Thursday, May 31, 2007

The part she missed

I failed to mention in my last post that S was not only upset, but she had left the service early in frustration. Ironically, she missed this message:

This morning we have already heard about the incomprehensibility of God. God’s actions in our world push the limits of reason and force us to believe with our hearts, with faith. And, part of our response to God’s action in our own lives is to respond in kind. Our Christian discipleship begs us to act like God. We are called to do things as equally inexplicable. You may say, “well Pastor, I am not baptizing anyone with fire or able to give anyone the ability to speak a different language on the spot. How am I supposed to do things inexplicable like God does?” It’s a good thing you asked! The elements of Christian living may seem ordinary to us after a life time in the church, or they may seem like “just what you do” for someone who is new to the church, but for the world, for those who do not know God, who do not believe in the changing power of the gospel—some of the things we do as Christians seem pretty weird. Praying for miraculous healings with medical science says there is no hope. There are many who have labeled such acts of faith as emotionally clouded logic-lacking superstition. Partaking in the bread and juice—the body and the blood of Christ—to be cleansed of our sins and granted life anew—not exactly mainstream for a culture that endorses self-centered action for personal gain. Offering welcome to the forsaken, the marginalized, the forgotten. We offer food, shelter, home to those who have been ignored by their families, denounced by society, and hated by individuals. Not only do we offer them hospitality when they come, but we even go out and find them so that they might know the love of Christ. We do weird things. We are called to live the illogical, the perplexing, the wondrous. We are called to help the pedophile, the murderer, and the rapist. We are called to offer everyone a second chance, a third or fourth even. We are called to keep on giving, even and especially to those who are deemed “undeserving”. The world often looks at us and laughs—we are gullible, we are wasting our time and energy for a world that will “never change.” We persist with notions of peace, inclusion, and justice in times of war, rejection, and pervasive injustice. We persist with hope—the unreasonable answer in a world fraught with hurt, disease, disaster, and disorder. We persist with the Spirit of God—a Spirit that breaks the bonds of logic and invites us into the kingdom of hope. We persist with Pentecost, where all can hear God’s message in his or her own tongue. We persist in sharing the gospel where it has been heard and ignored, heard and ignored. We persist in sharing food with those who have none hoping their bellies are full and their souls are healed. We persist offering welcome, hospitality, home and hope to a world ravaged by sin—all because of the incomprehensible God. Because for our world to truly be healed---for their to be peace, justice, love, happiness, inclusion, and a future for all of God’s people God has got to break the bonds of reason, do the unbelievable and transform each and every one of us. God must continue to baptize us with fire so that we might burn with good news, burn with joy, burn with a message we are bursting to share with the world. God must transform us in droves, must do the unthinkable for otherwise we might mistake God’s actions for our own. God’s incomprehensibility reminds us that it is God acting and not us, that it is God speaking, moving and changing, and not us. Only when things push beyond logic, reason, and linear thought, only when God can be the only answer do we know, without a doubt, that there has been a Pentecost moment. There has been a God moment—God has taken action yet again, inexplicably and yet undeniably. God pushed the boundaries—God proved the mystery to be wondrous and perplexing—God anoints with fire, gifts us with the extraordinary and calls us into the world to serve as God’s hands, feet, mouth, and voice that all might see, hear, and believe. Amen.

It seems like the morning's message would have spoken directly to her, had she stayed and been open to hearing it. Pray for S, that God will speak to her and that her heart will be unhardened.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

I think I have arrived

I think I’ve arrived. Sunday for the celebration of Pentecost, we did a bilingual service. This is the 4th that we’ve done now and we seem to be getting the balance/rhythm right. (Once a couple years back I had talked with someone from Trinity Lutheran, whose pastor is Heidi Neumark—one of my pastoral heroes and examples, and he had said that it took them 6-8 tries to find the bilingual balance/rhythm that was right for their congregations. So I feel we are doing well and are right on track). We “co-preached”, something my senior and I had only heard of, but managed to pull of anyway and that proved to be inspiring and fun for each of us. Unfortunately, it meant the sermon was all in English, so I tried to compensate by providing a translated manuscript for our strictly Spanish speakers, so they wouldn’t be completely left out of the preaching experience. Nevertheless, the service seemed to go really well. People were participating. There wasn’t a mass exodus. And after the service in the pastoral reception line, there were lots of compliments about the service. I was thrilled!

Then came Tuesday. I was on the church campus putting up signs for a youth event coming up and had my dog with me. The woman, D, who runs our food pantry loves Taylor and took her from me, so I said I would come back for her when I finished putting up the signs. When I got back to the pantry there was another woman there (S, a member of the church) talking to D. I walked up and waited. The woman did not bother to look at me; she just kept telling D that she was leaving the church, she would not be tithing or attending though she wouldn’t be taking her name off of the roles,. (Read here for a general sense of how I feel about things like this). She said the Spanish in the worship service was just too much for her and that she simply can’t worship. (Please keep in mind we only do bilingual services every 8+ weeks—roughly 6 or 7 times per year). She clarified that she doesn’t have any problem with Latinos, just that if they refuse to learn English then they should be “over there” for worship. She’d be perfectly happy for them to use the chapel or the sanctuary for their worship, just as long as they don’t enter into her worship time with that language.

