Thursday, December 18, 2008

The Kingdom

In United Methodist world, we have a term for our servants who go out on short term mission trips of 5-10 days. We call them Volunteers in Mission. VIM is the shorthand term. (I understand some have suggested that it should really be called Disciples in Mission, but DIM sounds comical, doesn't it?)

I am serving in my Conference as the VIM Coordinator, working with a fabulous team of laity and clergy. One of the people I have met along this journey is a lay person in New York.

We were chatting by email, and he shared that he has been working to bring together a consortium of churches, non-profits, and secular groups to focus upon the significant challenges that youth in their community face. They have a drop out rate of 28%... and all of the attending challenges that go along with that like substance abuse, etc.

He said that getting folks to the table has been the easiest part. Deciding what one aspect of helping youth they will focus upon has proved to be the challenge. In addition, the most difficult folks in this process have been.... the pastors.

I groaned out loud when I read this. It was a forehead smacking moment because sadly, this is pathetically common. In my reply to him I said:

How hard is it to live out Matthew 25, and Luke 4? I wonder what the world would look like if we pastors could let go of visions of building our own small kingdoms and embrace God's big Kingdom? I think the small kingdoms look so attractive,manageable and fun; and there are so many workshops around on how to build them. The big kingdom is so much more mysterious and messy.. and yet.... and yet.... it is God's

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Peace that passes all understsanding

It is nearly time for my children to awake this Sunday morning. I am putting the final touches on my sermon as I go over it this morning. And Ray is in the hospital, receiving IV antibiotics for an infection that could be very harmful. It has been a difficult few days.

I never cease to be amazed at God's grace poured out in the midst of trial. I have seen it in the folks who have helped care for my children, prayed for us, called us, run errands for us. I have thought again about how God promises to care for God's children. I feel very cared for.

When Ray was first diagnosed on Thursday with the possibility of MRSA, which is complicated by his artificial heart valve, I felt on edge and teary for the first 24 hours. That has given way to God's amazing care for us. I feel a certainty in my spirit that everything will be OK. I don't mean that in the platitude sense of the word. I don't mean I am sure "everything will turn out the way I want it to." I mean that no matter what happens, even if "the worst" were to happen, I know God is with me, is with us, and God always provides.

This is how I am defining the peace that passes all understanding. It doesn't preclude other emotions. Mysteriously, this peace permeates all of it, and carries me along.

So today I am looking forward to worship, to pouring my heart out again before God, and to placing myself and those I love into God's tender care yet is an ongoing process.

I love the words from Isaiah 61 this morning:
1. The spirit of the Lord God is upon me,
because the Lord has anointed me;
he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed,
to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives,
and release to the prisoners;
2. to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor,
and the day of vengeance of our God;
to comfort all who mourn;
3. to provide for those who mourn in Zion—
to give them a garland instead of ashes,
the oil of gladness instead of mourning,
the mantle of praise instead of a faint spirit.
They will be called oaks of righteousness,
the planting of the Lord, to display his glory...
10. I will greatly rejoice in the Lord,
my whole being shall exult in my God;
for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation,
he has covered me with the robe of righteousness,
as a bridegroom decks himself with a garland,
and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.
11. For as the earth brings forth its shoots,
and as a garden causes what is sown in it to spring up,
so the Lord God will cause righteousness and praise
to spring up before all the nations.

It makes me want to put on some bright outrageous looking "garments of salvation"

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Sabbath, Yoga, Advent

Monday is the day I set aside for Sabbath. Despite all of my reading, preaching, and blogging about Sabbath, I am not sure I am doing so well on the sabbath front. I do take the day away from the office, away from email, and focus upon my family and upon caring for myself. But I also end up doing a bunch of household chores that need doing. Some Mondays I find I feel more like I have connected and rested than others.

This week was a special gift. Although Ray was in bed with a migraine, Jacob and I had a great day together. It was one of those magical days where he listened to me almost every time I asked something of him. He put his little hand in mine as we did errands. He snuggled with me. He drew me pictures. He soaked in the time in the library with such pleasure it made my heart warm.

Ray was able to get up and felt well enough for me to make the yoga class I have begun taking on Monday afternoons. It has been a great class for me for two reasons. One is that it is challenging, which I like. The other is that this teacher has a habit of asking us to set an intention for the class in a word or short phrase. It is fascinating to listen to my heart to hear what words emerge. This week I thought of my words from last week: hope, clarity, peace. But every time I returned to these words, they came back as hope, clarity, purpose.

Apparently, I need to spend some reflecting upon purpose. Since Advent is a time for just such a thing, I'll take that as a nudging from the Holy Spirit.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Council of Bishops on Political Discourse

I just received notice in my email that the Council of Bishops of the United Methodist Church has issued a statement that I am glad to see happen. It is heartening to see such relevance. I am tired of the deterioration of the political campaigns into negativity.

I am especially concerned by the vocalization of public racism that has been increasingly interjected into public discourse. Some local examples two different folks have shared with me:

1. At a sign waving event for Obama here in Cecil County, three different people loudly shouted racial epithets at the sign wavers.

2. I was talking with a local woman who said she has lost track of the number of folks who have told her "I can't vote for the colored guy."

The Council of Bishops, in their wisdom, is calling on all sides to act respectfully. So, here it is:

The Council of Bishops of the United Methodist Church has issued a statement with regards to the upcoming presidential election in November.

Public discourse, especially in this season of presidential elections, has often deteriorated into acrimonious, disrespectful and divisive rhetoric. Such speech, in the interest of short-term political gain, will make it more difficult for the nation to unite to work together on the great challenges that face the United States and the world today.

We urge all United Methodists to daily pray for the upcoming elections, its candidates, voters and leaders. We further encourage you to contact the presidential and vice presidential candidates and their campaigns and call them to commit themselves to conduct their debates, their advertisements and all their public speech in ways that honor the principles of fairness and accuracy.

