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.