Hosting, Housing, or Harboring

For the past decade, a key word in the United Church of Christ has been hospitality. Not just any old hospitality. Extravagant hospitality. Lavish welcome. We were encouraged to create space that welcomed all…”no matter who they are or where they are on life’s journey.” I have to say I have been blessed to be part of two congregations that took this call seriously. They do lavish extravagant hospitality on ALL who enter. If that is not enough, a table is often set after worship for people to meet and greet. And in many cases, newer faces are greeted.

Extravagant Welcome.

But that is just the beginning
Isn’t it?
Welcome.

What happens when new faces choose to move in?

If I were to be assessing myself as part of the church, I would say I have some room to grow in this area. I would say that we as a community have room to grow. Welcome is one thing. Housing. Housing becomes tricky. That means I might need to move some of the belongings that I have carefully collected. It might mean a change in style and decoration. It might even mean that I need to get rid of some of these belongings to make room for a few possessions for the person moving in. Extravagant housing requires a bit more change on my part than extravagant welcome. I can do extravagant welcome and go home the same person. I can do extravagant housing and not be changed. Not be formed and informed by the process. Like a new child entering the family, extravagant housing means the whole family cannot be the same. Sibling rivalry isn’t just likely to ensue. It’s to be expected. It’s what we do with it that matters.

What happens when new faces choose to move in and need harbor?
Safe harbor.
At a first read, this notion of safe harbor is romantic and ideal. What else are we here for but to welcome the outcast and provide safe harbor. Again, that is until the practice begins. Harbor suggests that people will indeed move in but not be ready or able to begin contributing the home. I will need to change. And make room. And maybe get rid of belongings. And change. But I won’t get to share the load. My chores will increase and maybe even change. There might be a need to completely repurpose a room. Or learn new styles of cooking. But I won’t get the advantage of extra hands. At least not right away or not in the way I think.

Extravagant harbor doesn’t seem fair at all.
And it isn’t.

I don’t think it is supposed to be. For all of Jesus’ emphasis on equality, he does not seem to get caught up on whether it’s fair. A disciples life is rarely easy. Or fair. Repeatedly we are instructed to scatter our abundance, to share our talents–even if it is only one, and if all else fails, give away all our possessions and follow. None of these seem fair. They are not fair.

That’s what it means to be part of God’s realm and to say yes.
We are told the reward will be an abundance–the likes of which I believe we can hardly imagine.
What might a summer of shifting to extravagant housing and harbor look like?
Imagine the harvest.

Lost in Translation.

I was all set to write about lessons from kayaking and its relationship to sailing on stormy seas.  (We only had difficulty paddling back to shore on a very windy, slightly rainy day, and I was ready to cry, “Don’t you care that we’re perishing.)  Then I went to our Conference Annual Meeting.

And after sitting next to two youth at plenary…

Talking to association folks about lack of lay involvement…

Attending a workshop on multi-sensory worship…

Participating in a panel on open and affirming churches…

Being asked why my husband and new step-children weren’t with me…

And swapping stories with other new clergy in their 30s, I could not longer write the quaint vignette about our kayaking trip.

I needed to say that in my mind all of these half-sentences relate.  The world has had a seismic shift within even the last ten year.  And much of the day-to-day of our churches at both the local and conference level feel like a time before my time.  Sometimes, I just get tired of translating.

I say translating because that’s what I believe is part of my call.  Born in the mid-1970s I’m not quite in the tech generation and I’m not part of Christendom either.  I guess, I’m a classic gen-x-er–the missing church generation, but that’s a topic for a different day.  I see this timing as a gift.  I do remember a time when Sunday was pretty open.  When our schools had Christmas break.  I also have fallen in love with the Internet.  And enjoy both multi-sensory and cultural references in worship.  Perfect for translation.  Most times I am energized by translation.

Some days it’s tiring.  Somedays feels like a lack of understanding for just how much work it is for those of us “outside” to stay in the conversation.  Sometimes I just feel tired.  Tired of doing things because that’s how we’ve done them.  Tired of justifying why I’m open and affirming.  Tired of seeking ways to sneak in multi-sensory worship.  Tired of listening to the woes about youth while not offering anything that relates to their lived experience.  Tired of explaining that my husband (who is 40) has his own faith tradition–and that I’m GRATEFUL that he has a pastor, and I am not it.

And in those moments of tired I think about all the lay folk out there.  And I think I get why they don’t readily sign up.  Step in line.  Wave their hands.  I get it…or at least some of it.  Who wants to work that hard?  Life is hard enough.

I think we, the church, have some really amazing gifts to offer.  I think our world can’t wait to unwrap them. But it’s time to stop hiding the gifts in secret closets or placing them at the end of a long row of hurdles.

Taking Root

When I stated this blog over a year ago, I was seeking to find my fit–literally and figuratively.

