Remember Me

When only one person appeared for Bible Study this afternoon, I announced that I would need to leave early. I needed to worship. I needed to run for the hills -- but the best thing that I could do at that moment was go to worship. I wondered if it would be wiser to go the beach and cry -- but I already knew that my prayers were paralyzed. I needed others. I needed a community that didn't know my problems but would sing the Spirit around me. So, I went to sing with the Episcopalians at their Wednesday night Taize service.

I was still late -- despite my best efforts. And even still, once I settled into the hard wooden pew of the chapel, I started to cry. And it just came in that way that tears come. I cried as I croaked lyrics. I sniffled as I sang. I needed to be in prayer today because I don't know what to do with the news that I recieved yesterday. With the mammograms and delayed travel, I was really beginning to feel pretty great -- until yesterday. Things were pretty fantastic until I learned what was happening at home. I wonder if it's even appropriate to post on my blog. I wonder if I should reserve my feelings and not share the deepest sorrow I have felt in a long time. And though I shall reserve my boundaries for my congregation, I need to share this truth somewhere. I need somewhere to say -- other than to God -- that I have no idea what to do with this. So, I sang this chant:

Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom
Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom

This is not a chant we commonly sing at this ecumenical gathering -- but it is my favorite. I understand the Scriptural reference and what this refrain for our vision of eternity. And yet, I have always thought this verse has more to do with calling to Jesus to coax us into what we believe to be possible. Make the kingdom (ahem, realm) possible in our hands. Show us how! Show us how! Remember us as you share your vision! This is how I have always sung this chant. This is how I have always understood it -- until today. The universalist theologian in me that believes that everyone will be remembered was forced to pause. And here is the crux of my fears: my brother attempted to take his life earlier this week. I don't know what to do with this reality. I don't know how to pray -- but I want him to be remembered. I want Jesus to be there even if that's the last person my brother wants to be there.

My chants were riddled with this plea. I want my brother to taste this grace -- even though I know it is so far outside of his realm. My chant was for hope and peace. I didn't find either in this moment of prayer. I want both peace and hope and yet I don't know how they might be realized. So, I pray for Jesus to remember us -- all of us.


A Hidden Blessing

Let go.
Let God.

Though I have no idea who first said these words or why, they have been on my mind these past few days. They were said to me right before I left for my jaunt to the Midwest. I believe I even said them to the Senior Pastor in the midst of his recent struggles. These familiar and appropriate words even appeared on a church sign (because there are a lot of those in the Midwest). That still small voice wants me to hear these words.

Of course, all of this repetition didn't smack me until I zoomed from one airport to the next to try to be home in time for Sunday worship. I was eager if not determined to make it home. I wanted to be in church. I did. I really wanted to be in church. I had taken these few days to unwind with old friends that knew me before I became Pastor Peters. I knew that I needed to embrace this mantra. It's what made me take this little mini-vacation in October. I thought I had slowed down. I thought that I had completely abandoned my inner New Yorker pushing me to overdrive. I thought that she was gone -- until the knots in my back appeared and I found myself staring at the airport monitor.

I did what you are supposed to do in these moments. I called a friend. I told her I was stranded in her city. I wanted to wait and see if I could get on this flight. And of course, the Lord of the Airport laughed and reminded me:
Let go.
Let God.

I won't be in church tomorrow. I won't be at the denominational meeting to follow. I won't be there for the many things that perhaps should demand my attention. Instead, I booked a morning flight and came to have a beer with friend.


A Place for Fairies

In the midst of the woods yesterday, Songbird and I made a place for fairies. I don't know where this tradition came from but there are several places in Maine which have been claimed as Fairy Villages. In these communities, folks are welcomed to create natural shelters for the fairies that call this place home.

So this is what Songbird and I did after the dreaded appointment where I didn't actually get a mammogram. Teri sent me a text message telling me that it was National Mammogram Day and sending love. It would have been too obvious for me to get a mammogram on this day. I had a wonderful consultation with a fantastic nurse who listened, affirmed and advised me. I have a plan. I know what my care will include. I will be getting a digital mammogram in February -- which will make the whole month of February miserable (it's the anniversary of Mom's death).

