Wednesday, December 20, 2006
For years as a child I refused to allow trees in our house. There were just two of us, so one not wanting something pretty much squashed it. It didn't make sense to cut down a perfectly good tree to bring it inside to die. Christmas home as tree-torture site. One year we decorated the wall in the shape of a tree. One year we used cardboard and made a tree. Eventually Mom dragged the silver tinselly aluminum fluffy tree out of storage and threatened to put it up. We went back to real trees after that.
There's something about bringing a recently living piece of the earth into your home. When it's bitterly cold outside, and the birds long ago stopped singing, having that bit of still-bright green close reminds of warmer days, of the inevitable return of spring. The decorations? Memories of better times and hopes for new times too. Bits of twinkling to pierce the darkness, to reflect back hope.
We need our touchstones, our real things. We need living hope, and the assurance of new life. We bring in trees, but we look for Christ.
Thursday, December 14, 2006
One minor irony: after writing this morning about fear of unintended consequences of spending money, went into the laundry are to discover 1" of standing water. Immediately thought: "Aha! Spendthrift! Wastrel! Now you need a washing machine."
Or, in this nonalternative reality, needed to mop up where waterrepellent pillows had made it overflow.
p.s. got one refurbished, better specs, $300 less than anticipated. I giggle too.
I've researched and price-compared and read reviews. I've done and redone our budget and reallocated our savings. I've looked at my set-aside personal money and allocated it differently. We have enough money for me to do this.
But we need new flooring and landscaping. There may be a child someday and we'll need to pay match fees. My shoes need heeling and polishing, and the car has 163k miles on it. I might want a cup of coffee while I'm out someday. So what am I doing thinking of buying a laptop?
Can you see the hideous spiral?
My brain knows very well that I live in extraordinary abundance: we have steady incomes which surpass our actual needs; I love my work; we are healthy. But something inside me is afraid, and the fear can be paralyzing.
Here's the thing about trusting God, which I really do: I feel (not think) God expects me to make reasonably good decisions, and is not about to bail me out if I buy a laptop but actually should save for flooring, or for the medical help we don't need yet but might in 30 years. Which in my little lizard brain becomes "God will only take care of your real needs if you don't do anything stupid." Which is pretty stupid itself.
So I'm working on trusting God to take care of my real needs even if I buy a laptop. Because I've decided to do that. Sort of.
Wednesday, December 13, 2006
I have now officiated at a number of each. Because I require premarital counseling with me, I've spent a lot of time with couples. And because I usually don't know the deceased, I've spent a goodly amount of time with the bereaved. Here's what I know:
- Engaged people lie. A lot. They lie to each other and they lie to me. Most of the time they don't realize they're doing it.
- Bereaved people lie. They do it to protect the good memories, and so as to not affront anyone.
- Engaged people are focused on the wedding day. The rest is too hard to contemplate, and a great unknown.
- Bereaved people are focused on the funeral. The rest is too hard to contemplate, and they fear they do know it.
But everyone is relieved, for a moment, when the event is over. And God attends every wedding and funeral God is invited to.
A couple of weeks ago, a woman attended our worship service for the first time. She looked vaguely familiar, but since she was sitting with a woman I knew I figured I'd met her before. Turns out I'd performed her wedding a couple of years back, and that the marriage had broken up, for all the reasons I'd warned them about. She hadn't remembered that this was "my" church, and I hadn't remembered her. She came and left, lightly.
We held a funeral on Monday for a woman I had never met. Her husband is a sweet and good man, broken by the loss of his wife. He had the funeral at our church campus because he and his wife had been married there 20 years ago. The pastor at that time basically told him he needed to shape up and be a man to his wife. And he was, and he said goodbye to her Monday.
I can't say I prefer funerals, but I know that God is asked to attend them more often.
Tuesday, December 12, 2006
"What do you want for Christmas? What present?"
What present, indeed.
Here's what I want for Christmas:
- I want to see God. Not just "God in another human being's face", not a namaste moment. I want to see God ("and live", would be nice too).
- I want all the people who are grieving to get a break. There's so much grief around right now, and it hurts. A selfish request, but it's my present list, after all.
- I want to be fearless.
- I want to know whether God has a child for us in the plan. Either way is fine, but I'd like to know.
