Thursday, December 17, 2009

If Obits Were Real

As seen on Facebook:

Martin S. Zucker joined the Church Triumphant earlier this week where his daughters are quite sure he has filled his plate at the heavenly banquet buffet and sat down next to the punch bowl.
He is enjoying his meal all while raising his glass, shaking the ice in what he considered to be the universal symbol for 'bring me more diet coke” thankful that there they know how generous a tipper he is.

Born as a first generation Jewish-American in Brooklyn, NY he was an avid Brooklyn Dodgers fan holding onto the dream that they just might change their minds and move back. Although he converted to Christianity his girls like to say, “you can take the Jew out of Brooklyn, but....”
Never was this more evident than when it came to procuring gifts. These legendary items include the banjo-playing, singing stuffed Christmas rat (with sunglasses), a “god-awful, plastic pantsuit”, and his family's all time favorite: a mural-sized, framed, tableau of the Lord's Supper by Michelangelo AS PORTRAYED by the men in our local church during the Tennebrae service.

Jesus made him leave it at the Gates.

Always entertaining on car rides his favorite activities were riding in the passenger seat using his fake brake to ward off cars in a 5 mile radius, flicking his hands at slow cars that dared to block our path and reading billboard signs and gas prices... out loud. On a ride to Pennsylvania to Florida he announced the gas price 24 times. His son-in-law won the family's over/under.

Marty was well-known for his bellowed statements of joy. There was not a glass of Diet Coke that wasn't met with an overstated “Aaaaahhhh!” or a plate of food that was not met with a, “This is really good! No really! Have you tasted it yet?” He welcomed everyone trying to determine whether to sit on the bride's side or the groom's side at his youngest daughter's wedding with, “Sit wherever you like, we're all family now!!!” And when the clambake was revealed the entire northeastern corridor was informed, “It's like a Rhode Island luau!”
Of course he was a little antsy, having been in his tuxedo since breakfast... for a 5pm wedding.

There are many friends of both girls who have Marty stories to tell. A good amount of them cannot be told here.

One of the family's favorite stories is when he bought them a cake because they were all coming into town. It was a small cake (better bargain) that he had the bakery department squeeze the words: 'To life, love and prosperity'. Life – because he had just recovered from heart surgery. Love – because Miriam was bringing her boyfriend over for the first time (they had been dating 2 weeks and Marty had already implored him to “take care of my daughter!”) and Prosperity – because Kathryn had a new job. Unfortunately they ran out of cake to write the message on.

Good cake. Ridiculous message. Typical Dad.

Marty is survived by the stories that create belly laughs, the confidence that his support instilled in his daughters and his 500 pound cat, Pumpkin. He is also survived by his wife, Peg 'the Gentile', and his two daughters who are grateful that he met and loved their sons and that they can count themselves among the lucky ones who had a Dad who told them repeatedly how much he loved them and supported them no matter what they did in life - cliché #1.

P.S. Gas was $2.44 at the new Sheetz and $2.45 at the Hess.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Snarky Christmas Redux

I recently posted a faux snarky Christmas letter to my neighbors showing my green streaks of jealous over their well decorated home. What I should have just done is this:

Friday, December 4, 2009

Revgalblogpal Friday Five: Keeping it Simple Edition

This week over at revgalblogpals Sally invites us to keep it simple:

I am reading a wonderful little book for Advent it's title: "Do nothing Christmas is Coming!"

So this weeks Friday Five is simple.

List Five things you won't be doing to prepare for Christmas.

This fits in with my latest theme.

This year I will not be...

1) Making little breads as gifts.

2) Stressing over 5 stocking stuffers each for every individual in my family. Last night we discussed 2 each with the bottom line being: if you are getting something just to fill it, don't.

3) Pulling out every Christmas decoration I have, although they may get laid out in the basement so that our newly combined family can sort: recycle, reuse, rummage!

4) Buying any more Christmas decorations. This mid-November reminder to myself was actually quite freeing.

5) Buying any last minute gift items because I suddenly panic that there is not enough. I'll keep you posted on how that discipline goes.

We are having a bit of a hectic holiday around these parts for other reasons, but so far I think we are keeping the expectations of both the adults and the 5 year old on a pretty even keel.

Happy Advent!

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Snarky Christmas

Dear Neighbors,

Wow. Your property looks so amazing and festive. I love the matching wreaths on the windows with the candles perfectly centered behind them. The sculpted pine bushes bought specifically for this holiday with the tasteful white lights on them add just the right touch. And kudos for finding a way to angle that spotlight so that your home glitters through the night. I also like that around the back of the house you have used garland and other classy touches to show that this Winter Festival is not just for the front yard, but for passerby's on the road behind us as well.

You know, I was going to do the same... well, at least decorate a bit (Lord knows I cannot afford sculpted pine bushes bought specifically for this holiday). I really was going to make this effort, but what was I doing right at the same time you were outside decorating your home? Oh right...

I WAS IN CHURCH!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

The Snarky Christian

Okay, I know, I am just jealous. Still.... it did make me chuckle a bit that the neighbors who were nervous about having a pastor for a neighbor (seriously) have out-Christmas'ed us twenty-fold.
On the outside anyway.

God bless 'em.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

I'll Miss it When...

I'll miss it when he says, "Mom, it's foggy outside" instead of, "Mommy! There's froggy out!"

I'll miss it when he says, "I want to go barefoot!" rather than, "Can I wear my bad-bad feet?"

I'll miss it when he calls his classmate, "Christopher" instead of "Chrifoster" and he says "hospital" instead of "hustable."

I'll miss it when it's 1-2-three instead of 1-2-free.

I'll miss it when he tries to hide me from his friends rather than proudly pointing me out and telling his friends, "That's my Mommy."

I'll miss it when he slams the door as he gets out of the car and runs off to be with his friends rather than holding onto my hand excitedly skipping and hopping his way into swim lesson.

All of these moments and more I try to burn into my brain so that I can access them at times that are sure to come in our future when I am not his candidate for 'Best Mommy Ever' and he is not my candidate for 'Cutest Little Boy on the Planet'.

You think time goes quickly and then you have a child and you learn what 'warp speed' really means. Full day Kindergarten begins for us soon enough and I know what that kind of schedule brings.

I look forward to what the future has in store for both of us, but more than ever I try to take time to enjoy those everyday life moments where no camera is present but good memories are made just the same.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Happy Holidays

I don't want to spark outrage throughout the eternal kingdom, but I think I'm okay with stores using the phrase, "Happy Holidays".

Do I think it's silly? Yes.
Do I think they should still be called Christmas trees, rather than holiday trees? Yes.
Mainly because that is what they are. We don't call them Autumn costumes, we call then Halloween costumes because that is what they are.

This year more than ever I find myself not just craving a boundary between the sacred and the profane, but taking the next step and using the energy it takes to make one. I just stopped myself short from correcting someone today when they asked my son what he wanted for Christmas. Two weeks ago when a store clerk told him to go ahead and ask for big candy for Christmas because Christmas was coming soon, I responded reflexively, "No, it's not."
It was easier to make my case because he still had Halloween candy at home. Also, I conceded to her that she was staring at mega-Christmas displays all day long so I understood.

If my 4 and a half year old starts getting wound up for Christmas a month or more away from the event how could it possibly live up to that kind of expectation and build-up? I don't want Christmas season to start because Walmart says it did.

There are many different holidays and events going on right now - the ones that impact my life boil down to two:
1) The culture's winter festival that goes by the name of Christmas and involves family visits, food, the exchanging of presents, greeting cards and winter festival specific decorations.
2) The traditions and rituals of my faith that mark the birth of the Messiah; an annual reminder of the world being turned upside down and the eternal light that makes sure that the darkness doesn't stand a chance.

I am for both of these. The stores help #1. They seriously get in the way of #2.
So all the better that in their greetings to me they use language that separates them from the Holy.

Happy Holidays! I will decorate my home, look forward to exchanging presents, welcome family and friends with open arms and bake some fun things and as best as I can I will do those things on my schedule and at my pace.

Merry Christmas! I will light the Advent candles and read the Advent devotional and lead worship through the end of November, December and into January declaring the Good news of the One who was and is and is to come!

And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid.
And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.

And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward (all).

Friday, November 20, 2009

Revgalblogpal Friday Five: Thanksgiving Edition

From the revgalblogpals:
The Cure

Lying around all day
with some strange new deep blue
weekend funk, I'm not really asleep
when my sister calls
to say she's just hung up
from talking with Aunt Bertha
who is 89 and ill but managing
to take care of Uncle Frank
who is completely bed ridden.
Aunt Bert says
it's snowing there in Arkansas,
on Catfish Lane, and she hasn't been
able to walk out to their mailbox.
She's been suffering
from a bad case of the mulleygrubs.
The cure for the mulleygrubs,
she tells my sister,
is to get up and bake a cake.
If that doesn't do it, put on a red dress.