Call them to focus on the critical challenges that threaten the future of our national and the world: poverty, war, racism, inequality of opportunity, the current financial crisis and terrorism in all of its forms.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Slots Debate

The debate on slot machines (Question 2 on the ballot) is in full swing.

I just read this blog post by Allan J. Lichtman, who is a professor of history at American University and a national political analyst. Very well written laying out salient reasons to oppose slot machines. The most important to me is that this really is designed to take advantage of our most vulnerable citizens, for these are the folks who lose money they cannot afford. Public ethics matter. We have seen the importance of ethics in the economic crisis. I really believe that Maryland is better than this, more ethical than approving slot machines.

There is also an event on Friday October 17 at 7p.m. at Pleasantview Baptist Church in Port Deposit. It is a forum entitle "The Truth About Slots."

They have assembled an quite a slate of speakers, including;

Aaron Meisner, Chairman, StopSlots Maryland
Dr. Valerie Lorenz, an eminent therapist in gambling addiction
Peter Franchot Comptroller of Maryland
Michael D. Smigiel, Sr., of the MD House of Delegates
And especially two more: Joe Pfister, a recovered casino gambling addict who experienced first-hand how the gambling casinos can entice and victimize the unwary, including experienced, successful, citizens.
John Bowers, a local horseman, former jockey, owner, breeder, and trainer of thoroughbred race horses, with an eye-opening story to tell.

I will not be in attendance; this conflicts with a long standing meeting in PA for me. But I be there in spirit.

I still cannot get over the fact that Marylanders are actually giving serious consideration to amending our constitution to permit gambling. And the fact that one of the parlors would be in our back yard in Perryville is troubling.

My mother received a telemarketing call yesterday urging her to support the referendum question. The pro-slots folks have lots of money to spend. The opponents are working hard to get the word out without benefit of telemarketers or paid people knocking on doors (and lying about the issue, saying it will fix health care and prescriptions, etc).

So please spread the word and pray hard.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Religion and Politics

I wrote this article for the newsletter. I am sharing it here as well, with active links to the voter guides I mention.

Religion and Politics

Perhaps you have heard me share one of my favorite analogies for faith: think about a pie. Imagine every "slice of your life" like family, school, work, activities, friendships, etc. Now, rather than imagining faith as one section of the pie, think of it as the pie plate. There is not any part of our lives apart from God. Our faith informs and sustains all aspects of our journey.

Practicing faithful reflection about all aspects of life is a vital faith practice. God wants to be a part of every decision, and has some guidance to offer. From whether to eat out tonight, to what kind of car to drive, what kids activities are important, to how to vote…all can be informed by our faith. I find it takes practice.

In the United Methodist tradition, we teach the use of Scripture, Tradition (church history and doctrine), Experience (our own experiences of God) and Reason (our God given brains) as the basis for knowing God and making decisions.

Our church has official positions on just about everything. However, to be a "good" United Methodist, there is not a requirement to agree with all of the positions. Our tradition teaches the use of Scripture, Tradition, Experience, and Reason in community and as individuals. All this is rooted in the understanding that we all "see through a glass dimly" as Paul says. One of the basic values of Jesus that is expressed in United Methodism is that God welcomes ALL people, no matter what.

As we approach another election season, I encourage you to think about how your faith informs your choices. In our Social Principles, we find these words: While our allegiance to God takes precedence over our allegiance to any state, we acknowledge the vital function of government as a principal vehicle for the ordering of society. Because we know ourselves to be responsible to God for social and political life, we declare the following relative to governments:
B) Political Responsibility—The strength of a political system depends upon the full and willing participation of its citizens. The church should continually exert a strong ethical influence upon the state, supporting policies and programs deemed to be just and opposing policies and programs that are unjust.

As citizens of God's Kingdom, our allegiance is always to God first. We have the privilege as voters in this country to have input into how our government is run, and it is both a privilege and an obligation that is to be informed by our faith.

Inside this issue, you will find a voters guide prepared by a Christian organization known as Sojourners. It has close ties with our denomination. In addition, there will be available in church a 12 page voting guide prepared by our denomination. It lists United Methodist positions on issues, and then lists the platforms of the two major parties on the issues.

I encourage you to use both guides as a resource. Read Scripture. Pray in discernment. Take seriously the truth that we are God's citizens first and always and that we are called to put others before ourselves. Also, please don't think that you must be in agreement with everyone else in our church. I know that we share a diversity of opinion on various issues among our church family. I believe it is a testimony to the power of the Holy Spirit whenever unity exists among diversity. May we never lose sight of what matters most: Jesus Christ. I hope these resources help you to feel more spiritually prepared this election season.

Striving to be faithful,
Pastor Amy

Thursday, August 28, 2008


I didn't get to my morning devotions until 1p.m. So it seemed appropriate that one of the prayers included in my devotional guide is ....
For Spiritual Concentration
God, help my thoughts!
They stray from me,
setting off on the wildest of journeys.
When I am in church,
they run off like naughty children,
quarrelling and making trouble.
When I read the Bible,
they fly to a distant city,
filled with temptations.
My thoughts can cross an ocean with a single leap.
They can fly from earth to heaven and back again,
in a single second.
They come to me for a fleeting moment,
and then away they flee.
No chains, no locks can hold them back.
No threats of punishment can restrain them.
No hiss of a lash can frighten them.
They slip from my grasp like tails of eels.
They swoop hither and thither like swallows in flight.
Dear Holy Christ, who can see every heart
and read every mind:
Take hold of my thoughts.
Bring my thoughts back to me,
and clasp me to yourself. Amen.
The book I am using cites this as a Celtic prayer. Those Celts seem to have been wise, honest, fun folk.
(This appears in a book called This Day: A Wesleyan Way of Prayer by Laurence Hull Stookey.)

Saturday, August 16, 2008


This was our annual week at Camp Pecometh. On our way home last night, Ray had the idea to stop at Downey's Chicken in Chestertown. We have said at least a dozen times that we want to try their food. As expected, it was delicious.

