This our hymn of grateful praise

My family and I have much to be thankful for this holiday.

Thanksgiving has always been my favorite time of year, perhaps even more so now that it is one of the only holidays that doesn’t fall on a weekend and a major church work day. It’s a time for family and good food, and reflecting on all the blessings of life.

This year, there’s health and happiness, there’s a loving community (and a friendly street– never again to be taken for granted!), and there is new life– one nephew born almost a month ago and one niece or nephew making his or her way into the world right now.

May you celebrate all that you have to be thankful for, and see the blessings great and small all around you.

Reflections on “Pastor’s 24″

Yesterday I joined 71 other pastors in a twitter project called Pastor’s 24. It was a project suggested by my friend, colleague in ministry, and cohort in online Methodist geekdom (as of this writing, we are both featured in the blog section at umc.org, as we attempt to subvert the church with our newfangled communication ways), Jeremy Smith. Jeremy described the project in a blog post on October 19, and invited his readers to participate by posting to twitter their every pastoral action on Wednesday October 27. Yesterday, 72 pastors posted 1050 updates, providing an interesting glimpse into a day in the life of a pastor (or 72). Go to twitter and the hashtag “pastors24″ and see for yourself, and be sure to read Jeremy’s recap as well.

I was amazed by the outcome. I thought it would be cool and kind of informative, but for me it turned out to be much more.

I was inspired.

1. So many of my colleagues are so very prayerful, and pray in many places and in many ways. In a way I was watching people “pray without ceasing,” or as a monastic might do, mindfully work. Reading twitter and facebook, we remembered to pray for our friends, actual and virtual; in the shower we prayed for the day ahead; on our commutes, we prayed for our communities. And the rich prayer life reflected in this diverse (but let’s face it, skewed toward the twitter-using crowd) group of pastors was then pouring out in wonderful ways, providing counterpoint to the argument that the church is dying. Many tweets described meeting with people seeking baptism and membership, and several of us were meeting with, praying for, or actively working with candidates for ministry. Many pastors were engaged in work in the community with those living in poverty or great need, and several were out and about interacting with youth in their churches and beyond. The “church” was not confined to a building, and the pastors knew it, each and every one.

2. I did feel much more connected to my fellow ministers, and especially to my fellow working-parent-pastors. I was glad to hear that I wasn’t the only pastor nursing a baby at work, nor the only one who stopped work (at least temporarily) in the mid-afternoon to pick up children. I also wasn’t the only one discouraged by paperwork or overwhelmed by my to-do list, and I wasn’t even the only one who received an annoying robocall voting guide. More importantly, I wasn’t the only one who prayed while driving, or the only one who was banging her head against the social service systems to help those in need, and definitely not the only one who feels gratitude, humility, and joy (mixed with frustration and anguish at times, to be sure) to be part of this vocation. Today, I find myself missing that camaraderie, and that sense that we are all in this together.

3. I think I was a better and more intentional pastor yesterday. I was more aware of what I was doing, and which things I considered ministry. I noticed things I hadn’t been aware of before, like that I do breathe a thanksgiving each time I drive through Montpelier on my way to church because I love living and working and serving God here. And that’s prayer. I was doing things I normally do, and then excited to share them with others, not for self-congratulation, but because they–whether breathtaking or mundane–are part of God’s work. I found myself pushing to get things accomplished so they could be part of my 24 hours, and I actually got through a lot more stuff than I usually do on a Wednesday. Then I had charge conference on top of all that, but the small disappointments around that (low attendance, forgetting my planned worship liturgies) paled when seen in the gestalt of the whole day’s worth of ministry. I even felt better about the things I didn’t finish, and sent out a tweet where I gave my undone work back to God.

It felt like an examen to me. The way I think of an examen may not be by-the-book Ignatian, but it is taking some time to reflect on the events of the day and determine when I felt closest to God or most connected to my calling (and sometimes, when I felt farthest away, because that’s important to know, too). What things lifted me up? For what do I give thanks? What do I give back to God? This exercise of tweeting my ministry helped me be aware of the silly things that were annoying or when I felt far from God/my calling, and the many things that were uplifting and sacred and drew me closer to God and who God is calling me to be as a pastor and a person.

