Words of Wisdom

After my first weekend away since I arrived at my call, I spent this morning visiting. I went to coffee with one congregant and then went to the hospital. It's nearly one o'clock in the afternoon, and this seems like a good time to arrive at church to blog.

There are still images that flash through my mind from this weekend. Stirring my soul. Creeping into my thoughts. Haunting me, actually. When I arrived at JFK, I zipped over the terminal on the AirTrain and watched a car burst into flames. The train was paused long enough for me to watch as the car continued to burn, engulfed in the flames. My nerves grew tense as I thought about national security and tried to catch the haunted looks of others on the train.

The following morning at about 4 am, I snuck to the bathroom on my old seminary dorm floor where I was staying that night in an extra room. (I am a master at couch surfing when I visit New York.) I heard my name called down the hall only to be greeted by one of my dearest friends. She was having heart palpatations, so we went to the emergency room. And we sat as tests were done to assure that she was in fact well. A baby made our stay last longer. We heard rumors of trauma. We overheard whispers as the stepfather of this young child was interviewed. And then, we saw the gurney with the child wheeled into another room for the grieving family to say goodbye. I sat outside of the x-ray room waiting for my dear friend as I heard the mother enter the room and burst into haunting wails. Cries of protest. Cries of lament and disbelief.

I don't know what to say about these things. Are they just things that happened? Or is there something there? Is there meaning to be discovered in the haunting of their memory? I don't know. And yet, as I open my mail this afternoon when I arrived so late to church, I was surprised a card from a confirmand. A confirmand who perhaps has written the words that find meaning in the stories we do not know what to do with:

Dear Pastor,
Thank you for all of the words of wisdom. Hopefully, I will receive more as time passes.


Another Beer, Please.

My fabulous new friend and I went to a beer tasting at a community theatre in town tonight. My fabulous new friend is someone that I met through church -- in a strange and confusing way. In fact, you can read about her here. She shares the wisdom of being professional and separating work from social life.

And yet, there we were. Two young and fun women out on the prowl. We can both work a room. We can charm the pants off of our donors and congregants (though she is not the church leading type). We know how to do this -- except when it comes to our personal lives. We are shy. We want the cute boys to come to us (I loved that she admitted this).

I started talking to a young woman who is employed at the brewery whose beer we were sampling. I was apparently dressed up as she commented on this. I explained that I had come from work. Of course, she asked where I work. I thought I might get away with this by giving the location of the place. No such luck. Soon, it unfolded that I am a minister. She was tickled. She is thinking about a call to ministry. She has been looking for a church home. And then, it happened. I found myself evangelizing to this young woman when I was trying to make friends. The social and professional boundaries were blurred. I directed her to the church website and told her to call me with promises of a cup of coffee. Thoughts of emergent ministry flashed through my head. Is this what being visible in the community is all about? Really?

And then, I turned to my new fabulous friend and said: I need beer. I just evangelized. I need another beer.


Good Preachin'

Songbird offered the most wonderful sermon at my installation today. The themes were beautiful. The images were magical. I propose her as the speaker for the Big Event -- she would be awesome!

And if you can believe it, there we are. The preacher and me at the Installation. This photo makes me giggle. I am NOT that much taller than Songbird. AT ALL. I am in awesome new heels that are too pointy and too high for the taste of most in my congregation. But, I love them. However, they make me look much taller than my dear Songbird. And this, my friends, is just not true.


A Benediction

Tomorrow, I will be installed into the church I serve by the love and care of the Association of my denomination that affirms our covenant together. Songbird will preach -- and having heard very, very little about her preparation, I'm so excited to hear what will come.

At the end of the service, after we have fully meditated on everything that could possibly relate to fish from our prayerful exploration of John 21:1-6, I will offer these words to send us on our way (or as it may be, into our covenant):

Cast your net out.
To the right side of the boat.
You will find some.
Swimming as if they were streaming toward –
not us, exactly,
but what they’ll be
Soon they’ll swim out
into separate waters,
but for now they’re
shoulder to shoulder
One can actually see them transpiring.
Cast out your net, and swim.
Swim forward for God already sees it all.


