Posted in Ordinary Holiness

#NoPlasticsForLent

I’m a pastor in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), and many of us have taken on the Lenten discipline of fasting from single-use plastics.

I used to be a teacher, and there’s a teaching method called frontloading we could use here. Frontloading is that thing your teacher did when, before you read a story together, they taught you the words in the story you might not know, but need to know for the story to make sense. Let’s frontload, shall we?

Lent is a time in the church year that begins 40 days (not including Sundays because every Sunday is a small Easter for us, so they don’t count in our days of Lenten focus) before Easter Sunday. Lent is a stretch of days when we look inward at our lives and outward at the world, recognizing all the ways we need a savior. One very common practice is to give something up for Lent, to fast from that thing. The intention is that every time we crave that particular thing, we are refocused on the sacrifice Jesus made for us. Not doing a thing for a while, offers us an opportunity to notice how much we rely on some things ~ and hopefully, it helps us to remember to rely on God.

#NoPlasticsForLent is a practice encouraged by the Young Adult Ministries of the ELCA. We meet up on Facebook Live each week for some tips and encouragement as we move through these weeks paying attention to our use of single-use plastics – and fasting from them.

That’s a lot of frontloading. You still with me?

Okay, so I kind of wondered how hard this was going to be. I figured it would take some intention, but not that much. I’ve been reducing my plastic use for years, now. I bring my re-usable bags to the grocery store. I bring a fork from my kitchen drawer instead of using a plastic one for my lunch at work. Here’s a picture of what I pack for showers when I travel. I use my plastic razor handle because I already own it and purchased a couple dozen razor heads on clearance long ago. If I tossed it out and got a bamboo handled razor – the plastic one would be in the landfill. So, I’ll use this as long as I can. That broken up bar of soap is a very gentle soap I love. And it works for my whole body, including my face and hair. The soap travels with me in a plastic container – but it’s far from “single use” plastic.

When I have purchased a drink in a plastic bottle, I reuse itIMG_20200304_144327 again and again for my tea. I drink lots of tea, and I make a couple gallons each week. At home, I keep it in jars with reusable straws. I prep many bottles of tea-to-go each week IMG_20200307_124225using the plastic bottles I’ve purchased, usually when traveling.

I use a bar of dish soap instead of a bottle, and I hardly ever use paper towels anymore except for something very greasy – or maybe an Eleanor Accident.

 

So, I thought I’d do this Lenten discipline with my ELCA friends because it would help me pay closer attention to my plastic use. As Ash Wednesday (the first day of Lent) approached, I knew I needed to have some rules for this discipline. It is actually impossible not to use plastics in this American life. I mean, I can’t buy rubbing alcohol in anything but a plastic bottle. I can’t buy medicine or vitamins in anything but a plastic bottle. And “single-use” was complicated, too. Tupperware bowls in my cupboard are definitely not single-use. I’ve been using them for 20 years. But, a ketchup bottle isn’t going to be get reused in my house, so is that single-use? Even if it takes me months to use up?

It turned out this plastic-use is so slippery I didn’t know how to make rules about it. So, I decided I would be very intentional about fasting from convenience-use and pay close attention to learn more about myself and my relationship to plastic.

And here’s some of what happened:

I was traveling for work and discerned we needed more snacks (it’s a spiritual gift of mine). I didn’t have my car, so I didn’t have my canvas shopping bags. And I didn’t think twice when the cashier loaded up my junk food in the worst, most heinous thing in the actual world (not including COVID 19)…plastic bags. I just said, “Thanks!” and put it all in the car. I am clearly the best as fasting. When I realized it, I took a picture of those damned bags all lumped up on the table. Ugh.

On that same trip, we stopped for fast food. I was prepared for this. I had cans of sodaIMG_20200301_124723 (very, very recyclable) in the car and skipped ordering a drink which would have a plastic straw and lid. And then, I just ripped this ketchup packet right open without thinking about it…

When I got back from that trip, I thought – Well, traveling is hard. I don’t have as much control as when I’m home. So, this will be better.

My first day back at work, I needed to refill the copy machine with copy paper…but first, I had to take the plastic wrapping off. Yes, I know you can buy IMG_20200303_103235paper not wrapped in plastic. 1. I don’t purchase our paper. 2. It gets so humid in our building for many months each year that the paper that’s stored is affected, and our IT guy says it even jams up the copier. I’m guessing that’s why we buy this kind of paper.

Okay, well I don’t control that, either. So, I’ll just be sure to be very intentional in my life in my own apartment! Eleanor Rigby and I can just be very serious about this.

And it worked great! Except when it didn’t.IMG_20200303_082735

Because I bought some chicken. I spent more and got the kind without styrofoam, which is really evil stuff. But, instead, I got a plastic tray wrapped in plastic wrap.

IMG_20200317_092212And I finished my B12 vitamins

And I finished the blue cheese.

And couldn’t buy paper towels that weren’t wrapped in plastic.IMG_20200318_192501

And there are things that make the single life much easier and better. Little cups of avocado mash from Costco belong in that category. It’s the perfect size for one person, and it doesn’t rot when you look the other way like fresh avocados do. The IMG_20200306_185805ingredients are: avocado, lemon juice, salt, pepper. It’s actually a perfect food…but it comes in plastic cups with plastic peel-off lids. And I had some in the fridge before I started this Lenten practice, so not eating them while they are still good means throwing both the food and the container away as waste. Not gonna do it.

 

That was how it went for the first couple of weeks.

 

And then the coronavirus took our safety and my attention.

I felt so vulnerable.

IMG_20200313_214124I went to Costco to pick up the heartburn meds they carry for cheap. I was out of them, and I would also grab some caramel and cheddar popcorn they carry. We weren’t in full-quarantine mode yet, but people had carts FULL of paper towels and water and such. That made me decide to shop a little for some food for me if had to be quarantined.

I picked up this salad, which I knew would be several meals for me, and I put it back down because it is just more plastic. But, I was starting to worry and feel unsafe, and I decided I wanted this more than I wanted to maintain my Lenten discipline – and I picked it back up.

