Saying "I love you"

These words have been on the tip of my tongue recently. Perhaps it's because I'm thinking about the birth of Love. Only a few days ago, we welcomed this mystery into the world. It's not that we didn't know Love before this birth -- but for those of us who place our faith in Jesus -- love starts here (or somewhere near here). That may be way these words are on the tip of my tongue. Or it could be that the holidays welcome thoughts of those that we love and how we choose family. It could be that I'm thinking about the family that I'm not with this holiday season. Or it could be that I'm thinking about the family that I've chosen.

Tonight, I went to the airport to pick up one of my favorite people. He was returning from the holidays visiting his boyfriend's parents. I was excited to hear their stories (rather than just seeing the pictures on Facebook). We went to dinner and caught up and it just felt so good. I've missed him. I've really missed him and he only lives around the corner from me. I said good night by wrapping my arms around him and telling him that I love him. I've said it to him several 100 times over the two years that we've known each other -- but tonight I actually heard these words come out of the mouth. They felt thick. Each word sounded heavy like it rattled in my mouth. Not in an uncertain way but in a wonderful way. I meant it. There were no truer words in that moment. I love him. And even though the words surprised me tonight, he responded as he always does by echoing my words: "I love you too." And I knew. I was loved.

I got in my car and drove away and knew that I was loved. It was simple as that. And yet, these words hang on my lips. They're rattling there waiting to come out every time I hang up the phone with Musicman. We haven't said these words yet. Not out loud. Not to each other. They are not words that we always say. They are not words sent between two friends. They are words that articulate something other than platonic love or sisterly love or something reserved for the body of Christ. This is something else. And yet, these are the words that are there hanging on my lips as I prepare to make my way to visit him in his hometown tomorrow. I'll meet his parents. I'll learn more about him. He'll see more of me. And though all of these things are significant, I wonder if I will say these words. I wonder if these will be the words that begin my New Year.


Text Messages on Christmas

I was home sick yesterday. I am clogged with snot and dripping with fluids that don't appear until you hit the cheer of this season's illness. Truth be told, it's my fault. I pushed myself too hard. I was too interested in having fun and so I brought this upon myself. Alas, woe is me. This doesn't mean that I won't complain about it.

I posted my Facebook status to reflect this yesterday morning. And within 2 minutes, Musicman had sent me a text message expressing his dismay that I was sick and wanting to know what he could do. He was supposed to be on his way to see family, but he was eager to do anything he could for me. I resisted. When another three friends asked the same question, I finally admitted that I wanted orange juice. He sent me another text message at about that time asking if I was feeling better. Sadly, I wasn't.

A similar message awoke me this morning. It's simple. It may seem insignificant or a tad ridiculous that it comes through a text message rather than a phone call (trust me, I've had that frustration). However, as I greet the celebration of Christmas today, I find myself celebrating those connections. Those wonderfully simple connections of friends that become so dear that you wonder how you ever managed without them. They are the same friends that make you look differently at the world. They challenge you to look differently at yourself. And somehow, I can't resist to sing with the angels, "ALLELUIA!"


Reading Challenge XXV

I just finished this book and wrote this review about it over on Good Reads:

Winner is on a different spiritual path than I am. We share a faith in Jesus Christ but how I get there is not the same as how she gets there. I knew this from reading Girl Meets God, which I read in seminary. I enjoy her candor in both books. She admits honestly that spirituality isn't automatic but takes work. In her words, I was reminded (which I needed to be) about how I claim my own spiritual practice. I'm not a Jewish convert. I'm not a Christian like Winner, but I do appreciate listening in on how other people attempt to explore their faith. It's not earth shattering, but it was what I needed.

Now, I'm in search of a new book. Nothing on my book shelf is tempting. I hate that.


Good News

That's what we'll be celebrating in just a few days. The bulletins are already done for the Christmas Eve service. They're not printed, but they're done. It seems to be coming fast. Too fast, I might say except that Advent has provided the pause that I needed. I have remembered how to pray. I've found new vocabulary for God. I've slowed down.

And yet, the possibility of Christmas makes my heart race. It makes me panic, not because of the stress of being a pastor at Christmas but because it means that I'll be alone. It means that I have to figure out how I will celebrate this fabulous event after the candles are blown out and the church is locked. I've been invited to celebrate with families -- but there is nothing more depressing for me. The truth is: I want to be with my family. I miss Christmas Eve with my family and I don't know if I'll ever get that back or if it will remain a fond memory. For now, I can't go home so every year, I get to this point in the Advent season and begin to stress about how to celebrate the most depressing time of year for a single woman.

This isn't about depression though. This is good news because tonight I had dinner with a friend whose children and grandchildren will be far away on Christmas. They invited her along, of course, but she's like me. We're single women who don't really want to be the invited guest who had no where else to go. Again, that's depressing and doesn't really seem to embrace how I experience the Christ child. The incarnation of Christ is about worshipping and celebrating with those that you call family -- those that you choose to be part of your life. And so, tonight we hatched a plan to have dinner together on Christmas. Maybe we'll cook. Maybe we'll sip wine and munch. Either way, we'll be together and this is good news.

Image: Christmas Gifts: Daylight, and Christmas Gifts: Dawn by Eric Gill (1882-1940)


The Angry Email

I just got an angry email from a church member whose wedding I performed this summer. She's been an active member since she and her fiance joined last winter. Their lesbians. They both grew up in a very conservative Christian traditions that taught them about the saving blood and their damnation. Enter United Church of Christ. Turn left and meet new pastor who is young and somewhat hip. This young, angry church member has always wanted me to be her friend. She's never really caught on to the fact that I never offer something about myself. I've never felt comfortable with her to do so.

And then, a month ago or so ago, I was at a show that Musicman was playing. Angry church member's best friend was there. She's also a musician. She played at the wedding. She's like nails on a chalkboard to me. Somehow, it came out that I'm dating Musicman. I flipped. I wasn't ready for anyone to know -- especially not church people. I asked her not to say anything to angry church member. Well, it shouldn't be a surprise that she did. (This, by the way, doesn't help that I think she's nails on a chalkboard.)

Now, the lesbian is angry. She wants to know why she can't just avoid church politics and have a beer with me. That would be how Theology on Tap slapped me in the face. I don't want to tell her. I'm not ready to tell her. It's my story to tell -- and I really don't want her to know. She starts this email by saying that I don't need to write back because there isn't much to talk about anyway. I think there is -- but I'm angry. I think there's lots to talk about but really I want to tell her that she gets to make choices about what she shares with me, and I want the same right. Of course, I can't say that. She won't understand. She won't understand that she's not my friend. She won't understand that I never wanted her to be. I'm her pastor -- and that's all I want. I want to rant about this because it makes me so furious, but I also want wisdom. What do you do when the people you serve find out about your personal life and then are angry about it? How can you be pastoral to them when you're furious yourself? Help. Please.


Reading Challenge XXIV

We had an ice storm. We lost power. It was really cold in my electrically heated apartment -- so before going to find warmth a friend's home, I read Holidays on Ice. It was an earlier copy without the new additions -- though it was a little dark for this girl that loves the sappy Christmas movies. I like a little dark humor but the last story made me sick.

I also don't know how to use roman numerals. I thought I was close to 30. Wrong. Only 24. Sigh.


The Sound of Your Greeting

Last night, I had dinner with Musicman. It was the first time (in what seems like a long, long time) where it was just the two of us -- so we talked about the month's plans (there are lots of parties and I get to meet his parents over New Years). And then, we talked about big things that matter. We talked about our concerns for the world in the news we heard that day.

On Wednesday, he's reconnecting with some folks with whom he used to make music. They were a Christian rock band. Um. Anyway, this lead to a conversation about how you put your heart into something and when it connects with others. This band was the last time that he felt that heart connection in his music. They broke up 15 years ago. His emotions are all over the place at the possibility of reconnecting with these old friends who shared such a romance with him. He's overwhelmed by this possibility of being that raw again. I remarked that that's how I feel about a good sermon when I'm so honest that it hurts.

And lo and behold, I seem to be writing that sermon this week. I'm writing about the visitation between Mary and Elizabeth and trying to make sense of it in light of this study that was released this week about happiness. What does this say about church and the things that we share together? Doesn't this mean that all of our emotions are welcome? Isn't that the risk that Mary takes in talking about her womb (which was reserved for the private circle) in the public realm? Shouldn't we be that bold? Won't that pull us closer together?

And most importantly, why is this so hard to write?



The Budget Meeting is happening across the hall. I'm the only other person in the building. And the door just slammed shut. Doors tend to slam around here. It's something in the hinge.

