Friday, April 27, 2007

Princess Taylor

I mentioned before that I have a new (old) dog. She is 8 and is very sweet, a bit clingy as I had mentioned, but I talked with a trainer and she said that was normal, that I have a "velcro dog". I think that sums it up. The picture I posted originally was just so you would have an idea of what a cavalier looks like, this is Taylor:

Thursday, April 26, 2007

aging, sickness, and death

For the last couple of months my Sunday school class has been about world religions. The two girls that come are sisters and one in particular is in a questioning and exploring phase (or lifestyle, perhaps) and I thought it might be helpful for her to have a more structured introduction to the religions she's been pondering and in some cases professing. We are using Houston Smith's book World Religions as our main guide. We started with Hinduism and have moved now into Buddhism. Sunday's class brought along with the story of Siddhartha (the man who later became "Buddha" = "the awakened one") and how he was a prince who was shelter from all things *negative* in the world. His father wanted him to take on the throne when he died and so he made the royal life as appealing as possible, so much so, story goes, that when he walked into town, all the streets were cleared of vagrants, elderly, and the sick. Well, on one occasion, the street wasn't cleared and Siddhartha came upon an old man who was withered and wrinkled and weak. The next time he went out he saw a person ravaged by disease and the third time, a corpse. It was his encounters with the *frailty* or whatever you might term it (I am having difficulty tying an appropriate adjective that both embraces these necessary stages of life and yet also acknowledges how painful they can be, and at the same time does not play into the american cultural obsession with youth...), anyway, his encounters caused him to renounce his priviledged and sheltered life and he went toward a life of ascetism, which almost caused him to die, and then he finally sought "The Middle Way". All of that is a long introduction to the musings to come (but it is important because it laid the foundation for my thoughts).

So, the actual musing came Tuesday night when I was at a United Methodist Men's dinner and concert. As I sat there, (again the youngest person in the room) and looked at all the white heads, I thought of them and the missing youth and young adult (and even in large part baby boomer) heads from that room. I know this is a constant and ongoing discussion in the church as to why the church has "failed" our young people and how we might do things differently so that they might be active Christian disciples. But Tuesday night I was struck by the thought that maybe they (the young people) don't want to be here (with the old people) not just because the service isn't lively enough, or it's not whatever enough, but because being in church with old people means having to confront our weaknesses--age, illness, and death. In a culture that promotes our invincibility, our strength, our youth, and our legacy, it is no wonder that sitting in a room with a bunch of "old people" who embody (at least at first glance) all the things we seek to avoid is less than appealing. For instance, when I googled "old" for images, this was listed as
"Too old?"

Maybe our search for answers regarding young folks in the church has been incomplete and we need to confront the reality that we fear death, illness, and aging--oddly enough, trials Jesus offers care for and salvation from (death, not illness or aging necessarily). Funny, we might just try preaching the gospel.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Facing the facts

Today I had the opportunity to meet with our new incoming senior pastor and his wife. We had a good conversation about *our* church. We shared parts of our stories and he shared part of his vision for what the church could be. The cynic in me raged silently inside ("yeah, good luck with that.") I dared not share my skepticism (which really has nothing to do with him and everything to do with my own experiences here). I think sadly, though I suppose fortunately at the same time, my conversations with them showed how defeated and uninspired I feel here. 10 months ago I was on fire. I had a million ideas and a thousand things I wanted to get accomplished. Now, my ambition seems squelched. I hate to admit it, but I feel I have to be honest about where I am right now.

I think this was all hiding latent. A couple of months ago, I was feeling extremely overwhelmed and I put all that on hold because no one seemed to hear it the way I needed them too, so I stopped mentioning it. Even my spiritual director didn't get it. So, I focused on what needed to get done (Lent studies, Palm Sunday, Easter Sunday). Then I got excited about what was happening with the laity in my church. They were inspired, they were creative, they were thinking and dreaming, imagining and hoping, and that all felt good after so many months of dredging through the mire of hopelessness. I am excited about what they are doing. But what I was forced to see today was that I am not excited about what I am doing. I always feel spread too thin and pulled on from all sides and that no one really gets the *best* of me. Don't get me wrong, I am doing all that I feel is possible (without killing myself or sending myself into the hospital), but it's because there is always something else to do or get done, or, or, or....and my waves of inspiration feel fewer and farther between.