Which leads me to the thought, in connection with point 2 above, that I would love to continue this twitter community in some small way with those who are interested, using a common hashtag like #examen or #pastors or something to not only share our ministries throughout a day (and I do think we should make #pastors24 at least an annual thing!), but share our common work more often and reflect on what about it lifts us up or annoys the living daylights out of us. In our shared frustrations, I found some humor and consolation, and in our shared celebrations, I saw nothing short of the laborers in God’s vineyard.

Thanks to Jeremy and all the participants in #pastors24 for this experience.

Remember Me?

I’m back, and I made it through my first week in the office. Thursday, in fact, was an especially busy day (we don’t call it crazy Thursday for nothing; it’s always our most packed day!). By the end, my miniature assistant and I were exhausted. But it was a good kind of tired, and I felt very accomplished. I actually made it through 90% of my triage to-do-immediately list. It feels good to be back to work, and I have a somewhat renewed sense of focus, although still a little short on the energy.

I felt good about maintaining radio silence during my maternity leave, but boy oh boy did I miss a lot of things I wanted to blog about! how comes when I’ve vowed not to write anything, the whack-job pastors and their lighters come out of the woodwork? Oh well. You all knew what I would have said anyway.

And, being such a good girl about taking my leave as leave meant I got to spend more time on this:

Worth it. Understatement.

Pastors only work on Sundays, right?

Today was one of those days. One of those wonderful, glorious days when it may have looked like I did very little to edit a church bulletin or craft a brilliant sermon, but the church and the people of God were foremost on my mind.

I began the day with a meeting in Barre (next town over) with a couple dozen people who are looking into some sustainable and long-term means of providing housing and shelter for people who need it, both in emergency cases, and more importantly, in transitional and long-term independent settings. I may have mentioned that this is a burning passion of mine, and has been for most of my life. This group, while still in the very beginning stages, is looking at the intersection of emergency shelter needs, long-term housing goals, employment opportunities, and sustainable independent living for the approximately 250 persons without housing in Washington County (according to the Vermont Point In Time study conducted to count the homeless [~190] and precariously housed [~50] people as of January, 2010). Once again, it is wonderful to be with so proactive and empowering a group of people. We have a long way to go yet, looking at some big questions, to try to determine where to focus time and resources, assuming financial resources can be made available in these days of shrinking budgets all around. Still, to have a room full of people, some who provide food, some who provide shelter, some who provide job opportunities, some who provide state services, some who have been beneficiaries of some or all of the above, all committed to tackling these multi-faceted issues, it does my heart worlds of good. It may one day (soon we pray) do the community worlds and worlds of good.

I returned to church, to one such sustainable and empowering ministry (our community meal) already in progress, to take a lunch together with the directors of two other meal programs as we made progress in discussing ways to make our shared structures more efficient, accountable, and legally sound through seeking some sort of joint incorporation, all to ensure that people who need food get it, and maybe the systems by which foods are distributed can become more just and sustainable. Or at least, for the time being, the programs in place and function smoothly, effectively, and in ways that keep the IRS and the Secretary of State happy with us.

I thought about my sermon for a little bit.

I ended the evening with a half-hour finance meeting followed by a two-hour church council meeting (but, as we’re not meeting in July, it is my last until after maternity leave ends in October!). Over the course of these meetings, I witnessed incredible excitement (and only moderate frustration) about the vast number of programs Trinity is doing, and almost frenzied discussion of keeping all of the pieces in place amid the many events on the horizon. And I saw one congregation make a commitment to be gracious, generous, and deeply loving to another, beyond what I’d even hoped or imagined they might do. It literally brought tears to my eyes, and I don’t think it was just hormones.

There are days when ministry is frustrating, draining, pushing-a-rock-up-a-perpetual-mountain exhausting, when I end the day more frustrated and distant from God and my own sense of calling than when I started (yesterday was one of those days!). There are days when I not only fail to do good, but when I question whether I have actually done harm in my broken attempts to be who I am called to be. There are days when I am sure that I should chuck it all and go tend bar somewhere, because I can still lend a listening ear, but the drinks flow more freely and the tips are better, and no one is going to pester me about the color of the hymnals or the fingerprints on the banisters.

