Saturday, December 30, 2006

Christmas Presents

On Christmas morning, my daughter asked me a haunting question. "Why do we give gifts to each other on Jesus' birthday?" Clearly, she is onto something here. My four year old understands birthdays... and in her experience, the person whose birthday we are celebrating is the one who receives presents.

I fumbled with a lame answer about the Magi. I don't think she even remembers my feeble attempt at an answer. She was quickly moving onto her next gift.

But it has kept me thinking. As I have been preparing for my sermon for Sunday, I have been thinking about the gifts the Magi brought (this is the text for Sunday). Gold for a King, Frankincense for a Priest, Myrrh for One preparing to die. The point of the gifts, of course, was to reveal who Christ really is.

I have searched the internet for the history of gift giving. There really is no well thought out theological significance to exchanging gifts... just a history of how it evolved out of ancient traditions, or when the first advertisement for Christmas gifts was published (first half of 19th Century in this country)

So here is my stab at it: What if our Christmas gift giving was done with the express intent of honoring who we really are in God? If gifts were given with the intent of honoring the image of Christ within each one of us?

Saturday, December 23, 2006


I can remember exactly one year since 1989 when I have not been sick either during or immediately following Christmas. It was last year. It seems my body has returned to its usual pattern. Although I have to admit, it tricked me yesterday be feeling good most of the day, and then sent me to bed with a sore throat and sleepless night.

Being sick always means I spend A LOT more time praying. This is what I do as I lie in bed and try not to dwell on how lousy I feel. I give thanks for my amazing family... my husband has spent the better part of three days now herding the kids so that I can get some rest. My kids have been remarkably good, especially considering Christmas is in a few days. (I think Christmas "excitement" is what parents make of it when kids are 2 and 4... we keep it a bit on the low key side.) I have prayed for our Christmas worship services and for each person God has brought to my mind as I lie there. That is one of my favorite prayer simply see who God brings to mind. I never cease to be amazed by the ways God brings someone to mind, and when I mention it later, they had a specific need for prayer.

And I have said to God many times, as I think about all of the worship services in my future: it's up to you Lord. Cleary, I am not up to the task.

This is of course always true, but every time I get sick, this truth sinks a bit more deeply into my being... it's up to you Lord....clearly, I am not up to the task. The best part of reaffirming this truth is that I have experienced the Spirit carry me through so many times, I have no doubt worship will be well cared for.

Now if I can just ride the wave of the Spirit all through Christmas dinner preparations....

Friday, December 22, 2006


I have been thinking about buildings, church buildings in particular, this week. I listened to a piece on NPR about how Mormonism is going mainstream in our country, as evidenced in Boston. Among the proofs of this process is the fact that a congregation is in the midst of constructing a cathedral like building.

I spoke with a colleague this week about the space they use for worship, and listened to him talk about their dream to someday have their own space.

I think about our own church family, in which we are spread across three spaces: two churches and one high school. I remember the stories that have been shared with about the days in the 1980s and 1990s when Town Point was building their new church building, and how much energy and excitement there was among church folks and community members in building the new space. People get energized about building a church building together.

It occurs to me that church is not supposed to have very much to do with buildings. It is supposed to be about relationship... relationship with God in Jesus Christ, relationship with others, reaching out in relationship with more hurting, broken people. We sing a song that says "I am the church, you are the church, we are the church together. All who follow Jesus, all around the world, yes we're the church together. The church is not a building, the church is not a steeple, the church is a people..."

Here is what I think: buildings are much easier to control and manage than relationships. Relationships with God and everyone else...they're messy, unpredictable, and have great capactiy for the full range of emotions from joy to sorrow from solidarity to loneliness. Being in relationships is like riding a roller coaster. Or as Forest Gump says, "life is like a box of chocolates, you never know what you're gonna get." That is true of relationships.

This all feels especially relevant to me as I prepare to celebrate Jesus' birth.

Saturday, December 16, 2006


This week, one of my daughter's preschool teachers (Pam) shared a story with me about Shannon. They were talking this week about Jesus' birth. The teacher (Donna) asked "does anyone know where Jesus was born?"

Pam said you could just see it on Shannon's face that she was searching her mind, thinking she should know the answer to this question. Apparently, the the pastor's kid is already starting to feel the pressure.

Finally, Donna prompted them by saying "Beth..." and Shannon yelled out with great excitment "Bethany Beach!"

Someday, I'll be able to explain to her that she was actually correct on one level. Jesus' birth was for all times in all places for all people. For now, I'll just smile every time I think of Bethelehem, for it will remind me of my sweet child in an even more special way now (I did get to be pregnant over Christmas with her). And I will enjoy telling the story again this summer when we go back to Bethany Beach for vacation.

Friday, December 15, 2006


This week, I called the home of a church staff member, and her son jokingly called for his mom by saying "Mom, your boss is on the phone!" I laughed with her that it was certainly me, but I was not so sure about the "boss" part.

On Wednesday, I was a part of a panel discussion. Along with two clergy colleagues about my age, we sat before a cohort of United Methodist District Superintendents convened by the Lewis Cener for Church Leadership. The topic was young clergy specifically and church renewal generally. One of the many things we raised and discussed is the reality that younger clergy generally prefer a collaborative, team based approach to ministry.

I know this is an essentail truth for me. I understand my role as pastor to be like Eph. 4:12 says it: "equipping the saints for the work of ministry, building up the body of Christ." The way I see things, serving Christ (as pastor or in any other role) is really not about status, hierarchy, or being out in front. If God can be born in Jesus as a human baby, eat with sinners, wash feet, and die on a criminal's cross, then following Jesus must have something to do with this way of living.

I have about 30 years of ordained ministry ahead of me. I hope that by the time I retire, our church will have learned to stop putting clergy on pedestals, and accepted that we are all sinners, in need of God's grace...and that together, the Holy Spirit finds ways to use for amazing and wonderful things.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Two Christmases

I have been thinking about Christmas celebrations and their meaning over the past few weeks. I read a clip somewhere reminding me about how Christmas celebrations are relatively recent in our nation's history becuase the first settlers shunned such celebrations as too worldly.

I have been thinking about the debate over whether stores should put up signs that say Merry Christmas or Happy Holidays. As far as I can tell, they put those signs up in an effort to sell stuff, not because they care about the birth of Jesus Christ. I would actually prefer they say something other than Merry Christmas in their efforts to sell stuff. After all, Christmas is not about commercialism or materialism.

I listened to a woman who serves in the after school ministry for at risk youth (The Generation Station) tell a story about taking 17 kids to see The Nativity. After the movie, one of them commented to her "Ms. Anita lied to us. She said we were going to see a Christmas movie!" Obvioulsy, Christmas movies are things like Elf and Santa Claus 3. We had a good laugh.

Then on the radio yesterday, I heard an NPR open call in show about the airport out west that removed its two Christmas trees rather than put in a menorah. A man called in to say that he does not call himself a Christian, he was not raised in the Church...but he does celebrate Christmas. He elaborated by saying he decorates, puts up a tree, and exchanges gifts with his family. Christmas for him is really a secular holiday.

That just confirmed things for me. There are actually two kinds of Christmases in our country (world?). One is the secular Christmas, which is about Santa Claus, elves, trees, office parties, family dinners, and presents. The Christmas celebrated by the Church and by those committed to following Jesus is about the birth of God's Son, Jesus, in human form, Emmanuel (which means God with us). All of the tinsel, trees, gifts, egg nog, and advertisements don't really have much to do with this deep reality, except that they are tools for celebrating. The birth of Jesus is certainly worth celebrating... I guess the question we have to ponder is what we are actually celebrating, why, and how our celebrations point to this in genuine ways.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Waiting in Faith

Last year, my husband and I found a great Advent book. It is a collection of writings by many spiritual authors. This morning I was reading Henri Nouwen, who is one of my all time favorites. He was writing about waiting, and how we don't know how to wait. There is more than one reason for this. We think our time must be occupied, that we must be productive. We are afraid; he notes that many innovations in war techniques happen while waiting in fear.

Waiting in faith is not a fear filled experience. Zachariah and Elizabeth were waiting. Zachariah was visited by an angel who announced that John would be born. Mary was waiting when the angel Gabriel announced she would bear Jesus. They were waiting in faith, in hope, not fear.

I had the privilege of visiting a saint in the hospital this week. When the doctor and nurse asked how he was doing, he sounded perfectly calm as he confessed "well, I'm nervous, but other than that I feel ok." He commented to me that of course he was ready to go if it was his time, but he does enjoy this life. I asked about how he came to be a part of this church family. He talked about how he had been away from the church for a long time, but that he finally returned when he was going through a particularly difficult time in life. He thought that if perhaps he become "good" again by going to church, perhaps God would get him out if his situation. Then he said something profound: "God did not take away the hardship. I found that I learned how to live through it." What a testimony to faith, and to waiting.

This is a person with strong faith, because he has waited out many a storm, and discovered God in the midst of the good times and the hard times.

