gratitude and grief

When I began ministry at Richfield UMC, I was the first woman appointed as Lead Pastor.  It became clear that there was some swirl of unease and unhappy about that.  It also became clear that there was plenty of ease and happy about it as well.

At my introductory interview, one of the good men seated at the table informed me that the lead pastor always led the Men’s Bible Study at 8:00 AM on Wednesday mornings.  He shared that information as a way to inform me that come Wednesday, I would be studying scripture with men of the church.

And so I did and so I do.

The group of men gathered on Wednesday mornings has powerfully impacted my ministry.  From the grand vantage point of more than ten years of life shared, I am poignantly aware that being able to share life and faith with the men gathered every week has helped me to grow as person and as pastor.

I have fallen in love many times over with the cast of goodness, wisdom and heart brought to the table by each of the men.

Learning to love is not without pain.

“My guys” are dying.  I just concluded the funeral of a man grounded and near illegally funny.  He would take in what was going on around him and with impeccable timing he would lob out a one-liner that split us wide open with laughter.  He was a man who loved tenderly and largely.  I will miss Charlie greatly.

As I was readying to lead a wedding on the day of Charlie’s funeral, I picked up the phone to check on another one of my teachers.  He has been struggling with cancer as long as I have known him.  He has done so with the kind of grace and willingness to be honest about challenge that has marked his being in the world.  The cancer is run amok in his body.  He is dying. 

When I came to Richfield, he observed the antics of some of the not-so-keen-on-having-a-woman-pastor folk.  He saw it going on and took upon himself the role of mediator and protector.  Respected by his peers, he sought to grow understanding and grace and he had my back and forevermore he has my heart.

He lived his discipleship in the trenches of church muck;  heroic Jesus-following for sure.

I’m not sure how to live my thanks for the love shared with these and so many other fine souls whose lives have blessed and stretched me.  I can tell their stories at funerals and hear the hearts of their families as they grieve and share the good news of ongoing life in the heart of Jesus and all these things are true and so too is this:

Love is grand and life is peopled with stunning glory and my heart beats gratitude and grief.

A wonder it is to love and be loved.

apples, trees and wonder

Today was the wildly joyful wedding of two people who have and will bless this world.

The service lasted nearly three hours. That was amazing.

Also amazing was the fact that my eldest daughter Leah took the pulpit.

She read from the Hebrew bible the account of how it was God appeared to Moses in the burning bush. It is a tale that calls Moses to remember that God is in all places and it ends with a recounting of how it is God was present through the generations. All those named as God-companioned were, of course, men.

Except when Leah read it. She read the account with energy and meaning and it ended with the voice of God assuring Moses that God had been present to his mother and to her mother and to Sarah and to Rebecca and to Leah and to Rachel.

And I thought as I watched my daughter launch her heart into proclamation that for too long astute and powerful women have been subjected to a recounting of God’s story that does not include them.

I have known this. I have named the scriptural and traditional gender warp that has too often cast women as bit players. I have mourned the ongoing (still???) challenge it is to find hymnody or liturgy that is fully inclusive of women as Holy reflectors.

Today, I know the enormity of woman loss in a place deeper yet because my daughter took the pulpit and made the story her own.

Isn’t that what we are waiting for?

Isn’t that what it’s all about?

From generation to generation it is our story.

It’s time for the women to speak.

in a day

This morning I was witness to holy leave taking.

A church member, vibrant of soul and young of age, breathed her last.

She was surrounded by the resonant beauty of her fine life: Her partner, mom and sister acted as resurrection midwives. She had prayed that her death might be grace filled. And so it was.

All day today the church has been alive with the sound of music.

Tomorrow we will celebrate the marriage of two amazing folk. They have collected a tribe of singers and dancers who will lead us in a full-hearted celebration of love. There is music happening in most every space available. Our day care children are in awe, as am I.

Love. It’s what life is all about.

Today as Lori let go and tomorrow as Drew and Cassie cleave it is love that moves the loosing and binding that is life.


Born in the heart of the Holy.

Savored by the wise.

Palm Sunday now

The story of Jesus is not some long-ago drama we come to church to hear.