--Ginger Andrews (from Hurricane Sisters)

So this Friday before Thanksgiving, think about Aunt Bert and how she'll celebrate Thanksgiving! And how about YOU?

1. What is your cure for the "mulleygrubs"?
Coffee and couch. Or little boy hugs.

2. Where will you be for Thanksgiving?
My brother-in-law's parents' house about 3 hours away.

3. What foods will be served? Which are traditional for your family?
We were there a couple of years ago and it was pretty traditional fare. The two traditions in our family that are different from some are creamed onions and red cabbage.

4. How do you feel about Thanksgiving as a holiday?
I think that any day that offers a significant opportunity to take pause and give thanks is an increasingly important one.

5. In this season of Thanksgiving, what are you grateful for?
That my father has been able to meet and be with both of his grandsons.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Advent Conspiracy

I'm driving my family crazy.

I taught a Living Simply: Advent & Christmas Sunday school class over 3 weeks at the end of October and into November and now I am trying to practice what I taught. My family is hoping I never teach a class on why Jesus didn't like beer or ice cream (for the record, I would never teach that class).

Leaving my family out of it, what I tend to do is run out of time to be creative and so I spend a lot of money by default on Christmas presents that are usually fun but not always practical (Guitar Hero for the couple about to welcome a newborn? Duh). I also have realized that the most precious commodity for me is time - it's the one thing we can't get back - and since it is our year to have my sister, brother-in-law, and their munchkin with us for a week during the holidays I would rather spend time with them and with my Mom and my son than just about any other gift you could get me (unless you were going to get me a pick-up truck, but that is a post for another day).

And then there is this....

There is something to this.
$450 billion spent on Christmas, an estimated $10 billion to improve everyone's water supply?
I'm pretty sure I am not the only one who would rather be a part of the $10 billion solution, rather than the $450 billion problem.

In previous years I have made something for the deacons and the elders. More than once this meant baking until the very early hours.
In December.
Not smart.

In the last couple of years I bought ornaments at Ten Thousand Villages for everyone. It cut down on the hours I was putting into the baking and the feeling I always had that probably up to half of my efforts were thrown out because I know I cannot keep up with all of the food goodies that are brought to me during the holidays.

Now I have a bigger board of Deacons and a Session 3x the size so I'm going to buy an animal through Heifer International in their names and give them a gift card letting them know.

It's not $10 billion in fresh water, but it's something.

As for my family I am trying to be creative and not in a 'look I made you a sock puppet' way but more of a 'I really put a lot of thought into this' way.
The good news is I have a plan and it is starting to come together. But I think one or two of them may read this blog so the unveiling will have to wait.

What are some creative ways you have of not getting caught in the trappings of Christmas?

Friday, November 13, 2009

That Stones and Pebbles in a Jar Thing

So the time management webinar was pretty helpful; the time in conversation with the other pastors on staff afterwards: priceless (as the saying goes).

There were 30 minutes of the presenter and a lot of what he said was helpful and stuff I maybe even knew but hadn't been applying. I mean how many times have I seen or heard the example of how when you fill the jar with little stones then there is no longer room for the big rocks. Start with the big rocks.

It was a good reminder though because for instance, worship planning is a big rock and if you keep answering emails and fielding phone calls and doing this little thing and that little things suddenly you no longer have time for worship planning. So it gets pushed to the next day, rinse, repeat.

Another thing I realized is that I am on target in that I schedule my days BUT I schedule them on Sunday night. Every night I need to take a look at the next day and tweak it to reflect what was left undone or another big rock that may have come my way. Also, I need to leave more flex time in the schedule and be a little more gentle with myself. If everything is timed down to the minute and there is no buffer built in between tasks, of course I'm going to get behind. Life in ministry is not a well-oiled machine.

And if I have a 2 hour meeting, then don't schedule sit-down work after it. I can't concentrate and I will just sit there losing my mind and getting frustrated at myself. Put something else (a visit?) in that time slot.

I realize this is not riveting, revolutionary stuff but a few of you asked me to share and so I did.

Also, I have some pretty amazing colleagues in ministry.
That is all. :)

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Time Management... A Ramble

I have signed up for a time management webinar. Since it will take an hour to watch it, I feel a bit like the person who pays hundreds of dollars for a pamphlet on how to save money, but I need a hint - any hint - on how to get at least half of it done. It would also help if I knew what 'it' is.

I now know why so many in the generation before me (okay, mostly men) lost themselves in their 60+ hour church work week leaving their spouses (okay, mostly women) and children to fend for themselves. Didn't Paul AND Jesus warn us about trying to have families in the midst of this ministry thing?

I want to be ahead so that our church musician and associates have plenty of time to prepare their pieces in worship and liturgy can become more creative, rather than typed into the bulletin straight from a book due to time constraints.

I want to pick my head up from the demands of the urgent in order to see the visions and dreams of the future.

I want to visit with folks in the congregation when they're not in the hospital so that I will be a person of trust when crisis comes.

I want to meet consistently with my staff members corporately and individually so that we have a foundation of trust to work together in good times and in bad.

I want to start rebuilding pieces of the foundation of this church's ministry that are missing so that we can make bolder leaps into who it is God is calling us to be.

I want to understand the Treasurer's report. (I get pages 1-4, but 5-6 continue to befuddle me. And I think the Treasurer likes it that way :)

I also want to get to the gym.

I want to continue the process of transforming this new house into a home.

I want to get back in touch with my long, lost friends by phone rather than facebook and twitter and an occassional text.

And most importantly I want to raise and love my son.

i don't want much, really. ::shakes head knowingly::

I realize my wants are right on target with all of us living our lives and our vocations as faithfully as possible. As I've begun the conversation with the leadership of the congregation about the difference between what is important (just about everything) and what are our priorities, I've realized that this is an exercise that could help me in my own mission - personal and professional. I should sit down and figure out what those priorities are.

If only I had the time.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

One More Pane

In my denomination there is an organization for women. In the past, this has been where women could find their leadership roles since they were not allowed to be ordained into office. In many places it is where the pastor's wife actually ran the show. I don't think the church or her mission would be as far as it is today if were not for these women.

Change comes hard for many of them and sadly I have frequently found that the people who are the hardest on the idea of a woman in an ordained role in the church, are them. However, once you win them over - they are yours forever.

I am the Head of Staff in a larger congregation. I am the first installed female Head of Staff (they have had interims). Slowly, folks are breathing and understanding that it is 'ok'. The mistakes I make are because I am still a little green and quite frankly, I have a big mouth and want to FIX everything. The heart is in the right place, I can preach pretty well and I run a decent meeting - so I have been given a lot of grace and won over many of the doubters.

In many ways I have broken through a portion of the stained glass ceiling, but a few panes remain.

I found out suddenly that in a couple of weeks I am no longer preaching, but rather our DCE (a woman) is preaching. I have no problem with this, just thought it was surprising. It turns out the women of this organization always run the worship service on the third Sunday of November. I asked the woman in charge about it and she said, "Well when our organization does the service the women are in charge so we never have the Head of Staff preach."

I waited....

And then I said, "Well that makes sense, a women's organization service should have women involved."

Her: "Yes. That's why we asked (the DCE)."

I waited again..... and then decided to let it go.

I find myself chuckling and shaking my head because in this case, it is not even about thinking outside the box it is about looking around and seeing who is in the box with you.

Oh and fear not lest you are worried that I will now have nothing to do.

She did ask me to do the children's sermon since one of our male associates had been previously scheduled.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Note To Local Ministerium

The 'buzz' is that you wish more of the younger clergy would join you and your important work of meetings and minutes taking. Yet when I came into this area I received no invitation letter/postcard/email/phone call.

A few months afterwards I did receive an emailed invitation to preach at the Thanksgiving Eve service, something anyone in the 'biz' knows is assigned to newbies because no one else wants to do it.

You'll excuse me if I refrain from paying my $50 fee for the honor of gathering in a cold fellowship hall at 6:30 in the morning to hang with the age 60+ balding white male clergy of the month club.

As you were.

Friday, October 16, 2009

The Obesity of America

First, you need to know that I in no way, shape or form would be confused for a health nut. Since I moved into a living situation where I am no longer the adult in charge of grocery shopping I have gained 15 pounds... and that's not in muscle. I have a gym membership, but I am trying to get there more than twice a week.

Second, I am not a big breakfast eater. I don't like to start off the morning with sugary/white flour things because that means the rest of the day I battle a headache and maybe even a little dizzy.

So when I go out to breakfast it's usually eggs, hashbrowns and a breakfast meat and for the love of God, COFFEE!