This Advent, I hope God teaches me more about waiting. Advent is, after all, a season which literally means "coming." It is by definition about watching and waiting. I don't want to be distracted, overscheduled, fearful, or otherwise occupied. I want to be open, watchful, and wide eyed to be able to see what God is doing. Come Lord Jesus.

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Zoo Keeper

On Wednesday morning, my daughter and son came running into my bedroom as I was getting dressed. They climbed on the bed, and scrambled under the covers, giggling and shouting "The Lion is coming!"

Shannon had asked her father to play Lion. This consisted of my husband chasing them with roaring noises. They loved it.

Then, after things settled, out of nowhere Shannon said "I hope I don't have to be a zoo keeper when I grow up."

My husband said, "honey, you can be whatever you want to be."

Shannon replied with shock in her voice "But I thought God will decide what I will be!?!"

Wow. She's been listening when we say that God will call her to do what God wants her to do when she grows up. So much so that she had not even considered she would have some say in the matter. No wonder Jesus talked about children when he talked about faithfulness.

So we explained that God generally calls us to do things using the gifts and abilities God has given us, and that we often enjoy what God calls us to do. In other words, if you would hate being a zoo keeper, God probably won't call you to do that.

I should have such a sense of obedience....

Tuesday, November 28, 2006


I drove to Wilmington this morning- it was the Bishop's Advent Day apart. Traffic was heavy, and I felt even more grateful than usual for my five minute commute from home to church. I listened to NPR, and this morning was blessed by a piece on the peanuts Christmas special.

Turns out the Christmas special has quite a story behind it. The creator of this animated event was searching for just the right score of music. (Can't you hear the tune just because I have mentioned it?) The creator was driving to work one morning, and heard a jazz piece that had done something few instrumental jazz pieces do: become widely popular and crossed over to popular radio.

I cannot remember the name of the creator (it was not George Shultz) so I'll just call him Pete. Pete was so enamored by this piece of music, that he decided to track down the musician and commission him to compose the theme music for the Peanuts Christmas special. As Pete was describing the magical moment when he first heard the composition played over the telephone for him, I found myself thinking.... how does a person have such confidence in themselves that they have the audacity to think that they can track down a musician they hear on the radio and ask them to compose a piece for them? It turns out that the musician was a working class musician who still played small night clubs and was just trying to earn a living. Of course he agreed to be commissioned.

Pete sounds like a regular guy, and from the description of how the network reacted to his production by predicting failure, he was not a golden boy. At least, not yet. That may have happened after it took 50% of the national ratings the first night it aired. But when he was driving to work, listening to a cross over jazz hit, he was just a guy working on a new concept for his employer. A guy who thought it perfectly reasonable to go find a jazz musician and commission him...

Would it ever occur to me to go track down a musician and ask him to compose a new piece for a project I am working on? Until this morning, it would not have. But now that I think about it, that is only because of my own expectations and self image. Clearly, I limit myself significantly. I think inside the box far more often than I realize or care to admit.

Who knows...there may be artists and performers just waiting to be asked to be part of my next project!

Saturday, November 25, 2006


When our daughter Shannon was born in 2002, the three of us could not travel to the beach using our car. We had so much baby gear (mostly hand me down, but baby gear nevertheless), that we had to send the pack n play with a family member. By the time she was six months old, we had given in and replaced a car with a minivan.

Now that our daughter is four and our son is two, we are enjoying being able to pack up the entire family for an overnight...without using a checklist for bibs, breast pump, portable high chair, bottles, sippy cups, diapers, pacifiers, etc. etc. We can fit the entire family needs into a few bags. Hallelujah!

But this time, our minimalism went too far. For EVERY trip we have ever taken since Shannon was born, we packed a small pharmacy. We left the pharmacy at home- who needs the ear thermometer, benadryl, albuteral, cough syrup, and motrin for a two night stay at my mom's? Answer: our children needed all of it.

Jacob ate chalk just before we left on Wednesday. By the time we stopped for dinner, he was blotchy and had swollen eyes. On Thursday night, our wheezing, croupy, coughing daughter burst onto the scene, erasing all hopes of a good night's sleep. We still have not had a good night's sleep. I don't hold out much hope for tonight either. She still has a fever, is wheezing, coughing, and is generally not well.

Where is the grace in all of this? Well, Shannon remains one of the best sick kids God has ever created. She is such a sweet, gentle trooper. We bought Benadryl and gave it to Jacob, then Shannon. We were home a little more than 12 hours after Shannon arrived in our room in the middle of the night, and she did not get really bad until after we were home with the medicine.

Note to self: minimalism is good, but my pharmacy will never remain home again.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

God is Working in Providing for the Shelter

God has been working in some wonderful ways. Trinity had a special Ad Council meeting after worship to consider the question of hosting a week of the rotating shelter. There was no opposition to hosting the shelter at Trinity. We asked and answered questions, and then we voted unanimously to host a week. It is looking like it will be the last week of February; we are working on confirming the date.

Then on Thursday, God sent Linda into my office. She has experienced a sense of call. She feels called to serve the homeless, and particularly to help establish a permanent shelter in Elkton. She is absolutely on fire with God's love. I could just see it bursting from her heart; she was so excited and joyful to see God's hand and experience God's call upon her life. She is a gifted organizer and fundraiser. It is so awesome to see God set someone on fire to use their gifts for the Kingdom.

Linda will be site supervisor in December for the week we are sharing with our ecumencial sisters and brothers of Chesapeake City. She is praying about also supervising the week at Trinity. God is so good!

Saturday, November 18, 2006


I have been thinking about imagination lately. One of the speakers at the Lewis fellowship talked about the importance of leading a church family to imagine God's possibilities. Without the practice of imagining God's Kingdom, the ways it differs from the world, and the new possibilities offered, it is difficult to move where God is leading. This is closely related to perspective, which I wrote about recently, which explains the fascination.

My four year daughter Shannon and two year old son Jacob know a lot about imagination. Shannon is able to lead them in imaginative play for an hour or more. This morning, she decided they would be cats. (and since Jacob doesn't talk yet, she always decides!) They got out bowls and filled them with "cat food." They had a cat birthday party for Shannon. They got down on all fours and moved around the floor. The rest of the time they were in the next room, but whatever they were imagining, I heard laughter, so it sure was fun.

This evening, I was in the next room listening to them play duck duck goose. This is hilarious to listen to when there are only two players. Jacob must have been sitting on the floor, and he was tapped on the head repeatedly..."duck, duck, duck, duck, duck, duck, goose!" Then they got up, chased each other, and laughed will silly delight.

This seems to me to be one of the beautiful and delightful aspects of imagination. Who says you need more players to have fun playing duck duck goose? It simply depends upon whether you have a good imagination.

Imagination has always been a part of good preaching, especially in the African American tradition. What else might Jesus have said to his disciples at the Last Supper? I can imagine. What did the disciples talk about when they were locked in that same room after Jesus was crucified, before the Risen One came to them, when they were terrified for their lives? I can imagine. How did the poor widow feel, and how did she have her basic needs met, after she gave the Father all that she had to live on? I can imagine.

The role of imagination did not even begin with Christians. Imagination has also been a tradition in Judaism stretching back millenia. It is called midrash. Ancient Rabbis were asked all kinds of questions like the ones I just wrote (relating to the Hebrew Bible a.ka. Old Testament). These are now compiled in books and books of writings, and still inform both Jews and Christians today.

Imagination seems to me to be a window into my own soul, and into the presence of God. Perhaps this is why children have such wonderful imaginations. God has given them an innate ability to really see- into themselves, and into the presence of God.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Love the Questions

On Sunday, I used this quote as a part of my sermon. It is perhaps one of my all time favorites, and after worship, someone requested it. So here it is:

Have patience with everything unresolved in your heart and to try to love the questions themselves as if they were locked rooms or books written in a very foreign language. Don't search for the answers, which could not be given to you now, because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps then, someday far in the future, you will gradually, without even noticing it, live your way into the answer.

Ranier Maria Rilke, Letters to a Young Poet, Letter Four (July 16, 1903)


I spent the better part of last week at the Lewis Fellowship in Washington D.C. I have been meeting with this group for two years, three times per year, at places around the country. We are all young clergy who were 3-10 years out of Seminary at the inception, and all identified as having significant gifts for pastoral leadership. We learn about and reflect upon pastoral leadership each time we gather.

We are also really good friends. This group has been a lifeline for me when times get challenging. Every time we gather, we are blessed by each other. We are brutally honest and refreshingly vulnerable about what we are epxeriencing in the church and personal lives. There is a bond of trust among this group of 22 like I have never experienced among a group of this size. Clearly, it is the work of the Holy Spirit to bring us together.

One of the first speakers at this gathering spoke about the importance of getting on the balcony. So much of church life we are in the mosh pit (my words) that is absolutely vital that we get to a place of fresh perspective, lest we lose sight of God's vision for a church family.

