Answering An Old Question

You know that song Should I Stay or Should I Go by The Clash? Was it really The Clash that sang that? I had forgotten half of the lyrics were in Spanish. Or perhaps I'm too busy bopping on the dance floor that I don't pay attention. Oh well.

I have an interesting soundtrack echoing in my head right now as I settle down to bed before I wake up at 5:30 am to get ready to fly to Ohio. I hate early flights. And it's supposed to snow. Again. Anyhow, the soundtrack... After spending the past two days on the couch struggling with some unknown illness (that I assume to be exhaustion), I watched the movie Dreamgirls with a friend tonight. So now I have these two songs playing in my head. One of these songs is crooned by Effie in the middle of the movie as she asserts herself and well -- the lyrics are strange. Great song to belt out in frustration -- though I'm not sure that Effie really meant what she is singing here.

And I am telling you
Im not going
You're the best man I'll ever know
There's no way I can ever, ever go
No, no, no, no way
No, no, no, no way Im living without you
Oh, Im not living without you, not living without you
I dont wanna be free
Im staying, Im staying
And you, and you, and you
You're gonna love me

You're gonna love me, yes you are
Ooh ooh love me, ooh ooh ooh love me
Love me, love me, love me, love me

You're gonna love me

These lyrics seem to affirm the old question asked first (in my mind) by The Clash. Honey, you should go. Go. Go. Go.

Of course, as I watched this scene and marveled at the strange word choice, I pictured her as a pastor singing this to her congregation. Yeah. Not good. Go. And now, I shall go to sleep and away for a few days.


1000 Steps at Christmas

Before the hustle and bustle of the Christmas celebration began (I'm keenly aware that I need coffee), I got a little reprieve with my friend Songbird. I love that she joked that it might not be wise for us to have wine or beer before celebrating the birth of Christ with our church families. We might not have the wisdom of wisepeople to entertain such a thought -- but I'm grateful that for the gift that this friend is. I'm grateful for the gift that she has been to me in this year. And I'm so grateful that she continues to push me on my spiritual quest.

It's funny that she can do this in giving a gift. But some people are just that talented. After our collective decision not to imbibe, we exchanged gifts like wisepeople -- and she has pushed me to think and ponder what this moment of birth is all about. My dear friend gave me a candle with these words spoken by Lao Tzu written on its side:

A journey of a thousand miles must begin with a single step.

So I'm thinking about Joseph and his journey of 1000 miles. I've never really considered Joseph until this year. I always dismissed his side of the story -- until I had the opportunity to preach it yesterday. Joseph's story is a difficult one but there is such an amazing story of possibility and hope in his story.

I'm thinking about Mary and her impossible journey across 1000 miles of "virginity" compelled by a bravery that I can only dream about. I wonder what her single step was. I wonder what made her say those brave words in Luke: "Here I am, servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word" (Luke 1:37, NRSV). I wonder if she tripped. I wonder how she found the footing. I wonder how she could have been so brave.

And I'm thinking about the child that is about to be born and wondering what steps he took. I'm wondering what shit he stepped in and how in the world he inspired so many (including me) to take 1000 steps with him. And I'm wondering where we are going. Perhaps this is the biggest question that I have on this Christmas Eve. I'm wondering where this child will lead us -- and particular where this child is leading me beyond the starry night. I'm wondering about this light that my friend has given me. I'm wondering about where I'm supposed to shine my light and how far I'm supposed to walk. And as my mind wanders to 1000 places, I'm blessed to know that I have friends that will walk with me and talk with me and show me that they care. I'm blessed on this Christmas night -- even when I can't find the energy to express it -- because I have friends.

That went off the deep end with schmaltz, right? It sounds a bit too much like I'm George Bailey. Oh well, it's my favorite movie. Why not? It's Christmas, right?


Advent ARG!

Last week, I was talking on the phone with a friend from seminary and we both remarked that we didn't feel like we were stressed enough. It's Advent after all. We're pastors. We should be stressed, right? I don't think that this was a healthy thought. But we laughed about it in that fabulous way that you laugh with friends from seminary.

This week, I'm stressed. No. That's not it exactly. I'm annoyed. I'm really annoyed at things that are out of my control. How have I handled this matter? I've whined to anyone that would listen. I whined to folks in New York. I whined to colleagues in the Snowy North. I whined while I protested for peace. I whined to our Church Administrator. I whined and I whined. Again, perhaps this is not the healthiest thing to do. Eh. Oh well.

