home

There is a scene in Gone With the Wind that has always spoken to my heart.

Katie Scarlett O’Hara stands with the dirt of Tara in her hands and she pledges her heart to the power of her place.

The pictures above have long been my Tara. They are bunkhouses where I learned to savor rainy days, play the guitar, and cultivate friendship. The one on top was part of my family’s cabin. My sister and I slept there. The one below is my friend Mary’s place.

Three years ago I sold our family cabin. The sense of soul-shift has been seismic.

On Sunday I went home again. I stayed with my cabin neighbors.

I slept under the big white pines and I immersed myself in the lake that has watered my heart for so many years.

Most powerfully, I was in the company of family.

The women who presided over the cabins on either side of mine are in their nineties. We gathered together, the matriarchs and the next generations, and we sat and laughed and spoke the stories and adventures and the love of place and people and dogs and my heart grew so very large because the truth was palpable:

It was never about owning the land.

It has always been about the weaving of life and love and the mundane and precious sharing of a story that is even yet being written.

That place of my heart is mine forever.

As God is my witness.

And She is.

was, is, will be

It is a liminal time for this human pastor woman.

Having said goodbye to a beloved congregation I await a first Sunday with a new people.

I know what was.

I do not know what will be.

The photo above was taken while on pilgrimage. The ancient walls of a much-prayed-in church in Glendalough Ireland stand as witness to enduring truth.

There is planted deep within a need to put stone upon stone to create spaces where soul is nurtured.

There is planted deep within a need to name gratitude and wonder for all that is Holy in the fulsome power of community.

There is a pandemic-enhanced awareness that loneliness and fear are not inconsequential challenges and finding a place to be called by name and claimed by kin is holy, holy, holy.

I know what was. I don’t know what will be.

I do know what is: Breath. Hope. Grief. Anticipation. Gratitude.

Stone upon stone.

The sun rises.

A new day dawns.

The Care and Feeding of Pastors During a Time of Pandemic

Pastors in the year 2020 have never done the work of leading through a time of pandemic.

Congregations in the year 2020 have never done the work of being the Body of Christ during a time of pandemic.

We are all stretched and pained by this time of distance.

I am a pastor. I have lived this pandemic ministry life for nine months.

Below are some of the things this time has made powerfully clear.

Worship is the work of the people.

When there are no visible people to share Spirit energy with – no noisy children, no attentive elders, no nodding-off distracted and pensive ones, no people to dance through sermons and prayers and song – engaging in worship is an act of faith. The worship leader has to trust that others are finding Spirit through worship. This we believe: Hearts are joined across miles.

Preaching to a camera is a lonely thing.

Surround your pastor with signs of your presence. Send cards and emails. Let your pastor and other worship leaders know that you are doing the work of worship from your homes and hearts. There is no “nice sermon, pastor” hand-shaking line after worship. There are no eyes that connect. Sermons are launched into the cyber sphere with hopes they will land in hearts.

If a sermon lands, please let your pastor know.

Empty buildings amplify loss.

Every time your pastor enters your church, they are reminded that you are not there. This hurts. You are woven into the heart of your pastor as well as into the walls of your church building. Day by day the work of the church goes on. Your staff and a very small number of carefully masked and distanced volunteers come and go. But you and your children and your stories and your souls are not in the space and your pastor feels that loss every time she comes through the door.

Pray for your pastor and your church in such a way that the walls feel plumped by the Spirit. It matters. It matters deeply.

Financial support is sign act.

Give. Give something. The lights are on, the staff depends on your commitment in order to minister on behalf of your church. Being a disciple of Jesus is not a transactional commitment. Being a disciple of Jesus means we promise to support our church with our prayers, presence, witness, service, and gifts. Your financial support is indication that you are aware that the work of the Spirit is even now unfolding through your church.

The church is not the building.

This is of course the right thing to say. It eases the pain of distance. And, it is true. The church is your living room and the church is the Spirit of God loose in ICUs and care facilities. We are the church. Together. Now more than ever, this is precious good news.

This time of separation will have an end.

We are being shaped and taught by this pandemic. Lessons learned will deserve a lifetime of unpacking. Each and all of us deserve care and feeding instructions articulated for those with whom we share life.

Somehow, into the real pain that all of us are feeling in this time, it felt important to name the pains of this pastor.

Thanks for listening.

Shards and Shine

brown and white seashells on the ground

Breakage

I go down to the edge of the sea. 
How everything shines in the morning light! 
The cusp of the whelk, 
the broken cupboard of the clam, 
the opened, blue mussels, 
moon snails, pale pink and barnacle scarred— 
and nothing at all whole or shut, but tattered, split, 
dropped by the gulls onto the gray rocks and all the moisture gone. 
It’s like a schoolhouse 
of little words, 
thousands of words. 
First you figure out what each one means by itself, 
the jingle, the periwinkle, the scallop 
       full of moonlight.