This image has stayed with me, and settled deep into my being. It is an image that is becoming one that I think will stay with me. This fellowship has been my balcony- my place of getting fresh perspective.

At the closing banquet, one of our members was talking about how invaluable this group has been for him. He said somthing along the lines of "when I got here, I knew I had made some mistakes but..." He hesitated to find the right words. I offered him "but those mistakes were nothing compared to what have done?" We all laughed. There is power in solidarity, in sharing our stories, and discovering that many others share similar experiences.

Being a Christian, particularly a Christian leader, can feel isolating at times. Clearly Jesus understood this; he surrounded himself with disciples. This must be why small group fellowship has been so vital throughout Christian history. God knows we need it to remain faithful.

Sunday, November 05, 2006


I picked up one of my favorite books again: Servants, Misfits, and Martyrs: Saints and Their Stories by James C. Howell. Today was the beginning of a new sermon series on the sacrament of Communion. We're tracing it through its names: Holy Communion, Eucharist, Mass, Lord's Supper. Today we focused on Holy Communion, which seemed appropriate for All Saints Sunday.

I really appreciate stories about saints because I find them inspiring and challenging...Ordinary human beings who God uses in extraordinary ways.

Some of my favorite saints:

Oscar Romero In 1977, he was chosen as "safe" for Bishop in El Salvador. El Salvador had a brutally repressive government that used death squads to "disappear" and murder its own citizens. Romero was described as timid, cowardly... and he became a prophet. Romero began his episcopacy feeling that he must preserve the institution of the church at all costs.

But the brutal murder of his friend 3 weeks after being installed changed him. He became an outspoken voice for the people. Romero was awarded Nobel peace prize; he signed over the money to a hospital for indigent cancer patients.

He knew his assassination was imminent. He said he did not believe in death without resurrection and that if he died, he would rise again among the Salvadorian people. He was assassinated as he celebrated the Eucharist- shot in the chest holding high the elements. The Scripture of the day was John 12:24: Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain. But if it dies, it bears much fruit.

Howell makes the point that we remember the names of some martyrs, but many more go without name in history. In El Salvador we remember Romero, but the names of hundreds or perhaps thousands others are lost to history. In South Africa, Stephen Biko is remembered, yet thousands more were martyred. So it goes around the world.

Clarence Jordan was born 1912, and had a natural sensitivity to hypocrisy. He was raised in the Baptist church in the south. He sang "red and yellow black and white they are precious in his sight" and wondered why black children had such shabby clothing. He saw deacons sing of their love for Jesus and then harass or even torture blacks.

He originally studied agriclulture to be able help poor farmers. While on ROTC scholarship, he struggled with how to be a soldier and to follow Jesus' teaching to love our enemies. This led him to southern Baptist seminary for degree in Greek New Testament. He became famous for a translation "the Cotton Patch" Bible.

In 1942, he established Koninia farm, a communal multi-racial farm. The KKK repeatedly bombed and terrorized the farm. Members of the community took turns standing watch every night. He said it was not a question of whether they would be afraid, but if they would be obedient. He also had a good sense of humor. When a member of the KKK said they would not let the sun set on any white man who eats with a nigger, he replied "I am a Baptist preacher, and I have heard of men with power over the sun. But until today, I never hoped to meet one!"

In 1948, Jordan brought a Native American man with him to worship in a Baptist church. The deacons demanded Jordan meet with them. They wanted him to stop making trouble. He handed them a Bible and asked them to show him in Scripture where it says a dark skinned man should not enter the house of the Lord. He said "If I have failed to live up to any teaching in this book, I will quietly withdraw from your fellowship." The Bible was passed around the room until the last one slammed it down and said don't give me that scripture stuff! That day he says he became and ex-baptist.

On the night St. Francis died he said "I have done what is mine to do. May Christ teach you what is yours to do." Wise words for all us saints.

Thursday, November 02, 2006


This morning, I drove my daughter to Preschool (then I walked upstairs to my study). Shannon wanted to play "I spy" which is a bit different when played while moving! Basically, she would announce a color, and I would guess at anything she may have possibly laid eyes upon as we drove. She giggled every time she or I guessed correctly what the other one had "spied."

It made me pay close attention to my surroundings. I have been enjoying the autumn colors immensely. They have gotten me thinking about the relationship between true colors and death. After all, we are taught in school that trees really have different color leaves, but that the chemical (chloroform?? I don't remember!) that is present in trees creates green leaves in all trees. That is, until autumn when the chemical hold ends, the leaves show their true colors, and then go into a dormant stage for the winter.

Does it really take a form of death to bring out our true colors? I think of how often we are conformed to the world, and how it is a crisis of some kind that brings out true colors. I think about how clarifying death can be- how many have a brush with death that brings whole new clarity about what really matters? I think about words from Colossians 3 "So if you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth, for you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God." Part of the Christian message is that when we come to faith, we die with Christ, and are raised again to new life- right now. In essence, Christ reveals my true colors.

Recently I heard a pastor speak about traveling to Darfur in Sudan, where their church is engaged in mission work to grow food for refugees. A person asked him if he was scared to go to a dangerous and war torn region. He replied that he had already died with Christ, and so there was nothing to fear. True colors.

Thursday, October 26, 2006


I just wrote for the newsletter cover this week. I used the brain cells I typically devote to blogging to write it, so I am sharing it here as well!

One of the ways that God seems to get my attention is by repetition. Whenever something repeats itself within a short time frame, like a verse of scripture, a topic of conversation, similar topics in different religious periodicals, I take that as an indication that God is trying to tell me something.

This week, I think God has been trying to get me to think about perspective… which also happens to be a very appropriate topic for the month of November and Thanksgiving.

As I trying to catch up on some back issues of Christian Century magazine, I came across an article about a good death. I thought about how, when I reach the end of my life, I hope that I will find that I can truly rest in peace, knowing that I have lived faithfully and cared about things that really matter. I read another devotional that reminded me of the same subject. Then I had the privilege of leading the memorial service for Carl Davis' mother Lib Davis. Funerals are always good for gaining perspective. Annoyances, challenges, concerns, problems… how many of them will really matter in a year? Over a lifetime? Not many.

When I was driving with my kids last week, "Keep on the Sunny Side" was on the radio. Shannon announced that she did not like the sunny side. It took me a moment to understand that she meant she does not like the sun in her eyes! I explained that the sunny side also refers to the happy side. I was not sure she understood the concept. Then four days later, she announced to me "Mommy, I do keep on the happy side. I keep on God's side."

That is really what it is all about. When thinking about what really matters, most things fall away. But when the end comes, I want to be able to look back on my life and be able to say I followed Jesus, lived deeply, cared about things that really matter, and loved God and others with my whole being.

This is the perspective that keeps me focused. Gratitude is the thing that helps me keep this perspective.

I always think of a sociological study I learned about in college. Three groups of soldiers were studied during the Vietnam war. One group was stationed in the U.S., one in Europe, and one on the battlefield of Vietnam. The sociologists hypothesized that the soldiers in the U.S. would be happiest, followed by the ones in Europe, and that the ones stationed in the war zone would be most unhappy. What they found was the opposite. The soldiers in Vietnam reported they were most happy, and the soldiers in the U.S. the least. Why? It was a matter of perspective. The soldiers in Vietnam were comparing themselves to their dead friends. They were happy to be alive. The soldiers in the U.S. were comparing themselves to their friends who were not in the military, and were miserable. Perspective matters.

So, I am grateful to be alive, to know and serve my Savior, to have a family, a church family, food to eat, a warm beautiful house, clothes to wear, and good health. I remind myself often that thousands of people die every day for lack of basic necessities, and thousands more die having had only half-lived lives, never knowing the love, hope, and purpose offered by God through Jesus Christ.

God's mission entrusted to the Church is to invite people who do not know God through Jesus Christ into a whole new perspective- indeed a whole new life. I cannot imagine a more sacred or wonderful gift and responsibility.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Baby Kisses

This morning, I sat and played with my son for half an hour before leaving for the office. Today is speech therapy day for him. We have been working on having him stick out his tongue and pucker up for kisses to help his mouth and tongue muscles get stronger.

As I was leaving this morning, he climbed into my arms. Usually I get hugs and snuggles, and I kiss his cheeks all over. But this morning, I was given a special treat: several slobbery puckered kisses right on the lips. He was giggling and slobbering all over me as he kissed me. What a gift from God.

As I drove in, I thought about how universal humans are in so many ways. I thought about the folks that come to the Kanal Kitchen every month. Folks from the church family, my husband included, drive each month to Elkton and pick up folks for the meal. Many are homeless. God has provided a boat ride for them- many had never been on a boat. They were delighted. Folks who are homeless have children and hopes and fears and dreams like I do. We have not had any incidents of theft or anything of that nature since the Kanal Kitchen began more than 2 years ago. The folks at Kanal Kitchen enjoy my 2 year old son and four year old daughter as much as I do. They wave to them, engage them in kid level conversation, and (I hope) feel the love of God throughout our time together.