I finally realized what I needed to do to overcome this matter as I left church to meet Fantabulous girl and her partner at the Lesbian Coffee Shop. I was able to wipe the tears away from my face (Oh yeah, this is one that I'm crying about) to meet these two awesome women to talk about their journey. We talked for two hours. I'm officiating at their wedding in August. And I think they are going to join the church. Honestly, this is what I love about my call. I get to sit and have the best conversations with amazing people.

This is my Advent frustration. Sunday brings the last Sunday of Advent -- where I will be preaching the "Christmas" sermon. We don't have a Christmas Eve sermon so this is it. Even though, well, never mind. I'm crafting a conversational sermon between me, Mary, Joseph and Gabrielle (the Angel of the Lord). I have no interest in writing this sermon. It's conversational. Do I really need to write it out ahead of time? I would so much rather sit in a coffee shop and share in the ordinary joy of life. I would rather hide under a blanket and read as more snow falls and will continue to fall until midday Friday. This is my ARG.


Gimp Santa

I just picked up a call from one of my favorite colleagues in the area when I was opening a box of Christmas presents. The box had arrived today from my parents. Of course, I had to tuck everything under the tree after teaching a class on Trade Justice. I feel a little hypocritical teaching this class and wanting anything for Christmas. Thank you Sojourners.

After squealing with delight that my colleague called, I started laughing into the phone. My parents had sent a bag of our old ornaments from the family collection. There was a note enclosed saying that I might want these for my new tree. And I do. I really do. It was a wonderful thing to open tonight. So I started to hang these new ornaments on the tree after hanging up the phone. And then, I realized why these were really sent to me. They were from the Land of Misfit Ornaments. Meet Gimp Santa. He's only got one leg. That's love right there. My parents are funny.

Post Secret

While I was at the gym this weekend, I watched a segment on CNN about Post Secret. It was actually a newsbit about Post Secret's creator Frank Warren's new book.

I've been thinking about it ever since. Post Secret started a few years ago as a website that publishes anonymous postcards sent to release the burden of caring a secret. As you can see, I borrowed two of these postcards from the Post Secret site. One is slightly tragic. The other is hopeful. Anyhow, it made me think about secrets and how they can burden us. I believe that the news commentator actually used the word burden. I found this to be a really interesting word choice.

In our faith communities, we attempt to give a space for these burdens. I attended a Blue Christmas service last week. I was awed by the two gentleman that willingly got up and lit a candle admitting to the most sensitive of secrets. One had lost of his children in a divorce -- to no fault of his own. The other admitted that his relationship with his teenage children was shattered which may have been complicted by his struggles with cancer. It was amazing to be in a space that actually gave voice to these things -- even if the officiating minister moved far too quickly from the blues to hope. It seems that we need some space to sing the blues and accept that it is ok for our despair to be shared. And in this case, it was not anonymous. It was personal. Very personal. Amazingly, sacramentally personal.

In January, we will be introuducing a new way to give offering in our church inspired by a Giving Card in the UCC stewardship resources. Among the many things in the pew racks, there will soon be a card that anyone can fill in with the gift that they have given that was not monetary -- be it their time or talent. While I think it's important to shift from an emphasis on money so that those without money feel welcomed, I still think that there is something missing from this. There is a possibility that seems to be missing. Instead of asking to give more, we could ask people to release what is weighing them down. We could ask them to not bear their cross but share it and feel the affirming embrace of others. Our fabulous church administrator had the thought that there could be stones available that you could put into the offering plate to release yourself of your secret. And then, she added that maybe you gave it to someone else. Maybe you allowed someone else to symbolically carry your secret in the form of a stone.

I'm not sure that this is something that my congregation could welcome. Like Joseph in this week's Gospel Lesson, this community seems so concerned about rules and doing the right thing. I wonder when we might break out of that mode and welcome our secrets into our experience of our stories. I wonder. I wonder.



I'm not even sure where to start. I'm just so excited. And I know that I shouldn't be too excited because you know this is a season of waiting and expectation and what not. But, I feel like Christ has already come. I feel like he showed up in church over the past few weeks. (This fact has nothing to do with the child that keeps signing his name in the friendship pads.)

On a Friday night two weeks ago, we showed the film For the Bible Tells Me So. It was a huge step for our church after becoming an Open and Affirming congregation several years ago. It started with an email campaign to get this film to come to our local independent theatre. And then, the Associate Pastor (who is a little brassy) asked what it would take to show the film in our church. Next thing I knew, we were hosting the film. I'm not taking any credit for this. It was truly the work of the Diversity Committee in our church -- and I'm so freakin' proud of them.