Then you begin, slowly, to read the whole story.

+ Mary Oliver

Oh my.  We inhabit a “schoolhouse of little words”.

This world we live in these days is a veritable wonderment of shiny and shattered things.

How then shall we live?

Rather than look away from the broken, we are called to behold the things that are tattered and split.  It is deeply soul-grounded work, this willingness to see.

Being present to the brokenness is the way of Jesus.

And.

There is shine.  There is shine to lend us the courage to take the shards of the broken and hear through them the whole story of God’s vision for creation.

At our church, we are seeking to honestly name the places of brokenness in creation:  Racism, the unveiling of failed systems made stark by the pandemic, and the divisive nature of our public discourse, to name a few.

To the sharp edges of the broken we bring the power and shine of the message of Jesus.  We are called to proclaim and work for relief for all held captive by oppressive systems.  We are called to bring good news to the exhausted of spirit and those overcome by despair.

We are called to shine the light of hope.  Not because we won’t look at shatter, but because we believe that the Holy gives us the power to live the whole story Jesus came to teach.

Are you hungry to join with others to fully enter the story?

Join us.  Our small groups are leaning into “Another Way: Living and Leading Change on Purpose” by community organizer/pastors Lewis, Williams and Baker.  Join us for video worship or nightly prayer or through parking lot worship or Wednesday night learning and music nights or any way you can reach your heart to another to create strength and meaning for the living of these days.

In this pandemic reality, hearts and intentions powerfully transcend geography.

Join in the story.

Living Faith

Has there ever been a time like this?

Our well-being is so exquisitely and critically communal. It always has been.

Now, we daily are made aware of the life and death ways our behavior impacts others.

An unrestrained cough can kill. Sharing communal song is dangerous. Aerosols travel. 

The simple act of protecting others from harm has become politicized. 

Somehow the COVID virus and our response to it has become a litmus test for our faith in God and our political affiliation.

Cooper and I were hiking at Itasca State Park. We went down a path to be by Lake Itasca in order to dip our feet in the lake and savor the beauty of a perfect summer day.

The area where we were sitting was visible from the path above. The area where we were sitting was small.

A man and his party came down the path, clearly wanting to access the water. We shared concern that there was not a six foot margin in that small space. We asked for space and the time to put on our masks. None in his party were wearing masks. There was no safe place for us to go. We were trapped.

Rather than wait and rather than see the sense of our request that they either not access the space or wait for us to safely vacate it, the man snarled at us, and the child with him – maybe six? – chastised us for being so afraid.

And I wondered: When did following scientific guidelines become a sign of fear?

When did a simple request become a gauntlet thrown?

The irony of being two pastors branded as contemptibly fearful (by a six year old!) was not lost on me. Somewhere along the way the young girl learned that to practice safety measures in order to contain COVID is to lack faith in God.

Who are we?

I share the interchange above not to stir up yet more anger or side-claiming.

I share the interchange above because I am, in fact, fearful.

I am afraid.

I fear that somewhere in the past months and years we have lost our call to practice exquisite care for one another.

Scripture says not one word about our God-given right to endanger others.

Scripture teaches us that our care for the most vulnerable bespeaks our commitment to our God.

We witness to our faith by the ways we are fierce in the way of loving our neighbors as ourselves.

This pandemic is not a short-lived test of our character; It is exhausting heartbreaking messy character-refining challenge.

The ways we live faithfully in and through this time of pandemic is writing our future.
What does the Lord require of you? 

Over and over in Scripture we hear that the Lord requires kindness, mercy, justice and humility.

We don’t have the answers to so much.

But we do know that the ways we comport ourselves – the posts we share on Facebook, the emails we forward and the conversations we have in front of and with our children – bears witness to our faith.

I am longing for the agony of the 160,000 lives lost and countless lives upended to lead us to deeper reverence for the power of our Holy God and the beauty of connected human being.

Humility. Mercy. Kindness. Justice.

The prophet Micah and Jesus and all of creation is calling to our hearts.

We are called to live our faith in a time like this.

Pandemic Scramble

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I am trying to live in the present.

I am trying to live in the present while living social distancing and pandemic caution.

I am trying to live in the present while taping worship services days ahead of when they will be shared.

Maundy Thursday was taped on Tuesday and Good Friday was taped two days before Good Friday.

The joy of Easter was taped on Good Friday.

I am trying to live in the present and my soul is so confused because the rhythm of Holy Week has become scrambled and I am feeling it all at once.  There is no time for my soul to pause and digest.

As I have gone about this whirled week, I am feeling the grief of the so-much of this.