I know this is going to be a tough year (as with every other church across our country), but it doesn't make me feel at all confident about my job security to hear that door slam. What was it Isaiah said on Sunday? Comfort! Comfort my people!



My Advent Meditations from Iona want me to think about how useful we are together -- as God's people. Is it heretical to laugh at your meditations when they challenge you like this?

Among the things that make me feel so far from useful: meetings, meetings, meetings, crappy staff dynamics, each and every appeal I recieve in the mail from non-profits, our church budget, the mental illnes of various church members that goes undiagnosed, the mental illness in my own family that no one wants to talk about, how I'm scared of this one church member after crappy staff dynamic exploded in my face, finding more faults in others than myself (this has become apparent in my mentoring relationship) and feeling like being a pastor requires you to be fat (or at least, that's how I explain my recent weight gain to myself).

And then, there's that rare moment where heaven is torn open. A family volunteered at the Soup Kitchen on Saturday night for the first time. They have two kids, 11 and 8. The 8-year old served milk. She operated the station flawlessly while asking her parents why there were so many people in the Soup Kitchen. She wanted them to be warm and loved. She wanted to invite all of them over for Christmas Dinner. The next morning, I asked her how she was feeling. She giggled. Not five minutes later, her father asked if she could come in and talk to me this week. She wants to "do more" and I said, "Of course, we can even go out for ice cream." (That's where the pastor gets fat, by the way.) Righ there, I felt useful. I felt God break through my frustrations. Right there, I got a little taste of the incarnation.


Reading Challenge XXIII

I might hit 30 books by the end of the year. Maybe. So much for 100.

It doesn't help that I keep starting books and putting them back down. Oh well.

Yesterday, I finished I Was Told There'd Be Cake, which is an awful lot like a straight female version of David Sedaris. Not quite as roll on the floor funny, but almost. She happens to have grown up in the same area as I did. I found that hysterical.


Living Water

As a proudly ordained member of the United Church of Christ, I've heard the jokes about my denomination. I've heard that we are "Unitarians Considering Christ," which I find offensive both on behalf of the UCC and the UUA. I've heard other cheeky comments along the way at which I usually sneer in disgust. And yet, I'm aware that my understanding of Jesus is different than my fellow Christians. I'm very, very aware of this.

At times, I find this very difficult. There's a organization in our city that serves the disempowered and oppressed of our city with meals, job training, after school programs and other such good things. Of course, I want to know the whole story about what it means when the Volunteer Coordinator uses the word Christian. I admit it. I judged. I assumed that we have a huge difference of opinion on who Jesus is. Unfortunately, I was right. I read the Statement of Faith (which in itself should have been a red flag) and became instantly repulsed. This inspired the classic red-blue Christian question: how do we be in service of Jesus Christ together if we don't believe the same things about what it means to serve our Lord and Savior? Sure. I've done this. I did it in Appalachia and Nicaragua. I've done it in soup kitchens and even in the church that I serve now. However, it doesn't feel good. Something doesn't feel right because I can't talk about my faith without it being wrong.

This came soaring back to me when I went to the Advent Conspiracy page to buy some water for Christmas. I went to site that this organization celebrates and mistakenly read their Statement of Faith. And now, I have no interest in buying water through their best efforts. I know it will do good things. I know their hearts are in the right place, but I can't escape the fact the risk that someone might use Jesus with malice. I've seen it happen before. I've heard that the poor will actually always be with us. It always makes me furious. It's not what I understand about the living water that Jesus offers each of us. And so now, I feel awful. Sigh.

To top it all off, I can't find a dreidel on any of my favorite fair trade sites (or any other) for my Jewish goddaughter. This makes me suspicious of the Christian presence in the fair trade movement. And see, I feel awful for that too. Ugh!


100 Things

Mags posted this and I thought it was fun for someone that doesn't want to find a game for the youth to play when they come for her Christmas Party on Sunday. (Yes, I welcome ideas.) Instead, here's some fun fact about me. Those things I have done are highlighted in bold.

1. Started my own blog
2. Slept under the stars
3. Played in a band
4. Visited Hawaii(for a good friend's wedding, which was a great excuse)
5. Watched a meteor shower
6. Given more than I can afford to charity
7. Been to Disneyland/world
8. Climbed a mountain

9. Held a praying mantis (ew. why?)
10. Sung a solo (assuming this counts in a sermon, where I didn't sing the whole song but just the refrain)
11. Bungee jumped
12. Visited Paris
13. Watched lightning at sea
14. Taught myself an art from scratch

15. Adopted a child
16. Had food poisoning
17. Walked to the top of the Statue of Liberty (I'm a New Yorker.)
18. Grown my own vegetables
19. Seen the Mona Lisa in France
20. Slept on an overnight train
21. Had a pillow fight

22. Hitchhiked
23. Taken a sick day when you’re not ill
24. Built a snow fort

25. Held a lamb
26. Gone skinny dipping
27. Run a Marathon
28. Ridden in a gondola in Venice
29. Seen a total eclipse
30. Watched a sunrise or sunset

31. Hit a home run (very funny)
32. Been on a cruise
33. Seen Niagara Falls in person (from both sides)
34. Visited the birthplace of my ancestors
35. Seen an Amish community
36. Taught myself a new language (in Italy, where I took classes during the day and flirted the Italian men at night in only Italian and then dated the most beautiful man named Massimiliano who didn't speak any English. Hot.)
37. Had enough money to be truly satisfied
40. Seen Michelangelo’s David
41. Sung karaoke

42. Seen Old Faithful geyser erupt
43. Bought a stranger a meal at a restaurant
44. Visited Africa
45. Walked on a beach by moonlight

46. Been transported in an ambulance
47. Had my portrait painted (I went to art school.)
48. Gone deep sea fishing
49. Seen the Sistine Chapel in person
50. Been to the top of the Eiffel Tower in Paris

51. Gone scuba diving or snorkeling
52. Kissed in the rain
53. Played in the mud
54. Gone to a drive-in theater

55. Been in a movie
56. Visited the Great Wall of China
57. Started a business
58. Taken a martial arts class
59. Visited Russia
60. Served at a soup kitchen
61. Sold Girl Scout Cookies
62. Gone whale watching
63. Got flowers for no reason

64. Donated blood, platelets or plasma
65. Gone sky diving
66. Visited a Nazi Concentration Camp
67. Bounced a check
68. Flown in a helicopter
69. Saved a favorite childhood toy
70. Visited the Lincoln Memorial

71. Eaten Caviar
72. Pieced a quilt
73. Stood in Times Square
(And then, ran away. Again, I'm a New Yorker.)
74. Toured the Everglades
75. Been fired from a job
76. Seen the Changing of the Guards in London
77. Broken a bone
78. Been on a speeding motorcycle
79. Seen the Grand Canyon in person
80. Published a book (one day!)
81. Visited the Vatican
82. Bought a brand new car
83. Walked in Jerusalem (one day!)
84. Had my picture in the newspaper
85. Read the entire Bible (Uh. No... hee hee.)
86. Visited the White House
87. Killed and prepared an animal for eating
88. Had chickenpox
89. Saved someone’s life
90. Sat on a jury (I always get let go for some reason, perhaps because I'm really good at crying about not believing the death penalty.)
91. Met someone famous
92. Joined a book club
93. Lost a loved one
94. Had a baby
95. Seen the Alamo in person
96. Swam in the Great Salt Lake
97. Been involved in a law suit
98. Owned a cell phone
99. Been stung by a bee
100. Ridden an elephant

Of course, I want to know these things about you so go ahead...

All That I Have Heard

Friends, that is what my Advent reading this morning called me to think about. I'm supposed to think about my friends -- but it didn't just say to think about my friends. My devotional guide encouraged me to think about my friends through the Scripture:

I have called you friends,
because I have shared with you
all that I have heard from God.
John 15:15

It's a nice translation, isn't it? All that I have heard from God. Sigh. Have I heard anything? Aren't I supposed to be waiting for that to happen? Or is it really true that I have on the inner circle and have an instant connection? If so, I think the connnection sucks. Then again, there is all of you -- my friends. Today, I'm thinking about my friends. I'm thinking about each of you and how I share what I have heard from God -- if I'm so brave to share these thoughts. It's hard to talk about God, for some reason. Even though it's my vocational call, I shy away from talking about God with my friends. It creeps in and I can't avoid it sometimes, but it's not where I go in conversation naturally. Like every church member I serve, I'm afraid that someone will be offended. And really, we wouldn't want that. No.

