Lingering Thoughts

I was all ready to go to bed. But, these thoughts are lingering with me and I can't seem to get away from them -- even in my feeble attempts toward slumber. So, I thought that I would share these thoughts so that they no longer have to be only mine. Both happened today.

The first happened just after church. One of my favorite church ladies held my hand and thanked me for my sermon. She grew up Missouri Synod Lutheran -- and though she loves our church, she struggles with the progressive politics and theology that is often espoused from the pulpit.

"That," she said, "was a great sermon." I said my feeble thank you before she added her next words.

"That was a good fundementalist sermon."

Stunned, I am. I smiled before finding the only words on my heart: "Um, I wouldn't call it fundamentalist."

"Don't argue with me," she said as she patted my hand. "It was a good sermon. I needed to hear it."

This is an interesting moment for me. This is a moment I would have never, ever expected. I went to a seminary for "heretics" and have been called one more than once. I have been vocal in my faith and my politics to the point that it was difficullt for many of the search committees that interviewed me. And now, I have preached a fundamentalist sermon. Huh. I am just stunned. Is this what happens when you are a Biblical preacher? I preach the text with subtle references to other things. Wow. What do I do with this?

And then, there was this other lingering thought from this afternoon. I was lamenting to a possible new friend (though I doubt this person will actually become a friend, or whatever he might hope to come) about the church. I said something about why we don't do something in our church. It was judgmental and perhaps a little harsh. I'll give you that. But, he said: "It doesn't seem like you really enjoy your work." Again, I was stunned as I realized something that has been very difficult for me in the endeavor of making new friends. See, his assumption was wrong. It's not that I don't love the church. I DO! I love it so much I could burst. But, I believe that the church -- as a human institution -- has a long way to go. And I'm going to love it during its arrival to this new place.

And while I'm lovin' the church, I need friends that understand the complex nature of my relationship with the church. I love the church so much that I don't think that I should have to prove it. That's not the stuff that I want to talk about usually. Usually, when I gather with friends in a safe space, I want to vent. Perhaps that's unfair to my friends. But, I want to talk about the stuff that drives me crazy. I can't do that at church. I can only do it with friends. Arg. So, this frustrated me. Thanks for listenning. Now, I'm going to try to sleep.


Prayers for the Dying

When Oscar curls up on a patient's bed and stays there, the staff knows it's time to call the family. It usually means the patient has less than four hours to live.

This is Oscar. I heard about his story on CNN this morning and then read more about it here.

I'm going to the hospital this morning to make my weekly rounds. I don't know that anyone is in the hospital this week. But, I wonder about that connection between us -- that connection that allows some of us to be with the grieving and dying in those times. I don't think of myself as serving like Oscar. My prayers have never allowed someone to make peace with dying. My presence at the bedside of the dying isn't as natural for me as it is for Oscar.

But, in these last few days where I am the only pastor before the Senior Pastor comes back to work, part of me wishes for this gift to minister like Oscar. There are members of our church family that are unwilling to talk about death -- even though it is coming soon. I wish that I could curl up by thier side and allow them to make peace. But instead, I will bury a man this afternoon who never got to make that peace. I will stand at the graveside at a private service with his angered and relieved family. And I will be thinking about Oscar.


To Do Justice

Until that equation changes, many analysts argue, nothing else will.

This is the last sentence in the New York Times article A Godsend for Darfur, or a Curse?. This last sentence makes me want to cry. It makes me wonder about hope -- and makes me wonder if my sermon on Sunday will be entirely hypocritical. But, I tend to think that the sermons we preach are the ones we most need to hear.

And I need to hear about justice (even though my sermon is not about justice). I need those moments that activate my faith by living that tenet in Micah 6:8. But, I need the study time first -- which is what my sermon is about. So, I wonder. Are any of your congregations studying water? My denomination has a couple of resources available about this topic. And I wonder about it. Have any of your churches partnered with Jewish congregations against genocide? Do you even know that the Jewish community is more active on this campaign than Christians? Do you have amazing stories to tell about it?

I wonder how it works in congregations that aren't jumping up and down about justice, but do want to do something. I'm planning on using the Dear Sudan program for Lent. And in my optimism, I hope it's too late because all of this will have changed. The entire equation will be resolved and the analysts will stop being so cynical. But, I know that won't happen even when I pray it will. But, I wonder. I wonder how we do justice and affect change. Because I believe that something will. Something will change.


Forever Young

Yesterday, a member of the church introduced me to another area clergy. I'm not sure what was expected or hoped for in this meeting. But, I felt awkward. No, I felt young. I was asked if I was married, partnered or had children. And I think I replied tersely. This question makes me feel young. Perhaps because I'm sad that I don't have these things. Perhaps because I resent that these things create a personal life for others, and I feel left out. It's the same feeling I had at Bible study last week when I articulated my own feelings. There was a pause. And then I was told that you get to an age when you outgrow these feelings.