Anyhow, I feel like the Realm of God has arrived in our church. Perhaps that's a bit much -- but all of the sudden, our church has been flooded with young LGBT folks. Two Sundays in a row. I'm gushing. I'm so excited.

It also happens that I started blogging for church this fall. Church people are not used to the blogosphere. I know they are reading it as they comment to me directly -- but never on the actual blog. It's created some interesting conversations across the generations of our church. I've also come to realize that our older members love to read religious stuff online. God bless them. However, I've been lamenting that perhaps the blog is not worth it because no one comments. I wasn't sure that there were more than a few that were reading. And then, this young lesbian commented on my church blog and asked if we could have coffee. I emailed right away. I'm so giddy. And in the last line of her email, she wrote this:

Side note: how amazing is it that you are only 28 and have Rev. infront of your name. Pretty much think that is FANTABULOUS.

This is how I feel about church right now. Isn't it fantabulous?

Reclaiming Christmas

This is one of those posts that I'm going to get a lot of virtual hugs. So, I'm going to start by politely stating -- please don't offer me any hugs. None of this: ((Pastor Peters)). She doesn't need ((this)). She just needs to think aloud. And maybe get some amazing insight here and there without it becoming a pity party. Because it's not. It's not a pity party at all.

A few weeks ago, I read this article on Fidelia's Sisters. And since then, I've been trying to figure out how to be gentle with myself.

It has also invited me into completely new territory. By the way, I love new territory. I'm uncertain and nervous -- but a little part of me is ready to conquer it all. Punky Brewster comes to mind, for no certain reason. That's Punky, by the way in her very own Christmas special. Anyhow, this gift of gentleness has invited me to think about how I could reclaim Christmas.

I am a young, single pastor in a town far, far, far away from my family. There are no little itty bitty violins. I miss my family -- but I'm not racing home to see them. There is nothing appealing about getting in my car at midnight on Christmas Eve after leading three worship services to drive six long hours. Actually, it would be further. It would be eight hours to my grandparents (assuming that there is no traffic in the city). There is nothing appealing about an all-night drive to arrive glazed over like a donut to open stockings. Nope. I would rather sleep late. Sleep really, really late.

But because I'm not with my family, I really don't want to spend this holiday with another family. This just makes me miss my family more. I don't want that. I don't want the reminder of what I'm missing. That's depressing -- even if it offers a great meal.

Instead, I want to find some magical way to reclaim my holiday. I want to do something totally different. My lament is that I have no idea what that could be. I'm not sure where to turn because it's so new and so exciting. I want this day of freedom to be my Christmas miracle -- a day that is so unique that I find a new way to celebrate the incarnate God. And so, I continue my search like the wisepeople.


To Tell the Truth

A friend just sent me an eamil that I started a reply to from my email program until I realized that it was going to be a long, long email. This friend asked the question about how to preach when your heart is breaking. I'm thinking about this again as I condiser Isaiah 11:1-10 for this coming Sunday. How do you deliver the good news when your brother attempts suicide? How do you preach hope when the darkness of the world threatens your faith when a pimple appears on your breast? How do you tell the truth? Do you even dare? So, I'll tell you what I have learned in these past few weeks: You tell the fucking truth.

I'll say it again. You tell the fucking truth. You talk about scripture and how this is not new. People have been feeling exile, abandonment and loss of hope for centuries. You tell the truth of your own faith. For me, this is where my faith started. It started when things were broken. My mother had died. I asked big questions when others didn't want to ask them. I pushed and lamented and cried. This is what most of the people in our pews are doing anyhow. Give them the permission to do it aloud.

Tell them that you heart is breaking. Tell them that it hurts and you don't have answers but this is your church too. And as my colleague has said, ministry goes in circles. Let the circle envelop you so that you can feel that support, love and nurture.

I know that there are clergy who say that we need to hide these parts of ourselves so that we don’t bleed all over the congregation. I know there is a big risk there. Trust me, I know there is a risk there. But, damn it, this is what we are about. We are supposed to be vulnerable and humble and scared at what unexpected thing God has in store for us. Preach it. Talk about it Bible Study. Don't bottle it up. Or you will become like me -- and just blog about it.