Camp is wonderful in many ways, and this was our most wonderful year yet. Jacob is out of diapers. Shannon was in the day camp week. They were both happy and enjoying themselves all week. Happy kids make for... yep, happy parents.

It was also a bit stressful, in that I am still sitting here on Saturday afternoon wrestling mightily for a clue about my sermon. Usually I have studied the scripture with others on Wednesdays, and then have been thinking about it all week. Not so this week.

The first somewhat unique insight that I have had after many hours of study and prayer is one that feels frighteningly personal. Two weeks ago, I preached on Jacob wrestling with the Lord in Genesis. Last week, I preached on fear as it relates to Jesus and Peter walking on water. This week I am reading the stories of the Canaanite woman Jesus rebuffed and her tenacity in verbally besting Jesus and about Joseph meeting up with his brothers in Egypt (which must have been emotionally trying for all involved on a number of levels). My insight? That sometimes the life of faith is about tenacity, about holding on, until things feel right again.

I am reminded of three things. First, at the preaching conference I went to this year, one of the speakers talked about preaching being the act of placing ourselves on a platter for all the hearers to dissect. Second, one of my clergy friends' mother's comments that you can always tell where a preacher is by what they are preaching. Third, I remember a friend from Seminary who lamented "once, just once, I want to hear someone preach an honest sermon about struggling while they are actually struggling, not referring to some past struggle."

Preaching is such a vulnerable act. It is feeling especially true today. I suppose that is part of the honest walk of faith- trusting God enough to be honest about where we really are on the journey. The life of faith is not all sweetness and light...much as I wish it would be. There is plenty of honest struggle, doubt, and fear... and somehow God takes it and uses it for God's purposes. I never cease to be amazed.

Sunday, July 27, 2008


I have had several ideas for my first post since I returned. I walked into my office to find it cleaned up and a big welcome back banner with notes from our commuity. What a gift!

I am preaching on the Kingdom of Heaven today from Matthew...always thought stirring.

But this morning, I am thinking of the conversation with my daughter last night, and it keeps coming back to me.

We are often the last two at the table becuase she is a slow eater. She brought up the subject of playing with younger kids. She told me, again, that she likes to play with older kids, not younger ones. Why does she have to play with younger kids? I asked how she would feel if the older kids she likes to play with decided they don't like playing with her?

I explained that it's not an option to play only with older a Christian, she is nice to everyone.

Then I asked about her younger brother: "What about Jacob? You like playing with him"

Her reply was "yeah, but I love him."

Ahhh... love... it makes all the difference.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008


I am off to Annual Conference, followed by some vacation time, beginning with the beach! We will be other places (inculding Niagra Falls and Canda!) , and in and out of town.

We return in time for Vacation Bible! VBS runs the week of July 20-24.

Please keep us in prayer as we rest and rejuvinate, that this time of Sabbath will be a blessing.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Sweet Special Boy

I think it must be the age- our 3 1/2 year old son has been especially endearing this month. I remember our daughter often said wonderfully endearing things around this age too.

The first was a few weeks ago. I call my kids "sweet special boy" and "sweet special girl." I was putting Jacob down for a nap, and I said "I love you, sweet special boy." He replied "I love you sweet special Mommy girl." My heart melted.

He's no slacker. I retold that story enough that he caught on how it impressed me. So he has kept saying it. He even said "thank you sweet special Mommy girl" for something I gave him as a treat he probably should not have had. Talk about winding me around his finger.

Whenever I tuck him into bed, he now says "I love you sweet special mommy girl."

He is also into rock collecting. It is almost impossible to set foot outdoors with him, without him scooping up rocks and sharing them. As I was on my way to church one morning, he handed me a rock he had collected somewhere along the way. He said "here Mommy, this is for you to remember that I love you." I kept it in my pocket all day, and smiled a lot.

The next day, I pulled out the rock and I asked him if he remembered what he had said the day before. He smiled very big as I repeated his words. Then he added, "and so you remember God loves you."

I'll be carrying the rock with me forever I think. It will certainly be going with me to Minneapolis for the Festival of Homiletics this week.

Saturday, May 03, 2008

Bud: See you on the other side

I have been putting this off. Perhaps for me, blogging about Bud's service of death and resurrection is an act of finality, of reluctantly acknowledging that he has really gone on. (You may remember my post about Bud that I wrote shortly after he was diagnosed with cancer. To read it, click here.)

I say this because leading this service is much different from attending such a service. Crying profusely was not really one of my choices on Monday. I was deeply honored to be a leader in the worship service, and I would not have wanted it any other way. Yet, in order to do so, I had to be somewhat detached emotionally.

So, it's Saturday... and I have not blogged in quite some time. I have had other thoughts of things to blog about, but somehow, it doesn't feel right to write about anything else until I have written about Bud.

He had become like family to me. Over the past five years, Bud was my confidant, my mentor, and my friend. Bud thought of me like a daughter and I cannot imagine any higher compliment; the feeling was mutual. Over the years, he would hint that he hoped I would be the pastor here when he crossed from this life to the next. And each time, I would pray that Bud would live to be at least 95. Bud was 83 when he died.

Bud was one of the greatest visionaries I have had the privilege of knowing. Jack Shitama, who also led the service, aptly called Bud "president of everything." He was also one of the most faithful, righteous, fruitful disciples Jesus had. Bud knew what it was to love, to forgive, and to dream God's dreams.

I can hear his voice saying so many treasured pieces of wisdom. Whenever someone would upset me, he would say "now Amy, you just have to brush it off and move on. You cannot dwell on such things. It's not worth it." He knew how to walk that talk. As someone said at his funeral, very few people got mad at Bud, but if they did, he just kept loving them until they got over it.

I was overwhelmed by the thought of writing the sermon for that day. As usual, God sorted it out for me, and it just flowed out of my fingers in onto my screen. Bud's final witness was a powerful one: Bud had a good death. Through Bud, God showed us what it is like to face death unafraid. Bud kept hearing the Lord say "just trust me." That is what Bud did. He had no regrets, no fears...he trusted. (He did appeal to the Lord for several months for more energy, but even in the face of that unanswered prayer, he received it with grace.)

