Thursday, October 20, 2011

Love Letter

He said to him, " 'You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.' This is the first and greatest commandment." - Matthew 22:37-38 NRSV

Dear God,
I love you. Not just for your gifts, though I marvel at the beauty and wonder of your creation and I am thankful. Not just for your word, though I enjoy poring over the Scriptures you have given.

No, I love you for who you are.

You are endlessly patient. I know because you put up with me. You call, and even when I'm not paying attention, even when I intentionally ignore you, you keep nudging my consciousness, trying to reach my heart with your grace.

You are just. While the world shouts, pointing fingers and calling names and pushing agendas, you quietly hold out even scales, measuring everything against your holy standard, and pouring out mercy when we would tip the scales to hatred.

You are compassionate. You hear the cries of the hungry and promise that in your kin-dom all will have enough. You see the oppressed and the downtrodden and promise that you will bring liberation. You feel the pain of the sick and the outcast and promise that someday you will draw all your children into your healing embrace.

You are love. Within yourself, you are perfect mutual love: unity and diversity, three and one, a divine dance. You are love that reaches beyond yourself; you surround and envelop every living thing, you make relationship possible. Even when we would put up barriers and try to keep your love only for ourselves, you reach over around and through our walls and touch all of your creation.

I love you. Please make me more like you. Awaken me to your call. Rouse me to work for your justice. Soften me to share your compassion. But most of all, teach me to love as you love. Fill me up with you, with love, that your Spirit would pour through me and splash joyfully through the lives of everyone I meet.


Saturday, September 03, 2011


Hurricane Irene roared through the East Coast and left a lot of us without power. At my house, it went something like this:

6:00pm - 2 Hours without power: I knew we'd lose power, but it's a little scary in the dark with the rain pounding and the wind roaring outside.

8:00pm - 4 Hours without power: I really hope my cell phone battery doesn't die before it's supposed to wake me up in the morning.

6:00am - 14 Hours without power: My lead pastor calls to say that we're having worship this morning, even without power. I groan, not because I don't want to have worship, but because it is SO early and SO dark.

7:00am - 15 Hours without power: Charlie gives me guilt-inducing puppy-eyes when I consider leaving him home alone in the dark after the storm, so I take him with me to church. He stays in my office during worship.

12:00pm - 20 Hours without power: The line at Chipotle is INSANE, but the scene is the same at every restaurant in the area that has power.

5:00pm - 25 Hours without power: I don't want to open the freezer or refrigerator, since I don't want to let the cold out. So I'm faced with non-perishable food options. I begin subisisting on Cheez-Its and Pop Tarts... and I began to notice the similarities between Hurricane-diet and stoner-with-the-munchies diet. (Note: I've never smoked weed... I consider this common pop-culture knowledge.

8:00pm - 28 Hours without power: There is nothing to do except read by candlelight, and my eyes are getting tired. So I'm going to bed at 8:00pm for the first time in years.

8:30am - 40.5 Hours, still no power. I wake up alarmingly rested after 12 hours of solid sleep. I discover that neither my apartment nor my church has power, and I consider moving into Starbucks. But in the end I only stay there for a few hours.

1:00pm - 45 Hours, still no power. I take over a friend's apartment who still has power. I consider becoming a squatter in her place, but I'm pretty sure I don't match her decor.

7:00pm - 51 Hours, still no power. I sit on my balcony, enjoying the cooler autumn-ish air. Without power, the people in my apartment complex have been forced outside. Neighbors are talking to each other and walking their dogs together, and I actually had a conversation with someone from the building next door that I'm pretty sure I've never seen before. I start to think this is actually sort of nice, having community with my neighbors.

10:00pm - 54 Hours STILL no power. I use my laptop to watch a DVD just to avoid going to bed too early. I still go to sleep before midnight.