Sacred Journeys

I need some help. Last night, I met with the women's spirituality group to see where we would go with this circle. They want to begin by exploring their faith journeys, but want some direction of how to articulate this journey other than giving the Inquirer's Meeting introduction. I can only think of Sue Monk Kidd, which isn't exactly right. Do you know of any other women that offer help in articulating this? Please HELP ME!

Oh, and I'm getting nasty emails from a congregant who thinks my youth ministry is not effective. I want to cry. But, instead, I'm going to the 90 year old birthday party that smells so good downstairs.


An Obituary

Sometime this afternoon, Rev. Jerry Falwell breathed his last breath and left our world. For all of those that grieve this loss, I hope that the love of God surrounds them. I hope that the peace of Christ uplifts every child that mourns this day.

But, for me, I'm in shock. I wonder how the Holy Spirit will sustain us. What will modern Christianity -- with all of the divisions that have been created -- look forward to? Where will the grace of the Spirit guide us as we bid farewell to this servant? It is my humble prayer that the divisions imposed and upheld by the Moral Majority might dissolve with the passage of time. It is my simple prayer that we seek to find more ways to the church universal -- in the spirit of Pentecost.

I uplift these prayers to God who now cradles the Rev. Jerry Falwell in her arms. May God grant us all peace that surpasses understanding.


An Appeal for Mom

While driving south this weekend, I was listening to the local NPR affiliate in another state. There was an appeal by the host reflecting upon a fist fight that had taken place at a theatre that week in the area. Someone wasn't quiet and another decided this was a valid reason to slug the noisemaker. A fight exploded. The performance on stage stopped. All attention was focused upon these two people throwing punches at each other in the midst of the theatre.

And the host appealed to the listening audience across the radio airwaves. She reminded us that though it was President Wilson who pronounced Mother's Day to be a national holiday, he was not the genesis of this day to honor our mothers. In fact, inklings of the first the holiday began long before President Wilson. It happened in 1870 just after the Civil War. It began with the words of feminist, reformer, and writer Julia Ward Howe. She proclaimed the first Mother's Day with these words:

Arise, then, women of this day! Arise, all women who have hearts, whether your baptism be that of water or tears!

Say firmly: "We will not have great questions decided by irrelevant agencies. Our husbands shall not come to us, reeking with carnage, for caresses and applause. Our sons shall not be taken from us to unlearn all that we have taught them of charity, mercy and patience. We women of one country will be too tender of those of another to allow our sons to be trained to injure theirs."

From the bosom of the devastated earth, a voice goes up with our own. It says, "Disarm, Disarm!"

On the local NPR affiliate, the host asked these theatre goers to disarm. She echoed the words of Julia Ward Howe. These words startled me. Not only because I had never heard the story before, but perhaps because it seems so odd that this holiday was proclaimed as a demand for disarmament and peace. And yet, no one seems to be listening to Mom.



This commercial just disturbed my peace. I'm doing a funeral in the morning in which the widow requested that the service be "short." I heard the same thing in the wedding that I did early this year. Why don't we care about ritual? Why don't we celebrate these moments as the grace-filled moments they are? Why don't we allow God the space and time to bless them?

Oooooooh. It frustrates me.

The Stowe Pew

This morning, I sat in the pew where Harriet Beecher Stowe had the vision of how the title character in Uncle Tom's Cabin would die. While I was visiting with an area colleague, I learned a little about this historic church where she serves. And I sat in this pew where a famous author was inspired. And wouldn't you be inspired by that chancel? We laughed at how atypical it is for a Congregational church, but it sure is pretty. The glare in the picture is distracting, but you get the idea.

You can imagine Ms. Stowe sitting off to the left there after the worship service. She was attending the communion service that was after the morning worship service. Instead of serving communion for all during the morning worship service, the communion service in New England was reserved for afterward because communion was reserved only for the members. As much as this bothers me, I have to wonder what happened in that communion service where Ms. Stowe sat in that pew and had this vision.

