Sunday, July 29, 2012


Every kid wants to be picked - preferably first.

I will never forget the lesson I learned nearly 40 years ago, when I was a 5th grader at Conewago Elementary School just outside Hershey, Pennsylvania.  Our township (school district) was rural, mainly made up of German immigrants and thus very white.  Coble's and Risser's and Shaw's had been farming the land for many, many generations.

I can't remember our 5th grade teachers name, she was new and young and very pretty.  It was 1972 and integration was making the headlines out in the world, that didn't seem to be an issue in our township, but somewhere along the line she decided that we needed to learn about what prejudice and segregation meant.

One morning she asked us to write our names on a slip of paper.  After she collected them in a hat she informed us that she would draw 6 names out of the class and these people would be segregated all day.  The six would sit in the back of the room, would eat separately in the lunch room and on the play ground, everyone was supposed to ignore them.

Of course my name was drawn.  It killed me to sit in the back of the room, let alone behind a partition.  But it was even harder on the play ground.  My best friend, Lori, was vicious, joining the other girls in not just ignoring me, but teasing me as well.  I didn't make it through the end of the day, I ended up not only in tears, but physically ill.  My mom was called to take me home.  I went straight to bed.

I faintly remember my teacher trying to debrief us on what happened.  I remember being surprised that everyone else could just go back to the way things were before the 'experiment'.   The experience left an indelible mark on me.

I can't imagine living segregated/prejudice against day after day after day...throughout my life I have tried to include everyone, to find common ground and to give others room to be who God created them to be.

And yet...I remind myself that in many ways I segregate myself - we all do.  We hesitate entering into authentic relationship with others, we separate ourselves from friends and family because of misunderstandings or shame, and even worse, we deny ourselves the love of God - often times because we think that we are unworthy of God's love.

We base our expectations about God and God's love on our human experiences, just being human means that we are broken, and in need of transformation and redemption.  But often times we are so hard on ourselves...much to our own detriment.

I know in my head that God's love is extravagantly given and readily available.  God does not give to us as the world gives to us - God's love is abundant.  And yet - I think one of the main reasons we have for not accepting this love and internalizing it is because we judge ourselves unworthy - or we have no concept of what authentic love looks like.

I don't have all of the answers, I am a fellow traveler on this journey of life.  I agree with Franciscan priest, Richard Rohr who teaches that as much as we desire to avoid suffering, it is through our suffering that we learn the greatest lessons about God's love and care for us...and how we can love and live authentically.

It is hard, however, after years of hearing that we are to avoid (or manage) our sin or avoid suffering that there is a better - more holistic - way to look at things:  We come to God much more by doing it wrong than by doing it right. God absolutely leveled the human playing field by using our sins and failures to bring us to divine union. This is surely the most counterintuitive message of the Gospels—so counterintuitive that it largely remains hidden in plain sight.  (Richard Rohr

I think of this as the rhetoric heats up in this election season.  I ponder this as my denomination struggles with a wide variety of issues that could very well bring us to schism.  I also look at my own life and wonder how I will live into the growing edges that I am facing as a woman, mother and pastor.  I ask myself how this informs my teaching and preaching - and I realize I have a whole lot to learn yet about God and about love.  

Just some thoughts for the day, 

Saturday, July 14, 2012

the Kingdom of God is like...

a mustard seed...
a pearl of great worth...
a lost coin, lost sheep, lost son?
of course - and even more.

Jesus' use of the ordinary and common in his teachings about the Kingdom of God are so important.  I think so much hinges on us recognizing that the Kingdom of God is in the here and now, not just something to work and strive for "In the Sweet By and By".

Jesus' first words, according to the Gospel of Mark, point to this teaching: “Now is the time! Here comes God’s kingdom! Change your hearts and lives, and trust this good news!”  (Mark 1:15 Common English Bible)  Much of what I do as a preacher and teacher is to try to help people see the world through a God shaped lens - so that we can not only see the Kingdom breaking through, but find ways to participate in the Kingdom of God, here and now.

It should be no surprise when we gain insight about the world from God's perspective - via the common and ordinary objects and experiences in our own lives.  That happened to me this morning - in a weird round-about way.

I was making my morning cup of tea and saw the iced tea pitcher in the sink.  It's a plain, ordinary plastic gallon container that we have used for iced tea for years and years.  We drink a gallon of tea a day, so seeing it in the sink didn't surprised me.  In fact last night I put 2 family size tea bags and boiling water in the tea pot to steep so that I could make another batch of iced tea in the morning.  This is a cycle that continues much of the year.

Normally, before I make the iced tea, I fill the pitcher with water and step out onto the front porch to water my house plants.  But today I was reminded of some words of wisdom from Carl Dillon.  Mr. Dillon is 80 years old and a member of Trinity.  We were chatting about flowers and plants as he was watering the potted plants at the church the other day when he said in an almost off handed way, "well, you know, most people water their houseplants way too much."

