Thursday, October 13, 2005

Waiting for morning

6:18 a.m.,
after calming fear-drenched hearts past midnight, with three teaspoons of instant coffee aiding the effort but preventing its relief
after the alarm yelps, reminding me to throw on a jacket and move the trash to the curb
after feeding the cats, wetting the wet food wetter for the older one and herding the younger one toward the kibble
after heating milk for the first cup of today's coffee -- only half caffeine, pretending to be full power of the force

6:18 a.m.,
a bit too tired to sit in quiet prayer mode in the darkened living room,
I turn on the computer and wait for it to have its coffee, and look outside through the small window to the right of my desk.

Even when I shut off the desk lamp, it's still dark outside, and the early particles of light comingle with the reflected hum of the sleepy city. There's light in the sky, but it might just be the airport.

Still, looking out through that window brings me comfort, and Christ, because even in the steel gray glow above the horizon there is the promise of morning. The morning light always comes, even after the hardest night. It slowly spreads across the darkness, illuminating both the creation and the created, startling the birds into song. Eventually, even on latenightdays like this, when my soul is caught between sleep and despair and desire, the Morning Light shines through that window, catching me up in His light.

It lightens my workspace.
It lightens my heart.

after late nights and too-early days, the Morning Light appears. I cannot see it coming, but it always comes, reliable, sure, secure.


Monday, September 26, 2005

Seeds on good soil

I give thanks to God today for the opening of the Columbus (Ohio) YWCA Family Center. The Family Center merges the child care and family services aspects of the YWCA with the family homeless shelter services, allowing for a full-service home for Columbus' struggling families.

More important, the Family Center replaces the rotating-church-shelter model that had been in place for two decades, but was devastating to homeless families. I was the director of the shelter for two years and initiated the transition. Having seen how destructive and wasteful the rotating shelter model was I am deeply grateful for the YWCA's movement to a more humane and healthy model of care.

I give thanks to God today for the trust and hard work of the people of Columbus and the YWCA, and for the churches who gave up their historic investment in an outdated ministry to do greater work in God's name. And I give thanks for my friend and colleague Beth Lonn who remembered to send me pictures!

Friday, September 23, 2005

Send us your music minister

I suddenly realized that about the only place I haven't posted our ministry opening is right here.

I've made fliers and posted on Craigslist and choralnet and all kinds of other places.
I've emailed friends.
I've prayed on it (and prayed some more and journaled and sketched and doodled).

But here it is: Lord God, send us your music minister. Send us someone who loves you and loves your people. Send us someone who loves music -- really loves music -- and wants others to love it too. Keyboard/piano is critical, choir would be very helpful. But passionate love is key.

For anyone who might read this who plays or knows someone who plays, here's the deal:

In the last two years, we have moved from a 1950s-style mainline Christian stand-up-sit-down worship service into something more fluid, with more music and more music participation. When both our choir director and organist retired this year, we realized that God was giving us an opportunity. Our goal is to find someone who has gifts to be a spiritual leader as well as a musician -- someone who loves music and God's people and wants to glorify God by helping people worship.

As we get somewhat younger, and are drawing more from unchurched folks (praise God!) our range of music grows. Our current baseline is piano or organ and choir. We're also nurturing a worship leader and are looking toward the future. We want to be prepared to go where Jesus leads, which means being flexible, attentive, enthusiastic, and team-driven!

We have deliberately not drawn up a task-driven job description, because our goal is to find the person with light in his or her eyes about our vision and mission. We would rather craft around building a team than filling a slot.

All that said, here are some current data: The job will likely be .3 to .5 FTE. Currently the choir meets Thursday evenings and worship planning is Monday mornings. We are a small church -- maybe 70 in worship -- with one worship service We are an "open and affirming" church, meaning that we welcome all seekers, sinners and saints, regardless of race, class, gender, ability, or affection.

And, what makes it hard to simply fill a slot with a typical mainline Christian organist or choir director: We are becoming more and more Jesus-led and Spirit-driven.