And yet, I blog. I'm not a blogger that highlights every detail of my life because, well frankly, that's a bit too much. However, I can tell you what I'm hoping to hear from God. I'm waiting for God to allow me to trust myself in small ways. I want to trust that I have enough inner strength to believe that I've got what it takes, like when a boy asks me to meet his family and I try to talk him out of it. Really? What the hell are you doing? This is why I need friends to interrupt the inner voice. I need friends to remind me of what they hear from God and support me in the wonderful bonds of relationship. That's what I need.


How To Play

Many of you asked about how I ended up creating my very own version of Advent Candyland. Truthfully, I don't know if there is another version out there. But, this is the one that I imagined. If you love it and choose to use it, please leave a comment and let me know.

The Symbols.
I'm using this as a teaching tool to explain the symbols of the season of Advent so that our kids can look for signs of God coming into their world. I'll start this conversation by talking about road signs which remind drivers to pay attention to certain things while they drive. The symbols of the Advent season are the same idea. They alert us to stay awake to God being revealed to us. Using the insight from Symbols of Faith, I am using symbols that include a manger, a star, an angel and a candle. I will use these symbols in my Children's Sermons during the season. I already wrote one for the candle reflecting this week's Gospel Lesson.

The Game Board.
Using brightly colored paper, I used the road signs symbols and the Advent symbols to create a laminated game board connected by yarn (which simply makes it easy to set up and easy to store). I am grateful for the magic of the xerox machine that made this an easy process. As you can see, it's a flexible game board.

I plan on purchasing gingerbread cookies to use as game pieces (you know, like the game). If I was really good, I would bake cookies but that might poison the children. We will share some sweets though. Rest assured.

The various symbols are interspersed with colorful question marks (the same colors as the brightly colored paper). These are for the trivia aspect of the game, which you can read about below. The bulk of these questions came from the Joy Game in Burlap and Butterflies, which is sadly out of print. I do however recommend it.

How To Play.
As with the game of our childhood, the children will draw cards with one or two colored squares. If there is one blue square, they move on the game board to the first blue square. If there are two blue squares on the card, they move to the first blue square and then continue to the next blue square. It is the end of their turn and the next team plays. (This is planned for a full room of kids, so we will play in teams.)

If the child lands on a question mark, they get a trivia question. If the team answers correctly, they stay where they are (because they have to wait) but if they get the question wrong, the move backward to the color in the question mark. So, if they land on a purple question mark and answer incorrectly, they would move backwards to the first purple square behind the purple question mark. In addition, there are four colorful Advent symbols. At these points, we will stop together and read the prophetic readings from the Revised Common Lectionary. Game play continues after we hear these prophetic words.

The game is over when the first team reaches the end of the board. Everyone will celebrate. It will be great fun.


Hope is Coming.

I make my Christmas cards. Let me clarify. I draw a picture that I xerox multiple copies of so that I can paste them to pre-made cards. I've learned that the pre-made cards are important, because as much as I want to recycle, I don't want to be making that many envelopes. I have better things to do with my time. Really. I do. Anyhow, I make these cards.

Last year, it was an image of three wise women processing with gifts. I happen to love the image. As one of my good friends (and seminary buds) said, it says everything that needs to be said about my faith. This year, there is a lone shepherd. I took the image from a Tibetan shepherd photographed by another source. He had a great smile. I thought he was sweet. Now, the drawing is almost done and I'm relieved that I chose the wording "Hope is Coming" rather than "Yes We Can" because this shepherd looks an awful lot like a certain President Elect. This was not intentional and I don't want to be misunderstood.

So now, I'm worried that I'm going to have to scrap this and draw another image. Sigh. I like it though. I don't want to draw another one. Grr. Maybe I can just add of a pregnant woman in the background on a donkey so it doesn't look like I'm worshipping the Empire. I mean, I'm really happy he's going to be president. I'm counting down the days, but he's not the Savior. Shoot. What a silly thing to stress about...


Advent Candyland

When I asked our kids what they wanted to do in our large room Sunday School event this year, one of the things they wanted to do was play Candyland. No, I'm not kidding. They want to play a board game that has nothing to do with Christianity.

Or at least, that's what they thought. I'm thinking about how I could make this a gmae about Christmas -- or more specifically -- Advent. Istead of colors, I'm thinking about using symbols (or warning signs including road signs, a candle, an angel, a manger and a star). I'm not quite sure how to make this interactive so it's not simply moving an object around a board. I'm thinking about throwing some trivia on a couple of the spots so that they learn something about the Christmas story. I'm not sure how to create the sense of waiting and journey that (for me) is so important during the season. So, now, I ask of your wisdom for my crazy idea. What would you add?


A Bad Sign

Tonight, I'm meeting with the committee that is supposed to be my support in the life of the church. They are supposed to be the group of people that is able to process with me what is happening in our ministry together in this community. However, after their direction of my recent review and the fallout afterward, I feel less than safe with them. I got triangulated and I let it happen. I got stuck between trying to have a better relationship with my colleague and trying to respond to the committee's desire to fix it, rather than just listen. I really needed them to listen. I don't want an answer. I want to be heard, perhaps not even understood but just heard.

However, that's not what happened. I was yelled at by a church member yesterday because I made a mistake. I've allowed the phrase "early in my ministry" to be used against me. I let it happen again yesterday. I got swallowed by this.

And so, this morning I woke up and opened the employment listings. I scanned the document and found nothing that really jumped out at me. I'm having that gnawing question about whether or not I should be in parish ministry at all. (Yes, I said it. It scares me, but I said it.) I thought I had calmed myself down enough to finally come into the office and halfway to work, I started crying. I rushed into the building to hide in the bathroom crying. This is a bad sign. It's not only that I know my cycle is about to begin and I'm all hopped up on hormones. It's just not a good sign when you don't want to go to work. And so, I feel awful.

Totally awful -- especially when I get an email from my collague telling me that he decided to do something on Sunday's worship after all. It didn't matter that he asked me and I said I didn't think it was time. He talked to a church member and she said she would do the crafty work to make this Children's Sermon happen. So, he called me grumpy and he's right. I'm very grumpy today.


Winter Blahs

Could it be that that is what hit me this morning? Or is it the lingering affects of this church committee that is mad at me because they don't think I'm honest (which is really because I don't feel safe with them)? Or is it that I'm just having a case of the Mondays and have nothing to do with snow coming later this week? No matter really. I'm feeling it -- and I think I just need to call it a day and admit that I'm not going to get anything done at church if I attempt to stay.

Yesterday, my parents met Musicman. It was wonderful. They got along. Conversation was great. Musicman is ever perfect. It's freaking me out a little, but it's all very good. He wanted to know the review. I told him my father cried after he left(which is true). And yet, that's kinda how I feel. I need a good cry for no apparent reason.



Several years ago while I was a missionary-of-sorts in Kentucky, I met a little girl. She had bright red hair. It was beautiful. She had made the trip with several other young kids from her home church to do mission work. She was all of 8 and she couldn't stop by with her hair. Of course, I thought she was adorable and we got to talking about her hair. She had just donated 13 inches of her long, beautiful, red hair to Locks of Love. This is why she was constantly playing with her hair. This is why her hair was so short. I was inspired.

On that day, I started to grow my hair out. It was already long but it got longer... and longer... and longer. And then, one day, I asked my dear friend Rev. Ez to go with me so that I could chop off my own 13 inches of hair to be donated to Locks of Love. I needed someone to hold my hand because hair is important to me. My mom lost all of her hair to the dreaded cancer. I remember her losing it. I remember how her coarse head felt beneath my hand when it grew in. In a very bizarre twist, this gesture of chopping of my hair was relating to that loss of my mother's.

Ever since, I have had short hair. It's been nearly four years now that I have had short hair. I've justified that it makes me look older. I don't look quite so young with short hair. You know, like how old women suddenly have curly, short hair when they go fully grey (or as I'm hoping mine will go, white). Now, my hair is getting longer and for the first time in a long time, I'm thinking about growing it out again. I can't help but think that this has something to do with my own comfort in myself -- in a good way. And ya know, that's just a really fun realization. I wonder if I'll actually grow it out.

Shameless Promotion for a Friend

My dear friend John from seminary has been hard at work launching this site with the Methodists in Tennessee a the Church Health Center. I'm very proud of him and all of his hard work and looking forward to using this resource for my ministry. I hope that it supports you too.

The press release announces:

Faith and health are intimately linked. The mission of HopeandHealing.org is to illuminate this connection - that your body and spirit are one. Whether you are a lay person, a pastor, a caregiver, a medical professional or any combination, you will find a way here to put your faith into action. We provide the most effective resources and tools on faith and health.