- I want the seven or eight children in our church who I really worry and pray about to find one good adult to guide and love them.
- I want the adults in our church whose pain is so buried that they're destroying themselves to sit down and dig -- and to let someone be with them in it. I want them to want healing.
- I want our country to gain some perspective and humility, and our President to listen to people who disagree with him.
- I want more time with my lovely husband.
I want Presence in the present.
But shoes are always good too.
Monday, December 11, 2006
My nonChristian friends are often just as busy as I am, or more. They're shopping and baking and making their homes fancy and fanciful. I have visited friends in mid-December, and stepped into former apartments or hovels or houses that had become winter wonderlands. Why is it that we in warm climates do what we can to simulate German landscapes, with fir boughs and holly and pine cones? And those in colder climes bring simulated snow into their living rooms, as if they regretted the heat they so dearly pay for?
Perhaps we bring winter inside to warm our hearts. With what shall we warm the world?
Time to start writing again. Keep me at it, okay?
Sunday, November 19, 2006
Light and heat are not always comforting things, esp. when the talk is of hell and the kingdom of God. What I find deeply reassuring in McLaren's work is precisely what others find challenging: McLaren is breaking through multiple hidden boundaries of understanding. For me, that makes fluidity; for others, chaos.
Thesis, simply put: in the West, for a thousand years or so, some of the theological questions we've asked have not been the best ones. At least, our questions have not been the only possible questions (hence, our answers not the only possible answers). To use a music metaphor, we've created a boxed set of greatest hits -- atonement, salvation, hell -- but there are other genres and musicalities to be found.
So, for example, our connection with God isn't: "Hell: Who's going?" or even "Jesus saved X people by doing Y".
It is instead: the kingdom of God is at hand (meaning, right here right now). How will we live in it? How will we regather, reconnect, restore, reconcile the whole of creation?
I realized, as the tears welled up, that I love McLaren because for the time I'm reading his books or hearing him speak, I don't feel alone in this. He writes and says what I don't have words for, but long to.
One of my brothers asked, heartfully, "what happens to sin? What happens to the atonement?" I think he meant, "I have experienced God's salvation in Christ. If that isn't the point, what does that mean for me?" McLaren was warm, and gentle, and did not defend or critique, but opened up a different conceptual box, and examined its contents with us.
During this talk, a listener noted that at least one major denomination has embraces the crazy concept that the earth needs to fall completely apart and be destroyed for the Second Coming to happen. As if God would have us destroy his property in order to hasten our salvation. Those among us from that denomination and its brethren listened, and reflected. Those of us whose roots are elsewhere listened, and reflected.
All that was said, was said with wonder and awe in a room that allowed difference, and humility, and pain, and joy. There is the graciousness, and the Grace.
I was so glad to be there. Sometimes God drives us 314 miles each way just to breathe the air.
Thursday, November 16, 2006
There are gracious souls active in the world. Some of them are in the bodies of pastors and theologians. One of them is in Brian McLaren.
McLaren speaks from and to an evangelical background and perspective -- his critique and hope rest upon those foundations of faith. He hasn't said this, but I suspect that his great driving desires (and we all have driving desires) are Christlikeness and wholeness. So his work -- his books, his speech, his operative questions -- center on the meaning and being of Christ, and integration (of being, meaning, activity, theology, etc.). That means that he seems uninterested in plotting a position and sweating to fill in the gaps and cracks, as if unassailability and permanence were the goal. (Which may be why his critics are so strident, as they stand spattered with mortar and spackle.)
So you probably want details.
- The church has always had an emerging edge -- we have never been rendered for all time in stone -- so there has never been a single "biblical" or "christian" world view (for example).
- A "good" theology must earn its acceptance, not impose it upon the world through conquer or coercion. It will be coherent, contextual, conversational, and comprehensive (meaning -- will speak to and with the other theologies around it, not comprehensive meaning permanent or impenetrable).
- Our world is not pluralistic, but fragmented. Fragmentation becomes relativistic becomes narcissistic.
- The best news can only come with vulnerability (and yes there's part of my xmas message!).
- The gospel is not any particular atonement theory: it's not "Jesus came to die for your sins." or "God sent his son to pay your debt." or "Jesus shows the falseness of empirical human power". The gospel (I love this): the kingdom of God is at hand. Reconcile.