One way or the other, the fact is: SOMETHING HAS TO CHANGE. I cannot persist in a job where I am struggling to find my niche, constantly trying to justify and explain why I cannot be all things to all people, how I really am working despite the fact that you never see me (in large part because you don't go to youth group, young adults, Hispanic worship, committee meetings, all church gatherings, and the like).

In addition to reigniting my creative and leader fire, I think I need some nourishment for my soul. I water my soul, making sure I don't get parched or too tired, but really that extra good special soul food....let's just say it's been awhile. and that leaves me feeling like I am becoming one of those pastors for whom I hurt so desperately who were so caught up in caring for others that they neglected their own spiritual health, which in turn made it impossible for them to nurture others. And I really do not want to become one of them. Ya know?

Monday, April 23, 2007


Over the last week I have been thinking through a discernment issue. I thought I had it decided and then prayed for a "loud and clear" message from God, and one came (contradicting what I had originally thought), but I still have my doubts, "maybe this is what they want rather than what God wants." So I returned to listening, hoping for clarity (loud and clear). Today I received another confirmation, and again I thought "is this God, or is this them?" Apparently I am waiting for a billboard. I know, I know, the words "thou shalt not test the Lord your God" are ringing in my head, but I'm not trying to test (I don't think), I am seeking true confirmation. So, as I write this and as you read, I ask for your prayers--that those affected and interested would be prayerful and wise in their discernment and that I would be willing to truly hear God in all of this.

Dreaming (the translation)

As some of you already know, I was at the Mexican youth retreat (North western conference) last weekend. When I was there, I had an idea, which I shared with the Mexican Bishop Vasquez; then when I got home, I had another idea. I’m writing this to see what others think of it. The first idea was that when our youth groups go to Mexico for summer mission projects we should try and hook them up with Mexican youth groups so that they can work together on the mission project. I know that MH is planning some youth trips for the end of July and beginning of August, they’re headed to San Quintin, and I wondered if the Mexican youth (who were focusing on service and mission for their retreat weekend) would want to participate.

The other idea was to bring groups from Mexico here to the US to do mission projects. I know it would be more difficult with having to find visas etc, but I thought we might find religious visas. I know that on this side (for my church anyway) there are jobs they could do (some of my youth have already started doing projects at the church). They could work together with our youth here and then we could do a dance one night, a big worship event the next (maybe with some of the groups that performed from San Diego and Tijuana at the youth retreat), we could go to Knott’s Soak City, etc, in other words combine mission with relationships and fellowship. Also, it could work as an evangelism and revitalization for our church here (by inviting those from our community to the dance/concert/worship event) and help us get to know those here who do not have a church community. We could even do scholarships for the Mexican youth so that they would only have to pay for their trip from there to here by doing fundraisers and what not.

I don’t know what we’d have to do to get the visas (I do know an immigration lawyer here in Hemet) and this could all be for this summer (if the arrangements are easy) or even plan for next summer. For now, I pose it to you to think about and let me know your thoughts.

La Chillona

I think with my limited blogging as of late I have failed to mention that I got a dog. She is a cavalier and she is a spoiled brat. (*For the record, I was not the one who spoiled her, I have only had her a month and she is 8 years old). She has some abandoment issues, and as such thinks anytime I leave her, it will be forever. There are lots of good things about her, she is sweet, mellow, house trained, and very amicable in making new acquaintances. She is actually a perfect church dog, even with my youth, she is great. Part of it is that she is 3/4 deaf, so she doesn't hear everything to be distracted by it. But if I could get her to be a little less clingy, we'd be golden. For instance, this morning I at my brother's house and had his dog with me on the couch and he had my "idget" on the chair with him. Well, she just whinned and whinned and then finally he moved her to make her more comfortable and she made a bee-line across the chair over the arm of the couch so she could snuggle next to me. Yep, she's a bit spoiled. (Oh yeah, and she's we also have a diet plan, few treats, and lots of exercise). But she's mine, and she thinks I'm the cats we fair alright.