This morning, recalling his words, I skipped watering my houseplants and instead went ahead and made the iced tea:  brewed tea + 1 cup of sugar (we are from the south after all) + water, stir well and refrigerate.  (When I was a girl my mom also added 1/3 of a can of frozen lemonade, but we didn't drink iced tea year round, it was a summer beverage and it signaled when we could go barefoot outside.)

As I put the pitcher into the refrigerator I felt a pang of guilt - perhaps I really should have watered the plants on the porch.  After all, it has been hot.  A quick look outside and I was reassured that they are just fine.  This made me think of the African Violets on the window sill in my office.

in need of deadheading
I inherited these plants - and I'm pretty diligent about keeping them watered, plucking off the faded flowers and rotating them.  For my efforts I am usually rewarded with a blossom or two.  Imagine my surprise after a week of vacation when I came back to find an abundance of flowers!  How could this be?  I had forgotten to ask anyone to water them, hmmmm.  I started to wonder, perhaps there is a correlation.  Have I been so fussy about caring for these plants that I actually stunted their growth?  Look at how wonderful they did without me.

And then the lightbulb went off - Does the Church do the same thing to its members?  Are we (clergy folk in particular) too fussy, too prone to try to manage, to anxious to feed, too unwilling to prune that we stunt the growth of the very people we are called to walk alongside in life?  Perhaps even to the point that most folks abdicate their role as the Body of Christ?!?!  Oh my!

Mike Mather is a United Methodist pastor in Indianapolis who shared how his faith community is participating in some pretty amazing things because they take time to look at situations as opportunities and they value each person as someone who is uniquely gifted and already a participant in the Kingdom of God.  Rather than taking charge as a church or staff to solve problems, they sit down to a meal and celebrate the giftedness of those gathered together.

"whatever you do do not come into this with the idea that y'all from the church are going to meet their needs - but that you are going to meet Jesus in the lives of these people. Then what? Who knows? Every time we sit down and eat with people - every time we sit down with people and pay attention to what God is doing in their lives [something special happens] even if and sometimes especially if they don't see it at first ...I think one of the all time best gifts we can offer - and the best that we often already offer to one another in the congregation - is our blessing, care and encouragement."

the Kingdom of God 
...a pitcher of iced tea African Violet plant
...a potluck!   

the Kingdom of God is here and now - 
how are we participating in and owning this reality?

I am beginning to realize how guilty I am of buying into the 'the church can fix things' point of view - or even worse how the Church is saying but not really living in to; 'there, there God will make it alright' rather than, what I hear leaders such as Mike Mather say: 'let's look at how God is already present and at work in the midst of this and lets think about what gifts we all bring together to celebrate the Kingdom of God in the midst of us!" 

This is a pretty significant paradigm shift - and a much needed one too with what is ahead of us as the Church in the 21st Century.  Maybe we need to sit down over a glass of iced tea and talk about it.

in Christ, together

(special thanks to Mike Mather for sharing their approach to ministry with folks at Broadway UMC in Indianapolis.)

Thursday, July 12, 2012


Road Closed - what now??
Highway 218 skirts to the west side of town.  Via 218 one can zip down to Waterloo-Cedar Falls or head north toward the Twin Cities.  Just a couple of miles south of Waverly on 218, on the edge of Janesville, a new intersection is under construction.

Quite frankly its a mess...dust everywhere, lane closures, redirected traffic AND the reality that the Kwik Star gas station will no longer be an easy right hand turn, as one will have to actually take an exit to slip in for gas or a cup of coffee is starting to sink in.  Grrrrrr

It wasn't until the new northbound lanes were open that I realized that something even bigger and quite intriguing was happening.  The construction crew isn't making a mess of things - they are actually  creating...and in a strangely surreal sort of way - it is a thing of art.

When I say artist I mean the man who is building things - creating molding the earth - whether it be the plains of the west - or the iron ore of Penn.  It's all a big game of construction - some with a brush - some with a shovel - some choose a pen.  (Jackson Pollock, 20th C artist)

Change is often down right difficult, painful even.  We avoid change at almost any cost, we fret over it, we get ulcers in advance of or in anticipation of change.  And yet, when it's all said and done - like the new interchange - we will most likely come to terms with things, and hopefully benefit and perhaps even see the new scenario as beautiful.

What is it about our human nature that wants to keep us fixed in place, so resistant to change?

I am one of those pastors who embrace narrative theology.  I see scripture as God's story and through the overarching biblical narrative we are able to see how God's love, justice, mercy and patience forms and shapes a people over a great deal of time to receive God's own self, the 2nd person of the Trinity, with the incarnation/birth of Jesus in Bethlehem.

In the scriptural accounts of Jesus' life, death and resurrection God's story takes on new meaning as healing, teaching and reconciliation lead to the ushering in of the kingdom of God - here and now.  Finally, with the outpouring of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, we become bound together as the Body of Christ to go and do even greater things in His name.