Folks come to the Kanal Kitchen from all sorts of circumstances, ranging from living in the woods, to families with kids who know we serve great desserts, to folks who live alone and are grateful for the community to share a meal. It's like a big party. Our church family is encouraged to just come and eat as a way of sharing hospitality.

The image of God's Kingdom in Scripture is often charachterized as a big party, a feast, a banquet. I imagine it involves wet, slobbery, baby kisses too... otherwise, it's not a feast to me. God's Kingdom is also said to be already here, and not yet fully here.

I am always grateful for glimpses of the Kingdom- in my children, in the Kanal Kitchen, in the face of a person we gave a ride to in Elkton this week becuase she was carrying a 3 week old baby in one arm and bags of groceries in the other. God is all around, if only I pay attention.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Administrative Council and Rotating Homeless Shelter

I have continued to give a lot of prayer and thought to this. God has brought me into many conversations with folks in our community of faith who are struggling with this.

I have discovered that I need to repent of something I posted on my blog last week. We should not be "revoting" this issue due to how the vote in October was taken. I am not a legalistic person, and I have always been a spirit of the law, rather than letter of the law leader. I know that everyone voted in good faith, and going back and rehashing that will not bring glory to God.

It has also occurred to me that we have actually voted on the same issue twice already. In September, we decided to consider this with two questions. The question we voted in September was whether we want to host the shelter. It was unanimous that we want to. Then we decided to see if we have the volunteer base needed to host the shelter and vote about the logistics of everything in October. The vote in October was supposed to be about logistics, like organizing the volunteers and community notification. But in October, we essentially revoted what we had voted in September. We voted about whether we want to have the shelter and reversed ourselves.

So what will happen in November? Only the Spirit knows. If the conversations others have had with me are any indication, most of the Administrative Council members who were not present are feeling it is important that we discuss this issue further. How that will go is up to the Council.

P.S. A correction, the council meets on Tuesday not Sunday... the correct date is Nov. 14. (Dates of Sundays order my life, so I can get stuck on them!)

Thursday, October 12, 2006

God's Generosity in my Daughter

My daughter Shannon is 4 1/2 years old. Tonight she went upstairs and brought down her piggy bank. She is asked if she could be away from her brother, where he cannot reach. So while she sat at the kitchen table, I distracted him with "Go Dog Go" repeated about a dozen times. (Since there are no places left out that are out of his reach.)

When Jacob and I came into the kitchen, she had almost completely emptied her entire piggy bank. She announced that she was taking out all of her money to send to Louisiana. To the kids there. All of it. Every penny and even the foreign coin I have long since forgotten its country of origin went into a zip lock bag. It totaled $25.05. I asked her if she wanted to write a letter. She said yes, and she dictated the following to me to write on construction paper.

Dear Little Kids:
I am giving you money. It came from my piggy bank. It is my birthday, Christmas, and Easter dollars. I want to help Louisiana with buying things. I want the adults to help the little kids buy some candy with this. Louisiana, I hope you spend all of my money. I hope you get your houses fixed. And I hope they are already repairing it. I hope some of your houses might be already fixed. I am praying for the little kids also, and all the mommies, daddies, and babies. I hope you get my wishes. I hope you already have stuff in your houses. There is a coloring on the back.
Shannon Danielle Yarnall

Yes, she used the word repairing.

I am totally awed by God's grace working in her. She colored and put stickers all over the back of the paper. Then she announced that the next time her piggy bank is full she wants to give it to help kids in another country.

We will mail the letter, with a cover from me explaining it, either to the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) in New York or directly to the United Methodist Conference office in Louisiana. The money will go into the plate at church on Sunday and be sent to Katrina relief through UMCOR.

What an awesome way to end the day!

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Update:The Big Meeting on the Homeless Shelter

Last night at Town Point Administrative Council we had quite a full house. 56 people by my count were present; the majority of them are from outside of our church family. It was great to have so many folks come into the church.

Tyra Parker from Meeting Ground was present, and she did a great job answering questions for folks. Many questions and concerns were expressed. Several disciples of Jesus spoke from their hearts about their faith in God to make this rotating homeless shelter happen. A few left feeling differently than when they arrived. One woman shared with me that she had signed a petition in opposition prior to the meeting, but that when she heard the Scripture read, she suddenly realized she had been wrong. I look forward to seeing her Sunday. I am grateful to her for showing me the work and presence of the Holy Spirit. God also moved in many of the folks who are opposed to the shelter, but committed to responding to the problem of homelessness. They asked to be contacted by Meeting Ground about being on the committee that will work toward a long term solution of a permanent shelter.

After 2 1/2 hours of concerns, questions, and testimony, we moved to the Administrative Council part of the meeting. The Administrative Council voted that only members of Ad Council would vote, rather than opening up to the church membership. We decided that since not all church members knew they would be able to vote, it would have had to have been announced in advance to do such a thing.

The vote was 6 against hosting the shelter at Town Point, and 5 in favor. This morning, after checking the listing of current Ad Council membership, I learned that one of the persons who voted is no longer on the Council. We had already set a meeting for Nov. 12, so we will have to vote again on that night, since we are now at a tie.

I know that God is working in and through this... through the hearts of individuals gathered there last night, by raising up new volunteers to address the problem of homelessness, and by requiring Town Point to carefully consider this...twice.

Thursday, October 05, 2006


I am home from a contemplative prayer retreat that was a tremendous blessing. I spent Tuesday afternoon through Thursday afternoon practicing the presence of God, as Brother Laurence calls it. What a journey.

On Wednesday morning, I became convinced that despite all of my desire to be a contemplative, I am lousy at it. I spent my morning walk along the beach thinking mostly of the future, rather than paying attention to God in the present moment.

But I found that one of my retreat companions was onto something when she said that coming on retreat as like being emptied out first, so that God has room to fill me up again. I did not begin to feel filled until Wednesday evening, after day and a half of spending time, mostly in silence, thinking, observing, reflecting, praying.

Now, I feel really relaxed, present, and without anxiety. I felt God working on me throughout the retreat to give up worry, anxiety, and rushing around. As the retreat was closing, I had flash of insight that I really hope I can carry into my daily routine. I realized that God has converted four days of my week into days that are largely free of rushing and anxiety. Fridays, I relax just because it is Friday, regardless of the state of my sermon. From Fridays-Mondays, I am able to put worries out of my mind and just be. The trouble is, I put them off until Tuesday, and I spend Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday stressed, anxious, and cramming too much work into too little time. So what I hope to do is allow God to convert the other three days of my week. It's really just a matter of how I perceive the days. Right now, I give myself permission, perhaps even expect myself to be frenzied. If I can just banish that expectation altogether, I will feel much more like a contemplative!

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Kids and Present Time

My son Jacob and I went for a bike ride tonight. He rode in the trailer hooked to the back of my bike, and we had a very peaceful ride. He sat languidly in the back, checking things out as they went by. I enjoyed the beautiful evening air, and when we returned home, he wanted to go for a short walk. He did not say so... he is speech delayed. But he communicates just fine, even squatting down at the end of our drive way to look for cars before stepping onto the street. He examined rocks. He pointed when he heard engines out on the nearby highway. Jacob was living entirely in the present moment, and I was right there with him.

I thought about what a blessing it is to just be in the moment. That is at the heart of prayer, and of holy relationship. Most worrying is the result of thinking about the future, or regretting the past. The present is God inhabited time.

And our society is so eager to steal this away from our children. We begin asking them as soon as they are old enough to talk "what do you want to be when you grow up?" Implied in this question are two values. 1) You only have value for what you contribute to the world through work and 2) You should be thinking A LOT about the future. By the time a person reaches adult hood, it has become an ingrained habit to live in the future.

Thoughts and dreams about high school give way to plans for college, which flow into dreams about degrees, then careers to launch, places to travel, houses to buy, marriage partners to find, and children to have.

Typically, very little energy goes into helping children hold onto something God gives them from the beginning: the ability to enjoy the God given moment, each and every one of them...every breath, every glimpse of a motorcycle, sunset, rock, airplane, car turning the corner, and every chance to hold hands and walk down the street.

An hour after my bike ride and walk with my son, I was tucking my four year daughter into bed. She said to me "Mommy, I want to be a kid forever. I don't want to grow up." It was as if the Spirit had given her some special insight into my thoughts tonight. I told her "Shannon, you can be a kid forever. I want to be your Mommy forever." And I do... I want to cherish every single minute of the time we have right now, and not let one single minute be sacrificed on the altar of thinking about the future. I'll deal with future reality when we get there. For now, I am just grateful for evening bike rides and night time snuggles. Thanks be to God.

Friday, September 29, 2006

Fasting and Failing

Well, I am trying fasting again on this lovely, sunny Friday. Two weeks ago, my attempts at fasting ended in my driving to Ruby Tuesdays at 3 in the afternoon, consuming a large plate of fried appetizers, and then feeling like a total failure.