Selfishly, I am getting what I came for: refreshment, oxygen, spaciousness. That's graciousness, and Grace, at work.
(Plus there's nothing like being in a room of youngish people with light bulbs going off over their heads and sparks in their hearts. Whew.)
Thursday, November 09, 2006
The appallingly arrogant Republican Congress and White House has received a cold water baptism. "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near," quoth a dear friend of mine and yours. But that "kingdom of heaven" ain't a Democratic Congress, either. It's a place in which all human beings are treated with dignity; where the rich accept their responsibility to care for the poor, widows, and orphans; and where the planet and all things in it belong to God (and are cared for as if God were standing right there supervising).
I am tired of being called a traitor because I believe the men and women of our armed forces are being used, and are not being provided for while or after they serve.
I am tired of being treated as a heretic because I welcome gays and lesbians into my church, and because I don't believe wealth is a sign of God's favor, but of our ability to climb on the backs of others.
I am tired of "purity" being the mark of faithfulness, as if Jesus were such a standoffish kind of guy (and it seems to be working so well for Ted, Mark, and all those guys).
And I am really, really, tired of our claiming that corporations have just as many rights or more than the 18-year-old orphan girl next door to me, who cannot pay rent with what she gets paid, and dares not ever get sick.
Do I believe that the Democrats are going to do better? No, because we've all sold out to greed and fear. But I pray that this latest baptism is a mark of communal repentence. I pray that we do begin to choose differently. For the kingdom of heaven has truly come near, and God is standing right here, supervising.
Monday, October 23, 2006
I've changed some names and identifying marks, but you'll probably recognize yourself anyway...
So there I am, well out of the circle, just so I can stand up to sing, nothing to do with picking up extra space between me and all those people of course, singing away on the last song, eyes closed ...
"May the journey be a blessing, may I rise on wings of love"
...and whump! all of a sudden my arms are full of another worshipper, weeping violently.
Now we have observed before that mercy gifts are not the dominant part of my makeup and I have generally not (never if I could help it) been the person found holding anyone weeping violently. But I can't exactly kick her away either, especially not when I'm right in the middle of asking God for an increased resemblance.
So I did the only thing I could think of and prayed the song over her as strongly as I could, changed the pronouns on the last verse and tried to bring it home to her, and for a few moments anyway, saw God in her face quite clearly.
But God definitely cheats. And telling Her so makes for a remarkably unproductive conversation.
Wednesday, October 18, 2006
Tuesday, October 10, 2006
Finally, our "Dear Birthmother" letter and our photos are being printed. The web designer is getting his specs and budget. The 800 number is working. And very soon, we will be praying even more frequently and fervently about the baby we hope God is finding for us. By next week or so, my husband and I and our adoption agency will be actively looking for a mother who wants us to be her child's adoptive parents. We will be actively waiting to become parents.
I never thought I'd have an 800 number. I never thought I'd be waiting to be a mother. Amazing what God leads you to that you'd never thought you'd do, and want to do.
So nothing pithy and profound. Just life in faith.
Tuesday, September 26, 2006
My soul is pretty good. There's been a lot of pain and grief among my people -- loss of beloved pets, postponed manslaughter trials, end-of-life decisions to be made -- as well as the discomfort that comes with change. I had posted about this last thing -- how much pain change can bring -- but I was feeling some of all of it, I think.
God lifted a lot of my own weightiness during my prayer time (and while listening and crying to great Black gospel music).
But the other thing that evened out my soul, and lifted it, was noticing little signs of new growth among the people: new ministry ideas, renewed vigor, volunteering out of desire not guilt. God working in the very cells, renewing and restoring among us.
It's the joy of new life. And yeah, Cheryl, I'm good today -- and keep asking!
Wednesday, September 20, 2006
Gather your lost lambs, Lord, and draw them into your safety and your salvation. If I'm not the right disciple to point them to your love, if our church fails them or isn't what they need to find you, please just reach out and find them through someone else, so that they're not all alone out there.
Thank you, Lord, for living your compassionate pain among us, and in us, and through us. Even today.