Now D (who is 88) has not been a huge fan of the bilingual services either. She doesn’t understand the Spanish and gets frustrated with how fast it goes. (We’ve tried to alleviate some of the confusion problem by having my senior speak in English and me in Spanish—so the two languages are easily distinguished because of the difference in our voices). But, D has tried to understand and support this act of hospitality in worship. She likes me and wants to support me in ministry, and she “ha[s] never had any trouble with Hispanics” so she’s willing to grin and bear it. In talking with S, D defended the service by advocating both that I am “really sweet” and that she “ha[s] never had any trouble with Hispanics.” S would hear none of it—after all she isn’t prejudiced, she just doesn’t like having their Spanish in her worship service. And she is convinced that if she were to go to “their service” that they would not make a similar effort to make sure she understood in English (it was at that point that I chimed in and said they would—that I had been offered such acts of hospitality all over the world and even when I was the only one who didn’t understand). That was the first time she looked at me, and I am not fully convinced it actually registered with her who I was. She kept talking after D’s remark that I was nice and said, “Well, we just don’t agree.” D looked at me and said, “Well, that’s not a problem, is it?” I shook my head no. S ignored both of us and kept talking, “She’s just too much for them to be the pastor of this church.” Huh.

That’s especially intriguing to me because “them” are a part of our church. The Hispanic ministry is not a separate denomination or even a separate church—we are all a part of HUMC. One church. When you hear such a comment about yourself (and are trying not to engage and hence tear down the person) you pretty much just get stunned. I listened to the two women until they finished their dialogue. (S is sorry it has to be this way, she won’t withdraw her name from the membership, she will find another church, and since she has been a member forever, she hopes maybe she can come back someday (i.e., that I will leave, the Hispanic ministry will be dismantled and all of this nonsense can cease)). S hugged D and left. D then returned Taylor to me and I went back to the office in my state of shock.

I can’t really tell you if I was more hurt personally/directly or more hurt indirectly for what she was really saying about my congregation. I was fortunate that DD, a fellow clergy and friend who shares our offices, was there and willing to listen. We talked for awhile and he passed on wisdom a seminary professor had shared with him: “When the people praise you, they aren’t praising you; they are praising God for what God has done through you. And when they criticize you, they aren’t criticizing you; they are criticizing God and what God has challenged them to do through you.”

After chewing on all of this for awhile, I realized that I should take her statement: “She’s just too much for them to be the pastor of this church” as a compliment. I think this is what I’ve been striving for for years now. You could, hopefully, fill in “them” with a variety of “types of people” and hopefully the statement would remain true. For, I would hate to be confused as too much for “us”, as that would mean I was continuing to be elitist, racist, sexist, and offering justification for the majority. (Now, not that I am free from the binds of these ‘isms. I think we all continue to have stereotypes and prejudices that lay latent until evoked by a particular situation. It’s the nature of the human condition. I’m not sure we ever get out from under all of the ‘isms.) But I would much rather be seen as siding with “them” than with S. (Though I do feel for her. I have had do struggle a lot with my own racist views and insidiously hateful notions. I have been in S’s shoes. The difference is I chose to endure the pain of being transformed rather than walk away to a simpler place).

All of that is the long way of saying, “I have arrived.” I am becoming the pastor I have prayed to be. (Though I am pretty sure that in my prayers I was not imagining how it would hurt to be such a woman).

Quote of the day

"Sometimes miracles come as death so there isn't suffering." --SG

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Scraping and Painting

They are preparing the outside of the buildings in my apartment complex for painting. We received notice about 2 weeks ago that they would be power washing and for us to move all objects off the balconies and porches. I only saw the workers power wash one day. Otherwise they have been stripping/scrapping by hand and replacing rotten boards and then priming the bare wood. They have yet to paint, but I figure they will do all that at once. It all seems to be a very apt analogy for our spiritual lives. While good materials and craftsmanship may have been used/done originally on constructing our spiritual home, after 10, 15, or 20 years we fall into mild disrepair and we must be cleaned up, fixed, and given a fresh coat.