Last night, as I was praying/falling asleep (don't they go together at night?), it occurred to me that tomorrow is Friday and it would be a good idea to try fasting again. So I resolved to try. It is now after 2p.m., so I am coming down the home stretch. I have thus far survived the temptation of breakfast, the preschool baking banana bread, and having a lunch meeting in which I drank water. It might even be easier for me to schedule a lunch meeting and announce I am fasting... that is some good accountability!

As I was thinking about fasting this morning, and why I am drawn to this discipline, a few things came to mind. First,I am drawn to fasting because it makes me feel that I am doing something serious/real/important/extreme(?) to live out my faith. That feels rather self centered! But it is true. Also true is that I do want to be more God centered. And fasting is supposed to be a way of focusing on the only real need I have: my need for God.

Second, I like the idea of dedicating a day of fasting and prayer to a particular cause or concern. This morning, I settled on asking God to help me identify with and pray for people who aren't fasting by choice...they are just plain hungry today.

Third, I have this sense that if I can just get practiced at this fasting thing, I will discover there is a depth of God's presence somehow entangled with fasting that can only be experienced by practicing fasting. I have not yet arrived there... but I remain hopeful! I have, however, discovered that there is a depth of back pain that goes with fasting. My chiropractor says that abdominal pain (aka: hunger) is often referred to the lower back. I try to remind myself that part of the purpose of fasting on Friday is to identify with Christ's suffering on the cross.

I remember reading someone's account of committing to fasting once per week for a year. She wrote that it took her many months to get beyond the surface level and get any serious spiritual insight from it. She was glad she had made the commitment to keep fasting once per week for a year. Here's hoping...

Wednesday, September 27, 2006


I have been trying to write a post for the past hour. (And this is not the post I worked on.) Because the first family computer arrived in our home in the early 80s, I learned to use a keyboard before a mouse was standard. As a result, I am as likely to use keystroke commands as I am a mouse. Tonight, my keystrokes have failed me. I have accidentally deleted parts of that post two separate times. I am tired of rewriting what I have already written! Perhaps it is the Spirit trying to persuade me not to publish that post!

So, I am going to bed soon. But first, I going to write about how I see God working in our community.

First, an update on the rotating homeless shelter. Both Town Point and Trinity voted to support hosting the shelter at Town Point for 7 days, provided we have the servants to support the effort. We are gathering names of volunteers now, and a final vote will be the 2nd Tuesday of October. Both meetings were Spirit filled. There is no question that this is a BHAG (Big Hairy Audacious Goal). I think there is also no question that this is the Spirit of Christ. Jesus is rather literally knocking on our door, asking if we will give him a refuge from the winter cold. I am so grateful to see the community in which I am blessed to pastor stepping out in faith to welcome people.

Second, it is such a blessing to see how God is using Jacob's Well. I had a conversation this week with a new person at JW, and she talked about much of a blessing it is for her, and how much life and excitement she sees present. Our average attendance since the mailing went out at Labor Day has been 140. Several of the leaders gathered tonight to work on logistics, and God continues to lift up new servants to fill more roles. Today, an article about Jacob's Well was published in Leading Ideas, which is a newsletter published by the Lewis Center for Church Leadership at Wesley Seminary. I received emails from people all over with encouragement and/or questions...very cool. What a tremendous reminder of how much work the Spirit is doing in our midst. I get so bogged down in the details sometimes, I don't rejoice in the big picture enough. As Lori Goldsmith reminds me well, growing pains are good pains.

Finally, I met with Patrick today about creating a new video ministry. We even thought of a possible name: Video Pericope. Pericope refers to a passage of Scripture. What do you think? Our first project is going to be about God's grace, and we are going to use an image of a front porch, front door, and then buying and moving into the house to describe God's grace before we know it's there (front porch-prevenient grace)...God's grace when we come to faith (walking through the door, deciding to move in- justifying grace)...and God's grace when we continue the journey of faith (moving our stuff into the house and living there- sanctifying grace) This is a very different place from where we began. Again, it felt very Spirit led. (Thanks to Steve Manskar for the imagery I read in his book Accountable Discipleship.)

So thanks be to God and good night.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Rotating Homeless Shelter

If you read the post on August 25, Grieving God's Heart, you know about the homeless situation in Elkton. The Meeting Ground is the non profit parent of two of the three homeless shelters in our County. They are spear heading a movement among the churches to establish a rotating homeless shelter that would move from church to church from November 7 to March 18.

The churches will offer the shelter between 5:30 p.m. to 8:00 a.m. We would pick up folks from a designated place, transport them to the shelter site, and then take them back in the morning. The church would provide dinner, breakfast, and a bag lunch for 20-25 men, women, and children. The guests would be screened by the Meeting Ground and required to adhere to shelter rules. In addition to providing shelter from the cold, the shelter would provide a place for homeless folks to connect with social services to work to move them into jobs, housing, and addiction treatment.

We will be discussing this at the Administrative Council meetings at Town Point (7p.m. 9/19) and Trinity (7p.m.9/26). My hope is that we will decide to host 2-3 weeks of the 25 weeks the shelter is open. It will take a volunteer team of site supervisor and 15-20 servants to make this happen for the week.

I am interested to hear feedback and ideas from within and outside of our community.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Sabbath Blessed Me

After so many posts on Sabbath, I have to write about what a blessing my Sabbath day was yesterday. I take Mondays as my Sabbath. I had been feeling somewhat overwhelmed and behind and therefore in a generally lousy mood for several days. So I journaled. I prayed. I fasted. I brooded. I wished. I contemplated why exactly God had called me to be a pastor (and then remembered, which is helpful.)

Then I spent Monday resting on the Sabbath. My husband let me sleep in (he is such a blessing). I took some time to run some errands just for me (Ray took Shannon to preshcool and kept Jacob with him for errands. Did I mention he is a blessing?) We had a nice family lunch together; Shannon helped me make brushcetta. We all took took naps. Then we went to my sister's for dinner, and the kids all had a great time playing together. Sara made a special dessert that was fabulous.

And when I awoke this morning, I found that I feel generally better! Sabbath is so wonderful.

In the midst of all of this, I have also realized that I MUST keep my office more clean, because it contributes to feeling overwhelmed. So, the 2005 mail is my first step...

Friday, September 08, 2006

Friday Five

I am part of a webring called revgalblogpals. They sell a TShirt I might need to own: "Does this pulpit make my butt look big?"

If you look at the side bar of this blog, you'll notice the link. It is a group of clergy and laity, mostly women, who share in life and ministry through posts on line. I have never participated in the Friday Five, but I am joining in today. It is a question or questions that each person answers on their own blog. Since I am feeling scattered and kind of funky, I found the question to be God sent. It is: "What are five things you have enjoyed this week?"

1. Being at the beach. We came home from a week's vacation at the beach on Monday. The coming home part was not so much fun. But the being on the beach part, after many days of rain thanks to Tropical Storm Ernesto- priceless.

2. Snuggling my children. This one always makes the list. I love snuggling.

3. Talking in a class at Wesley Seminary on Wednesday. Dr. Scott Kisker asked me to come and share my experiences with covenant discipleship groups in the local church for the introductory class. I really enjoyed it.

4. Going to the National Zoo. After Wesley, I spent the night with my family at my mother's house outside of D.C. So Thursday we spent on the metro and walking around the National Zoo. The kids are at an age of absolute wonder. I enjoyed seeing the kids enjoy the animals. (On a side note I have always suspected there is something slightly wrong with me- I have never been fascinated with animals.)

5. Celebrating my husband's 35th birthday. He turned 35 on Wednesday. We have more celebrating left to do, since I was at the Seminary that day. The kids and grandparents had a birthday cake together...and of course we went to the zoo.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006


I was on vacation at South Bethany Beach, DE this past week. It did not rain for almost all of August...and we went on vacation with Tropical Depression Ernesto. I refused to allow it to depress my spirits and still had a wonderful vacation. We actually made it onto the beach for four of the seven days. The beach really is quite lovely without all of that hot sun!

One of the things that happens to me when I am on vacation is that I get out my routine with everything...including spiritual disciplines. I used to beat myself up about this. But for the past few years, I've been trying to take the advice of my spiritual director, who almost always closed our sessions by saying "Amy, stop being so hard on yourself."

So rather than worry about my routine, I have tried to look for evidence of God's grace in new ways. I love to walk on the beach. As I walked on Wednesday, amidst the gathering storm, the wind was whipping my hair around and I thought about the wind of the Spirit. I felt as though the Spirit was swirling around me, evidenced by the wind and waves. I was reminded of David McAllister Wilson, President of Wesley Seminary, when he talked about the church remembering how to breathe. We breathe in and exhale the Spirit all of the time, yet we can become strangely unaware of it's presence. As the wind swirled, I felt as though God was surrounding me in every conceivable direction from within and without.