1:17am - I wake up in a complete state of disorientation when there is suddenly noise and light in my apartment. All at once the lights turn on, the television jolts to life, and the air conditioning begins to whir. Charlie looks at me like, "I KNEW you'd been holding out on me! You totally could have used your opposable thumbs to flip the magic switches and turn the lights on days ago, you've just been doing this to punish me!" I frown at him, turn everything off, and go back to sleep. Because, when you're sleeping, power doesn't matter much.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Rock You Like a Hurricane

This weekend I faced a first in my life: my first hurricane. I wasn't sure how to prepare for the storm, so I started asking around. And the signals were...mixed. The newscasters kept telling us to prepare, to buy batteries and food that we could store and prepare without power, and to fill the bathtub with water in case the water was shut off. They kept claiming that the storm would be terrible and we needed to be prepared for the aftermath. On the other hand, most of my friends and coworkers said that all of this storm talk was exaggerated, that we wouldn't actually lose power or have major issues, and that people were freaking out about nothing.

So, unsure what to do, I didn't really do much to prepare. I figured I'd just eat whatever was around my apartment and make do with the candles I already had. That is, until I started watching the hurricane coverage on TV, and I started to see the storms rolling in and the wind picking up. And I started to worry. So I decided to just run over to my Target and pick up a few essentials.

Target on the morning of a hurricane is surprisingly similar to Target on Christmas Eve. The store is similar: all of the essentials have disappeared. But instead of empty shelves where twinkle lights and stockings should be, there were racks devoid of batteries and shelves emptied of bottled water. It seems that the whole city was out of D-batteries, and most places ran out of bottled water. The pre-hurricane shoppers were very much like Christmas Eve shoppers: frantically rushing around throwing things into empty carts, unable to find what we really want, so we're grabbing whatever we can. Instead of carts full of flashlights, batteries, bottled water, and bread, we fill our carts with scented candles, gatorade, and Pop Tarts. We don't make eye contact with each other, either. We look away in shame and pretend we're not scrambling.

So, with a case of bottled water, a box of Cheez-Its, some Pop Tarts, and applesauce, I returned to my apartment. I got out my candles and lighters, watched a movie, and watched the winds picking up outside my window. Then, a little after 6:00pm, the power went out. That left me with a difficult choice: be in the darkness, or light all the scented candles and overwhelm myself with odors. I chose the latter, and I read a novel by the dim, fragrant candlelight. But with the darkness, I was sleepier than usual, and I went to bed before 9pm.

And by the time I woke up in the morning, the storm had passed. So, my experience of the storm was more of an enforced quiet evening. The aftermath of the storm, though, is another story... for another day.

Friday, June 03, 2011

Newsletters from Home

I believe that all church newsletters carry a drop of grace within them. We who work in the church often bemoan their deadlines and complain about the necessity of writing a column and preparing articles and fitting all the pieces together. But there is something beautiful in the way a church newsletter can gather the flotsam and jetsam of our life together in community.

Today I went to my mailbox and found that my copy of "The Sower" had arrived. "The Sower" is the newsletter from my home church, and to me, it's like getting a letter from an old friend. My heart still catches a little when I see on the back cover my own name with "Rev." in front of it. That title is used for me often, but there is something more powerful about being recognized as a pastor by the people who raised me and taught me to love the church.

"The Sower" is an ordinary church newsletter. It announces upcoming meetings and chronicles the events in the lives of church members. It includes wedding announcements and reports from the trustees, thank you notes and schedules of events. It even gives a list of members' birthdays for the month. But in each of those things, I see grace. The announcements and birthday lists invite all who read it to be a part of this common life, to share their joys and burdens and to care for one another. The finance and trustees reports show what we can do when we work together. Between lines of ordinary text, I read, "There is love here: love for each other and love for God. This is the love that we share lived out."

Perhaps I see that most especially in "The Sower" because it reflects the life of my home congregation. It records the ongoing adventures of a community that is dear to my heart. These are, after all, the people who embraced me from my childhood. This newsletter tells a tiny bit of the stories of the people who taught me The Lord's Prayer and sang along as I stumbled my way through hymns on the piano. These are the people who asked me, week in and week out, about how school was going, who checked in on me when I went away, who sent cookies to me every one of my seven years of higher education. So when I read the church newsletter, I see their faces, I celebrate with their joys, and I mourn with their losses.