On our way home from the beach I decided to treat The Boy and I to a sit-down breakfast so we stopped at an "Internationally" recognized restaurant chain that has a long name but usually goes by an acronym that is not UJUMP.

I knew we were in trouble when both of us (The Boy is 4) were handed 3 menus each! The food options and the pictures boggled the mind.

Finally I found the kid's menu (on his placemat) and I moved to my options. The menu I described above was in the 'field goal' category. If you added more meat (it came with 4 slices of bacon or links of sausage already) or added pancakes or french toast you moved up to a touchdown, super bowl, etc... Clearly, according to them, 2 eggs, hashbrowns and 4 pieces of bacon is the minor leagues.

This is what I ordered and the waittress told me that I received pancakes free with that. Stunned, I replied that I didn't want any and this is about how the conversation went after that:

HER: You don't want your pancakes?
ME: No thank you.
HER: They're free.
ME: Yes, I know but I won't eat all that.
HER: ............ I think you have to have them.
ME:...... (deciding it was not worth the fight) Okay, then yes please, I will have the pancakes.
HER: Would you like strawberries or blueberries on top of them? ME: Ummmmm, neither thank you. And no whip cream.
HER: No whip cream?
ME: No thank you.
HER: You know, you could have french toast instead.
ME: (relieved that there was another option) Yes, thank you. I would love some french toast, no fruit.
HER: It's stuffed French Toast. It has raisins and cinammon in the bread and is stuffed with cream cheese.
ME: Of course it is...

The stuffed french toast came and it also had icing dripping all over it. I didn't eat any of it, and I felt bad about wasting it. As I looked around the room there were a lot of older and very heavyweight folks in the restaurant.

One couple got up to leave and stopped to talk to The Boy and she offered, "I don't like to overdo it but we just come in here once a week."

Believe me, once a week is all it takes.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Raising Him Right!

Lesson #1: It's never too cold to play in the waves. (56 degrees according to the boardwalk display)

Lesson #2: It's never too cold for ice cream. (Sorry no pic. My hands were also full of ice cream)

Lesson #3: The fewer the people, the more fun the boardwalk!

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Fall Respite

The Boy and I are at the beach for a few days in what a few years ago I realized was an important piece of a healthy ministry - getting away in October.
There is a small area of space in October that is post-September start up and pre-hectice holiday where I try to carve out a week of vacation. Usually no matter how much time I took in the summer, I need it and I know even before we hit Thanksgiving I will be grateful that I took it.

This year marks the last for the next 14 that I will be able to go to the beach this time of year since The Boy begins Kindergarten next year. I will still take the time (most likely a stay-cation) but his schedule will keep us from making the trek a few hours east for deep gulps of salty air and chilly water.

I won't miss out on the beach entirely. There are plans for our family to share 2 weeks together on a shore somewhere this summer, see how it goes and maybe make a tradition of it. But I will miss this.

I love the beach in the fall. Not everybody gets it. I saw more than one shake of the head and worries that the weather wouldn't be warm enough as I announced my plans in a new setting where they don't know me as well. I grew up by the beach and spent 10 years in Florida, so the beach not being warm enough to lay there and actually feel the beads of sweat dripping down your arms and back is not exactly a loss for me.

Been there. Done that. Won a t-shirt in the volleyball tournament.

I like the smaller crowds. I like that the stores and restaurants that are open are the ones the locals go to. I like the push and pull of a little bit of a chill in the air offset by the intensity of a sun that is not quite ready to give up. I like the rhythm of sweatshirt-sweatpants-t-shirt-shorts and back to sweatshirt-sweatpants.... all in the same day and all with flip-flops. I like that there is less need to be focused on making sure you don't lose your child in the mass of umbrellas and towels and more opportunity to be focused on how we can carry all of those beach pebbles and shells back to our room.

Today was a good day. I am thankful for this last grab at summer and at sabbath and for this time with The Boy who is not going to be The Boy all that much longer.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Open Table

Sermon for October 4, 2009 - Worldwide Communion Sunday

If it had not been the Lord who was on our side
—let Israel now say— if it had not been the Lord who was on our side,
when our enemies attacked us,
then they would have swallowed us up alive,
when their anger was kindled against us;
then the flood would have swept us away,
the torrent would have gone over us;
then over us would have gone the raging waters.

Blessed be the Lord,
who has not given us as prey to their teeth.
We have escaped like a bird
from the snare of the fowlers;the snare is broken,
and we have escaped.
Our help is in the name of the Lord,

who made heaven and earth.

In the preamble to this morning’s Gospel reading the disciples and Jesus are passing through Galilee where “Jesus mentions for the second time, the human hands that will kill him, the three days he will be dead, and how he will rise again. Clueless, the disciples are too afraid to ask any more questions. Instead, the twelve turn things back towards themselves, debating which one is the smartest, the tallest, best crowd controller, most articulate pray-er, the apple of Jesus eye. Caught in the act, Jesus silences their comparisons by plopping a child down in their midst. Anyone who wants to be at the front of the line, he tells them, must first stand at the back. Whoever can welcome this tiny creature, welcomes me and far more than me – the One who sent me.”

“Unwilling to let a toddler steal the show, John jumps at the chance to earn a few brownie points…”[i]

Mark 9:38-50 (NRSV)
John said to him, ‘Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he was not following us.’ But Jesus said, ‘Do not stop him; for no one who does a deed of power in my name will be able soon afterwards to speak evil of me. Whoever is not against us is for us. For truly I tell you, whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because you bear the name of Christ will by no means lose the reward.

‘If any of you put a stumbling-block before one of these little ones who believe in me, it would be better for you if a great millstone were hung around your neck and you were thrown into the sea. If your hand causes you to stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life maimed than to have two hands and to go to hell, to the unquenchable fire. And if your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life lame than to have two feet and to be thrown into hell. And if your eye causes you to stumble, tear it out; it is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than to have two eyes and to be thrown into hell, where their worm never dies, and the fire is never quenched.

‘For everyone will be salted with fire. Salt is good; but if salt has lost its saltiness, how can you season it? Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another.’

The Word of the Lord…

We are just one big happy family! Isn’t that what this Sunday is all about?

The worship notes from the denomination seem to think so:
On World Communion Sunday, Christians from around the world gather in worship to partake of the elements of bread and wine in remembrance and celebration of the death and resurrection of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. This is also the time to bear witness to the unity of Christians everywhere as we seek to live out Christ’s command to work for justice and peace in a world that is deeply divided in conflict and war. As we gather on this Lord’s Day, let us remember and pray for the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)’s 165 partner communions and other organizations worldwide who will be receiving Communion.

What a blessing it is to be entrenched in such a community of faith.

“A strong community enhances the lives of its members.
The community is a place of identity, where people have a sense of belonging because they are known and recognized.
The community provides protection and support.
The community shapes values and provides cultural norms.”

“But there are risks in a strong community.
The past ways may not be suitable for the challenges of the future.
A strong community may be so focused on itself that it loses the capacity to relate to those outside.”[ii]

Hmmmmm….. community, good? Community, bad?

I was told during a recent keynote given by the current Moderator of the PCUSA, Bruce Reyes-Chow, that my role in the church may very well be to help bridge that gap between modern and post-modern – very broadly and simply put – between structure and Spirit.

So apparently I am the one with the answers about community since I am that bridge…. Except… I too get caught up in the crosshairs of expectations and demands and truth be told… I kinda like them. I have been protected and supported by this community and appreciate the values that hold me accountable. I like my long, black robe and the comfort it gives me.

Sometimes… (shhh, this could get my post-modern card taken away from me)… sometimes I like that we haven’t done it that way before.

So community, good? Or community, bad – clearly I don’t have the answers.

I’m in good company though, because John doesn’t have the answers either. Poor guy is just trying to gain some street cred with the prophet he’s been hanging out with and next thing he knows he is being bombarded with images of drownings, bloody stumps and infernos.

‘If any of you put a stumbling-block before one of these little ones who believe in me, it would be better for you if a great millstone were hung around your neck and you were thrown into the sea. If your hand causes you to stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life maimed than to have two hands and to go to hell, to the unquenchable fire. And if your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life lame than to have two feet and to be thrown into hell. And if your eye causes you to stumble, tear it out; it is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than to have two eyes and to be thrown into hell, where their worm never dies, and the fire is never quenched.

Where do we put ourselves when we hear this passage?

Are we the community of faith, banding together in order to better blast our way through this secular humanist culture we live in, forging a path towards truth and eternal life?

Or are we the community of faith, binding together into a huge stumbling block keeping those who can’t say the magic words of tenets and creeds from joining the feast?

What mistakes have we tragically made in our haste to prune those sinners back?