Just What I Needed

I'm sitting in a coffee shop trying to write my sermon when it's already dark outside. It's been dark for an hour already. I hate this time change stuff. My sermon isn't flowing, so I'm reading blogs. Of course, I turned to Fidelia's Sisters and read this. And friends, this is why I love this organization and believe in our mission. I'm on the brink of tears having just read these words because I can relate.

The seminary student I'm mentoring (the poor thing) asked me last week about why I was ordained. He asked this question after I pushed him about what it means for him to be ordained. I was brazen enough to push him on what ministry is and who gets to do it. Keep in mind, I'm UCC. I'm not even sure you need to be ordained to officiate at Sacraments. I know. Hypocrite! Ah well. So, I'm asking this question of myself because I still haven't given him an answer. Frankly, I don't know. I never thought I would doubt my vocation -- but this week I am. And this article over at Fidelia's Sisters, well, it's a saving grace. God bless all YCW. God bless.


Book Challenge XXI

I picked up this book at one of those discount tables at a big bookstore thinking that the title sounded familiar. I read it as I made my way back home for a little visit with my family. I was going to take my sister on a college visit (which I'm still digesting for another post). It was the first time I have seen my brother since June. He doesn't return calls. He doesn't respond in any way. I think that's why I really picked up this book.

I want him to have a rose garden, but it's not that simple. As this author records her account of mental illness (which is formed by her own story), the worlds between sanity and insanity are complicated by blurry lines. This is one of those books that I wish I could read with others in ministry because I still want to know how we respond. I want to know how we care for those that we don't always understand. I want to be there in a way that I can't be there for my brother. It's too close. I want him to have the damn rose garden, even if it's impossible. Even if he won't take meds or go to therapy. I want him to have the damn garden that I can't give him because I no longer know how to talk to him. And this, dear friends, is why I worry about our ministry to the mentally ill. I worry that we get too close and suddenly give up because we don't know what else to do. It's just not fair. I want us all to have a rose garden. It's all I want. Sigh. It's a good book though.


Reading Challenge XX

So, I accept that I'm a slow reader. I'm only on book twenty and it's November. Oh well. But, I did just finish Mystic River which I now I have to write a reflection on for my writing class. It's a page turner, but falls into the popular thriller category that doesn't really interest me. Now, I have to talk about how it differs from my writing style...


Art for the Day

I just found this image (or rather one similar to it) in Imaging the Word. It is entitled All Saints I by Wassily Kandinsky, which not only makes me long for color bulletins but makes me marvel at all of the saints that radiate out of this image and into my heart and mind.

The Least Servant

"The greatest among you will be the least servant" reminds this week's Gospel Lesson. I'm re-reading this verse again and again this morning and trying to figure out what that means for my ministry.

Yesterday, at our regional minsitry meeting, a colleague in ministry lead us through a meditation on our vitality . She asked a question that we were to discuss in small groups. The question was simply: when did church change you? I could only think of stories from my youth. I certainly have those stories, but there haven't been any new stories. I had some of those moments in seminary. I had lots of them actually -- but it scares me that church isn't changing me now. I read this week's lesson and shudder at the thought that my leadership role assumes I'm somehow elevated above it. By Jesus' rationale in the text, this would make me the least. I'm not so sure.

This morning, I curled on Musicman's couch with a cup of coffee to watch the news. A report appeared about making your job recession proof. I've had this fear recently. I fear my job will be the first to go if the church has to do some restructuring of their budget. I admit. I'm scared. I don't know where that puts me in being least, greatest, exalted or humbled. I'm just anxious.


Wander Lust

Last night, I had dinner with three women. One of these women I met nearly a year ago. Another of these women I met through the first woman. The third woman I just met last night. She's our age. She's been in this town as long as we have. Each of us have all been in this small city for nearly two years. As dinner arrived and conversation unfolded, we got to talking about how our time in this city and how we all became friends. And then, we learned that this third woman is looking at houses.

You could have heard a pin drop.

Now, I know that it's a really good time to buy a house (if you happen to be financially capable). It's a buyer's market. Blah blah blah. Musicman's roommates just bought a house. They just moved back to town and were not eager to live with Musicman long term -- which makes sense to me. They're a newly wed couple. Who wants to be shacking up with an old friend? (No matter how wonderful that friend is.) They asked me this same question: "Aren't you thinking about buying?" Actually, I think the question was: "When are you going to buy a house?"

Gulp. I'm not ready. It's as simple as that. One of these dinner companions continued this conversation today when she remarked that she wasn't sure that she was here for that long. I agree. I'm not sure how long I am staying in this town. I'm feeling more confident in my call and falling in love has definitely changed my story -- but I don't know if I'm here long enough to buy real estate. I suspect that I think I'm here longer than this friend of mine, but I'm not sure it would be a wise investment for me to suddenly purchase property. So, I wonder if my wander lust is over. That seems far too final. I can't really believe that. I still have this idea that I'll be in several different congregations all across the country, not only in the snowy north. I even wonder about being a missionary. I can't really grasp that my wandering days are over -- but I guess I wonder. Is this something that's common for our generation? Or is it just me?

Monsters & Beasts

You know that story in Revelation 13 about that thing that comes from the sea? You know, it's read to be the antichrist and misinterpreted as various political figures. There's even an awful book series based upon this misreading. I don't like it. I think it's wrong. For many, many years, I thought this particular text should be hacked out of the canon. Now, I don't think so -- it only took one class in seminary. I had a professor who completely changed my reading of this particular text. That was almost five years ago though. Now, I'm trying to write a story about how I see this particular creature. So, I wonder if you have thoughts. What do you think of this beast?


The Lover

I've always resonated with God as Parent -- like the woman that sprang from the seat next to me in worship this morning to answer the cry of her child in the next room. She has been Mother. She has answered my call and prayers. She has been there even when I don't recognize Her presence, simply because she has taught me to live in Her way.

However, today, as I sat in the silence of Quaker worship, I was urged to consider relationship. Through the rebellious communal silence, I wondered with others about what it means to be together. Not only to gather. Not only to worship. To be together in that way that pushes us to love. To love both the good and the bad. To love when it seems impossible and unexpected. To love because this is truly a gift from God.

It was in this silent pause that I embraced God as Lover. This does a number on my inclusive understanding of God as Feminine, because the Lover goes deep. There is penetration and ecstasy. This is something saints have offered. I always thought it was a little strange. I don't want Jesus to be my boyfriend. I don't want to sing songs of syrupy sweet loving adoration. Or at least, I don't only want that. I want the Lover to go deep inside of me. I want to feel things with the Lover that I have never felt before. I want the Lover to open me to wonders that I have never imagined. Of course, I would be wrong if I narrowed the Lover merely to erotic love. That's not what enough.

To experience the Lover is to experience a passion that cannot be only sexual or drug-induced euphoria (I just saw that movie that denounces religion and openly admit that I don't know what to do with the pot-smoking church in Amsterdam). It's to carve out a space. That's what I noticed about the place I sat. There was an open space in the center of our room. It reminded me of sitting in circles in my seminary chapel. I forgot how much I missed carving out that central space for God. I forgot how much I loved looking up not to see a pulpit or altar -- but to see another person. To see that person across that space and to love her. That's the experience of the Lover. There is a space there. It may not have a clear shape but it is a space where we can see each other clearly and celebrate the divine connection between us. That's what I want to remember today. I want to create that space in all my relationships. I want to recognize the divine presence in each of them.

And in doing this, I want to celebrate the Lover who I see revealed in those that teach me about love. I want to carve out that space as it has been carved out for me. Because somehow, I have been loved. Someone took my hand last night and asked, "What can I do for you?" Not because I needed anything. Not because he could do anything to make me happier. He asked this question because he cared. It's his favorite question. He asks it constantly. I have been annoyed by it. I have turned it back to him to ask what he needs. However, it wasn't until I sat in silence this morning and saw that space that was given to me that I saw that this is what the Lover is. I can't do it alone, no matter how I might think I am the Lover. I am not just the Lover. I need that depth that feels like it could rip me apart. I need that awareness that it can be done for me. I need to trust that love and let it be. This is what I'm going to think about God today. As I do so, this song calls to me as it did to the community I treasured this morning. At the close of worship, we sang these words:

Dear Friends, Dear Friends,
Let me tell you how I feel.
You have given me your treasure.
I love you so.

Dear friends, I love you so. That's what I hear from God today. I will treasure this as I treasure all of the relationships I share. I'm going to look for that space and recognize what God is doing for me.


Opportunity Knocks

This Sunday is Consecration Sunday. The Stewardship gang will be leading every aspect of worship. I have volunteers that will run Sunday School. Everything will go off without a hitch without me. So, my colleague pops the question to me this morning, do I want to take Sunday off?