So, for anyone out there who feels like praying: Lord -- send us your music minister.


Friday, September 02, 2005

Our third world country

God's heart breaks.

It is not the natural disaster -- not the devastating winds and torrents of rain, neither the crushing waves nor the overflowing lakes. Though we may call it an "act of God", the horror of it is no Godly activity. We say "act of God" to reflect our impotency, our utter inability (and our deep desire) to control the greatest powers of the natural world.

It is the unnecessary pain: the suffering, the starvation, the disease, the dying. It is the loss of hope: being stranded, watching bodies float by, waiting for loved-ones' calls that do not come. It is the ineffectual aid: the planes and helicopters flying over groups of people waving madly to be rescued; the tens of thousands packed into arenas without sanitation, food, water, air (never mind sleep, safety, comfort).

And it is the horror of the richest country in the world choosing -- choosing -- to behave as a third world nation: continually cutting the taxes and responsibilities of the richest people and corporations; propping up invented wars; building prisons and breaking down schools; denying health care; directing infrastructure funds to high-profile pet projects that glorify only the well-shod leaders who build them.

It is the horror of our choosing to allow the median household income in Mississippi and Louisiana to be less than the cost of a new Hummer -- and praising those who make, market, and buy the Hummer.

It is the horror of our choosing to refuse aid and kindness and connection from our global partners out of hubris and unfounded "independence".

It is the horror of redirecting our national guard to protect Iraqi civilians we ourselves are bombing.

It is the horror of the President's pride in sending just $10 billion to the effort to save our own dying, suffering, hopeless people.

It is the horror of redirecting federal funds intended for building the very flood control that would have prevented this precise disaster to increasing the "security" in our airports.

It is the horror of our pretending to be a Christian country.

It is the horror of our calm acceptance of the idolization of independence, wealth, and the GNP, and our disdain for the real needs of real people right here in our neighborhoods.

It is the horror that we are the cause of our own desolation.

God's heart breaks.;;

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Lack of control

Mostly I love technology. Computers and I have been friends since they were in diapers. I learned on mainframes, and can still recite DOS alongside childhood limericks. As they grew, I learned to let go -- to have less control over how they ran, what languages they learned, and what they did with the knowledge I gave them.

Our church has begun to create a deeper online presence. This week, we started offering Bible study through bulletin boards on our website ( -- we're working on Luke), and to have one of our leadership discussions online where everyone can see it. It's a baby step, to be sure, but an important one.

Of course, just as we're taking our little steps forward, technology (see "lack of control", above) fails us. Our web provider, ipowerweb, has some nasty code lurking on its Apache server that's been appending to our web pages and messing up our bulletin boards.

How does it feel? Like we've just got the baby toddling on two feet, but some hacker with not enough to do is deliberately tripping the baby -- and the web provider is giving the baby a little shove from behind.

So we're back to square one, waiting for them to fix the server so people can learn how to connect online.

Kind of missing the old days right now.

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Writing the Evangel

The more deeply I read Christian literature and commentary, the more I find myself asking, "to whom was this written, and why?" I think that Duncan, like Jim Wallis, like Brian McLaren, is writing to fundamentalists, to evangelicals, to those whose rigidity leans in the direction of inerrancy rather than relativism. We who come from the halls of "liberalism" and universalism, who claim Marcus Borg and Anne Lamott and Mohandas Gandhi as our spiritual brethren, can tend to pick up writings of this sort and, with a self-satisfied smugness, shout "Aha! We told you!" Our needed corrective is not Duncan, but perhaps Billy Graham, or someone else who loves -- wistfully and painfully loves -- Jesus and our shared 2000-5000 year history.

Sometimes I recognize in myself the tendency to claim triumph, rather than to take in the needed admonishment, and to (lovingly) discipline my own rigidity and "inerrancy".

