Saturday, February 24, 2007

Second Chance

Tonight, we had a movie night. Since Jacob's Well uses the High School auditorium, we decided it would be fun to make good use of the movie theater style seating, screen, and projector. We had dinner, dessert, popcorn, and candy. The worship band rehearsed/played for us. Then we watched a movie called Second Chance.

It has Michael W. Smith as a lead character, and it is about how his church planting father sends him to "observe and learn" in an inner city church plant that had been part of the father's early ministry and remained part of the overall organization as a mission outpost.

I was surprised by how well done it was. It seemed a bit long. But it really did a good job of raising questions about the nature of church, and what ministry really means. It was a not so subtle critique of suburban (white, wealthy) church losing its focus on the mission and turning insular. Basically, Smith's character loses his blinders and comes to see the "hood" as the place where Christ is present...among all of the drugs and violence is risky, selfless love.

It seems from where I sit, that Protestant Christianity is re-examining what it means to be church, and what really matters. How appropriate that tomorrow's gospel lesson is the temptation of Jesus. Luke's account in chapter 4 says that he was led into the wilderness by the Spirit. There he was tempted by the devil to turn stones into bread (to which Jesus replied "One does not live by bread alone"). Then he was tempted to have authority over all the kingdoms of the world (to which Jesus replied "Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him"). Finally, the devil used verses of Scripture to tempt Jesus to throw himself down from a high pinnacle and prove God's protection (to which Jesus replied "Do not put the Lord your God to the test")

One of the important ways Jesus survived the temptations was by remaining focused on his mission, his purpose, and focused on God. Also, the wilderness formed him into the person he was created to be. It was after this wilderness time that he began preaching. His first sermon? "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor."

Between the movie and the Scripture for tomorrow, the message I see is that keeping focused is vitally important...and that focus has a lot to do with the poor, captives, blind, and oppressed.

Friday, February 23, 2007

Kids, Families, God

I have had two conversations in the past month that have me thinking about the importance of religion in family life.

The first was with a friend who was sharing a bizarre conversation she had with another mother at the elementary school. The mother shared that her five year old daughter was really into American Girl dolls. (I have heard of them, but pretty much all I know is that they are expensive.) Apparently, this five year old has had American Girl dolls since she was an infant. The details are fuzzy now, but American Girl dolls apparently have birth places listed on them, and if a family is so inclined, they can go take a vacation at the doll's birth American Girl vacation. This New Jersey family went to Williamsburg, VA. For a week. To visit a pretend birthplace. For a doll.

My friends and my husband and I had spent the better part of the previous night talking about religion. So after my friend finished her story, my comment was "this is why people need religion." I am just imagining: what if this family, who has the resources to go on a fantasy vacation for their five year old, went instead on a mission trip together? Perhaps offering Bible school for children, or sharing dolls and crafts and play time with children who don't have such resources. It seems to me that these people are dying to have something worth investing themselves in. I (not so humbly) submit that American Girl dolls don't fit the bill.

Then today, I was talking with someone who has moved to a new place in Pennsylvania. She is becoming a part of a Mom's Club, and volunteered to help coordinate the annual picnic. Because of a schedule conflict and a dead cell phone battery, she was not at the first formal planning meeting. What she thought she was signing up for was...a picnic. She was imagining a park, some grills, some playground time for the kids, perhaps some extra sand toys, and maybe some sidewalk chalk. Maximum investment of about three dollars per family, to cover park rental space and some common supplies, with each family bringing a dish to share. When she was apprised of the plans formed while she was away, she discovered the other three organizers are planning a small festival. They are planning to charge each family ten dollars, comparison shop at BJs and Costco for the best prices, prepare all of the food, rent some moon bounce style entertainment, and generally go entirely overboard... and call it a picnic. If she cannot persuade them to keep things simple, she is going to bow out. She was looking for a picnic.

I asked her, "do these women go to church? If not, they should. I know at my church, I could think of lots of things they could organize effectively... things that matter." I have been thinking all day of the wasted talents of the American Doll family and the picnic families. God has given them all kinds of resources and abilities... think what could be accomplished in love...if only they knew what was possible.