And Spirit whispered to me right there in Costco something about how vulnerability helps you prioritize yourself, your safety. And while I stood there with the spinach salad in a plastic shell with smaller plastic cups with lids inside with dressing and chopped onions in them…Spirit gave me a sure and certain lesson about those who break rules to protect themselves and their families.

40 days plus Sundays.

Practice fasting from single-use plastic.

That’s all that was required of me.

And I couldn’t do it because I got scared.

So, now I’m thinking about what it means to your life when you aren’t a single white woman who lives in relative safety. When your children are still living in your home. When your home is dangerous, not because there’s a virus on the loose that may or may not get you, but because war is on the loose which will definitely get you.

Or famine is on the loose, and it is presently getting you in its slow, evil way.

Or the drug cartels are on the loose, and they are running the damn show.

If my priorities shift when I might be in danger, then let me see more clearly with the eyes of Christ my neighbor who is actually in danger.

And let me welcome the stranger.

 

Posted in Ordinary Holiness

Where Two or More…

IMG_20200210_120916Today, as two first-year students and two staff members gathered for evening prayer (our pattern for Lent), I named something I recognized.

Besides the student who had planned and was leading the service, our organist, and me, who was the cantor, one student came to prayer this evening. It has been raining for what I am certain is 700 days at this point, students are busy, Dr. Shore is away on business (or she would be there), and there are surely other reasons for such low attendance. (Like, seriously, we worship at 11:30 a.m. Mon-Thur all year long…except during Lent, we are gathering for Morning and Evening Prayer on Thursdays, so simply forgetting is easily possible.)

I was grateful for the precious and intimate time we four shared as we prayed ancient words and asked for mercy on our aching world. I really was grateful. And also, I told those two students about times in the parish when one or none showed up. I planned a two-hour Holy Saturday prayer vigil the worship committee had asked me to do. This included asking for prayer petitions in the bulletin for weeks prior, gathering those petitions and writing some prayers around their concerns, setting out candles, and imagining who might come, for whom it might be their first time at a prayer vigil and how I might help them feel comfortable. The day came. The hour came. And I sat in the sanctuary alone for more than an hour before I decided no one was coming.

One December, I planned a Longest Night service. Because Advent is such a busy time for our musicians, I learned to play the hymns we’d be singing, so our organist wouldn’t have to commit to one more service. I crafted a service, printed a bulletin, created a gentle space with candles and such. One person came: a retired pastor who was a member of our congregation. We set the bulletins aside and spent time together talking about our lives – and ended our time with prayer.

I told those stories after worship this evening because what happened in our chapel will likely happen to them in the parish. Even this is formation for ministry. It may not be a worship service. It may be a Sunday school class or a service project, and practicing “where two or more are gathered” is something that takes some getting used to. So, I am, at once, grateful for the gift of Brandy, James, Jim, and Jennifer around the organ this evening and thinking about why worship attendance is often so low – even at a seminary.

IMG_20200302_115013
Kim Bryant, United Methodist student

This is not news. I was a student here a decade ago, and we were asking the same question. We don’t make chapel attendance compulsory because, I suppose, that makes it a chore rather than a choice. And that doesn’t feel right somehow.

The argument could be made that chapel is a class, I suppose. Monday through Thursday, we explore various forms of worship from various hymnals and prayer books. At the end of last semester, I counted up all the hours one would be in worship if one never missed chapel during the semester. Monday, Tuesday, and Thursday, chapel is about 30 minutes long; Wednesday we have Holy Communion, and the service is more like 45 minutes long. Meeting for 2 hours and 15 minutes each week is nearly as much as a 3 credit hour class. It’s the equivalent of 30 hours of practicum.

Those who have attended worship daily have been exposed to the United Methodist

IMG_20200224_115131
Amanda Burke Lutheran student

Hymnal, This Far by Faith, Evangelical Lutheran Worship, With One Voice, Taize, Lectio Divina, Campfire Worship, Common Prayerbook, and various other patterns of worship.

They have heard scripture from the Revised Common Lectionary for Sundays, as well as the daily lectionary texts.

They have received communion around the altar, in a line, and in their pews – intinction, common cup, and individual cups.

They have watched as other seminarians lead, seeing what seems comfortable and what doesn’t, how people handle it when they mistakenly jump over a part of the service or ask the assembly to turn to the wrong page.

IMG_20200212_114218_1
Rev. Dr. Melanie Dobson ~ United Methodist Professor

They have heard sermons from seminary seniors, staff, faculty, and visiting preachers.

Since we are an ecumenical seminary, those who attend chapel daily have experienced the leadership of Baptist, Lutheran, United Methodist, AME Zion, Presbyterian (and more) students. This also means they have experienced the worship leadership of students from religious traditions rooted in congregations of people of African Descent, Asian Descent, and European Descent.

If a student were to worship daily in Christ Chapel for the 2 or 3 years they study here (Master of Arts in Christian Ministry and Master of Theological Studies are 2 year programs. Master of Divinity is a 3 year program.), they could have 120 or 180 hours of worship practicum apart from the worship course which

IMG_20200218_114150
Amanda Spangler ~ Lutheran M’lilian Scott ~ Baptist

equips them with the proper names of communion vessels, the patterns of prayer the church often follows (how to write them and where to find them), the practice of learning how to preside at the Table, and other matters of worship leadership.

The student who is rarely in chapel misses out on lots of opportunities for learning.

But, of course, chapel is not just a class.

LTSS Chapel worship is the gathering of women and men at the foot of the cross of Christ, who are about the work of teaching, forming, and nurturing one another to be faithful ministers of God’s word. When I am serving holy communion, and I get to look you in the eye, say the ancient words, place in your hands a piece of God, and see you through that lens, I am taught, formed, and nurtured by you…and maybe you by me. When we kneel shoulder to shoulder to confess our sins, we are what we need: the broken body of Christ. When the organ carries our voices like incense unto God who loves us in ways we don’t deserve, we experience what we need: the mystery of God’s presence among us. When we gather, two or more, we join the chorus of multitudes around the throne of the Lamb of God, singing, Holy, holy, holy!

