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.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Working Toward Tangible Goals

Often we create ambiguous and immeasurable goals for our churches. These obtuse goals make it hard to know how well we are growing and achieving our specific goals. We have these huge lofty goals that require a subjective evaluation and don't assure us that we are moving in a forward direction, or any direction at all sometimes. My church has about 8 of these goals. From growing spiritually, to more children, to ministry with a more diverse population. Those are good aims, but way too hard to evaluate. So, our church council is now working through them to try and come up with some concrete, measurable goals.

Here’s the basic framework we are using to go from the broad to something more focused.

Goal: To grow spiritually in Jesus Christ

1) What does it mean to grow spiritually? (Get your committee/team/council to think about how exactly they define spiritual growth. Ask for specifics, how have they grown spiritually in their own lives? When they talk about growing spiritually, what does that mean to them?)

2) What are the signs we look for? (Once you’ve named what it means to grow spiritually, how do you identify that growth? What does it look like? What do we point to specifically to know that spiritual growth is occurring in someone’s life?)

3) How do we produce those signs? (What circumstances, situations, experiences, and lessons prompt or provoke those signs? Again, asking people for specific/personal examples can get you closer to the point. If Bill’s sign of spiritual growth was praying more regularly, what got him to that point? What made him pray more? What was the situation/event that drew him into a more active prayer life?)

4) What are some of the concrete things we can do or offer as a church to produce those signs? (Once you’ve identified the type of event that promotes the signs you are looking for to achieve your overarching goal, then you can think about how the church can offer those types of activities. Be reasonable, aim for what is achievable for your church. Be willing to risk, having something new and different happen in our churches won’t happen if we persist in what we’ve always done, it will require a risk and possible sacrifices.)

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Starbucks parable

Ordination papers have my brain fried today--oh yeah, them and 3 hour plus parishioner visits. I love parishioners. I love their stories. I love getting to know them, but somehow the intensity of those visits just wipes me out. So, instead of brain food from me, you can click here and watch the video and read the post, it makes pretty good sense!

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Praise God!

Deep breath. The media center person just emailed back. They can do the 23rd!! Woohoo!! Apparently they had booked me after I called but never told me that--and they had me down for December 7th--which wouldn't work for ordination. Anyway, I'm double checking that I can get tapes back in time, but feel very much relieved that this will be handled by a professional. Now, let's just pray everything goes smoothly that day!

When stress runs high

I'm in my third year of probationary membership, which means I'm eligible to apply for full connection in the UMC. We had to request the questions/forms/paperwork in July and then had to have our reference list, bio, and transcripts in by the end of September. The papers are Due December 1st. Due. Not post-marked. Due. I started working on the papers early and got about 1/4 of them written back in September. The plan was to do the slow and steady approach through October and November and get them sent off before Thanksgiving so I could enjoy giving thanks on the day of gratitude rather than muttering about how much I hate the Methodist system and all the hoops of ordination. Well, that day is 2 weeks away tomorrow and I am so NOT ready! October flew by and was packed and I wrote hardly at all. November was full and I spent time during vacation to write and wrote over 70 pages (hand written) in my writing book. So now, I have 32 of 43 papers written and sent out to editors (Thank you editors! You rock!). That means there's still 11 papers to write as well as ALL of them to edit and revise before I send them in. I also still have to make 3 copies of all the papers, collate, and double check the pages.

Oh yeah, and then there's the minor issue of the sermon--we have to have a DVD and CD of the FULL SERVICE including our ordination sermon (3 copies to be precise). We have about a dozen different texts to choose from and I have done a handful of them throughout the fall each time thinking we could record that service and each time being disappointed because it didn't happen for one reason or another. So now there are 2, count them, 2 Sundays left to get the service taped and then make copies. Just for the record--that is FREAKING me out. My blood pressure is high almost around the clock and I'm simply wigging out! I had called the media center at the conference to have them come out and never heard back. I've contacted them again and we'll see what happens. I've also contact parishioners. I thought two were going to bring their cameras last went on vacation and the other couldn't get her battery to charge and then decided it wouldn't be what I wanted. So, now I'm back to square one.

For the record, I am so not thrilled that I might not pass this year because of the friggin' sermon. I preach EVERY WEEK! There's no good reason why I shouldn't have a sermon/service to send in. None. Which, for the record, makes me a pure schmuck if I don't get them sent in. I'm not good at dealing with my schmuckiness.

Being deferred would be one thing--not a happy thing, but that would be one thing, but being a dork who couldn't get her ducks in a row, that's not a good reason to not be ordained this year. Not a good reason at all.

Okay, enough fussing, it's time to get back to those papers. Can't you just feel the joy radiating from me from the amazing learning process this is?!!?!!

Monday, November 10, 2008


I'm supposed to be writing about the incarnation of Christ for my ordination papers and to be honest, I'm struggling with it. Now, don't get me wrong--the incarnation is probably my doctrine of choice. I love the power of God's love as it's conveyed through the incarnation. God came to us in the most vulnerable form possible making God's self-completely dependent on us. The creator of all became dependent on us--a bunch of broken individuals. That's huge. But, that's not the part I struggle with.

The part that's hard for me is seeing other people as if they were Christ. I can treat them as if they were--that's different, but actually seeing them as Christ--that's hard. Today it hit me as to why it's so hard--it's hard because if I look at others as if they were Christ, then I'm beckoned to see myself as if I were Chrisst. I dont' even like writing that because it's so challenging. I dont' see myself as Christ-like. I see muyself a broken and imperfect. I struggle to even accept God's grace and God's affirmation that I am worthy, beloved, and good enough--let alone venturing to see myself as Christ.

