Monday, December 22, 2008

Needs your help

I'm looking for scripture passages on reuniting families....any suggestions?!?

Sunday, December 21, 2008

The return of sabbath

It's been months since I've taken a true sabbath. Between 2 weddings, 4 funerals, ordination papers, and open house, and Advent preparations, I just haven't had sabbath. I had to reconcile with that fact weeks ago so I would stop resenting people for having needs that happened to land on my sabbath, but it's still been a strain.

Friday of this week, however, I got a true sabbath. It wasn't anything mind-blowing, just a morning I got to sleep in, a nice breakfast, some TV, a walk with a good friend, my recliner, and a good book, but it was nice.

But the best part of sabbath wasn't the sabbath itself, it was the was the bursts of creativity that flooded my mind, it was the abundant thanksgiving pouring out of my heart, it was the praise songs that insisted on being sung, it was the continuous laughter throughout the day, and a willingness to go play and do stuff I wanted to do even when there was work to do.

Last night I crawled into bed, ready to sleep and it hit my....sermon inspiration. I used to get these all the time, right at the moment of falling asleep my mind would start reeling with a sermon. I've made the mistake of thinking the inspiration would still be there in the morning, only to be sorely disappointed, so I've learned to heed the spirit, even if I'm tired. So, I rolled over, turned on the light, grabbed my journal (which I had handy since I had expected that to happen last night) and kept thinking, "I will be grateful for this later!" And I am.

I am grateful for a time of rest, a time with friends, and a time of creativity. I am grateful for the solid reminder of why I(used to) hold to sabbath so tightly and how life-giving it is for me!

Saturday, December 20, 2008


As we've dealt with troublesome teenagers, I've been surprised how many people have said, "You just have to tell them they aren't welcome here." I've been stunned actually. It amazes me. And it hasn't been just *those* parishioners--you know, the ones who are against anyone and everything, so much so that you expect them to say no to everything you suggest simply on principle of who they are. No, this has been long-time members, faithful folks in outreach, and others.

The conversation has continued, despite their *suggestions* and thankfully there are others in the church who see how important it is for us to be in ministry to others, regardless of who they are or the particularities of how they act. It has also helped that these troublesome teens want to be baptized. They talked with me and they have accepted Jesus as their Savior and they do want to "have [their] sins washed clean." Posing things in a religious light changes the situation just a bit for church folk. They're generally stunned and taken aback that these boys even know what baptism is. And honestly, they are pleased with that, but they're still hesitant.

One who has been very helpful in working with the boys has adopted a strategy of reward for them--if they can make it 'til the end of the month on good behavior without her hearing complaints from church members, she'll buy them each a Bible. It's a good strategy--they have to earn something they want. But then again, it's a Bible. Should people really have to earn a Bible?!?

The outlook on baptism has been similar--they have to *earn* it with good behavior. They have to show they know what it means to be a Christian through their actions. I have a strong objection to that. We don't earn baptism. It's a means of grace. Grace that God offers to us when we accept Christ (or our parents take those vows when we are infants). We don't prove ourselves Christians first....proof comes after in our actions. Right?!?! Did I miss something in seminary?

I'm inclined to say I'd baptize the boys tomorrow--they've accepted Christ, they know that baptism means having their sins taken away and they want a fresh start--isn't that enough? be fair....I do have my own reservations--not about baptizing them in general, but in worship. I know, that's when it's supposed to take place, but think about it a minute. These are two boys who do not understand the *rules* of worship and LOVE attention and I can easily see their "moment in the spotlight" turning into a circus that completely disrupts worship. So, the question becomes, do you risk it?! Do we actually believe God can transform their actions even though there is no past precedent for them to rely on for new behavior in Christ?

(read sarcasm here:) I mean...God can do big things, but that?!? I mean, God can bring about a baby through a virgin...surely God can work a little wonder in two young teenagers? But can we guarantee it?!? Do we have that much faith? I mean, it only takes a mustard seed's worth to move a mountain, but change the hearts and attitudes of two skateboarders....?!?! C'mon.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Prayer for inspiration

Creative God,
Help me now to imagine worship services that are meaningful and poignant. Show me how to preach your word. Use me to speak to your people. Shine on me. Inspire me. Help me to trust in you and be encouraged by your spirit. Wash away feelings of apathy, laziness, and indifference. remind me of the importance of the Incarnation and give me the words so that I might share that message of hope and light with your people. Reveal yourself anew to me. Touch my heart again, so that I might be newly convicted of the power of your love. In Jesus' name. Amen.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

You're not the first...

...and you won't be the last.

If you've been a regular reader here, you know I've been dealing with issues surrounding homelessness a lot since I took the new church. It's a daily interaction for us.

People who need food.
People who need shelter.
People who need bathrooms.
People who need a shower.
People who need laundry done.

And, if you know me, you know I'm a bit of an idealistic dreamer. I am enamored with the idea of changing the world. I'm fairly convinced we can do it, with God's help.

I've talked extensively with members of our outreach committee about how we address the needs around us and about developing a 10+ year plan for addressing one of the major issues in our city (i.e., domestic violence, teen pregnancy, homelessness, etc). We recognize that there is a need today--we have to feed, clothe, and shelter people according to their present needs. We also need to think about the systemic injustices and the way we could combat the problems on a larger scale--through public policy and awareness.