I am weary, truly weary of liberals and other pagans (not being technical here) who claim their deepest spirituality is in nature and not in church. Of course it is: nature cannot fight, conflict, err, speak out of turn, disappoint, sing offkey. Nature requires no response but gratitude, and doesn't even really require that. Nature is not human. It is, in that way, utterly unlike Jesus our Lord, who was deeply, tragically, joyfully human, and fought, conflicted, erred, spoke out of turn, disappointed, and probably sang offkey.

Our corrective is not universality or nature-reverence. It is rapture, engagement, humility. And the evangel Himself.

Saturday, April 16, 2005

IM ICQ novice AIMing

The problem with being shy is that any technology that makes you more accessible is disturbing.

Take instant messaging. IM is old by now, but is really just hitting critical mass and becoming part of the way we communicate. I know I should use it, but the idea of people talking to me when I'm quietly hiding out makes me a little queasy. So it's hard to be inspired to learn.

That said -- sometimes I really want to "talk" with someone but don't want to talk to do it. Writing is ideal, and I have a lot of loved ones (church folks especially) I want to hear from almost anytime.

So I downloaded Trillian today and started signing up for services -- Yahoo and AIM and whatever else.

Welcome to the 20th century, Elane.

Saturday, March 26, 2005

Good Friday to Better Sunday

This week before Easter, this holy week, is so full of preparation and details that it takes effort not to lose contact with the Reason.

Yesterday was Good Friday -- the day we remember Jesus' crucifixion. (Which doesn't sound like a very Good Friday.) Our church shared worship with New Community of Faith -- the one my husband Bran pastors -- and did the planning and preparation together. Some people created prayer stations for our labyrinth, reminders of the path of passion and purpose: the dust and dirt, Jesus' prayers in the garden, the cross and crown of thorns, the legend of Veronica (who wiped Jesus' face), holy communion... Almost all the folks who worked on it were new to worship planning, and it was wonderful! Poetry and sand and Van Gogh and olive branches and prayer, in the midst of a great labyrinth and candles and music.

The service was deeply moving, particularly when Karla (from New Community of Faith) spoke as Mary, the mother of Jesus, at the cross and sang. Bran stapled current news to a 10' cross on the floor, reminding us of the crucifixions that take place today. And people prayed in their seats and at the cross, moved by Jesus' path and by their own.

It was a truly Good Friday, and Jesus was in the house!

Tomorrow is Easter, when our sorrow turns to hope for new life. Not just his. Ours.

I feel so blessed to be doing this work with these people in this time. God is good. And even better.

Thursday, March 10, 2005

worshipping together

On Monday, a group met with Kevin Callahan, an architect and liturgical designer from Scottsdale, whom I met at the Emergent/National Pastors' conventions. The task group working on our sanctuary had earlier met with a traditional (mid-century) architect, but for this we invited everyone who wanted to learn more about sanctuary (re)design. Seven or eight came, including some who had not attended earlier gatherings.

The next day, I asked people what they had thought. And light from the grace of God streamed in on the answers.

What I learned from what they thought is how much people hunger to worship together -- to feel connected to each other during worship -- and thirst to drink in the living water of God's presence. In professional ministry, we tend to talk about liturgy vs. free prayer, mid-80s praise music vs. circle drumming, and so forth. But when people are drawn by an outsider to feel about their desires for worship, and their understanding of their worship space as part of their life as a church, their longing for the Holy in community is palpable.

Both Holy and human. A lot like Jesus, Christ. Go figure.

New light streaming through the stained glass urges us to intimacy and awe.

Hallelujah. May our longing sustain our courage to change.

Thursday, February 24, 2005

Some days there's bluegrass

I'm on a number of email lists for church leaders, with very little regularity about what "church" means and what "leaders" means, except that we all share a love for Jesus, call him "Christ", and are trying to live 24/7/52 in community. The list connection is surface; tribes emerge from the primal core and don't always have geographic center or even common language. Two of guys wound up doing Monty Python onlist today, which means that there are at least three of us in the pulpit or pews thinking Life of Brian.

