Wednesday Lamentations

This is one of those weeks that seems impossible to fathom. So, I'm going to do the only thing I can right now and write. I don't know how to pray. I can't sit still. I just need to write. So, here are my prayers in no logical order.

One of our church members is in the hosptial. Got there last Sunday after hacking up a lung in the pew. His cancer is out of remission and now the man is dying. We're in Patriot land though -- so he wants to hold on until the Super Bowl. God forgive me for thinking that's innane.

Mom's annniversary is this Saturday. I'm surprisingly OK -- though everytime I think about this church member I want to cry. He's one of those people that you love even though he's a pain in the ass at every church gathering. Maybe that's why I love him. I baptized his grandson last year right before confirmation. It was my first baptism. It's created a connection. Go figure. But, that doesn't change the fact that I've spent an inordinary amount of time in the hospital this week. This is not my favorite place and not the time of year I really want to be there. I know it's part of my calling and I'm glad that I can be there. But, it's really hard and I'm not enjoying it.

And then, just when I think I can allow myself to go to that 7 year old place, BAM! A member shows up in my office yesterday to tell me that he's on suspension from work because of an allegation of sexual misconduction. Let me say that again. Allegation. Not confirmed. Shit. Did I mention that he's one of our Youth Advisers? So, I spent this morning rereading all of our Safe Church Policy documents and documenting all of my contact with this member since yesterday. His big question was why this would happen to him. I found this fascinating as I gave up on this idea of God a long, long time ago. This guy lost his wife last year -- almost to the day -- and still thinks that everything happens for a reason. Bless you child, but I can't think of a God that would will this upon you. This isn't a test. This isn't something to learn from. This just sucks.

It's time for Bible Study. Let's hope that I can hold it together.



I am a spiritual leader because...
I am a spiritual leader because...
I am a spiritual leader because...

Week Two of the Alban Institute's A Spriritual Leader's Guide to Self Care lead me to the exercise that required writing this sentence on my page three times. I had to fill in the dot dot dot with the first words that came to my mind. And the first words that completed this sentence in my mind...

I am a spiritual leader because my mother died.

I'm grateful that I have a good companion on this journey that encouraged me past these words. She reminded me that this was not all my call was about -- even though I was stuck after creating a &%$&* life map. I think a lot about my childhood. Maybe other clergy don't but I'm aware that my childhood has formed who I am as an adult, as a minister and as a human being. Perhaps this is a setback in my ministry and my own personal development even though my colleague encouraged me that I must be wonderful at bedsides and other's anniversaries because I get it. And yet when this sentence appeared below my pen, I was disappointed and unsettled. Shouldn't there be more? Shouldn't it be something else? Am I just another one of the train wrecks that I loathed in seminary? Am I a spiritual leader because of this event? Or is there something else?

This is the dreaded week of my mother's anniversary. It is 21 years. I could drink the number of years that my mother has been dead. (It was a disgusting thought in my head too.) I may be thinking about this too much. I probably am but I can't help it. I remarked to an old friend today that I feel like I should be over it. I feel like it should get easier. But, it doesn't. Maybe my Nordic side kicks in with a little Seasonal Affective Disorder. Maybe that's an excuse to protect the seven year old within me that misses her mother and wonders how life can unfold in such a confusing way. Nonetheless, I feel like it should be over. It shouldn't hurt anymore.

I want all of those stupid things that people say at death to come true so that it no longer hurts. I don't know if that means that I would no longer be a spiritual leader. I can't really imagine that. I am a spiritual leader because this experience of loss has shaped me. I am a spiritual leader because I was saved by a community of faith. I am a spiritual leader because I believe that others can be offered the hope that I found -- even when I can't find it on the 21st anniversary of my mother's death. I still want to believe it's possible when I revert to my seven year old mindset. I still want to be offered that comfort. I have no idea how to share that right now. I just know that this is part of it. Maybe I should listen to my own pastoral wisdom.


I Hate Dating!

After enjoying a lovely dinner last night with new clergy friends, I came home to unwind, pay bills and talk to this new boy interest. It was an annoying conversation. He asked the same questions that he had already asked. I didn't play it cool. I called him on it. He didn't seem all that bright while claiming to be an intellectual type. Nothing about his personality seemed to have all that much depth.