How often is our fall-back position in effect amputational theology?
Don't like gay marriage? Cut them off!
Don't like paying for other people's healthcare? Cut them off!
Don't like the way a family member does things? Cut them off!

Even internally – don’t like the way the church does something? Cut them off!
Don’t like something a member of the staff did? Cut them off!
Don’t like the wording in the letter with the pledge card? Cut them off!

Cut! Cut! Cut!

But don’t look down… because there is blood on our hands.

It’s not the blood of the gay couple.
It’s not the blood of the uninsured.
It’s not even the blood of the church.

We’ve got the blood of our crucified Lord on our hands.

When we cut off members of our community we lose so much. We lose too much.
We lose integrity.
We lose balance.
We lose grace.

This table has been set for all.

Thanks be to God, Amen.

[i] Heather Shortlidge. 26th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Mark 27, 2009, Mark 8:38-50. The Well. Austin, 2009.
[ii] David Bartlett & Barbara Brown Taylor, eds. Feasting on the Word: Feasting on the Word: Year B, Volume 4. Harry B. Adams. “Mark 9:38-50: Pastoral Perspective.” Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2009. p. 116.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Sermon Ponderings - WorldWide Communion

This is just me sitting in my virtual coffee house throwing out random thoughts as I do research/prayer/thinking about this Sunday's sermon:

Scripture: Psalm 124; Mark 9:38-50
Working Title: Open Table

This is not the lectionary Scripture for today. I am not cowering from the discussion of divorce but I think you will agree that in my current situation that sermon is best left to the future. And not on Worldwide Communion Sunday

  • Very much aware that us mainlines have made it Worldwide Communion Sunday which others may find silly with a touch of arrogance since it is ALWAYS Communion Sunday where they are.
  • Earthquakes... tsunamis... the UN... G-20 all in the news this week - in your mercy Lord, hear our prayers...
  • "...whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because you bear the name of Christ will by no means lose the reward." Does this justify the 'but I'm a good person' anti-church defense?
  • John's follow-up to Jesus not buying into the whole 'who is the greatest' argument is to tattle-tale? Really, John? Seriously?
  • "If your hand causes you to stumble, cut it off..." - wondering what my left ring finger did. ;)
  • Some (many?) would see the church as one big stumbling block. From bulletins without prayers printed in them to the seat ownership mentality to the nightmare that can be committees... no wonder so many want to cut the church off.
  • I think that above bullet point just might preach.
  • Stumbling block is same word as 'snare' - folks would rather chew their own foot off in order to escape the clutches of the church...
  • Okay, that above bullet point maybe went too far. Or not...
  • Misplaced pencil, guess I can't work on this any more.
  • Oh. There it is.
  • :(
  • Good stuff on the pros and cons of a strong community in Feasting on the Word
  • No easy answers here highlighting the need for grace, fluidity and acceptance that things in life are usually grey, not distinct.
  • Challenge for me is when the choice is between spirit or structure I tend to err on the side of structure (shocking coming from a mainline pastor in a denomination that has a Book of Order as part of its Constitution, I know)
  • I've hit my time limit for working on sermon this morning, more later...
  • What are your thoughts... (although please note I am refraining from reading YOUR sermons on this Scripture from last week in order to fight desire to cut and paste your better offerings in TOTAL!)

(10/2 Ramblings...)
How often is our fall-back position in effect amputational theology? Don't like gay marriage? Cut them off! Don't like paying for other people's healthcare? Cut them off! Don't like the way a family member does things? Cut them off!

But surgery is rarely so simple. Even those who go under the knife for tummy tucks and augmentation find that their issues are far more complex than a simple swipe of the knife will solve.

When we cut off members of our society we lose something more than just them. We lose integrity. We lose balance. We lose a deeper sense of who 'we' are....

What the sermon aims to say: Look before you cut.
What the sermon aims to do: Encourage folks to clear a path to the Open Table of the Lord, whether it be for them or for someone who is being cut off.

Friday, September 25, 2009

The Bridge

I went to a seminar with the esteemed moderator of our denomination last weekend. The majority of his keynote addressed the differences between the modern and post-modern generations, realizing of course that these things never fall exactly across generational lines. Then he mentioned that there are a group of us who just very well may be called to be the bridge between the two.

As someone who has a blog (admittedly underused), a facebook account and a twitter account, I get social media. To a point. I have friends both older and younger who get a lot more out of it, but still that willingness to engage on that level is a post-modern trait. However, I had to laugh at myself when I realized that the reason we had not started a church blog was because I don't have time to do it and it never even ocurred to me to have a group of other folks contribute to it. That desire/need for control and strong parameters is a modern trait. Of course, now that the idea has been floated into my head I will probably follow up on it. Eventually.... as long as I have enough control :)

My mental blog block really raised this challenge of having to bridge a great divide. This is not going to be simply throwing my robe over a mud puddle of confusion so that one side can reach the other. I'm not even sure these two sides can SEE each other, let alone respect and understand each other.

What about the woman who reprimanded my friend for wearing his hat in the fellowship hall during a dinner at the church?
What about my friends who discount the amount of mission the Presbyterian Women accomplish just because they refuse to meet at night?
What about the people who moved their membership because a female Head of Staff was just too far out of the box?
What about the parents who rip the church and say there is no place for them, and then get mad when we are hesitant to baptize their child because we know we will never see them again to love and nurture that child?
What about the retiree-aged pastor who clings onto the pulpit because it defines him/her blocking out the next generation from having a place?
What about that next generation that frustrated about not having a pulpit blindly swipe at those that are in their way with no compassion about why these folks are finding it so hard to let go?

So often it seems like we need less of a bridge, and more of a space shuttle.

I wonder if part of finding a better place is admitting that a particular worship space cannot be all things to all people. This goes for the institution and the seeker. For instance, I currently serve a mainline denomination with a strong traditional worship service. We at times introduce things that would lean us towards 'blended' but we are traditional. And we are good at it.

Before my arrival this congregation delved into the contemporary worship scene with disastrous results. There are still people no longer attending and feelings very hurt. These things take the musicians with the commitment and talent to do it well and every week. It also needs the support of at least one person on staff. Right now we have the latter, not so much the former. BUT there are at least two other congregations in our immediate area who do WONDERFUL contemporary worship. So why not worship there? And why not have it be okay with our institution to say, "Go, with our blessing." It's the same God - or so we say - so what does it matter?

Again, this simplifies the many issues that we are facing as the church and actually I think the generation after me may very well have a better chance of briding the gap (blending the worship?) than I will.

Still, I appreciated the challenge for me to be the bridge even if I can't see the other side.

Thursday, August 27, 2009


My son (age 4.5) came home the other night after spending 8 days away with his Dad. I had been warned that re-entry from saturated time with one parent can be challenging, but I really had no idea what to expect. What I found was that I was looking at this little boy as if he had been dropped off for me to baby sit. Who was this child? What was I supposed to do with him?

The next morning found us both a bit out of sorts - he was of course tired, I had to stick to my routine (namely, go to work), he had not HAD a routine - and I found myself wondering when the parents were going to come and pick up their child.

By the end of the day thanks to familiar things like a softball game, playing catch with one another, icies on the back porch, tubbie and books before bed we were back in sync but I have spent a good portion of the time since sending him back off to be with his Dad (regularly scheduled, shorter period of time) wondering what the HECK that was all about!

I feel like there is a parallel in the beginning of my ministry here at MPC. It's been eight years since I entered a congregation a-new and at times I have felt a little lost, not sure what my role is and maybe even at times as if I were the one being dropped off for a play date!

If you add to the new beginning the number of times I have been out of the office due to pre-scheduled events it's no wonder I am not in a routine - I never had time to get one!

I have found worship to be my anchor in this sea of new faces and awkward moments and halting routines. It's the ritual of call to worship, confession, pardon, scripture and sermon, prayer and hymns that have helped me gain a comfort level and a mutual understanding and a foundation to build a long-standing ministry here.

Just as I stared at the seemingly taller, tanner, speaking-a-mile-a-minute child that walked through my door, the folks here have been trying to take in a senior pastor who is female, under 40 and walks on her toes as if she is on her way to a softball game, not a prayer meeting. Through the routine of worship and as we work together through the awkward moments, I can only see our relationship with one another getting stronger and stronger. Thanks be to God.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Gone Montreatin'

Iam currently in this place doing these silly things.
More later....

Wednesday, July 22, 2009


All went well. Truly, the hardest part was keeping the look of pity for them off my face. Most of the conversation revolved around logistics.

The bottom line for me was the proof that I really have moved on, because I felt nothing.