It helps to lighten the weight of the call.

Yesterday my husband Bran (who is also a pastor, at another church) and I met with a colleague from Santa Cruz. Sometimes you just see your tribal marks on another person, and long silences at lunch mean absorption, not boredom or confusion. That stuff can be life-giving.

Like the fact that a bluegrass gospel band, Handpicked will be providing the music at our worship gathering on April 3. Lifegiving.

Somedays there are blues. And some days there's bluegrass.

Monday, February 21, 2005

Holy days and weeks

I have a longing for an experience of Holy Week (the week from Palm/Passion Sunday to Easter) that enraptures all senses and soul. Lent is a long leadup -- forty days of preparation by trying to pay attention to my relationship with God and others. But that last week I want to feel down to the marrow of my bones.

I don't think I'm alone. I think that's why people flocked to The Passion -- not because it was a good movie or said anything particularly profound -- to feel something. We get so jaded. It's like during the holidays when you're constantly overeating: food has to be stellar or weird to even get you to notice. We're inundated. And our God-journey can be such a distant, intellectual thing. We crave caring about it, feeling it as deeply and as overwhelmingly as we can.

Down in the bones. Beyond the bones. Wherever beyond the bones is -- that's where we long to feel God.

That's where I long to feel God. And 4/4 hymns don't do it for me anymore. Probably the feeling is mutual.

I pray others want to do this too, and that God leads us to each other.


Sunday, February 20, 2005

God is still speaking -- to and through us

We don't take up many offerings during our worship service.

Those who are devoting their lives to following the way of Jesus should give regularly and sacrificially. Financial giving is a spiritual discipline: a lot of us who are very comfortable with prayer or study or meditation or doing good works are terrible about money. Our scripture reminds us that "where your treasure is, there your heart will be also"; giving is an important part of learning to depend upon God and to let go of those things that are fleeting.

We used to take up the offering every week, but for the last couple of months we've had plates by the door and not included time during the service -- for many people, it felt more like bill-paying than devotional, prayerful time. Ideally, we'd have a dedicated physical place for individual gifts and prayer -- a place to give both money and prayer/praise in gratitude for God's gifts.

But today we allowed space and time for a special offering to go to the United Church of Christ God Is Still Speaking ( ) commercials, to be run in the days leading up to Easter. That message -- that God is an embracing welcoming God, and God's church should be also -- is so important. So many of us feel unwelcome in our families, in greater society, in churches. Or, even if we don't feel unwelcome, per se, we have no idea what it would be like to walk through the door. The GISS commercials help address at least one part of that.

I pray every day that people in the Bay Area will see Christ's love in us. I'm glad we're helping that happen elsewhere too.

God in Christ loves even you, and there's nothing you can do to change that.


Thursday, February 17, 2005

what does being a pastor mean?

Sometimes I go to events like Jenna's play (which was great, by the way -- any play that mixes a commentary on imperialism in early California and songs about cows is okay by me) and wonder how to explain why I'm there. Not everyone understands the word "pastor", and even if they do, it doesn't explain why I'm at a 4th grade play. "I'm a friend," doesn't get at the relationship, either.

I am one of Jenna's mentors. I help her see and feel God. I help her think about how to respond to seeing and feeling God. And, with any luck, she sees in me God's love for her.

Does that describe "pastor"? I don't know, but maybe it's a start.

starting a conversation

I'm hoping that blogging will force me to get thoughts out of my head before they get lost in all the flotsam there.

I'm also hoping that doing this will open conversations that I'd never have otherwise, with people I'd never talk to otherwise. (And probably at a time of day that I never see anyone except the newspaper guy and stockbrokers hitting the gym before the market opens.)

I love being a pastor. I love talking with people about stuff that actually matters -- and a lot of stuff actually matters.

Like the play I'm about to go see, starring one of my 10-year-olds. What better thing could I do with my free evening than show her she's loved? Even her. Even you.