The story of Jesus is NOW.


All of the things that Jesus did and taught and longed for us to know with our whole lives.


Those things are NOW.


And the wild hope of Hosanna and the brutal chill of silence as lives are hung on a cross and left to die.


Those things are now too.


Jesus rides into Jerusalem yet.


Jesus rides in on the back of a humble beast meant to remind us that the way of power used by the world is not the way of God.


Jesus rides into the halls of power yet and the hopeful raise their song yet and Palm Sunday is now.


It is now.


Palm Sunday is now while the legislature of our state is in session hearing the cries of the hopeful – save us! – as housing for homeless and marriage for same-sex couples and health care for the poor and adequate education for our children are tussled over in the halls of power and Jesus rides into schools where bullying is being addressed and Jesus rides into nations grappling with how to deal with violence that mangles the souls of women.


Palm Sunday is now.


On Palm Sunday we acknowledge that Jesus is riding toward the cross.


The cross: the place where the passion of love hangs in agony as the wounds borne by those who work with their lives to overcome hatred and injustice are hammered time and time and time again.


The cross is the price of hope and loving:  tell me that is not so.


It was and it is and Jesus teaches us that we must be willing to know the pain of the cross.


It is our own.


The cross, as theologian Dorthee Soelle names it, is the world’s answer, given a thousand times over, to attempts at liberation.


In long ago Jerusalem, Jesus rode into the streets to the cheers of his hopeful followers.


He knew that the audacity of his message – that we are to love God with all our hearts and minds and imaginations and our neighbor as our very selves – he knew that such teaching was going to challenge those who made money and wielded power through cultivating a world where money and privilege were enjoyed by the few when the needs of the non-elite were deemed a non-issue.


Jesus knew that liberating the poor and the marginalized from the grinding injustice that kept them invisible and powerless could not be allowed to be imagined in the hearts of others.


He knew keeping people cowed and poor kept the privileged in power.  He knew.


And yet he got onto the back of that donkey and rode toward the cross.


The cross.


The place that waits for all who dare to love.


Come, you that love the Lord.


Allow yourself to feel and feel deeply.


Allow yourself to be swept into the hope in Christ Jesus that swells your heart with Hallelujah and shout it shout it shout it and follow it to the place where God calls you to witness for justice – in your school and in your work place and in your community and in your nation and in your home – and allow yourself to feel the pain of loving because through the present power of Christ Jesus – through the NOW of Christ Jesus – you are no stone.


You are a called disciple of Jesus. You are walking love and you will not let hatred and indifference to the pain of others numb your heart.


Oh, that we would ride into the Jerusalem that awaits us each.


Palm Sunday is now.  Jesus rides with us yet.




Carole King’s Tapestry album was the soundtrack for my teens.  The album somehow found each part of me and gave it voice.

One of the songs that has been sounding in my being this past week is the song “Home Again”.  It begins: “Sometimes I wonder if I’m ever going to make it home again, it’s so far and out of sight.  I really need someone to talk to and nobody else knows how to comfort me tonight.”

Besides the fact that the song is soul-woven, it has sung in my heart because of the power of the story of the Prodigal.  Jesus tells a story about a man who loses himself in the so-many distractions that can lead us to groundlessness.  Jesus tells us that the man “came to himself” and decided that he wanted to return home to the place where he is known and taken in, stupendous stumbles and all.

It is our story in so many ways, is the story of the Prodigal.  We sing the song of “Home Again” so many times in our lives.

We wander seeking home throughout our lives.  We convince ourselves that home can be found in chemicals or time fritters or shopping or something someplace someway that will take away the great lonely of living.  We wander and long and wonder and then, oh then, we come to ourselves and remember Home.

Home in the great expanse of the Holy whose song dances through us yet.  Home in the wrap of claiming and welcome that awaits us if we would but cease our scurry.

Home in the heart of God;  taken in, welcomed and fussed over are we.



Today we celebrated the life of a woman who lived 101 years.

Gathered for worship were her children and grandchildren and friends and folk who knew themselves to have spent time and life with a graceful powerhouse.