I thought, too, about how the Spirit is often most palpable when a storm is gathering. It is not in the calm, easy places of life that I am most keenly aware of God's presence. It is in the swirling, churning, wind whipped times that I can feel God most powerfully.

Friday, August 25, 2006

Grieving God's Heart

On the front page of our local newspaper yesterday, there was an article in the Cecil Whig about the department of Public Works confiscating the belongnings of at least eight homeless people in Elkton. These are people with NOTHING who now literally have absolutely nothing. I am still angry. These people, our most vulnerable citizens, were sleeping in an area behind a strip center of businesses in Elkton. One of the men managed to put some food and personal hygiene items in a back pack and hide it in a near by bush. But when he went to try to retrieve it, the police threatened to charge him with littering, carrying up to two years in jail and a $2,000 fine. He didn't get his stuff.

So my husband went to the Community Kitchen a week earlier than scheduled, to deliver kits with tolietries. They will be given to folks who need them. I expect that when we have the Kanal Kitchen meal tomorrow here at Trinity, there will many stories.

I called Carl Mazza, the leader of Meeting Ground. This ministry provides shelters for the homeless community in our County. He said he was blessed and encouraged by my call; I was glad to have someone understand and agree with my sorrow and anger. He said that he is so jaded after so many years in this ministry, that he cannot even get angry about it. He can only react. That made me hold even more tightly to my anger and passion, even as I was amazed at the simultaneous depth of his response and lack of anger.

Carl shared that on Sept. 6, there will be a county commissioner meeting in Elkton at 7p.m. I am encouraging folks to attend. (Unfortunately, I have a commitment to be in Washington D.C. that day/night.) He also said that Meeting Ground will be looking to partner with at least a dozen local churches to house a rotating shelter for folks on cold winter nights. Cecil County simply lacks the capacity to accomodate the homeless population that is now present. I hope and pray that our church family will be one of the first to say that we will welcome these folks into temporary shelter for at least one week this winter.

Nowhere in the Bible does it say "God helps those who help themselves" or "Pull yourself up by your bootstraps." And it certainly does not say "it is not our responsibility to give them a place to live" to quote Mr. Storke in the article.

But Scripture is filled with references to care for the poor, the stranger, and the alien among us. In the Hebrew Bible, God teaches us to remember that God delivered the Hebrew slaves out of Egypt. To honor God for all God has done, and to remember that God's people were once slaves, aliens, foreigners, and generally unwelcome people, God commands his people to care for folks who are in similar circumstances.

Translation: to show your love for God, and to remember your true indentity, show love and compassion for poor and oppressed folks.

Jesus continues this teaching in the New Testament when he says in Matthew 25 when we serve someone who is hungry, naked, sick, or in prison, we are serving Christ himself. The blessing of this flows two ways: the person in need has their material needs met, as well as experiences God's grace in action. The person providing for someone's material needs is given the blessing of seeing the face of Christ right here, right now.

I know that anger, when well directed, is a God given emotion to motivate change. I hope that God uses me and our community of faith to respond to this injustice. This is a matter of life and death; literally so for homeless folks. And for people of faith, it is a matter of spiritual life and death. To ignore this would to be ignore Christ.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Explaining Evil to a Four Year Old

Question: How do I answer my daughter, age four, when she asks me what evil is?

We pray the Lord's prayer every night. We also rotate among the Apostle's Creed and a prayer adapted from the Book of Common Prayer (Watch, O Lord, with those who wait, or watch, or weep tonight. Give your angels and saints charge over those who sleep. Tend your sick ones, O Lord Christ. Rest your weary ones. Bless your dying ones. Soothe your suffering. Shield your joyous ones, all for your love's sake.)

So far, we have variously discussed the meanings of the words tend, weary, soothe, suffering, shield from the BCP prayer, and from the Apostles creed several words which have now escaped my memory.

But when she hears and says "deliver us from evil" and asks me to explain evil, I know my explanation is insufficient because she keeps asking. I am interested to hear your ideas.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

More Sabbath Suggestions for Practice

I have been reading Wayne Muller's book Sabbath again, and he ends each chapter with suggested Sabbath practices. So here are some more ideas:

Silence: take time for silence. It is in the silence that God is found. For the constantly busy, silence can seem intimidating, even frightening. It may be that by allowing silence, all sorts of emotions and thoughts we want to avoid come to the surface. To begin to allow them to come is to allow spiritual depth to take root. It is to experienc life more deeply.

Silent Meditation: One form is to simply follow the breath. "Sit comfortably and close your eyes. Let yourself become aware of the physical sensation of the breath, feeling the shape, texture, and duration of the inhale and the exhale. Do not change your breathing, do not strain or push in any way. Simply watch the breath breathe itself. Feel the rhythm of the breath, feel its timing, the end of the exhale, the readiness to inhale. When the mind wanders, as it will, do not worry. Simply return to the awareness of your breath. Start with five minutes." Then think about what you have noticed about the rhythm of rest in your breathing and in your body.

Sabbath walk: this is a good way to spend silent time. Eugene Peterson and his wife take a Sabbath walk every Monday morning. They walk leisurely with out speaking, and break their silence with prayer over a picnic lunch. Then they share their reflections and observations.
A Sabbath walk does not have a destination. It is more of a stroll, an ambling. If you see something that looks interesting, stop and look at it. Move on when you feel ready. After 30 minutes, stop and reflect upon what has happened to your body, mind, and sense of time.

Sabbath box: Create a box to hold all of the things you won't need: palm pilot, wallet, computer disc to represent the computer, etc. You could write down worries, concerns, tasks still to be done, and put the scraps of paper in the box as a way of symbolically giving them over to God's care.

Prayer: these are Sabbath moments throughout the week. Choose a time, or a cue, for prayer. Does a bell ring at a particular time(s) in your daily routine? Use it as a cue for prayer. It can be a simple moment to connect with the divine rhythm.
(If you are interested in a book that offers written prayers five times per day, check out Phyllis Tickle's book trilogy The Divine Hours. I use these off and on and when I am on, I am blessed by them. Click here for a link to The Divine Hours: Prayers for Summertime. Click here for a link to The Divine Hours: Prayers for Autumn and Wintertime. Click here for Divine Hours: Prayers for Springtime)

Lectio Devina: This is Spiritual Reading of Scripture. Choose a short passage of Scripture (or other inspirational/spiritual literature)and then quietly reflect on it. "Do not analyze or try to figure out its meaning. Allow it to quietly work on you, as leaven in bread, or water over a stone. The key is to read slowly, chew over the words, and allow them to quietly nourish and heal you."

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Thank you notes

One of the foundational verses for the entire Protestant Reformation is Ephesians 2:8-10: For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing, it is the gift of God- not the result of works so that no one may boast. For we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life.

When I read this verse, I always think of Martin Luther, the Catholic priest/monk/Greet New Testament Scholar who founded the Protestant Reformation and ultimately the Lutheran Church. He was, by any one else's standards, a good and holy guy. But he lived in continuing fear that no matter how much good he did, it was never enough to ensure he would go to heaven. He was even told by his priest in his monestary not to come back to confession until he actually had some sin to confess. Luther was known to go to confession multiple times in one day, so great was his fear that he was not doing enough good to go to heaven.

Ephesians changed his life. Literally, it was the watershed that freed him from his fear that he was not good enough. It has been important in my journey too. It is a verse which proclaims that salvation is not my own doing- it is a gift of God's grace given to me through faith. For me, even faith was difficult. Ultimately, I discovered that faith and grace have much in common: they are both given as gifts by God. Often, they are inexplicably given, wrapped up in mystery that must simply be accepted, for it cannot be reasoned with.

The correct order of things is not 1. do all the good you can do and 2. hope that is enough to earn yourself a spot in heaven. According to Ephesians it is 1. Accept the gift of God's grace and 2. spend your life writing thank you notes.

The order of things really makes a difference. In the first scenario, I am left with nagging doubts about whether I am is "good enough." The real answer is actually, no, I'm not good enough. But God loves me just the way I am! And out of gratitude for that awesome truth, I spend my life writing God thank you notes. They look like good works. Ephesians 2 goes onto to talk about these in the verses 9-10.

I think it's really really important to be clear about the order of things. It is the difference between bondage and freedom, fear and love, worry and joy. I come across SO MANY folks who really are plugging along, trying to work their way into heaven. And I believe that God honors folks who do good. But there is little joy in this way of living. Thank you note living is a different story. Thank you note living is living each day gratefully, thankful for the Joy that is Jesus. It provides purpose, and a desire to serve God in the ways God has equipped me to serve. I don't have to do things I am not particularly gifted for becuase it's not about doing anything and everything I can find to do to ensure myself a spot. It's about discovering how to travel with God on this journey in ways that bless others and ultimately myself. It's about using my God given gifts not for earning points but for the sheer joy of serving and loving.

Saturday, August 12, 2006

Fasting and Feasting

As I was reading yesterday to continue preparing for the sermon series on Sabbath that continues Aug. 13 and Aug. 20, I was struck by Marva Dawn's contention: we don't know how to feast because we don't know how to fast.