Megan (our youth director) and I were walking out of Union Hospital on Wednesday this week, when a woman standing near the door asked for a ride up the road to Acme. We went and got the car, and it took her several minutes to make her way over to the car, and get in. She can barely walk with a walker. Although she had just been discharged from the hospital, sadly she did not smell as though a bath had been part of her care. She explained that a cab ride for those few blocks would be six dollars, and she didn't have that kind of money. She wanted some sale items at the store. So we offered to drive her to our church food pantry, and then save her the thirteen dollar cab ride to her apartment.

Watching her climb the fourteen steps to her second level apartment was heartbreaking. Even more troubling was the state of her apartment. She is physically incapable of keeping it clean.
I am imagining the American girl and picnic families talents being put into cleaning, laundering, and shopping for this dear soul on a regular basis.

All of this has me thinking about how truly grateful I am for coming (back) to faith in my early twenties. And it has me thinking about how important our faith is in forming our family life. I think about how much our church family shapes the lives of our children, teaching them to be generous, loving, trusting, kind to others. I think about how comforting the routine is for them, to know that they will gather with the same community every week for a special time of fun and celebration, pray familiar prayers every day, and have tools to think through complicated subjects like creation, death, sin, forgiveness. As they get older, we will delve deeper into the questions and complications that surround such things, but for now, it is comforting to have age appropriate responses for such questions.

I think about the common purpose we share, both in our family and in our community of faith. I think about the ways we make decisions about our resources so that we honor God with what we have been given. We try to keep our religious convictions the organizing force in our family. Our hope is that our children will grow to live God-directed lives, living to bless others and honor God, for we know that self centered lives are lousy. Living for others is where blessing rests.

But it is not where profits flow. As Megan, our youth director, noted in Bible study this week, capitalism is not just our economic system, it is our organizing moral principle. People have become commodities, avenues for profit. Religion provides a much different organizing premise, an alternative. And from what I can see, we are more in need of such an alternative with each passing decade.

I fantasize on a fairly regular basis about writing a book on one subject or another. Right now, I am envisioning a book of interviews and stories of how faith forms families. Perhaps it could be a new hit in the child development section...God knows the children of our world need an alternative to materialism.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Naming Emotions

One of the things for which I am grateful to my parents in raising me is that they taught me the importance of dealing with my emotions. I can only think of a few actual memories in which I consciously remember such lessons, but I know deep inside of me the lessons have stayed with me long after the memories of the time and circumstance of my learning have faded.

A few weeks ago when we were on vacation, we visited some friends with children close in age to our children. Shannon (who is four) was asking me to play a guessing game about why she had put up only one side of her hair. One of the children blurted out the answer before I could guess. Shannon was already exhausted from a weekend of fun, so she burst into tears. It floored me when, about ten minutes later, she said, "Abby, it made me really angry that you said the answer before my Mommy could guess, because you already knew the answer." Apologies were made and all was well again.

Then this morning, Shannon and I were stuck in bridge traffic. We have to travel over this bridge every day to get from our house to church, where she also attends preschool.

I had not been aware that bridge work was scheduled, and we were already running late. About three minutes into our wait, Shannon said "it is so FRUSTRATING to have to sit here and wait to go over the bridge!"

I am fond of saying that God did not give us emotions so that we could pretend we don't have them. I believe that emotions are a gift from God, and a part of living deeply. It is awe inspiring to watch my daughter live into this.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007


Here is an actual conversation with a grocery store cashier. This happened yesterday:

Cashier: "What are these?" (holding up a bag of produce with no sticker code attached)
Me: "Mushrooms"
Cashier: "Thanks, I am really bad with produce."

Talk about your understatements.

I admit that I am often the cause of consternation to grocery store cashiers. Things like okra, bok choy, and daikon radishes are often known to grace my cart. But mushrooms?

My husband and I laughed about it when I got home. His response: "mushrooms are a pizza topping!"