Wikipedia tells me that the Second Slave Fugitive Act of 1850 had just passed. Ms. Stowe was inspired by the story of Josiah Henson, an African-American who lived and worked on a 3,700–acre tobacco plantation in North Bethesda, Maryland owned by Isaac Riley. He sought freedom in Canada and helped others make the same journey. I wonder if all of these thoughts were already in Ms. Stowe's mind when she heard the words of invitation to be welcomed at Christ's table.

After the communion service, Ms. Stowe went home to write the last chapter of the book. I have never read the book, and don't know how the story begins or ends. Luckily, the full text of the book is available online. The last few paragraphs of the last chapter read like this:

"My good friends," said George, as soon as he could get a silence, "there'll be no need for you to leave me. The place wants as many hands to work it as it did before. We need the same about the house that we did before. But, you are now free men and free women. I shall pay you wages for your work, such as we shall agree on. The advantage is, that in case of my getting in debt, or dying,—things that might happen,—you cannot now be taken up and sold. I expect to carry on the estate, and to teach you what, perhaps, it will take you some time to learn,—how to use the rights I give you as free men and women. I expect you to be good, and willing to learn; and I trust in God that I shall be faithful, and willing to teach. And now, my friends, look up, and thank God for the blessing of freedom."

An aged, partriarchal negro, who had grown gray and blind on the estate, now rose, and, lifting his trembling hand said, "Let us give thanks unto the Lord!" As all kneeled by one consent, a more touching and hearty Te Deum never ascended to heaven, though borne on the peal of organ, bell and cannon, than came from that honest old heart.

On rising, another struck up a Methodist hymn, of which the burden was,

"The year of Jubilee is come,—
Return, ye ransomed sinners, home."

"One thing more," said George, as he stopped the congratulations of the throng; "you all remember our good old Uncle Tom?"

George here gave a short narration of the scene of his death, and of his loving farewell to all on the place, and added,

"It was on his grave, my friends, that I resolved, before God, that I would never own another slave, while it was possible to free him; that nobody, through me, should ever run the risk of being parted from home and friends, and dying on a lonely plantation, as he died. So, when you rejoice in your freedom, think that you owe it to that good old soul, and pay it back in kindness to his wife and children. Think of your freedom, every time you see UNCLE TOM'S CABIN; and let it be a memorial to put you all in mind to follow in his steps, and be honest and faithful and Christian as he was."

Even though her stereotypes of the "happy darky," "mammy" and other horrible portrayals of African American people as human beings infuritates me (as it does others), I hear her prophetic words for 1850. I hear Ms. Stowe struggling for justice and wonder what she heard in the words of institution. I wonder what she saw in the broken bread. I wonder how the cup of salvation tasted upon her tongue. I wonder what happened in that sacred space that day. And I wonder if she heard the words of Galatians 3.28:

There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.


High and Low

This youth group game annoys me -- though I often use it on mission trips. It seems to work in that context best. But then again, it works for today. My day was marked by my high and low. Actually, I'm not even sure I can limit my answer to the silly youth group question to one answer. But, here it goes.

HIGH: The confirmands (who became members today) lead us in worship this morning. This was a new thing for this church. They are not used to anyone leading worship other than the clergy, so to see youth in this role was a little earth shattering.

There were two highs in worship. The first was after three of our confirmand ladies lead the Children's Sermon. The shy girl among the trio handed me the mic after the sermon and said: "I rocked that prayer." And she did. I laughed aloud.

The other high during worship was when another confirmand preached on Revelation 21:1-6. He mumbled a bit, but he caught the groove in the end and cracked a joke that wasn't scripted. And the sermon was awesome. I'm so proud.

And though you are only supposed to offer one high and one low, I'm going to add a third high. I attended the surprise bridal shower of the young woman that just joined the church. She's been an active new member and has been helping out with the youth program. And I gathered today with others that love her to celebrate her new beginning in love. She and her partner will be blessed by the church (though not the state) in two weeks. Blessings upon them.

