I needed to prove myself to God, to professors, to classmates. In my silly competitve nature, I focused on the wrong aspect of the assignment.

Today, the church is without power. Our big, fancy, spotlessly clean church has lights and water -- but no phones or DSL. So, I was sent home. I sent myself home actually because I knew that my pretty little laptop could offer more assistance to me that any technological nightmares in the church building. But, here I am at 2 PM. I have done everything that I can think of doing -- with the exception of not reaching congregants by phone still without power. The overachiever within me wants to be the country priest. I want to deliver flashlights and blankets to my congregants who most certainly don't need it. But, at 2 PM in the afternoon on the day after a storm, I feel like I should have more to do.

The newly-formed Pastor Parish Relations Committee is talking about doing this same kind of time study that I did in seminary. They want to see how my colleague and I manage our time. I think I'm going to go to the gym for an hour and then read a couple of chapters out of Bass' book. And somehow I still feel guilty about this. Oh, and I just blogged for 15 minutes about my guilt. Imagine putting that on my time study. Sigh.

Storms make me stir crazy.


Storms of the Soul

As the rain continues to fall and the wind picks up, I'm reading the newspaper and watching the news. One of the alphabet soup channels continues to telecast a special report about the shooting that killed 31 people at Virginia Tech earlier today. And the rain continues to fall.

A friend of mine in seminary used to love to go running in the rain. The minute that the rain started to fall, she would rush into her sneakers and head to the park. I've been thinking about this friend today and her desire to want to be in the midst of the storm. Truth be told, she had enough common sense not to run when there was threat of lightening or hurricane-force winds. She is ambitious -- though not insane. I'm thinking about another friend of mine today. Another friend from seminary who has always inspired me with her willingness to be in the center of a storm. She goes to the heart of the matter. She goes where the need is greatest. Partly because her call requires it but mostly because it's just the kind of person she is.

I'm reading that the President of Sudan has accepted aid that he has previously rejected. I'm wondering about all of those people that will put on their running shoes and dash into this storm. I'm wondering about the friends and families filled with grief in and around the Virginia Tech campus. I'm wondering about the storm in the soul of this person who felt there was no alternative but to take a loaded gun into this academic institution.

This storm reminds me of another article that appeared in the New York Times a few weeks ago. The one that tells the story of Pilgrim United Church of Christ in Carlsbad, California struggling with whether or not to welcome a former sex offender into their congregation. When I first read the article, it broke my heart. It breaks my heart every time we close our doors. It hurts every time we draw thicker and thicker lines about who is in and out. In religious communities that follow the teachings of Jesus Christ, I don't understand why we aren't running into the storm. I know that it's scary. I would have encouraged my seminary friend not to go out into the hurricane force winds. Stay inside. Stay inside where it is warm and safe, I would tell her. But, in churches that are following the tradition of Jesus Christ who broke down boundaries, we shouldn't be staying in the safe, warm places. We shouldn't be so concerned about being dry. We should be running into the rain. We should be heading straight for the center of the storm. Who cares if there is lightning? This is where we are called. Right?

Aren't we called to go into Darfur? Shouldn't we be called to talk about the reality of the atrocities that are happening in our world? Shouldn't we be running into the storm looking where else our sneakers might lead? Or instead, are we becoming distant from these storms? Is the rain falling over there but not getting us wet? Shouldn't we be splashed by the waters that are drowning our sisters and brothers? Even when the storms seem far away, shouldn't we be getting wet too? Or will we just make those lines darker and thicker? Shall we create dams and levees that manage the water levels that we can handle?

It just doesn't seem quite right to me. Maybe I'm too radical. I don't know. But, then, what do we do about the Hispanic community that emigrates (legally or otherwise) into this country to find that religion is no longer important? The New York Times reports that these new residents are not going to church. They pray when they need to pray. But, they are not finding a spiritual home in an organized church. Maybe because we are not welcoming them. Maybe because we are too concerned about those dams and lines. We are not reaching out. We are not running into the storm with them. We are letting them drown.

The Extended Forecast

Today: Rain. Rain may be heavy at times. Coastal flooding near the time of high tide. Very windy with highs in the upper 30s. Northeast winds 25 to 35 mph ... with gusts up to 55 mph. Chance of rain near 100 percent.

Tonight: Rain. Windy with lows in the mid 30s. Northeast winds 15 to 25 mph with gusts up to 40 mph. Chance of rain near 100 percent.