Bud did not even have any pain. The cancer that started in his esophagus and spread to his liver before it was diagnosed as end stage cancer did not wrack him with pain. He and Marilyn attributed that to the power of prayer.

One of the key concepts of Christian faith in the Wesleyan tradition is the understanding of sanctifying grace. This is the grace that we receive after coming to faith; it is the grace that allows us to become more like Christ, to become more holy. We believe that it as at least possible for a person to be entirely sanctified. That is to say, it is possible to be made perfect in love, to love as Christ loves.

It is not mine to judge whether Bud was entirely sanctified. Bud I can certainly say that if I were asked to name one person who I thought might fit the bill, Bud would be the one. He knew how to love, he knew how to forgive, and he followed Christ with complete devotion.

Bud passed peacefully from this side of the Jordan to the other. Even as I grieve the loss of his presence here, I am trying to hold onto the comfort of knowing that in Christ, Bud lives on.

See you on the other side.

Monday, April 07, 2008


I recently saw an acquaintance whom I have met perhaps three times in the past ten years. He and I share something of a common bond, in that he was once an ordained member of my denomination. He now works in a different field, after being called in an entirely different direction. As you would expect, pastoral ministry comes up in our conversations whenever we cross paths.

This time, he said a few things that have stayed with me. First, he commented that the work he does now (which I would not consider low stress) is nothing compared to the stress of pastoral ministry. His words were "I have never done anything harder in my life." The second was that he said "it's amazing how nobody has any problems once you stop being a pastor....everybody is doing just fine." Then he commented that he misses the sense of connection that he shared with church folks when he was a pastor. (I did wonder later what his current church community life is like; I didn't ask.)

His words have stayed with me for a few weeks. The underlying premise of them is this: the bonds between people in a community of faith are rooted in soil that is heavily fertilized by shared pain. As much as I rail against this truth, as much as I really don't like this truth because pain is just so painful, the premise rings true.

These past few weeks have been especially pain filled. Some who are reading this blog will think immediately of a painful situation we are facing in our community. That is a big part of what is on my heart, but that is not the only pain to which I am referring.

Part of what it means to be an active part of a community of faith, is sharing life together... the joys, celebrations, love, peace, hope, and shared purpose....and the pain, grief, sorrow, anger, doubt, and fear. There is a seldom a week that goes by that my heart does not break with someone as they share something that is happening or has happened in their lives. I think the most difficult pain is the old pain that has been nursed and nurtured for years, even decades, for this means that God's healing grace and forgiveness has not penetrated the pain, and it has been allowed to have transforming effects on the person's whole life.

Of all of the people whose lives I have been given the privilege of sharing in large or small ways, I have yet to find someone who has not experienced emotional pain. It is a part of being alive.

I have to say that right now, today, I am feeling worn out by it. I wish with every fiber of my being I could be free from experiencing my own pain, and free from feeling the pain of others. Sometimes I think that the spiritual gift of compassion is just exhausting. Yet I know that God uses it.

I am thinking of two passages of Scripture. The first is from the beatitudes in Matthew, which Jesus preached during the sermon on the mount. "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted." (Matthew 5:3-4). Also my favorite verse from 2Cor.12:9: "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness."

I know that God is working through the pain to bring redemption. I keep reminding myself there is no resurrection without a crucifixion; that Christ is most powerful when I am weak and depending upon him.

So I am holding onto hope, onto God's promises, and God's presence. I am grateful for God's care for me in the form of my family, and my church family. I have no idea how people survive without a community of faith....yet I can understand the urge to try to lead a less painful, less complicated life by steering clear of such relationships. I suppose that is the irony; although more relationships in the form of a community of faith certainly bring more opportunities for pain, they are also the only source I know of the path toward healing and wholeness. That seems to be a part of the mystery of God.

As I was preparing for my sermon last week, I came across a Wendell Barry poem that ends with the line "practice resurrection."

One of the lines says "expect the end of the world." I read today a line in a magazine that said "look at life as a terminal illness and live it to the fullest." Grim as those words may sound, they are also ringing true to me. I am going to enjoy myself as much as humanly possible today.

Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front

Love the quick profit, the annual raise
vacation with pay. Want more
of everything ready-made. Be afraid
to know your neighbors and to die.
And you will have a window in your head.
Not even your future will be a mystery
any more. Your mind will be punched in a card
and shut away in a little drawer.
When they want you to buy something
they will call you. When they want you
to die for profit they will let you know.

So, friends, every day do something
that won't compute. Love the Lord.
Love the world. Work for nothing.
Take all that you have and be poor.
Love someone who does not deserve it.
denounce the government and embrace
the flag. Hope to live in that free
republic for which it stands.
Give your approval to all you cannot
understand. Praise ignorance, for what man
has not encountered he has not destroyed.

Ask the questions that have no answers.
Invest in the millenium. Plant sequoias.
Say that your main crop is the forest
that you did not plant,
that you will not live to harvest
Say that the leaves are harvested
when they have rotted into the mold.
Call that profit. Prophesy such returns.

Put your faith in the two inches of humus
that will build under the trees
every thousand years.
Listen to carrion - put your ear
close, and hear the faint chattering
of the songs that are to come.
Expect the end of the world. Laugh.
Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyful
though you have considered all the facts.
So long as women do not go cheap
for power, please women more than men.
Ask yourself: Will this satisfy
a woman satisfied to bear a child?
Will this disturb the sleep
of a woman near to giving birth?

Go with your love to the fields.
Lie easy in the shade. Rest your head.
in her lap. Swear allegiance
to what is nighest your thoughts.
As soon as the generals and the politicos
can predict the motions of your mind,
lose it. Leave it as a sign
to mark the false trail, the way
you didn't go. Be like the fox
who makes more tracks than necessary,
some in the wrong direction.
Practice resurrection.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Happy Easter... and final update on Lent on Minimum Wage

It has been a wonderful Holy Week and now Easter is here. I awoke this morning without enough sleep in me, but I am energized for this beautiful, special day. (I am also a bit nervous about preaching, as I always am on the high holy days when we have as many visitors as members in worship.)