We do that at church.  We hold the space for celebrations and life markings.  We welcome  people we may never see again and for a time we share voices in song and stories through hearts.

There are times when the beleaguer of “doing church” can make the heart heavy.  The tending of relationships and buildings and protocols and brusings can near obscure the reason for our being.

And then there are services that remind us that community in Christ matters.  It matters deeply.

For 101 years the woman we celebrated today held space in her being for the power of God in her life.  The fruit of her faith was palpable in her people and in the air and prayer we shared.

I’m grateful.  I’m grateful for the steadfast devotion that has prompted people to support a church that has held funerals for nearly 160 years.  I’m grateful for the privilege of weaving worship that names resurrection and wonder.  I’m grateful for the hands that bake bars and pour coffee.

I’m grateful for the reminder that “doing church” matters.  It matters a lot.

Advent 20

Bulletins are printed, folded, and stuffed.

Candles are put into holders – new ones this year!!! – and set.

Sugar has taken up a seemingly permanent place on our staff table.

All is in readiness for worship on Sunday and Christmas Eve worship (4:00 PM and 11:00 PM) on Monday.

And now we wait.

For preachers, this is a time of fervent mulching and prayer.  Yes, we pray for the perfect sermon on Christmas Eve, but really, that isn’t the point.

The point for this preacher is that there is an almost physical desire that hope would be named as more important than fear in this world.  My hope is that those who come in out of the cold might find welcome in this house.  My hope is that the power of Christ Jesus might take up the places of empty and despair that sound such clang in the souls of the walking wounded who include our very selves.

Oh, I have such hopes.

And those hopes are perhaps made more strong by the wash of violence and snarl that seem to be dominating our collective consciousness.

We cannot afford to be a people of hate.  We cannot afford to allow it any purchase in our being.  We cannot afford to be cavalier about our faith and our witness because it takes enormous and conscious effort to be a voice crying out in the wilderness of this time:  Prepare the way of our God.  The wounded will be made whole.  All flesh shall see it together.  For the mouth and the heart of our God have spoken it.

We are ready. We are ready we are ready we are ready.

We are ready for peace to speak and soak into the rough places.

We are ready.



Advent Day 13

Sometimes it feels like this time of Advent is a bit like making Jello (which I do seldom, truth be told).


There is an end vision of what will be but really, who knows how the stuff will interact together?  Will it all gel?


I think about the ingredients that make for a fine bit of gelatinous goodness for me.


Dressing my house matters.  Christmas tree lights and crèche sets and the Christmas Village and the Advent calendar with the half-dog-eaten stuffed bear that moves around and ceramic angels and treasures unpacked year after year.


Planning feasts matters.  We’ll host both moms and four of six kids on Christmas Eve so planning the turkey dinner between worship services and imagining the Swedish Pancakes and leftovers on Christmas Day makes for happiness.


Choosing gift treats matters.  I love giving presents.  It may be a sickness.  It’s joy to hold beloveds in my thoughts and imagine what might delight them.


Planning worship matters.  Christmas Eve services resonate with power and love.  At the 4:00 family-friendly service we romp.  With kids jazzed and adorned in Christmas finery and parents delighted to have made it to the finish line, there is a zing of energy that connects us all to joy.  At the 11:00 service, the air seems to shimmer with hope and the vision of good will for all people. The notion of peace on earth feels heart-possible.


Love matters.  When the kids are in town they go to Cooper’s early service (married to a UM pastor, I am) and my late service.  Truly, preacher’s kids are marvels.  There is this heart valentine that blubbers me every year:  Cooper’s late service is at 10:00 PM on Christmas Eve.  Richfield’s is at 11:00 PM.  Following his service Cooper motors over to Richfield UMC and slides into the pew next to the kids in order to be present for worship.  Every year my heart leaps as I see him at the back of the sanctuary.  Love matters.


Savor matters.  Finding time to be still and open to the birth of wonder matters greatly.  At such times I remember that life is not an endurance contest but rather is invitation to miracle.  Day by day, the opportunity to allow love to grow presents itself.  Day by day, the gift is given.