Clutching my Starbucks cup that makes my breasts lumpier (I don't care), I held Songbird's hand as we admired our shelter for the fairies. It was fragile and gentle. It wouldn't have weathered a strong breeze -- but it was beautiful. It felt like a safe space which it was. I got to cry and tell stories about my mom. I got to feel that magic is still possible. I got to feel that magic in the words of my praying friend. We laughed and cried and talked about family. It was magic. It was a place for fairies -- fairies like me and Songbird.

We made that special place in the woods for magic to still be possible. As so many other friends have, Songbird reminded me to believe in magic. In her words and her knowing smile, she affirmed my need to believe that magic is still out there even when cancer looms. I want to thank all of the fairies out there. Many of you have been reading and commenting. Some of you have sent emails that made me cry. Someone even sent me a Save the Tatas tshirt. Thank you to all of the fairies that have been my magic in these past few weeks. Thank you so much.


Teaching Youth

I'm planning for our next Confirmation class right now -- which will focus on the meaning of the Sacraments. I thought I would start with a little Buechner (whom I adore) and define what these things are. In his words,

A sacrament is when something holy happens. It is transparent time, time which you can see through to something deep inside time.

Generally speaking, Protestants have two official sacraments (the Lord's Supper, Baptism) and Roman Catholics these two plus five others (Confirmation, Penance, Extreme Unction, Ordination, and Matrimony). In other words, at such milestone moments as seeing a baby baptized or being baptized yourself, confessing your sins, getting married, dying, you are apt to catch a glimpse of the almost unbearable preciousness and mystery of life.

Needless to say, church isn't the only place where the holy happens. Sacramental moments can occur at any moment, any place, and to anybody. Watching something get born. Making love.

Wait. Stop. Can I say that to 14 year olds? Making love? Have you heard about what is happening in Portland today? Let me clue you in. My grandmother sent me an email to ask what was wrong with my city. One of the middle schools wants to give out birth control to their students. I'm not kidding. Sometimes I wish I were. Read all about it here.

My confirmands are not middle schoolers. Nor do they attend this particular middle school on the other side of the bridge. But, can I say this? Really? The rest is so good. The whole thing is so good. I just love me some Buechner. See, it continues on page 101 of Wishful Thinking:

A high-school graduation.

See? See? That's relevant to kids -- even if they are freshman. Sorry. I'll stop interrupting. Buechner has the floor:

Somebody coming to see you when you're sick. A meal with people you love. Looking into a stranger's eyes and finding out he's not a stranger.

If we weren't blind as bats, we might see that life itself is sacramental.

Am I being blind as a bat? Is the whole city of Portland? Are our middle schoolers? Tricky territory, I tell you.


More Glee

Several clergy in our association of the United Church of Christ gathered today in the center of the city. Inspired by the monks in Burma, we thought it was important to dress in our vestments and stand vigil for peace. It was a wonderful hour. We'll be there every week for one hour -- until the war ends. There were jokes about LL Bean making down robes for us (you know, because it's cold up here). Laughter in the midst of our fears is a wonderful release, isn't it?

Do you remember that song from Mary Poppins? An innocent tea party with Uncle Albert turns into quite the scene. Mary is obviously peeved (even though she sings a refrain). Bert gets into trouble with his heart's desire because he gets swept in the moment. And everyone sings:

The more I laugh
The more I fill with glee
And the more the glee
The more I'm a merrier me
It's embarrassing!
The more I'm a merrier me!

I want to be the merrier me. In the midst of my conversation about feminism with the New Girls, we talked about this desire. Did you hear this? The Wharton School of UPenn says that men are happier than women. It's because men play more than we do. I'm not so sure. I'm also not sure that I'm willing to accept the definitions of feminism that others claim. I'm not sure that my lack of happiness has to do with overwhelming obligation. Now, my clergy sisters, I know that our work is hard. I know that there is a lot that is demanded of us. I know. And yet, I believe in play. I don't want my work to define me (even though I struggle daily with this). I believe in friends and laughter and merriment. I require these things, don't you? And I'll admit it. Most of my friends, laughter and merriment does not come from church. Some of it. I find my work very, very rewarding -- but it is not what sends me to the ceiling giggling like Bert.

