Wednesday, December 31, 2008

return from vacation

Yesterday morning, I was playing on the sunny beach in Mexico. This morning, I was nearly blown off the road with cold wet wind. I'm not complaining about the weather. If I were, it would be that winter here isn't as harsh as I like. (What Marylanders call "wintry mix" Minnesotans would probably call "rain.")

It's the contrast between vacation and home that gets me. Warm and sunny to cold and dark in half a day. Since I traveled back from England at age 10, I've been awed and a bit disturbed by at how quickly a person can go from one world to another.

I just spent the most relaxing 4 days in memory on vacation with my family (18 of us, ages 66-6 months, in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, gracias a mis padres!) and now I'm back with my heater turned up, sitting in front of a computer. My body takes more time than a 6 hr plane flight to adjust. But I can feel it adjusting and I resist. I don't want the relaxation to go away as fast as the sunshine.

I caught myself saying "back to real life" with a groan this morning. I know my vacation was a bubble kind of world. No worries about money or cooking or climate change or really, anything sober or serious or profound. It's the kind of vacation, an all-inclusive resort, that I know has some ethically questionable aspects. The comparison between the wealth of an entire family lolling on the beach and the vendors desperate to sell a bit of jewelery was hard to ignore. But I managed. I needed a break.

It's taken me a long time to get to the point where I can enjoy myself without feeling guilt that there are people in poverty or war torn areas or an environment suffering. I can be a real downer but I believe the life of faith calls us to those kinds of concerns.

But taking a break, a sabbath, is more than allowed. It is commanded. And for me, a sabbath means resting from any kind of serious thought or deep worry.

I wonder about sabbath and ethics. How do I relax in a world I know full well to be flawed? And how do I even write about it here without feeling the need to grasp some deeper meaning? It has something to do with trusting others and God to be active when I'm resting. But I don't yet have the mental energy to think that hard.

Basically, I just enjoyed myself for four straight days. All these people I love were together. We had family harmony and genuine joy and playfulness and sunshine and total absence of stress. I got a year's worth of laughter and hugs in those 4 days. Sure felt like real life to me. I'm going to stay in that mode as long as I can.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

From Advent to Christmas.

You aren't getting a Christmas card from me. That's probably understood by anyone who knows me. I don't send them. It's not that I don't want to. Every year I buy some and write out long messages to the to the first couple of people to pop into my mind. Then I put the stack away, sometimes not even sending those initial cards. I have every intention of finishing the whole list methodically, but I never do. I love getting cards and Christmas messages. It's unfair, I know, to revel in other's good wishes without sending my own.

I had to avoid my kitchen table this morning. There's a pile of cards sitting there. Unwritten. Unsent. This year I've noticed many people sending e-cards. I may do that too, though they'll probably be Epiphany cards, or valentine's day cards.

It's the morning of Christmas Eve. The time is ripe to feel guilty about all that never got done. I was wrapping the final presents this morning and looked at my schedule today to see if I can sneak in one more run to Target to get one more thing. Laundry is drying - ready to be packed for the post-Christmas family vacation. I finished decorating my tree. Yes, this morning. This isn't so crazy, except that I'm going away tomorrow right after church. Four worship services between now and then means I'll only be home for a few hours to even enjoy the tree. It's time to acknowledge that there's nothing more I can do to get ready for this Christmas.

It's upon us, and it's time now to turn to worship and put all the preparation aside. That's good news, because the preparation would never be done. All the time in the world wouldn't make me perfectly ready. It's time. Now. Advent is over. Christmas is here.

I got to work this morning and found this in my in-box. It's part of an e-card from an old friend. It's listed as anonymous. If the author is out there, my apologies. A perfect way to transition from Advent into Christmas. Thanks Kristen...Merry Christmas all.

A Christmas Version of 1 Corinthians 13 - anonymous
If I decorate my house perfectly with plaid bows, strands of twinkling lights and shiny balls, but do not show love, I'm just another decorator.