Thursday, April 19, 2007


Como unos ya saben, acabo de llegar del campamento de los jovenes de Mexico (conferencia noreste). Cuando estaba alli me ocurrio una idea, y lo comparti con el obispo, y al llegar, me ocurrio otra. Escribo este blog, a ver que les parece. La primera fue, que cuando los grupos de jovenes de aqui van por el verano hacer los proyectos de mision, si es posible, que vayan tambien unos grupos de las iglesias mexicanas y pueden trabajar juntos. Se que hay unos grupos que van por el liderazgo de MH ya al final de julio y primeros dias de agosto este ano, van a san quintin, y no sabia si aun los grupos de alli les gustarria ayudar en los proyectos. Como lo ven?

y la segunda fue intentar llevar grupos de Mexico hacer proyectos aqui en los EEUU. se que seria mas dificil con lo que tiene que ver con las visas etc, pero no sabia si podriamos lograr visas religiosas. Se que por aqui (en mi iglesia por lo menos) hay trabajos que se puede hacer (unos los jovenes mios estan haciendo este mes) y que podriamos encontrar otros con gente por aqui. Podrian trabajar juntos los jovenes de aqui y los de mexico, podriamos hacer un baile una noche, un culto (quizas con unos de los grupos que vinieron de San Diego o Tijuana por el campamento), ir a Knott's Soak City un dia, cosas asi....o sea combinar lo de mision, con relacionarse unos con los otros y divertirse. Tambien, podria servir como evangelismo o avivamiento por aqui (invitar a los demas al culto/concierto/baile) y ayudarnos conocerles a la gente aqui que no esta metida en la iglesia todavia. Podriamos poner becas para que solo tendrian que pagar el pasaje de alli aqui, y lo demas hariamos con fundraisers o lo que sea de este lado.

No se que tendriamos que hacer por las visas (conozco a alguien que es abogada de inmigracion por aqui y le puedo preguntar) puede por el verano (si las cosas son faciles) o que lo planeamos por el verano que viene.

Por ahora, solo les propongo las ideas para que las piensen y me platiquen de como lo ven por su parte.

Debbie Auntie

About a week and a half ago my neighbor from Bombay came to me and said his daughter had to do a California Mission Project, could I help her? Of course. So she and I arranged a time to go to the library and we went and looked for books and info that she might use. I was going to be gone for the next few days with a funeral and then the Mexico trip, so I told her her "assignment" was to read through the books and write down information that she thought was interesting. When I got back the following Monday, I checked in to see how she was coming along. She had done one page (3/4 really) of writing and had misplaced the paper. It took about 10 minutes for her to find, but when she did, she had done a good job. I encouraged her to keep reading and writing things down and I would come back the next day to check again. She had taken moderate steps of progress but last night when I returned *(late from a meeting at 8:00) her parents had shifted gears from, "we'll let her do this one on her own" to "it's 8:00 and she still hasn't finished her other homework, she has to do more pages of writing and a report on Junipero Serra she hasn't even started!" So they too were learning about the California Mission of choice!

Oh how it took me back! Polyhedraville with Mr. M in 6th grade--late night at SM's house gluing together our mathematically/geometrically correct city, and my mom coming over with broccoli to serve as trees! Another late night for Mr. M doing my planet report, dad and me sitting on his bed looking for facts in the Encyclopedia (a 1980's version, I'm sure, thank God it was still accurate!) And countless projects where I would come to my mom and ask for help or ideas and she would say, "When is your project due?" My answer, almost without fail: "Tomorrow." =) It's a wonder more parents don't strangle their last-minute-project-making-paper-writing children!

Anyway, enough nostalgia and back to the story. So, I asked K if she wanted me to stay and help and she seemed to indicate yes. So I sat and helped dig out facts, work on a timeline with her mom searching for dates, and wrote the bibliography out as it should be (having done MORE than my fair share of those!) Due to my nostalgia, it was fairly comic, and it was nice to be able to help with something. At one point bita said, "Debbie auntie, would you like some water?" It was so sweet, both that she had deemed me "Debbie auntie" (and yes, I do know that is fairly normative in Indian culture, but still, it won me over!) and that she was caring enough to offer me water. We sat for awhile longer working on her project (her protests for sleep were beginning to kick in and she no longer cared about the extra credit portion about Junipero Serra). Her mom asked if I was tired, and I said "a little". She said I should go home and go to bed, and then she notified us that it was already 10:00! They had things under control and all that was left on the project was for K to rewrite the timeline in order and the bibliography (and the extra credit if she wanted to do it). So I decided to go. Grateful for bita and her caring heart, my new auntie title, and the nostalgia for late night school projects.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

