Monday, December 31, 2007

Gathering for a funeral service

I've done a lot of funerals since I got's a consequence of moving to a retirement town. Each time I have used the gathering from the Book of Worship and every time, too late, I remember that I don't really like it. It feels awkward and impersonal. So this time I wrote my own. It's short and sweet, but it seemed to flow better:

Today we gather together to remember ___________. We remember a mother, a wife, a grandmother, and a friend. We come here to honor her life and entrust her to God's eternal care. May God's presence surround us in this time.

Quote of the Day

"Love without truth is just sentimental;
truth without love is sterile."

--Dion DiMucci

One of my favorite profs from seminary sent me an email this morning with a link to the song "St. Jerome--"The Thunderer"". It's good both musically and theologically. The above quote comes from the song, which you can listen to here.

Conspicuous Consumption as a Spiritual matter

"The conspicuous consumption of limited resources has yet to be widely accepted as spiritual error or even bad manners." --Barbara Kingsolver

Consumption is a question of faith. No really. God is a good God. A God of abundance. A God who provides for God's creation. And so, as God is a God of abundance, or even simply a God of enough, then all those who are a part of God's world should also have enough. But they don't. There are people going hungry. People who don't have potable water. People do not have enough. And then there are others of us that have WAY too much. We have far more than enough. So there's an imbalance. But the imbalance isn't God's doing. The imbalance is our

If you are living in the US, then you are part of the 5% of the world's population that consumes some crazy portion of the world's resources (at least 5 times your share). More than likely you eat what you want, when you want. Just like me, you can have oranges in February or Asparagus in September. You have watermelon in June and Spinach in December. You can walk into almost any major super market and find *fresh* fruits and vegetables to cover your table without much thought of where it came from or what it cost (in fuel or human labor) to get there.

I would say most of us live unconsciously about when we're eating what and how that might be problematic in the larger scheme of things. Or where it comes from. Here's an interesting fact for you: "in our nation we export 1.1 million tons of potatoes, while we also import 1.4 tons." Did you get that??? That's almost an equal exchange. We're trading potatoes for potatoes. That's not smart. That's not, "you have grain and I have citrus, let's trade and we can live more healthily. That's I've got a potato, and you've got a potato, so let's spend a boat-load of money, box 'em up, throw chemicals on them so they last, pay some big money to a CEO and another chunk of change to oil companies for the fuel expended, and then we can each have a potato. That's so silly.

And as long as we're spending serious money moving food around the world, so we can eat what we had in the first place, then we're not spending money simply providing food (or crops, or seeds, or water, or farming techniques) to those who need it. And that my friends, is poor stewardship. Quite frankly, it's sinful. And I'm guilty. Guilty, guilty, guilty. But as my good friend S says, "Your guilt doesn't do me any good. Tell me when you're gonna do something." My guilt about irresponsible consumption doesn't do the poor, starving of the world a dang bit of good....not until it converts into concrete action, and sacrifices about what I eat and when I eat it.

I have the feeling this is going to be one of those "it's easier said than done" things, but I'm gonna work at it, and let you know how the progress goes.

Here's two shopping tips in the meantime:
1) Buy locally (at a Farmer's market, or ask your grocer which foods they get locally)
2) Buy organic foods....they don't use the pesticides and chemicals, which means they probably can't come from as far b/c they don't have chemicals to delay the decay process...
doing. And as such, we have a responsibility to set it right.

The Seasonal Basics

Here is what Kingsolver presents as the season of foods. The basic premise is that you can imagine the seasons by imagining the life cycle of one plant. Seed--leaves--flowers--tender baby fruit--vibrant colorful fruit--hard shell, protecting the seed for next year, tubers (think getting in the soil to be ready for the next go-round). I've laid out her ideas below, with pictures, because they make everything more appealing (okay at least cute, interesting, or pretty things...) and even did links to recipes for each of the foods mentioned. (Yep, I'm that cool...or just have a whole day of sabbath, or something...)

Early Spring (probably April)

Asparagus (apparently it's a finiky plant and only grows for about two weeks at the beginning of spring. Who knew?! And when you harvest it, you can really only get the stalks on 1 particular day. Now, they produce each day for those two weeks, but you have to get them on the right day)


leaves: Spinach, kale, lettuce, chard


flower heads: Broccoli, romaine, cabbages, cauliflower


tender baby fruit: snow peas, baby squash, cucumber


green beans, green peppers, small tomatoes

late July-August:

colorful fruits: beefsteak tomatoes, eggplants, red and yellow peppers


hard-shelled fruits: Cantaloupe, watermelon, squash

Last fruit of the season:

root crops

Animal, Vegetable, Miracle--take 2

After bit of a holiday hiatus, I've returned to Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver. To be quite honest it was just the hectic nature of Advent/Christmas that deferred my reading, it was also knowing that reading this book was probably going to do one of two things, if not both, 1) Seriously change what and when I eat produce. 2) Give me a serious guilt complex about eating things that are out of season (and a possible third consequence of screwing up my desire to cook based on seasonal restrictions). Now, the book definitely does not hide the fact that one has to make sacrifices to eat more consciously and to cut out much of the fuel used in transporting, say Peruvian pears to California (or other such voyages), but they (the whole family collaborated in the book writing) also underscore how much better the eating experience is when one is not dieting/feasting on "mealy, juiceless, rock-hard, and refusing to ripen" food. With that, tienen razon. Nevertheless, the challenge of what I knew I would find in this book had me finding a multitude of other things to do.