Thanks all for you support, both now and through the last 2 years. Volume I is now definitely closed.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Thursday, July 16, 2009


What is it with the random stuff that we keep in our lives?
My own personal cache of all things clutterific has of course come to the forefront during the move. Just how many boxes do I have that are filled with non-recyclable, non-regiftable, non-charitable, non-yard saleable flotsam and jetsam?
Answer: TOO MANY!

At first while packing I was sorting. (In hindsight, I spent WAY too much time testing pens in the junk drawer.) Then I reached a higher level of panic and shifted from first gear sorting to fourth gear dumping. And now I have the boxes o' junk to prove it.

The blind installer is coming today and claimed he needed "only" two feet of room around every window to work. I again started out in sort mode and quickly realized I needed to take it up another level to 'just move it and sort it later' mode. The one plus is we have a huge, dry basement but we all know this is where boxes of clutter go to die. I want them out!

But the uber-sized, totally non-recyclable, shiny hair clip that only a little girl who didn't have enough hair for it would love... what about that?
The collage style picture frame with the pictures cut to size that are the only pics from a GIANTS game with my Gram, the day we were engaged, my sister's college recital and that has the faded matting.... what about that?
The giant GIANTS pillow... what about that? (okay, freecycle that one).

I am slightly tempted to hold a contest and mail out clutter boxes to the winners (losers?) with the caveat that they must email me to say, "it was all junk, nothing you wanted, I was able to recycle every last piece."

The good news is that the things that are random in my life right now are all just material junk and stuff. No longer are they painful random run-ins or comments, no more random tripping over a box of memories, no more random old house problems, no more random car in the parking lot causing me to wonder where the gas giftcards are or if I had forgotten a meeting.

This is a new life, new job, new space kind of random and I worked so hard for it and had so many folks pulling for me that it doesn't feel random at all.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

It's Time

I knew her before. Actually, I had warned him about her before. I always knew that the Lifetime television movie playing in her head had him leaving his family to be with her. Eventually through a series of events that just don't matter any more, it happened.

Since then I have not seen her except for a fleeting glimpse as I pulled up early to pick up The Boy and she ran into a back bedroom. Yes, you read that right. She is hiding from me. Seriously.

I am one that likes to open the wound wide open and let it breathe so I have offered that we should meet. These choices have been made and we need to own them. It is what it is. He mentioned that she was working on a letter to me to which I shook my head and rolled my eyes and said, "Please... no more letters."
And that's where we left it.

But in mid-August he and she are taking our child down to Florida and I need to know. I only have his cell phone number and I need more than that. I only know that they are going down to Florida and I need more than that. And so, it is time.

I am about to leave for 2 weeks and before we go I am going to ask him to pick a place where the three of us can meet after I get back and before they leave the area. It will be awkward, but I am hoping the build-up before it will be the worst part. If we're going to present a united parenting front and make things easier for The Boy as he gets older and there are events all will be present for then we have to do this. And selfishly I would rather our first meeting be arranged and not a chance encounter at a local store (where you KNOW I would just be running in to get antibiotics for the strep throat and horrific rash I had at the time).

Now that I am out of the manse a lot of the baggage I had been carrying around is gone. I am in a better place and quite frankly, she can have him. And so it's time.

I just hate that once again I am the who has to take the lead on being a mature adult when on a primal level I just want to give her one. good. punch.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Good Exorcise

Yes, I spelled the title correctly.

It is done now, or in my line of work we like to say: It is finished.
As I mentioned in my previous post I had help breaking down the boxes and cleaning out the last remnants of our seven and a half years in the manse. I give thanks to God for the two women - one a friend from seminary, one the Clerk of Session at the new church - who both understood the magnitude but were not as burdened as I by the memories.

Seminary friend attacked the downstairs boxes with a vengeance and told me she was grateful for an opportunity to work through some of her disappointment in the ex and drive away from the manse for the last time. Both women worked hard as we stuffed every space in my car with pieces of cardboard so only one run to the recycling needed to be made. Then both vans were loaded with trash and taken to my Clerk's home where they have 'unlimited trash' (my new favorite phrase). And yes, the last church had a dumpster, but it had been full and basically unusable by me for the last month. Let's not go there.

It was good to sweat out the last hours there, making the break from then to now complete. My current clerk also gave me another gift. She asked me to show her around the manse which helped push away the more recent ghosts for some really fun memories.
"This is where we slept on the floor the first night even though we had none of our stuff."
"This is where we brought home our son on a strangely warm February day."

The next morning was the last one and it was the final exorcism. The short version is that three men from the church were in the manse already when I arrived. This combined with paint cans and full dumpsters and a furnace that had not worked since March even though I have been paying rent was the straw that broke the camel's back.
And. I. lost. it.

It's done and so that is enough said, but in a way I am glad I got to unload that baggage too and totally get a fresh start here.

And so that is the last few remnants from Volume I. Volume II begins with a new job, a new house, a new understanding of who I am, a new appreciation for my friends and a new nephew.

I have to admit, part of me hopes it's not a page turner.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

It is (almost) Finished

Nothing about this move has been the way I prefer things to be - a quick ripping off of the band-aid. This transition has been painstakingly slow, pulling up on each and every pain point and sometimes sticking for a bit. In some ways a slower transition has been good - The Boy has gotten acclimated easier because he has watched the house being built. But in a lot of ways it has been challenging.

Now I think I am finally beginning to be bathed in the light at the end of the tunnel. For awhile a couple of days ago I wasn't sure I would make it. I arrived back at the manse on a dead sprint in an attempt to clear out two van loads before stopping for the night. I backed in and noticed paint and painting supplies covering my porch blocking access to the door I needed to get in to remove our outdoor stuff. Then I looked down and realized I had stepped in paint. Whatever the word is for 'frustrated x 10' that was me.

The paint fiasco did keep me from getting the movers to get some of our bigger outdoor stuff, but tomorrow folks from the new church are driving over there with me to help me clear it out. And today as I was in the kitchen trying to figure out how I was going to finish up and pick up The Boy on time, my friend showed up. Good timing. Good friend.

Now there are three clear cut tasks - finish getting out of the main house (ie: pick up the cat). Clear out the outdoor stuff. Clean out the boxes in the basement (a symptom of the ex's illness was the fact that we kept every box that ever came into our home. Every. Box. And now they need to be broken down and recycled.)

On Tuesday our domestic goddess shows up to earn every penny and then some. After I walk around with her - I should be done.
And ready to live a life with wounds that have healed over with only small scars to show for the pain.

Hopefully I won't need any more band-aids for awhile.

Saturday, July 4, 2009


Being handed the keys - priceless.
Hearing your little boy exclaim, "Wow!" when he sees his room - priceless.
Seeing the design you picked out from small squares of materials all come together and look wonderful - priceless.
Sitting on the back porch enjoying coffee and the breeze - priceless.
Sleeping on a mattress on a box spring on a bed frame instead of a mattress on a floor - priceless.
Having a bathroom all to yourself - priceless.
Not having to do everything all on your own any more - priceless.
No longer on the grounds of the church, but less than 10 minutes away - priceless.

I guess it's all not really priceless. I handed over a pretty good check and from what I hear mortgage payments are expected monthly. Then there is the fact that for the next two years I might as well just have my paychecks deposited at Lowe's.

But then you can't put a price on freedom.
You can't put a price on peace of mind.
You can't put a price on coming out the other side of the tunnel.

Unpacking boxes and at the same time feeling the weight of the world come off your shoulders -


Friday, June 26, 2009

Where You At?

Hi friends! Just checking in to let you know that The Move is fast approaching - 3 days. In the meantime the internet is no longer available in my current home which leaves very little time for personal blogging since it would have to be done at work.

We sign the papers Tuesday. The wireless at the new house goes in Wednesday... before the majority of our stuff on Friday!

It's all good. See ya on the flip side!

Friday, June 12, 2009

Revgalblogpal Friday Five: Trader Joe's Edition

What?! Two posts in two days?! Sign of the apocalypse?
No, just a sign that I am not preaching this Sunday.

1. Grocery shopping--love it or hate it?
Hate. It.
When the ex left I often figured the grocery store was the most likely place folks would finally see me crack, thumb in mouth, crouched in the fetal position by the meat counter.

2. Who is the primary food shopper in your household?
Have I mentioned I hate it? I am wondering which grandparent is going to take over that role since my Mom hates it too and my Dad tends to freelance (read: buy only cheap stuff) a bit too much when he goes.

3. Do you have a beloved store like TJ's which is unique to your location or family? No. I live in southcentral PA. We are lucky grocery stores finally have salad bars. There is a Wegman's nearby that is fun, but still... even with a coffee shop and the now permissable sale of alcohol, it is still a grocery store. And as dicussed above, I hate them.

4. How about a farmer's market, or CSA share, as we move into summer? Or do you grow your own fruits/veggies/herbs?
I did my best to keep the local farmer's market going but alas poor management was its undoing. Once we move, I will locate the local fresh stuff.