Ray and I managed to keep our spending to about $125 per week during Lent. It wasn't the $100 we were going for, but it wasn't too far off the mark. It was difficult. My refrig and cabinets are pretty bare! I do think I should have spent more time in prayer around all of this (hind sight is perfect) because it did feel like more of a struggle and sacrifice than I expected... perhaps because I tried to do too much of it alone? Not quite sure. Or perhaps it was supposed to feel like a struggle and sacrifice.

At any rate, I am certainly glad for Easter on a different level. And that is part of the point too, I suppose. I am reminded of Marva Dawn's writing in which she says "we don't know how to feast because we don't know how to fast." I understand what she means in a more visceral way; and I think she is right.

I am ready to feast!

I went to the revgalblogpals web ring blog I participate in, and found this Easter prayer this morning. I really like it, so I am sharing here as well. Happy Easter.

God of wonder and new life, on this day of joy, we give you thanks and praise. We thank you that the story of our faith is made new for us again with the rising of the sun. We pray that the good news of new life in Jesus has lifted the shadows that rested on so many hearts this past week. Thank you God for the power of your love to prevail over the forces of death and despair.

God, so many people in our world, some far from here and some next to us in the pew, are stuck in the sadness and gloom of Good Friday. For these beloved children of your Creation, Easter has not yet arrived in their souls. Grief, pain, loneliness, addiction, poverty, hunger and oppression are only a few of the burdens that your people bear. Lighten these loads, Holy One, and bring the light of your power and presence to all in need of some Easter joy today. Perhaps in some small way, each of us can be a bearer of that joy to someone looking for hope. May it be so, God, this Easter day and every day, in the name of Jesus. Amen.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Slots Referendum

I continue to be active in the fight against slot machines in Maryland. I just learned of an editorial written by the Washington Post which makes some great points. I am copying it here because I think it is worth reading (and so you don't have to go register at Washington Post if you don't care to).

I am both fascinated and frustrated by the fact that a majority of folks seems to think that slots are a good idea until they become educated about them. When folks take time to study the issue, it becomes clear that slots bring more problems than they solve. Consider these words from the editorial: they are from J. Joseph Curran Jr., Maryland's former attorney general, who has studied this issue extensively.
"The impact would be this...Casinos would bring a substantial increase in crime to our State. There would be more violent crime, more crimes against property, more insurance fraud, more white collar crime, more juvenile crime, more drug- and alcohol-related crime, more domestic violence and child abuse, and more organized crime."

The timing and tactics of this is also interesting. Maryland was sold the same bill of goods when Lottery and Keno were legalized in the state: that it would fund education, and solve our education budget challenges. It's hard to believe we would fall for the same lie again.

The gambling industry also goes after the most opportune time to offer "easy money"- during an economic downturn. The truth is that it will take years before this revenue will be realized, since the parlors have to be constructed. Add to that the fact that revenue projections have a way of not materializing (Pennsylvania is discovering this now), and the promise of "easy money" to fund education (or anything else) is clearly a farce.

What slots will really do is make a few people very wealthy, negatively impact our local economy, contribute to a whole host of social ills, and leave the state spending money to clean up the mess.

On that happy note, here is the Washington Post Editorial Piece:

The Slots Deception
What you don't know about gambling in Maryland might hurt you.

Saturday, March 8, 2008; A14

OPPONENTS of gambling in Maryland face an uphill battle ahead of this fall's referendum on a proposal to install 15,000 slot machines at five venues around the state. A shifting but solid majority of Marylanders supports the slots scheme, which has a powerful ally in Gov. Martin O'Malley (D) and backing from the horse racing industry, gambling firms, labor unions and other special interests that stand to benefit. But polls suggest that the more voters find out about the slots plan, the more they tend to dislike it. For while it seems to promise quick cash on easy terms, in fact it's a raw deal.

In a January survey by the Baltimore Sun, 56 percent of respondents said they thought it was inappropriate to use state money to subsidize the horse racing industry. That's exactly what the slots plan would do, and in a big way: $100 million of Maryland's annual take from slots would go directly to bail out the industry through fatter purses at racetracks and other subsidies.

Similarly, in other polls, the public's support for slots falls sharply when respondents discover that the proposal entails changing Maryland's constitution. Ditto when people are asked how they would feel about introducing slot machine gambling in their county. In other words, slots are okay with Marylanders until they examine the details.

That dovetails with the findings of J. Joseph Curran Jr., Maryland's former attorney general, who issued a comprehensive report on the subject in the mid-1990s. At the time, Mr. Curran, who also happens to be the current governor's father-in-law, was studying the potential effect of full-fledged casino gambling on the state. Nonetheless, he reiterated his findings a few years ago, noting they applied equally to slot machine parlors.

Mr. Curran, who retired last year after almost 50 years in elective office, was long admired in Maryland politics as a straight shooter. "The impact would be this," he wrote. "Casinos would bring a substantial increase in crime to our State. There would be more violent crime, more crimes against property, more insurance fraud, more white collar crime, more juvenile crime, more drug- and alcohol-related crime, more domestic violence and child abuse, and more organized crime."

Advocates of slots don't want Marylanders to know too much before the fall referendum. They'd rather not have voters focus on crime, addictive behavior and other social costs associated with gambling, handouts to the moribund horse racing industry, or the fact that the state constitution would be tampered with under the proposal on the ballot. But here's a case where only a well-informed citizenry can make a sound decision. Let's hope for a full public airing and debate of all the issues surrounding slots.

Friday, February 29, 2008

Update from Living on $100 per week

Well, we are into week four of living on $100 per week. Since Lent began on Ash Wednesday, Wednesdays are our beginning point of each week. To date we are more than $100 over budget. Of the first $400 or so spent in the first three weeks, $163 was for food and $174 was for gas.