But this morning, embarking on the post-season return of Sabbath and a desire to be challenged in my faith (I'll address how it relates to faith in a bit, or another post, or sometime...) and to live what I believe has led me to re-enter Barbara's garden. It's a lot to digest (no pun intended), it's a serious raising of consciousness, and it's hard to say no to a pineapple in the middle of winter when you want fresh fruit and it's only a couple of bucks...but it's not the, I need to buck up and get ready for some life changes.

I figure I'll post a little at a time for you to nibble on as well. Maybe it won't transform your kitchen or your pantry, but maybe it will affect your consumer consciousness...or maybe it just give you more fodder for an anti-liberal rant...who knows?!

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Persecution as it relates to faithfulness in the modern day

Often as I do exegesis and prepare a sermon I encounter the biblical characters (often those preparing for or following Christ) facing persecution. Mary and Joseph were forced to flee to Egypt to protect Jesus' life. John the baptist was beheaded. I think all but one of the disciples was killed. Paul was imprisoned multiple times and eventually murdered. Being a Christ follower was not an easy gig. And as part of my preaching, I regularly find myself saying, "Following Christ is difficult and we must be prepared to suffer for the sake of the gospel." And I really believe that. And yet, I rarely see American Christians actually suffering for the sake of the gospel. (It's much more common internationally...) and tonight I had to ask myself, "If we're not persecuted, does that mean we're not really being faithful?" Now, don't get me wrong; I don't think God wants us to be persecuted, but I do think the Gospel is challenging and confrontational and political and that people are bound to get their feathers ruffled. So if that's not happening, are we really living the gospel??

What do you think?

Priceless indeed....

From this morning's Press Enterprise


This morning's paper had an article about the end of a 15 year buffer period of import protections for NAFTA. The basic affect of the end of this ban is a compounding of what has already been happening under NAFTA--a further debilitation of the local farms in Mexico where they are less and less able to compete and more and more impoverished.

Up until a couple years ago, I really had no idea what NAFTA really meant for trade between Mexico, the US, and Canada, only that the agreement existed. But in 2006 I had the privilege of participating in a Borderlinks seminar, which changed my perspective considerably. Borderlinks works to educate Americans about the affects of NAFTA and general US trade with Mexico on Mexico. How it affects urbanization (with lots of folks fleeing to the city with hopes of work in the maquiladoras and most cities being ill-equipped to absorb the influx of folks including difficulties with housing, sewage, and roads), how it affects immigration (with diminishing options available in Mexico, more and more people try to cross to find work in the US), how it affects commerce (ironically, in the border cities, merchandise in stores like Wal-Mart or stores similar in nature is the same or more expensive in Mexico even though "minimum wage" is considerably less), and how it affects local farmers (with the freedoms of Multinational Corporations, MNCs, to go where they want, when they want, with little to no promise to the community in which they establish themselves it is more and more common for an MNC to simply uproot when there is a cheaper area in which to produce leaving area X with few options in the MNCs absence; additionally local farmers are pushed out of the competitive market and have little hope of sustaining their own families).

I'm sure NAFTA has some redeeming factors, I just don't really know what they are, not from a larger, global, "little man" perspective anyway. (Also, I know nothing of what NAFTA has done with or for Canada). For what I've seen and learned NAFTA is great for the US, but not so great for Mexico, and I think that's a problem. And in many ways I see it as a major contributing factor for illegal immigration. In other words, I think we've contributed to our own *problem*. If folks want to "send 'em home", then I think those folks need to make a serious investment and change in the benefits they reap from NAFTA (as Americans buying cheaper products) and look at the bigger picture and not just see the effect, but also take a minute to examine the cause.

None of this is simple, to be sure. NAFTA isn't the only contributor to the problem (as is evidenced by the millions of undocumented folks that were here before NAFTA was signed in '93, and by the millions of those undocumented immigrants that are NOT from Mexico). And the resulting problems from NAFTA are also anything but simply, both in their formation and in their resolution. But there are things you can do to address this issue.

Ways you can make a difference:

1) Stay informed.
2) Write your congressperson (for Senate click here, for House click here) and make your voice heard (maybe ask for a longer buffer period, or American help in helping local farmers stay competitive).
3) Support programs like Borderlinks that make a difference both through education and through action.
4) Buy Fair Trade.

Friday, December 28, 2007

Ban on non-English in the workplace

As I read through the paper this morning, there were a number of articles that had blog-provoking potential, but it was the last one I read in the local section that really stirred me up. There is apparently a discussion taking place to allow a prohibition of foreign languages spoken by employees in the workplace. This is different from a hiring requirement for English fluency, which is legally acceptable. The new ban would allow discrimination/penalty for speaking a language other than English, even in non-work-related conversations. In other words, employees can be penalized for not speaking English while on the clock.

If you didn't guess from my previous political posts, I am completely against such a ban. I think it's ridiculous, especially based on its propaganda line of "the use of other languages threatens the American way" or some such thing. If you want to get me riled up, bring up the "English only" debate and you're sure to get a reaction. A big part of this issue that really gets to me is that most of the people (that's an assumption based on my experiences, so correct me if I'm wrong) who promote this line of thinking are not actually bilingual themselves. In other words, they don't really know what it takes to learn a second language and learn it fully. So there are a whole host of expectations placed on people and those placing the expectations have no idea what it takes to cumplir with them.