Some areas of our lives have been well-kept, or have suffered little weathering, and will only require a light wash and some fresh paint. The parts that are cracked and rough will need to be scrapped, prepared, and painted in order to return to a presentable state. And then other parts are completely rotted out—maybe we used faulty materials originally or maybe that area suffered more wear and tear or weathering—whatever the case, that part is no longer viable and must be removed, replaced, primed, and painted. Just like with the apartment building, we live in our spiritual home and some parts are great—maybe we go to church every week, tithe, participate in Bible study—those parts are strong and presentable. Then there are the rough spots—splintered and cracking—maybe our daily devotional time with God is less than consistent or we fail to take Sabbath or we are holding a grudge. Those parts need to be scraped away, cleaned up, primed, and redone. Finally, there are the rotten boards—the spiritual demons. We may be ashamed to have them exposed or fearful of the pain and having them removed. Those rotten places in our spiritual home may be there for a variety of reasons: 1) poor materials—maybe we inherited some “old junk” and had to use it. 2) Neglect—we didn’t have the time or energy to deal with those rotten places. 3) Weathering—we experienced a crisis, trial, or storm and were battered in the process. Rotten boards would include racism, sexism, homophobia, elitism, classism, prejudice, apathy, bigotry, and indifference. None of those rotten boards is healthy or edifying for our spiritual home. None of them will protect us through future spiritual storms. And whatever the reason for the disrepair, those problematic boards need to be removed, replaced, prepared, and painted.

Sometimes this upkeep work is tedious and time consuming. It can be costly, and it forces us to be exposed and vulnerable. Nevertheless, it is worthwhile, and not just worthwhile, but necessary. It is necessary for the well-being of our spiritual home. We must take the time and energy to do this work—otherwise we risk corrosion, rot, mold, cracking, and eventually complete disrepair.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Mas alla de la comprension

La acción de Dios produce un disturbio—un alboroto. La gente se hace ansiosa y curiosa. Quieren respuestas definitivas. Quieren ver la lógica y las causas, no el misterio y la fe. Beverly Gaventa lo dice así: “Queremos que el Espíritu Santo sea como el café del avión, débil pero constante, dado en cantidades pequeñas.” “En el aire libre, la gente preguntará, se burlará, e insistirá en una respuesta.” “Porque el Espíritu Santo siempre tiene un carácter rebelde.” La historia de Pentecostés no es aguada, ni es el café débil del avión. La historia de Pentecostés que tenemos aquí nos asombra y casi no se puede imaginar. El viento, si lo podemos imaginar. No hay problema. Aun quizás hemos experimentado a Dios así en nuestras vidas. Escuchamos a Dios por la brisa en el bosque, o por las tormentas. Y después, vemos al Espíritu como si fuera fuego, llamas sobre cada persona. Aquí empieza a ser medio dudable. ¿Llamitas? ¿Sobre cada uno? No manches. Quizás estaban borrachos. O quizás estaban soñando. Solo imaginaron estas llamas, ¿verdad? No ocurrieron en actualidad. Nuestra naturaleza dudosa agarra nuestro ser. Y después los escuchamos hablando para que todos escucharan en su propio idioma. Todos entendieron las palabras de los discípulos esta noche. Mmmm. Esto es demasiado para nosotros. ¿Quieres decir que los discípulos que hablaban el griego de repente podían hablar las lenguas de los que no hablaban el griego y que habían venido de todas partes? ¿De repente podían? ¿Sin clase? ¿Sin lecciones? ¿Solo una llamita sobre su cabeza y los discípulos de momento eran bilingües? Muy rápido la historia de Pentecostés se convirtió de una historia sencilla y suave sobre Dios en el viento a llamitas y poder bilingüe instante. En si mismo, esto es mas allá de la comprensión. Y si creer en esto no es creencia de fe, no se lo que sería.

Así que Pentecostés no es una historia lindita sobre los nuevos creyentes—es una historia que prueba el poder de Dios y las realidades de fe. El Pentecostés epitoma el carácter ilógico e indescriptible de Dios. Estrecha los limites del razón. Quizás diríamos que el Pentecostés rompe los límites del razón. Para creer necesitamos la fe. Tenemos que confiar en la grandeza de Dios. Tenemos que creer que Dios sí puede hacer milagros, Dios sí puede convertir a miles en un solo día. Dios si puede dar el poder de lenguas a 12 judíos que hablaban el griego por el bien del evangelio. La fe en si misma nos permita saber, sin duda, que Dios puede hacer estas cosas. Si requerimos evidencia racional, nos quedamos detrás. La vida cristiana prueba vez tras vez que nuestra vida en Cristo no tiene que ver con la lógica, tiene que ver con la fe. Es por la fe que creemos en el nacimiento de la virgen María; es por la fe que explicamos la naturaleza de Jesús—la combinación del divino y el humano en uno. Por la fe aceptamos y regocijamos en los milagros. Por la fe oramos y creemos que Dios sí sanará y cambiará nuestras vidas. Las acciones de Dios rompen los límites de la lógica y por la fe en Dios, podemos ver las maravillas de un Dios que nos ha escogido a nosotros, que nos ha amado, que nos ha guiado, que se ha sacrificado para nosotros, dando su propia vida en Cristo para nosotros, y que se ha resucitado para nosotros. Las acciones de Dios no son fácil de negar. Son irracionales, son sin límites, son maravillosas, y son confusas.