As I talked with one man, who is a strong advocate of helping and has done amazing things in his own life as part of his commitment, he recounted stories of other pastors who have tried to address homelessness in our city. Pastors who started shelters. Pastors who started food ministries. Pastors who succeeded for a time and then were pushed out or had to move on. In one sense, I think he was simply trying to tell me some of the history for our area. What I heard was, "Don't convince yourself that this is going to be easy or that you're the first one to come up with this idea."

Many have tried.
Some have succeeded.
Many have failed.

Combating systemic injustice and large scale evil is no easy feat.

Being young and energetic, it's easy to think "Well, if we just try harder and get x, y, and z in place, we can make this work."

Newsflash: humanity is broken. Sinful. Broken. Selfish. And we have been for centuries. We're the same hypocrites the Pharisees were and the same unfaithful *followers* the Israelites were when they were sent into exile time and time again. Our condition hasn't changed. Our hope has. Our understanding of God hopefully has, but who we are has not.

Nevertheless, I'm not discouraged by all that. It's an acknowledgement more than anything else. I need to remember that I am not the first and nor will I be the last. I also remember that Jesus has come as the light of the world and he has overcome evil and there is hope for the kingdom. There is hope for something different, something new, something good. And those things can be realized here on earth if we work at it.

So let us join the company of many who have gone before us and many who will come after and combat evil with the power of prayer and the strength of goodness and mercy.

On Isaiah 61

When I read Isaiah 61 it sounds a bit like a fairy tale. It's a make believe utopia, only I can't fully buy into it because I've seen and heard about so much brokenness and destruction in our world. It sounds great, but is it really possible?

There was a bit more meat to this week's sermon, which outlined the history and background of the text, but this was the heart of it. I was grateful that M was willing to step in at the last minute and be my debate partner in worship. Thanks M!

Imagine you are in your early 30s, and you live in a nice peaceful town. Your job is good. Your family is happy. Your kids go to a good school. You’ve lived in this town your whole life and you love it. Your parents and grandparents moved here about 8 years before you were born. They had lived in the city but big business took over and turned it into warehouses full of machines and most people, including your parents and grandparents lost their jobs. They moved, along with many others, to the small town where you now live and they started over.

You’ve heard their stories 1000 times—stories of how they struggled to even scrape by and put food on the table. Stories of how hard it was to adapt to small town life after generations in the city. Laments about how much they miss the good old days and that beautiful city full of fun and adventure.

You can empathize with their sense of loss, but you’ve never even been to the city so you can’t hardly miss it.

Your grandparents died almost 15 years ago now and your parents are getting older and more feeble. You have your family and your life is good.

One day you attend church, which is comprised mostly of other families who had to move when the factories took over the city, and in the service you are all told you need to move back to the city to rebuild it. The factories moved away to some place cheaper. There are empty warehouses, polluted rivers, over-full dumps and vacant, run-down apartments and this city needs you!

· Big deal! It’s no my city. This is my town.

· The city needs you and it could be great!

· “Could be” being the operative words. It’s not right now. It’s worn down, ugly, and dangerous. And besides that it’s no place for a family.

· I know it sounds bad, but if we all work together it’ll be amazing. We have the chance to start from scratch and make it into the perfect city.

· Start from scratch? I’m established and comfortable and I’ve worked hard to get where I am—I don’t want to start over

· But don’t you see the promise of what could be? Parks and top schools. Safe havens and beautiful homes….

· I see it--it sure looks nice, but that’s way down the line and I’ll be lucky if my kids get to see it like that.

· But they will. You will! At least parts of it….

· Yeah, parts of it….not the actual, amazing city you’re presenting.

· Don’t you see the potential?

· You don’t get it….I don’t need to be back there. I’ve never been there and from the sound of it, I never want to be. What you’ve described is a fantasy, the reality is, it’s an ugly worn down city and it needs way too much work.

No….you don’t get it—it’s not some fictional fairy tale kingdom—it’s God’s promised kingdom. Where we work together. Where we get along. Where we don’t live in fear. Where no one is alone. Where everyone is loved. Where no one is abused. Where everyone has enough and is willing to share with everyone. Where there aren’t insiders and outsiders—there’s just us. I know it sounds sugar coated and too good to be true, but it’s God’s kingdom. Can’t you imagine God doing amazing and awesome things? Even in that city?

Don’t you have a hope that God is still more creative and more powerful, able to take us places we can only imagine? I’m not saying it will be easy, but I am saying it will be worth it. How could God’s promises not be worth it? You will have to move from your place of comfort and stability in order to get there. You’re gonna have to work hard, even though you already worked hard. It will be stressful and aggravating because we won’t get there as fast as we would all like, but if we work together and stay focused on the vision, we will get there.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Litany for Longest Night/Blue Night service

Leader: You promise to hear us when we call.

People: We cry out to you O God from the depths of our pain.

Leader: You promise to comfort those who mourn.

People: Wrap your arms of comfort around us.

Leader: You promise to relieve those who are burdened.