We don't even commute anywhere! The church office is only 5 miles from home. The $163 for food in three weeks averages $54 per week. Not too shabby, if I do say so myself. Special credit goes to church food and good use of leftovers. And still we are over budget. We did spend $20 on a babysitter to go to a church gathering, and included it in our budget... does that really count? Hard to say.

At the grocery store, it was an interesting exercise to determine what I absolutely couldn't live without and what I could put off. While shopping, the sale items did not get doubled in my cart, as would usually be the case. Not in the budget. I decided to forgo:
+replacing the spray butter...we can use regular
+the mini chocolate chips that I like so much for homemade waffles...we can use regular size we already own
+ the grape jelly...we can use up the blackberry and strawberry before buying more
+ the bagels... we may not have our three favorite varieties on hand all together, but we have a few bagels left
+ the cereal bars... we can use up other snack items first

Interesting that most of the savings comes from packaged foods. Cooking from scratch has definitely proven the most budget friendly.

This week I made lentil soup. My plan was to use half a pound of bacon for the soup, and the other half to make my daughter especially happy for breakfast one morning. She loves bacon. I used a plastic spoon and left it in the pan while the bacon was rendering. The spoon melted in the bacon. I had to throw it all away, start over, and use the bacon I was looking forward to sharing with Shannon. I was truly disappointed. I was also grateful that Shannon didn't know anything about the bacon, so she would not be disappointed.

I got to thinking about how often parents living on minimum must feel this way. I tried to tell myself that bacon for Shannon is not a necessity, and there is really no reason to want it. But it was the fact that I was looking forward to treating her, and then couldn't, that really got me.

On the flip side of disappointment, I am also discovering again a truth Marva Dawn wrote about in her book on Sabbath. When she talks about feasting on the Sabbath, she makes the point that we don't know how to enjoy a good feast because we don't how to fast. If every day is a day when we can have whatever we want, then there is no chance of having special days.

In this midst of this fast of a sort, I am finding that I appreciate all that I have. I savor every meal, and appreciate every indulgence. This week on Tuesday, I took some of the lentil soup to a meeting. Someone else brought the bread. At the end, I got to bring home the leftover loaf of fresh Italian bread. I was ridiculously pleased to bring home this treat!

Friday, February 22, 2008


Every so often, I get a flash of insight that feels deep and memorable. I am not so sure for how long I actually remember it...but at the time, it feels memorable.

This happened to me on Sunday while I was in worship at Trinity. Tom Duffy was sharing the monologue on Caiaphas (the Lenten Monologues in worship have been great). I don't know what sparked this thought exactly, but it dawned on me that one of the greatest challenges in life is fear... and that somehow, my role as pastor involves being present to folks in ways that address fear, and invite folks to a deeper relationship of trust and freedom with Christ and with people.

I thought more about this last night in study group. We were talking about the Christian life being about acts of piety and acts of mercy. I remembered my own fears when I began this journey in earnest. I was intimidated, even scared, by the idea of prayer. I didn't know how to pray and every one else seemed to assume that it just comes naturally. Not only did I find acts of piety like prayer intimidating, I found acts of mercy to be as well. Eating dinner with homeless folks. Sharing in 2 weeks of Truck Stop ministry. Every time I engaged in a new spiritual practice, there was some level of fear surrounding it, if for no other reason that because it was new.

I think about all of the fear that surrounds our lives. I was talking with two moms this week who are worried/scared for their children in so many circumstances- riding the school bus, going to the mall, driving at night, going into Wilmington, etc. I really do try to commend my children to God's care, plan to teach them basic safety measures, and then trust God for the rest. I expect that parental fear becomes more intense as the kids get older and more independent. (My kids are 3 and 5.)

But I really really don't want to live my life in fear and worry for their safety. It is not abundant life. When I imagine some horrible thing that could happen to my kids, rather than fear it, I try to imagine how God would be present in that circumstance. I try to imagine trusting God in the midst of my child being in a car accident, or fill in the blank of 100 more horrible things that could happen.

The somewhat ironic thing is that I discovered that it is in the act of doing new things (even prayer and service) and facing the fear, the fear dissipates. I think the unknown is worse than anything else.

Friday, February 15, 2008

It's one of those....

We got a call from the school nurse yesterday. As the parents of a girl in Kindergarten, this was our first call. We knew Shannon had a bit of a cold, a slight cough, and was not feeling fabulous. But she didn't have a fever, and wasn't sick enough to stay home.

When my husband told me about the call, our concern was not her missing school. It was that she would miss her Valentine's Day party that day, and potentially her "Jump Rope for Heart" on Friday, both of which she had been looking forward to immensely.

There is nothing more heartbreaking than a disappointed child. We were dreading what would happen if she got home without realizing what she had chosen for herself.

So I went to the school to talk with her. I explained I could certainly take her home...I also asked if she was thinking of her Valentine's Party. After some hemming and hawing she said "well, actually, I would like to go back to class." The nurse graciously agreed.

As we were walking down the hall, Shannon turned to me with one of her great smiles and said in a sweet, sincere little voice "I guess it was one of those half hour things."

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Minimum wage continued...

Well, today marks the first full week of our attempt to live on minimum wage during Lent. Ray tallied up our expenses and we overspent our $100 goal by $10. Not too bad, but not perfect. And we need to fill up the van.. that will mean at least $40 out of this week's money.

I am left wondering what folks do when they don't have that $10. I suppose the answer is to either pay for everything in cash and thus have not been able to buy the extra $10 worth of items (we have been using our credit card and keeping record) or begin to run a credit card balance.

It has been interesting how my perspective on things shifts. Dinner at Church sounds like a really good idea for a much different reason: it is cheap or free! Amazing what a different sort of motivator that is in making dinner plans. Dinner at a family member's home sounds almost irresistible!

Also, I am having my suspicion confirmed that it is cheaper to go the grocery store often (which is less than 2 miles away) than to try to buy groceries for an entire week or more. Inevitably, groceries are wasted when the planning is out further than 3-4 days.