As I prepare my sermon for Sunday, these thoughts linger with me. These thoughts make me feel like I have nothing to say. Nothing to add. No gospel to share. I'm too young.

And yet, in these moments, I too often forget how I am perceived as a young 20-something member of the clergy. I forget that those same members of the clergy that I feel awkward around see something in me. They see my fresh insight. They see my youth as a positive thing -- even when I cannot.

And because I often forget this, I ignore that my words have power. Even though I am young and I only see my youth as a hinderance, I ignore that my words are hurtful. I don't pay attention to the fact that there are so many different perspectives. I don't pay attention to the fact that the words that I preach, the words that I write, the words in my emails and the words in on my blog have more power than I can be aware of. And in this, I forget to listen. I forget to love all of those perspectives. I forget to embrace those that are challenged with making tough decisions.

So, today, I offering my blessing and support to all of these people who remind me to listen, to love and to embrace. And I hope that they feel my hug.

The Things We Do For Love

Sometimes I think that the church gets mixed up in the wrong details. Sometimes I think that we worry about things that really don't matter. And more often than not, it seems that we get most concerned about love. We worry about how God loves the world or how God defines love in the divine relationship with humanity. And sometimes, we even have the audacity to determine how humanity should celebrate the gift of love that God has given us.

I wish I had my Book of Worship now to remember the exact wording of the vow that I took at Ordination. As I imagine they are to many clergy, these vows are very important to me. I reread them when I need to focus on a bad day in ministry. I reread them and pray that I might live more deeply into these vows. But, there is one vow that has something to do with being called to guide God's people to live joyfully as God created them. That's not the right wording and if I remember it on Sunday, I will actually look it up at church. But, it's something like that. It's mixed in their with the vows to read and study and pray. To offer sacraments and preach the word. And then, the United Church of Christ reminds us that we are called to lead people on their spiritual journey -- wherever it might lead.

Now, there are dangerous places that this journey might go. You can imagine those situations yourself without my naming them. And we can all pray that we have the strength to deal with those dangerous places. We can all pray that we can lead, encourage, guide and love. After all, that's a big part of our call as clergy: to love.

And love can be dangerous. It can take some amazing turns. Some frightening and unexpected detours that we might never have planned for. This part of the journey is not only about loving others, as it is for Kate. This journey can also take us to deeper places of loving ourselves, like it has for Drew. Perhaps there is a need for boundaries so that no one is in too much danger.

But, I wonder. I wonder about our Stillspeaking God who has yet more "truth and light to shine upon God's word." I wonder if we are just not yet ready for all that God has in store for us. I wonder if those things that some of us find uncomfortable and being transgender or polyamorous are part of the audacious nature of that 16th verse in the third chapter of John that we love to quote so much. Perhaps. I admit that I'm still not sure. But, perhaps. Perhaps God loves the world so much that we are pushed to new places to explore what that kind of love might mean. Perhaps God dares us to imagine more truth and light in places that we think we have placed neat boundaries for our own safety and protection. Perhaps God calls us to be more dangerous. Perhaps.


Unanswered Prayers

I just signed a petition to Save Darfur. It's a simple request. Or at least, this is what I pray. It's a reminder to President Bush to make peacekeeping effective. Of course, it seems that peacekeeping is not something that the present administration does effectively, if at all. But, I can still pray.

The petition asks for these prayerful petitions:

1. A strong mandate to protect civilians.
2. Management of the mission by the United Nations.
3. A sufficient level of troops and police drawn from around the world.
4. Mobile resources and equipment needed for quick response across Darfur's challenging terrain.
5. A strong emphasis on civilian and humanitarian needs.
6. Sufficient funding from the international community.

And then, the reply came from the White House. Too quickly, I might add. There isn't even a glimmer of hope that this message was read. It's just an automated reply, reading:

On behalf of President Bush, thank you for your correspondence.

We appreciate hearing your views and welcome your suggestions.

Due to the large volume of e-mail received, the White House cannot respond to every message.

Thank you again for taking the time to write.


A Text With A View

Every preacher should be so lucky as to stare at this view while sitting on a hill and studying Scripture. I'm not sure what it illuminates about the text. Perhaps it only reminds us to celebrate the wonder of creation.

The view certainly doesn't help me to figure out what is going on with Mary and Martha in this week's lections. As I sat on this hill and read, I was caught by something in The Women's Bible Commentary. (You can see it in the picture.) In her steadfast reminder that Luke is a "dangerous" text for women, Jane Schaberg doesn't emphasize a duality between Mary and Martha. It's not one or the other. It seems like it is something in-between (and I love that in-between space).

At my first read on this summer day, I was drawn to Martha. And can you blame me? I'm a young clergy person struggling daily with her identity when it seems like every other Mary has it all together. (You know who I am talking about.) Of course I relate to Martha. But, as I read my dear friend Jane Schaberg, my heart changed.