I opted to sleep on it but how many times is the Associate Pastor going to be given the opportunity to sleep in on a Sunday because she does her job that well? Am I missing something here? What do you think?


A Small Rebellion

So, I kinda kicked ass this morning -- not that I think I did it alone -- but I did kick ass. I said what needed to be said in a horrifying economy in a community where heat is really, really important (already). I claimed that message of rejoicing, which is a small rebellion. When the rest of the world says fear, we gathered this morning to rejoice. It was kinda fantastic, actually.

Yes, Musicman was there. He buried his head in his bulletin or the Bible or somewhere staring toward hid feet during the sermon, so I don't know what he thought. He came through the line of people after worship and introduced himself, "Reverend, my name's Musicman. Thank you for your sermon." I think I fumbled but asked him to join us for coffee hour. That's where I found him after I had hugged and rejoiced with those exiting worship. I'm still not sure what he thought of seeing me in action -- but he invited me to a party this afternoon to which I didn't think I was invited. So, I'm going home to change and head there... rejoicing in the Lord always!


Inviting the Boy to Church

Last night, after calling in sick and spending the whole day on my couch (cough cough), I went over to Musicman's house for dinner. Um, make your own spring rolls? This boy is amazing. Anyhow, one of his old friends is in town visiting. I met her back at his birthday party. I'm still nervous about his friends. I don't know what they think of me or what they think of us. Hell, I'm not even sure that I have answers to either of those questions. However, she was there and she cracks me up. Like spring roll falling back on the plate cracking up. She greets me with this huge hug and welcome. It was wonderful. I felt oddly affirmed... which I only really found amusing when I read this by my friend Father Stacy. See, this friend asked 153 questions when she found out that I was a pastor. Last night, I found out that she's been talking me up because church would be more interesting if people my age knew that there was leadership that (ya know) got it. Again, I'm amused.

Anyhow, this was when Musicman piped up and said he was coming to church on Sunday. I had just asked him if he would be willing -- even though he's gigging all weekend. Yes, gigging is a word for him. However, the next time I'm preaching my parents will be in town and (as I told him) that would just be too much for me. So I asked him to come to church. I swear to God. The boy lit up. He was elated that I had asked him to church. He didn't say anything but he's clearly pleased. And well, I think my sermon needs to be kick ass. It's done and I rather like it but I'm praying for the Holy Spirit to rock the Sanctuary on Sunday. It's selfish prayer, I know. I don't care.


Reading Challenge XVIII & XIX

Oh, right, I forgot that I read too.

I finished two books somewhat recently. The first is the more popular fiction entiled Memoirs of a Geisha. I didn't like the character. I was annoyed by the happy ending. This also taught me that I don't have to continue writing my novel about the rapist character that I hate. I can trash him and start with a more lovable character.

The other book I finished is one that I'm using for an adult version of Confirmation as it seems our parents don't know how to talk about their faith (who can blame them, I had to go to seminary to do it). It's not the most fantastic resource out there but I got lots of inspiration from it -- if that's the kind of thing that you are looking for.


Paul urges this really strange counter-cultural mandate: Rejoice in the Lord always. And again, I say, Rejoice! (Philippians 4:4). I find it darn near impossible not to think about Empire when I think about rejoicing right now. Who would rejoice in the power of the Emperor? And why do Americans seem inclined to believe that everything is going to be fine once the election is over? Or is that my own failure to rejoice?

Well, I just don't know -- but the one thing that strikes me this week is that we Christians don't know how to rejoice. We talk a good game. We claim its important but none of our liturgical elements (outside of Easter) talk about rejoicing with joy. This is a profound mystery to me. And that's not just because I'm a giddy girl (did you see how cute he is picking apples on Facebook?).

Joy is something I believe should be there. It's something that I hope we find. All the time. That's right. I said ALL OF THE TIME! Because, you know, God is good. All of the time!



Last night, I went to hear a certain songwriter from my hometown. Yes, she and I grew up in the same place. I've always wondered who she's singing about in this song because chances are I know the family (if not the actual person). Of course, she still lives in New York and sang about it. As I listened from the second row surrounded by friends from my new home, I couldn't quite escape this feeling of homesickness.

This is not something that happens often to me. I am the wandering soul. I have travel lust. I rarely want to be stuck at home. I want to explore as much as possible. This feeling of homesickness is not familiar. However, there it was.

As she sang about the Hudson, I got to thinking about my conversation earlier in the day. I was rather pleased with how the conversation went. I was able to model conflict management while speak honestly that I don't do this with my own parents (mostly because I don't need to do so). What hit me while listening to sweet lyrics was that familiar nagging that I don't get to have that mother-daughter relationship. I know. This is old news. No surprise to you. However, it was one of those strange moments where I grieved the fact that my baby sister is getting ready to go to college. My step-mother has that special relationship with her -- but I don't get it. We have a great relationship. Don't get me wrong. I love her dearly -- more than she knows probably. And yet, I can't help but wonder if I'm missing out on something because of a technicality. My mom isn't home. She's not somewhere that I can call her and say I miss her. I related to this woman in my office yesterday by talking about how it is to parent a child when your mother isn't around. I know this territory. I don't know (or not as well) how to be a daughter. I guess that's what I'm missing today (at least a little).

But, really, only a little. As you know, there is this boy in my life. There is a boy who's friends invited me over to watch the debate tonight. I consider this a big deal since I've met them twice. And really, I can't be all homesick and whiny because there is this boy in my life that makes me smile radiantly. That's right. Radiantly. It took me until last week to tell him my family story and he keeps asking questions. He's really close to his family and my story just isn't the same. The way I relate to my family just isn't the same. However, there is something unique about sharing this with him. He makes it safe. And really, who can complain about being homesick when you feel that safe? Right. I'll shut up then.


Feeling Awkward & Young

In less than 30 minutes, a member of my church is coming to my office to talk about her daughter. She's struggling with her college-age daughter's decisions. She's eager to improve their relationship. And in seeking support to make these improvements, she's turning to me.

It was important for her to emphasize yesterday that it was a compliment. She wasn't trying to belittle me. She wanted me to know. And yet, she's looking to me as someone that understands her daughter's actions simply because of my age. I want to believe her. I want to feel affirmed by this thought -- and yet I'm 10 years older than her daughter. I made decisions differently and continue to do so. I feel incredibly awkward about this counsel. I want to be able to offer the presence of God in the midst of this broken relationship. And yet, I'm not sure I've got enough authority to do so. It seems that this woman is turning toward me as a daughter rather than a pastor. I understand that -- but I don't know what to do with it.


What's Cooking?

This friend told me last week on the phone that he only reads my blog every month. He then told me that he scans my blog for what he deems the "good posts." In my sporadic blogging of late, I'm wondering what constitutes a "good post" for me -- and whoever might stumble upon these pages. I have no answer, by the way.

I'm stealing internet outside in the cold (yes, it's cold here) in order to scour the internet for recipes to cook dinner for Musicman tomorrow night. I steal my internet. I really need to get my own. I know. It's awful. Anyhow, did I mention that on top of all of the wonderful things there are about this boy, he's also a wonderful cook? Yes. I'm no whiz in the kitchen but I like to think I can do more than boil water. He intimidates me. I haven't cooked yet. I've flexed my credit card muscle instead. I have been to meek and shy. But, tomorrow, I cook. I don't really know what yet -- but I shall cook. I shall create romance in my kitchen and enjoy the fruits of my labor (no matter what).

To all of the domestic god(desse)s (and those that aspire to be), I ask for your prayers.


Possible Hope

Somehow, over a series of gatherings this summer, this amazing group of church members have given me hope. Tribal Church blogged about another vision of hope this morning. My organizing friend talked about still another version of hope last night on the treadmill last night. Hope is something we are all looking for. It's something we are searching for around every corner. And for me, it has come in the simple realization that these 12 people that have studied the Book of Ruth together over the summer have discovered what church can be. This is new for most of them. I don't know why but in this Big Church, they haven't experienced the possible hope of breaking down all those pretenses and opening the Bible.

When Labor Day arrived, they didn't want to stop. They liked this hope. We decided to continue to study the first three chapters of Genesis. That's what we did last week. We opened to Genesis 1 and talked it through. Day by day. The laughter was truly "carbonated holiness." I love this line from Anne Lamott. We moved from talking about God as Parent in Ruth to talking about God as Artist in Genesis. We talked about the nearness of breath and God being that close to the waters and to us. So close that God hovers.