IMG_20200122_120858How great a gift it is to dwell in this place with these people in the name of Jesus.

Posted in Ordinary Holiness

Evolving Responsibility

~ make yourself at my home, tell me where you been ~ Flo Rida

Many months ago, I registered for a conference led by Rachel Held Evans and Sarah Bessey at a beautiful conference center in the Blue Ridge Mountains. My wonderful congregation affords me a week for continuing education each year, and I knew that I wanted to spend three of those days with two authors that have formed my own faith in the last few years.

img_20181026_175214
Just a stage filled with a dozen authors, bloggers, and podcasters I read and listen to regularly. No big deal, you guys.

Their gentle invitation was something like: If you are a doubter who believes or a believer who doubts, if you have been hurt by the church or just can’t make sense of some things, if you are deconstructing unhealthy faith patterns or reconstructing healthy ones, come to the mountains with us and explore what it means to be living out an evolving faith. Thus was born the conference called Evolving Faith 2018.

I’ve been looking forward to this for months. I’ve been reading the books written by many of the presenters (click that link above and see the list of speakers). Some of my sweetest-friends-who-are-also-my-colleagues were going to be there, too!

So, it caught me off guard two days before the event when I got very nervous, and my normally positive self – who loves to gather with people and learn new things – started to feel a bit of…dread? Was it dread? If so, then why?

I asked my daughter to talk through some of my odd feelings as I packed my suitcase. And in the end, I discovered that I was feeling…

Responsible.

You see, the organizers of this event created a Facebook page where those who were registered for the event could get to know each other, find roommates for housing, etc. So, for months, I had been getting to know some of the folks who would be gathering on the mountain with me.

One person posted this question: Anyone else nervous about coming because you carry so much pain about church you aren’t sure you can handle hearing people talk about it?

Dozens of people responded with their own expressions of fear. And if dozens of people commented on the thread, were there actually hundreds of anxious, worried, hurting people coming to the mountain afraid that the truth will be too loud or sharp or icy?

I cannot overstate how kind all these people are. Seriously. They were offering to carpool with each other, be roommates with strangers, share expenses, and all other manner of favors and encouragement. 900 people with only this conference in common became a community of vulnerability out there in cyberspace – and soon we would inhabit the same physical space, we would be the incarnation of the thing we longed for: real community.

So, to learn how much pain people were bringing with them made me feel a lot of feels. A. Lot.

Firstly, they were all coming to North Carolina. They were flying from Canada and all over the United States (one woman came from Somaliland!) to come to our home. It made me feel like a bit of a hostess. You can tell me that’s ridiculous because I was not on the planning team, nor do I work at the retreat center. You can say that, but that doesn’t change the fact that I was feeling it. And Flo Rida was singing, “Welcome to my house…” in my ears whether it was reasonable or not.

Secondly, and way more importantly, I am currently a pastor, a leader in the Church (specifically, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America). Many of the people traveling toward “my house” when this sense of responsibility was settling over me had been hurt – really hurt – by people who had been leaders in the Church. I’m a member of this cohort of clergy that crosses denominational lines, and I benefit from the respect generally afforded clergy. I cannot point over there to some other group of people who have (and often abuse) authority over the spiritual spaces where people gather to worship, study, and pray. I’m IN that group. Clergy are “my people” and my people have steamrolled over far too many precious lives. And those steamrolled lives…steamroll over others. The generational reach of our manipulation and spiritual abuse cannot be measured.

When I was packed and ready to leave the next day, I laid in bed feeling heartsick.

The next morning, I went to my local store that only stocks goods made in North Carolina. I got small bags of Blister Fried Bertie County peanuts, small bottles of lotions made and bottled in Raleigh, muscadine flavored hard candies and peppermint puff candies made in Lexington, Chapel Hill toffee, and Moravian cookies from Winston-Salem. I didn’t really know what I was going to do with them. I mean, there were maybe 50 items in my bag, and there were over a thousand people registered for the event. But, I packed them into my backpack because…I guess because I needed to do something.

As I drove to Montreat, I tried to figure out why I had bought all that stuff and what in the world I was going to do with it. And I decided that I would simply walk up to a stranger and say, “I’m a pastor in North Carolina, and I’m glad you are here. Here’s a little gift made in North Carolina.” It promised to be awkward, and I guess it was.

Today, I had several of those short conversations as I handed out little gifts. The recipients were kind and funny, and there in Anderson Auditorium, with the incarnational gifts of eye contact, laughter, awkward stumbling sentences, and the physical gifts of candies, peanuts, cookies, and lotion, Spirit had her way with me.

My dread was gone.

My responsibility had become hospitality.

Evolving faith is the best kind of faith.

 

Posted in Ordinary Holiness

Sabbath – from different angles

I’m on vacation this week. It’s important to be sure this week is Sabbath-y.

Yesterday, I slept in and got a 90 minute massage…but I also went to the bank to manage some things, grocery shopped, and cooked a lot for the week. So, was it Sabbath?

Today, I got up very early (before dawn) to shower and get out the door in time to be in Columbia, SC for the funeral of a dear friend’s son.

I super duper hate getting up early.  Getting up early is never a part of my Sabbath plan. Neither is driving through Charlotte.  But, gathering in the name of Jesus to sing, pray, and hear the power of life over death is 100% Sabbath. And sitting behind a group of men who were in the same motorcycle club as the man who died…that felt holy and Sabbath-y, too.

img_20181013_104300

And listening to Deborah read Romans 8 like she believed it in her bones and she was honored to read it aloud for her friend, Brian, at his son’s service…total Sabbath.

And singing the last verse of A Mighty Fortress for the millionth time – and also the very first time – was breathtakingly Sabbath.

Hoardes of devils took Brian’s child and my spouse. Life has been wrenched away.  And also, the Kingdom’s ours forever. Sabbath.

img_20181013_133312

And the holy fellowship around food and pictures of Aaron after worship? Sabbath.

And hugging the necks of seminary friends – and professors who are now my friends? Sabbath.

And meeting in the flesh some beloved ones I have only met through Facebook? Sabbath.