So, what makes for wonder Jello in your Advent season of preparation?  How will you honor the desires of your heart and the finitude of your ability to do it all?  What are the spaces you make for savor to happen?


I pray delight for us all in this season of preparation.


Advent 11

Tonight at 6:00 PM we gather for worship.  The service is one of the most powerful we offer at Richfield UMC.
We call it an Advent Service of Hope and Healing.
While around us the culture seems intent upon denying and sidestepping places of loneliness and loss in this season, we pause as faith community and mark the wisdom of our heart aches.
There is something about the Advent season of purposeful waiting for the light of hope that stirs in us awareness of loss.  We miss the physical presence of people in our lives who have blessed and vexed us.  We miss the ways we used to encounter life in a way that felt simpler and less tentacled.  We miss our children’s footie-jammied presence in our daily life.  We miss, we mark, we name, and we are present to all of the major and minor losses that make for honest living.
Tonight during worship we bow before those losses and ask for them to lead us into wholeness and wisdom.
We will savor scripture and silence.  We will allow the singing of Silent Night to move us.  We will light candles to mark our questions and we will know the power of giving over to God the burdens and beauty of our souls.
I hope you will join us.  If you cannot, I hope you will pause at some point on this day and listen to the wisdom of your heart.
Folded into the power of community or sitting in a moment of mindfulness, may we each name the power of stumble and question, healing and hope.

The Healing Time

                                                Finally on my way to yes
                                                I bump into
                                                all the places
                                                where I said no
                                                to my life
                                                all the untended wounds
                                                the red and purple scars
                                                those hieroglyphs of pain
                                                carved into my skin, my bones,
                                                those coded messages
                                                that send me down
                                                the wrong street
                                                again and again
                                                where I find them
                                                the old wounds
                                                the old misdirections
                                                and I lift them
                                                one by one
                                                close to my heart
                                                and I say    holy

                                                   © Pesha Joyce Gertler

O day of peace that dimly shines
through all our hopes and prayers and dreams,
guide us to justice, truth, and love,
delivered from our selfish schemes.
May the swords of hate fall from our hands,
our hearts from envy find release,
till by God’s grace our warring world
shall see Christ’s promised reign of peace.

Then shall the wolf dwell with the lamb,
nor shall the fierce devour the small;
as beasts and cattle calmly graze,
a little child shall lead them all.
Then enemies shall learn to love,
all creatures find their true accord;
the hope of peace shall be fulfilled,
for all the earth shall know the Lord.

                                  Carl P. Daw, Jr.

The long-awaited snow fell through the night on Saturday.  It was a given: whenever we schedule our Service of Lessons and Carols we can count on a big snow dump to challenge worship attendance.  It did.

But there we were on Sunday morning, hearty Minnesotans assembled to hear ancient words of promise paired with music meant to open hearts to wonder.

The service held many moments of shimmer, but two took me over.  The first was after hearing the words from Isaiah about God’s vision for a world in which war was no more.  We heard the words of scripture, and then we sang the words to the hymn printed above. All hearts present leaned into the prayer for a world released from the madness of war: O Day of Peace, give us the courage to let the swords of hate fall from our hands.

The second soul gasp came when one of our younger members read the scripture from Luke telling of the birth of the Prince of Peace.  To hear those words spoken from the pulpit by a young voice brought home the simple and radical event meant to change the world.

It also brought to mind a tradition in our family.  When we lived in Duluth, we hosted a yearly Christmas party with more people than our house could hold in attendance.  Together we ate and savored and shared the gift of singing Christmas Carols and then one of our children would read the story from Luke about how it was there were shepherds abiding in the fields, watching their flocks by night.

Somehow the pairing of the young voice with the resonance of the ancient song of hope cracked open the harried hearts present and we were together as one, kneeling at the manger in wonder.

And so it was yesterday at Richfield United Methodist Church. And so it is every day when we pause long enough to set down our overwrought sense of the “musts” of life and inhabit instead the story that gives us life and meaning.

The angels sing yet.  Peace is God’s longing.

We are not alone as we seek to live justice, truth, and love.