I suppose that's where I need to be willing to receive more grace. That is afterall a part of the incarnation message. The message I'm supposed to preach, not just out of necessity but out of conviction.

What would it mean to be convicted that I could actually see Christ in myself? that someone could see Christ in me without projecting all over me as if I were the actual messiah?

Maybe that's another sticking point....that I'm hailed as the "saving one"--the one who will renew and redeem a church, who will resurrect old ministries, who will birth the church of tomorrow--and that's clearly not my role. I AM NOT THE MESSIAH! But, at the same time, if I am living a Christ-like life, and following Christ in ministyr, then I have been given the power and authirty to do "these things and greater" for the sake of Christ and the kingdom.

Maybe a Christ-like existence should confuse people--maybe they shoudl see so much of Christ in us that they almost believe they've encountered Christ. Maybe. Or maybe that's heresy. I know of pastors who clearly see Christ when they minister with the poor, the marginalized, and the dejected. They live Matthew 25 and treat others as if they were Christ and they see them as such. So, if we can see Christ in the brokenness, why can't we see Christ in the fulfillment of Christ's example?

Prayer of gratitude

Precious God,
Thank you for this day,
for this week of rest and relaxation,
family and friends.
I am so grateful for the reminder
of the importance of family, small moments, laughter, and time away.
Guide me and direct me as I prepare to return.
Fill me with affection for your people.
Calm the storms at home
so I don't return to a maelstrom
but to joy-filled, passionate ministry.
Help me to work on these papers
and in so doing,
to glorify you.
In Jesus' name.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Paper writing prayer

Dear God,
Please inspire me to write these papers. Please guide and direct my thoughts. Help me to use this as a chance to glorify you and the works you are doing in your church. Help me to understand the questions and articulate my answers clearly. Give me stamina, energy, and drive to honor you and persevere through this work. In the name of your Son Jesus Christ, through whom I was made and called. Amen.

Thursday, November 6, 2008


I spent my first 18 years growing up in a small town in the Sierra Nevada of California. We never moved and I never had to change schools (except from elementary to middle to high school, but never to a new area or district). I graduated with many of the kids I had gone to kindergarten with and could name all 158 of them on graduation day. I had many teachers who were parents of friends, friends of my parents, or church members, which meant I had to train myself to use "Mr. So and So" instead of "(First Name)". My parents were and are still married (37 years next February).

In other words, I come from a very stable background. And having lived in the same town on the same street means I grew to have a lot of very deeply rooted friendships--a depth that has often been hard to replicate, and a small town nearness that is almost impossible to repeat without living in the new place for 20 years. (Because, as you know if you've ever been an outsider in a small town, it takes at least 20 years for the "locals" to consider you to be local as well).

In many ways, that stability has been a huge blessing. I've been able to take risks in new settings because of the stability and consistency of home. There are other blessings too, but not as many that are relevant for this post. All of the above is a long entry into the true thrust of this piece. The piece that really matters today is that because of the deep roots of home in Bishop, it has been very hard for me to establish that same sense of security, stability, and "knownness" anywhere else that I have lived. "Community" can seem trivial after only a few months, when I come from a community of 18 years. The relationships, bonds, and history shared together, even after 4 years of college still pale in comparison to those that I've had since kindergarten, elementary school, or even junior or senior high school.

And over the years, because of all that, I've missed "home". I've missed that sense of belonging. I've missed relationships that are easy to fall into even after years apart because of the depth of sharing that took place before the absence. I've missed breathing in air that draws me into laughter or tears for all that it represents. I've missed having familiar sights that are amazingly gorgeous and unreplaceable; and for most of my life, I've felt like Bishop would be the only place that would ever hold that "homeness" for me again. (I've doubted it's repetition not just because of how amazing it is, but also because I knew that in an itinerant system there wouldn't be the time needed in one spot to establish a new sense of true home).

That is, until this week. Last weekend I was blessed to officiate at the wedding of one of my best friends--an honor and joy in and of itself (to be described later). And this week I've been able to be in Alabama with my "other" families. Two of my brother's best friends live in Alabama and after Christmases together they became my "other brothers". They aren't kin, per se, but they're as close as you can get. Now, a couple of weddings, and many of my seminary vacations spent with them, they are truly my home away from home. Once you add in my sister-in-law's family, who graced me with their presence, smiles, and stories today at lunch, it has truly felt like I've come home. I've seen the trees, ponds, and farms of Alabama that I miss so much. I've shared meals with family, and their friends who are also known. I've savored "soul food", and been drawn in by the knownness of it all. Despite the fact that I haven't seen most of them for more than two years, it feels like just a month or two has passed.

I never could have imagined finding a second home that truly matched the wholeness and knownness of Bishop, but it seems I have, and it is a wonderful blessing.

A call from a friend

I couldn't get the November 5th post to come up just by itself, but click this blog and look for the post from the day after the election for a beautifully written piece acknowledging perspectives from "both sides" and reminding us of all that still is--both the brokenness and the source of healing and redemption.

quote of the day

I sent a mentor/friend of mine a barage of questions related to ministry in the new church. He was very helpful and saw my inherent flaw of needing to be in control. At the end of his email in which he shared much wisdom came this quote:

And as you increasingly come to love your people, they will accept your imperfections, including your "controlling tendencies" and your high determination to turn the church around by February 1.

Thank you for a good dose of humility and a reality check WW!