We had already talked about not showing up at church to "check me out" but he confessed that he had thought about doing it anyhow. I was annoyed. We met online. It's been clumsy with his worklife and Christmas smackdab in the middle of our trying to get to know each other. And he's worse at the phone than I am. (This is a special talent reserved for the very few.)

So, he sends me an email this morning to tell me that he doesn't want to have dinner with me after all. He explains that I'm religious and he's not -- and that will only be awkward. He carries on this inner monologue is five paragraphs of email while also including that I'm not well-read and narrowminded. Is it unfair that I think he's actually the one that's narrow?

I hate that others assume what it means to be religious. I hate that this is a barrier in dating. Ask me. Don't assume that you know. Don't write me off after an awkward conversation because you can't remember that we have already had this conversation. Yes, this is a weird flaw of dating clergy. It's our job to remember conversations and remember details in some strange mental catalog that no one understands. Yes, I remember our conversation and what you said. But, I'm more sorry that you can't imagine what it might mean for someone to be religious and interested in people that are not. I'm sorry that you can't think outside of the box. But, most of all, I'm angry that you sent me this email first thing in my day. I want to pray to God to smite you except for the small problem that I don't understand prayer or God's actions in that way.

But instead, I'm going to talk to a lesbian couple about their union because their home church has shunned them. Isn't it wonderful that I'm called to stand in these wonderful moments of love? Or is it tragic that I'm becoming more bitter?


The Promised Land

Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I'm not concerned about that now. I just want to do God's will. And He's allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I've looked over. And I've seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the promised land!

These are the words that Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. used to conclude his final speech I've Been to the Mountaintop. I heard these words excerpted last night at the musical and gospel celebration in honor of this saint of the church. And today, I'm wondering about the Promised Land. I'm still not sure what this means.

The Biblical theme is huge. It's probably larger than we can imagine. The Promised Land is not only what is imagined. It's not only what Moses journeyed toward when Aaron served as his voice. It's not only what Joshua finally arrived to with the Israelite community that has such high hopes through Moses' encouragement. It's more than that. I'm still not sure how to articulate my own thoughts on what this ideal is today -- perhaps because today is the day of my ordination. Today, when we celebrate the work on Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., I am celebrating the first anniversary ordination. And because of this event, it seems impossible to imagine the Promised Land.

Tonight, it seems like there is more to this ideal that Joshua experienced. It's not done. And I should probably go back to my Bible to remember exactly what is said about this idea -- because I don't think that we are there yet. Or at least, this is what I said to one of my good friends tonight after dinner. He commented that I must so proud of my accomplishments -- but I don't think that this is what this anniversary is about. It's not about achievement or where we've been. To me, this anniversaty is about all of the people that surround me. It's about the community that supports me. It's about the community that believes that I can lead. It's about the people that believe that I can be a vision of hope. It's about those people that allow me to hold the cup and the loaf and call upon the presence of God. My anniversary is about these people that make my ministry possible. It's about what the Promised Land will be and how we imagine our Church together.


Reading Challenge II

After settling into bed to check email and watch a little late night TV, I read Alex's blog only to discover that she is on her fourth book. Doh! I hate it when guilt is motivation -- but I admit it. I turned off the TV and turned to the last pages of Here If You Need Me.

This is the book that I will be discussing with my new book group in the beginning of February so I was taking my time as not to appear a complete moron and slacker at our first gathering. I wonder what we will talk about at this discussion. There are some good themes about what it means to be in ministry (it's a book group of ministers) and how to face our fears -- as well as some really good stuff about tragic horrible death.

Kate Braestrup is also brave enough to talk about her own grief. And as you might guess, this is something that it's important to me. I don't happen to share her perspective AT ALL. But, I love that she talks about this hard stuff. As I've closed the novel and left it on my bedside table, the nagging idea that lingers is that when this hard stuff hits, we can only rely on cliches. This has not been true for my experience of grief and loss. It pains me that this is true for this Unitarian minister because it's not what I do in my ministry (as I will not tomorrow morning when I meet with a widow). However, it's a wonderful book that has made me love my adopted state a little bit more.

So, I'm on to my third book in the new year of which I have already read a chapter. You can find my head buried in The Book of Lost Things trying to find some connection to others that understand my grief. Maybe this twelve-year-old boy will help me as my mother's 21st anniversary approaches.