95% of the time I believe that God sent me to my church to help God turn it around: to help God's people here discover a vibrant, living, active, passionate faith, and to help others find it too. (As I write this sentence I realize what "turn it around" means to me. Who knew?)
100% of the time I know that "turning it around" will mean that many people who have affiliated with the church for a long time but who don't want what God is doing there right now will leave. 95% of the time I'm not happy with that, but I'm okay with it.
Today, I'm living in the 5% of both those things: I'm not convinced God sent me to do this, or that it's the right thing to do, or that I'm doing it rightly; and I'm not okay with the sheep who are quietly wandering off. And they do it quietly... they just slip away, without comment, their memories lingering, their ministries abandoned.
It's not the loss of numbers. I really do not care about that. But I am deeply afraid that God's lambs will wander into the hands of wolves, or simply out onto rocky promontories, alone. If they find another church community and a faith that feeds them, makes them stronger and more at peace, that's wonderful. Go with my blessing. But the potential loss, and lostness, makes me grieve.
Yesterday I was angry at the lack of accountability and straightforwardness. Today I am just sad. It's grief.
Friends, if you read this, please pray for Jesus' lambs, that as they leave our fold they find another that nurtures and sustains them. And if you have an extra prayer left in you, pray for Jesus' church in Campbell, and for me, their rather blue pastor.
Monday, September 18, 2006
their empty husk
clung to the rails
of the back steps
in the dog days
of the brick house
in Little Rock
each of the six
crisp, claw-tipped legs
sunk in gray-blue
peeling paint. Backs
arched, torn open
by the insects
bursting out and
up and free, their
elsewhere. The child
who found one nudged
it loose, placed it
in our army
in the dollhouse.
We three at dusk
the lightning bugs
the failing light
and Gothic oaks
with whispers of
a place to live
and breath and have,
at last, our being.
Friday, September 15, 2006
Friday Five: Brushes with Greatness
1. Tell us about a time you met someone famous.
How about the times I didn't, but mostly slinked past: Gene Wilder (blushing and giggling), John Lithgow (trying to avoid his feeling I was stalking, when we kept passing each other in the grocery aisles).
Or did, when they weren't really: Lea DeLaria, Tim Curry.
Or did, but it mattered not one whit to them: All of Sweet Honey in the Rock, Robin Williams, Maya Angelou, Bishop Tutu (I have been a waitress, caterer, and stage manager in my past). Oh, and Ian Anderson (did I mention I hung with roadies, briefly?)
2. Tell us about a celebrity you'd like to meet.
Meet? None. Have actual conversation with? Bono. Nelson Mandela. Kathy Griffin. Sublime, ridiculous, and in-between. Brian McLaren. God, and, well, God. Jodie Foster. Dallas Willard.
3. Tell us about someone great who's *not* famous that you think everyone oughta have a chance to meet.
Kathleen Fagre, who is an awesome worship leader based in Colorado (http://www.kathleenfagre.com) and funny and humble.
4. Do you have any autographs of famous people?
Tom Robbins -- stood in line for two hours and got kissed. Wow.
5. If you were to become famous, what would you want to become famous for?
Never wanted to be famous, though rich wouldn't be at all bad.
If I were ... I would want to be famous for having done something right and good.
Bonus: Whose 15 minutes of fame was up long, long ago?
Karl Rove (my mouth to God's ears, please) and all the corrupt cronies.
Barry Bonds -- I'm just bored with it
Anyone on any reality tv show.
Wednesday, September 13, 2006
Our friend Philip came home from the hospital after surgery for colon cancer. His doctors took out a big tumor, a foot and a half of colon, and a lot of lymph nodes. His prognosis looks very good -- no sign of cancer in the nodes.
That's not the miracle.
His family is extraordinary. You meet them for the first time and just want to stay quietly in their living room. Their love for each other, and their generosity toward the world, is palpable. It's not niceness, per se. It's love of God and others.
That's not the miracle, either.
There was a glow about Philip, and a peacefulness in the house that was not broken even when the dog started barking and the younger child energized the air. He told us about the surgery, the pathology, and the doctors. How the nodes looked really, really bad, and how amazed and relieved the surgeon and pathologist each time one turned up negative. How wonderful every one of the doctors was. How he'd had no anxiety all along.