I have been trying to fast on Fridays (the day Jesus was crucified) for about the past month, and I was fasting when I read this. I guess my fast accomplished one its purposes: I paid more attention to something God wanted to communicate.

I have been trying to do a traditional fast from dinner to dinner. Basically, it is fasting through breakfast and lunch and then eating dinner. The past two weeks I have had to modify this because of an antibiotic I am taking that requires food in the morning. I have to admit that I have been ridiculously grateful for the excuse! God definitely has more work to do in me.

Food tastes SO GOOD on Friday nights. I cannot get over how much I enjoy eating on Friday nights. That is the point that Marva is making. If we live with simplicity through the week, and then feast on the Sabbath with special foods, we discover a new depth and meaning to feasting. She makes the point that Americans eat special food all of the time. As a result, the only thing we can think of for feasts like Christmas is to eat more. But when we live more simply, and even fast during the week, the Sabbath feast is truly a feast, a celebration of God's creation and abundance. It is a time to celebrate God providing for our needs and to honor God by making the day special with a feast. Also, it puts us in touch with those who are truly hungry and starving, because through fasting and feasting, we are able to identify with their experiences.

Feasting is also one of the dominant images for the Kingdom of God in Scripture. Jesus describes the Kingdom using feasting language, rooted in the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament) understanding of feasting. To have a deeper understanding of feasting is to experience a foretaste of what is to come. As Marva points out, it is a way of allowing the mystery of God to seep more deeply into our souls.

Friday, August 11, 2006

Sabbath brings us in touch with the world

I like this excerpt from Marva Dawn's book Keeping the Sabbath Wholly It speaks to me about why I am so drawn to Sabbath- for truly it is a part of participating in what God is doing to change the world.

"A Sabbath focus...does not remove us from the world; it simply gives us a larger perspective for plunging into its needs and sufferings more deeply. For example, our Sabbath feasting challenges us to become more involved in providing food for the hungry and economic possibilities for the oppressed. Our experience of the peace of God's presence in our Sabbath worship and our listening to Scripture texts that proclaim God's purposes of peace motivate us to become more active in working for peace in the world- serving as agents for reconciliation in our offices and neighborhoods, voting for local and national candidates who will work for global peace, contributing to agencies that build peace by establishing justice. Our celebration of the Sabbath festival gives us hope and strength and power for dealing with all the work and events of the week to come in worshipful ways. Most of all, Sabbath celebration gives us a deep sense of the Joy that is ours because of the resurrection of Christ, and that festival Joy equips us to glorify God in whatever tasks we might undertake in the following six days"

Wednesday, August 09, 2006


I have been thinking about encouragement the past two weeks. Last week I met with a clergy friend for whom I am acting as a mentor. Today, I had lunch with a clergy friend just to swap stories, share resources, and generally enjoy some time together.

I shared with my friend last week that I think discouragement is part of the nature of ministry. To serve as the pastor of a church is to experience discouragement- on a fairly regular basis. Perhaps this is because pastors, by definition, want to change the world. World changing experiences don't happen every day. The best thing to do is acknowledge it and pray through it.

I also think that this is has something to do with the nature of being alive. It seems to be a common human trait to focus on problems more than good things. It is really a spiritual discipline to practice reflecting on reasons to be grateful. I always remember one sermon I heard at my home church in the mid90s. The pastor talked about a modern day parable, in which the devil was asked if he had ever found a heart he could not tempt or penetrate in some way. His reply was that the only impenetrable heart he had come up against was a grateful heart. That was a word from the Lord for me. I still remember where I was sitting...Like some sort of shining aha moment in a movie.

So, on my way to lunch today, I thanked God for his love poured out for me on the cross and in the resurrection. God used that time of eating together to bless and encourage me even more. And now, as I sit here this afternoon with PILES of stuff to do, I think about all I have to be grateful for. I have a roof over my head, food on my table, a wonderful husband and children and extended family (my sister and her family are coming stay a few days as they move- yahoo!). I serve a church that I love, filled with loving, beautiful people, who do the Lord's work in so many ways... truly, I have reason to be encouraged.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

War and Sabbath

I continue to be blessed by this sermon series on Sabbath. As is often the case, I am one who needs to hear this.

As I have turned over in my mind the sermon from Sunday, I have reflected upon what it is to really rest- it goes far deeper than physical rest. As Marva Dawn so aptly points out, real rest is resting spiritually in God's grace and taking a break from trying to be God. It is resting emotionally, allowing God to heal us through relationship both with God (in solitude) and others (in community).

But it is the ideas of intellectual rest and social rest that have captured my imagination. Both Marva Dawn and Wayne Muller point out that we must rest from thinking and trying to solve problems, especially when the problems are big, life threatening ones like poverty, war. It is in the act of resting in God that one reaffirms God's presence and activity. It is in resting, too, that creativity and fresh perspective is given space to breath and exist. It is in this type of intellectual rest that social rest takes root: a person learns to trust in God's love that calls us precious just because we are created, and also learns to see others in this light. It's much harder to kill or oppress someone you love.

FDR Memorial:

Busyness, always rushing from one problem, challenge, crises, or issue headlong into the next one, seldom produces the results we long for. I read a heart rending reflection on the war in Lebananon. The writer, Linda Bales of the United Methodist General Board of Church and Society, talked of seeing a four year old Lebanese child dead in the street. How do we allow such things to happen?

At least part of the answer is that we are not intimately connected with the source of Love. Sabbath is a way of connecting with Love, of putting God at the head of all that we do, and for Christians, being formed into the image of Jesus Christ. If we were so connected, we would no sooner believe war is legitimate path to peace than we would believe that jumping off a cliff would solve all of our personal problems. Sabbath practice can bring a gentleness of spirit and a creative heart to whatever we are facing.

Speaking of war not being a path forward to peace, and war not honoring God's love for all humanity, I am reminded of my favorite placard at the last anti-war protest I attended on the D.C. mall. If you are sensitive to profane language, stop reading now. The placard said "Bombing for peace is like f@#%ing for virginity."
Generally, I am not big into using profanity to express myself, but I have yet to think of a better way to say that one.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Sabbath Quote that hits home

Our Sabbath observance will not give us genuine rest if we use it merely as an excuse to be workaholics the rest of the week. Only in the sure knowledge that we don’t have to manufacture our success in life by our own efforts can we have the freedom not to be continuously working to make our own way.
Marva J. Dawn
Keeping the Sabbath Wholly

Wow- that really speaks to me about an attitude of faith. This is what I especially need to hold onto as a pastor.

Sabbath #2

First, some more reflections from Sunday, the first in the series. Isn't it fascinating that we have a hierarchy in our understanding of the ten commandments? Killing and Stealing are at the top of the no-no list. Then comes adultery... and the list varies slightly in order for everyone from there, with having no other gods (like materialism),lying, honoring father and mother in some vague order. Most who claim faith in any fashion would feel at least a twinge of guilt for taking the Lord's name in vain and coveting. But for many of us, Sabbath does not even make the list! Yet, only the commandment to have no other gods/avoiding idolatry has more verbiage than Sabbath. It is nearly the longest passage in the ten commandments, and in Scripture length and repetition communicate importance. If an average person were stopped on the street, would Sabbath even make the list of commandments mentioned?

Now, onto some more Sabbath practice suggestions....

Wayne Muller has written an outstanding book called Sabbath: Finding Rest, Renewal, and Delight in our Busy Lives. As I am preparing for week 2 of a sermon series on Sabbath, I offer you some of his ideas for Sabbath practices. He closes every chapter with suggestions.

His suggestion for using Sabbath candles: "Find a candle that holds beauty or meaning for you. When you have set aside some time- before a meal, or during prayer, meditation, or simply quiet reading- set the candle before you, say a simple prayer or blessing for yourself or someone you love, and light the candle. Take a few mindful breaths....let the hurry of the world fall away."

For Creating time and space: "Sabbath can only being if we close the factory, turn out the lights, turn off the computer, and withdraw from the concerns of the marketplace. Choose at least one heavily using appliance or device- the telephone, television, computer, washer and dryer- and let them rest for a Sabbath period. Whether it is a morning, afternoon, or entire day, surrender to a quality of time when you will not be disturbed, seduced, or responsive to what our technologies have to offer. Notice how you respond to its absence."

Sabbath Meal: "Prepare a Sabbath meal, alone or with friends or family. Shop for the ingredients, choosing those that bring you the most pleasure. This food is not so much for survival as for sheer, savory delight. Put on some music, turn off the phone. Take as much time as you like to feel, taste, smell each ingredient, every spice, bread, and vegetable. Decorate the table with flowers, colorful placemats, and candles. Say a prayer. Give thanks, remembering all the people who grew, harvested, packed, shipped, and sold them for you. Give thanks for the bounty of the Earth. Enjoy."