People: Take the weight of this pain, hurt, and anguish from us now.

Leader: You promise redemption and deliverance.

People: Deliver us from evil, from drunkenness, depression, and dismay.

Leader: You promise sustenance through all our days

People: O Sustainer, breathe on us and full our lives with inspiration and hope.

Leader: You promise to be faithful to the end of the age.

A All: trust in you O God, not knowing how or when you will act, but we trust your promises of care, presence, relief, redemption, and sustenance. Honor your Word and lift us up according to your will. Amen.

Quasi dating

There's the old adage that says, "if it looks like a duck and walks like a duck, it probably is a duck." I've had that phrase in my had regularly this year. But not about the birds in my back yard, but for the relationships I have with certain men in my life. Often we spend time together in a way that seems to "look like a duck", or at least looks like a date.

Yet both of us (whoever the other seems to be) agree that "we are not dating." Our insistence, however, seems to raise a few eye brows.

Do you go just the two of you? Check.
Do you text throughout the day? Check.
Do you talk on the phone a couple times a week? Check.
Do you email? Check.
Do you get dinner together? Check.
Do you go to Disneyland together? Check.
Do you go to special events together? Check.
Do you share the details of your day? Check.
Do you share stories of your past in an effort to know one another better? Check.
Do people wonder if you're a couple? Check.
Do you cook for him? Check.
Do you watch movies at home together? Check.
Do you walk or hike together? Check.
Do your dogs know and love him when he comes over? Check. Does his? Check.
Does he offer support and encouragement when you're having a rough day? Check.
Does he call to vent when he's had a tough day? Check.

See how that sounds like dating? I think it's what my parents define as dating: two people spending time with each other to see if they're compatible. But if you ask me, I'll tell you "No. We're not dating."

But it sure looks like a duck, doesn't it?

That's why I think it's quasi dating, it's close but not quite there. It has most of the necessary markers, but it lacks the mindset. We lack the "to see if we're compatible" element. We spend time together because we get along well. But the purpose of our relationship is not to see if we could be life partners, or even if we could have fun being in a relationship for as long as it lasts. We're just friends.

I will admit that it can be awfully confusing. I mean, even I, despite my insistence that we aren't dating, wonder if there are possibilities for dating, if we are both on the same page, and if our time together "sends the right message." They're muddy waters.

I also know myself well enough to know that I would split in nothing flat if it converted to dating. I don't date. I hate dating, at least the early stages. I hate the awkward moments, the guessing games, the delayed return calls to "keep 'em waiting", all that mess of our over-sexualized and under-loved society. Bah! It's a mess, and it's complicated, and I don't enjoy it. So I avoid it. And delude myself into believing that it's not a duck.

Monday, December 15, 2008

In search of a good man

...or a good housekeeper....either way I think I might be satisfied. I might have poor requirements for a partner these days, my standards are a bit skewed. I've been working crazy hours and have not had a real day of sabbath in over two months. It's been a long fall. I'm normally hyper-vigilant about sabbath, but 4 funerals and 2 weddings and a whole bunch of other stuff have made it nearly impossible.

In the midst of writing papers, planning worship, doing funerals, and attending to *fires* at the church, I've gotten behind on housework etc. I did manage to get the house cleaned and put together for the open house and staff party last week, which was nice, but dishes are back to collecting and laundry is piling up. I hate that. I also hate doing dishes and folding clean laundry so there's no wonder why I let them linger. Don't ask me why, I just do.

So I've decided I need a good man who likes doing those things. I have the feeling he'll probably get fed up with my stacks of papers and laundry piles at some point wondering why on earth I can't simply do these things myself, so maybe we'll just have to do a contract agreement at the outset or something....

I jest, really I do. I have higher aspirations for a partner than those. But I do find myself craving someone else to rely upon and share responsibilities, laments, and joys with. I want us-ness--apparently a common theme for me this year.

I'm not sure what provokes my longing for a relationship, but it seems to be strong these days. Not strong enough to change my actual circumstances mind you, but strong none-the-less. I miss the cuddling, the talking, the laughter, the sharedness of life bit. Maybe one of these days I'll meet someone not from my church, who's a faithful disciple, who shares interests and passions like mine.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

The world's biggest sap

Tonight I got a call back from the mother of a family we have adopted for Christmas. She needed to change the sizes she had told me. As we talked I asked if there were other items she needed. I knew she needed some of the bare essentials: bath soap, detergent, tp and had been thinking for a couple days of other items she might need: cough syrup, advil, dish soap, etc. I mean, when you don't have money for soap...things are really tight and I was trying to think of things and offer rather than forcing her to ask. In part because I know the asking takes tremendous courage and strength. It's hard to admit you can't buy underwear for your kids or find enough for a single toy for Christmas. No one wants to be there and no one wants to admit they are there when they are.

As we talked we added other items to the wish list and when I asked about dish soap she said, "well, what I really need is a blender." Okay. We can find a blender. She admitted that she's never had to ask for this type of stuff before and didn't know if it was ok to be asking for all that she was. I told her we were there to help, that we want to help however we can, but if we don't know what the need is, we can't help. I also shared that if she tells us something that we can't get, then we can't get it and I will be honest with her about that too.