How people all over the world had been praying for him. And how he'd felt it, felt secure in it.
We could see him and his family resting in God's hands. Secure. Safe. Illuminated. Incarnate.
My husband and I spent a lot of time praising God last night, thanking God for safe deliverance, for all the praying people, for healing of bodies and souls.
God is active, present, and healing in that family. I don't know why, and why not elsewhere, and really, I don't much care. But today, everything is a miracle, because I saw one last night, and knew it when I saw it.
That's the miracle.
Wednesday, August 16, 2006
Tuesday, August 01, 2006
Most of the comments I've heard from friends and acquaintances centers on the idea of a marriage between Mary Magdalene and Jesus. That's an old idea, of course: it's been played out in a bunch of books, and was fodder for the same fearful Christian critics when The Last Temptation of Christ came out. But most people I've heard this time have expressed intrigue, even hope that such a marriage existed.
The focus on that particular plot twist is telling: It suggests to me that we cannot imagine intimacy without sex/marriage. And, if we cannot posit sex/marriage, then we downplay intimacy.
There is nothing scriptural, or even quasi-scriptural, to strongly support a marriage between Magdalene and Jesus. There is also nothing to strongly deny it. But there is plenty to suggest intimacy of relationship between Jesus and Magdalene, and between Jesus and "the beloved disciple". But it is very hard for us to imagine this intimacy between straight people without imagining a sexual or cultural contract. Some of us also cannot comfortably admit the possibility of physical relationship between Jesus and his male disciple, so must also deny the clear scriptural spiritual/emotional intimacy.
(Interestingly, there's a lot more scriptural basis for a sexual & intimate relationship between Jonathan and David than between Jesus and Magdalene, but you don't see movies made about that!)
Let's be honest: our reactions, pro or con, to all this isn't about Dan Brown or Jesus. It's about us.
Intimacy is terrifying and difficult for us in the best of circumstances. It's even harder to get really intimate, really trusting, really tender, with Jesus. But that's about us, not about Him. He's able; we have to be willing.
And it doesn't take sex or marriage to get there.
Friday, May 12, 2006
Just updating this post, on July 21 -- I cannot believe the phone companies are still being supported in this! It's bad enough that major news outlets are too lazy to listen beyond the daily White House press briefings (or their investors too greedy to shell out the money for actual reporting). But that Senators would support phone companies trying to increase their profits by charging for (and thereby selecting) "free speech" -- it says to me that our Congress has finally and completely sold itself to corporate interest.
Maybe I'll just write Halliburton my charity checks from now on.
So much for Matthew 6:24. Forget God: you cannot serve people and money.
Friday, May 05, 2006
Thursday, May 04, 2006
That isn't how it's happened, obviously.
The last few days I've had spiritual indigestion: I realize that lately my job (being a field rep for the Big CEO) has far outstripped my relationship with my savior/friend/lover Jesus Christ. The very things I coach, preach, cajole, and warn others on -- that time on the job too easily overtakes time spent with Christ -- are afflicting me. My pride (and, let's be honest, my enjoyment) is invested in the work of being Pastor. And the gift of being Disciple is left behind.
One of our leadership team members, Hollie, has remarked that we in Silicon Valley tend to boast in our busyness; we need to learn to boast in the Lord. The tricky bit is when your busy-ness is for the Lord, at least in theory. It's the same old temptation of idolatry: idolizing busyness, role, ability, rather than God. Following the job description, instead of following Jesus.
So for the last few days I've been praying about this, and asking others to pray about it on my behalf.
Today I attended a time of prayer with local colleagues. The focus was on learning to use the Jesus prayer as meditation, leading into contemplation. So we spent the day in conversation and very quiet prayer, which is a very good thing for me (see "craving for monastic life", first paragraph). Here's the point of this whole entry: When we were done, and sat considering the value of praying this way morning and evening, with some directed scripture study (known as lectio divina), my first feeling was "yes!" My second was guilt, as in "This would be time just for me, which would be selfish, because it would take time away from my work."
Spending time in prayer and study would be time just for me, which would be selfish. How "boastful in my busyness" is that? I'm a pastor. It's a big part of my job to model living with Christ as the center, edge, and ground of my being, and to teach others how to do that. And my gut-level (not to say bowel) reaction is that doing this would be selfish, not in aid of my Work. Does that seem good?