But then there are days like today. They are rare, to be sure, but they are special, and one of them can make up for months of the others. I live for days like today, days when I feel like I made a difference, days when I am surprised by grace and joy and the way God works in and through people in ways I didn’t anticipate because maybe it’s not all about me and whether or not I make it happen. These are the days I blog about, to remind me of why I do what I do, to tell you why you might consider doing it (or something like it) too, and to give thanks to the One who does make it happen, through and despite my best efforts.

I’ll sleep well tonight, thanks to some passionate people in Barre, some committed foodies in Montpelier, a congregation excited about its ministry and open to sharing its blessings, and the Spirit that spoke to me through all of them for the past fourteen hours.

Gifts and blessings

On my (still hotly contested) previous post about clergy who have lost their faith, I listed some of what I believe. I was simply trying to get it out, lest anyone think that I reject supposed orthodoxy and hold nothing in its place. But at least one reader found it lyrical, and broke it into poetic lines, and then sent it to me. The week of Easter. I can’t tell you how big a blessing that was, to receive such a lovely gift from across the country, and to read my own words reflected back as poetry or song. Many, many thanks.

This I believe (by Becca Clark, ‘remixed’ by Dave and Nan R., readers from Michigan)

I believe
God is
Transcendent and immanent,
Ground and Source of all Being;
We are in God as a sponge is in the sea.
I believe
the Bible is the story
of humanity’s relationship with God,
filled with truth and beauty
and adventure and sacrifice
and chaos and anger
and doubt and triumph,
and that this story is true,
regardless of whether it is factual.
I believe
that Jesus was,
more than any other wise prophet or old soul,
one and the same with that Divine,
that to see him was to see God,
to live the Way he taught is to live God’s Way.
I believe
that the consequence
of confronting power and corruption
and violence and domination,
the cost of articulating God’s vision
in the face of humanity’s greed
is deadly.
I believe
that the life and love of God,
and God in Christ,
and now God in us as we are in Christ,
is yet more powerful
than the deadly force of Empire
and fear and greed and corruption.

I believe
such life and love is eternal,
and so Christ was and is alive beyond death.
I believe that this Divine One,
this God, is present with us even now,
that we feel movement
through Spirit and in community,
that we are still called to be
and build
and participate in
a new way of being and living,
God’s realm, come to earth.
I believe
we are invited to make this new Way,
together with God,
and live as a people connected
to God,
to one another,
to all of life,
When that happens,
we will see face to face,
we will live as the Body of Christ,
fully restored.
We will see the fulfillment
of all that needs to be.

Nerd-alert WIN.

Here’s how you empower kids to learn and be proud of being smart. And girls? Kids from ethnic minorities? For the win.

found here: All the Scholar Ladies!

or at You Tube.

(Can anyone tell my why in the world I can never embed YouTube in WordPress? Anyone?)

I’m not ready to *not* make nice…

Howdy, y’all, from down here in Nashville! I’m attending the United Methodist Association of Communicators’ Annual Meeting (about which I will say more later), where this blog, that’s right, this very one, has been awarded Best in Class for non-fiction in the local church category.

No pressure there.

BishopSpong2So, on to being relevant. Today, my inbox was overrun by emails and celebrations about Bishop John Shelby Spong’s Manifesto (linked at the Reconciling Ministries Network). In it, he lifts celebration that “the time has come” to move on from the battle about homosexuality. Bishop Spong writes that he believes the battle is won, and that he will waste no further time in debate on the matter:

I have made a decision. I will no longer debate the issue of homosexuality in the church with anyone. I will no longer engage the biblical ignorance that emanates from so many right-wing Christians about how the Bible condemns homosexuality, as if that point of view still has any credibility. I will no longer discuss with them or listen to them tell me how homosexuality is “an abomination to God,” about how homosexuality is a “chosen lifestyle,” or about how through prayer and “spiritual counseling” homosexual persons can be “cured.” Those arguments are no longer worthy of my time or energy.