Theirs is not a perfect church. There is no such thing as a perfect church. Churches are, after all, made up of ordinary, broken people. But there is a beauty and a grace in this and every church as God draws diverse and imperfect people together and weaves us into one body. There is a power in people loving God, loving one another, and reaching out in love to a hurting world. That is what the church is. And in this newsletter, I glimpse the church.

I don't always see that. Usually when I look at church newsletters, I see them with a critical eye. I am used to going over the newsletter of the church I serve with an editor's eye and a red pen. Perhaps that is why this particular newsletter spoke to my heart so deeply. You see, this June issue of "The Sower" contains the last column by our current pastor, Wayne. And his column was powerful for me, not just because of his beautiful words, but because of the person I know who wrote them.

I remember when Wayne first arrived in our congregation. I had really liked his predecessor, and, as a grumpy junionr high student, I was not ready to welcome someone new. I resented him before he even opened his mouth to preach his first sermon at our church. But Wayne disarmed me with his warm smile and subtle humor. His sermons told stories, wove poetry, and drew together the stories of our community with the events of the world and the narratives of Scripture. I got to know him better over mud and hammers on mission trips. Moreover, Wayne's notes of encouragement mailed to my home, words of wisdom over coffee, and engagement in the life of our small town taught me to understand the intersection of faith and life in new ways. When I came home from college and told Wayne that I had discerned a call to ministry, he responded with joy and an offer of guidance. For all the years after, Wayne and his wife, Fern, lived out that offer. They helped me get connected with the larger church and introduced me to the idea of Annual Conference. They followed up with me to see how the long journey through "the process" was going. They offered suggestions for books to read and courses to take. And when I shared with them my struggles with my home conference and my call to move to a different conference, they supported my decision wholeheartedly.

But the greatest gift Wayne and Fern gave me was their example of ministry with grace, passion, and longevity. They loved the church and community and showed their love through relationships with people and engagement in our structures. They encouraged small, incremental changes in the life of the church that, over more than a decade, yielded powerful new ministries and greater inclusivity. They are not perfect, but for a decade they have loved and striven to show the presence of Christ to our little community. I hope that through my years of ministry I may do the same. I hope that, forty years from now, I will be able to have the same joy and gratitude for the privilege of ministry and the beauty of the church that they show now as they retire.

I rejoiced in the example Wayne and Fern have provided and in the beauty of the church as I read "The Sower" this morning, and particularly as these beautiful words from Wayne's column sank into my heart:
"The gretest rewards of life have been to have been trusted with the vulnerability of persons' lives. You have blessed me with participation in your births and baptisms, your weddings, your divorces, your grievings, your graduations, your retirements; your confessions and your daily mundane lives. At their best, these have been a rehearsal of the trust persons had with wounded lives as they met Jesus. I have been rewarded in seeing the joy you took in the joy and well-being of others; and in seeing your sharing a journey in the valley of the shadows of life. I have been rewarded to see you persist with graceful spirit and effort in stressful, even hostile, situations. This is a sign of Christ's resurrection in you."

Wayne's words remind me, church newsletters remind me: In the church we journey together in grace toward the glory of God. Soli Deo Gloria indeed!

Sunday, May 22, 2011


Saturday night is the hardest part of my week. No matter how well-prepared I am for Sunday, I always get nervous on Saturday night. Sunday is just such a huge day. And until the sermon has left my mouth, until the last "Amen" is spoken, the anxiety doesn't fade. Even when every word of the sermon is typed in front of you, even when all the prayers are written down, you don't know what will happen. You never know when the Holy Spirit will show up and change the game plan. It's a dangerous business.

I guest preached this morning at a friend's church. I find guest preaching even more anxiety-producing than preaching in my own congregation. In your own church, there's always next week if the sermon goes over like a lead balloon. In your own church, you can predict whether your joke will get a laugh, and you can count on the grace of, "We know her, maybe this wasn't her best week, but we've seen her gifts other times." As a guest preacher, though, you just don't know. The order of service and the worship patterns are all a little different. And you don't have that home-court advantage.

I couldn't really tell how this morning went. It wasn't bad. My jokes at least got some smiles and a little tittering. But I wanted so badly to take good care of my friend's congregation in her absence, and I don't know how I did with that. I mean, I trust that the Holy Spirit worked and will continue to work through the worship we shared this morning, I just hope I didn't hinder it too much.