LOW: My well-intentioned conversation about the Will of God crashed and burned at youth group. It was awful. There was no redeeming it. It felt as though that hour was a complete waste of time -- though the kids caught up with each other. And when I attempted to try to plan for the summer, they were so resistant that I couldn't help feel hurt. Maybe I'm not hurt. Maybe I'm angry. Or perhaps frustrated. Sigh.


Be afraid

So, I found something fun on the internet that may entertain me for hours. Or may provide the perfect comeback to the congregant that is driving me crazy. It's the Bible Curse Generator.

I probably won't get to use this on my congregants -- not soon anyhow. Apparently, a young woman who I had dinner last week ran into some church members and they got to talking about me. Gulp. These church members told said new friend that they were really excited that I am here at this church. They are eager for change and hope that I will bring it. Gulp gulp. This information was relayed to me tonight through another friend.

The problem is: I don't know who these church members were. And my bigger concern is that we are shifting toward a non-pastor centered governance model. So the change can't be me. It will be all of the people in the pews. I will be the cheerleader. Perhaps a pushy, opinionated cheerleader, but a cheerleader nonetheless. Sigh.

The Misuse of Darwin

The New York Times proposes an interesting question today: "Does Darwinian theory undermine conservative notions of religion and morality or does it actually support conservative philosophy?"

The article appears to be a little biased, like here: "For some conservatives, accepting Darwin undercuts religious faith and produces an amoral, materialistic worldview that easily embraces abortion, embryonic stem cell research and other practices they abhor. As an alternative to Darwin, many advocate intelligent design, which holds that life is so intricately organized that only an intelligent power could have created it." But, I'm not so uncomfortable with this bias. I don't really understand the basic understanding of the world that doesn't include science, so this statement makes sense to me. And yet, I still wonder about this initial question posed by my hometown paper.

The fact that the theories of Darwin could be used to support idealogical values doesn't exactly add up for me. Then again, it's been a long time that I've really read up on Darwin. And my limited memory of "survival of the fittest" doesn't fit with what I want to understand about the political divides that currently exist in our country.

I don't know. I think I need more coffee.


Poem for the Day

I'm looking for a poem for my installation at the church in a few weeks. And though I will not use this as it doesn't fit with any sort of thematic or liturgical movement called for an installation in my beloved denomination, I really like this poem so I'm going to share it with you.

Wage Peace
By Judyth Hill

Wage peace with your breath.
Breathe in firemen and rubble,
breathe out whole buildings
and flocks of redwing blackbirds.

Breathe in terrorists and breathe out sleeping children
and freshly mown fields.
Breathe in confusion and breathe out maple trees.
Breathe in the fallen
and breathe out lifelong friendships intact.

Wage peace with your listening:
hearing sirens, pray loud.
Remember your tools:
flower seeds, clothes pins, clean rivers.

Make soup.
Play music, learn the word for thank you in three languages.
Learn to knit, and make a hat.
Think of chaos as dancing raspberries,
imagine grief as the outbreath of beauty
or the gesture of fish.
Swim for the other side.
Wage peace.

Never has the world seemed so fresh and precious.
have a cup of tea and rejoice.
Act as if armistice has already arrived.
Celebrate today.


The Will of God

Our last gathering with the spirited and opinionated senior high youth at church was right after Virginia Tech. It was also right after we had experienced a storm and many had lost power, among other things. It was the worst storm since 1998. So, our conversation on this afternoon with youth was about disaster. The conversation took some interesting turns that surprised me (and delighted me). I wish I could remember the details to share them with you now. But, my brain remembers the looks on the kids faces, not as much the words out of their mouths. Curses! It's one problem of being a visual learner and rarely taking notes.

This week, we will be talking about the will of God because that was where our conversation lead. One of my faithful youth quoted that famous prayer, "thy will be done." I hate when these words are used in this way. Perhaps I am too much of a control freak. Or perhaps I believe too strongly that we co-create with God. Or perhaps I'm just really, really stubborn. It remains to be seen.

I think I will start our conversation (which never starts with the Bible because they resist it) with the Letter to the Romans. I'm a Scripture kinda gal. I need it. So, we're going to start here. And one of my charming friends pushed me into the scary and uncertain territory of the Pauline epistles. So, here we go with Romans 9.14: "What then are we to say? Is there injustice on God's part? By no means!"