I've always liked this about Genesis. It's truly one of my favorite images -- but today it seems real. It's not a metaphor but something almost tangible. I don't know if hope ever can be tangible but that's how it feels. After reading my review earlier this week, I'm reminded that even though I'm young in my ministry and lack maturity in some areas (I admit that but don't you dare agree), I know this congregation. I can see what they need. I saw it when I felt God first breathe into our covenant together. I knew that these small moments of what church could be was what this group of people needed to feel. And the strangest thing is that is happening. It's happening in me and around me. It's happening because God is that close and so hope is more than possible. Hope is tangible.


The Biological Clock

Last night, after barely scooping myself off the couch from Sunday morning events, my dear friend came over for dinner. We pulled things together with a few ingredients and sat down to talk -- which we haven't really done all summer. He has been swept up into his love affair. I have had my own drama. Our lives have just not intersected in the same way. He is one of my favorite people so this has been sad for me. However, that all changed last night when we got to linger over wine and food.

The last topic of our conversation turned to babies. He's 31. I'm 29. Our friends are all having babies. In fact, I have had several children pop out of my girlfriends in the past few weeks. My other girlfriends (the single ones) are beginning to talk about this internal clock. I think mine is broken. Or maybe I never had it. I'm not really sure what I think about it. However, my 31-year old friend is resolved on this issue. No kids. No babies. No ridiculous adoption feats. No proving he's a good gay dad. EVER. I'm not so sure. I'm straight and I'm assuming everything works just fine so that the option is out there. It's possible -- if I wanted it.

Of course, I can't help but think about the children that gathered at my feet yesterday morning. I can't help but think about how loved they are and how much they have going for them. Some part of me wants to be there for that journey. I want to be able to nurture them as they grow and in the same breath I wonder if this is enough. It is enough to just do this. To just be a good mentor. Will this offer me the satisfaction I need? Or, as my dear friend waxed poetic last night, do we need to let go of our self absorption and really make some sacrifices for someone else? I know I'm not there yet. I just wonder if that's ever something I will want -- because I think you should be called to have kids. I have no idea where the Biblical paradigm for that emerges with Sarah's laughter and Mary's illegitimacy. Was it that their biological clocks were ticking? Or is it bigger than that? Is this what God called them to be? And is that a call for me?


The End of Summer

Tomorrow is Homecoming Sunday. After being away for the summer, we welcome everyone back to church with a big fair and celebration of our life together. In my church life, this marks the beginning of fall. I thought that we might be able to sneak in a few more days of summer here and there. I tried yesterday to go to the beach and pretend that there would be sunbathing and swimming. Alas, we were huddled under towels against the rocks trying to stay warm. And so, it's official: Fall is here.

And though I do indeed love the change of seasons, there is something about this shift. I'm not sure what the emotion is. It's not sadness. It's not joy. It's somewhere in between, I think. Perhaps I'm not sure what the fall brings (and I'm a planner). I have changed my job description at church to have a new focus on the faith formation of the entire community, rather than only the youth and adults. I'm leaving behind a summer with a fantastic Scottish experience and the intention to read several more books than I did. And, then, there is this boy who presents something new, uncertain and wonderful.

Indeed, it is the beginning of something new which means that I have to let go of what was. Isn't that the mystery of faith? We are filled with endings and beginnings that are uncertain and fluid. It is the wisdom of Ecclesiastes that I love so much but have no idea how to process. To everything there is a season. I wonder what this one will hold.


Musicman's Birthday

Yesterday was Musicman's birthday. There was a lot of celebrating over this weekend which may be evidenced in the glaze in my eyes here. The photo was taken by his new roommate and old, old childhood friend who has decided that she likes me and I needed a picture of us. Hence, this was the only photo snapped during Monday's party. I think that I may have given up after this photo and his expression. Um, Ok, so we're not ready for the photo shoot. I get it. I'm not going to explain the outfit though. I don't think that I can. So, go with it. There he is.

The celebration seems to only continue as there were leftover goodness last night with laughter and birthday wishes. I gave him a present which he loved. I'm enjoying him so much.

When this was originally published, I said something else that I have deleted. It's still true. It's just too much for me to know that it's out there on the internet. Sigh.


Vanity of Vanities

For several days now, I have been meaning to highlight my hair. My stylist told me it was time. He was horrified by my roots. I wasn't so much -- but I believed his wisdom. So I went and bought a box of highlights (as I have done several times in the past). This time, I thought I would try a new product similar to the product I had used before -- but new nonetheless. And cheaper. I think that matters with the end result.

After rehearsing with a bride and groom for their wedding, I came home last night and opened the box. Twenty minutes later I became a bottle blonde. Oh shit. I'm sorry for the profanity -- but not only will I be in the pulpit today, I will officiate a wedding and tomorrow I will meet Musicman's friends. And I am a bottle blonde. This is offensive because I was a blonde. I've gotten darker and darker into my 20s and I started to fight back. I never wanted to fight this hard.

Luckily, I am also terrible at this so I can flip my hair to create another part (an unnatural part) that shows my more natural color. Yes, I am Cruella Deville. I look almost as menacing as she does in her sports car. Almost as angry with myself.

I'm so horrified by my own vanity and must admit that I'm really not sure what to do about this. Do I suffer with this until my hair grows out even though I just got a haircut? Do I go back to my sylist and cry after the long weekend? Or do I just laugh at my own stupidity and get over it?


That's It! I QUIT!

If you were to tell a story about your ministry (in its current or a past setting) and choose an ending, what would happen?

I was recently told a story (of which I don't have all the details) about a colleague in ministry that was serving as a solo pastor in Rural America. Some members of the church called a meeting behind her back. Sigh. This is sad enough, but the reason that they called this meeting was to discuss the fact that she listened to too much secular music. They thought that this should change. She didn't leave, but if she did. This would have been it.

I'm looking for stories like this one. I'm wondering about those moments when you almost threw in the towel because of something that happened during your ministry. Did you want to leave the church? Did it force you into thinking about leaving the ministry altogether? Do you have some strange fantasy about eating, praying and loving all over the world? If you were to tell a story, how would it all end?


Reading Challenge XVII

I'm so sad that I just finished the last sentence of Barbara Kingsolver's Animal Vegetable Miracle. It was just wonderful. As I've already says, she inspires me. Her words make me want to write more. They challenge me to be a better person and live more faithfully in tune with Creation. And now, I'm just sad that it's over.

She has inspired me to actually order a CSA box over the winter months. She got me to make a summery potato salad for my dinner party on Sunday night. Um. Yum. That same meal was created with all local foods and gluten free. I love bread -- but one of my guests is very allergic. And now, I feel compelled to read that book sitting on my shelf that will make me feel badly about eating everything -- but I think it's time for a real novel. Summer isn't over yet, after all.

From the Mouths of Babes

Little Mary and I had a wonderful phone chat about our Children's Sermons for this past Sunday. We decided what we would say and how it would sound. As always, I rely on the children to lead me. I changed my direction slightly from what Little Mary and I had discussed. I asked that question from the text, "Who do you say that I am?" and invited the children to respond with their names.

Then, I talked about Peter. He was given a special name that signified his relationship with Jesus and the ministry to which he was called. So, I asked them about nicknames -- special names that are given to us by people that love us. I got some cute responses until I turned back to Nicholas. Nicholas is coming into his own comedic timing, at 4 years old. Nicholas replied,

"Well, sometimes my mom and dad call me crackpot."

I have no idea how I recovered from this -- perhaps I just started the prayer. However, I think that this might be the one and only time that "crackpot" is said during any of my sermons.

When Crazy People Come to Church

How wide do we open the door?
Do we dare to let these children of God in?

Yesterday, my colleague received an email from a marginal member who every so often lashes out for something desperate. She needs grocery money or her car is broken. She calls the SP and begs. This has happened twice now. He makes a phone call on her behalf and apologizes that he can't do anymore. Neither of these phone calls have worked out -- but both times she has sent an email to announce joyously that God is protecting her and sent her angels that took care of her. This time, it was a whole family of 5 that showed up and played badminton with her in the backyard. For those of you that have children, is this something you do with your three children? Really? I don't think so. I asked the SP if he thought she was making the rounds among the churches. I pegged this family as Baptist from the other side of town. They're nicer than we are.

This is actually what bugs me. It's one thing to invite the "crazy people" into worship and welcome them "no matter where they are on life's journey" -- but it's totally another when these people are calling the pastors at home. It's the pastors that have to decide how to negotiate these relationships so that all parties are safe, healthy and well.

I admit that I have no idea how to do this. This is a little too close to home for me. I don't know how to relate to my brother -- and he's family! How can I possibly know what is fair both for me and these children of God that wander through the church doors? I fear that this will be one of the greater challenges to face the church in the future. And yet, I don't know what to do with it today.