There is, of course, nothing I can do about it now. The worship is over, the echoes of the sermon have faded from the room. So I sip my coffee, take deep breaths, and let it go. At least until next Saturday...
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Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Dear Me

Dear Future Me,

You probably don't remember me very well. I'm you... thirty years ago. I'm you when you were new to ministry. I'm the old you, the one who was so excited about God and the church's potential to make disciples and change the world that people told her to stop being so naive and idealistic. I'm writing to you so that you will remember what being me felt like. This is a preemptive letter. You see, I have seen what pastors can become.

At conferences and events, I meet pastors who have, through years of ministry, allowed their hearts to be hardened. They greet new ideas with cynicism, and respond by saying, "Been there, seen that fail." They sit in the back of conference rooms muttering that new ideas are a waste of time and telling young people to, "Grow up." I know how they get that way. After two years of ministry, I know this is difficult work. This vocation requires dedication, time, energy, patience, and passion. It can take the life out of you. It can leave you, at the end of the day, tired and grumpy and burned out. People in churches can be short-sighted and whiney and hurtful and, sometimes, outright crazy. As a pastor, you get yelled at, harangued, tricked, annoyed, and overburdened. You see the depths of human hatred and brokenness, you see evil and pain and darkness that most people never glimpse. And it's tempting to give up hope, to become defensive, to put your hand to the plow and slog through, bent over by carrying the weight of all of that in your heart. You know from experience that, as Ecclesiastes says, "There's nothing new under the sun."

I want to remind you, though, that we aren't working just with things that are under the sun. You're doing kingdom work, divine work; and God always creating, always bringing a new thing. I know you're going to forget that, as you go through years of the week-to-week work of leading worship and attending committee meetings and being part of the Church's work in the world. You're going to see conference initiatives come and go, the annual leadership-book-of-the-year appear and fade, churches grow and churches die, and you're going to lose sight of the huge, cosmic work that God is doing. Don't.

Jesus took a ragtag group of people from Galilee, taught them for three years, gave them the power of the Holy Spirit, and sent them out to spread the gospel and transform the world. Two thousand years later, their work is still being carried out in us. You have the privilege of being a part of that, you have the gift of the Spirit to help you, how can you allow yourself to lose hope?

Sure, the church is flawed, but it's also the consecrated vehicle for spreading the gospel, so it's way too important to abandon. People are hurtful and broken, yes, but they are also beautiful. For every complaint brought by one person, there is a theological insight brought by another. For every fruitless committee meeting, there is a moment of effective ministry. For all of the evil and distortion brought by sin, there is the beauty of God's image in creation and the recovery of that beauty through God's sanctifying grace. For every instance of hurtfulness, there is a display of the love of God extended through the children of God. So don't become cynical; God is at work in this place, and your cynicism slams a door where grace could be entering your ministry.

A few practical tips:
  • Put down the leadership book for a minute and pick up the Bible. Put down the commentary and pick up a poem.
  • Listen to children. Listen to youth. Listen to young adults. Take their ideas seriously and take their insights to heart. They know what they're talking about.
  • You're still learning, so keep asking questions.
  • Seek real healing and let go of the pain. Don't carry it around or you'll become defensive and bitter.
  • Call your friends and not just the people at your church.
  • Take long walks. Sit in the sunshine. Dance with the breeze.
  • Ministry is your vocation, it's not your whole identity.
  • You got into this because you love God and you love people. If either of those is no longer true, get out.
  • Feel things.
  • Pray to discern where to go next, and don't worry about the size of the church, the prestige of the appointment, or the salary that comes with it.
  • If you have a staff, earn their respect and trust and let them exercise their gifts. Manage them well, and remember that God has given them gifts and vision that you may not have.
  • Play.
  • Sing loudly and often.
  • Make (and keep!) appointments at the Church of the Holy Comforter.
Inside you somewhere is me. That means that, somewhere inside you, is the person who loves to blow bubbles, quote movies, and laugh at bad puns. Somewhere inside you is the person who saw so much potential and hope in local churches that it concerned the Establishment. In your heart is the person who loves Christ and the Church so much that she moved halfway across the country to a place where she knew no one just because she believed she was called to be there. Remember me, and don't let me down.