Respuesta a la accion de Dios

Las acciones de Dios en nuestro mundo rompen los limites del razón y nos hacen creen con nuestros corazones, nuestra fe. Y, parte de nuestra respuesta a las acciones de Dios en nuestras vidas es responder de tal manera. Nuestro discipulado cristiano nos ruega comportarnos como Dios. Somos llamados a hacer las cosas tan inexplicables como Dios los hace. Quizás me dirán, “Bueno, Pastora, no voy a bautizar a nadie con fuego ni darles el don de lenguas en un solo momento. ¿Cómo voy hacer las cosas tan inexplicables como Dios las hace?” ¡Que bueno que me preguntaron esto! Los elementos a la vida cristiana quizás parecen normales o cotidianos a nosotros después de una vida en la iglesia, o porque “son así” en la iglesia, y como nuevos miembros no preguntamos nada, pero para los que son fuera de la iglesia, las cosas que hacemos son raras. Orando por milagros de sanidad cuando los médicos dicen que no hay esperanza. Hay muchos que han dicho que este tipo de acción de fe es supersticioso, emocional, y falta razón. Tomando el pan y el vino—el cuerpo y la sangre de Cristo—para ser sanados de nuestros pecados y dados vida nueva—no es exactamente normal por una cultura que predica acción centrado en el individual por su propio éxito. Dando la bienvenida a los rechazados, marginalizados, y olvidados. Dando comida, albergue, y hogar a los que han sido ignorados por sus familias, denunciados por la sociedad, y odiados por los demás. No solo les ofrecemos hospitalidad cuando vengan, pero aun salimos a buscarlos para que conozcan al amor de Cristo. Hacemos cosas raras. Somos llamados a vivir lo ilógico, lo perplejo, lo maravilloso. Somos llamados a ayudar al pedofilio, a el que mata, y a el que viola. Somos llamados a ofrecer una segunda oportunidad a todos, aun una tercera o cuarta. Somos llamados a seguir dando, aun y especialmente a los que “no lo merecen.” El mundo nos mira y se ríe—somos tontos, estamos tirando nuestro dinero y tiempo a la basura para un mundo que “nunca cambiará”. Persistimos con ideas de paz, inclusión, y justicia en tiempos de guerra, rechazo, e injusticia. Persistimos con esperanza—la respuesta irracional en un mundo afligido por enfermedades, dolor, desastres, y desorden. Persistimos con el Espíritu de Dios—un espíritu que rompe los límites del razón y que nos invita al reino de esperanza. Persistimos con el Pentecostés, donde todos pueden escuchar el mensaje de Dios en su propia lengua. Persistimos en compartir el evangelio donde ha sido escuchado e ignorado, escuchado e ignorado. Persistimos en compartir comida con los que no tienen esperando que les llenará el estomago y les sanará su alma. Persistimos en dar la bienvenida, hospitalidad, hogar, y esperanza a un mundo quebrado por el pecado—todo por la incomprensibilidad de Dios. Porque si queremos de verdad que el mundo sea sanado—que haya paz, justicia, amor, gozo, inclusión, y un futuro para todos los criaturas de Dios—Dios tiene que romper los limites del razón, tiene que hacer lo que no se puede creer y transformar cada uno de nosotros. Dios tiene que bautizarnos con fuego para que quememos con las buenas noticias, quememos con gozo, quememos con un mensaje que está saltando de nuestras bocas. Dios tiene que transformarnos miles a la vez, tiene que hacer lo que no se puede imaginar, porque si no, podemos confundir las acciones de Dios por las nuestras. La incomprensibilidad de Dios nos hace recordar que es Dios actuando, y nosotros no, que Dios está hablando, moviendo, cambiando, y nosotros no. Solamente cuando las cosas son mas allá de lo lógico y racional, solamente cuando Dios puede ser la única respuesta sabemos, sin duda, que ha sido un momento de Pentecostés. Ha habido un momento de Dios—Dios ha actuado otra vez, inexplicable y sin duda. Dios rompió los limites—Dios probó que el misterio es maravilloso y perplejo. Dios unge con fuego, nos da dones extraordinarias y nos llama al mundo para servir como sus manos, pies, boca, y voz para que todos vean, escuchen, y crean. Amen.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Doing a new thing

God is doing a new thing here. In fact, God is doing a new thing all over the world. God always seems to be doing something new, creative, different, and challenging in our lives. Our God is rarely a god of the "same old same old". While in New Orleans, I was blessed to speak with a new believer. I asked what his new found belief in God had done for his life. He said he had peace, he could sleep at night, but that most of all he had hope. The crux of our faith is hope--hope in Christ, hope in the life eternal, hope for ourselves, and hope for our world, and that hope is always future facing. Hope does not look back--it always pulls us into the future, into the kingdom. The forgiveness we experience in Jesus pulls us away from the past--away from our sins, our ignorance, our hatred, and our prejudice and into the kingdom of God. God calls us to peace, to love, to reconciliation, to wholeness, to understanding, to acceptance, and to celebration. By drawing us away from the pain of our past and into the bounty of our future, God reconciles our past and gives us a future. As we see what God is doing in our midst, let us celebrate the new things--the future things, the hopeful things Jesus Christ has laid before us.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Weekend Highlights

The Strawberry Stomp

I got to feel like Lucille Ball if only for a few minutes!!