When it was time to leave the church, I parked downtown and walked a few blocks in the perfect afternoon sun to a lovely restaurant for a perfect crab-y lunch of she crab soup and a crab cake salad.  Good food enjoyed in no hurry at all is always Sabbath.

img_20181013_132334

After lunch, I went to one of my favorite places in the whole wide world: Lutheran Theological Southern Seminary.  I parked my car and walked a bit down a sidewalk…and felt my heart quicken.

 

That’s just how it is on that campus. I was always grateful for every minute Ken and the kids afforded me there. I would sometimes sit down on the stairs as I was moving from one class to another…and just sit there for a minute, focusing on the gift I was receiving by being in seminary. Returning to that campus always feels like Sabbath.

I stopped by and sang a bit with Luther. He rolled his eyes because he thinks selfies are ridiculous, but he played along while I sang, anyway:

img_20181013_143713

Then, I headed on past Luther…

 

Then, I spent a little time on (in?) the prayer labyrinth. I’m terrible at it, actually. I think you are supposed to get lost in there, lose track of time, clear your mind…or focus your mind. I start out praying about something – and the next thing I know I’m wondering if I remembered to cancel that appointment or mail that letter or whatever. So, I have to refocus over and over.

So, I brought the worship booklet from the service and prayed the names on it as I walked. When I got distracted, I simply looked at the card with the names of the people in Aaron’s family and prayed the next name I saw.  I don’t really feel like I do labyrinth prayer right. I usually wonder if it would be better if I just sat on the bench next to it instead. But, I believe in God’s grace and Spirit’s breath, and I trust that I’m shaped a bit by the walking and thinking and forgetting and remembering and getting distracted and refocusing. I also trust in its Sabbath-ness.

img_20181013_144249

Then, I drove home.

On the way, I chatted with Ann for a while, then my mom. Sabbath and Sabbath.

Then, I did some dreaming about what God might have in store for me. Our bishop has asked us to have holy imagination about Spirit’s call on our lives, so I spent more than an hour imagining and dreaming. And stopped in traffic behind an accident on 85North. Even in traffic, it felt like Sabbath to intentionally dream.

Then, I came home to my stellar daughter and ridiculous dogs to eat good food and write a blog post.

Even with rising before dawn and 5+ hours in the car, I’m chalking this day up to Sabbath.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in God's Love, Ordinary Holiness

Was It Worth It?

It was worth it.

Every dollar.

Every minute.

Every drop of sweat.

Every late night.

Every early morning.

Every long line.

Every ounce of sunscreen.

It was all worth it.

Before leaving for the ELCA National Youth Gathering, I wondered on my blog about the cost of it all. Is the $1,000+ for each person a faithful use of the resources God has given us? I had decided that it was worth it, in part, because we who belong to small congregations need to feel how alive, enormous, and vital the Church is today. And while I know our kids will grow into adulthood and tell the story of growing up in a small ELCA congregation, I decided that the investment of all these dollars is faithful because at the Youth Gathering, they will learn to tell the story of growing up in a Church that serves and loves God and others in loud, brave, bright ways that change the world.

Because the youth group at Emmanuel, High Point is multi-cultural and multi-ethnic, we attended the pre-Gathering event called MYLE (Multi-cultural Youth Leadership Event) that ran the three days prior to The Gathering the 31,000 attended. MYLE is smaller, maybe 700 of us, on the campus of the University of Houston for a few days of intentional unity, praise, play, and service. If I’m honest, it’s a few days where my kids of color aren’t (pretty much) the only people of color at an ELCA event. We are the “whitest” denomination in America. I don’t like writing that sentence; I can’t take pride in that. But, we need to say it out loud, and we really need to face it. And work to change it, to embody the kingdom.

Though our church body has work to do, I am proud to be a pastor in the ELCA. Part of that pride comes from getting to see the ways we are acknowledging our lack of diversity, confessing the sin of clinging to our own kind, and taking a seat while non-white people, some of whom speak many languages, take the lead. MYLE is one of those ways.

At MYLE, our Puerto Rican sisters and brothers brought vibrance and resilience to any room they entered. The Glocal Band made up of talented musicians from many lands and languages invited us in and showed us the way as we sang of God’s love in Swahili, Korean, Spanish, English, Kannada, and other tongues!

Each day, speakers would challenge us to imagine the world through the eyes of “the other.” And every speaker pointed to Christ as our freedom and unity, helping us see where we still have boundaries that need erasing. It seemed that each of my teenagers tucked in their pockets the words of different speakers because when we gathered at the close of each day to talk and pray together, each person had brought home different words and images from that day’s experience. Each one found courage for the task of self-examination and growth; some from a lyric, some from a speaker’s refrain, some on a service project, some in a small group.

One night, very late, there was this moment. I’ll let you eavesdrop on my precious group for a bit:

Teen 1: I saw lots of Wakanda Forever shirts today.

Teen 2: Wakanda Forever! (crosses arms over chest)

Teen 3: It’s whatever.

(We all kind of pause because something has changed in the room.)

Me: What’s up?

Teen 3 (born in Africa): It took a movie for everyone to figure out that Africa is beautiful and strong? It’s like, “Okay, we’ve been over there being beautiful and strong, and you looked past us. Now, there’s a movie, so you are looking at us?”

Teen 4: (slowly and quietly) That never occurred to me before.

Right there, at nearly midnight, in a small, gray dorm room with nine people perched on desks, beds, and chairs, sweaty from a very long Houston summer day, snacks and drinks everywhere…a boundary was erased. Okay, maybe it was simply seen for the very first time, but it was crystal clear that the heart of the one who saw something for the first time was looking around for his eraser. And the young woman who showed him the boundary felt seen.

It’s really all we can hope for! It’s the finest of Christian formation when something painful bubbles from one heart and is seen and heard as true by another…and confession falls from the lips of those who see and hear the pain…and hearts are changed…and lives are stitched together. And when all of that happens when the very next thing is the prayer prayed together at the close of the day, it is the holiest of moments, and the messy, smelly dorm room is the holiest of temples.