Be me, but wiser, stronger, deeper, and more loving. Talk to strangers, play with matches, and set the world on fire with the flame of the Spirit.

Me (2011)

Characteristics of the Church of the Future

At a conference I attended this week, we were invited to imagine the "Church of the Future". I know this isn't what they meant, but this is what my friends and I came up with:

1) Holograph Pastor: Even though the pastor is present in the building, he or she will speak from hidden in a back room while a giant holograph of the pastor is projected instead. This arrangement, much like the Wizard of Oz, will make preaching much more impressive and powerful.

2) Robot Ushers: Instead of members in suits distinguished by special nametags, robots will serve as ushers. They can use Inspector Gadget-like extending arms to pass the offering plates down the rows. And if people are slow in retrieving items from their purses or wallets, the robots can just keep holding the plates in front of them until they make a contribution.

3) Youth Spring Break Mission Trip... TO MARS: Our youth can take spreading the good news that Jesus is the savior of the universe to a whole new level. All we need to do is put some ceramic tiles on the outside of the church bus to help absorb the heat of reentry.

4) Fellowship Meals of Dehydrated "Space Food": Forget potlucks, the Church of the Future will have meals that could be served in the International Space Station. It's nourishing AND it will never go bad in the church fridge.

5) Small Groups via Skype: Physical presence and even proximity aren't important as long as you have a computer. You can discuss Scripture with your peers from the comfort of your own home. And, as long as your webcam is angled properly, you don't even have to wear pants.

6) Adapting Jeremiah: We will talk about beating our lightsabers into plowshares.

7) Worship Music: Amy Grant and Chris Tomlin will be considered "Traditional". "Contemporary" will refer to music from 2015... and will still be old.

8) Summer Fun: Church ice cream socials will serve Dip'n Dots.

9) Outreach: The "other" really will be alien.

This was our flight of fancy in the midst of conference meetings. What ideas would you add?
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Wednesday, May 04, 2011


From time to time, when I'm caught up in the minutaie of everyday church life, I lose track of the bigger picture. I get bogged down in the little stuff and forget how beautiful the wider view can be. The last few weeks, though, have reminded me of just how miraculous the body of Christ is.

In a world that is increasingly divided, the church is one of the few places where people who are radically different from one another come together by choice and love each other without regard to the lines that usually separate us. It's not like school or the DMV, where we have no choice but to occupy the same space with people who are different from each other. In the church we choose to be together. In the church, at least when the church is what it should be, young people and older folks know and care for one another instead of allowing generational squabbles and communication problems to halt the conversation. Democrats and Republicans break bread together. Business and school rivals claim a common identity. And all of us gather, trying to make sense of our lives and help each other through.

It's countercultural and a bit counterintuitive, but God brings us all together. And in order for the whole thing to work, we have to work together; we have to talk to each other and give of ourselves. The miracle is that, by the grace of God, we actually do.

This was made manifest for me over the past few weeks in my congregation. Holy week worship requires a ton of people's time and effort. People of all ages, with all different gifts, came out of the woodwork to arrange flowers and altars, to gather items for multisensory worship, to play music and sing, to usher, acolyte, and greet people, and all out of a desire to glorify God and celebrate Christ's resurrection.

When Holy Week came to a close, we were all exhausted, staff and members alike. Still, when tragedy struck on Easter Monday, the will to serve overcame the weariness. The same folks who had worked so hard to put together worship for Holy Week came together again to put their love into action, enveloping those who were grieving. Again, details were arranged, tasks taken on with quiet dedication, and the congregation reached out with a loving embrace. I found myself marveling at the beautiful way God was at work through the body of Christ, even in the midst of incomprehensible sorrow.

