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.