mexican youth retreat

I spent this last weekend in Mexico at a Mexican Youth retreat for their youth from the Northeastern jurisdiction of the Mexican Methodist Church. I had met a Mexican DS a couple of months ago when I went to the Joint Commission meeting. I had gone simply to attend and was recruited into translating for much of the meeting. Well, from that, I was asked to preach this youth event. We had some trouble with the pre-event communication such that I didn't know the text or theme for the weekend until 2 days before. I was not exactly anxious about it (I do afterall regularly have to prepare sermons on Saturday for the following Sunday) but was frustrated that I wouldn't have more notice (let alone even directions for how to get there). Two days prior I got a call from the conference youth president and she was wonderful and had ideas and was open to mine and we clarified the text etc. So, Thursday afternoon I had a beautiful drive through the hills of San Diego and around Tecate Mexico on my way to the camp.

I have to admit, once I was there and the kids started arriving, my anxiety started to build. Not that I don't preach every week in Spanish, but it is my second language and "my people" (i.e., the people in my congregation) sort of expect botched phrases here and there, but I didn't know how gracious these kids would be and all of my self-consciousness about my linguistic abilities started to kick in. Add to that the fact that the DS had recommended I do "interactive" preaching--right...okay. Not something I do, ever really, so that made me even more nervous, and THEN, to put icing on my cake of nervous jitters and self doubt, the Bishop walks in. Great. Yeah, how about he preaches??!?! So, I took a time out, went to my car, sat in silence, sang, refocused my thoughts and then went in for the Thursday night preaching. It actually went really well. I had easter eggs full of candy that I gave out when they were the first to find a passage, could remember something I had said etc....and that seemed to keep them tuned in and interested.

Aside from my preaching, I had sort of an ambiguous role. I wasn't a counselor (i.e., a group leader) but I was a leader, so I was expected to participate, but almost 45 kids had arrived the second day (after a 24 hour bus ride) and had not heard me preach and so did not know who I was. As such they were not terribly keen on taking advice from me or heeding my instructions to join in and participate with certain activities. But it all worked out alright. I helped out in the kitchen during my "off" times, or participated in the leadership development activities, filled in for group leaders when they had other things to attend to, or cleaned up around camp. Overall it went really well. I had a number of youth tell me they appreciated my preaching and even a couple talk to me about call and how to know if God is calling you to ministry.

I also had a chance to get to know some of the Mexican pastors, some of the youth, and some of the other leadership (even more time with the Bishop). It's always amazing to me how easily I am accepted in my mestizo role. There is always grace afforded me for who I am and how God has called me to bridge the gap. Rarely from the latino side do I encounter resistance, a reality for which I continue to be EXTREMELY grateful.

las bendiciones de Dios

Esta primavera ha sido llena de bendiciones para mi. Cuando llegue a esta iglesia el julio pasado fue bien pesado. La gente fue desanimada, quejandose, media bruta--dificil. Me costo mucho trabajo por todo lo negativo que tiraban hacia mi (que no tenia nada que ver conmigo como solo llevaba meses aqui y los problemas años). Pero ya, despues de tantos meses, tantos lagrimas, por fin estamos experimentado creatividad, esperanza, gozo....vamos mejorandonos. Como saben hay 2 congregaciones, la que habla ingles y la que habla español. La de ingles es la que esta llena de problemas, no digo que la otra no tiene ninguna, solo que no es tan herida (digamos). Pero ahora las dos van hacia el futuro. La de ingles, con ideas, programas, cosas nuevas, ministerios, y misiones, y la de español, vamos creciendo, uno a la vez, y vamos creciendo en la fe y la teologia y vamos a ofrecer clases de ingles--asi que tenemos mas mision. Dios es bueno y esta dando fruta en nuestra iglesia. Doy gracias por lo que hay en la iglesia, por haberme mostrado los cambios (no tenia tanta paciencia para esperar mucho...), y por ser fiel en apoyarme y no dejarme solita.