There are those who hold out little hope for the church, who believe we will succumb to the conflict and divisiveness that seem to be destroying the Church. But in weeks like this, when I see even a glimmer of what God can do through the Church, my hope is renewed. The church is like an old hammer. It may be ugly and a little rusty, it may not look like it's sturdy enough to finish the building. But in the hands of the master carpenter, it can build strong and beautiful things.
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Thursday, April 21, 2011

If You Really Think About It

We are in the middle of Holy Week, the absolute busiest time of year for pastors. Don't get me wrong, Christmas is really busy, but Holy Week is worse because it's a marathon. Holy Week starts with Palm/Passion Sunday, then plods on through the relentless stretch of Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, Holy Saturday/Easter Vigil, Easter Sunrise, and Easter. With all of the sermons to write and worship to plan and bulletins to put together, we pastors are harried and stressed. And I don't know for sure about my peers, but I risk losing sight of the meaning behind all the work.

I was particularly stressed getting ready for our Palm/Passion worship this year. We got really creative with the service, designing a sort of lessons-and-carols format of reading the passion story from Matthew interspersed with music and accompanied by different lay people bringing symbols of the story forward and placing them on the altar. The service required a lot of extra work and coordinating lining up the text and music, gathering the items, and organizing our lay folks, and by the time Sunday morning arrived, I was really on edge.

But after the 8:30 service, one of our choir members came up to me and said, "That was really powerful. I almost cried a couple of times because, if you really think about it, how can you not? I had to keep telling myself, don't think about it right now, not while you're singing." The comment, which was really positive feedback about the worship, left me feeling convicted. With all of the havoc of planning and leading the service, I hadn't really been thinking about the incredible power of the Scriptures we were reading, the beauty and sadness of the passion story.

At the 11:00 service I worked to focus, to really think about what I was reading and the meaning behind it. I allowed myself to be moved by the sorrow in the anthems, to let the weight of the cross sink into my soul. I was so lost in the experience that at one point I almost skipped one of the Scripture readings.

As a pastor, I live in the strange tension between fully engaging myself in worship and needing to maintain enough separation to be able to hold myself together. I can't be so moved by a Scripture or anthem or funeral that I become a blubbering mess in the chancel. On the other hand, I never want to be so disengaged as to miss the significance and power of the act of worship. The stress of high holy days tends to push me toward the latter of those two options, and I'm working to combat that. I think it starts, as all worship does, with really thinking about who God is and what God is doing. So that is where I'll strive to begin each service of this Holy Week. I'll let you know how it goes.
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Saturday, April 02, 2011

Passing the Blame

I have decided that my gym owes my downstairs neighbors an apology.

You see, I have a membership at a 24-hour gym. So, this evening, after a delicious church spaghetti supper that left me as overstuffed as the pouffes in Prof. Trelawney's office, I decided to take my book to the gym and work off some of those extra calories. But when I arrived at the gym at 8:15, I discovered the doors locked. An employee inside mimed that they were closed, which I found baffling. Apparently, my 24-hour gym closes at 8:00pm on weekends? I do not understand how that works. And I find it frustrating.

At any rate, I then returned home full of energy. When I returned home, I was greeted by Charlie, who is perpetually full of energy. So, instead of working out at the gym, I spent half an hour wrestling with the Charlie-pup and riling him up to run giant circles around the dining room table and the coffee table in the living room. So, with a large, heavy dog galumphing laps around my apartment at 9:00pm, I feel bad for my downstairs neighbors. But, really, it's the gym's fault.

So my gym should apologize to my downstairs neighbors. In the meantime, I'm going to cuddle with my now-tired dog.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Full of It

I lead a full life.

My life is full of adventure. I've had opportunities to travel all over the place, and I continue to take advantage of every chance I get to see the world. I face challenges every day: trying to figure out what God is saying and then attempting to articulate it to my congregation, trying to be an instrument of transformation in the world, doing things each day that scare me a little.

My life is full of people. I'm surrounded by a congregation of characters. They are unique, fascinating people that I get to interact with every day. I'm surrounded by friends, kind, passionate people who make me laugh and think. I have a family that's incredibly loving and supportive, and it's growing all the time (welcome, Navah!)

My life is full. I have stuff to do 24/7. My schedule is busy, and my activities are fulfilling. It's just... it's not full of what I expected.