The good stuff

I am on a much needed vacation and am enjoying relaxing, playing, and hanging out with my best friend. Some of the highlights from the weekend are:

1) playing at the beach

2) "Guess who's coming to dinner"

3) stomping strawberries at the festival

4) sleeping in until 10:00

5) "The Roman Holiday"

6) Sidney Portier's autobiography "Measure of a Man"

7) Pictures of JH's new baby

8) Reading my "memoirs" (a.k.a. the hundreds of emails I sent my best friend while I was in college)

9) Buying the cutest dress for my niece for her CA visit

10) Being able to walk out the door and be at the beach in 5 minutes (walking!)


G recently posted about forgiveness (or the lack thereof) and I was prompted to the following response. But before I muse a bit, I leave you with his beautiful quote:

"my anger excludes all visitors except machismo."

as always, I appreciate your candor and openness in sharing, and you were right, I did appreciate this piece. as you seemed to expect, I am most drawn to commenting on forgiveness. Forgiveness is such an interesting issue, and loaded with complexities to boot. I think one of the most helpful things for me to learn (which came in large part from working with survivors and dealing with people in my own life who weren't quite right in how they acted or fully sincere in their apologies) was that forgiveness isn't primarily (or even necessarily) about the other person and their apology. It is about you and the feelings (most often, as you've noted, anger and resentment--which stem from hurt or fear) that you harbor. So the true act of forgiveness means letting go of the feelings so they don't eat at you. Whether or not the offending party actually apologizes is almost completely irrelevant--which is important b/c we are not guaranteed an apology, or, if we do receive one, it clearly may not be what we want--so as long as we are tied to that person's action (i.e., the apology) we can't be truly liberated from the event. Another way of saying all of that is that forgiveness is a type of emotional cleansing or liberation from the resulting feelings of being hurt/angered/offended.
And, the adage "forgive and forget" (in my opinion) is a bunch of bull, at least if we are referring to actual mental memory. Why? Because if I simply forget the past, I am prone to repeat it. If I hold no records of what has been done to me, I can be hurt, abused, affected over and over again. But, if we refer the memory of grudge or resentment, then forgiveness is exactly that--forgetting--letting go of the weight of those emotions so that we are no longer burdened by them (b/c God knows the other person is not carrying that burden...)

Saturday, May 19, 2007

The War

After reading a few recent posts on the war in Iraq and being continuously confronted by the ceaselessness of the fighting (a.k.a. deaths), and a heated debate with a parishoner about how the US actions have not served as a knight in shining armor "if only they weren't so ignorant and realized the good we are doing" I am compelled to post on the war. I have never been in favor of the war and yet neither am I a fan of pulling out all the troops, at least not at this point, (even having friends and loved ones over there). I know some people see that as a contradiction, either I support the war and want troops there or I do not. But my lack of support for pulling out is not about wanting the war, it is about responsibility--I don't think it's fair to go in and tear up someone else's country and then get the heck out of dodge because things aren't working as well as you thought. It's a matter of justice, responsibility, and follow through for me. Now, having said that I am beginning to believe the government efforts are futile in terms of our "goals" (whatever they are worth). And what I am believing now is that humanitarian groups (religious, habitat for humanity, organic farming, small size loans or otherwise) will probably bear the brunt of the burden anyway, and I believe are the better agents for change to boot, so we might as well get that ball rolling so that we CAN do something constructive in Iraq and help empower people. Not that I think a pullout will end the insurgencies, I think that is more deeply rooted, but I think organic empowerment is more likely to be successful than simple (or even complex) military presence.

for what it's worth

I extend an apology to my regular readers both for a general lack of postings in the last few weeks and because I fear my current postings lack the depth I desire for them. In the past few weeks (after almost 2 months of working solid, which means I did get Monday sabbath but did NOT get Saturday volunteer, relax, and sermon writing time), I have found my mind shutting down--no real creativity, an obvious lack of enthusiasm (though still, mechanically, getting the job done), and an unwillingness to go there because I do not have the emotional reserves to deal with what I find. My sermons have suffered, my Bible study has suffered, and I think most importantly, my soul has suffered. Don't get me wrong, I hardly feel like things are spinning out of control; mostly, I think I have just shifted into survival mode to get things done, and now that I am on vacation and starting to come out of it, I realize the shallow waters I am in. Herein lies my lament, tied to my hope for deeper waters...