5. What's the favorite thing you buy at the grocery store?
The last thing... because that means I can leave.

Happy Weekend!

Thursday, June 11, 2009

The Long Run

On June 29, 2007 I came home to a letter at my door that changed everything. Since then many words and phrases have become familiar territory such as:
head spinning
survival mode
the long run.

When I asked him to leave our home... "In the long run we'll be better because we had this time of separation."

When he announced in counseling that there was yet another someone else... "In the long run it will be better to be away from what this marriage had become."

When he remarried... "In the long run this will be a cleaner break for all."

The salve to every pain that has come with my broken heart has been clarified by the phrase, "In the long run..."

And I knew it was true. I knew that in the long run my parenting would be better, my independence would be sweeter, my heart would be stronger and my life would be better. But when? When would that be?

If on the evening of June 29, 2007 you had said it would only take two years, no one would have believed it. And yet on June 30, 2009 I will close on my new townhome and complete the move from where I was to the better and stronger person I have become.

Officially the address will be Mill Road, but I know we will have finally arrived at The Long Run.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Revgalblogpal Friday Five: The BIG To Do

Greetings from the land of the Big To-Do!

It seems like every year I enter into the summer with a growing list of HUGE projects/events/trips that seem to have a permanent place on the 'to do' list.
This year I have a huge move pending so that takes up an entire list all on its own, but it doesn't take a big event like that for me to make plans bigger than my summer can hold!
How about you?

Is this the third summer in a row you have made a pledge involving your garage and actually getting a car into it?
Did you once again miss the registration deadline for the continuing education event of your dreams ?
Are you starting to think you couldn't even find the tents, let alone get it together to pull off a camping trip?

Here is your chance to get it out into the open and OWN your Big To-Do! Who knows? Maybe making the list will help you move the Big To-Do to the Big Ta-Da!

1) What home fix-it project is on your Big To-Do?
I have a paint project in the new home, numerous of them, in fact. My guess is that a couple of them will get done right before we move in but some will be left on the Big To-Do list.

2) What event (fun or work) is on your Big To-Do?
I really want to get to Festival of Homiletics one year. This was not the year and unless it is in Atlanta next year won't be either. Throw in potentially doing a D.Min and suddenly it looks like this may stay on the Big To-Do for awhile.

3) What trip is on your Big To-Do?
Disney, although that is cheating because plans are for that to happen in February. I HAVE to figure out when I am going up to see the new baby that should be arriving in our lives in late June/early July... you know, right at the same time as closing on the new house.

4) What do you wish was on someone ELSE's (partner, family member, celebrity, etc...) Big To-Do?
Celebrity - I wish J&K+8 had weaning away from their tv show on their list. I realize it is hard to know what is truth, but it just seems like they are living a modern day parable.
As for closer to my life, I wish the ex had moving farther away on his list, but he just moved closer so I doubt that is going to happen.

5) Getting inspired? What may end this summer having moved from the Big To-Do to the Big Ta-da?
I think I'll make some phone calls and start working on getting painters lined up for post-closing, pre-moving. I want to move out of our current shelter as quickly as possible!

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Helter Shelter

I still remember the first night we ever spent in this place. After seminary graduation we had moved 5 times. Our stuff had moved 7.
In a year.

We were so excited to finally be in our permanent home that when folks kindly offered to let us stay with them until our stuff arrived a couple of days later, we said, "No thank you." We slept on an air mattress in the bedroom, ran out and bought a couple of lamps and quickly learned that brick blocks cell phone signals.

tdx started school the day after we moved so I was in a dark farm house with no tv and no way to communicate with anyone.
Still. It felt good.

As hopefully everyone has with their home there are some really good memories here -
I parked my pick-up truck in this lot.
The dog showed up about a year after we did.
We brought our son home here.
We have hosted bbq's, pizza nights, movie nights, wine & whines and family.
The yard and lot are a perfect place for a boy and dog to play.

There are also some brutally hard memories here.

The manse life wasn't our first choice, but it was an ok choice for us. It allowed us to save some money. It was fairly well taken care of, so our health/lives were never in danger. Not all of my clergy colleagues have been so lucky.

But it will be nice to not have folks come to my door asking for money based on my location to the church (I always told them my husband, the pastor, wasn't home right now).
It will be nice to not have banjos and bluegrass on my lawn until 10 on a Saturday night.
It will be nice to live in semi-anonymity where far less of a percentage of people know who I am.

It will be nice not to round every corner and have a memory flick me in the ear.

I know there are large challenges to home ownership. There is no one to call - and to finance - repairs, but at just under 40 it's time.

It is time to go. I no longer belong here. Even the paint that I chose and the wall paper border in the nursery look foreign. This house is no longer where I am supposed to be. And although wherever The Boy is, that is home - this place no longer is. I am ready.

I am ready to leave this shelter and head home.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Sermon Ponderings - Easter 7

First, I am sorry I am not more consistent with posts. My current commute and responsibilities has placed a lot of things lower on the priority list - keeping up with friends, blogs and tv shows fall into that category. Soon...

This is just me sitting in my virtual coffee house throwing out random thoughts as I do research/prayer/thinking about this Sunday's sermon:

Scripture: Psalm 1; Acts 1:15-17, 21-26
Working Title: Are You the Chosen One?

How do Memorial Day Weekend and a baptism fit into this? Certainly baptism does (but of course, only at 11).

It is the supplemental verse for this go-around but sometime I will use Psalm 1 for a sermon on choices.

How mainline denominational of them to worry less about the ascension of Jesus than of filling Judas' spot on the board.

Is it possible Peter got over-anxious (it wouldn't be unlike him) and rushed to 'fix' things before the Holy Spirit had a chance to speak (Gonazalez).

Matthias is never mentioned again so it could be interpreted that Peter made the wrong choice BUT the church still exists so... Spirit's power to build up is stronger than human's penchant to destroy. Maybe.

This text is quickly become an emergent post-modernist's dream. Down with structure! Down with what has worked before!

Effective leadership in the church must be Holy Spirit based - gender, age, color of skin, etc... don't matter.

Prayer key element of effective leadership via the Holy Spirit.

Just because we enver see the namesof Matthias and Justus again, does that automatically mean that they didn't do anything for the church?

Scripture for the unsung heroes.

I could do some things with Judas here, but I think I will save that for another year.

The church needs structure, but the HEART of the church is the Holy Spirit and her mission, not the structure.

Don't want to overplay the disappearance of Matthias from the text but also think it could be a good hook, especially with the baptismal vow the second service folks will be taking. Don't disappear on that child of God! Don't walk away because the structure that used to be, no longer works. You made a vow!

What the Sermon Aims to Say: Effective leadership in the church must be driven and inspired by the Holy Spirit.

What the Sermon Aims to Do: Encourage folks to respond to Holy Spirit's movement in them and in the church.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Discernment for Discernment

I am fresh off of one Continuing Education event and about to head into another. One of the places where you take your chances when going away to these events is who else is at the event. Most of us have been to a learning event (or seminary class) where there is one person who appears to be solely there just to prove to the instructors that they already know it all.

This past week I was blessed with an event where there was no one like that. We were all there at varying stages of our forays into being Head of Staff and gave each other room to learn from one another and the instructors.

One of the things we talked about was the dichotomy of pastor as poet when our denomination is very much based on a hierarchical/business paradigm. But at this event I met someone who is doing it so well, I am not convinced he knew it.

One of the things his church has going for it is a Discernment Team. This is a small group formed for the sole purpose of praying and discerning for the congregation. According to the Poet Pastor, "When not specifically working on a project for someone the Discernment Team is at liberty to study and pray about whatever suits its fancy..." At other times the Session has specifically given them a project or question for them to discern.

They report back to the Session after 3,6,12 months (depending on the topic) but are not in charge of implementing anything. They simply move on to their next discernment.

The make-up of the group is obviously critical as there are particular spiritual gifts at play here. Also it cannot be a person he describes as a 'stakeholder' (someone deeply committed to one particular ministry path).

I really like this idea and appreciated the thought about getting one in place BEFORE a crisis/major decision/issue is going on.

More than the idea though, I was so glad to hear that this was going on in at least one pcusa church. Our class was full with folks who aren't trying to be published, who don't want to be the next uber-church pastor, and who don't think they know it all. I felt like we were on the same page of simply wanting to be who it is God is calling us to be and get out of the way and get the things done that need to happen so that others can hear God's call on their lives as well.

And that is pretty cool...