If I slave away in the kitchen baking dozens of Christmas cookies,preparing gourmet meals and arranging a beautifully adorned table at mealtime, but do not show love, I'm just another cook.

If I work at the soup kitchens, carol in the nursing homes, and give all that I have to charity, but do not show love, it profits me nothing.

If I trim the tree with shimmering angels and crocheted snowflakes,attend a myriad of holiday parties, and sing in the choir's cantata but do not focus on Christ, I have missed the point.

Love stops the cooking to hug the child. Love sets aside the decorating to kiss. Love is kind, though harried and tired. Love doesn't envy another's home that has coordinated Christmas china and table linens. Love doesn't yell at the kids to get out of the way, but is thankful they are there to be in the way. Love doesn't give only to those who are able to give in return, but rejoices in giving to those who can't.

Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails. Video games will break, pearl necklaces will be lost, golf clubs will rust,
But...
Giving the gift of love will endure.
-- Author Unknown

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Daring? Ya, I can do Daring.

At the bookstore, finishing my Christmas shopping yesterday, I finally looked at The Dangerous Book for Boys and the Daring Book for Girls.

These two have been around for a few years, but I've always walked past them disdainfully. Their titles were enough to turn me away. For Boys? For Girls - come on! We're all equal, right?

I have some fight in me to make sure all things gender-related are totally equal. I'll spare you the details of how I got to be this way.

I don't think this fight is all bad. It's served me well in certain cases. But I've gone so far in reacting to the gender inequalities all around that I don't always look for equality, I look for same-ness. It's dawned on me that I've ignored some very basic differences between men and women.

It is hard for me to even talk about this, so instinctive is my disdain for categorization based on gender. Remember, my life is only possible because courageous people fought against unjust gender-based divisions.

There's the obvious: I am a pastor. If you forget how rare and recent it is that women can be pastors, remember that the first woman Lutheran pastor in the US isn't even retired yet.

But there's waaay more. I've travelled the world on my own; I have financial stability and independence; I have a good education; I've cultivated a love of sports and the outdoors; I can drive; I have a set of friends that include men and women; I signed the lease on my house. You get the point. I love my life.

Because of so many people's struggle, I can occupy spaces that used to be reserved for men. But I also occupy spaces where boys are not allowed: women's book group, the clergy chicks.

I struggle for the middle ground between "Boys and girls should occupy the same space" and "Put the girls in the kitchen and the boys on the football field."
This is especially apparent in working with the Sr. High youth group. We've just started dividing into gender-specific conversation groups in order to allow for conversations that don't happen in a gender-mixed group. Is this good? I hope so. Does it also run the risk of diminishing the healthy friendships across genders? Probably.

So, back to the Dangerous Book for Boys and the Daring Book for Girls.

True to form, I looked through both of the books. I first read Dangerous for Boys and I felt the fight of gender rise up. Tying knots and reading the night sky is for boys? I want to learn these things too!!!

And then I read Daring for Girls, and, well, it was girly in the way that I am a girl. It talked about hiking and Africa and playing jacks and jump rope. It hit the mark.
I love these books. I think they are good, helpful, needed. But still, something nags at me...
Does it nag at you? Let me know your thoughts and experiences on gender differences.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

green everywhere I turn.

I've been energized in the last few days over a number of small conversations I've had about eco-stewardship. Last Thursday at an ELCA clergy gathering, I talked with one pastor about energy audits, another about helping PoP launch our community garden (it's coming!), and a third about how to reduce the number of disposable plates our churches throw out.

Today was the latest. At a lunch of inter-faith clergy on Route 28, a rabbi invited us to be part of their new Community Supported Agriculture group. An episcopal priest mentioned that they're exploring environmentally-friendly land use.

And last night, the Greater Washington Inter Faith Power and Light (GWIPL) was the most powerful. You'll likely read more than one blog entry about it.