Friday, May 18, 2007

Consolation and Desolation

St. Ignatius of Loyola had a spiritual discipline of reflecting daily on consolations and desolations. I had started this practice in the fall after talking with my walking partner (who is both a pastor and a spiritual director). Granted, my own discipline with this practice is less than ideal, but today two things happened that I thoguth I would share.
Desolation: in a conversation with a 97 year old man (who seems to generally think highly of me) he told me he thought I was throwing my life away with my career choice, and he followed that up by telling me that he feels sorry for me.
Consolation: a 30 something man I had met in New Orleans and talked to for about a half an hour (mostly about his brother's artwork but also some about his faith life--he's a new believer--and what some of the "next steps" might be in his journey) texted me and asked for prayer. we sent a few texts back and forth and then we ended up talking later on. He said that from our one conversation he had gone home and pulled out his Bible and read the entire gospel of Matthew that night and that he got back into going to church.

so, to sum up, some think my life's work is a waste and others got something huge out of a minute experience...

Back to the basics

Maybe I'm overly simplistic in my thinking, but the other day in a conversation with a few other clergy, the ministerial challenge of dealing with cultural norms of individualism, personal preference, and entertainment came up and one pastor in his frustration claimed, "I just don't know what we are supposed to do; if there were a right answer we'd all be doing it!" My reply was "there isn't just one answer other than do what we are called to do: preach and live the good news." Because of background noise, he clarified to make sure he heard right. "what and live the good news?" "Preach and live the good news." Part of a larger group, our discussion stopped there, and I was concerned that maybe I sounded flippant. I wasn't trying to be flippant or dismissive, and maybe it is overly simplistic. But I think part of our "problem" in the church is that we try to cater to those cultural norms and expectations believing (or maybe better said, not believing) that the power of the gospel is not strong enough to win out.

I get that as a society we have become a "me generation"--I am far from oblivious to that and I fully understand how that interferes with the work of the church--self-giving, sacrifice, dedication, commitment through difficulties....those aren't values that top the list of most folks in their quest for immediate success and abundant riches. Give up what I "earned"?? Ha! People scoff at such a notion. Give what is mine to someone who hasn't scrapped the way I have? That's their problem if they can't make it work. Those are the notions that I find anyway. So I understand that the gospel message isn't popular--but hasn't that always been the case? And if we don't believe that at their core what people really want is to make a difference, be held to a higher standard, achieve something of value, be worth something more than their image, then isn't the gospel message of hope and transformation already lost?

I do believe the gospel message must be made relevant--but I do not believe that means we have to do backflips to make the good news appealing--it has appeal in and of itself, and if we (meaning professing Christians) don't truly believe that at our core, then we MUST go back and take a serious look at our own beliefs, our own faith life, our own transformation in Christ.

Thursday, May 17, 2007


A former youth of mine recently sent me these questions and said she considered me successful, would I answer them for her, below are the questions and the answers, I'm interested to hear your thoughts on how you define and measure success.

Five Successful People

How do you define success? I think success is achieving goals, working beyond yourself (i.e., stretching yourself to go further and work harder than you thought you could), I think success can even involve failing if it means setting a goal and risking something to try and achieve it, if you don’t get all the way there—I still think there is success in having put forth the effort. Success is a job well done, putting forth the effort to do something really well.
How did you become and stay successful? Well, the definition of successful is relative—you said I was successful—not me! Though, by my own definition of success, I suppose I would have to say that I have achieved success, at the very least. I think some of the key factors were 1) my parents made me see things through. If I signed up for soccer, I played the whole year, even if my team was losing every game and I didn’t want to play. When I made a commitment, they made sure I held to it until the end, I think that’s a big deal. It’s easy to get frustrated or discouraged or think things are impossible, but because they wouldn’t let me just walk away, that is one of the values I hold to, if I commit—I am committed—100% to do the best I can. 2) My dad would ask “did you do your best?” if I got a D on a test but had done my best, that was okay. Now, normally a D is not my best, so if I don’t give something my all I really need to evaluate and start putting in more energy or finding new ways to see things so that I can do my best. 3) I have had lots of encouragement along the way. My mom always used to praise us, in the beginning for little things: “good job brushing your teeth!” or “thank you for putting your shoes where they belong” and then later in life for doing well on academic or extra curricular things—my mom is a cheerleader of sorts and I have several of them in my life, they tell me when I am doing well, which gives me energy and motivation to do more things well.
What type of education did you need? To be successful or to do what I do? My “success education” lies in the above teachings, along with others. To do what I do as a pastor I needed a bachelor’s degree (didn’t matter in what) and then a master of divinity degree. My BA was a 4 year degree and the master’s is a 3 year degree.
Is this where you imagined yourself to be? Starting when? When I was younger? No. I wanted to be everything from a vet to a doctor to a teacher to a…..who knows what?!? High school? No. I wanted to be a counselor and even into college. Then college brought ideas of working in social welfare, teaching, counseling, advocacy, immigrant rights, and the beginnings of thinking I would work in the church. Finally before my 4th year I saw I could do a little of everything I wanted as a pastor.
Are you happy where you are? Generally. I think I am doing what God wants me to do and I was called out of my gifts and passions. So a lot of the time I do what I love to do. (other days are harder and need more convincing that this is right, but mostly I am happy).
How would you advise me to start my “road to success”? By imagining what you could do (and not limiting yourself to easy or simple things), by looking at what you love to do, what calls to you, what you could do all day and not realize the day had passed, and start exploring those possibilities. Try some things, take some risks, don’t be afraid to fail, and pray, God’s guidance has also been a big part of taking me to where I am, and that’s a big deal to hear God AND follow God’s leading.
What is the most important tip you can share with me? Don’t be afraid to risk, to try things, to put yourself out there, because it is often through trial and error that we really learn how to do things.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Dry walling and the Christian life