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Not Just Another Service

In the PCUSA, tradition and the Book of Order dictate that soon after a pastor is found and voted into service by the congregation there will be a Service of Installation. In our Presbytery these take place around 4/4:30 on Sunday afternoon, not exactly prime time to get heavy attendance. I try to go to these things, but admit that if I have not been asked to be in it, I rarely make it. Admittedly, women have a higher priority as I want to show my support, but in general a Sunday afternoon worship service is not high on my agenda.

As mine approached I kept treating it lightly. "It's just another worship service," I kept saying. I shrugged my shoulders as we sent off invitations and only sent them out to a broader spectrum because my Mom told me to. "It's just another service... no big deal."

Now I knew this wasn't really true. The reason why I was saying it was because I was trying to keep my emotions in check. My friend was coming up from North Carolina to preach, clearly it was NOT just another service.

Nothing could have prepared me for what it became. I had friends arrive from the church I grew up in. I had the former Associate Pastor and his wife from that same church there. There were people from my last church there and the congregation was full of MPC'ers (current church) and other clergy from the Presbytery.

The service opened with me standing between the pastor emeritus (long since retired) and the associate that worked with him for over twenty years that has also moved on. And from that moment, the stage was set. This was not just another service.

For me it felt like a dividing line. That was then, this is now.
And I sure am ready for now.

At the end of the installation service, the now installed pastor is invited to come forward and do the charge and benediction. I don't remember what I said word for word, but this is a pretty good paraphrase. The bold is the benediction.

It was not so long ago when I was reflecting with a group of friends that I told them that I felt like I was standing on the edge of a cliff - not because I was going to jump - but because when I looked out I saw no one there. I felt alone. Someone wise told me to turn around and then tell them what I see. I did... and this is what I saw.... you.

I see the parents who always said I could do whatever I wanted to do.
I see the friend I grew up with in church and the pastor from the church I grew up in. I see my friend's mom and dad who helped raise me because it took a village!

I see a group of friends who would do anything for me as I would do for them.
I see a congregation that welcomed me right out of seminary and let me love them while they loved me. I see folks here who when I arrived there drove all the way down to Florida for my ordination.

And I see you, the congregation of MPC and I am so excited about the places we are going to go.

What a wonderful thing this fellowship of believers is and how blessed we are to be in it.

I believe that God has commanded us to love God with all of our hearts, with all of our souls, with all of our minds and all of our strength because God knows that at some point in our journey we will only have one of them left and that one we may just be barely grasping onto with our fingernails.

My charge to you today is that if you find yourself in that place, you keep somewhere in your body, soul, heart or mind that God is good.... all the time. All the time... God is good.
And just. keep. walking.

Go out into the world in peace.
Have courage.
Hold onto what is good.
Return no one evil for evil.

Strengthen the faint hearted, support those who are week, help those who suffer.
Honor all people.
Worship and serve the Lord your God with all of your heart, mind, soul and strength rejoicing in the power of the Holy Spirit.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Thoughts on Lent 5

This is just me sitting in my virtual coffee house throwing out random thoughts as I do research/prayer/thinking about this Sunday's sermon:

Scripture: Psalm 51:1-12; John 12:20-33
Working Title: Fear of Falling

- Well, my first thought in Lent 5 is that I am sick of Lent. But much like Groundhog Day, I think that is the point.

- Serving the Lord is an 'all-in' committment, as is confession, as is worship. How many Reformed Protestants do YOU know that worship 'all-in'?!

- "We wish to see Jesus." - GET IN LINE!

- Focusing in on the grain of wheat that 'falls'. I wonder if as it was falling the grain of wheat also thought it was failing.

- Are we the grain of wheat clinging to keep from falling or are we bearing fruit?

- Do I get one more death/Lenten/Oh the humanity sermon in before the allelulia's kick in?

- 'Paradox' is the word. Jesus' ministry - paradox. earthly kingdom values/goals vs. grace & eternity = paradox

- Commentaries speak of BIG things: war, racism, sexism... what about personal/individual paradoxes: forgiven for our debts, but refuse to forgive our debtors, love God but hate that guy over there, hoarding of our personal gifts

- Jesus is SO RIGHT he refuses to fight the system. John's Jesus already knows he has 'them' beat

- Jesus ascts out of freedom NOT to buy into the system. Do we mere mortals have that freedom... even with the promise of eternal life?

- Is it okay to live within the earthly system if we continue to make the choice not to be owned/defined by it? Is grace for those places/times when we fail to make the right choice?

- Where does judgment fit in with all of this?

- On the cross, Jesus exposes (judges?) the system

- my brain hurts... and quite frankly, I am a little afraid.

FOCUS (what the sermon aims to say):
The hour has come.

FUNCTION (what the sermon aims to do):
Push folks to re-evaluate the choices they make in their lives and make changes.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

The View from Up Here

Just about a year ago I took the last little bit of my broken everything and put it on a boat.

I didn't know it right then (although I had a hunch a few days later) that this simple act was actually the end of the sinking. By walking onto that boat I officially kicked off the bottom and was headed back to the surface.

It was the ultimate flotation device with the life preserver being fresh air, permission to 'BE' and belly laughs... lots and lots of belly laughs.

I walked the word 'peace'.

When asked to describe where I had been I mentioned the image of walking to the very edge of a cliff and looking for any kind of support and seeing no one. Then I was encouraged to turn around and I saw this:

and this....

and this...

and of course, this...

and certainly this....

What an incredible group of women. What an incredibly holy place.

I will never forget how you listened and cared and gave me space and room to heal and to know that I am loved.


Saturday, March 21, 2009

Things to Know When Raising a PK

I am not a PK (Pastor's Kid) but I am raising one. This week I learned two important lessons.

During the children's time last Sunday the question was asked what happens when the policeman sees you after you have gone through a stop sign. My PK, clear as a bell said, "You get a special ticket!"*
Here is where I learned important Lesson #1: If you don't flinch during the children's time most folks won't even know it was your kid who said it!

PK was calling up the stairs for me last night and as parents sometimes do I was waiting for the calls to move from the level of "I just want your attention" to "something's on fire." Finally he used language that got my attention and then it got my attention that this name in particular got my attention. He said, "Pastor Kathryn, I neeeeeeeeed you downstairs!"

Lesson #2: If your pk has to resort to the name that your parishioners call you, maybe it's time to listen.

* Not sure it matters but my brilliant PK was applying the lesson learned from Mommy driving too fast to what must surely happen if you go through the stop sign.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Thoughts on Lent 4

This is just me sitting in my virtual coffee house throwing out random thoughts as I do research/prayer/thinking about this Sunday's sermon:

Scripture: Numbers 21:4-9; Psalm 107:1-3, 17-22; Eph. 2:1-10; John 3:14-21
Working Title: Snakes on a Plain

- Wholeness and Healing is also going to be a part of this service

- I have pulled out the sermon from three years ago, mainly hoping to cut down on research time since I am in a new position with a lot of energy being placed elsewhere.

- Numbers text would be a good one to just skip right over except it is referenced as preamble to the most popular Bible verse on the planet (or at least the most popular at sporting events).

- Playing with a connection between W+H service and the #'s and Ephesians passages. We are given life by grace found in Christ.... both encourage us to keep our focus on what will save you - ignore snakes nipping at your ankles. John makes the parallel more blatant: And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in teh wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever belives in him may have eternal life.

- How can this be addressed without seemingly discounting the pain people are in - both physical and emotional

To be continued....


Tuesday, March 17, 2009


I ordered one of these this morning. 16gb.

I am pretty excited about it and only feeling a little guilty about it. I have been looking for a communication middle ground between email/internet only at home or in the office and the other extreme of paying $30-$50 p/month over regular cell phone fees for the honor of having everyone have access to me at all times.

I was looking for a way to keep my iPod Classic (isn't it weird that something I have had for only over a little over two years is a 'Classic') in the office but still have one to play at home.

Once I found out the apps include Facebook and Google Calendars, it really was a no-brainer.

But in case you need further convincing.... when I was setting up my office at my first church straight out of seminary I mentioned to the (now) ex that I would like a nice radio/cd player. He scrounged around in his plentiful boxes and found a transistor radio circa: 1960's which included tan fabric speaker and wooden encasing. It never worked right.

So my gift to me is buying the 'radio' that I want this time.

Can I justify any purchase or what?!

Thursday, March 12, 2009


Some of our language's most familiar cliches are about perspective:
The grass is always greener on the other side.
Is the grass half empty or half full?

Admittedly, MPC and I are in the very beginning of the honeymoon phase so life is quite blissful at the moment. But it is already clear that they have a different perspective on me than DPC had.
MPC has begun with the assumption that I know what I am doing.
DPC began with (and in many cases kept) the assumption that I did not know what I was doing.

In fairness to DPC, although I had five years of church experience prior to going to school, I did arrive there out of seminary. Of course, over seven years later, many there were still treating me as if I knew very little... and deserved even less.