As we got off the phone I had various ideas of *cool* (I use that term loosely) things we could do. We could do a medicine basket with bandaids and cough syrup and tylenol. We could do a spice basket. We could do a kitchen basket with sponges and soaps and cleaning products.

Then I thought, "one of these days I might just get the bigges- sap-award." And I laughed at myself. Laugh out loud laughed at myself. My eagerness to help seems to be getting under the skin of some of my congregation. Framing it in that light they'd say no....they're glad I like to help, but they aren't always keen on the people I want to help. And then I thought, "would they rather I was too soft than too harsh? Would they rather I were known as generous and compassionate than hard-nosed and hard-hearted?" Maybe. Maybe not, depending on whom I want to help. After all, that wouldn't change.

Regardless of what they think, I'd still rather be known as too much of a softy who was willing to help people even when they didn't "deserve" it, than as someone who constantly turned a blind eye to the needs of the world.

**apparently in ironic humor to underscore the nature of this post, mid-post I got a call from California Firefighter's association. They need money (of course). $35 ma'am? No. How about $20? Did you have a note next to my name telling you I am a sap??'am, I mean, I don't think you're a sap. That's because you don't know. So I gave my $20 gift to help the firefighters, 'cause I'd hate to lose my title over a mere $20.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Making Waves

Apparently I'm making waves. Or maybe it's just the things I "allow" to happen that are making waves. Either way--I'm hearing about it.

A few months ago, I wrote about the struggles our church was having with dealing with the local homeless population. I also wrote about trials we were having with some youth. Well, things have been going along all right for about a month or two but now the murmuring has started again.

A is back. He's still kind, humble, and compliant. He cleans up his space and even other areas of the church without being asked. He's independent and proud and what you might label "cronically homeless." He's been on the streets for over a decade and loves the open air and freedom and has no intention of changing his circumstances. He won't take handouts and never asks for a thing. The "imposition" is that he stores his carts under our gazebo (on the main road) and sleeps outside the church away from the elements.

This time (as opposed to when I first got here) people have been fairly calm and quiet about the issue. It has seemed to be a "non-issue." Church council knows we are discerning what to do, and I don't know why, but others have not said much--maybe because A is attending worship weekly? Maybe because they didn't see me take action the first time and think their comments will fall on deaf ears? I don't know. They have been quiet, at least they were quiet, until Sunday. Sunday seemed to open the flood gates and I heard from multiple people. I will be honest and share it's not my favorite discussion to have again. I am particularly put off by comments like, "Well, are you going to tell them to leave?" Nope. I'm not the one who objects. I won't be telling them to leave. We are talking about this with church council and it's not going to be a snap decision.

It also hit the fan when a couple of youth (*those youth*) tried to come to worship. I had talked to the boys before worship and they asked if they could come. I said yes and sent them into the sanctuary. I asked that they 1) leave their skateboards outside, 2) were quiet, 3) were respectful. I suppose I should have figured they'd need supervision, but I just didn't. About 10-15 minutes later a different youth came to me and said they were getting out of hand and could I come take care of it. So, I left the conversation I was having and went to deal with it. They had their boards under the pew and I asked them to put them in a backroom, which they did. We then went and sat on the pew together. The children's pageant was Sunday, so I figured I could sit with the boys for the entirety of the service to keep them calm. Well, once they calmed down I started greeting other parishioners. At some point they grabbed their boards and went back outside. I went to speak with them (they were skating on the stairs where people enter) but had to go do the opening prayer. As I was praying an argument broke out, and then another. Apparently when the boys tried to come back into the sanctuary, they were barricaded and told they couldn't come in, so they ran to the other door (they had mouthed off to a couple of folks and apparently feigned masturbation and were caught by two of the women). After I prayed I left the praise band to sing and called the boys to me and took them outside. We had a come-to-Jesus about their behavior and how it was out of line and inappropriate and that they had showed me they weren't ready to be in worship and I sent them home.

Now, I will be the first to admit they were inappropriate and rude and it was unacceptable. They are no little gems. And I heard about it. And, I should have. People were offended, scared, and frustrated. Their reactions were healthy and normal.

I also know the boys are unchurched. They don't know what "appropriate" behavior is. And, no, it's not a given. They don't come from "normal" homes with "normal" rules. They operate on completely different terms--terms which can be VERY unsettling for Sunday morning worship.

I followed up with a couple of folks I knew were really upset and tried to hear their concerns. I have to admit I'm biased. I struggle when people tell me things like, "You just need to tell them they can't be here, they have to go somewhere else." I understand the frustration and aggravation, trust me, I've hit my breaking point with them more than once. But, I still cannot fathom telling them they cannot be at the church. It's obvious to me these boys need help and we, as a loving, gracious, and compassionate church (honestly we are) have a good chance of giving them what they are desperate for.

Not everyone is on that page. And I will admit that I have been more than a little upset over the last 3 days. I've heard a lot since I got here that "we need to grow" and "we need more young people." Well, we're growing. We have various new folks in worship as regulars (easily 6-8 since I got here) and yes, half of them are homeless, but that shouldn't get in the way--they are still "new people" who need to grow in God. I've also heard, "We need more young people." Done. Three of them were there on Sunday and you didn't want anything to do with them. So, which is it? Do we want more people or not? Do we want young people or not?