Ethical Eating

So, I'm reading a book that seems to be all the rage in my community. It seems every time I turn around, someone else is reading it. Unless, of course, they are reading one of those vampire books.

Anyhow, this favorite author of mine is inspiring me -- as she always does. I'm thinking about how I eat, where I eat and how it reflects my commitment to God's created order. I'm soon heading to the Farmer's Market, but this is a gift that is offered to our community only in summer months. We don't get to have it much during the winter -- perhaps because the climate here is a little less than hospitable. So, I just did a little research on Community Supported Agriculture in our area. It turns out that there is one farm that offers winter shares. But, I've never done this before. I'm not sure the questions to ask. Or if there is something I need to know before I slap down a deposit to see three cheers for the farmers and local produce. Is there anything?


An Observation

Reading and sunning myself on the beach is not only an excellent self care practice -- but invites time for me to reflect. Something about the waves washing over me allows me to reconnect with myself and all of the good stuff that makes me tick.

So, as I was enjoying my new favorite beach today, I realized something about myself. I have a strange ability to overreact. This isn't a horribly terrible thing in most circumstances -- but I do tend to process aloud. This confuses people perhaps even in the blogging community. It also confuses people that I'm rather honest. I say what I feel. I don't hold back often (which is a new skill I'm exploring as a pastor). This is not really about Musicman as much as it is about my current call. I've had lots of questions about whether or not I'm leaving both inside and outside of the church. My reaction has been to overreact.

But, today, as the waves rushed over me today, I allowed them to do just that. Let all of those things to which I'm overreacting just wash over. And let it be. Just let it be. Yeah...


Not Sure What to Say

I mean, there are lots of things that I could say but it's not something I want to blog about. It's too personal. Too wonderful. Too surreal. And I'm just not sure what to say about it -- but I wanted you to know that things with the Musicman are really rather perfect. Even though he was away all last week, he made me dinner on Monday and may again tonight though our plans are yet to be determined. He's sweet and compassionate. And I'm still ridiculously giddy. Really. It's ridiculous.

Otherwise, I did a funeral today. It was another one of these older members that fell away from being active but wanted the Senior Pastor (who is again on vacation). Remember how well that went last time? I wonder about how these conversations go among family members. I imagine that there must be some sort of pep talk that they give each other. "Yes, she looks young but it'll be OK. Mom wasn't that ____ any way. She would like it." This was essentially the comment that I got from one of her son's today. I apparently led the perfect worship experience. In the same moment, the family was able to laugh and cry. I used their stories in a meaningful way that spoke to who there mother was in God's eyes and who she will always be for them. Aside from being super giddy about a boy, this is the most wonderful feeling. This is exactly why I do this work. I love this. Right here. This feeling of knowing that we can give each other a moment of grace -- even in death.

Another church member died this week. He is much beloved and has been struggling with brain cancer, but on Sunday he finally let go. Tomorrow will be his funeral. Tonight, there will be viewing hours. A church member called me to say that she had tickets to the local minor league baseball game tonight. She wanted to know if I knew anyone. (She knew I wouldn't be interested). Instantly, I thought of a couple who has been really down on their luck with money concerns. Free tickets and their parents can care for their daughter? Lord yes. She nearly cried on the phone. And I'm thinking, today is a really good day.


Preaching Party

I'm officially jealous of my YCW friends who were in DC last week at Deep Calls to Deep: Embodying the Sermon. It sounds amazing -- and I think I'm missing Teri and Amy a wee bit. Yes, wee. That's a Scottish-ism.

So, the Gospel Lesson this week has me thinking that I want to host a preaching party but I won't compete with the online version tomorrow at Rev Gals. Still, if anyone wants to, I'd be delighted. I've just realized that I can't guilt Songbird as she's not here. Sniff.

Oh well. Enough whining. Back to the Bible. I wonder what others are thinking about this assertive woman. I preached a very pastoral sermon last week. I'm thinking about talking about health care, but wondering what this text really says about health care. Is it too narrow to use the woman's bold claim to assert a Biblical call for universal access? Do I have to get into the economics? Or can I take her lead and simply assert the moral claim that "even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table" (Matthew 15:27)? I'm not sure about this logic, but fascinated that Jesus says that something isn't "fair" (Matthew 15:26). What does it all mean?


Grace is Gone

Philosophy Over Coffee has been writing lots of cultural reviews recently. I don't tend to do this often -- except for the Book Challenge. Perhaps nothing cultural has sparked my interest lately. That is, until tonight.

The above title is not a theological statement. Never you fear. It's the title of the movie that I watched tonight on what seemed to be my first night of being home on the couch since returning from Scotland. All I wanted to do today was be on my couch watching movies. It's the ideal activity for rainy weather -- of which we are having far too much this week. Anyhow, I found this movie on Netflix. I believe it was a recommendation because I heart John Cusack. Grace is Gone is a story of a father and his daughters after his wife dies in the Iraq war. The movie is the story of how he tells his children this tragedy. Gulp.

I'm grateful for this very realistic and honest depiction of grief. I want my dad to watch it. I turned off the movie and could only mutter through my tears, "I love you Dad." And I do, Dad. I love him so much because I remember this moment and I can't imagine how hard it might have been for him. It's not that I've never thought of this. I have just never watched a 124 minute movie that portrays this situation. The only thing that bugged me was the eldest daughter. No, she was older than I was. She's 12 in the movie. I was 7. The younger daughter is 8 -- and though no story is the same, this is a bright 12 year old girl. She would have figured it out. She knew. Whether or not she fully knew, she would have known that her mom wasn't OK. There is no clue of this. And this is what annoyed me about the movie It's told from the perspective of parents that have no idea that their children actually do know what they are going through before that reality is voiced. Otherwise, fantastic movie. I highly recommend it. I wish I could figure out the appropriate venue to offer it in my ministry -- but I got nothing right now. Perhaps that's because I'm still a little jetlagged.

How It Ends

Over on Fidelia's Sisters, the column featuring the life and times of one Alexis Daphne Vina is coming to an end. We are going to create a new column that will be featured in that same space -- coming in October. As the editor, you can be sure that I will be soliciting thoughts and ideas from you for this column. (Yes, you YCW. You!)

This presents the interesting opportunity of choosing an ending to the short-term ministry of one divorced, solo pastor clergy woman in a semi-rural context. As you can read in the most recent edition of her life and times, something is up. But, what could happen from here? How should the story end?


The Unity Candle

I hate it. I think it's over done and boring -- but the couple whose wedding I will pronounce at the end of the month do indeed love it. So, I'm looking for suggestions about how to do this awkward ceremony where their families each light a candle and light their big ol' pillar candle to symbolize their new family. I prefer that everyone gets up out of their seat and touches the couple and says some words, but I can't always have my way.

So, I found a liturgy at Reformed Worship, but I'm looking for other suggestions. Do you have any? Can you recommend something? Can you email me something brilliant? I would be eternally grateful. Or you can read the horrid thing that I created with great reluctance...

Before the ceremony, the florist would arrange the three candles on the altar – one pillar candle in the center (not lit), flanked by two taper candles that are. During the ceremony, the minister would invite the parents forward to the altar after the couple has offered their pledges, and before they offer their vows.
The minister would offer the following words:

Jesus reminds us to not hide our light under a bushel, but to put it on a stand so that it can give light to the house. With this reminder, ______ and ______ let the light of their love shine before the whole house with this symbolic candle.
In this candle, two lights come together as one. Before ______ and ______ found the love celebrated in this single light, they walked as children of the light. They were taught to shine by their parents to find all that is good and right and true.

On this day, when these two children of light become one, the families that have nurtured them and prepared ______ and ______ to freely give themselves to each other, pass the light of their family to form a new light.

[Parents take taper candles, one for each family, and light pillar candle together.]

As ______ and ______ begin their own family, shaped by their parents and their God who taught them to be children of light, they give thanks to God for the families of which they are still a part and into which they bring each other. Let this new light shine through out the whole house!

Naturally, the two flanking candles are not extinguished since they represent the two existing families from which the bride and groom come to form yet another family.


Coming Home

Perhaps you are interested in learning about my trip to Scotland. I don't know what to tell you. Teri and Amy and I had a wonderful time. I'm not sure what to share -- so I'll just post a painting. This was one of the gifts of this trip for me. I actually painted. The painting here is of Iona Abbey. Nice huh? Not a bad little retreat if it weren't so damn cold (though Amy and I discovered that that's why God created whisky).