It got me thinking about the new food guidelines released by the food and drug administration. I had no idea how large a task they have of getting us to eat at 5 servings of fruit and vegetables per day. I had thought the challenge was shifting away from fast food and other junk food. But apparently, the challenge begins with defining fruits and vegetables!

Saturday, February 17, 2007


Tomorrow I am preaching on Amazing Grace Sunday. I just finished reading Not For Sale: The Return of the Global Slave Trade- and How We Can Fight It by David Batstone. It is quite a read...inspiring and motivational to put it lightly. I will blog more about slavery soon, but for now, I want to share the website and the list of things they suggest can be done to begin to address the issue.

First, go to the website Batstone has begun:

I followed a link from there to find this list on an affiliated site called the amazing change.
This is a list of things you can do to address the issue of 27 million people enslaved worldwide, including over 200,000 in the United States

Ten Things You Can Do

How can you contribute to The Amazing Change? The ten examples below should give you some ideas — we would love to hear your suggestions as well!
  1. Sign the Petition. Become an abolitionist by signing The Petition to End Modern Day Slavery. Click Here To Print a Petition. Take the petition to your school, church, family, friends, et al., and then send it to us (mailing address provided on petition)
  2. See Amazing Grace. This film is a great introduction to the work of William Wilberforce, an original abolitionist. Learn how you can carry on his legacy.
  3. Raise funds to free slaves. Use the tools on this website, such as Loose Change to Loosen Chains, to start your own fundraising campaign.
  4. Educate yourself. Use the resources on the site to learn about the horrors of historical and modern day slavery.
  5. Show solidarity. Buy The Amazing Change t-shirt and tell friends and family about your mission to abolish slavery.
  6. Create a Clapham Circle. William Wilberforce was part of a group of friends and neighbors called the Clapham Circle. They met regularly to discuss ways to advance the cause of abolition. You can form your own Clapham Circle. Have weekly meetings with friends or neighbors in your community to discuss the issue of modern day slavery. Download tools from this website to facilitate your discussion.
  7. Blog. Write about modern day slavery and The Amazing Change in our online community or on your MySpace, Xanga or Facebook profile. Include a link to our website so friends can learn how to get involved.
  8. Ask others. Talk to leaders in your community, school or church about The Amazing Change. and encourage them to become involved.
  9. Read More. Read books about modern day slavery like Not for Sale by David Batstone.
  10. Volunteer. Pass on the legacy of William Wilberforce and donate your time to The Amazing Change by joining the street team, creating a Clapham Circle, or fundraising to free slaves.
Also, here are most of the websites at the back of Batstones book he suggests checking out:

Stop the Traffik is a global coalition of organizations, including faith groups, to focus on advocacy and education.

Not For Sale Fund creates and supports projects to give future to former slaves

Salvation Army has a manual on Anti-Trafficking

Polaris Project is based in the U.S. (primary location is D.C.) and Japan advocacy and shelter for victims. Also runs and

International Justice Mission is a human rights group that rescues victims, monitors conditions, and educates.

Nightlight Design is a Christian ministry that brings women and girls out of sex trade and provides employment. You can buy their products to support.

Free the Slaves fights slavery around the world- helping freed slaves build lives, removing slave labor from our products, hellping governments enforce existing laws

Hagar, a Christian ministry, works in Cambodia on prevention, rehabilitation...offers employment to freed slaves...has products for sale to support them

Campus Coalition Against Trafficking: is a university campus movement

Children of the Night: has rescued 10,000 American children from prostitution since 1979

Florida Coalition Against Human Trafficking identifies victims, adovcates, and pursues justice

Protection Project based at John Hopkins School of Advancted International Studies in D.C., documents information

Rugmark works to end child labor in Nepal, India, Pakistan and assures consumers no child labor used in manufacture of rugs.