A few days ago, in a discussion about our future plans, I was describing to a friend the way I expect my career progression to go. She interjected the question, "When do you want to have kids?" I paused, then replied with a sinking heart, "Well, I doubt if I will. There are no guys on the horizon, so I'm not really even considering that in making my decision." It's the first time, I think, that I've actually admitted those thoughts out loud.

I never expected to reach my mid-twenties, still single, still with no plans for marriage and children. I had, without realizing it, really bought into the social expectations of marriage and kids. Every time I envisioned my future, thinking, "Ten years from now, I'll be... Five years from now I'll be..." I always imagined I'd be married. Always. As much as I denied it aloud, my internal expectation was always to have a family.

But now... it really doesn't look like that will happen. I mean, sure, people always say, "You'll meet the right guy someday," or "It just takes one," or "God has someone really special for you, you just haven't met him yet." But the thing is, I'm not sure that's true. Call me pessimistic, but I don't know that I'll ever marry, I don't know that I'll ever have a family of my own. And I have to decide: is that OK with me?

Last week I witnessed the birth of my new niece. I held her in my arms just a few minutes after her birth. I watched the tears of joy in my brother-in-law's eyes, I saw the delight on my sister's face as she saw her daughter for the first time. I didn't hear my biological clock ticking in my ears, I didn't long for a child of my own. But the next day, when I watched my sister and brother-in-law introducing their daughters to one another for the first time, when I saw them sharing joy as a family, part of me felt like I was missing something.

My life is full: full of adventure, full of people, full of activities. I have fulfilling work and fulfilling relationships. But is it enough? If this is all there ever is, if I have a full life and an empty apartment, is that enough? Is it OK if my life plan looks so very different from society's expectations, from even what I had envisioned for myself?

In John 10:10b, Jesus says, "I came that they might have life, and have it to the full." Is this the sort of fullness of life to which I'm called?

Monday, January 31, 2011

Career Fair

"Sometiimes it takes holy imagination just to remember a call, to imagine one, not in the sense that the call is an illusion created by us, but when we imagine, we see what we do not know; we see the possibilities God has for us." -Lillian Daniel, This Odd and Wondrous Callings p. 7

My last few weeks have borne a strange resemblance to a career fair. You remember: those big events in college where you'd walk through an exhibition room and look at table after table, each of which displayed one possible career path? They always gave me the sense that I had reached the necessary moment of decision in the choose-your-own-adventure book; it creates a sense of urgency, while offering a seemingly endless number of choices and providing no guidance in selecting just one thing. The past couple of weeks have felt like that.

When I first discerned my call to ministry, I thought that was the end of my career decisions. I figured once I decided to be an elder in a church setting, my direction was set. But I am discovering more and more that there are a bunch of possible trajectories within even that narrow career field. A few weeks ago I interviewed with some folks in the conference to discuss the possibility of becoming a church planter. Last week I was in Washington D.C. learning about the General Board of Church and Society, and thinking about what it would look like to get involved in the church's public policy advocacy work. This week I was back at the church preparing to teach all the clergy in my district in a session about what emergent worship and a lead them in sample emergent worship experience. In considering what I'd like to do for a next appointment, I have to decide what I'd like to do, or what I think I'm called to do. It's not nearly as simple as just being an elder in a church. It's a matter of deciding specifically what sort of church/ministry/focus do I imagine myself having. And I simply don't know.

If there's one thing I've discovered thus far in my life it's that I'm a jack of all (or many?) trades and a master of none. I can do lots of things with some skill, but there isn't just one thing that stands out and defines me. In high school, it drove me crazy. I was one of the smart kids, but I wasn't the super-brain. I was a decent musician, but I wasn't a soloist. I was a fair tennis player, but I wasn't a star athlete. I went around trying everything, learning a lot and having fun, but never distinguishing myself in anything.

When I was in seminary, I began to see that as a blessing: I could do administration, lead worship, provide pastoral care, and do many other ministerial tasks with some degree of giftedness. I was a well-rounded ministerial candidate. It's very helpful in being a generalist minister, but it doesn't help much with discernment. When you seem to be equally-gifted in several areas, when you are passionate about many things, when you enjoy and find more than one thing fulfilling, how do you figure out what is your actual calling?