Tuesday: Rain in the morning ... then rain likely in the afternoon. Breezy with highs in the lower 40s. Northeast winds 15 to 25 mph. Gusts up to 40 mph in the morning. Chance of rain near 100 percent.

Tuesday Night: Rain or snow showers likely. Breezy with lows in the mid 30s. Northeast winds 15 to 25 mph. Chance of precipitation 70 percent.

Wednesday: Cloudy with a 50 percent chance of rain showers. Highs in the lower 40s. Northeast winds 15 to 20 mph.

Wednesday Night: Mostly cloudy with a chance of rain and snow showers. Lows in the lower 30s. Chance of precipitation 50 percent.

It's too depressing. Even hiding on a blanket safely on the couch in my living room, I am scared I am going to blow away. This is not the day off I was hoping for. And the marathon runners are braving the elements in Boston. Yikes.


The Dating Game

"Do you want to be friends?"

I was asked this question at lunch today. It's a question that I have asked several times in the past few months. And no matter what, it feels awkward. It's one thing to date romantically. Of course, I usually avoid this question when asked this in a romantic-type situation. But, it's another thing entirely to try to meet friends where there is no alcohol or mutual friends in the mix. Not that these things are needed to make friends. It just makes it a little easier. I'm sorry. Perhaps that sounds terrible. But, it's the sad truth. These assets help in making friends.

But, when you move to a new place where you know no one: these are not tangible assets. Let me correct that. There is a plethora of alcohol, but we're not in college anymore. No one wants a bunch of drunken friends. I never really liked that then. Why would I seek that now? No, I would prefer the route of mutual friends. But, that's tricky too. First, you need to have one friend to provide the gateway to a network of friends. Then, when you find one wonderful friend, you run the risk of becoming a leech. Or a letch. Or something I would rather not be. After all, we all need our circles, right?

And it's a subtle dance between romantic dating and dating new friends. Either way you are trying something on. You're seeing if someone fits. You are seeing if there is a real connection. It could be chemistry that you are looking for. Or it could be the comfort of knowing that you could be yourself with this person. You might be looking for a lover. Or a tryst (I like that word). Or a friend. Or a girlfriend. Or someone who really gets it. And I tell you, the two are blurred. No matter what, as you sit down to the meal or drinks, there is the same nervous energy. Will s/he like me? Will I like him/her?

It sounds a little silly. But, it happened today when I had lunch with the woman that asked me this question. Several weeks ago, I met this young woman through work. It's a random string of events that are not easy to explain -- so I won't. But, suffice it to say, we met through work. After a brief conversation, we exchanged emails and said we should do "lunch." Now, in dating world, this is the safe date. This is what you do with someone you are not sure about because you are limited to one hour away from work. In the friendship world, this may also be true. I'm not sure. Our lunch lasted over a hour so perhaps that theory is shot. Or perhaps I shouldn't try to theorize. I know. You were going to say that. But, this was a friendship date. And the rules seem to be oddly similar.

Conversation was great. We talked about work -- which we are both passionate about -- and our city and dating and all kinds of other things. It was great. And then, she asked this strange question. "I know this sounds weird. But, do you want to be friends?"

It's the same moment on a date when one of the datees says, "So this was fun. Shall we do it again?" That's more complicted, I think. Of course, none of these things should really be complicated. We should just be able to laugh. To laugh out loud at the insane awkwardness of meeting new people. Will s/he like me? Will I like him/her? Laugh. Because we should. We should laugh at loud -- as we both did at lunch. We both laughed at the ridiculous nature of this question. But, it's real. The honesty of the question is so genuine. And it's still ridiculous. It's so ridiculous. And for all of this, we should laugh loudly and boldly.


Christ Follower v. Christian

This humorous little video comes from a megachurch (or what I understand to be a megachurch) in the midwest. I think there's something kinda interesting and insightful about this message -- though I'm uncomfortable with being "Christian No More." I don't quite understand our rejection of labels. Shouldn't we be trying to reclaim our labels rather than throwing them away? Isn't that what reclaiming tradition is all about?

It's a little too simple, isn't it?


The Four Hour Date

There is nothing like it. You venture into the unknown for a blind date. You agree to meet for drinks, though you have no idea what will come. Sure, you spoke on the phone for two hours on Sunday night. But, what does that mean? That doesn't mean you will actually connect with the guy. But, then you meet him for drinks. And he's actually cute. Hooray! Suddenly, four hours have passed...