That's a bit of an overgeneralization--it's not everyone in the congregation, and it's not an objection to all new people or all new youth, but there are definitely prejudices and biases against "those" people--whichever people that might include. That bothers me. I'm not perfect. I hit my limits. I have my own exceptions to the rule--those I would struggle to include. But honestly, who are we called to minister to if it's not "them"??

I don't remember reading a passage about how ministry was going to be roses and butterflies all the time....that the Good News would be well received and that everyone would start living godly lives as a result. I missed those scriptures apparently.

For most of the day yesterday and half of today I was left wondering again if it's worth the fight. I don't want to lose members. I don't want people to be alienated. I do want people to find sanctuary on Sunday mornings. I do want people to feel safe when they come to church. I also want us to be in ministry with those that are tough to love. I do want us to be challenged by the Gospel. I do want us to be forced to live differently than we might want to for the sake of God's kingdom. I want those things too. But to be very honest, this afternoon I was ready to throw in the towel. Say to heck with it and just go back to the easy stuff.

I was. But now I'm not. Why? Well, at about 4:00 there was a banging on my screen door. The dog went nuts and I opened the door to see two teenage boys who were hungry and thirsty. M had told them I would feed them (yes, they're *those* boys). She did, did she?? Why would I feed you? Because you love us. M was right, and so are you. Come on in.

I listed off the contents of my fridge and various other foods in the cupboards. One settled on waffles and the other on tuna fish. I warmed the waffles and added peanut butter and chocolate, as requested, made two tuna fish sandwiches and two glasses of chocolate milk so these two characters could eat. I regularly hear, "We haven't eaten all day." I'm not sure I believe it. I guess the better way of saying is that I don't know how it could be true it's so far from my experience. And I'm not sure they're not just trying to elicit sympathy. Either way, it gets them food. They're teenagers--I know they could eat a horse 3 times a day and still be hungry. We talked and they ate. I put away dishes and they helped clean up.

They were ready to eat and run but knew it would be rude, so they stayed a little while longer until I told them it was ok.

We're making slow steps of progress. I am grateful they don't resort to yelling or threats when they don't get their way. I'm grateful when they use their manners: wash their hands before they eat, say please and thank you, chew with their mouths closed, and rinse their dishes before they go. I am grateful they trust me enough to come and ask for food when they are hungry. I know some say it creates dependency. Maybe it does. Only time will tell on that one. But for now I see it as a sign of hope--I can create bonds of love and trust with two boys who have lived through hell and don't understand fully how to love appropriately and have little reason to trust people at all. It doesn't hurt that I love to cook and don't get to feed people often enough in my book. It also doesn't hurt that they eat all the foods I'm not allowed to eat now that I am changing my diet!

Seeing their faces and knowing my love and care for them has made a difference, however slight or fleeting, gives me the courage to keep going. They may get kicked out of worship for months to come as they learn what it means to act appropriately, but oddly, no matter how many times I've had to send them home from youth for similar disobedience--they always come back and I hope they will do the same for worship.

I pray God gives me the grace to work both with these boys and with my congregation. I pray for renewed patience and mercy as I struggle to live in the tension between old and new, respectful and disobedient, seasoned and novice. I pray my congregation takes the time to know each of these individuals and that they see them as beloved children of God and that those relationships gives them courage to love a little stronger and offer a little more compassion and grace.

Reflections on Hosea 7:1-8:14

A lot of the Old Testament prophets talk about Israel's unfaithfulness to God. Their punishments and trials come as a consequence to their unrighteous and idolatrous behavior. Most modern folks (or at least westerners) are not real keen on the idea of such punishment. It doesn't fall in line with their understanding of God's love and grace. Again, we're struck by an either/or mentality. Either God is nice or God punishes. Which is it? Somehow we can't get our mind around the notion that God could be both.

After all, parents discipline and punish their children all the time and they love them. It's not either/or. It's both/and. And many would argue that a truly loving parent has to discipline their child--it's the only way to "raise them right." So, why would we think God would be any different? Should God discipline and shape us so that we might be the best person possible?

I'm inclined to think we have to be refined by the fire. We must change our sinful actions to righteous ones. And my guess is, we won't up and change on our own, especially not if everything is peachy and wonderful. It's trials, difficulties, and challenges that force us out of our comfort zone and into something different--ideally something/someone more righteous/faithful/holy.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

TOMS Project Holiday

There are so many easy ways to make a difference. I read the other day that Americans spend $450 billion dollars to celebrate Christmas. I also read it would take only $10 billion to provide safe, clean water to the WORLD'S population. Here, by buying these shoes you can put shoes on someone else's feet AND prevent disease. It's a three-for! Think about it!

Sifting through lies

I minister to people from a variety of perspectives and lately I find myself struggling to sift through the "facts" of their stories. C tells me she's been clean for 3 years. M tells me C has been using rock recently. J tells me K and T are smoking dope on the church property. K and T says it's all a lie. B tells me he only drinks and then months later tells me he dabbles in rock. R straight up told me, "You know all of them are lying to you, right?" Yes. I know there are lies. But I couldn't help but wonder, "Does that mean you too R, because you're one of *them*?"