I see so many possibilities, so many important ways of serving God. I can imagine myself doing any one of them, and doing it happily. I could throw my energies into working for social justice through the GBCS. I could push myself as a church planter and reach out to the unchurched and dechurched. I could focus on new worship forms in an existing congregation. I could go to a small church. I could go to a large church. I could serve in a rural area. I could serve in a city. And I believe I could find ways to be happy in any of those appointments, and I believe God could use me in any of those ministries. But which one is right? What am I called to do? Is this what a quarter-life crisis looks like?

C'mon, God. I'm getting impatient, here. What do you want me to do?

Monday, January 24, 2011

Poetry and Psalms, Part 1

Last week, several of my friends and colleagues went to a conference. When they returned, they were really riled up about the Psalms. Now, I like the Psalms, but I've always struggled with how to connect with them. The language they use tends to be a little obtuse. But they came back and shared a really helpful insight from the conference speakers: the Psalms are God's poetry. Just as we use poetry to express our emotions when our usual prose formulations fall short, the Psalms are words God gives us to cry out to the Almighty when we run out of things to say. As someone who loves poetry, I'm now trying to develop a new appreciation for the Psalms. Here's attempt number one.

"O how could we sing
the song of the Lord
on alien soil?"
(Ps. 137)

My throat is sore.
My heart is weary.
How can I sing to the Lord?

In foreign tongues
and tunes unknown,
how can I sing to the Lord?

Before hostile crowds
of critical ears,
how can I sing to the Lord?

When anxiety looms
and scarcity threatens,
how can I sing to the Lord?

But even when I walk through the shadow of death
the Lord my God is with me.
How can I keep from singing?

Sunday, January 02, 2011

Lifelong Quest

"And being caught in between all you wish for and all you see.
And trying to find anything you can feel that you can believe in.
May God's love be with you, always."

This evening I felt a sudden urge to listen to the song "In the Sun" by Joseph Arthur, from which all the quotes in this entry come. I first fell in love with this song when I heard it in the movie "Saved!" and then searched out a recording of it. I'm not sure why it popped into my head this evening, since I haven't listened to it in several months. But as I played it again tonight, it seemed somehow perfect for today, the Sunday of Epiphany.

I get jealous of the magi sometimes. I mean, of course I admire their dedication and their journeying to seek Christ. But in some ways I think their quest was a bit easier than many people's quests are. After all, as Christians, we're all called to seek Christ, to journey in our lives as God calls us, just as the magi did. But most of us aren't fortunate enough to have a huge, honking star pointing us in the right direction like a giant neon sign. Most of us are stuck trying to fumble our way with only the occasional mile marker and maybe, if we're lucky, a sometimes-working compass. And to be perfectly honest, I was never good at orienteering.

"I'm sure I would apologize if I could see your eyes.
'Cause when you showed me myself, you know I became someone else."

Tonight, I wish God would send a star or a sign or something to tell me where to go. I want to interrogate God: "Do you want me to stay and work with this congregation, or is there somewhere else you want me to go? Should I work with an existing congregation, or are you calling me to be a church planter? Do I stay in ministry, or do you want me to be a missionary, or even to go into one of the myriad other possible vocations? And do I get any say in this, does what I want matter? Or is it all about you?" But so far, those questions have been met with a silence that I take to mean, "Wait, kiddo. You'll know when the time comes."

"If I find, if I find my way, how much will I find?
You. You. I'll find you."

I want to know what's coming. I want to know what I'm supposed to do. I want to know where to go, and what I'll find when I get there. I'm impatient. And as I stare at a sky full of stars, none of which seem to be pointing me in any particular direction, I feel very, very small. Which is, tonight, perhaps the best hope that God can give me. Far away, there is a sky filled with thousands of stars, some so distant that I cannot even see them. But God has numbered them and knows each one. That same God, all-powerful, all-knowing, and ever-mysterious, knows me and my future. And it is that God, the God of the stars and of signs and of all our comings and goings, who has come to be with us. It is that God, in Christ, that I will find beside me on the road and with me wherever I am going. Tonight, on this dark and winding path, that is enough.