So I'm trying to glee in difficult moments. I'm trying to laugh at injustice -- not because I think it's funny but perhaps because that it part of making peace. I'm trying to be brave and laugh at the things that I don't think are the least bit funny. You know, like war and breast cancer. On Friday, I will try to laugh with Songbird as we make a fairy house on Mackworth Island. I will try to giggle and remember what it was like to be a child without focusing on the pain and loss. I will try to be filled with more glee.



I have many things on my mind right now. Some of them are related to my previous post. I was reading a lot this weekend. The book that fits in my purse is Borg and Wright's The Meaning of Jesus. Ironically, I was reading Wright which further confirmed my sentiments to the previous post. Even while reading the more "conservative" theologian, I can confirm that I'm heretical. How do you like dem apples?

As you know, this is the week of the mammogram. That's on my mind. I have a plan but haven't called Songbird to ask her if she'll join me. I'll tell you about it later. Songbird, if I haven't yet called you, it means that I'm going to have lots to talk about on Wednesday when I see you. Wednesday is when we have our clergy lady group. I wonder if it's unwise to post that. Ah well. I'm having an issue at church that seems like a non-issue in most ways. I'm kicking ass. God has put me in the right place. I know this is where I'm supposed to be -- and I look forward to the things that we are going to do together. I just got a little giddy thinking about it. And yet, there is an issue. I'm not sure how to handle it. I welcome all prayers for clarity.

I listened to a lot of music this weekend. I went to a classical concert on Friday night. I heard piano music that was mind-blowing... in Maine. (I'm still a New York snob sometimes.) And then, I went to hear jazz on Saturday night. There is no jazz in Maine. I've missed jazz. Really missed jazz. So, there has been a lot of music. Lots of sound. Lots of noise bopping around in my head -- which has made me think a lot about silence.

What do you think about silence? This is a sincere question -- and I am looking for answers, please. Do you need silence to pray? Do you need silence to center? Do you need silence when you wish the theologically-problematic anthem is being sung in worship? Do you crave it? Is it something you seek? Does it need to be broken up by music or sound? What does silence mean to you?


One Lord and Savior

I had lunch today with a member of the church that has drifted. I met her at the soup kitchen on Saturday night. She was once very involved and committed -- and has wandered away. I was delighted by her. And as she is also unemployed, I offered to feed her. I didn't realize that I would be blessed by amazing conversation.

She has drifted because she is on a spiritual journey. She has started to practice shamanism with a local Native American tribe and has found it life-giving. I can't say that I blame her. As one that worships with other communities when I need to be spiritually charged, I relate. She still loves Jesus. And yet, in her wandering, she was told that at the end of the day she had to proclaim Jesus as Lord and Savior to continue membership in the church.

These words stung for me. I know that this is important to our faith. It's foundational to my ordination. And yet, it seems that so many of us wander. In our spiritual hodge podge, we find various practices important and relevant to our own faith perspective. So, I wonder if it's limiting for us to push the Lord and Savior as the only way to understand Christianity. Is this the only way that we understand membership in our faith communities? I'm not so sure.


Squish My Boob

Or in my case, slap a lot of gel on 'em and ultrasound 'em. That's right. A mammogram is on the horizon. It's officially been scheduled for a week from Friday. I've decided how I'm going to handle the whole health insurance thing (thanks to some great wisdom). I called and ordered my slides from the previous doctor. I've opted out of the MRI (at least, for now) and I get to have a serious conversation about DNA testing. It will be an important day for me.

All seems to be set.

Everything is in place. And well, I'm still not certain. What I mean is: I'm scared. I had a flashback last time I went to have a mammogram. It's one of those eerie parts of my grief. I don't remember certain events -- and then things come rushing back too quickly when I don't want them. This is what happened to me when I last got a mammogram. I cried hysterically. Not because of getting my breasts squished (get over it ladies), but because I suddenly remembered going to these appointments with my mother.

Of course, it was too late for her to have a mammogram. When she was my age, my mother woke up one morning and could not raise her arm. My father rushed her to the emergency room. Sometime later, they found out that she had breast cancer. Four years later, my mother lost the battle to this disease. The math is imperfect. I'm 28. She was 33 when she died. Whatever. There are parts that I remember very, very vividly about her illness. No one should remember their mother like I remember my mom. I hope no child does. Perhaps this is what motivates my heart toward justice -- but I don't remember the doctor visits. I know that I went. I remember her doctor and lollipops. I remember when she showed me the jagged scar under her right breast in our bathroom at home. But, I hadn't remembered the doctor visits until I was wearing a paper gown and my own breasts were poked and squished.