I've been studying/speaking/learning Spanish for about 12 years now and I'm bilingual. I can go to any Spanish speaking country and get along fine. I can talk politics, theology, life, love, death, sports, and more and feel at ease. There are some specialized aspects/vocabularies I still struggle with (or have yet to really be exposed to) like car parts or technical medical terminology. But mostly those are areas where I would need additional exposure in English, let alone Spanish. When the need arises, I tend to learn the words I need to know to get along. I use Spanish a good bit of the time. I've lived in Spanish speaking countries with Spanish speaking families, taken Spanish tests, and read Spanish books, and while I am perfectly at ease with the language, I need to be honest and say that I would much rather fill out a government or legal form in ENGLISH because that is my first language. Legal language is tough and I don't want to botch it. Which is to say, that if Spanish were my first language, even being bilingual, I'd want to do the form in Spanish. And as someone who lived abroad and spoke Spanish all the time, it was nice to run into an English speaker and have a break from thinking so hard or to fall into colloquial language that was comfortable for me. In other words, if I had been working and speaking Spanish and then had an English speaking co-worker, I would have appreciated the conversation possibilities.

And in the midst of the debate, I have a really hard time figuring out what the threat is. What is so wrong with people speaking Spanish/Korean/Japanese/Arabic in the workplace?? Are we worried their talking about us? Are we seriously that vain that we don't think these non-English speakers have anything better to talk about than us?!?! Come on.

After I finished the article this morning I tried to figure out what the bill number was so I could write my representatives. Of course it was not listed in the article and was not easy to find on the internet. So I need to do some more searching and will let you know if I find something.

Que tengan buen dia.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Some more recipes to try

Christmas dinner threatened to not turn out right...I was scared right before we ate. My dad said, "It smells wonderful." I retorted, "Hopefully it will be wonderful, otherwise I might cry, I mean, it's alright if someone else ruins Christmas dinner, but not if I do it."

But we sat down to ate, and then I got up to take lids to the kitchen, sat down, got up to get butter, sat down, got up to get salt, sat down and then finally began eating and man was it good! I made Emeril's encrusted Pork Tenderloin and it was FABULOUS! We also had a very nice sweet potato pudding, stuffing (thank you mom), croissants...though they got a little dark, and, of course, green bean casserole. It's a must in my book.

Mainly I wrote this not to reminisce about a yummy Christmas meal, but to share those recipes with you....'cause they're worth it.

I hope this holy day has been full of blessing for you!

Merry Christmas!

Another post about dating...but not really

Last night I was set to preach the Christmas Eve service, the English one I mean, the Spanish one is a given. Having 2 other sermons to prepare for the weekend/holy night, I decided to call on the reserves and use a sermon I preached last week in the Spanish service. I translated it and then had to do a good bit of reworking. I wrote, and rewrote and even had my dad and sister read through it and offer suggestions. (For the record, with my limited time and crazy schedule, coupled with my habits of procrastination, a full manuscript that's been edited is unheard of!) Anyway, I worked and worked on this sermon and after my dad and sister asked for clarification here and there it came out to be 7 pages (12 pt font double-spaced), which seemed loooong (my norm is about 5).

So, I went to worship and sat there looking out at some familiar faces of members and many unfamiliar faces of their family members and I started to get anxious. Last year I preached the family service as well and had a manuscript and read it, and it felt flat and I kept looking at these young folks (who, from what their parents/grandparents tell me, don't generally go to church) and seeing bored stares and wandering eyes and I hated that I was stuck up in our elevated pulpit and was stuck to my manuscript. And I hated the thought that they might not return to church until next year b/c this preacher botched it and bored them.

I was thinking about my looong sermon and got more and more anxious. During the pastoral prayer, which my Senior did, I got on my knees and prayed that God would give me the words, that I could be freed from the manuscript and led through the sermon as God would have it preached. I prayed for discernment and openness to preach the word, that God would highlight the parts of my manuscript God wanted said, and would erase the others from my mind.

After the prayer there was the scripture reading and then the anthem. I got more and more anxious. My palms got sweaty and I started to shake a little. (Keep in mind I am a pretty confident preacher. I've preached easily 100 sermons, even though I'm only a year and a half into my appointed ministry. I regularly, that's to say 52 Sundays out of 54, preach without a script, and just do my thing.) So the anxiety was a bit odd and it occured to me that this was like going on a date. You think about what to say, practice your stories and jokes, try and discern whether to take the comic slant or the serious slant. You wonder how the other person will react to and receive you. And while you may have done it 100 times before, there's something nerve racking about doing it in a new way with a new person. Honestly as I thought about the date comparison I was cracking myself up. I kept thinking, "God, is this really how you want me to start my Christmas Eve sermon?!?!" And it was. =)

So, I got up (sans pulpit) and shared this dating metaphor, ditched the script, and preached. When I let it happen like that, it's sometimes hard to look back and really remember what you said. And since I wasn't the one that had to hear it, I couldn't really tell you how it came off, whether my transitions were smooth or if anyone walked away with an understanding of the focus and function. Who knows.

When I sat down the date anxiety kicked right back in. Did I butcher that? Will they actually call (I mean, come) again? Was I a rambling idiot? Oh man.

The saving grace for my overly anxious ego were those people that greeted me after service and didn't just say, "Nice sermon pastor." But who said, "You know, you really gave me a new perspective." Or the grandson I know to be an up and coming comic who lauded it as a "good sermon". I mean, if someone who's immersed in entertainment, and more specifically comedy, thought it was a good sermon (oh yeah, and he's young...), then I can go to bed tonight hoping I didn't ruin Christmas by talking about the blood of the cross or Church forever for those gathered with us for worship. Okay, so "good sermon" is the standard statement, but he smiled wide when he said it...don't burst my bubble or my ego!