And if you followed the blog, you’d notice that I hit my goal weight in the summer of 2011 and just as I achieved this goal, my writing (and my running) got waylaid.  Perhaps it’s age.  Perhaps it’s personality.  Whatever the cause, I am simply not someone that can put my wilderness wanderings  web-wide while I  walk the path.  I’m one of those people that needs to marinate on something.  Savor it singly before sharing.   That said, I realize it’s been a season of silence.  And like the trees in winter, what was visible seemed dormant and barren while beneath the surface, activity abounded.

It seems that I’ve found my fit.  In addition to maintaining my goal weight, 2012 is a year of rootedness.  In March I was officially called as pastor of a growing church, Trinity Reformed United Church of Christ.  Next month, I will get married.  After seven years of of wilderness journey, I am saying yes to settlement.  Yes to a church.  Yes to marriage.  Yes to step-mom-dom.  Most of all, I am saying yes to trusting God.  So it only seemed appropriate to update this blog–and say it’s not so much about finding my fit anymore…as it is learning to live into my fit.  For me that’s going to mean navigating the pastor, wife, step-mom role–along with living the lectionary.

So, here’s to pondering the lectionary and its intersections with life.

Consider it, Take Counsel, and SPEAK OUT!

Thus says the LORD to Abraham  Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering (Genesis 22:2).

REALLY?

Thus says Jephthah to the LORD Whoever comes out of the doors of my house to meet me, when I return victorious from the Ammonites shall be the LORD’s to be offered up as a burnt offering.  Jephthah conquered.  His daughter was the first to greet him.  He honored his vow. (Judges 11:30-31)

WHO WOULD FOLLOW THROUGH WITH THAT PROMISE?

Now the men who were holding Jesus began to mock him and beat him; they also blindfolded him and kept asking him, ‘Prophesy!  Who is it that struck you?’ They kept heaping many other insults on him.  (Luke 22:63-65)

BUT THAT HAPPENED 2,000 YEARS AGO!

He took a knife, and grasping his concubine cut her into twelve pieces, limb by limb and sent her throughout all the territory of Israel…And all who saw it said, ‘such a thing has not happened or been seen since the day the Israelites came up from the land of Egypt until this day. ‘ Consider it, take counsel, and speak out.  (Judges 20:30)

Consider it, take counsel, and speak out.

It’s easier to speak out on these stories…these stories that are ancient.  These stories that are ours…yet aren’t.  These stories that are history.  And yet reading them today they could be ours.  They could be part of an NPR program or a New York Times article.  It’s been a week of librarians marching on Wall Street, Domestic Violence Laws being repealed, and our churches mourning the loss of entrepreneurial genius Steve Jobs.

REALLY?

Now, don’t get me wrong, I love the i-devices just like everyone.  I do think Jobs was brilliant and helped revolutionize not only the tech industry but how we as a society think and process information.  And certainly he is an example of how to dream, risk, and create.  BUT the fact that his loss is making headlines on the UCC web page over the loss of Derrick Bell says a little something about we the people.The fact that folks are probably going Derrick WHO?  Says a little something about we the people.

The fact that three women from Liberia and Yemen just won the nobel peace prize while we are repealing Domestic Violence Laws to save money says a little something about we the people.

The reality that we have cut art, music, and libraries from schools to save money speaks volumes.  The truth that migrant children in Arkansas are no longer required to be pupils at public schools testifies to the belief in public education of we the people.

The  reality that a family I know is debating sending their child to Honduras for surgery because they make too much here for CHIP coverage but too little to afford medical procedures in the USA proclaims something about we the people.

I am one of these we the people.  So are you.  Friends, I don’t think it’s up to Washington.  And I certainly don’t think it’s up to Wall Street.  I think it’s you and me.  It’s up to WE.  WE the people.  Time to make hard choices and make hard changes.  Time to not only to speak out but to stand up.  Time to put into practice what we proclaim.

I for one will not balance a budget over the care of people’s bodies, minds, and souls.  If this means I need to be better at buying locally and buying less.  OK.  If this means I need to drive the same car for many years.  Ok.  If this means I need to carpool, cook-in, and collaborate.  OK.  I am one of the we.  That means some of this change is up to me.

What are you going to do?

http://thinkprogress.org/justice/2011/10/06/338461/topeka-kansas-city-council-considers-decriminalizing-domestic-violence-to-save-money/