I have described MYLE as being spiritually expensive. Spending time attending to racial identity and reconciliation costs a lot of energy that is not easily replaced with a nap or a cup of coffee. The cost hangs around a while. MYLE was so packed with gorgeous, serious, funny, musical, brave, deep, and silly moments that by the time Wednesday came, and 30,000 of our closest friends were arriving for The Gathering, we were pretty tired. But, God had plans for our tired bodies and spirits, so we took naps, drank coffee, and pressed toward the stadium…where we received an I.V. infusion of the joy of 31,000 people who had been waiting for this holy party for three long years!

Now, I suppose I could write endlessly about The Gathering because the planners crafted a masterpiece of a Gathering. Each day was full of opportunities for worship, service, learning, play, music, and unity. And I’m sure some other blogger has written well about all of that.

So, let me tell you some of the words the speakers said that were like Velcro to my youth group, the words they brought back to the hotel with them for our late-night conversation and prayer. Each speaker had 10 minutes, and their speeches were packed with Christian hope, love, and light, but these are some of the words which have clung to the young people I love. I do hope I’m paraphrasing faithfully:

“We don’t have a hunger problem; we have a greed problem. There is enough.” Maria Rose Belding

“YOU are defiant hope in a broken world.” The Rev. Dr. Stephen Bouman

“You have a reason and purpose.” “Show up!” Joe Davis

“There’s grace for that.” Pr. Will Starkweather

“Your current situation is not your ultimate situation.” Pr. Nadia Bolz-Weber

“We are hope for the world. People need us!” Rebekah Bruesehoff

“I felt like the world was trying to break me, but one day my heart started to change.” Michaela Shelly

“If you can still feel, you have the strength to carve yourself into a new tomorrow.” Deborah D.E.E.P. Mouton

“Am I willing to live for this?” Savanna Sullivan

Is there another setting where you can bring your youth group to hear people of varying ages, male, female, every-possible-shade-of-skin, immigrant, citizen, LGBTQIA, ordained pastors, poets, musicians, a terminally ill teen, and people recovering from addiction, eating disorders, and self-harm speak honestly about what they’ve been through…and point to Christ as their source of strength and healing, saying as plainly as possible that God’s call, hope, grace, and love change everything?

If you know another place to find all that, then you know of a rare and precious gem. Please tell us all where to find such a gift.

As for me and mine, we’ll start fundraising right away for our trip to Minneapolis in 2021. And in the meantime, we will continue to bear witness to God’s love and point to the cross of Christ – which changes everything!

Posted in Ordinary Holiness

Truth for Lent

I have been very productive in my work lately. I’ve worked with a team to craft curriculum for a week of camp focused on prayer. I’ve crafted liturgies for our congregation’s anniversary and to use during Lent. I worked a 14-hour day on Sunday – doing some of the most beautiful things a girl could get to do.

I have been attentive to my need to learn new and complicated things lately. I took a six-week course on the Israel/Palestine conflict. Every Tuesday, I drove 90 minutes round trip to sit at the feet of excellent teachers and learn. And I’ve read a couple books about various saints of the Church.

I have been attentive to my needs for a social life lately. I threw a fun party with a pretty table setting for the meal and a table full of craft supplies for afterward. I saw a movie with some friends. I have two friends in some pretty solid crises, and I’m loving them over text messages and phone calls from far away.

I have been attentive to my need for exercise lately. I started working with an app on my phone that dictates a 7 minute workout, and I do it nearly every day. If you are thinking, “Seven minutes is not a lot.” I say this: 7 minutes is 100% more than zero minutes – and me using the word “daily” when it comes to exercise is quite new.

I have established some new ecologically friendly methods in my life lately. I use flannel squares I can toss in the wash – instead of cotton balls. I use a bar of shampoo – instead of liquid in another plastic bottle. I use handkerchiefs – instead of Kleenex most of the time. I’m using bar towels – instead of paper towels in the kitchen. It takes a bit more energy, but I’m learning to change some things.

Meanwhile,

  • The hairs on my chin grow wild.
  • The craft supplies are still on the table.
  • The sink seems to be birthing dirty dishes.
  • My car is so messy.
  • My desk upstairs has paperwork on it that likely has some overdue stuff lingering in the stack.
  • My ever-shedding dogs need brushing (again)!
  • The skin on my face has dry patches because I haven’t given it the regular moisture it needs.
  • Pretty sure I don’t want to know what is in some of those containers in my refrigerator.
  • I’m pretty sure the rain gutters are full or plugged somewhere.
  • And poop-scooping? Let’s just say I’m behind on that.

I really can’t do it all.

Or at least I can’t do it all …well.

During Lent, I’m trying to be very honest with myself about some things. Confessional, I’d call it.

Truth:

I am strong and capable, and I can do anything.

Truth:

I am distractable and do not live with a team anymore, which means I cannot do everything.

(Okay, you are maybe thinking: If you were had laser focus and lived with a family, you would still not be able to do everything. I think you are right, but I’m acknowledging some old and new truths, here.)

I’m not feeling self-deprecating, here. I’m not beating myself up or dripping with shame. I’m just listing some truths that God is revealing to me about…me (again).

It’s confessional in that I’m searching myself, acknowledging the things that nudge up against me and have the potential to scoop shame on my head, and saying them aloud.

It’s confessional in that I have responsibilities lingering in paperwork stacks and home repair/upkeep and pet ownership, and if I let them linger too long, people and animals could suffer.

It’s confessional in that, in my life, after confession comes forgiveness. And just now, writing that sentence and typing the word forgiveness caused me to take a deeper breath, offer this physical body of mine an extra dose of oxygen. Knowing, as I do, that after confession comes forgiveness means I’m safe. And when I feel safe, I really can do anything.

But seriously, even being safe (saved) doesn’t mean I can do everything.

Posted in Ordinary Holiness

Waste and Such

I really want to be one of those people who can put all her waste for the month in a small canning jar. I dream of shopping in zero-waste or nearly-zero-waste stores, y’know, schlepping my containers in there to buy the hemp soap and whole grains like barley and farro and fill my olive oil jar from the big drums with little spigots and perfect funnels. Those people are so crunchy granola, and I think they are awesome.

But, I don’t know what hemp soap is, actually.