Coalition of Immokalee Workers: works with exploited immigrants in Florida agriculture

Anti-Slavery International:

Bal Vikas Ashram is a rehab center for children 8-14 who have been rescued from slavery in India

Churches Alert to Sex Trafficking across Europe (CHASTE)

Coalition Against Trafficking in Women (CATW) international work to combat sexual exploitation

Coalition to Abolish Slavery and Trafficking (CAST) works in Los Angeles created and implements a model for services for trafficking victims

Development and Education Program for Daughters and Communities: works in Thailiand to prevent women and children from being trafficked into the sex industry

Las Strada International prvention of trafficking in EAstern Europe

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Better World Handbook

On Sunday morning, I preached on the Beatitudes in Luke 6. At Jacob's Well, we used the movie the Lion King to illustrate the point that the blessings and woes in Luke's version show that a lack of material stuff does not mean a person is not blessed, and an abundance of material stuff does not mean a person is blessed. This is of course very Biblical, but counter cultural.

Where does the Lion King enter in, you may ask? Well, in pride land before King Mufasa dies, all is in harmony and balance. Everyone has enough. This is what abundant life means in Scripture...enough-ness (thank you Megan Shitama and her gospel in consumer culture class she is taking at Wesley Seminary).

Then, Scar and his hyena henchman take the throne. They consume more than their fair share. The whole system is thrown way out of balance. Simba lives in "don't worry be happy land" with his two friends, steadfastly ignoring what is really happening. This is in essence what happens in our real live world. I/we live in a world that is being decimated by some taking way more than our fair share, while billions of people life in poverty. But because I am an American, I can choose to live in "don't worry be happy land" and ignore it all if I so choose.

Ever taken the environmental footprint quiz? Click here to check it out. It asks a series of simple questions to determine how many planets we would need to support the life of our world population if everyone lived like I do. My footprint says it would take 3 planets. The last time I took it, it said 4. (Not quite sure what I began doing right...but I have been trying!)

To live a beatitude life, a blessed life, a life in the Kingdom of God, the abundant life which God promises...well that means I have to share in all of life, including the messy suffering parts where people are poor, hungry, weeping, and reviled. Simba had to go back, face reality, and take his rightful place in the Kingdom.

I had a concrete suggestion for folks who want to learn more about how to make more of a difference in the world. It is a book called The Better World Handbook. They also have a website, click here.

When I went on Amazon to get the link to the book I own (click here) I found, joy of joys, that it is about to released up updated form. For that link click here.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

More on Buildings....

In response to my post about buildings (found here) I received this very thoughtful reply. The writer agreed to let me post it. I read someone referring to the sacredness of church buildings as having "holy residue" that evoke a sense of God's presence in special/unique ways.

I think this is the most beautiful place I have ever seen
It is the church I was baptized in. It is the oldest church in the country that still holds regular services. The church sits right across the road from what was my grandparents house, and it was a huge part of their lives. My sister and I went to church 4 times a year - thanksgiving weekend, two weeks in the summer, and easter vacation - when we stayed with our grandmother. In a childhood that wasn't all that happy, going to Church Creek was as if the heavens had opened up and said "your turn". These were the grandparents we lived with for the first two years of our lives after our mother died. We went to church and we were quite the celebrities - 'the twins!' The pastor blessed us each time we visited. I have never felt more loved in my life than when I was with my grandmother.

This is the first place I knew that God existed. It truly is a beautiful church - but it is all the more beautiful to me personally because of the feelings of warmth, and security and love it evokes in me. If I could walk up that lane and sit in that church for a few minutes every day, I would be a much better person. This is a place I have 'fled to' at times in my life when things were 'too much'

So while I think what you've said is probably true, I think there's a lot to be said for having these buildings. A place of refuge and beauty as tangible reminders of God's presence.

Honestly, if you've never seen this church, it's worth a visit. You won't forget it!

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

First Day Back

I am several hours into my first day back in the office after a month of rest. It was a tremendous blessing to take time to unwind. I feel like I have been given an amazing gift by God and God's community in Chesapeake City. Stress, worry, and anxiety are like a memory right now. I expect they will return, but I do hope that I have acquired a spiritual habit or two to bring me through them.