Breakfast empanadas...a possible new tradition

This year there were only going to be three of us for Christmas breakfast and the plan is to eat dinner relatively early (like 12:30-ish...) and so the big breakfast of eggs, bacon, sweet rolls, fruit and whatever else we dream up for the table seemed a bit much. So, I went searching for fun breakfast recipes and finally decided (with the help of my sis) to make breakfast empanadas. I've never made empanadas, but I've eaten a fair number, and cook a good bit, so I figured I could make it work. And make it work I did!! They were wonderful. Definitely not "typical" for our family, but VERY nice nonetheless! If you're feeling adventurous, or just hungry, here are my tips if you're gonna take them on.

Tip 1: This recipe makes WAY more than 8! Easily 16-20 good sized empanadas. Plan for that. You could probably freeze the extra filling and use it another time, or just cut the recipe in half or a third.

Tip 2: I used puff pastry and that worked well. One box of puff pastry made 8 square emapanadas. Puff pastry is not authentic, but most likely neither is the filling since Emeril made it up. But who needs authentic if it tastes good?!?!

Comment: the recipe calls for Spanish chorizo. I have no idea what that is supposed to be, and I even lived in Spain. I used regular chorizo that you find near the bacon and Jimmy Dean. I used about 3/4 of the package.

Buen Provecho!

Monday, December 24, 2007

Better make yourselves comfortable!

I just finished the revisions on my english Christmas Eve service and after comments from both my sister and father along the lines of, "you need to clarify this a bit..." I managed to shape my sermon into a full 7 pages. That's a LONG sermon for me. Not that I haven't preached 25-30 minutes....but I don't normally have full manuscripts that tell me just how long I will be rambling on (I mean preaching) for....Let's pray there's something in there that touches someone's heart tonight.

Advent worship idea for next year

I am often more inspired with Christmas/Advent ideas after the season rather than when I really need it! But this afternoon as I sang hymns and got ready for Christmas Eve dinner, I was singing about Christ as the light (oh yeah, and trying to come up with a third sermon!) and was reminded that at a friend's church on the first day of Advent the kids choir wanted to sing "We are Marching in the Light of God." There was some hullabaloo about how advent is somber and pensive and how that simply wouldn't be a good song. But the children's choir was already prep'd and ready to sing, so sing they did. As I talked with my friend about the hullabaloo I sugggested they could sing "We are waiting on the light of God" instead of walking in and then use "walking in" for epiphany once the light of God has officially arrived.

So for next year, my suggestion is to use "We are marching in the light of God" and do "waiting on" instead. And as I thought about it, I figured you could even do different versions each week in line with the advent candles. I.e., "we are waiting on the hope of God..." "we are waiting on the joy of God" "we are waiting on the peace of God" and "we are waiting on the love of God". And then once the Christ child (a.k.a., light, hope, peace, joy, love...) arrives you could do "We are marching in..." Just an idea.

For the record, I have no idea how to translate the swahili. None whatsoever. But I do know the Spanish:

We are waiting on the light of God = Esperamos por la luz de Dios
The advent candle versions are harder with spanish b/c the words aren't mono-syllabic. But, if you want them:

hope: esperanza
love: amor
joy: gozo
peace: paz

As Christmas day nears, may your wait be short and your celebration and walking be full of joy! March on!

Saturday, December 22, 2007

The widow and her oil

Yesterday I wrote about scraping the bottom of my spiritual/emotional/creative barrel. Last night, ironically (or maybe providentially) my devotion focused on the widow and her oil. The passage and meditation talk about her taking what she had (one small jar of oil) and using that to produce enough to provide for their needs. Similar to the parable of the talents there's a theme of using what little you have to do what you need and having faith that it will be enough. That was the message I needed. I needed to be reminded that though I may only have a little bit to offer, God can do something with that if only I offer it up. Be it little inspiration, little energy, little knowledge, even just a little compassion, if I make it an offering to God and trust in the power of God's hand, then God will provide for my/our needs.

Today is a day of taking my "little something" and writing 3 sermons, planning a young adult retreat, cleaning my house....oh yeah, and changing the world! It's a small to-do list, really. =)

"A little something"

The parable of the talents is one of my favorites. It endeared itself to me as I slaved over the passage in anticipation of my preaching opportunity at Cannon Chapel. In seminary I was prone to take hours, days, even weeks preparing for a single sermon, and the time I was set to preach in front of a bunch of seminarian peers and professional theologians was definitely no exception. I worked and worked and met with 2 of the preaching professors for help and revisions. Practiced the sermon in the chapel space, and was blessed by a visit from an angel (really a prospective professor) who "needed to hear a good word" and asked to hear my sermon in its entirety and then offered very helpful feedback. The night before I went to make a couple of revisions and then completely revamped the sermon. (There was also the added pressure that it would be recorded and sent off to the Board of Ordained Ministry as my commissioning sermon).

Never a fan of "gnashing of teeth", my exegesis pushed me to look for something deeper behind the castigation of the third character. (I nicknamed him "Moe"). And what I saw was that Moe simply didn't try. There was no character who tried and failed. Only those who tried and succeeded and Moe who simply didn't bother. The sermon ended talking about how God can do a whole lot with "a little something". God did a whole lot with Moses' "little something"--a scared spirit and a stuttering voice. God did a whole lot with David's "little something"--a sling shot and rock against a giant. And God continues to do a whole lot with just a "little something". If we simply try, God will help us produce a return. Whatever our little something is, we need only put it to work and God will provide.