I'm meeting this week with a member of my Pastor Parish Relations Committee to express this lament. I was told by one of those members of the clergy that I couldn't tell the truth. I couldn't share that my brother had just attempted his life. I couldn't talk about it at all. Because I didn't know the results and it would cause too much concern, I was told to keep it to myself. I have news for you. You would never tell anyone in your church to do this. You are a good pastor. You would never tell someone to hold back. You would encourage them to find a way that they could tell the truth -- in small ways perhaps. You would invite them to pray about it and think about how it could be heard. You would invite them to share because only in sharing can we grow. The question I will I ask the member of the Pastor Parish Relations Committee is not why couldn't I share, but what happens when we discern our ministry differently? This is a question really about the possible tensions between Senior and Associate Pastors. What happens when we disagree? However, this is not only a question for us. It is a question for our whole church. How do we hold each other together? How do we support each other when we disagree? How do we create a space of openness for everyone in our congregation to tell the truth?

When I was in seminary, I saw pastors share their heartache and I grimaced. Some people just don't want to see this in their pastors. And I gotta say -- I don't know how to be church for those people. I'm weak and human. Sometimes I'm confused and angry and heartbroken. Can I only share this with other clergy and friends? Ack! Now, I realize that what I witnessed was a victim mentality which truly doesn't help anyone. No one needs to see their pastor as a victim. The caretaker mode kicks in and what really gets lost is the opportunity for empowerment. And in my year of ministry (11 months of ordained ministry), I’m more and more convinced that this is what we are all about. We are about empowerment. We are trying to be so bold that we can turn to others after the sermon is over and tell the truth.

I just spoke with a member of our congregation today who experienced this when I preached part of my heartache two weeks ago. She turned around in her pew. She hugged someone she barely knew and they told their stories of loss. And today, she hugged me and thanked me for being so brave. This is what it is all about. We are supposed to be brave enough to tell the truth so that others can do the same. Tell them your heart is breaking. Do it with compassion, thought and love. Do it with tenderness and wisdom. Tell the truth because "you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free" (John 8:32, NRSV).


Advent Came

This week has been strange -- good, but very strange. For one thing, people are still talking about my sermon. I had a flood of pastoral care concerns after I preached this sermon that were both an honor and a surprise. I'm still a little amazed. And then, our church was attacked by the Christian Right Organization in the state. Why? We love the gays -- which makes us bad people. I'm being intentionally flip because I think it's ridiulous. We hosted the premiere of the film For the Bible Tells Me So in Maine and we got some flack. I think this is something to be proud of -- though I'm not sure everyone agrees with me. There is still this concern about holding tensions that I don't understand sometimes. I know that we are a beloved community that must make space for all -- and yet, I feel that we do this (at times) by telling some of those members of our community to silence themselves only to appease the folks that don't want to confront their own denial (racism, discrimination, homophobia, etc.). And then, dear friends, Advent came.

After church yesterday (and before the snow started last night), I went in search of a good book. It's one of the spiritual practices that I have committed to myself -- not only because bookstores are like church for me. If this makes me a nerd, then so be it. I'm proud. I discovered (or perhaps truly discovered) that this was a good discipline of me during Lent this year. Actually, it was during Holy Week. From Palm Sunday to Easter Sunday, I journeyed through this week with theologians and scholars Marcus Borg and John Dominic Crossan in their recent book The Last Week. I loved it. I loved reading every day. I loved thinking and praying about the spiritual significance of this day in our holy calendar. After Easter, I commited to myself that this would become my practice during the seasons of Advent and Lent. I would take a book and read it cover to cover. This is an indulgence for me. And yet, it is necessary and important for my spiritual life.

On the second day of Advent, I went in search of the book that will carry through this season in preparation for the incarnation of God. I have scanned the shelves of our local bookstores in the past few weeks and found nothing. The religion section in these stores leaves a lot to be desired. I did wander into the poetry section at Books Etc. wondering if poetry would carry me through Advent. I decided it would not. I needed to claim my nerdiness and read something a little academic. So, I went to Borders by the mall (the last place one wants to be on a Sunday afternoon in December). However, I was determined. I needed to find a good book. So, I scanned and I searched the shelves. I made audible noises of disgust at what some consider to be Christian. I wondered if the recent release of Mother Teresa's biography entitled Come By My Light would suffice. I decieded I wanted something more Christmas-y. I continued my search. And there it was. Tucked among the Bibles, I found this new book by my old friends Marcus Borg and John Dominic Crossan.

I raced home and read the first chapter. It's perfect. Borg and Crossan are good company for me as I journey toward Bethlehem this Advent. I'm grateful for their company as they lead me to places expected and unexpected. The journey will not be based on the holy days -- but will take me on a journey through the Gospels of Matthew and Luke as they each tell a different story of Christmas. And because it's a snow day, I get read even more today. Hope you are warm and reading something wonderful as well.