El otro dia me llamo un hombre del radio y me dejo un mensaje: "Bendecida, pastora, le llamo Miguel....." Asi es verdad. Soy bendecida, gracias a Dios.

the 7%

I regularly get Christian know the ones, (or at least something similar)....if I am a true believer, I will forward the email.....yadda, yadda, yadda....I just got another one, and it was decent, pretty good even, and yet I am almost never inclined to forward said emails on. While there are some that stick out to me or touch me, more often than not I feel more bogged down by yet another thing to do, or guilty over yet another thing I haven't done. You know? But I just don't believe that being convicted about my beliefs automatically equates to being convicted about spamming my friends with forwards (even if they are Christian/faith based).

This probably isn't the best way to break my blogging silence. Two blogs in a row that are full of cynicism and edge....hopefully the more hopeful areas of my life will shine through shortly.

Friday, April 6, 2007

Something's awry

Warning: this one is cynical and edgy...

I just read a note on the bottom of a Sunday morning attendance sign in: "I haven't been here for 11 years--I hope I'm still a member." What?! Something is clearly missing from the membership training/explanation around here when you can NOT be here for 11 years--not a couple of months, not even just 1 year--11 years--count them, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11 years you have not been a part of this church community, not worshipping, not doing Bible study, not participating in mission, not calling on people, assumedly not tithing, NOT here for 11 years, and you still consider yourself a member...a member of the Christian family--sure, I'll give you that, member of the body of Christ--you bet, that comes with your baptismal vows...but a member of this church--come on. No wonder we have problems with attendance and participation, you can be GONE for 11 years and still consider yourself a member. In that case, our membership is still probably around 1200 or more--because, of course, though many have left the church, moved, gone else where, simply stopped coming, and though the dead have been GONE, their absence doesn't mean they aren't members--especially since, apparently, membership has nothing to do with active ongoing commitment....

6th word

John 19:30—When he had received the drink, Jesus said, “It is finished.”

While our inclination is to think the drink is that of juice, here and now, we might do better to think of it as the drink of God’s work—the cup God had given to him to teach, preach, heal, train, exorcise and then give of himself so that all might be saved. The cup which held so many burdens and so much pain—Jesus had drank of that agony, that abandonment, suffering, abuse, insults, and blood—Jesus drank of that cup, the last drop of which was sipped on the cross in those final moments, and now his work is completed. Finished in the sense of made whole—drawn into completion. Jesus’ work on earth was finished. He lived the sin free life, the life that focused wholly on God and God’s call for him. Jesus completed what he was called to do, and in him, the work of redemption could also be finished.

4th word

Matthew 27:46

About the ninth hour, Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eloi, eloi, lama sabachthani?”—which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

I see two main themes in this verse—one, it reminds us of Psalm 22 as Jesus uses the familiar words—My God, my God, why have you forsaken me. For the faithful Jew, those words are not just a reminder of the 1st verse, but they draw you into the rest of the psalm—the psalm that articulates the pain and frustration of suffering, of feeling alone, and yet fully turns to God for hope. The psalm that recounts the insults and injuries borne when others hate us and curse us, the psalm that draws us into death—parched, broken circled by vultures, and the psalm that in the end that knows God will save, not just the psalmist, but the poor, the broken-hearted, those that have been broken and neglected, they too will know the saving grace of God.

Two: Jesus feeling forsaken, left there to endure the insults, the pain, the hurt. The Son, endured the pain, the anguish, the suffering, he, God incarnate, bore the worst pains imaginable. Not exactly the fate one might envision for the all powerful creator God. I’m inclined to think the all powerful would never have to suffer, never have to feel pain, and yet, for our sake, God chose pain, God chose suffering, God chose servant hood, and God chose death so that we might have life. And in his full humanity, Christ bore the pain, he suffered, and much like us in our pain and suffering, he asked after God—where are you God? If you are with me, then how can I feel so bad? Have no doubt, Jesus felt pain, God didn’t just play act suffering and death, God lived it. And in that we celebrate, ironically, often. We celebrate that God chose us, that God is not aloof and indifferent to our pain, our suffering, our reality, God knows it and understands it because God lived it. God lived like us, hurt like us, and died like us so that we might live like God.