Heaven Opens

I didn't exactly keep it a secret from the members of my congregation that I was not pleased with my sermon this morning. It guess it wasn't exactly horrifying -- but it lacked the poetry that I had hoped for in the completed manuscript that I hope to preach. I guess that's what I wanted: completion. The ideas were there. And yet, the document was not as fluid and poetic as this preacher chick might like.

My sermon focused on the stange wonder that "the heavens were opened" (Matthew 3:16, NRSV). The very idea fascinates me and I'm still trying to figure out what exactly this is about.

One of the themes that I was struggling with in my own justice seeking as I imagined the heavens opening was influenced by the unseasonable 60 degree weather in January. Outside of the ancient worldview, I was perplexed about what weather might mean for this understanding of heaven opening. I hinted at this in my sermon as I referenced an article in our local paper -- but it was not something that I particularly emphasized in my sermon. This was especially true in the first service this morning where I didn't reference the article or really talk about global warming at all. And yet, heaven opened when one quiet woman asked me: "What will happen to the ritual of baptism when there is no longer any water in our world?"


New Year o' Self Care

Songbird and I went to have our feet soaked today. Did you know that you only really need to soak your feet to release all of your stress? Unlike MoreCows who has converted others to the practice of bathing in the bathtub, this is not something I have really indulged in (though I've been thinking about it). Plus, there is no one in my bathtub that will massage my feet while I soak. It would be great if such a person existed but I don't even think that a partner would be that willing to do that. It was wonderful to eat chocolate, drink water, chat and soak in healing waters. How appropriate for the week of Christ's Baptism? It was lovely. Truly lovely -- though I'm more and more aware of the tension between my shoulders. I should have bought the cool contraption that healed our shoulders that Songbird was wise enough to buy. Eh.

After this ritual of self care, I read in a coffee shop and I think got hit on. At least, I think he was trying to hit on me. He didn't do very well but it was a nice ego boost. And then, I ventured to meet another colleague to talk about our new commitment to self care. This year, we will be following the Alban Institute's A Spriritual Leader's Guide to Self Care which operates on a week-to-week journey of journaling, reflection and conversation. It was actually a great conversation over more beverages this afternoon to be honest about the fact that this is a complicated covenant we are making. We have entanglements in our ministry. I'm active in her organization. She's active where I am in service. We have a complicated relationship that is professional, personal and collegial. It's confusing and wonderful. We admitted to each other that we didn't know if this would work because of our complicated roles -- but we are eager to try to learn how to make these roles function for the health of our ministry. I'm excited about to proclaim this the year of self care. I wonder what it will bring...


Wisdom of the Ages

Tonight on The New Hampshire Debates, Fred Thompson mentioned this term. He may have repeated it more than once in the midst of a conversation about how politicians change their perspective. A similar conversation would erupt between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton in the next hour. John Edwards chimed into this conversation to talk about change. And yet, I wonder if Fred Thompson's word choice wasn't more significant when he called upon the wisdom of the ages.

This is a religious theme. To my quick Biblical search, the exact term does not appear in the Bible -- though wisdom is certainly an important theme. The Books of Wisdom in the Hebrew Scriptures include the books of Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Solomon. These are songs and stories that delve into the reality of human experience in its joy and its pain. And yet, these are not the voices that come to mind when Fred Thompson uses this term the wisdom of the ages. My mind races to the prophets who call for change as John Edwards cites outside of a Biblical context. My mind wonders about the justice and peace that have been held in the center of the Biblical understanding of the world. Then, I start to sing the Psalms, "How long O Lord?" (Psalm 13:1, NRSV).

My Lord is not the candidates that debate upon my television screen tonight. My hope lies outside of their wisdom, experience and arguments so I will continue to sing in tune with the Psalmist. And yet, what floors me about the choice of Fred Thompson's words is that simple fact that my Biblical understanding is always changing -- as it seems our political candidates continue to evolve over a short period of time. This makes sense to me. It makes sense that time and circumstance should change how one sees the world and its needs. While pollsters refer to this as flip-flopping, I wonder if this isn't maturity, study and perhaps even prayer.