Is there a better feeling?


The Miracle of Easter

Easter was never as magical as it was when I celebrated with Irene. I had never seen anything like it. The lamb would be roasting. There would be enough spanakopita lovingly prepared by Irene’s mother for a contented stomach ache. There was dancing and even an egg hunt. And it was a week later than my celebration, because Irene is Greek Orthodox.

Just as my spanakopita stomach ache started, Irene’s father appeared with his egg. He would smile slyly and challenge anyone and everyone in a traditional game of tsougrisma. There is a trick to this game that I never mastered. You are supposed to hold your egg in a certain way so that when someone (like Irene’s father) tapped your egg, it would not crack. I tried every angle imaginable to hold this egg in my fist while I waited for my opponent to tap the tip of the egg. My egg would always crack. And Irene’s father was usually responsible.

There was one year that I survived two rounds of this game before Irene cracked my egg. Alas, I still could not figure out the trick to this game. I figured it took years of practice to which I was always going to be at a disadvantage. It’s not an unfamiliar feeling. In fact, I think it is a feeling that most of us wrestle with. When there are so many terrible things going on in the world, we feel that we cannot do enough. We can’t pray enough. We feel that somehow we have been left at some disadvantage.

It was not until my second or third Greek Orthodox Easter that I realized that Irene’s father cheated. He always won because his egg was marble. Or wood. Some thing stronger than my plain old hard boiled egg. But, Easter isn’t about strength. Certainly Mary had to be strong when the other disciples questioned her and Thomas had to find his own strength, but this is not the miracle. The broken egg shell in my hand reminded me that we are all a little broken. We can all be beaten up by a stronger egg, whether it is your best friend's father or a news item on TV. But, resurrection happens in our practice. It happens in our laughter, even when we lose. It happens in that strange transformation where disciples gather to remember unexplainable events.


Moving Toward Grace

I said something aloud this weekend that scared me. And continues to scare me. I said to a friend -- two friends actually -- that I have started to entertain the thought of moving. It started as a semi-innocent thought last week or so as I wondered about the typical tenure of associate pastors. Last week, the two year blip suddenly made sense to me. I thought I would be here longer. I thought that this would last "forever" (that's not actually my word, but a member of the search commitee did actually use that word as I grimaced). And then this weekend, I told my friends that I was thinking about moving. Of course, I won't actually move. I won't quit that easily, but I am finding this first year to be harder than I thought.

Is it because I am single? Is this mantle of suddenly becoming revered too much? Is it the church? No. Well, perhaps it is some of these things, but not really. It's really just that I'm lonely and I haven't the foggiest idea what to do about it. Today is my six month anniversary in my new city. It may be delightful ironic that it is April Fool's Day. Or it might just be mean. I'm not sure.

It was also my birthday yesterday. I can safely and honestly admit that it was the worst birthday of my entire life. As friends and loved ones called to wish me birthday cheer, I sank deeper and deeper. On the eve of my birthday, I cried myself to sleep because I miss my friends. For several years, I have had my own tradition of gathering my favorite people around one table for food and wine. Last year, it was Italian food. A fabulous relatively cheap spot in New York with 12 of my favorite people. It was wonderful. I spoke with one of these friends yesterday as I weighed the pros and cons of having dinner at a restaurant alone or eating at home. Treating myself sounded like a nice idea, but this was after the third phone call and my eyes had become red and puffy.

It's too embarassing. It's too honest. It's too true. And as I start my Holy Week journey, I find myself tear-stained -- longing for grace. And I hope it will come eventually, as Anne Lamott seems to want me to believe. Right now, I feel stubborn. Even though I just started her new book (and I'm so excited she has a new book), I don't feel ready for grace. How's that for irony? I don't want to see it. I won't allow those strange moments in -- like the congregant who lunged into a hug after worship today. She patted my back as she pulled me a little closer. "I'm so, so, so glad you are here" she whispered loudly into my ear. "I just love your energy and enthusiasm. I don't know what I did without it." Grace, Anne Lamott would remind me. God might even point to that moment as well. See? See? I love you and I'm still looking out for you, rings the voice of Sophia. But, I'm not ready. I would love to move toward grace as readily as I'm able to admit that I'm thinking about physically moving my location. But, I'm not moving. Not really. I'm stuck. And I just want to move just a little closer toward grace.