But, I can't decide. Does it not matter about human will or exertion, as much as the mercy of God? Is it that we are more concerned about what we SHOULD do rather than our actual actions? Will is separate from our own actions -- from what we actually do. These are actually more the words of my charming friend that pushed Paul upon me. I am the clay arguing with the potter right now.

I wish that I could actually finish these details on Thursday so that I might have two days off. But, no, I will ponder this all weekend. Any ideas?



Eventually, I will become a techie wiz and know how to embed this image into my sidebar. But, I'm still a just clueless one that wants to get the word out so it will have to reside in a post for now.

I am going -- and you should too (if you are under 35)!

See, it took an entire remodeling of my blog for it to happen, and I still can't get the darn thing to actually shrink to fit the box over there. Thanks Songbird!

Father Knows Best

Or men do. Somehow, men seem to get to make the final decisions. There are some women -- of various ages -- that even defer to the wisdom of men. And there are men that assert their own opinions over others. Thank you, Mr. President.

Our men in power seem to be making destructive decisions -- decisions that will alter and perhaps erase history. So it is with the history of Roe v. Wade at least. I offer the words of another Nation article, this editorial penned by Katha Pollitt:

"Beyond all this, it's flatly outrageous that five men--five devout Catholic men, 56 percent of the court--can impose their will on women's bodies, talking about "anatomical landmarks" as if a woman's reproductive system were some kind of national park. None of them will ever be pregnant or want or need an abortion. That should have made them humble. I wonder if anyone reading this will live to see a Supreme Court in which a five-woman majority rules on an issue in which the reproductive lives of men, and only men, are at stake. Right now, Ruth Bader Ginsburg is all alone up there, watching her legacy go up in smoke."

Father might know best, but I've always been listening for Mother. Even when she wasn't around to offer her insight. Even when I could hear her -- because I knew that her legacy mattered as much as my own. What legacy will we leave?


How Can We Mourn?

At my Clergy Support Group today (which is really a support group for one individual where the rest of us appear to have no issues whatsoever), our moderator initiated a conversation about systems. I was so excited. As my congregation is about to go through a dramatic shift in our governance structure, I have been thinking a lot about systems. I thought this might be a wonderful opportunity to vent and discuss. Nope. SPLAT! The conversation fell flat. Needless to say, I was disappointed.

While on the treadmill tonight, I tried to multi-task. I'm not very good at reading and running. But, I have been terrible about reading The Nation and I really wanted to catch up. So, I brought this week's copy along. I actually squealed with delight (to the dismay of my fellow gym goers) when I read Bruce Shapiro's article. He names exactly what I have stuggled to articulate since the Virginia Tech tragedy. Don't worry. I will share. He concludes and I quote,

"The point is not to excoriate an individual university president or police officer or judge but to ask: Why didn't any of you connect the dots? That is an issue of social ethics as much as of specific policies; it is what unites the failure of gun laws and the failure of the mental health system. It reflects an ideology divorced from consequence as surely as the Iraq War or the betrayal of New Orleans. The demand the Virginia Tech massacre places on the school, on Virginia, on all of us, is simple: Only connect."

It's brilliant, isn't it?

It's why I don't think we can really mourn the tragedy in Virginia (or Katrina or 9/11...). Because when we don't understand what happened. We know the results, but we don't really understand what lead to the end results.

It's what I have learned in my own grief. I need to know the gory details of how she died, not only for my own health. But because without those details, I can't grieve. That knowledge was kept from me as a child. I was just told that mommy died. I wasn't offered any information beyond that and it wasn't until later in life when I could put together the peices that I was able to finally begin mourning the loss of my mother.

And this, dear friends, is why we must understand what happened. We must talk about those things that make us uncomfortable in order to heal. We must talk about these systems so that we can figure out how in the world we might change them.

Only then can there be a new heaven and a new earth. Then, we will pave the streets with gold. Oh! I can't wait.