So this morning when I read this article, I was moved to tears. It is a powerful story of how lots of people, some acknowledging their gifts immediately and others searching for a bit, investing their "little something" for the sake of ministry. People were creative. They were risk takers. They shared with one another. They engaged in new relationships. Absolutely beautiful. My favorite thing in ministry is to watch/see/help people blossom into the fullness of who God has called them to be and this story is a perfect example of that.

Now, we don't all have $40,000 to loan out on a Sunday morning, but a friend of mine in the neighboring town used $1,000 and gave it in $5 amounts to her congregation so they could pay off their year end debt and end 2007 in the black. I don't know how it worked for her, but I would imagine in much the same way.

So, whether it's $5 or $50, an alto voice or a desire to teach, a willingness to clean or a listening ear, we can all get creative and use what we're given to double our return for the benefit of others in this world.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Lack of Latino/Hispanic pastors

Last week I received an email from a colleague in ministry. The gist of his message was, "Debbie, we want to do Hispanic ministry at my church, but we need someone to lead it. Could you recommend someone to us?" Hmmmm. My response was, "Unfortunately our Spanish speaking pastors are limited. There are not a whole lot of folks out there to pull from, so I don't have a good suggestion for you. I do know a couple of pastors who are doing good work with their laity (who live closer to you than I do) who might have some suggestions."

I put the word out, but knew full well we don't have people to loan out. We particularly lack people to start new ministries, though with the size and health of most of our Latino congregations, that's what all of our pastors are being charged to do.

While I waited for responses, I started thinking about how few of us there are not just here in California/Hawaii, but nationally as well. I only know 3 people from seminary who are doing Hispanic ministry and know that nationwide conferences are looking for people who can do the ministry. Here in Cal-Pac the Hispanic ministries are in crisis. That's no secret, not to those of us who work in it anyway. We don't have any strong, healthy, vibrant congregations one would want to inherit. I mean, why would I trade my 30 person, struggling ministry for someone else's across town? We lack vision. We lack leadership (something that will hopefully change with the appointment of the new Director of Latino Ministries). We have very few folks who are ordained, a handful, maybe. And while there's nothing wrong with local pastors, I love them, but the lack of ordained folks means there's also a lack of power, clout, voice, and vote. Which is a huge problem.

In general, we do not have enough Latino ministry pastors. We have other complications as well. 1) Most of our current Latino pastors are first generation, which means they aren't fully familiar with US culture. 2) Many come from other denominations so they don't know how to negotiate an often unfriendly system. 3) A good chunk of the pastors are not fully bilingual, which isn't a takes A LOT to learn another language, but that hinders their relationship with a) the conference b) their DS and Bishop c) English speaking churches and pastors that otherwise might be helpful d) the ordination process.

In addition to these issues, which often go unnoticed by the general population of clergy and laity (at least from my perspective), I'm of the opinion that we have a serious problem in that we do not have many, if any, second, third, fourth generation, young folks who can lead our Latino ministries. (I would say this is in large part because we don't have congregations in which these folks will/can be there's no *breeding ground* (for lack of a better term) for a Methodist discipleship and subsequent leadership. I'm not talking tokenism here. I'm saying there is a HUGE population of these folks and they have been left virtually untouched by the church, and that's not okay. Seriously.

Hispanic/Latino ministry is a hugely complicated endeavor. There are differences and distinctions at every turn--dialect, nation of origin, 1st generation vs. 2nd-nth generation immigrants, those that fully embrace their Latino heritage and those that have fully assimilated and don't even claim to be Latino. Cultural rubs. Different levels of integration. The list goes on. It's no simple matter, which means it's no simple ministry. As such, we need folks who guide us, teach us, and inspire us in each of those areas. We need folks from Mexico, Cuba, Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Guatemala, etc. We need first generation folks, we need 2nd generation folks. We need those who shout "viva la raza" and those who don't. Because it's only in being representative and diverse in who we are as the church that the *others* will begin to see themselves as fitting in this strange community of believers.

Hoping for rain in the desert

I feel like I'm trying to re-encounter the best of me. Awhile ago I decided to take a blogging break. After a month solid of blogging, the upcoming pressures of Advent/Christmas/Epiphany, and general stressors, I felt like I didn't have anything left to give/write. I felt stifled. I felt stressed. I felt uninspired. I felt drained. So I stopped trying to pull a rabbit out of a hat and gave myself a break.

I suppose things are a little better, at least I have the motivation to write on occasion, but still feel horribly uninspired. As I've pondered, mused, and done some self-reflection in these past few weeks I realized I was more hindered than I thought. My realization came one night as I fell asleep. My sleep was impaired by a barrage of worship ideas and fun ministry ideas. I was torn between wishing I could sleep and being pleased with the inspiration. I finally gave in and started writing down my brainstorm and eventually went to sleep. What that flutter of creativity did was cast light on how long it had been since I had one of those flashes of inspiration. It used to happen a couple times a week. I'd settle into the warmth of the covers and a flood of ideas would beg me to turn on the light and write them down b/c I knew that if I did not, they would not return with the light of day. I regularly had a storm of ideas for things I could do, either in worship, Bible studies, outreach, programs or otherwise.

But lately I keep coming up short. No bursts of inspiration. No late night writings. Only scraping the bottom of the barrel to fish out the slightest fragments of inspiration for a Sunday morning service. It's been hard to know that I'm not at the top of my game. It's hard to know I could be doing so much more. It's hard to know that I am not at my best. And it's even harder not to know how to fix it.