Yet the realest, most deeply found reason I do this is because I love God, and God's people, so much it hurts.
See the lightbulb? Hear the angel choir?
It isn't just engineers, loan officers, and construction workers who find it difficult to live with Christ as the Ground of Being. It's this wanna-be abbess, too.
I thank God for the whack across the head (suddenly I'm channeling Nic Cage in Moonstruck, when Cher slaps him and says "Snap out of it!").
So now I'm going to figure out what to do next, and try to find others to do it with, who will slap me upside the head when I get all "unselfish" and betray my bowels.
Monday, May 01, 2006
every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main
if a clod be washed away by the sea,
Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were,
as well as if a manor of thy friends or of thine own were
any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind."
Saturday, April 29, 2006
For Jim Naughton, the communications director for the liberal Diocese of Washington, D.C., any compromise with principle would have dire consequences for public relations. "What is the message we push to explain our desire to stay in the Anglican Communion?" he asks, "What is the slogan we put on our literature? Here is what I have come up with: 'Join us in a diplomatically intricate, ethically ambiguous, and sometimes publicly humiliating tightrope walk toward Jesus.' "
Naughton said, "I think it needs work."
How many of the rest of us Jesus-followers could state what we're doing? Or why, where we're doing it?
Thursday, April 27, 2006
Wednesday, March 29, 2006
Wednesday, March 01, 2006
I have many images of heaven from books and films and art and Scripture, but two are real for me. That is, when I imagine eternal life in the presence of God, two different images fill my heart:
When eternity and my life meet up, I will finally be able to rest my head in Jesus' lap, and listen to him, and gaze at his face. And he will stroke my hair. And nothing else will need to be done, nothing will distract me, nothing will take me away from that love.
The vast, beyondimaginingness of loving compassion that is God will swallow me up into its ocean, and none of us shall ever be separated again.
For me, or anyone else who continually fails at perfection in earthly love, who strays from the path, even those I would count as evil, there is hope: God never, ever gives up on us. Reconciliation is constantly at hand, for it is the nature of God to be merciful and loving, hopeful and faithful. In life, after death. Forever and ever.
And what makes me a pastor is the desire that every one experience even a taste of that, in the present eternity of God.
Amen. May it be so.
Sunday, January 29, 2006
Consulting is project-based, and fun. But both teaching and pastoring are about relationships, and there is no clear beginning and end to those... at least not the ones that affect us.
When I was teaching (which I loved doing), the hardest part was watching people I had grown to love move on, and never finding out whether our time together had helped or hindered or affected any part of their lives. Looking back, teaching, particularly something as affecting as philosophy, was a faith walk of sorts.
Pastoring has those aspects. People come and go, and take your love with them. But sometimes, on precious days that are graced by the light of the Divine, you can see their lives change. Or they tell you: my life is changing; I am changing my life, with God's help; today I am blessed.
Today, I saw the Holy Spirit moving among my folks, my loved ones. And someone blessed me by sharing those words. The light shines in the night, tonight.
The work is the thing. But there's nothing like a great end to a good story. Or a good beginning to an even greater one.
Saturday, January 28, 2006
Maybe not the worst of times -- "the unexamined life is not worth living," after all. Sometimes all that brain space is freeing: it can allow my mind and soul to explore possibilities. This time, I wound up confronting myself in new ways.
The upshot: The only barrier between my living fully into God's gifts and purpose is me. My own fears, my own brokennesses. My own gaps of trust in God.
But God is very very good, even to me. God reached out through the love of my husband and comforted me. God reached out through the companionship of women-friends-in-ministry and inspired me. And God convinced me to whisper my dreams and expose my gifts to all of them.
And to commit to using those gifts, no matter how afraid I may get.
I dream of relationships that break down the boundaries between me and God. Or you and God.
I dream of "church" that is whole-life, deep, and relational -- that reimagines community life into connected living.
I dream of helping others overcome the distorted mirrors and demon voices that keep them from believing that they are worthy of God's love... and that they already have it.
There's a project in the works. But in the meanwhile, there's a cyberhome.
Even You Ministries, because God in Christ loves even you, and there's nothing you can do to change that.
Vacation can work miracles.