I am reminded of a woman in Wed. Bible Study ("BS" on the calendar...always good for a chuckle). She talked about how when she feels knocked down, God always builds her back up four feet taller so that it's harder to knock her down the next time.

I feel more centered, more focused, and much more at peace. I am currently trying to ease myself back into a routine without feeling guilty that I have not yet gotten through the 400 or so email that are waiting for my review.

I have done things today like yoga and taking time to read things that I put on my bulletin board over the past few years. You know what? They are pretty good!

After a few minutes of yoga (my new love- great way to meditate and center- I feel like I was created to do yoga) I felt led to a book of poetry I have not picked up in a while. This book first crossed my path on a retreat that must have been about 6-7 years ago... it was used by the retreat leader. They are poems by Hafiz, the great Sufi poet from Persia (Iran).

Sufism is a the mystical side of Islam. I looked it up for a definition and found this on
Sufism ('fĭzəm) , an umbrella term for the ascetic and mystical movements within Islam. While Sufism is said to have incorporated elements of Christian monasticism, gnosticism, and Indian mysticism, its origins are traced to forms of devotion and groups of penitents (zuhhad) in the formative period of Islam. The early pious figures, later appropriated by Sufism, include Ali, Hasan al-Basri (d. 801), and Rabia al-Adawiyya, a woman from Basra (Iraq) who rejected worship motivated by the desire for heavenly reward or the fear of punishment and insisted on the love of God as the sole valid form of adoration.

I am usually not so keen on poetry. I am not sure what exactly it takes to appreciate poetry, but whatever it is, I don't have much of it. But Hafiz is different. He writes about the Divine Love, and every time I pick up The Gift I am touched.

Here is what spoke to my heart:


The pawn

Always sits stunned,

Chained, unalbe to move

Beneath God's magnficent power,

It is essential for the heart's coronation

For the pawn to realize

There is nothing but divine movement

In this


I feel like that captures my perspective on the world right now.

Sunday, February 04, 2007


I start back in the office on Tuesday. This week has included a trip to see both parents, mixed together with a trip to the Museum of Natural History in D.C. as well as trip to N.J. to visit friends and a trip in NYC with both families.

I have also been working on that to do list I think every person has; it is entitled something like "The Things I Will Do Someday When I Have Time." Our bedroom is now a color other than white. The bookshelves that I have owned for nearly 10 years are now organized for the first time in their existence. My refrigerator is cleaner and whiter than I have ever experienced it. The day that I got into deep cleaning the kitchen and reorganizing some cabinets, my daughter got into the cleaning act with gusto. Before nap, she straigthened up the porch toys, her bedroom, and her brother's bedroom. When she awoke, she found me scrubbing the refrigerator. She joined in and scrubbed the faces of cabinets and spent a lot of time on the fronts of the washer and dryer.

I have spent several days over this month doing cleaning and organizing stuff. How do I know that it is starting to affect truly my children? The night of the great kitchen cleaning, I put Jacob to bed and said to Shannon "would you like to watch a little TV before bed?" Her answer? "No mommy, let's clean!"

Hard to refuse that kind of offer. So we did more.

I have been thinking about what is at the root of my cleaning and organizing. It is rather unlike me. But I think I might actually be changing. (My husband even laughed and commented it would take some getting used to.) These past few years have been a time of mental transition for me. The transition has been from being future and forward focused to being present and right now focused. This is rooted in the point of life I am now in- married, a mom of the two children I planned, five years beyond my divinity degree, serving as the pastor of a great church family. It also about having a more contemplative spiritual focus of being present in the moment.

I have spent a lot of my life preparing for and looking forward to the future. Now, my life has arrived, so to speak. Not that it had never arrived before. I just did not acknowledge it as such. (I would have been a much better contemplative if I could have learned to do so much earlier.)

I think perhaps my straightening and organizing is at a deeper level about settling into this thing called life, making myself comfortable. After all, I hope to be here a while. By that I mean not only life in general, but specifically life in Chesapeake City as the UM pastor in this community, with these God given friends and family.

So, here's to clean bookcases and sparkling white appliances. May God use them to bless.