I ache for the community that stories my life.

I ache for my children and grandchildren and friends and I ache for the people whose lives are twined into my heart.  I miss my church.  I miss the varieties of ways people show up and I miss the connection that happens through and among us and I miss laughter and tears and I was distracting myself through these first furiously busy weeks of setting up this pandemic life and the grief was kept at bay.

Until this Holy Week.

This week, we who follow Jesus long to kneel at the feet of our friends.

This week, despair and betrayal are named and the visceral need to share the  communion of grief finds no catharsis in community.

This week, the Holy Saturday grief and stagger of those long ago disciples lives so fully in our souls.

This Holy Week I am trying to live in the present.

Whatever – and all – that it is.

 

Tender Shepherd

Broadway musicals and opera created the soundtrack of my childhood.  My parents had a wonderful collection of records.  Television was rationed.  Records were not.
One of my favorite records was the original cast recording of Peter Pan.  Mary Martin as Peter Pan invited me to imagine that I could fly and in fact there was the possibility that I could refuse to grow up.
The song shared above is one of my favorites from the musical.
The Darling children are being tucked into bed by their mother and their dog.  During the night to come they will have their whole world turned upside down. They will wander into exotic lands and encounter unimaginable challenges and triumphs and they will never be the same after they enter Never Never Land.
So it was for them.
So it is for those of us living in this Never Never Land time of living with the COVID-19 pandemic.
We will never be the same after we “awaken” from this adventure.
The power of singing about a Tender Shepherd has never been more needful.
The mother sings to her children a song of remembering the power of the Tender Shepherd who counts and guards and loves through all adventures and trials.
The mother teaches the song to her children.  They take up the song in their own voices and their own awareness.  The song provides ground and courage as they encounter pirates and fear.
I need that song.  My children need that song.  This beloved world we share needs that song.
I pray that we sing it together, beloveds in Christ.  I pray that we sing the song of the Tender Shepherd through spiritual practices we cultivate during these days of challenge.  If you don’t sing, write or bake bread or read scripture or call a friend or take up yoga or do something to stretch your soul.
Teach your children how to sing a song of Holy assurance.
May you feel the presence of the God who holds you tenderly.

Seeing in Perilous Times

John 9: 1 – 41

Christ UMC, Rochester

Preached on March 22, 2020

 

Someone asked me an honest and heartfelt question:

Did God send the pandemic?

Are we being punished for some kind of sin or badness?

Why is this happening?

 

Have you asked this question?

The question of why it is bad things happen is as old as human being.

And it is the question that echoes throughout this morning’s scripture reading.

Let me set the stage:

Jesus has been healing and teaching.

He has told those who love him and follow him that he will die.

He has challenged those around them to live their faith and to open themselves to the wonder of how it is in the beginning was the Word and Jesus IS that Word and he is alive in their midst and the response of those listening to him?

 

They pick up stones to throw at him.

They don’t want to have to move out of their convictions and into possibility.

So Jesus leaves the temple and walks along and he encounters a man who was blind form birth and do the disciples want to know how they can help this man?

No.

Their first questions is one we – if we are honest – ask, because asking questions about who is to blame keeps our hearts from being engaged.

Rather than allowing themselves to know that the man was forced to beg for his sustenance in the public square, they begin a conversation that will keep them safe from empathy.

So those disciples ask Jesus:  “Rabbi, who sinned, the man or his parents, that he was born blind.”

In order to really encounter this human thing that the disciples did and that we do, I can think of no finer teacher than Dr. Brene Brown:

https://youtu.be/RZWf2_2L2v8. (Brene Brown on Blame)

So the followers of Jesus do the human thing of wanting to blame rather than risk empathy but Jesus won’t have it.

He tells them that there is no-one to blame for this man’s struggle.

He doesn’t shame them for asking the question but he teaches them that hiding out in such questions is not his way.

Jesus moves into healing action.

He takes the most elemental things at hand – the dirt below his feet and the spit in his mouth – and he created of them a paste and he puts that paste on the man’s eyes and tells him to immerse himself in the pool of Siloam – which means “sent”.

And the man does that and his sight is given him.  A man born blind is made to see because the most elemental things can open the physical and metaphorical eyes of creation is we allow it to be so.

And the response from the neighborhood?

They do not throw a party.  The mutter and sputter and drag that man to the religious authorities and they want to know how he received his sight and they seem to be more worried about Jesus breaking Sabbath rules than about what his compassion made possible.

They interrogate the parents and threaten them with expulsion from community if they don’t back up their outrage.

Imagine!  The most amazing miracle of the parent’s lives happened and they are instantly immersed not in joy but in fear.

The authorities are terrified and spiteful because of the unlimited expanse of God’s healing power.