One can hope it's merely a season of drought and that when the rains come, the desert valley will blossom with life and color.

Dating season

I've come to the conclusion that at the age of 26 I started producing a new type of pheromone, which prompts people to think I need to date. In addition to more offers than I have had in 10 years, combined, I also have parishioners thinking up whom I should date. "My doctor". "So-and-so....he's nice." "that nice looking man who was here on Sunday..." It's interesting to say the least.

I mean, I'm not opposed to dating, it's just odd how the group thought of those around me seems to be that my time has come. Too bad their standards don't match mine. I've decided 30 years age difference is too much, where they have not. I decided years ago I would not date a parishioner, again, we're not on the same page. I'd really like to date a man with strong faith and discipleship practices, again, not a requirement for others when it comes to my life.

I should probably be grateful others are trying to help me seeing as how I generally avoid dating like the plague and don't do a whole lot to help myself in this department. But mostly I just blush, laugh, and think "Oh, Lord!"

Ahh the joys of being a single pastor.

Popcorn balls (a little FYI)

Yesterday I had a brilliant idea that I should make popcorn balls for the youth group on Sunday for when they watch a Christmas movie (which movie we'll be watching is yet to be determined...any suggestions?!?) So, today at the store I picked up the popcorn so I'd be ready. I decided I'd go ahead and get them done today and then not worry about it tomorrow or Sunday. So I popped popcorn on the stove (a first without the handy jiffy pop deally-bopper) and cooked up the Karo syrup concoction. That went alright. I did not burn the popcorn, so that was a plus, and I stretched my patience and actually waited for the diabetic's-worst-nightmare syrup to reach the right temperature (255 degrees), and then poured it on. The directions said to wait until it's cool enough to handle and then form into balls. So I waited. Unfortunately, the directions did not add: "do not let cool completely or it will be solid and fragile and will not form well into balls". Just for the record Food Network, I could have used that warning. So, I have about 12 *balls*, some small, some large, some sort of round, some space ship shaped from when I broke them off the big hunk of sugary popcorn. And then there's the rest of it that's mostly just coated in its single kernel wonder. Alas, that's what I get for trying a new recipe and not knowing what I was doing.

Blue Service Closing Prayer

Closing Prayer

Comforting God, wrap us in your presence in this time of remembrance. With these candles, help us find your light, a light that will guide us day-by-day, step-by-step, as we try to live life fully and wholly. Now comfort us. Encourage us. Empower us. AMEN.

The Spirit is breathing poem

The Spirit is breathing.

All those with eyes to see,
women and men with ears for hearing
detect a coming dawn;
a reason to go on.

They seem small, these signs of dawn
perhaps ridiculous.

All those with eyes to see,
Women and men with ears for hearing
uncover in the night
a certain gleam of light;
they see the reason to go on.
(Dom Helder Camera, Its Midnight, Lord)

Blue Service Candle Lighting

Advent Candle Lighting

Leader: We light four candles tonight in remembrance of our loved ones. We light these candles for our own needs. We light one for our grief, one for our courage, one for our memories and one for our love.

Reader : This candle represents our Grief. We own the pain of losing loved ones, of dreams that go unfulfilled, of hopes that evaporate in despair.

Reader lights a candle.............a brief silence follows

Reader : This candle represents our courage. It symbolizes the courage to confront our sorrow, to comfort each other, to share our feelings honestly and openly with each other, and to dare to hope in the midst of pain.

Reader lights a candle...........a brief silence follows

Reader : This candle represents our memories. For the times we laughed together, cried together, were angry at each other or overjoyed with each other. We light this candle for the memories of caring and joy we shared together.

Reader lights a candle............a brief silence follows

Reader : This candle represents our love. The love we have given, and the love we have received. The love that has gone unacknowledged and unfelt, and the love that has been shared in times of joy and sorrow.

Reader lights a candle.................a brief silence follows

Leader: You are invited to come forward to light one of the votive candles which represents your burdens, grief, sorrows, all those things which make Christmas a "blue" time for you. You may speak the name or the event if you wish to do so as you light the candle. Then you may return to your seat.

Allow time for votive candle lighting (during this time—Leader will prompt people to spend time in prayer. They will be invited to light a votive candle, and/or come forward for prayer and anointing. Or they may just sit while quitely music plays)

Lighting of Christ Candle

Leader: In the center of this circle (or table) we light the Christ candle, remembering that Jesus Christ is always in the center of our lives. He hears our cries, he knows our hearts and, in the midst of all our thoughts and emotions, he offers us hope and healing.

(Leader lights the Christ Candle)

Blue Service Call to Worship

I know a couple of you still have blue services over the weekend, and if your schedules are like mine, you might want/need a couple last minute resources. I got mine from Beth--she saved the week! So, now I share them with you in hopes that they might be of use and blessing.


L: In the midst of festivities, shouts, and bright lights, we feel the darkness of our souls.

P: Come, God of power and Light, help us.

L: In the midst of gatherings, we feel alone and alienated.

P: Come, God of peace and Hope, hear our cries.

L: In the midst of celebration, our hearts cry out.

P: Lord, hear us and come to us. Bring us peace. AMEN.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Quote of the Day

One thing I realized last year that makes surviving this time of year easier: it doesn't matter what the world is doing--Christ is coming anyway. Christ will come even if people go into mountains of debt. Christ will come even if our school teachers don't lead prayer in their classrooms. Christ will come even if we Christians miss it because we're too preoccupied what decorations are on the courthouse steps.