I have mixed feelings about this.

On the one hand, I feel this way a lot. As I wrote earlier, I wrestled greatly with how to respond to extreme positions like those of the Westboro Baptist Church, and I decided in the end that ignoring violent language and hate speech was not something with which I could live. Still, I resonate with the idea that some arguments are not worth the waste of breath, or the anger and bitterness they generate in me. When I find that I am becoming more negative and bitter as a result of a conversation or debate, it’s time to walk away. Actually, it’s past the time to walk away. I frequently give myself sanity breaks from such debates on the umcommunities website for that precise reason. It’s not worth the breath. It’s not worth the poison that seeps into me in the course of the debate. It’s not worth it–never worth it– when I feel more distant from God as a result of a conversation.

In this matter, I do think the handwriting is largely on the wall, and that Bishop Spong is right when he says that we as church are only making ourselves more irrelevant by our continued focus on sexuality rather than on ministry:

The world has moved on, leaving these elements of the Christian Church that cannot adjust to new knowledge or a new consciousness lost in a sea of their own irrelevance. They no longer talk to anyone but themselves. I will no longer seek to slow down the witness to inclusiveness by pretending that there is some middle ground between prejudice and oppression. There isn’t. Justice postponed is justice denied.

He is right, and as a church we certainly do great harm to ourselves, not to mention to the witness of Christ, by fixating on sexuality and sexual orientation.

But I push back on two points:

First, while the tide may have turned, that doesn’t mean a battle is over. In this instance, I’m not yet prepared to walk away and dismiss anyone’s words as outdated or irrelevant or as the death throes of a position. They are still hurtful words and positions that I think must be countered. If the battle is over, there is many a GLBT person in my pews who doesn’t know it yet, and until they can let words roll off their back like water, I’m not prepared to ignore them– the words or the ones wounded by them– either. While I applaud Bishop Spong’s optimism, I don’t want to (totally mixing metaphors here!) declare ‘mission accomplished’ and pull out, leaving troops still in the trenches to be wounded and maimed.

Second, I maintain that there are many people out there, even a majority of people out there, whose positions about homosexuality in the church differ from mine, who are faithful Christians to the best of their ability and to the best of their understanding. I resent it when my opponents in a debate disregard me as “unchristian” or “liberal whacko” or whatever, rather than have to live together in difference with me. I can’t in good conscience do the same, disregarding not only their positions, but their theological frameworks, their gifts to the ministry of the church, and their human struggle to understand and serve Christ as best they can. To do so is in a way to deny the Christ in them, however hard it may be at times to see it, just as I’m sure it is sometimes hard to see the Christ in me.

Debate is, I’ll admit, fun and challenging, and often helps clarify one’s own point, but it can also be a forum for relationship growth and reaching out across differences. Wrestling together with our differences, even and especially such stark and emotionally charged ones, can in fact be a huge opportunity to grow and change. And while I’m not naive (or, I hope, arrogant) enough to assume that I can change the hearts and minds of the world, I do kind of have persuasive rhetorical speech as part of my job description, and I do therefore harbor a hope that some positive change might come from conversations I have with others. Like Jacob, wrestling with an angel in the night, we grapple with each other in the dark, each a wanderer, each an angel, and I for one don’t want to let you go until we both receive blessing.

There are some things about which I cannot compromise, and some places where I am not open to changing my mind. I cannot abide violence. I will not compromise with hate speech. I can’t imagine conceding that anything made and beloved by God is abhorrent. I reserve the right and the need to walk away from poison and mutually assured destruction in argument. I also want to declare the joy of living in the already-not-yet promise of God’s kin-dom of radical love. It’s here, in part and in glimpses! The snippets of grace and glimpses of living together in the tension of our differences, when they shine through, are enough to keep me hopeful and focused on the joy.

And yet, I still wade into the battle, to the wrestling match, because the ones with whom I wrestle are often sisters and brothers, are sometimes angels, can teach and transform me even as I hope to teach and transform them. I’m not ready to give up on them just yet.

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