This morning after praying for further inspiration for my sermon, I was drawn to preaching something completely different than what I had prepared. Instead of preaching on the peace Jesus leaves us, I was drawn (back) into how our love for Jesus necessitates a response. I preached about how that response is not a deber (as in something we HAVE to do) rather it is a privilegio (something we get to do and should be joyful about). In simple terms: we get to rather than got to. (Thank you MP). After that the Spirit was off and running with how we shouldn't be fooled into believe that privilegio will be facil. The work we do on behalf of Christ or as a response to how we are moved by Christ's love is hard work, it is work that goes on and on and on.

The analogy I had was drywalling. That had been my job while in Mississippi. I had no mudding experience going in, so all of it was new. The first day we got there, our "boss" assigned us the task of sanding all the walls where the drywall mud was. Okay. So we sanded away, sweltering un the doubly humid heat of our dust masks. We sanded and sanded and sanded. Once we had finished a room or two, our next task was to mud. Lay on the mud, scrape it off to a thin layer. Lay on mud, scrape it off. Also a fairly redundant job. But I was learning and we are making progress. One room done. Two rooms done. Three rooms done! Rock on. Day one finished and we left, tired, but pleased with the work we had done.

Then came day two, alright boss what are we going to do today? You are going to sand these walls and then re-mud them. Seriously? We didn't finish yesterday? Nope, go ahead and sand and re-mud. It needs to be done at least 3 times. Okay. Day two for us was actually the third day of mudding for these walls, so we worked and worked, thinking that we would finish the job and then move on to something different on day three. So, again we sanded, and again we mudded. The end of the day came and our boss wasn't there to check our work, but we figured he'd check in the morning and then take us back to his work site (he had left a team of about 6 of us at one house and he had gone to the other with the other 7 or so folks).

Well, let's just say that was wishful thinking! Day three brought more of the same. Sand and mud. Sand and mud. I will just say that I was not so excited about mudding by day three and beginning to resent the boss by day four. Could we really need to sand and mud again?!?! Fortunately day four brought a reprieve (sort of). While we didn't have to mud again, we did have to sand all of the walls so they could be textured and then sealed and painted. I have yet to be convinced of WHY they had to be sanded again if they were only going to be textured, but whatever.

By now you're probably thinking, "Debbie, you just wanted to whine a little, this has nothing to do with the Christian life." Hopefully I will prove you wrong. *Or the Spirit will anyway since I did not think of this ingenius connection on my own. =) The connection is that often we agree to do God's bidding, to live out the message and we go with gusto and excitement the first day. "Sure God, I can feed the hungry, clothe the naked, visit the prisoners, and offer compassion to all!" We finish the day, and God says, "Good work." Expecting a new and exciting task the next day, we are mildly discouraged when God sets us to the same task. Feed the hungry, clothe the naked, visit the prisoners, and offer compassion to all. Okay fine. I'll go. In your name. We finish another day of work, having done a good job and again await the praise of our boss. Yes, my daughter/son you did a wonderful job. (Sweet!) Now, go do it again to make sure it is perfect. (Not so sweet!) So we go, and we do more of the same. Feed the hungry, clothe the naked, visit the prisoners, and offer compassion to all. And yet maybe this day we are not as excited, thinking we had done a good job, we think these tasks should be finished. We worked hard, why aren't we done with this chore? The boss offers no real explanation, only that it needs to be more perfect. We clean up again, preparing for the larger tasks to be done, circling and fixing errors, trying to get it just right. And alas, even when we finish with one house, there is another to be finished--this time more errors were made early on, more mistakes, more clean up, more mudding, more sanding, more of the same.