To experience Sabbath moments of God's presence throughout the week: "In the Buddhist community of Plum Village, Thich Nhat Hanh, a Vietnamese monk, periodically rings a Mindfulness Bell. Upon hearing the bell, everyone stops, and takes three silent, mindful breaths. They are free to continue their work, awakened ever so slightly to the Sabbath pause of mindfulness. We can choose anything to stop us like this- the telephone ringing, a stoplight when we are driving, whenever our hand touches a doorknob, before we eat or drink. Choose one common act during the day to serve as a Sabbath pause. Whenever it arises- whenever you touch a doorknob or hear a phone ring- simply stop, take three silent, mindful breaths, and then go through the door or answer the phone. See how it changes you to take these tiny moments every day."

If you are taking Sabbath days during this sermon series, please do let me know. Comment on your first experiences and/or send me an email.


Saturday, July 29, 2006

Sabbath #1

July 30 is the beginning of a four part sermon series entitled Rest and Renewal: A Sabbath Way of Life. It is based upon an excellent book by Marva J. Dawn entitled "Keeping the Sabbath Wholly: Ceasing, Resting, Embracing, Feasting." As you can see from the subtitle, the book lends itself to....a four part series! This entire blog entry is based on her book.

In the July 30 sermon, I am inviting our church family to seriously practice Sabbath keeping, for at least four weeks. Then, on Wed. Aug. 23 at 6:30, folks are invited to meet for dinner at Bakers and share experiences.

To support this process, I am posting some Sabbath practice suggestions. This post will be the first of at least four, possibly more.

Since Sabbath practices are rooted deeply in our tradition, all the way back to the decalogue (ten commandments), it is appropriate to pay attention to Jewish practices. After all, they are much more historically practiced and the Sabbath is more central to Jewish practice (although it should be just as central for Christians).

The image you see above are Sabbath candles. There are two, representing the two passages of Scripture that command the Sabbath. Both are accounts of the Decalogue, one in Exodus 20, and one in Deuteronomy 5. The Exodus 20 passages begins with the word "remember" and the Deut. 5 passage with "observe." Thus the two candles are for "remember" and "observe."

(A word on rules and legalism: the point of all of is this to receive God's grace. So read these and find something that looks like a blessing. Do not be oppressed by the suggestions, just take what looks useful, and go with that.)

In Jewish tradition, Sabbath begins at sundown. You could begin your Sabbath then, at dinner time, bedtime, or when you awake in the morning. The two candles are lit, and this prayer, the Kiddush, is recited.
Blessed are Thou, O Lord our God, King of the Universe, who hast hallowed us by His Commandments and commanded us to kindle the Sabbath light!

After this prayer, you may...
- give thanks for all of the creation this past week and for the Joy of God's creating now an opportunity to cease from labor.
- pray about ways to spend the day and ask that these activities draw you closer to God and fill you more fully with a sense of God's presence in your life.
- pray for the Church, pastors, musicians, and others who contribute to worship around the world on Sundays. (Gives global perspective)p.12

You could then continue with an order of worship including
- Blessing of the children (laying hands on your children's heads and praying for them)
- Singing
- Blessing of the meal
- Eating and enjoying meal together
- Prayer at end of meal based on Deut 8:10
- Evening talking with family and friends, and studying Bible
A "God Hunt" to develop children's capacity to recognize God's work in every day lives.
1. Any obvious answer to prayer
2. Any unexpected evidence of God's care
3. Any unusual linkage or timing
4. Any help to do God's work in the world
Then a "God Hunt" for the adults at adult level conversation after children "hunt"

Another set of suggestions for family worship to welcome the Sabbath:
1. Keep it short and simple
2. Find a way for as many as possible to take part
3. Do not rely only on words; find simple symbolic gestures to represent the important parts of family life
4. Come to recognize the power of repetition
5. Invite others to join you
6. Have fun

Other Sabbath practice ideas:
-Put away anything that is related to work, so that it is out of sight.
-Take a Sabbath walk. If you live with other family members, you might all walk in silence and focus on God and God's creation, and then share reflections afterward.
-Don't run any errands, or shop, or do anything that qualifies as work, around the house or otherwise. To cease is to let God be God and simply stop, and enjoy God's presence, and all of the blessings of life.
- Remember the Sabbath is about letting go of control, of trying to secure our own future, and to trust in God's presence. There is no need to accomplish anything on this day. Let the dishes pile up- they will wait until tomorrow.

God certainly did not choose Israel because of their accomplishments or their productivity. They were the least among the people of the ancient Near East. They were rebellious and self-centered. They constantly failed to keep their end of the covenant relationship with Yahweh. So God's love for them is related not to what they do, but to his character as the eternal "I AM."
This is what we celebrate on the Sabbath day. We join with the generations of believers- going al the way back to God'’s people, the Jews- who set aside a day to remember that we are precious and honored in God's sight and loved, profoundly loved, not because of what we produce.
To celebrate God's love on our Sabbath also transforms us that we can more deeply value others in the same way.


I love to snuggle my children. I find it sacred time. My daughter Shannon has always been a snuggle bug. Even at age four she is always up for a good snuggle. Although it has been more than two years since we rocked her to sleep, she still occasionally asks to be rocked for a few minutes.

My son Jacob is another story. He did not come out of the womb snuggly. He has always been too busy. He prefers a ride on my hip, pointing the way to our next destination. If I ask, he might give me a "hug." This consists of his resting his little head on my shoulder for about two seconds. He is still being converted to snugglebuggness. Although he is almost two, I remain resolute in my attempts to show him the value of a good snuggle.

It's a different story at bedtime. At bedtime, he happily climbs in my lap for his snuggle. I say to him "snuggle Mommy to go night night" and he nods his head as he snuggles in. Within fewer than five minutes, he is usually asleep. I often snuggle him well past this time, just because I can.

Why is snuggling sacred? I think because it is about being entirely present to my child. There is nothing to accomplish other than being close together. There is no doing, just being. I often pray for my children as we snuggle. And I reflect upon how God wants to just cradle us in divine arms, if only we sit still to just BE.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Just War

The doctrine of "just war" is something that regularly comes to mind. Every time I hear a news broadcast about the war in Iraq, and now the war between Israel and Lebanon, always it is in the back of my mind.

I was driving to Town Point church last night for the final evening worship service of the summer, and heard a report of hand to hand combat among Israeli and Hezbollah soldiers. All I could think of were men, each of them the beloved son of a mother and father, fighting for their lives. It brought tears. It brings tears again. A flash of fear strikes my heart- what if my two year old son is some day fighting in a war? I try not to envision my children's future for them- I want them to discover it for themselves on an adventure with God. But having my child fight a war would be heart breaking beyond words.

I think of the FDR memorial in DC with the great quotes by this president. "I have seen war....I hate war." I can scarcely imagine how damaging it is to the fabric of each human being fighting- both to the person who is injured or killed, and the person physically unscathed who will always carry memories of their actions that injured and killed. This is why there is a syndrome called post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) that has been identified since at least the Vietnam war. One of my seminary professors who fought in Vietnam to this day cannot watch war movies.

People have known how horrible war is for a VERY long time. Long enough that the Christian church developed a doctrine about what constitutes a just war all the way back in the fourth century. For the first three centuries, Christians were by definition pacifist, strictly interpreting Jesus' Sermon on the Mount about loving enemies. Then the Roman empire was sacked, and Saint Augustine wrote about just war theory. It became so widely accepted in western culture, that up until the war in Iraq, it was considered the baseline. Bush's doctrine of preemptive war is, ironically, unorthodox from a Christian perspective.

The Just War Theory asks these three questions, and all of these conditions must be satisfied in order for a war to be called just.
1. What are acceptable reasons for going to war?
To protect human rights and ensure basic decencies for human life (basically, defensive responses to inhumane actions)
2. When is war acceptable if human rights are in danger? All five of these criteria must be met:
a. If the good outweighs the evil of war
b. If there is a legitimate ruler in leadership
c. If the purpose of getting involved is to restore peace/fight for justice.
d. If all other options have been exhausted
e. If there is a reasonable chance of winning
3. How is war to be conducted? With proportional tactical goals, and discrimination in avoiding harm for non combatants.

The Bush doctrine of preemptive war is rooted not in the defensive mode of just war theory but in the offensive idea of addressing a serious issue by using war as the primary instrument.

Why do I write such things on my blog? I guess because I take seriously the value of life. I truly believe life is a sacred gift from God, and that this is true for all life regardless of what country or even faith a person is born into. And I also suspect that many of us who hold such values have never been taught just war theory. I did not learn it (or at least remember learning it) until I went to Seminary. Perhaps if more people were well versed in such things, we could find a way forward that honors these values.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006


Right after I posted mystery and meaning, I read an email with this quote:

In times of great change [which is always] learners inherit the earth, while the learned find themselves beautifully equipped for a world that no longer exists.

--Eric Hoffer and Richard Rohr

I think it captures something of the essence of living life in mystery and meaning.