2nd Word

My senior and I shared 7 last words preaching responsibilities, so you will only find #2, #4, and #6...

Luke 23:42-43

Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” 43 He replied, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.”

Contrasted with the other criminal, this one comes to faith—he recognizes Jesus’ role, his coming kingdom, and his rightful authority. And in that recognition, he is redeemed. The man’s past is not worthy of paradise, and he has no earthly future in which to live out his faith, perform good deeds., yet he is to still promised a place in paradise4. No where else could Paul’s words ring more true: (Eph 2:8-10) “For by grace you have been saved by faith, and this is not your doing, it is the gift of God—9 not the result of works, so that no one may boast. 10 for we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life.”

In this criminal we see the epitome of salvation by faith. It is not the ways we make ourselves “Good enough” for God. We cannot justify ourselves. We do not earn God’s grace. It is gifted to us, as it was gifted to this criminal. And while good works are the fruits of God’s transforming work in our lives, neither do they keep us saved or pay God back for what God has done. God’s justifying work is what saves, purely and completely, regardless of our past and in spite of our future, we come to salvation through our faith in Jesus Christ, through God’s merciful and bountiful gifts.

So then the question stands: saving toward what?—paradise—also known as a garden—THE garden, the garden of Eden, Christ’s word “paradise” has a double intender—it also represents the Garden of Eden—the place of god’s perfected creativity. The our place in the garden needed to be restored, we had been bared, kicked out, and to get back in, only God’s perfection, could open the gates, and so, Christ, the second Adam, the perfected and redeemed human, unlocked the gate, and offers passage to those who believe. And the promise is not for some far off visit. Some destiny lost in time, the promise is Today---“today you shall be with me in paradise. We enter in with Jesus as soon as we believe. We are restored by our words of affirmation. We are granted re-entry through the second Adam—the one without sin.

Thursday, April 5, 2007

Heal my friend

Spirit of Grace
heal my friend
take him and make him whole
take his heart and make it yours
purify the air he breathes
take the toxins out of his body
welcome Holy Spirit
Welcome in that place
Welcome Holy Spirit
Make known your saving grace
Heal him Lord.
Heal him Lord.
Heal him Lord.
Give us strength to be by his side
Give us patience with the not knowing
Give us love to share with all
God of grace, heal my friend.

Prayer in suffering

God of grace,
Give me peace as I seek you today
As I touch the depth of my pain—
Fill me with your cleansing water
Fill me up and make me whole.
Help me to push out
The spirit of darkness that lies within
God, draw me under the white warm blanket of your love
Cover me up and make me whole
Draw me to you
Comfort me and hold me
As I hurt and cry today
Thank you for being in my pain
With me
And for taking it away
From me

Call me a cynic

Yesterday I went to the Youth Network meeting for area youth pastors. I have been going off and on now for just over a month. They are a good group of folks, but most of the time I feel like an outsider. I don't get the jokes or know the inside story. I am there, but not really a part of things. I have been inclined not to go back, but also think it's a good exercise for me in helping me to understand how visitors feel when they come to church or to youth group.

Anyway, yesterday they had invited two guests--publicity folks for "Left Behind: the PC game". I have to say I started out leery because I had received emails a few months back highlighting the pitfalls of the game. After an hour of presentation I was only mildly less cynical. I will say that you get more points/power whatever for praying regularly--that is a plus, and you can regress if you make a bad decision (like killing people). Those are lessons I can applaud. But I am still concerned about simplifying one's spiritual life. The more people you convert, the more powerful you are....the good people look like Johnny from down the street and the "bad" people have tatoos, goatees, and a shaved head. That's not profiling.... I don't know, maybe I'm too "hard-hearted", but I also was not impressed by the fact that Focus on the Family and Pat Robertson's son endorsed the game. Call me crazy but they aren't exactly the folks I look to for my spiritual compass. They did give me a sample of the game, so I can play it and see for myself, though not being a "gamer" I am likely to lose--a lot. Anyone out there tested it for themselves? Any thoughts?