There are many challenges to working with a "street mentality". For starters, the rules are different. Decorum is unheard of (at least not like I know it). Respect is earned, not granted. Image and pride are of the utmost. People will do whatever is necessary to uphold their image. Often, that involves lying.

Quite frankly, it's exhausting. I'm tired to trying to figure out what's true and what's a lie and which is an exaggerated truth or enhanced lie for the sake of image. Knowing there are so many half truths makes me more cautious, more cynical, and more guarded.

I'm normally a trusting person. And I like the truth. I'm fairly honest and straightforward. So much so that it sometimes gets me into trouble. So I struggle with people who aren't honest. It aggravates me. And not having a "street mentality", I don't get it. I don't understand why people aren't straight with me and how they can justify such flagrant lies.

Regularly I find I blog without an end goal. There's no moral to the story. There's no final thesis. Just sharing my frustration. It's been one of those days. Now, if you happen to deal with street mentality, or understand it better than I do, I'd love some insight. How do you manage? How do you keep a mental distance? How do you maintain your sanity? How do you not succumb to its temptations?

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Question of the day

Why is it that you can perform everyday functions like getting out of bed, bending over, squatting, and walking down the driveway with no trouble at all, not a second thought even, until you do a major workout and then you can't seem to even do the simplest of tasks without serious effort?

The papers are in!!!!!!!!!!!

After5 months of writing and editing, my ordination papers are in!!! WOOHOO!! While I trust the UMC process, there are times I wish I were a member of a denomination that will ordain you on the spot some Sunday morning. I know, the ramifications of that are not what I want, but writing and reflecting ceases to be enjoyable, motivating, or even a helpful learning experience after so long.

There were many days I considered throwing in the towel. Fortunately, I have a brother who has been through the system and believes in a bit of tough love: "You may whine, you may scream, you may fuss all you want, but you may not give up." or "You know what sucks worse than writing them this time? Writing them again the second year." Now that's motivation.

I do owe a million thank you's to my readers: Mom, Dad, David, Dave, Kathy, Anne, Jack, Beth, Rob, Rick, Les, Chai, Mindy, Kels, Rex, Brian, and Wayne. Without their help, insights, critiques, and edits, I never would have made it. Yes, I could have edited the papers on my own, I am able, but having the outside input motivated, encouraged, and inspired me, and without that I would not have kept going.

The Board of Ordained ministry now has 78 pages of writing, 3 bulletins, 3 DVDs, and 3CDs in their hands to see if I am effective in ministry. I have no idea how things will go (especially after a few harsh words and "yellow flags" from one of my readers), but trust that I am called and as long as I am faithful to that call everything will work out in the end.

It has been encouraging to talk with parishioners. The Media Center (thank you Ernie and Julie) came out to tape my sermon/service since I couldn't work things out here and was having serious stress about the video/audio portion of the application. They did a great job and my congregation was wonderfully supportive. They gave me thumbs up, hugs, an "A+", and a number of "you pass in my book" type comments. It was a good service, though a bit odd and with more glitches than normal.

1) Our secretary is not Christian and doesn't always understand the system well...she wrote in the bulletin that it was my "ordination service". Needless to say, that was a bit confusing to people and a number of people brought cameras and one brought a gift because of the misunderstanding....oops!

2) I got my mic early and had it on my street clothes. When I put on my robe, I forgot to attach it, which meant we had a LOT of feedback until one of the music guys came and talked to me about it and I figured out what I had done.

3) The furnace pilot light was out, which meant the door to the furnace room opened and closed (quite loudly) a number of times throughout the beginning of the service.

4) Our lay leader, who normally facilitates the first half of worship had to take her son to the airport and so we had a stand-in. He did a fabulous job. It was just another unexpected thing on the day you least want things like that to happen.

C'est la vie.


It's my vie anyway. And it came out all right. The papers are in. My life is returning to normal
(whatever that means) and hopefully, come June, I'll be ordained!

Thursday, November 27, 2008


As we give thanks for a good meal and an over-stuffed belly, may we be mindful of those did not eat. Please take a moment to click and send some food.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Apples and Oranges

Recently, through an odd series of events and connections, I reconnected with a friend from high school. I use the term "friend" loosely. We weren't close, but we weren't not friends either. We knew each other and were on good terms, though never knew a whole lot about each other. In a weird coincidence, he too is in ministry in my area. We had arranged to have lunch today and yesterday when hammering out details he invited me to worship at his church. He warned me that it was pretty charismatic and that I might not agree with everything their guest preacher endorsed. I went and enjoyed the worship music and was goodwith the speaking in tongues/holy shakes/etc that was clearly a part of their charismatic side. It was definitely different than the traditional services at my church, and 5 years ago I would have been freaked out. But I've become comfortable with the charismatic sides of ministries and don't question it too much.

After service, we talked for a good chunk of time. He caught me up on the crazy events of the past ten years in his life and we finalized the details for today's lunch.