Impatiens Part Deux–post Church and Ministry

A mere week ago I discovered my dying impatiens
Provided sanctuary for 3 speckled eggs
Today as the flowers whither
The nest is empty
Somehow without my even noticing
The babies have flown away–
Only some downy feathers remain.
Yesterday I met with a small committee of the UCC:
The ordaining body of my denomination
The bench mark group
The buck stops here folks
The group that many of my peers refer to as holding the hoops
Hoops
–hoops for jumping through without being scratched, touched, or changed.
How these folks seem to bounce from place to place I can’t help but ponder
I’ve never been much of a hoop jumper
Can’t seem to stomach jumping through something merely to
Appease the other
Oh no.
I actually need to engage it.
And so the ordination process goes.
Paper written.
I find myself back in the same spot
needing to justify paradox.
Well that’s a paradox itself, isn’t it?
How does one justify this deep, intrinsic knowing of God—or what I call God—a presence I’ve known since before I can remember time?
(hush)
After all I was one of those strange children that walked out in the woods of her parents’ yard
and actually had butterflies land on her.
I talked to trees
And babbled at brooks
somehow I knewwhat presents would appear under the Christmas tree
Or could sense when death waited to capture someone that I loved.
These encounters I kept hidden
Locked away
In my treasure chest
Secret knowings
Knowing that I knew
But not knowing how
Or why.
You say I have a
Contradiction.
A tension
between
Seeker and sureness
Perhaps it’s rather
Contingency vs. Constant.
(Don’t we all?  Or don’t many?)
I wonder at how I know
But I do,
And yet I don’t.
Not the tangibles
The here
The now
The how.
It’s a deeper knowing.
A knowing of encountering the Mystery
Of feeling Its presence
this peace deep inside
Like Peter on the boat who forgets that Christ is there
I have been Peter
Forgetting the Presence is there the whole time
It is not the Presence that changes
Rather it is me.
And who am I to think that I could ever really capture
Describe or control It?
This power seems to flow toward healing
Wholeness
But to describe that experience as Romantic Love
Safety?
No.
Majestic
Powerful
Immeasurable
Unknowable
And yet I can’t help
Wanting to know
And be known
By this Mystery.

Doing the Footwork

Have you ever had one of those weeks where one plus one stopped equalling two?  They say if you do what you’ve always done, you’ll get what you’ve always gotten.  I agree with this…mostly.  Here’s the thing, sometimes this equation just doesn’t seem to balance out.  At least not for me.  At least not for me and weight loss.  And not for some of my accountability buddies in this “right-sizing” endeavor.  All three of us have had it…the dreaded plateau.  If’ we’re biting, we’re writing.  We’re measuring, trimming, blotting, planning, re-ordering,  jogging, lifting, bending, and stretching.  And you guessed it…no weight loss.  Well, not for me.  One of us lost .2 pounds.  (That can feel like 0) and one of us gained a pound.  All expecting to loose.  Feeling great.  Feeling healthier.  Feeling thinner.  And then.  And then.  And then the actual number.

How can feeling great about being a loser go to feeling like a loser about staying the same?  Should the scale really have so much power over our reality? Is this weight loss venture truly about what I claim it’s about– about being a better steward of my body, my resources, my small corner of the planet–or have I started serving the master of the scale rather than the master of my spirit?

Just this week I listened to a sermon about needing to place my trust in God and have faith.  To be like the birds of the air and the lilies of the field.  And I knew at the time the message had something for me.  As an A+ student in both the subjects of worry and control, I need reminding.  But to be honest, I felt myself pushing back on my drive home from church.  Couldn’t all of this worry about today lead to apathy and arrogance?  Haven’t the powers-that-be employed this idea as a means of keeping the status quo?  What about doing the footwork?  As I pondered this more over Sunday afternoon and after today’s weigh-in, I had another thought.  Perhaps it isn’t so much that I don’t do the footwork as to what kind of footwork I do.  When I bow to the gods of worry and control, I loose sight of a bigger reality.  I get so caught up in the number on the scale today, that I can’t see the success of the last two weeks or that there’s a lot more to a health than a number on the scale.  And sometimes, doing the footwork may mean doing something completely counter-intuitive like eating all my extra points for the week or changing up what I do at the gym.  When I pray to worry, control, or the scale, I certainly loose sight of this.  And then another thing happens.  I call it the What the Heck Game.  What the heck, I might as well not go the gym.  What the heck, I might as well have French fries.  What the heck, I might as well not measure my ice cream.  What the heck?  (Sometimes my rationalization is less than rational)  So here I sit, Tuesday night, and I’m tempted.  Tempted to play What the Heck, and what pops into my email, but a link on the UCC web site….a faithfully walking challenge.  No I’m not kidding you.  Apparently, First Lady Michelle Obama has dared us to walk 3 million miles  by the end of November 2011.  Specifically, she’s talking to faith and community organizations in an effort to raise awareness and reduce childhood obesity.  Here I am crying in my Diet Coke debating what food to order first when I play What the Heck, and I see this.

WHAT THE HECK?

So, I’m going to take the dare.  I’m already training to jog the Race Against Racism in April, might as well take the Faithfully Walking Challenge.  And what control freak doesn’t love a good dare?  Will you join me?  I dare ya.

First Lady Michelle Obama’s Plan–Let’s Move  http://www.letsmove.gov/

The UCC Faithfully Walking Challenge–http://www.ucc.org/justice/justice-feed/faithfully-walking-challenge.html

Quotes for the Week

[Jesus said:] “No one can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth. Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?” (Matthew 6:24-)

I never worry about diets. The only carrots that interest me are the number you get in a diamond. (Mae West)