Yesterday, when I was at the polls for Stop Slots Maryland, I went to the grocery store and bought sandwich makings and other items. It was cheaper than buying subs, and for the extra 10 minutes or so it required, it was certainly worth it to save $10-$20. (It probably put is over the $100 mark, but felt good to do.)

I am impressed by how much God truly provides for our needs. Also, I appreciate what we have on a deeper level.

My kids still don't have any idea that we are doing this, which I think is good. I don't want to raise our kids always saying "we can't afford this" and thus teach them that money will help meet all of their desires. I'm trying to simply focus upon "we don't need that; we have plenty at home." (And, there is still room enough for special requests for lunch box items...) I think this since I had already made it a habit to regularly refuse requests of many kinds, it is also easy enough to implement.

Thanks for reading about my journey thus far... it is a blessing to reflect upon it in writing.

Saturday, February 09, 2008

Fasting, Simplicity, and Solidarity

Lent began on Wednesday. I was blessed to be a part of a fabulous Ash Wednesday service at Ebenezer AME, hosted by our Ecumenical Association. I really appreciate the shared ministry and shared witness of our Ecumenical Association;I am grateful to God for this lay led group. It is fabulous.

Ray and I often share similar or overlapping spiritual commitments during Lent. Last year, when he gave up TV, I mostly gave it up with him. Although it was by default rather than design, it was still a tremendous blessing. We spent many extra hours just sitting and talking.

This year, we have decided to do a financial fast of sorts. We are trying to live on the equivalent of minimum wage. Our hope is that we will experience a deeper sense of what it is to fully rely on God for our provision, that we will live in solidarity with those who have no choice but to live on minimum wage, that we will learn more about how to sacrifice and submit ourselves to God's will through the overlapping disciplines of simplicity and fasting.

Several folks have asked how exactly we figure out the nuts and bolts of doing this. We did our best to calculate the monthly income of earning $6.15/hour for 40 hours and then 10 hours of overtime at $9.22. (I can tell you that if I lived in Cecil County and worked at minimum wage, I'd probably be commuting over the state line to Delaware, where they earn $7.15! But that is not part of our assumption.)

Assuming one of us works and the other takes care of the kids, we figured that after housing and other living expenses, $100 per week for food, gas, and other expenses would be our plan.

Although I do try to live by the discipline of simplicity in general, having my spending controlled by these parameters is a different experience. We are writing down every cent we spend. Spending 75 cents on some small snack at a convenience store seems ridiculous. Making as much as possible from scratch, and stretching our food to put off grocery shopping an extra day or two has gone to a whole new level in our house.

You know what? Right now, it's sort of fun. It is a challenge that after 3 whole days, we have been able to meet. Rather than go out for lunch with some folks from church, I made chicken salad, and we ate at home. And I saved the broth from cooking the chicken, which will become soup for dinner tonight.

This makes me question whether there is any solidarity or shared suffering happening. But I know that one of the blessings of simplicity is the joy of realizing how little material needs I truly have, and how much God really provides if I pay attention. So right now, that blessing seems to be happening.

One of the goals of spiritual practices during Lent is to begin habits that will be a part of our journey long after Lent is over. Although I don't expect to live on $100/week forever, I do hope that this fast, and our desire to live more deeply into the practices of simplicity, submission, solidarity will find fertile soil in our lives.

I'll let you know how it goes after more than 3 days have passed!

In the meantime, I invite you to read this Invitation to Observe a Holy Lent. This comes from the United Methodist Book of Worship. It is something that I find to be a blessing every year to review and reflect upon.

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ:
the early Christians observed with great devotion
the days of our Lord’s passion and resurrection,
and it became the custom of the Church
that before the Easter celebration
there should be a forty-day season of spiritual preparation.
During this season converts to the faith were prepared for Holy Baptism.
It was also a time when persons who had committed serious sins
and had separated themselves from the community of faith
were reconciled by penitence and forgiveness,
and restored to participation in the life of the Church.
In this way the whole congregation was reminded of the mercy and forgiveness
proclaimed in the gospel of Jesus Christ
and the need we all have to renew our faith.
I invite you, therefore, in the name of the Church, to observe a holy Lent:
by self-examination and repentance; by prayer, fasting, and self-denial;
and by reading and meditating on God’s Holy Word.
To make a right beginning of repentance,
and as a mark of our mortal nature,
let us now bow before our Creator and Redeemer.

Thursday, January 31, 2008

Stop Slots

I'm back! Sorry for my absence. My husband had an appendectomy on January 4 and that pretty much put me in a hole for the month of January. To anyone who is still reading this blog, I thank you. You are most likely someone I know personally, or you would have given up on me. If I don't know you personally, I would like to!

I went to my first Stop Slots Maryland meeting on Monday Jan. 28. I am opposed to slot machines becoming part of the state of Maryland for many reasons I will list below.

If you live in Maryland (or a nearby state) and care about this issue (or even start caring after reading this post) I invite you to join the effort to be at a primary polling place on February 12, 2008. Details are at the end of this post, after the eloquent, persuasive arguments about why slots are a terrible idea.

First, some basic information about why slots are a terrible idea:
(I have drawn most of these from NoCasiNo Maryland and supplemented with additional research from Stop Slots MD)

+ They don't provide tax relief. In truth, casino gambling and slots drain a community, typically costing taxpayers $1.90 for every $1 collected in revenue.

+ Casino gambling and slots cannibalize the economy of a community, destroying restaurants and retail businesses. Once people are in these venues, they don't leave to patronize local businesses. In addition, money they used to spend locally now goes into a slot machine.

+Political corruption is rampant in states receiving revenue from casinos. Louisiana is just one example of how gambling has corrupted politics even further.

+Burglary, robbery, bad checks, and other crimes always increase dramatically when casinos and slots come to town. Casinos and slots facilities are a convenient front for organized crime to launder money from other activities such as drugs and prostitution. If that sounds extreme, consider that Maryland has already proved this is true when slots were legal in 4 counties from 1949-1968. See below for more information.