And yet, I don't really want to tell you about my trip. I would rather tell you about coming home. I know that Teri and Amy want to know. They come home tomorrow. But, I came home last night after many, many, many hours of different modes of transportation. I arrived home in Maine where a certain boy greeted me. Mind you, I arrived at 1:30 in the morning. He came and picked me up at the bus station (like I said, many modes of transportation). I had sent him a text message after my first flight mentioning that I was already thinking about what was in my bar. He promised he would take care of it. So, what does this boy do?

He shows up at 1:30 in the morning with flowers, sparkling wine and an array of fresh fruit. There was even tiramisu but I couldn't eat it. I was too overwhelmed. So, we sat on my porch and chatted and kissed until 3 or so. He also got his very own toothbrush in my apartment out of the deal. Yeah. It's good to be home. Rumor has it that he's cooking for me tonight. My job is to pick up a movie. I love that that's all I need to worry about. And I will tell you, as I told him, I feel totally and completely spoiled -- but oh it's so good. It's so very good.

Reading Challenge XIII, XIV, XV, XVI

I will start my return to America posting with the books that I read while I was away.

I started with humor -- because we all need a little David Sedaris in our lives and he just came out with a new book. I admit that he is a recent discovery for me so I'm catching up. I laughed on the plane and into Glasgow with Me Talk Pretty One Day -- which I hope a guest or member of the Iona Community also enjoys because I left my copy there.

After finishing this humor, I moved on to some girl power books. When I went shopping for books (do others do this where they pick a theme for what they want to read while they are on vacation?), I was all about the girl power. I found this book at our local independent bookseller called A Peculiar Feeling of Restlessness. It's published by a small publishing house that maintains a blog. I loved this book. Loved it. They were all short stories that were really easy to read. I highly recommend this. This is the only book I brought home with me.

I was still in Glasgow when I got to my third book, Moral Disorder and Other Stories by Margaret Atwood. Yes, more short stories. I liked this one a lot too -- though it did keep me company through Iona and most of Edinburgh. It follows the story of one woman over the span of her lifetime. It's really rather interesting. I also recommend this though my copy got sopped with water while hiking so I left it in Edinburgh where I hope someone will enjoy it.

Finally, after going on the Old Town Literary Pub Crawl in Edinburgh, I learned that Oscar Wilde had an affair with a Catholic priest who served the church pictured here. Our fabulous tour guide told us that Wilde modeled the character of Dorian Gray in The Picture of Dorian Gray after this priest. Obviously, I had to read that -- so I picked it up at a local independent bookseller in St. Andrews and read about the vanity of the priesthood. I hope no former lover of mine writes about me this way -- but it was good. Get that. I even read a classic on my trip.


Good Night Macbook

Good Night internet access.
Good Night power cord.
Good Night e-mail.
Good Night Facebook.
Good Night blogging community.

I will soon turn off my computer to practice my sermon a couple more times before preaching it and hopping on a bus to get to a plane that will take me to Scotland. It promises to be a long, long day of travel. But, even the Musicman is insistent that a proper goodbye is important. He couldn't say goodbye to me last night at the fun show where he was playing (and I had to leave early). He wants to see me off at the bus stop. Of course, I tried to talk him out of this because I have no idea what to do with the emotions that I'm feeling. That's normal, right? Well, they're already packed away for the next 3 weeks of travel. I'm taking those feelings with me as a make my way to Scotland.

Though I am taking a hint from Teri and calling an internet fast, I know it's a lie. I'll be alone for 5 days. I will probably check my email. I might even blog. But, I do indeed have the intention of turning it all off for the next 3 weeks. I wish you well in these next few weeks and hope that God blesses you with a wonderful end to July. God knows, August is going to be amazing.


The Element of Surprise

"You were not part of the plan," Musicman absently remarked this morning driving me home this morning. "But, your best element is surprise."

I think I asked something stupid about whether or not he liked surprises. I had also just asked the stupid question of whether or not he would return my calls in three weeks when I return from Scotland. I'm not good at this. Clearly. As much as Musicman has been taken by surprise, I have been too. This is most unexpected -- but it's sweet and romantic and wildly exciting.

I divulged a secret to him last night -- something I don't share about myself ever. Or nearly ever. And yet, I thought at that moment that it was important for him to know. And it was. He needed to know this. Not for him, but because I needed him to know it. Of course, the response is what scared me. He could have responded in any number of ways. But, when I did the girly thing of asking him what he was thinking (which he does more often than I do), he told me that the strangest thing was that it didn't scare him at all. I replied: "Well, that freaks me out." At least I'm honest -- but I'm totally shocked by the welcome surprise that this boy has offered. I cherished dinner and drinks with him last night. I loved watching him on stage and snuggling with him afterward. It's a surprise. It's all a great surprise. And now, I have that stupid girly grin again. Sigh.



I did the unthinkable last Sunday and used the Gospel Lesson to talk about generations. Jesus invited me to do it with that crazy question: "But to what will I compare this generation?" (Matthew 11:16, NRSV). I also happen to be reading Robert Wunthow's After the Baby Boomers. Slowly. But, I'm reading it. So, I couldn't resist. I went for it.

I spoke to the generations older than me in the congregation about the differences of how we define ourselves and whether or not this leads to the "progression of American society" (that line I stole from an essay on This I Believe). Of course, I didn't say anything too direct about this. I'm just not that kind of preacher. I ask questions and hint at what I mean. If you know my real name or where I serve, you can find the sermon with a little help from Google. That is, if you are dying to read it. I'm not assuming you are. Crazy Pastor, you should be writing your own sermons.

Anyhow, I got this email today from a clergy man (an older clergy man) that reads my work blog and my sermons. He said this:

You’ve done it again. I have just read your sermon. As a “Baby of the Boom,” let me say, Well done.
Blah. Blah. Blah. He adds his own sermon illustration for my sermon (which he always does). And then, finally concludes with:
As always, THANK YOU. Don’t stop writing or speaking.

This is a compliement that I'm missing somehow. I know it is. I'm just not comfortable with it for some reason.


Reading Challenge XII

Today, while pushing myself on the treadmill onto the next page, I finished Mother Teresa: Come Be My Light. The priest that edited the letters together did a wonderful job in some ways. In other ways, he just repeated what Mother Teresa had already said. I wanted more depth than he offered as her letters were intense. I wanted some additional commentary that I guess is too early to offer.

I was surprised by Mother Teresa. I thought she was more of a kindred spirit than I found her to be. I struggle with her atonement theology. No, I hate it. She condemned abortion as the one thing that keeps the world from peace. I see her point, but I don't agree. But, I really, really struggled with her throwing herself into the crucifixion of Jesus. She wanted to experience pain, loss, poverty and hunger to bring herself closer to Jesus -- while she doubted that he was even there. It's an authentic telling of the spiritual journey but somehow hard to read. Interesting though. Definitely interesting. Now, onto some lighter reading, I hope.


This is what I'm thinking about the Gospel Lesson.

I'm thinking about what it means to be integrated so that our whole self is participating in the Realm of God. Jesus hints at this in the 23rd verse when he invites (I see it as an invitation) to bring our emotion (understands), speech (hears) and action (bears) into that Realm. I wonder what that means though when we are scattered across the path, rocky ground and amid the thorns. Can we ever be that integrated? Or are we just that scattered?


One of my friends just emailed me to ask how things are going with "the new man" (her term, not mine). She outlined it as a quiz. There were 10 multiple choice questions. Yes, she's funny. Amazingly, all of my answers reflected that I'm entering into an actual relationship. I don't do relationships. I just don't. Not that I don't want to. It just never seems to happen. I usually go for the wrong guy. The unavailable guy. The asshole. You know the type. But, now, I'm interested in a nice boy. A nice boy that plays music, has passion and cooks. Um, yes, that's me freaking out. Luckily, my sisters in Christ remind me that I'm not the only one that feels so insane most of the time. The new Single Rev Gal's Guide to Life article is just brilliant.

I'm about to go on vacation -- an insane, nearly three week vacation to a country where the dollar is useless. I'm traveling alone for one week (actually 5 days) and then meeting up with two other YCW whom I hope to find at the train station next Saturday morning without cell phones. Eeeeek. I love my alone time but this trip is making me nervous. I finally feel like I'm settling into my relationships here. I have awesome friends that email me with silly quizzes. I have a possible new relationship with a boy. And I'm leaving for three weeks to be alone. This doesn't really add up for me as I pack my bags.

Deep breath. I know, it'll be fine. It'll be great actually. But, I'm a ball of emotion. All good emotion -- you know, because God is good all of the time. But, that doesn't change the fact that I'm a ball of emotion.