She highlights verse 39b: "who sat at the Lord's feet and listened to what he was saying." This is a big deal because to sit at one's feet like this suggets that Mary is a disciple, which is a male role. Luke never refers to women as disciples. They are always passive and supporting men. There is no active role that women engage in -- or so it seems. But, here is Mary actively listening.

So, what does this mean for us to be disciples? I thought maybe I should be as active as Mary. So, I sat on the hill and listened. Perhaps that was the reminder that I needed. I heard the laughter of a picnic. The cooing of a couple too close for my own comfort. The guffaw of a child who couldn't for the life of him catch a frisbee. The sound of the sea. The movement of ships. The flutter of sails. The grinding of cars up the hill. And so I'm left to wonder in the midst of my study on this Monday afternoon, what should we be listening to? Where are we not hearing the Word of the Lord? What is the Word of the Lord saying to us when we dare to listen?

And in that nifty inbetween space, what does our listening teach us to do? If we are to listen like Mary, then what do we do like Martha? Hmmm.


Something New

"See, this is new." And that's just what we said to each other. "See, this is new," we as we struggled into our wetsuits. We had signed up for a two-hour lesson on a semi-crowded beach simply because we wanted to try something new -- something that we had never done before. Something new under the sun. And it was. It was all new. Every word to which we carefully listened was new. Every detail that our instructor "Huge" offered to explain the basics of surfing was new. "See, this is new," we continued to cheer each other on as we carried our boards into the surf.

"See, this is new," I thought to myself as I watched the horizon while lying on top of the board. Feeling the cool embrace of the sea, I knew it was my turn to try to ride a wave into the shore. "Paddlepaddlepaddle," I heard the instructor call as I pushed through the water with my arms. I could feel the wave craddle me as I tried to move to stand. And tried. And tried. And tried. And tried.

But, without feeling discouraged or disappointed, I thought, "See, this is new." This afternoon of being cradled by the waves interrupted my routine. I had dared to do something unexpected. I had tried to do something that I had never done before. It's all I could think about while I waited for the next wave to carry me awkwardly back to shore. I would try again. And I would fall. But in between these ungraceful rides, I watched the horizon and I remembered all of those times that I talked about things I could have done. I thought about what has been and how we always do it. I choked on my laughter inhaling salt water as I fell off the board again and again and again. I laughed to myself, thinking "See, this is new." And though I doubt you will find me at Higgins Beach hanging ten, I was reminded to continue to push myself to say "See, this is new."

When was the last time that you echoed the words in the wisdom of our tradition, "See, this is new?" (Eccl. 1:10, NRSV). I found my voice echo those words amid the waves. No matter how many times I fell off the board. No matter how much salt water I swallowed, I had echoed these words from the wisdom of Ecclesiastes. I felt that echo one last time with every grateful step I took upon the sand steadying my legs after my two hour lesson. "See, this is new." It was new. It was different. It wasn't like last Friday and it wouldn't be like next Friday. But, it had changed what had been and what was done. Perhaps there was indeed something new under the sun. Perhaps I only needed to take a risk to do something new to realize it.


Mosquito Bites & Pacifism

This afternoon as I was driving home from church, I was itching my mosquito bite. The one that mysteriously appeared on my thigh while I was at Pilgrim Lodge last week. The one that appeared even though I was in long pants all week. The one that I can't stop scratching.

As I tried to talk myself out of scratching and gazed past the bug splattered on my windsheild, I thought of the 12-year old girl who informed me matter-of-factly last week that she had never killed anything. She's a vegetarian because she can't imagine eating anything with a brain. I had just swatted an mosquito when she told me this. "Not even a mosquito?" I asked.

Her reply was steadfast. She's never killed a single living thing -- not intentionally, not ever. I was surprised and startled by my own reaction. I believe in a world at peace. I believe in that world with my whole heart. But, am I really taking those small steps in my own life? With those daily encounters I have, am I offering peace to my sisters and brothers? Or does my disregard for mosquitoes reflect my own interaction in the world?

An email arrived in my inbox this afternoon from a congregant who thought I had been harsh. I remember the conversation, as it was only a week ago. It was a quick interaction after a Friday night event at the church that had discouraged me. I had just received two negative comments. "Where was the rest of the church?" "This wasn't exactly what I had expected." And I already felt badly about the event when this congregant asked me a question while I was talking to someone else. I hate when people interrupt conversations. But, he did. And today, I got an email from him inferring that my reply to his question was telling him to go to hell. He didn't say that -- but he inferred it in no uncertain terms. His email explained that he had spoken to the Senior Minister while I was away. Though he was clear that he wanted to heal the relationship (my words, not his), I feel defeated. I feel like I squashed a mosquito and failed to make peace.