As Fred Thompson used this familiar term, I wondered about how our Biblical understanding continues to evolve -- and should evolve -- if we are careful in our study. With time and study, we have learned that Leviticus 18:22 and Romans 1:26-27 does not condemn homosexaulity but refers to a particular socio-historical context. We have also learned how to understand how the evolving Jesus Movement learned to impose laws on each other that limited the authority of women in 2 Timothy 2:11-14. We've learned how to ignore or argue with these texts as much as we argue with each other. We are learning from this canon of sacred text because it is alive -- as alive as we are now. It's not flip-floping but learning through the ages how to gather wisdom. It might take two, three or four years. It may take 2,000 years. We only know that it takes time.

My question at the end of this debate is not about how we gather wisdom. My question is not about the life experiences that inform each of these candidates or even each of the American citizens. Instead, I'm left to ponder Fred Thompson's words. I wonder about the wisdom of the ages and how that wisdom connects with our here and now. But, most of all, I wonder about who we are listening to. I wonder about who in our present reality we look for for wisdom when we are so quickly to condemn, argue and belittle our fellow sojourners. I wonder where we seek and find wisdom in our present age.


Prophetic Words of Hope

I admit that I have not chosen my desired candidate from the various primaries of way-too-many candidates. It has just seemed too much -- even though I have had my eye on a select few. I haven't chosen. I have attempted to not be swept up in the political glory of what is happening in Iowa right now. I'm trying not to pay attention because most of it is just silly name calling and pointing fingers. (Honestly, it's childish).

And then, I opened my browser and the New York Times annouced Obama Triumphs in Iowa Contest as Clinton Falters; Huckabee Rolls. So I started to read this lead article and found these words:

“They said this day would never come. They said our sights were set too high. They said this country was too divided, too disillusioned, to come together over a common purpose...You have done what the cynics said you couldn’t do. You have done what the state of New Hampshire can do in five days. You have done what america can do in this new year, 2008. We are one nation, we are one people, and the time for change has come.”

My heart swoons.

It's a little Don Quixote -- and yet, it's that impossible hope that gives me hope. We can overcome. There will be change. There is more to come. Hope is not impossible. Dream the imposible dream. Sing, if you like. (I learned this entire score in high school Spanish, so I'll sing in Spanish.) I'm not sure if I can get that swept up when the man only got 37.5 percent of the 97 percent of tallied votes. It's the majority -- but can I really allow myself to fall in love with Barack Obama?


Reading Challenge I

Alex has proposed a challenge -- which I'm responding to like a good dare. Alex has discovered some startling statistics about the habits of American readers. Or non-readers, as the case may be. It is one of my hopes to read more books in the coming year because it's something I love and it's just plain silly not to make more time for it. So, as you can read in her post about the Reading Challenge, Alex encourages her fellow bloggers to write a book about the books that they have just finished.

On the plane home from Ohio, I finished my first book of the new year which was a gift from Santa. Santa gave me this copy of Little Chapel on the River about a woman that found a community of faith just after the tragedy of 9/11. Her journey is atypical as she didn't flee to church. Instead, she traveled north just past my hometown to find a new community to support and sustain her through this tragedy. And that chapel, it's a bar. It's a sweet true story about what holds us together.

My next book is one that I'm reading with one of the best Christmas gifts possible -- the incarnation of a book group -- just before Christmas Dinner. A group of us will be getting together in early February to discuss the newly released Here If You Need Me since two of us got it for Christmas.

What are you reading?


And then, God showed up.

On New Years Eve, my good friend and I sipped champagne and created our own personal bucket lists. I couldn't think of a better way to spend the new year -- as we prepare for better things to come into our lives. As we bid farewells to the hopes and fears of the past year, we prepared for what will come.

Last night, after returning from a traditional German dinner at her mother's (did you know that it's good luck to eat pork and saurkraut on New Years), we finished the bottle of champagne and chatted. And then, God showed up. I'm not talking about anything spectcularly metaphysical -- but my dear friend informed me that she felt God was pushing her to tell me to do this one thing (something that appears on my bucket list, mind you). I'm not sure I'm ready. Then again, it would be the perfect time in my life to do this. I would have to bid farewell to comfort and step out in faith. And I must admit, I'm not sure if I'm ready for that. Even if it won't happen until 2009 or 2010. It still scares me. And yet, isn't when things scare us that when we are supposed to go ahead?