+Bankruptcies, divorces, and suicides increase wherever casino and slots gambling is allowed to prey on a community. The Minneapolis-St. Paul Star Tribune wrote about these effects on Minnesotans.

+Gambling is the fastest growing form of addiction among U.S. teens, women and senior citizens. Slots are the most addictive form of gambling. Between 2-10% of gamblers become addicted. Of those who are compulsive, 1 in 5 commits suicide.

+Gambling is a regressive tax paid primarily by the poor. No government, at any level, has the moral right to raise revenue by preying on the weaknesses of those in society who can least afford it.

+Joseph Napolitan, a political consultant in NJ, was instrumental in bringing gambling to Atlantic City. He now says "This was the was the worst mistake I ever made in 38 years of running campaigns. We assumed it would create thousands of jobs, revitalize the city, restore its economic strength, and make Atlantic City a better place to live. I sincerely thought it would be a boon to AC that was so badly needed. Within 3 years, the crime rate tripled. it went from 50th in the nation per capita crime to the 1st. Forty percent of local restaurants closed. The number of homeless people increased by 2000%. Property values dropped. There was violence. More people went on welfare. Shelters were jammed. An unseemly number of teenagers became gambling addicts. Prostitution was rampant. Anyone who thinks economic problems can be solved by gambling is closing his or her eyes to reality. We made a mistake. Gambling can destroy the heart and soul of a city."

+If gambling revenue projections are accurate (and they are often inflated) then siphoning $200 million out of Cecil County's citizens would not do the average family any good. There is a misconception that if a new gambling venue is built, it will be patronized by existing gamblers who were previously traveling elsewhere. The truth is that local folks who didn't before travel to gamble start to gamble when it is in the neighborhood.

I learned this week that Maryland has already had a thorough trial with slot machines. In fact, the counties where it was legal from 1949-1968 (Anne Arundel, Calvert, Charles, and St. Mary's) was known nationwide as "Little Vegas." In 1963, the four counties actually took $24 million in slots revenues, while the highest grossing casino in Vegas took in $20 million. Corruption in government was rampant. Organized crime was a player. Slot machines were everywhere- as one state senator put it, the only place he didn't see them was in churches. State House Speaker Michael Busch grew up in Anne Arundel County and he has used significant political capital to oppose slot machines in Maryland. He knows why this is such a bad idea from personal experience.

At this point, I think it is important to shine some light and hope on this referendum. According the Free State Politics, of the 16 gambling referendums that have gone to ballot, only 5 of them have had results the gaming industry hoped for. This is a fight that can be won.

Eric Luedtke writes in a blog called Free State Politics
Maine, Ohio, Rhode Island, California, Nebraska, and Washington all defeated some kind of slots legalization or expansion. In each of these cases, there was a whole heck of a lot of money poured into the pro-gambling campaigns. But there was also some surprising opposition. In many of these states, existing gambling or business interests opposed the gambling expansion. In the case of California Proposition 70 and Florida Amendment 4, statewide Chambers of Commerce were active opponents of gambling interests. So Maryland progressives may not be as alone as we might think. In Maine, LL Bean and other local corporate interests opposed the authorization of a new harness-racing track and slots operation because it conflicted with the essential character of the state. Maine, like Maryland, has a large tourism industry and a self-image that centers around natural beauty and unique local industries rather than endless rows of people worshipping the one-armed idol. Or put another way, there may be a case to be made that Maryland’s mascot should be the blue crab rather than the slots casino.

The point is this: the gambling industry is not the unstoppable monolith it sometimes seems. Yes, they have a lot of money to throw at ballot questions. But despite the big money, they lose more than they win. If there’s any lesson we learned from the success of Karl Rove over the last few years, it’s that gaining the aura of inevitability is half the battle. If people believe the other side will win, they give up. They stop fighting. And they lose.

Despite what the polling numbers seem to say at first glance, despite support for slots that seems at times to be spreading like a plague across the state, we can win this thing. But we need to fight hard and smart over the next twelve months to get it done.

You might also check out this article. Among other things, it makes the point that by going to referendum, opponents of slots have the chance to put this issue to rest, once and for all.
Maryland Politics Watch: Why Progressives Should Not Punish Legislators Who Voted for the Slots Referendum

Last, but certainly not least, as a United Methodist pastor, I must point out the the UMC is officially opposed to gambling. Paragraph 163 of the Book of Discipline says this:

Gambling is a menace to society, deadly to the best interests of moral, social, economic, and spiritual life, and destructive of good government. As an act of faith and concern, Christians should abstain from gambling and should strive to minister to those victimized by the practice. Where gambling has become addictive, the Church will encourage such individuals to receive therapeutic assistance so that the individual’s energies may be redirected into positive and constructive ends. The Church should promote standards and personal lifestyles that would make unnecessary and undesirable the resort to commercial gambling-including public lotteries-as a recreation, as an escape, or as a means of producing public revenue or funds for support of charities or government.

So, if you have read all of that and would like join the grass roots campaign to defeat this referendum when it appears on the ballot in November, then I have good news for you! You're invited to become a member of Stop Slots Maryland. I just became a member, and therefore don't have much experience yet, but I do know that they have been fighting this fight for years, and worked with other pastors I trust. (Right now, the website is being redesigned, but you can add your contact info to the database.) Their plan is to set up tables at as many polling sites as possible around the state on February 12, when the primary elections are held. This involves wearing a T-Shirt, distributing printed literature, and signing up folks who also want to join the effort. This will give a good start at reaching motivated voters and creating a broad spectrum of support to defeat this measure in November.

If you want to participate, please either email me or comment on this post. I will connect you with instructions, resources, etc. I will be at Bohemia Manor and welcome lots of help. I am hoping that since Cecilton Elementary is also nearby, that will be easily staffed too. The pastor in Cecilton, Joe Burris, is also supportive. There are still polling places in the county that are not yet adopted. I look forward to hearing from you.