And I buy barley and farro…and then I throw them away 3 years later because, well, because they are not rice, I suppose.

And I buy a giant bottle of olive oil at a ridiculously huge store that I love, love, love…and when I’m done with it, I recycle it.

See, I’d like to be a zero-waster, but it’s probably a good idea for me to just learn to waste less things. Like it would be super easy not to waste farro by throwing it away when it is farroancient and has made me feel weird every time I clean out the cupboards and find it in there…again. I could actually be honest with myself at the store and say, “Jennifer. You have bought farro twice. The first time was because that Italian couple on the Food Network was funny and clever, and they were cooking with farro, which they told you was super healthful for you (oh, they likely said it was healthy for you, but grammatically, that makes no sense, so…), so you Googled it, and they were super right. Farro is packed with healthful nutrients. So you bought it, cooked it, wished you liked it, but you didn’t, but you weren’t going to give up on it, so you put it away in the cupboard…until you threw it away years later. You bought it; you tried to like it; you threw it away. We are going to give you that wasteful move as a freebie – because you didn’t KNOW that you weren’t going to like it when you bought it. (Oh, you could have given it to someone who likes it, but you didn’t even try to find that person, mostly because you are not certain that Italian couple would take your calls…or your partly used bag of farro.)”

But the second time you bought it? (and waited a while) And threw it away? WASTE.

And the gluttony in your freezer that you don’t eat, gets freezer burned, and you throw it away? WASTE.

So, you see, there are one million ways I can reduce my waste without learning about hemp soap or whatever. And actually, I’m becoming more convicted that focusing on one small and fairly odd way to reduce my waste is, in fact, just a distraction from what I already know is true.

Sometimes I waste things (including money) because I don’t remember that I already bought them.

Shampoo is on sale.

Do I have a bottle in the cupboard?

I can’t remember, so probably not.

I’ll just get a bottle because it’s not like I don’t need shampoo.

It’s not a splurge or anything.

*sighs while shoving the new shampoo bottle in the crowded cupboard under the bathroom sink…next to the other 4 bottles of shampoo.*

I could put three bandages on my body every day for the next year…and still likely have some to share with you. Though I’m completely uncertain that you would like to use Rugrats Band-Aids which are for-the-most-part still sealed for sterile use. I’m pretty sure Sage picked those out in elementary school.

I have more Chapstick and Visine and aspirin than I can use in 5 years. Not because I feel like I need more, but because I do not have a real sense of what I have.

I. Have. That. Much.

So, last January, I started something new. Now, starting something new is nothing new for me. I am always trying a new system or pattern because I always feel scattered, and if just one part of a system or pattern will stick to me and help me out, it’s worth it all.

Last January, I took a little measuring cup into the shower, and when I washed my hair with two pumps of shampoo (for my long hair), I pumped it into that little measuring cup first and discovered that I used 1 ounce of shampoo each time I washed my hair. Then, I looked at the giant pump container of shampoo from the giant store I love and saw it contained 70 ounces. Then, I calculated how many ounces of shampoo I would need for the year, and I went to my ridiculous shampoo stash and calculated that it would last me the rest of the year.

I did the same for body wash, discovered I would need to buy 1 more container to last the year, AND I BOUGHT IT.

I checked out my toothpaste and mouthwash and floss.

I figured out how many dishwasher detergent pods I use in a year.

I calculated how many kitchen trash bags I use, how much laundry detergent and hand soap and dish soap and paper towels and AA batteries and Qtips and deodorant and multivitamins and …you get the idea.

I figured out how much/many I need for a year, inventoried what I already had, and bought the rest of it.

Here’s what this means for me and my distractible mind that struggles to sort and remember things:

Shampoo is on sale.

(unless it is currently December) I don’t need any.

I did it in 2017 and learned a lot about myself and my needs.

I’m doing it again in 2018, and while it is an initial outlay of extra cash, I am beyond certain that I’m saving money.

And I know I’m not wasting as much. I buy in bulk, so there is a bit less packaging. I’m not buying so much of something, so I may spend a bit more on a brand that treats the planet better in their processes and packaging.

One of my favorite purchases was/is toilet paper. I found a great company that shipped a box of 48 rolls of toilet paper to my house. (I know there is a huge ecological footprint in the shipping industry, but the TP I buy in the store down the street is shipped there, so, I’m not sure what to do about that.) It’s made out of bamboo, so it’s not depleting forests. The company spends much of its profit on bringing sanitation supplies and toilets to the developing world.

And it has the best name:

And this toilet paper comes in paper wrappers in a cardboard box, so while that is still packaging, and we still have to process it, it is recyclable – unlike the plastic wrapping on the TP from the store. So, there’s one tiny way to create less waste.

I’m not that girl who can put all her month’s trash in a little jar, but I’m learning to do things better.

I have a compost pile, and I just bought a bar of shampoo to use after I finish the bottle of shampoo in my shower. I know, right?! A bar of shampoo? Yep. I’m going to try it. It would mean buying less plastic bottles, which would be fantastic.

But, it could be that I have a partially used bar of shampoo to go with that partially full bag of farro.

Thomas Merton etched something on my heart when I was in college. I read and memorized this prayer of his, and the sentences I have highlighted below echo through my life in many ways. In this case, I may not be going about reducing my waste in the best way possible, but I believe that my desire to do so, and my actions to that end, matter and are good.

“My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think that I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you. And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing. I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire. And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road, though I may know nothing about it. Therefore will I trust you always, though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death. I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.”

Posted in Ordinary Holiness

Jennifer, Table for One

I have lots of friends who are single. Many of them have been single for years.

For me, it’s been 2.5 years of singleness.

And I’m noticing something.

I do big things alone, now.

There are a hundred thousand little things I do now as a single person that are slightly different. I’m finally learning not to buy the family pack of chicken breasts and to stop checking the price of espresso (which I never drank, but Ken loved). I don’t wonder who is going to start the dishwasher or get the mail every day or put the trash by the curb every week. I manage all the bills and taxes and HSA account balance. The little day-to-day pieces of life, I have slowly put in place. Messily, to be sure. This scatter-y mind of mine doesn’t sort and make workable systems very well. But, over the last couple years, I’ve figured out how to shove the little tasks into piles I can recognize and manage. It’s a good life, this little household of huskies and their mama.