And for me, that means that Christ will come even if my sermon isn't life-changing. Christ will come if I don't have time to mop the kitchen floor. Christ will come, and I pray that I won't be too Christmas-ed out to miss it.


Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Holiday Blue Service Sermon

Each of us has a different reason for being here tonight. We have grief, pain, sadness, loneliness, or depression that affect our daily lives. We have unexpected tears as we remember a loved one, a heavy heart as we seek companionship, a weight upon us as we think about celebrating the holidays alone, or a heart that is seeking something special, something extra from God as we gather together.

For so many, the holidays are a time of celebration. There’s glitz and glitters. Lights, shopping, Christmas carols and baked goods. There are big meals, family gatherings, and gifts. But for some, those things are overwhelming, for others they seem distant, and for others they are simply unappealing.

I don’t know what burdens you have on your hearts today. I don’t know the extent of your pain, and I only know some of your stories. But I do know the feelings of grief, depression, isolation, and sadness. I know how when those things overwhelm your life that you strain to breathe, you grasp for hope; that the weight of depression is like a wet blanket binding your body. The cheer of the season and the glare of the sun taunt you in your grief. The world keeps turning and people go about their lives ignorant of your pain seemingly without caring at all. You yearn for someone to notice your hurt, to see you, to truly know you and yet you fear that intimacy as well. For in being truly known you risk rejection. You don’t want to burden another. You don’t want your affliction to become theirs, and so you keep to yourself. Your heart aches and your soul cries out: “How long O Lord? How long will it hurt? How long until I’m loved again? Why did you still my beloved from me? When will I be free from this pain? When will I truly feel your presence?”

The light of promise and hope seem farther and farther away. Your stamina wanes and you’re not sure how you will reach tomorrow. You take one step at a time, sometimes stumbling, sometimes wanting to protest and simply stay where you are.

But the promise of hope beckons you on. “Come to me all you who are weak and heavy laden and I will give you rest.” Christ’s promise echoes in your heart. “Come to me.” “Come to me and be refreshed. Come to me and be held. Come to me and be washed in peace. Come to me and relax. Come to me and cry. Come to me and mourn. I know your pain and I wish to comfort you.”

Christ calls to us in the midst of our pain. He calls to us in our sorrow. He calls to us in our dark night and begs us to hold onto hope. He begs us to see him and know that he cares. Our God, our creator, wants to be with us, wants to bear our burdens, wants to know us. And this season of Christmas is the ultimate reminder of God’s desire to be with us. God came into this world, through the person of Jesus Christ, so we could be convinced of God’s love. God was with us. Emmanuel. God continues to be with us. Emmanuel. God breaks through to touch us and hold us. God breaks through with love, and loves us exactly as we are—even when we hurt, even when we grieve, God loves us. God makes no judgment on our pain, but instead lived here and experienced it so we would truly know God is with us. God did not stay far off and removed. God did not stay distant and unknown, but God came to us through the Christ child. God lived what we live. God grieved as we grieve. God was lonely as we are lonely, so that when God conquered death, darkness, and pain on the cross we would know it was a true conquest, that our faith truly could rest in Emmanuel.

God is with us. God continues to be with you, even when you doubt, even when you hurt, God is there. Emmanuel.

Pastoral Care--the Advanced Course

In seminary I had one official Pastoral Care course--you know, the one called "Pastoral Care". I was fortunate to also have Contextual Education with an amazing woman, Dr. Carol Newsom, at a good site where I was allowed to do one on one counseling, lead a group session about misogyny and women's issues (at an all men's facility), lead worship, paint, share meals, etc. My second year I had a church setting where I continued to have wonderful advisement. (Thank you Dr. Roberta Bondi). Then my third year I was assigned to do pastoral visits at yet another church, and also had CPE, which is pastoral care training to the nth degree. All of that is to say, I've had a lot of training in care giving, in various settings, with people from all walks of life. Nevertheless, there were a number of things that I was not trained for, and some days, I wonder if I'm even equipped to deal with them.

This month has proven to highlight some of those deficiencies for me:

1) Receiving a call from a care facility about one of your parishioners who has become physically abusive with the staff. "Hi Pastor Debbie, um....A is hitting the staff." Oh, great. Now, what exactly is it you thought I would do?!?!? Did you think she wouldn't hit me too? "Oh, no. I'm sorry H. I'll be there in about 5 minutes." So I go over and the whole time I'm wondering, what do I do if she hits me? Can I restrain her? Can I restrain her without breaking her fragile 90 year old body? Could she really be hitting that hard? Oh man, where was the class on this?!!? In light of the physically combatant fact, it started me thinking about what I would do if I were called into a domestic violence situation and someone tried to hit me. Or what if one of the folks who comes to the church high were to flip and start hitting me....what exactly is protocol? No one trained me for that.

2) Figuring out what, how, and how much aid/assistance to provide to those who ask, especially at Christmas. Throughout the year folks come all the time to the church with various needs: a hotel stay, a bus pass, clothes, a shave, food, toys, money, etc. Fortunately we have a pantry, so we can refer most folks to the pantry to get what we have there. In many ways I think that uncomplicates things, it's sort of like "well, this is what our church has committed to provide, that's what we have and can offer, but that's about it." There are occasions where a person's situation or spirit speaks to me and I do go and get them a hotel for the night, or buy extra food, or take diapers over...something. But there are not clearly defined limits. Not at our church anyway. And my method of evaluation is pretty subjective...I'm not sure how "I just trusted my gut" stands up in court (or even to the one I refused aid). But the holidays are particularly difficult. People come in quite regularly. They don't have Thanksgiving dinner or Christmas dinner. They don't have gifts for their kids or grandkids. There aren't toys. There aren't clothes. There aren't underwear. There is a lot of need. And as someone who has rarely had to go without, it sometimes baffles me how there can be so many folks who can't even afford underwear. (But after shopping for some of these families and easily spending $50 on underwear--that's one week's worth, maybe, I can see how people can't afford them.)