(Read John 9: 24 – 40

I laughed to myself as I read this text during the past week.

Spit!  Carrier of coronavirus!  Mixed with dirt and put on eyes (which would involve touching of face!) and washing in a communal pool and questions about how this happened and who sinned and who should be held reponsible – the man’s parents or, in our day and age, another country or government or God or ??????

We are rightfully afraid in these days.

I am afraid.

This virus is an unseeable foe and it has the power to change our lives in ways we little want to think about but here is what I want for you and for me and for those who follow the teachings of Jesus.

Of course we want to know why this happened and where God is in the midst of all of this.

From this morning’s story we learn that God is in following the lead of Jesus.

Our call as disciples is to lean into the power of how it is healers are a work day after day after day in this city and across the world, sometimes using the most rudimentary equipment – not spit and mud bu inadequate masks and limited tests and food on the grocery store shelves – to offer compassion and life to others.

Living as we do in the midst of a time we could never have imagined, let us look to what it is God’s people are doing because, like Jesus, we  see need and we do what we can.

We serve meals on Saturdays in a to-go way so that our guests have a hot meal.

We provide excellent child care at Thrive so that parents can do the work our community needs.

We reach out through phone calls and prayer services at eight PM every night on Facebook and this is a time when we live into this power:

Jesus can open our eyes and our hearts.

There is healing work to be done.

The old certainties are no more.

German political thinker Rudolph Bahro has written an article that contains a line we ought to take to our hearts and ponder.

He says:

“When an old culture is dying, the new culture is created by those people who are not afraid to be insecure.”  (Cited by Pema Chodrun in her book Practicing Peace in Times of War pg. 88)

It seems we are living in a time when an old culture is dying.

We are living into the birth of a culture where we are poignantly and powerfully aware that:

We need each other.

We need to care for each other.

this is an insecure time.

And, in exactly such a time as this,

Jesus has the power to open the eyes of our hearts.

May it be so.

Amen

 

 

 

 

 

pandemic pastoring

Wowsa.

The disorientation is real, isn’t it?

I find myself unsure about what day it is and what it is I should do next and the hum of anxiety is constant companion.

Suddenly those I encounter are potential carriers of harm.

I represent threat to others.

We are all in this together, apart.

So may God grant us the courage and wisdom to learn from this reorientation of life.

Our elders?  Our fragile irreplaceable elders?  May we always treat them as precious and worthy of cosseting.

Our work colleagues?  May we savor the different ways they encounter life and how it is we are wildly blessed to join with them in meaningful work.

Child care workers and grocery store stockers and food service folk and the people who make it possible for our toilets to flush and our lights to be on.  May we honor them through the ways we notice and value their work.

Medical personnel who put their lives on the line to swab throats, research cures and dispense accurate information.  May we never forget that they are heroic seekers of wisdom that has the power to save lives.

And may we learn, once and always, that what we do and say matters.  It matters so much.

We are all leaders.

Stay home.  Keep your distance.  Practice grace with yourself and with others.

Remember who you are.

Henri Nouwen has this to say about that:

“You are my child.

You are written in the palms of my hand.

You are hidden in the shadow of my hand.

I have molded you in the secret of the earth.

I have knitted you together in your mother’s womb.

You belong to me.

I am yours.  You are mine.

I have called you from eternity and you are the one who is held safe

and embraced in love from eternity to eternity.

You belong to me.  And I am holding you safe and I want you to

know that whatever happens to yo, I am always there.  I was

always there;  I am always there;  I always will be there and hold you

in my embrace.

You are mine.  You are my child.  You belong to my home.  You

belong to my intimate life and I will never let you go.  I will be

faithful to you.”                  Henri J. M. Nouwen, “Lecture”

That.  That is who you are.

 

sacred space

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This space is soul home.

For decades this space has held baptisms, weddings, funerals, and weekly worship.

The power of prayers and music shared is palpable in this space.

And, due to the practice of social distancing necessitated by the COVID-19 pandemic, this space echoes with emptiness.

Every Sunday those checkered rugs hold kids crawling and reading and puzzling and being kids during worship.  The steps in the chancel are used for children’s lessons and the Littlest of Angel song.

Each pew has its people.  Each chair in the ECC has its person.

Every week our organ and band sound out and are joined by hundreds of voices.

Coffee is shared, conversations savored and the sweet goodness of people who make up the collage of our hearts are encountered.

So.

The echoes of what is not are bouncing off of empty space.

And, the church is not a building or a space or a tangible must-have.

The church is each person open to encounter.

The church is the living Body and it is woven together by the power of the Holy Spirit and the church is each person praying and loving and living the anxiety of these days.

Our soul home is blessed yet by the prayers of the people.

Presence will come.