And then…this week, I felt very single.

While waiting for the tow truck to arrive and give my battery a jump-start yesterday, I had some time to pay attention to what I was feeling. Weary. That’s what I came up with. I felt weary because I had managed some big things this week…alone.

My son got married a week ago today. It was beautiful, and everyone was sparkling. I had tissues with me – because weddings – and I thought I’d be a blubbery mess. But, I wasn’t a mess; I was amazed. I walked down the aisle in my mother-of-the-groom dress with Jenna’s beautiful mom, Mary Lynn, and took my seat next to my darling mother. I reminded myself to really pay attention, to leave the program on the pew (it doesn’t matter if you know what comes next), to watch Jenna and her daddy walk down the aisle toward a new chapter, to look at my kid’s face when he made some whopper promises, to marvel at his sister’s beauty and maturity standing there among the bridesmaids, to love every word my mother’s lips formed as she opened The Velveteen Rabbit and read about being real, to be so grateful for my big brother, Karl, standing next to me.

It was extraordinary.

But, it was also amazingly clear that I am single. When Micah was born and I started dreaming about his life, I imagined standing next to his dad on the porch when Micah drove away on his first date, sitting next to him at Micah’s choral concerts, holding Tom’s hand while we bore witness to our kid marrying the person of his dreams. But, it didn’t happen that way. And, as it turns out, Ken wasn’t there, either.

At my son’s wedding, I was flanked by my brother and my mother, two of God’s best pieces of work. But, that wasn’t really the plan.

When I got home from the wedding on Sunday evening, I was pretty sure I was getting the cold about which I’d been saying, “I don’t have time to get sick!” for about a week. By Monday morning, I was feverish and achy. It’s the first time I’ve been sick since my nest emptied a couple months ago. And it turns out that even when you are sick, your dogs need to be fed and let in and out to do their business…and they are lousy at getting you a glass of ice water or another box of tissues from your stockpile in the shed.

The week was one of tissues and cough drops and naps and gallons of hot tea…and by Friday morning, I really wasn’t better, so I went to the doctor, so she could tell me it was a virus about which she could really not do much. But, she wrote me a prescription for a nasal spray she hoped would help with congestion, and I went to Walgreen’s to have it filled. Cleverly, I left my headlights on while I went in and waited for the prescription to be filled, so then I got to wait for the tow truck to jumpstart my car.

And while I was sitting in my car, waiting for the tow truck, I texted my mom about my predicament. She texted back that my dad said if my battery died that quickly, I might need a new one. So, I knew my plan for a quick trip to the doctor and then crawling back to bed had to be scrapped.

And I thought, “If Ken were here, he would bring me his car, tell me to go home and crawl into bed, manage the tow-truck-jump-start, and go to AutoZone and get a new battery.”

Right there, in my juiceless car, I realized I was weary from doing big things alone. All the feelings of Micah’s wedding and all the fatigue from managing life while sick…and now a car thing…these things are things often made easier with the right partner.

Of course, I’m not alone. Not by a longshot.

  • Because I was flanked by my big brother and my darling mother while my son made promises and my daughter bore beautiful witness (not to mention my cousins, aunt, sister-in-law, niece, and beloved friends).
  • Because Linda, Eileen, Stan, Patrick, and others all checked on me this week while I was sick.
  • Because I got to share meals and great conversation with Katy, Jake, and Ann this week.
  • Because my mom is always a call or text away…with dad’s sound advice about a battery chiming in.
  • Because my oldest brother, James, called this week to ask how the mother-of-the-groom was doing, how my heart felt.

I’m absolutely not alone.

But, I’m noticing more and more that I am definitely single.

Posted in God's Love, Ordinary Holiness

Sonder

When Sage was maybe a middle schooler, she brought home a new word. I don’t know how she had found the word, but when she told me about it, her eyes were so alive with fascination…and maybe relief.

She said she never knew there was a word for something her imagination had dwelt upon for hours on end – over months and years. She said she had always looked at the person standing in front of us in the line at the grocery store and thought, “They have a whole life just like mine. They have friends and maybe siblings. They have ideas and dreams about what they want to do, and they have people and circumstances in their lives that help them get there – or stand in their way. They go to school or work and there are parts of their days they like and don’t like. Their life is as complicated and full of people and relationships as mine is.”

It turns out the word for that concept is sonder. If you would like, check out this video about the concept of sonder.

It happened to me a little bit today while I was at my friend, Daniel’s, installation as the pastor of a congregation about an hour and a half away from where I live. He started working there a couple months ago, but today was an official installation service.

Daniel asked me to preside at the Lord’s Table during the service of installation. As I drove toward his church today, I thought about what an honor it was to have been asked to lead in this way, how much I miss having him nearby to have lunch and study the biblical text each week, how it would be nice to see his amazing family today.

When I arrived at the church and found the room where the pastors were putting on their robes, Daniel smiled when he saw me. I’m sure I smiled, too, and we hugged hello.

Then another pastor came in, another friend who was leading a different part of the service. Daniel smiled when he saw him, and they hugged hello. Soon, the room was filled with maybe 10 pastors, all of whom made Daniel smile. One of them was his mother.

And I thought to myself how wonderful it was for him to have so many people who love him in his company on this important and holy day.

Then, we moved to a hallway just outside the worship space, and the choir was lined up ready to go in before the line of pastors would enter. And the choir members greeted Daniel, and he smiled a warm, honest smile.

As we processed in, singing a hymn, walking down the center aisle and taking our places in the front row, we walked past row after row of people who had come to bear witness to his installation. Teenagers and tiny kids, middle aged folks and those certainly in their 80s and 90s. They were at the beginning of their relationships with him, and some of them were surely already trusting him with their worries, their dreams.

I thought about the people in my congregation, and how much I love them. I thought about how my life as their pastor is just rich with our relationships! With some, I have shared serious and scary moments in their lives. With some, I have hysterically funny memories. Daniel just left a congregation full of those relationships, and he is beginning that same journey with these folks at his new church.