You see the Christian life really is like drywalling. Each step is dependent upon the precision with which the previous was completed. Many steps need to be done and redone, and those that were done improperly the first time around must be redone even more. The job we do affects the work future workers will be able to do. We cannot afford to be sloppy or lazy, others are depending on us to get the job done and get it done right. And, as my work team boss says, "We pay for others' sins." (*Note, at my theological core I do not believe this statement--Christ pays for other's sins, not us--but there does seem to be some level of truth to it in thinking of the mission set before us--if we fail to do our job, others will pay the consequence, just as we have had to pay the consequence, we have had to work harder because others were sloppy in their work.)

Here ends today's sermon illustration.

Tuesday, May 8, 2007


"This is not the race I trained for, this is not the race I entered, but this is the race I am in." --Georgene Johnson

A few years back I wrote this quote. Georgene had entered a 10K race and on the day of the race she joined the rest of the group and after about 4 miles, she thought they should be turning back. She asked an official and was informed she had joined the marathon runners instead of her group, which was scheduled to start a half hour later. She kept on with the marathon runners as that was "the race [she] was in".

Sometimes I feel that way about my ministry. I know I trained for race, I entered the race willingly, but it seems sometimes I am running further and harder than I expected. I think, "this is not what I signed up for." And yet, the longer, harder race seems to be the one I have entered. So I look to Georgene for hope--the possibility of perseverance despite my lack of traing for said race. I do believe God has called me to this, and as such, I will keep on in this race--praying for strength, stopping for water, and to replenish my body, and pressing forward--trusting the rewards will be great.

Tuesday, May 1, 2007

finding our voice

DP and I talked about the functionality of the discussion board for posting reflections, we aren't sure if it will work or not. So I did up a blog we may use instead. For now, it has some pics and some stories on it....hopefully there will be more to come.

225 dead

Yesterday as I sat in the "relaxation room" I looked through a book of pics documenting the pre and post Katrina realities for life here on the "Mi'sippi" coast. One thing it noted was that 225 died because of the storm. My first, and admittedly hard-hearted response was "oh, that's not too many, I thought it might have been more." I should be ashamed at how callous that is, but hopefully to my redemption, I was later struck by the thought "one too many". The reality is that the number is 225 too many, and "one too many" refers to how each family, friend, co-worker, neighbor must see each death. To the people affected, each person is one too many. If only it hadn't been their loved one.

I think that my statistical apathy is symptomatic of the larger reality concerning this devastating tragedy--for those of us two steps removed from the everyday realities of what happened here on the gulf coast--the destruction is "just numbers"--5,000 houses severely damaged, 11,000 completely destroyed, and 8 people who died--in this county alone. It's relatively simple to shrug off 5,000 houses--"at least it wasn't 25,000"--or some other such thing that is equally simplistic and naive. But again, for those people who have lost their homes, all their possessions, their life savings, and more--it was one house too many.

And let me tell you, as someone sanding and mudding drywall for hours on end--it's X walls too many, Y sheets of drywall too many, Z sore shoulders too many....etc, etc, etc. Hopefully you get the idea--rebuilding a house is not as simple as dropping one from the sky like it was manna from heaven. It is a step by step process---slow and steady, hammer, hammer, hammer, saw, hammer, hammer, level, hammer, measure,---on and on for days, weeks, months, and, if doing your own home (as many who have been neglected by mythical government grants, or who have spent their monies on soil testing (mandatory before you can build), clearing their lots, etc. are), even years. It is not simple. It is not easy. Even in the best of conditions.

And most of all, it most certainly cannot and should not be reduced to a simply numbers game.

Team blog site

Glendale UMC (one of our participating churches) has set up a blog on their website, it is open for any of our volunteers to add to, so you can see a running commentary of experiences from those on our trip.

Katrina Mission Trip

This week I am in Waveland Mississippi to do rebuild work post Katrina. We arrived Saturday night (well, actually, the wee hours of the morning on Sunday) and then did worship Sunday morning and orientation, play time in New Orleans, and the started to work on Monday. We are the 4th group of 4 from the Cal-Pac conference--a month solid of 50 volunteers. So there are a total of 50 of us here from the Pasadena and Riverside districts. We are assigned to a variety of tasks--drywalling ("the wallbangers"), siding ("Gulfside out-siders"), framing ("Kitty's, named after the homeowner, framers"), flooring ("what floor are we on?"), plumbing ("plumb crazy"), and painting ("The Mona Lisa's").

It seems I have a hundred ideas that are either blog-worthy or sermon-worthy during the day, but by the time I get home, shower, and have dinner, most of them escape me. So I may have to back-date my blogs after I return to CA. My beginning tidbit for today is that people have been generous in offering help, volunteering, sending money, etc, and yet there is SO, SO, SO much more to do. More volunteers are needed, many more work hours need to be completed, and many more stories need to be heard and shared. If you have not come, it is worth the trip--money, time, long workdays, to be here and try to make some sort of a difference.