There's always fears about scams and double dipping. That's a big part of the reason we don't offer cash. One can easily become jaded by an encounter with just one or two scammers. But there are folks who genuinely need these things. If someone comes in and asks for underwear for their kids, I can hardly say no. I mean, it's underwear. No one should have to go without underwear. Come on. And then I hit a wall again, there's limited funds. Limited resources and so much need. What, how much, and when do I supply someone's needs. And just for the record, those pastoral care classes/trainings/experiences I had in seminary, did NOT prepare me for the heartbreak involved in knowing that a 6 year old is absolutely ecstatic that she's getting underwear for Christmas, and that that might be her only gift. Nothing.

I'm sure there are other examples of what I was not trained to do, but for now, I actually have to get back to the practice of ministry.

Faith and sustainability

This morning I watched a 20 minute film about consumption and sustainability, and wanted to pass along the link. The message and facts are powerful about what and how we consume. It's fun to watch, though challenging for our daily practices of buying and disposing. I myself grew uncomfortable as I continued to watch because I knew that taking the reality seriously will mean some major lifestyle changes and probably some big sacrifices as well. But, as a person of faith, I think that's part of my call, to pay attention to the facts, to care for our environment, and to take action that will make a difference.

here's the link

I hope you can find 20 minutes in your day (one of these days) to watch this.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Pastor Presents

Tis the season for Christmas cards and gift giving. I love Christmas for a multitude of reasons: seeing family, good food, baked good, Christmas lights, snuggling up, good food (yes, I know I said it twice), and snail mail! I love snail mail. Tradition at my house growing up was to put the cards on the cupboard at the end of the hall and they would stay up for the season. I'm not sure why or how the tradition started, but that was the tradition, and so now in my own home, I do the same thing. Christmas cards are hung all over my closet doors. I have no idea how I would explain this to my spouse or justify its necessity--it's just one of those things. It's a tradition. I love snail mail because it makes me feel loved. And quite frankly, I love feeling loved.

Coupled with the cards is the occasional gift. Now the gift giving thing is interesting. A bit odd even if you ask me. I don't expect gifts, especially not from parishioners, but there are a handful who do give me gifts. And in one respect it's odd because I don't give gifts to my parishioners. For starters, I couldn't afford to buy for 400 people. That'd stretch my budget a bit too far! But, for people who are under my supervision, for lack of a better term, I did buy gifts. I want them to know I appreciate what they do, and, at Christmas, a gift seems to be the most appropriate way of saying so. But then you run into an interesting conundrum--how much does one spend on such gifts? Do you buy them all the same (so that everyone is *equal*)? Or do you get something different and particular to each person? Do you get something for the one's you are closest to personally? Or those you need to appreciate the most professionally?

And on the receiving end of's hard for me to accept. I don't accept compliments well and I don't accept gifts well. I've had to work very hard at smiling and saying "thank you" in both cases. And that goes for something as simple as a candy bar or pair of socks, let alone when someone writes me a check or gives a donation in my name. I guess I'm not quite sure how to understand the gesture. I mean, some folks I have a more established relationship with. We've done projects together, or work directly together on a ministry, others I've counseled. But some really only see me on Sunday mornings. I probably couldn't tell you more than a handful of facts and none of those is particularly outstanding. And yet, they feel compelled to give me a really nice gift. It's overwhelming. Seriously. I mean, is it just the office? Is it that I stand as God's representative? Is it that I prayed for a spouse or loved one somewhere along the way and this is a way of thanking me? Or does what I do on Sunday morning, which often feels like it's falling on deaf ears or lacking all I should be giving it, actually add up to something more significant at the end of the year?

It's all perplexing to me. Not so much so that I will lose sleep over it. I'm too tired for that. (Sickness took hold this weekend and is not letting go). But makes you wonder. Or at least it makes me wonder. And it also leads into another tricky thing of being compelled by the love they have shown to me but not wanting to respond and have my response be misinterpreted as them having *purchased* my time or investment in them....does that make sense? Hmmm....

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Blogging break

I think I've hit my limit. We're only 3 days into Advent and I am thoroughly exhausted. I seem to be ALWAYS tired and don't have the ganas to do a whole lot of anything. And looking at the JAM PACKED schedule I have ahead of me for the next 22 days, that's not a good thing. So, I think I'm taking a blogging sabbath (unless some wonderfully inspiring message crosses my synapses or some hilariously funny event breaks up my day). I need to recharge. I need to re-encounter my inspiration, my words. I need to find true rest, not just sleep, but soul quenching rest.

Peace be with you this season.

Saturday, December 1, 2007

My masterpiece

I am far from an accomplished artist, but I enjoy it nonetheless. My last semester of seminary I got to take an art class as an elective and LOVED it. The piece here is one I did on a sabbath up in Idyllwild. I mixed paint types and wasn't super pleased with it, so the tiles have sat on my microwave for months now. BUT, I decided to put them on the wall this week and liked how they came out. I need to figure out a faux frame to finish it, but for now, this is it.