After worship, there was a reception where people mingled. Every person I met said something like, “We just love Pastor Daniel. He is exactly what we need here.” And I thought, “That’s precisely how I feel about him.”

And while I felt sad to drive away because Tuesday will come, and I won’t be meeting him for study and lunch, I felt mostly amazed at the ways God knits us all together. I felt mostly astonished as God offered me a tiny glimpse of the ways Spirit is stitching Daniel’s life together with more relationships and laughter. I felt mostly grateful that love is not finite, that there is enough love-thread to stitch and keep stitching us one to another every single day.

Posted in Ordinary Holiness

Creativity as Non-violent Protest

Today, I am in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina at a women’s retreat just filled with love and light and hope and sisterhood.

Today, I am reading accounts of demonstrations at the University of Virginia wherein members of the KKK, Neo-Nazis, and Alt-Right carried torches and shouted declarations of white supremacy.

So, I don’t know what to do.

Or feel.

God called me to the mountains months ago when I registered for this retreat. I read Rachel Held Evans’ book in preparation for her to lead us in some study and prayer while we are here. I paid a little extra, so I could have my own room, so I might experience a weekend of reflection more than conversation. I signed up for a workshop on using liturgical art in worship because our council discussed that as a goal at our retreat in March. So, this weekend is about me: as a woman, as a pastor, as a mom whose nest is emptying this week, as a sometimes weary child of God.

But people are carrying torches and quoting Hitler in Virginia.

I’ve been crying about it. And, honestly, I am angry at the timing. I’m angry that my retreat for centering myself before a busy fall and for slowing way down for 48 hours has been invaded by violence and hatred…and that exceedingly familiar feeling of helplessness in the face of enormous problems that have layers and colors and textures far beyond the reach and power of my life.

That voice in your head asking, “Why didn’t she just turn off her phone for the retreat?” It’s in my head, too. But, I didn’t, so here I am.

That other voice in your head whisper, “Uh, her anger right now is ridiculous…how about a little anger that the KKK is assembling AT ALL, not that they are assembling during her retreat.” It’s in my head, too. I promise. It happens that I am captive to sin and cannot free myself, so imbalance and preposterous priorities are commonplace. Writing about them helps run a highlighter across them, so I can notice them better: this time…and the next.

So, here is what God did with this mess today.

First, my God brought me to breakfast with two women who are pastors in the Presbyterian Church (PCUSA), and the conversation in our little cloister of three women who long to follow Jesus included confession of times we have not welcomed people well, times we have be terrified to speak and act for justice. Maybe it was because we don’t know each other that confession came easily; maybe it is because we are tired of not confessing things that embarrass us as pastors who are called to work for peace and justice in all the world. Cate and Becca were my pastors this morning; and I suppose I was theirs.

Next, my God brought me to a book study where we broke into groups of four to discuss the ways we have experienced death and resurrection in our lives. We talked about life in the military where every move is a death of some sort. We shared our pain that our children reject the faith we hold so dear. We told of acts of unexpected grace we had received in ways we still carry in our pockets, pulling them out when we need to be reminded of our call to do the same for others. And we were reminded that this grace thing has already gotten out of hand. “Grace got out of hand the moment the God of the universe hung on a Roman cross and with outstretched hands looked out upon those who had hung him there and declared, “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.” (Searching for Sunday, page 40)

Then, God and I went to a workshop about liturgical art, and the leader, Lisle Gwynn Garrity used Brene Brown’s 10 Guideposts to Wholehearted Living while offering us the opportunity to play with art and be sanctified in the process. Together, my eight new sisters and I relinquished the messages from others that we are

not artistic or not artistic enough or there must be a better way or she is doing it better than me. We picked up oil pastels and drew our love and light and hope onto that cambric. Our gentle teacher offered us Brene Brown’s words and silence and tender music to coax us along this path. And after a few minutes, she would invite us to move to the seat to our left and add to that which our sisters had drawn. In the end, our fingers and palms were smudged with oil pastels, the cambric was exquisite, and I felt braver to be the woman God designed me to be.

Then, my God and I walked past the ducks on the lake and under the trees which couldn’t be

greener to get lunch in a room full of a few hundred women who had just been to one workshop or another…and I told God I hoped they all felt a little braver at lunch than they did at breakfast.
Then, we checked my schedule again – because my memory is not as good as God’s – and went off to the afternoon workshop where the facilitator used Brene Brown’s work in Daring Greatly to help us identify our top three values. That was the easy part (though it was far from easy). The hard part was this question: What behaviors you do engage in when you have lost sight of each of your three values?

Ouch.

So, God and I talked with the three women at our table about snapping at our children and gossiping about friends and numbing ourselves with food or alcohol or shopping or busyness. We confessed that our fear is debilitating at times. And we remembered how it feels when we have been brave and dared to speak truth to power or cross the threshold of a WeightWatchers center or told our adult child it’s time for rehab.

And God smiled when we remembered our strength.

So, today, I am not in Virginia. I’d like to be there with my clerical collar on, linked arm-in-arm with my sisters and brothers who are there standing and singing against hate. Also, I am terrified to be there with my clerical collar on, linked arm-in-arm with my sisters and brothers who are there standing and singing against hate. So, there’s that.

Today, I’m not in Virginia with my collar.

Today, I’m in Montreat with my sisters. We are learning (remembering) to be creatively, prayerfully, sacredly alive. We are praying and singing for God’s kingdom to reign. We are remembering our strength. And we’ll need our strength to muster courage when we are afraid, to link arms and sing against hate in our various lives when we leave here.

At the book signing before her speaking session

***

After I wrote the paragraphs above, I went to our evening session where Rachel Held Evans opened our evening by declaring that white supremacy pervades the systems and institutions of our nation, and the church is no exception…and that hatred, oppression, and declaring oneself better than any other human in the world is in direct opposition to the gospel of Jesus Christ.

And 400 people applauded. And applauded. And applauded.

Some of us shouted, “Amen.” Some of us whispered it. For Rachel had spoken our collective confession.

And Christ heard it.