Today we ended up talking for hours. From the most unexpected candidate I learned about the wonderful things he's doing in ministry. He's engaging and working with youth and young adults in innovative and fabulous ways. In a bit of a reality check, his ministry is a serious juxtaposition to mine. Next to his past, mine rivals Marsha Brady. Next to his ministry, mine rivals...I don't know old lady, at least. I'm normally okay with my old soul and my comfort at working with older adults. But today, talking with a peer from high school who's involved in a very different style and generation of ministry, I couldn't help but call my shortcomings to mind.

It was intimidating. I felt threatened. It was an odd feeling since I'm not threatened by many folks. But there it was. He was 'intrigued' by my worship service and said he'd surprise me some Sunday. While in many respects I'd be glad to have him come, I'd even be grateful for his input, in other respects, I fear his, "wow..." response. And not the "wow" of "wow-that-was-amazing-we-should-do-something-like-that", but the "wow....I'm-not-sure-what-to-say" kind of response.

Don't get me wrong. I LOVE my church and really enjoy our blended worship of contemporary and traditional worship. But he was stunned that the average age of my church council is 50 or so and the average age in worship is about 60. At 27, he's one of the oldest people at his church, and all of their leadership is 20-something. That's a pretty big difference. The two don't make sense together. And he's sure to notice the contrast.

It's definitely a reality check and a call to really do an honest evaluation of where we are and where we want to be, and how different the new might appear from what we are now. I've learned to compromise in a lot of ways and to draw people in slowly. And I think in that I've lost some of my edge for new and radical thinking. I've come alongside the norms and he is a good conversation partner for what the flip side might look like.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

The mystery man

This afternoon I left the house with my notebook, edited papers, and laptop to go do some rewrites at Starbucks. I knew I needed to get out of the house if I had any hope of getting work done today. I found a big chair and a side table and got to work. I edited and wrote, trying to attend to each of the corrections the various editors had made. After two hours I had completed a whopping 4 essays, two of which didn't really require much. =/ My brother decided he should underscore my pain by telling me that he knew people who had done all of their papers in one day and still passed. Jerks. One day?!?! Writing, editing, and formatting in one day?! Yeah, friggin' right. Jeez man.

I called my parents for some sympathy and distraction and then got back to work, getting another four done before I threw in the towel. But as I worked on the latter four, a man came and sat in the chair next to me. He was a smiling and friendly man who greeted me with cheer. I'm the type who normally smiles and makes small talk, or sometimes just makes eye contact and ends up hearing a life story and leaving 2 hours later without much accomplished. Determined to stay on task I stayed very focused on my work. I could feel him looking at me from time to time, seemingly eager to engage me. I resisted.

As I finished my writing for the night, I had this sense that maybe he had a purpose that day. Maybe I should have engaged him. Maybe I should have asked how he was. But I didn't. I thought about telling him exactly what I was thinking and then figured he'd think I was a nut. He was Christian, I could tell that by the book he was reading. And when I started to leave he wished me a good night. I reciprocated and then he said, "God bless you." Again I reciprocated but was slightly surprised since most people don't say that to me unless a) we've had a theological discussion, b) I've prayed with them, c) they know I'm a pastor. He didn't know who I was or what I was doing. There were no Bibles on the table (a guarantee that I will have one of those 2 hour discussions) and no signs of what I was working on.

I left with a smile and this strange sense that I should have talked to him. Again I brushed it off and went on my way. I went to the store and got some items for the chili lunch tomorrow and on my way back past Starbucks I thought about stopping--it was that strong a feeling. Again I thought better of it, convinced he'd be sure I was a nut if I did that.

And yet still I wonder if there was something that should have happened tonight. He was middle aged and a father, so he's not the man I'm supposed to marry. He didn't seem to have the demeanor of a pastor nor that of someone in emotional or spiritual need. It's an odd feeling and I wonder if I will run into him again for the opportunity to see what God might have in store.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Naked as a jaybird

As I mentioned in my last post, I have some amazing editors helping me to correct and revise my papers. I can't thank them enough for their time and efforts. You might have noticed I was pretty frustrated with the papers and completely uninspired to keep going with them. But tonight I opened the package of corrected papers my parents had sent, read through the corrections Rob had sent, as well as had another editor read through the papers. Surprisingly, their edits left me inspired to write more and complete my thoughts. I was not left discouraged or frustrated by the work to be done. Props to all of those editors for constructive criticism!

I have compiled the various edits from each of 6 readers and am now sending the revised versions to a former board member for his take. I trust this colleague. I value his opinion. I know he wants only the best for me, which includes passing the first time. And I believe, like my other editors, that he will be honest, even if it's a hard truth to tell. I don't really look forward to those hard truths, but keep reiterating, "I would rather here it from you than from the Board."

Despite all that, I have to be honest, sharing these papers with anyone is a bit like standing naked in front of a lecture hall (or so I's not anything I've done. Public nudity is not

I suppose this is only the dry run. After all, thirty-some people from the Board will be reviewing my papers, my sermon, my hopes, my frustrations, my trials, and my successes and then they will decide if I am effective in ministry.