I wish that I didn't worry so much about my reactions. But, fuck it. I'm worried about how I will handle this for the second time. I've done it before. I will probably cry. I will definitely cry. But, it should be fine, right? Right. So, if you were me and you had a whole afternoon by yourself after getting a mammogram, what would you do? Go to the beach? Drink coffee? Read a book? Get a massage? Sometimes I wish my mom was here to talk to her about these things, ya know?

A Day to Be Proud

The President and General Minister of the UCC, Rev. John Thomas and Rev. Linda Jaramillo, the Executive Minister of the UCC Justice and Witness Ministries, arrived at the White House today with a stack of names. Some of those names belonged to members of our church. All of those names were against the war.

These two executive ministers were arrested today in front of the White House. They were trying to deliver the Pastoral Letter on the War on Iraq. Instead, they were arrested.

As Rev. Jaramillo said, "As a church, we can no longer be silent."

Amen. May it be so. Amen.


Increase Our Faith

A sermon for World Communion Sunday based on Luke 17:5-10 (NRSV). In honor of Indigenous Peoples Day, I used the story of The First Corn from the Penobscot Nation of Maine. You can read the whole story here.

“The people increased until they were numerous.” This is what it means to increase. To acquire. To hoard. To multiply stuff. Or in this story from the Penobscot Nation, to multiply people. And yet, this story is not about the number of people in this particular tribe expanding throughout Maine.

This story is about the Great Teacher and how he meets a boy and a girl who get married and have kids. Lots of them – until they were numerous. However, happiness doesn’t last long. Famine strikes and children are starving. No one is happy – and the husband notices strange behavior in his wife. She only seems happy when she is in water. Wanting nothing but happiness for his wife, he asks the Great Teacher for advice. And what does he tell him? This loving husband must kill his wife.

Doesn’t exactly sound like the slave in the Gospel Lesson does it? Here is a guy that is accused of being “useless” or “unprofitable,” or in this translation, “worthless.” No word of thanks is offered to this slave after he has plowed the fields and tended the sheep. No praise. No invitation to put his feet up and enjoy the feast. Nope. Like the apostles, we wouldn’t say “come here at once and take a place at the table.” We would ask him to set the table and serve us.

And Jesus knows this. He knows our downfalls because he’s been there. Jesus knows what it is like to be human. So, he begins this parable with a question where the obvious answer is no. Like it or not, we would answer no. Even though we would hope for a different ending, we would ask to be served.

After all, we all relish in someone else taking good care of us. Even though we would rather think that we would answer yes to Jesus’ question, we would say no. We would not invite this slave to sit at the table with us. And aren’t we just as worthless?

Well, no. That’s not how we think of ourselves. In fact, we don’t even think of slaves this way. We are not first-century Christians who considered slavery to be “against nature” while still upholding that it was not “morally wrong.” We celebrate the Underground Railroad. We are proud of our abolitionist Congregational mothers and fathers. For us, it is difficult to imagine anyone could be denied of “all dignity.” They are just as loved. They are children of God. So, no, we are not worthless and neither are they. But in the first century, slaves did what they were ordered to do – and they were still worthless.

I wonder if this is how the husband felt. I wonder if he felt worthless after the Great Teacher told him to kill his wife. Did he feel worthless on his way home? How did he feel when his wife assured him that this is what he must do? So, he follows her instructions and kills her. Just like the slave, he does what he is told. He does “only what [he] ought to have done.” I know. You hoped for a different ending, didn’t you? But, our story is not so different.

“Increase our faith!” Multiply our belief! Amplify our trust! More! More! We cry. Like the apostles, we rely on Jesus to transform our faith like a magic spell. But, that’s not how it works. Because faith isn’t just belief. Faith is something else. “An on-again-off-again rather than once-and-for-all. Faith is not being sure where you are going, but going anyway. A journey without maps.” At least, that’s the way Frederick Buechner explains it. Faith is the people that you meet along the way and the stories you tell. It’s the “social glue that binds one person to another.”

It’s not magic. Jesus can’t make the glue for us. We have to do more. We have to do more than we ought to have done. Not because we are worthless, but because we imagine a different ending. We believe that each child of God is loved. So, we must figure out how to increase our glue.