Sometimes change hurts, often times change involves sacrifice - as a culture we are prone to avoid pain and sacrifice at any cost!  What does this say about people of faith?  People who are formed by the promise that God has something for us to do - we are to be about the ministry of preaching, teaching and healing in Christ's name - sharing the Good News of God's love, mercy and peace with others - and we are not to be afraid, because Christ is with us through it all, in it all, even to the end of the age! (Matthew 28:18-20)

Just as the inevitable summer road construction projects or the latest developments in the science field with the Higgs boson discovery point to constant change, its time to realize and embrace the dynamics of change in our churches.

The 'glory days' of the 50s and 60s were a change from the depression era and the temperance movement, likewise the 21st century brings its own sorts of nuances to the lives of people of faith.  If we are not willing to move forward with courage and vision, we will surely stagnate.

But if we approach the world in which we live as an opportunity to engage in mission and ministry along side the One who is already present, already at work, already immersed in the lives of women and men of all ages, then we ought to be able to see the future as a place of great opportunity and creative exploration.

Its all about perspective.

grinding up asphalt and concrete
One last thought, when I took the time to pull over and really watch the road crew at work I noticed that they are recycling the old materials and reusing the soil, concrete and asphalt as the underlayment of the new road.  How appropriate for the work that the church faces in the years to come!  There is no reason to throw out the old, but to lean into the new with wisdom, compassion and creativity.
New road bed

What do you think?  Are you ready to give your time, talents and treasures to live a life of change for the Kingdom of God??

in Christ, together,

Saturday, July 7, 2012

having it all?

Two weeks ago a former high ranking State Department official and Princeton professor Anne-Marie Slaughter shocked working women across the USA with her article in Atlantic magazine entitled: Why Women Still Can't Have It All.

"It’s time to stop fooling ourselves, says Anne-Marie Slaughter, a woman who left a position of power: the women who have managed to be both mothers and top professionals are superhuman, rich, or self-employed. If we truly believe in equal opportunity for all women, things have to change."

I believe she is spot on - and here's why.  I never expected to have it all, although I am deeply grateful to the women who forged a path ahead of me to bust down the glass ceiling, I was raised by a mom who did not have those opportunities - and so I know that all people have limitations, my self included. 

Hannah, Lauren and I, around 1994.
I was a Sr Writer/Producer for TNT
While I did have a fairly successful career in television marketing and promotion, we have made sacrifices.  For a time I was the sole breadwinner with a stay-at-home husband.  To follow my career, and then my career change at 41, my entire family paid a price - my children have moved 4 times in the past 10 years and I have gone through a divorce.  

It is down right difficult to parent and work full time.  However , as a United Methodist pastor, I am blessed with a vocation that is fairly flexible and allows me to be with my children for the majority of their activities.  I fear my daughters will not be as fortunate.

My girls grew up hearing that they could be anything they wanted to be.  I read "Reviving Ophelia" when Lauren was elementary age, this book frightened me in so many ways!  I was very intentional about affirming their giftedness and uniqueness as children of God.  I celebrated their accomplishments and encouraged them to dream big.  Along the way, I am not sure that I did a good job sharing with them the sacrifices that I, and millions of other women, have made to have family and career.

"What we discovered in our research is that while the empowerment part of the equation has been loudly celebrated, there has been very little honest discussion among women of our age about the real barriers and flaws that still exist in the system despite the opportunities we inherited."  (Slaughter)

Now that my girls are older, they are striving to have it all and do it all - and I am frankly worried for them.  They both want to be mommy's, my eldest has a healthy 5 month old, but even with a bachelor's degree she is working 3 part time jobs to keep up with her student loans and car payment.  That career oriented full-time job that was supposed to come with a college degree is elusive, and given the economy, I am not sure when she will find her 'perfect' job.

I struggle with what to say to my 20 year old daughter.  I am not so sure that in this season 4 year degrees, with the amount of debt that is being taken on by many of our middle class young adults, will pay off in the short run.  She already has 2 AA degrees and is engaged to a be married next year.  Can  she find happiness and fulfillment as a wife, career woman and mother?  

I think we are in the midst of a huge shift, a shift that is necessary to correct generations of over consumption, poor fiscal management, and perhaps even unrealistic expectations.  I fear that the ones who are caught in the middle are the young adults, those who are currently in their 20s - who will be saddled with an enormous burden of debt (i.e. Social Security for the Baby Boomers), a job market that is shaky and a world that is changing so rapidly its hard to put a finger on things.

These young adults have been trained, and trained quite well, to look at the world through a different lens than folks my age, they grew up with Nickelodeon's rallying cry 'Kids CAN make a difference!'  They have been trained to think critically and to not just be consumers, but participants in the world.  Have we set them up for disappointment?  Or will they be our saving grace?

I think the church has a great opportunity to speak to the yearnings of their heart in ways that are affirming and encouraging, but we have to create spaces for young women and men outside of worship to find and build authentic, safe relationships, to push back, question, and find respite from those things of the world that are hammering them.  

This may be the most important thing we can do as the Church in the early 21st Century, and I think there is a lot at stake.   I don't care about saving the brick and mortar Church, but I do want to be relevant and share God's love, mercy and justice with young and old alike.  I hope we do it thoughtfully with lots of room for exploration and a whole lot of grace.  

in Christ, together,