I know I am called. I have the utmost trust in that. I believe I am called to serve the UMC, I have 90% assurance about that. ;) I believe I have been effective in ministry. There are obvious fruits in the places I have served. I believe those fruits should be attributed to God, and hope I have been a part of the success of the harvest. And I hope the Board sees that.
my gig--let's be clear!) There is an incredible sense of vulnerability in sharing so much of yourself. It's my theology. It's my strengths. It's my weaknesses. It's my self-reflection. It's my successes. It's my failures. And it's a dangerous lot to share. I worry about being ineloquent. I worry about touting abilities others do not see. I fear they will think I'm a weak writer or a misguided theologian.

Sabbath and sacrifices

If you've been reading lately you've probably noted how ordination papers are taking over my life. Most days I feel like I'm suffocating under the weight of edits, rewrites, and papers still yet to be written. It's overwhelming and exhausting. When I talked to my brother the other day (who's been through the process), he said, "You can kick and scream and yell and fuss but you may not quit." No?!?! 'Cause seriously, I was considering it. I know I'm not alone. I know of friends who are doing the same grueling process this year, others who have gone before me, and many many pastors who have done the same. I also know friends who are lawyers who've gritted their teeth and borne similar pressure as they studied for the bar, and doctors who have gone nights without sleep and days without a break as they studied for their boards, so I know it's not some novel form of torture the church created, yet somehow that doesn't alleviate the pressure.

This morning I was thinking that some of the trouble for staying motivated is knowing that I could just give in and try again next year. It's not like taking a class or earning a degree where "next year" isn't possible. The other difficulty in staying motivated is knowing that I may go through all this work and still be deferred by the board and have to do it all again next year. (Wo)man is that not thrilling. I can say "I trust the process" today, but I'm fairly certain that if I have to leave Palos Verdes in tears after being deferred I won't want to walk into church the next Sunday and face my congregation let alone come back next year with gusto for the chance to show how much I've grown. Yippee skippy. Boy howdy!

And yet even saying that I can see how that will be my kiss of death. If I dig my heels in to "growing in the process" even if it means another year, then I will probably not show my best side to the board and somehow decide my own face. I remember 3 years ago having to submit my will to that of the board and the "process" and somehow there was healing in that, or at least enough help to get me over the final hump.

Right now my two main motivating factors are:
1) I sure as taxes DO NOT want to have to do this again next year (especially not b/c I was a wimp and bailed).
2) Some very generous people* have spent a lot of time and energy editting these papers so I have the least likely chance of being deferred possible and it seems like a slap in the face to wuss out now.

Oh yeah, now back to the point of this post, first, it's about sacrifices. I've obviously had to make some in this time. I sacrificed part of my vacation time to work on papers (and thankfully so because if I got back from that trip and wasn't 75% of the way done with my papers I think I've had thrown in the towel then and there). I've sacrificed free time, sleep, social opportunities, and time talking with friends. Those aren't huge in the scheme of things, but they are key components to my sanity. The latest sacrifice has been about my sabbath.

This fall has not been my shining time as a sabbath guru. I've sacrificed sabbath more times than I'd like to admit. Almost all of October was shot and November is not off to a good start. But today as I thought about whether or not I should break sabbath to work on papers (after I had already broken it to work on and deliver a sermon to folks at a retirement village and to see a parishioner who's struggling to recover after surgery), I wondered if I wasn't becoming a Pharisee.

I hold pretty strict sabbath rules. No work. No meetings. No work phone calls. No work emails. I try not to even think about work. Having strict rules has been my saving grace in having time that is dedicated to renewal and rejuvenation. In addition to the no work rules I also rarely make plans, even with family or friends, on my sabbath because I hate having obligations on my sabbath. I like to dictate my schedule based on what I want, not based on the next place I have to go or person I need to see. My original rule was "I won't do anything I have to do." So if I felt I "had" to run errands, or do dishes, or laundry, or yardwork, or.... then I wouldn't because it broke the sabbath rule.

The Pharisees too became very taken with their sabbath rules. They believed no work was to be done. Period. Well, Jesus had occasion to heal on the sabbath and boy did he make the Pharisees mad. He was breaking the rules!! The thing the Pharisees didn't see was the purpose of sabbath was healing and restoration, and to heal was to do just that, so Jesus was actually fulfilling the law, not breaking it!

Lately it seems my sabbath rule has become to selfish and self-centered. Maybe it has always been selfish to take a day and refuse to lay plans even with the closest of friends. Maybe it had to be strict so I could develop a healthy sabbath practice, and now it's simply a new phase where I can relax the rules and live a little more flexibly. Maybe it's bad boundaries? Maybe it's fulfulling the spirit of the rule?

I don't know that I've decided on an answer. But I have decided, that for now, my ordination is worth the sacrifice. This is the work I have been called to do and I'm fairly certain it will require some sacrifices along the way.

Chai shared this tidbit today: "Obstacles are there to test us on how much we really wanted the end goal." And I think I have to keep that in mind. Writing these papers is a sign of my commitment both to my call and to the UMC. I can hardly imagine how those who aren't called manage to trudge through these.

Hi ho, hi ho, it's off to trudge I go!

*Thank you Mom, Dad, Dave, David, Rob, Kathy, Beth, and Jack.