Today, we increase our glue with an invitation to “Come at once and take your place at the table.” Today, with bread and cup, we increase our glue in this sacred space where God comes to take a place at our table and celebrate “the relationship that the meal establish[s] among the diners.” This is our glue that reaches across oceans, boundaries, nations, enemy lines and even cultures. This is what binds us together.

But how do we increase our glue beyond this table? How do we share what happens to us in this sacred space? Are we waiting like the husband for the Great Teacher to explain what we don’t understand?

Because he does. The Great Teacher explains to the husband that his wife has become the first corn. Just as she had said, the Great Teacher explains that “her power should be felt over the whole world and that all should love her.”

It’s not magic. But could this be our power? Could these words from another culture help us discover something of ourselves?

Maybe. Maybe these could teach us to tell our own stories. To take and eat and share what we have seen. To take and drink and increase our glue as we discover what binds one person to another. It’s not magic. But, it might increase our faith.


Donate a Mammogram

This has arrived in my inbox twice today so I feel the need to share it.

The Breast Cancer site is having trouble getting enough people to click on their site daily to meet their quota of donating at least one free mammogram a day to an underprivileged woman. It takes less than a minute to go to their site and click on "donating a mammogram" for free (pink window in the middle).

This doesn't cost you a thing. Their corporate sponsors/advertisers use the number of daily visits to donate mammogram in exchange for advertising. I'm the daughter of a victim of this disease. There are too many that share a similar story. So, please click on the Breast Cancer Site and donate today.


The Boob Update

I know that you are all dying to know what's going on with my boobs. Needless to say, they are still small and nothing has really happened. My complusive screening has shown no signs (I wonder if psychology factors into my self-exams sometimes).

Too much information? Tough. Do a self-breast exam. Once a week. October is Breast Cancer Awareness month. Talk about it in church -- if you don't cry when you start talking about it like I do. Then again, Katherine reminds me that it's ok to be vulnerable and cry. She wrote a great story on Fidelia's Sisters.

So, anyhow, I just got the call from the nice lady at the Breast Health Center. She wanted to the background information on my family history. I got to explain once again that it is possible that my Norwergian relatives carried the gene. They were cousins and aunts of my grandfather. Did you know that men can carry the gene? Did you know that men can even develop breast cancer? It's true. Bestafar might have had it. (Bestafar is Grandfather in Norwegian.) Though I don't know for certain, I'm left to speculate and worry. I could hear her nod encouragingly through the phone. She understood. She even understood that my family doesn't talk about it and I feel like a sleuth when I ask. But, with the recommendation of my doctor, Nancy is going to call me to make an appointment. I'm going to have a mammogram. I have to consider if I'm going to get an MRI and we'll talk more about DNA testing. I still don't know what I think. But, I feel enough peace now that at least I have been heard and an appointment will soon come.


The Curse of Email

I just wanted to say it was certainly a pleasure meeting you at the annual meeting this weekend. It is very encouraging to see young pastors such as yourself who are poised, articulate, and professional in both demeanor and dress taking leadership positions in the UCC. I hope we have the opportunity to cross paths again and I wish you the best always in your ministry.

This was the email that arrived in my inbox just now. Apparently, I met this person at our Annual Meeting this weekend. I don't remember who it was. But, I'm annoyed by this email. Why shouldn't I be "poised, articulate and professional" just because I am young clergy? And why is it necessary to comment on my clothing? I was actually pushing the envelope a little with what one of my colleagues called "catwoman boots." But, why is that needed? Why?


So, you already know the background. But, just in case...

This summer, I travelled to Washington DC to be with other clergy women under the age of 40 at the Cathedral College of Preachers. The conference was hosted by The Young Clergy Women Project.

I'm honored to sit on the board of this organization so after the enthusiasm of the conference had settled, I sat with the 10 other board members to brainstorm our hopes and needs for young clergy women. Want to see who we are? Someone took a cute photo of us after our meeting. You can see it here.

Our conversations in hot and sticky DC created Fidelia's Sisters. And guess what? It was published today! I'm beaming! I'm the editor of The Gospel According to Lexi D. Vina. Get it? If you are interested in continuing Lexi's story, please include your contact in the comments here. Enjoy!