It's hard to name specifics, but I noticed the shift almost immediately. I had often used the phrase 'cultural collateral' to describe my frustrations with DPC. One of my frustrations was that no matter how much I did, with a few there was no cultural collateral to be gained. I constantly felt like I was proving myself to them with the lesson well learned that I am held accountable to God, no one else.

At MPC there is already a freedom that I am being trusted to do my job. There is no ethic of work-a-holicism. There is no withholding of funds because the Treasurer doesn't feel like writing the check. There is no filling out a huge form about the tasks I have completed which sometimes ends up taking longer and being more tedious than the task itself.

Now, I am not naive. I am trying to balance myself between realistic and 'waiting for the other shoe to drop'. I am still going to keep track of the major categories: visits, events, meetings. And they don't need to worry about my work ethic. But I think that is just the thing. At some point after two... four... six years I could never understand why DPC was still worrying about my work ethic.
And not giving me a legitimate reimbursement owed. Still.

There is a lot to do and I am experienced enough to know there are more lessons to be learned and some of them are going to hurt, but for now I am basking in the glow of a change in perspective.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Revgalblogpal Friday Five: Taking a Break Edition

Songbird writes:
Where we live, it's February School Vacation Week!

Yes, that's an odd thing, a vacation extending President's Day. But it's part of our lives here. Some people go South or go skiing, but we always stay home and find more humble amusements.

In that spirit, I offer this Taking a Break Friday Five. Tell us how you would spend:

1. a 15 minute break
Refilling my glass of water, staring out the window or if it is warm enough stepping outside and taking a deeeeeeeeeep breath.

2. an afternoon off
Check and see if any of my friends are around to meet for coffee, relax with the laptop and potentially nap.

3. an unexpected free day
See #2 but make the nap definite!

4. a week's vacation
I am particularly terrible at the 'stay-cation' although my hope is that moving off campus will help that. I am a Jersey shore girl so give me some fresh ocean air and sand no matter WHAT time of year. I also enjoy bringing Will to new places or visiting my sister and her husband.

5. a sabbatical
My hope is that when I someday achieve the sabbaticalit will include time in a warm, spiritual place and a trip to Scotland.

On a side note, I too grew up in an area that did two weeks of spring break - one in February and one in April - rather than giving us a Columbus day here and a President's day there. For my money that makes MUCH more sense!

Sunday, February 15, 2009

2/15 - Go Therefore

The Word proclaimed to the congregation of DPC on the preacher's last Sunday as their installed pastor.

Matthew 28:16-20
Psalm 30

I don’t know what to say.
Hard to believe although after almost 400 sermons maybe I have actually said it all. (Nah…)

We’ve been through a lot – you and me – but what more can be expected from a journey together that began with my very first day in the office Monday, September 10, 2001? The next day DB, JB and I ran over to the manse and watched a tv that was propped up on a cardboard box while I worked the kitchen phone to find out exactly where in Washington D.C. my sister was. CB was reminding PW and I the other day that she and L drove down to Florida for my ordination which came later in the month.

I will extol you, O LORD, for you have drawn me up,
and did not let my foes rejoice over me.
O LORD my God, I cried to you for help, and you have healed me.
O LORD, you brought up my soul from Sheol,
restored me to life from among those gone down to the Pit.

Sing praises to the LORD, O you his faithful ones,
and give thanks to his holy name.

We’ve been through a lot - you and me. I can only imagine how some of you felt as the news got out and a brochure went around with my face on it telling you who the committee had found to be your next pastor… what was the minister store all out of balding, white guys?
And yet even though some of you were shaking your heads you gave me a key to the church, pointed out where the pulpit was and gave me a chance.

Sing praises to the LORD, O you his faithful ones,
and give thanks to his holy name.

We’ve been through a lot – you and me.
You have learned that I provide a laugh track to my own jokes.
I have learned ‘THAT’ smell is the smell of money.

You have learned that if you wait them out, eventually the seminary student becomes your pastor worrying more about you as people, and less about when we start singing Christmas hymns.
I have learned that Commandment #11 is: ‘Let There Be Peace on Earth’ SHALL be sung on Christmas Eve.

I hope you have learned that faith sometimes takes everything we’ve got – heart, mind, soul and strength.
I have learned how to use every one of them.

We’ve been through a lot – you and me. Both corporately and privately we have each had our time in varying degrees of valleys and on various heights of mountain peaks. This hymn, Psalm 30, is a lectionary gift to us today. It is an opportunity as community to reflect on where we have been and where we are going.

It is a glorious hymn of victory from defeat for who among us has not been in the pit?
Who among us has not wept through the night?
Who among us has not felt at times like the Lord is hiding?

The secret of the life of faith is placing the negatives of life within the context of the bigger picture of God’s faith and love and creative good-will. We must make the conscious choice to exchange mourning for joy, to exchange silence for praise. And yes, although most of us do not make the choice to suffer, it is up to us to make the choice to suffer no more!

Why? Because as one commentary put it: “despair can make faithful people manipulators who weave their life story with threads of sarcasm, anger, and cynical niceties instead of threads of hope. In that despair, pride can settle into the soul and chase away the need for a Savior.i

Threads of sarcasm and cynicism… why whatever is that commentary talking about?

I fell into that very trap.
When Baby Snowpea died I began to turn to the grief for energy. The wound of my heart became what I worshiped rather than my God. In fact, I kept God out of it. I did not want God to take the blame for what had happened… nor did I want God’s comfort. Better for me to hold on to the grief with tentacles of sarcasm and anger.

As most of us do when struck by grief, my focus narrowed and it became impossible to see the big picture. Finally a counselor helped me recognize my bitterness and my deep sad and I was able to once again lift up my eyes to the big picture.

The key? Forgiveness.
I had to forgive myself for being human, for letting my family down, for letting my congregation down, for letting me down.
I had to forgive.

I’ll say it again: the secret of the life of faith is placing the negatives of life within the context of the bigger picture of God’s faith and love and creative good-will. We must make the conscious choice to exchange mourning for joy, to exchange silence for praise. And yes, although most of us do not make the choice to suffer, it is up to us to make the choice to suffer no more!

In that case, I had to forgive myself. In other cases, I have had to make the choice to forgive others.

I am convinced that the secret to the life of faith, the most powerful commodity in this entire earthly kingdom, the key component to happiness in this world, to lifting our eyes to God’s big picture rather than remaining fixated on our own narrow minds and narrow worlds… The absolute key to living a life of joy and hope…

Is forgiveness.

That’s it.

We cannot celebrate the saving action of God in the present if we are harboring ill-will from the past.
We cannot dance in the light of the morning, if our hearts remain in the dark night of self-righteousness.
We cannot put on the fresh garment of Christ, if we insist on wearing the sackcloth of indignation.

And the hardest part of forgiveness? The more right we are… the harder it is to forgive.
Satan works like that. Satan is very good at getting our eyesight narrowed so that it can only see who’s wrong – certainly not us, and can no longer see what’s right.

You have to forgive.

It’s a battle for your very soul and you have to forgive.

It may be the hardest thing you have ever done. I am convinced it is designed that way on purpose.

The secret of the life of faith is placing the negatives of life within the context of the bigger picture of God’s faith and love and creative good-will. We must make the conscious choice to exchange mourning for joy, to exchange silence for praise. And yes, although most of us do not make the choice to suffer, it is up to us to make the choice to suffer no more!

I will extol you, O LORD,
for you have drawn me up, and did not let my foes rejoice over me.
O LORD my God, I cried to you for help,
and you have healed me.
O LORD, you brought up my soul from Sheol,
restored me to life from among those gone down to the Pit.

Sing praises to the LORD, O you his faithful ones,
and give thanks to his holy name.

This Psalm is a reflection on where we have been as a people of faith and where we are going. It is also a call to each and every one of us to ask ourselves in the various situations in our lives – present and future – are we the faithful…. Or have we fallen into the trap of being the foe?

The secret of the life of faith is placing the negatives of life within the context of the bigger picture of God’s faith and love and creative good-will. We must make the conscious choice to exchange mourning for joy, to exchange silence for praise. And yes, although most of us do not make the choice to suffer, it is up to us to make the choice to suffer no more!

Go therefore…. And make disciples of all nations.
Go therefore… and exchange mourning for joy.
Go therefore… exchange silence for praise.

Go therefore… and love one another.
Go therefore… and heal each other’s wounds.
Go therefore… and forgive.

Make the choice to suffer no more!

Sing praise to the Lord, O you his faithful ones, and give thanks to his holy name…

In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit – Amen.

i David L. Bartlett & Barbara Brown Taylor, eds. Preaching on the Word. Year B, Volume 1. Anne H. K. Apple (Pastoral Perspective). p. 348.