GWIPL held its annual fundraiser at Adat Shalom, a synagogue in Bethesda that was built with green principles. All the wood is renewable; all the carpeting is from recycled materials; the thermostats are programmable; the whole parking lot is peppered with trees.

They even incorporated the structure of the house they otherwise would have razed to put up their building. So they have a fireplace in a hallway. It works. It more than works. It is gorgeous.

Touring that space, I though about how these little encounters point out a path that I've been on for some time. As a toddler I ate dirt. That's true. As a 9th grader I wrote an essay about deforestation in Brazil. In my early 20s I stopped in the middle of rollerblading around a lake, so strong was my daydream about a pan-Lutheran environmental group. And it's come around again, this call to environmentalism.

I pinch myself that I was called to a congregation who wanted to mobilize around Creation Care. It is a tremendous blessing.

The best part of all of this has been the solidarity I feel with the Eco-faithful. Often we hold common values beyond our care for creation. We share a sense of global solidarity; a desire for community; a love of simplicity; a longing for inter-religious partnership (at one point last night an Imam and a Rabbi hugged - that doesn't happen everywhere); a scientific curiosity about the world; an openness to the spiritual life. In these groups I feel at home.

At the end of last night, I chatted with a woman I'd never met before. The conversation started with environmentalism but went to bicycling and exploring Shenandoah nat'l park and the books we've both been influenced by and the retreat center we both love.

The world shrank a little bit in that moment. I felt good. I felt alive. I felt connected to a God who is full of possibility.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Advent Conspiracy

A common complaint during Advent is that we spend way too much time and energy and money buying gifts that aren't worth it.

Jesus is the Reason for the Season, afterall.

Christian environmentalist Bill McKibben's $100 Christmas first captured my attention about how to re-focus Christmas away from materialism - and not because I didn't even have $100. It was the peacefulness of the Christmas celebration he described. I'd already discovered that you might find Santa or that great seasonal kiosk in the mall at Christmas, but you probably won't find a lot of peace there.

The peacefullness of McKibben's idea of giving time and creativitity piqued my interest, but it seemed like a hard sell. I love giving gifts and yes, I love getting gifts too. Wrapped in packages. Bought in stores. Stacks of them. Exchanging gifts can be delightful. Christmas morning in my family was full of love and care and joy. I have great memories of my family on Christmas morning, even though I can hardly remember a specific gift I received.

Maybe that's the point. We couldn't overdo the love exchanged, even if we came close to overdoing the gifts. (One year I watched the nativity scene under the tree literally get buried in presents as Christmas came near. No room for Jesus???). The exchange of gifts isn't about the gifts. It's about something else.

I don't want to do away with the tradition of gift giving, but I applaud faith communities who try to uncover that something else. They challenge us to explore the connection between gift giving and genuine love, between materialism and meaning. They point out that there is a relationship between how we celebrate Christmas and how we celebrate Christ.

The latest effort to re-focus Advent energy away from materialism and toward the meaning of Christmas comes from Advent Conspiracy. Advent Conspiracy encourages people to buy one less gift and instead give the money away. They focus on clean water.

This idea of alternative gift giving at Christmas isn't new. At Prince of Peace, for instance, we heavily promote our syond's alternative gift giving program, Gifts of Hope. Collectively we donate tens of thousands of dollars to specific causes in our community and around the world on behalf of those we love.

What I like about Advent Conspiracy is the way it focuses attention on relationships, especially our relationship with Jesus. And I like the clear challenge: "What if Christmas became a world-changing event again?" It's a challenge that we need to keep in front of our faith communities so that we don't throw the baby Jesus out with the wrapping paper.

Please go to their site and watch the 2.5 min video. And ask yourself...

What if???

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Pilgrim's Hymn

My lovely sister just sent me this song, The Pilgrim's Hymn by Michael Dennis Browne. The words and link are below.

What I love about this hymn, besides its pure beauty, is the consistency of God's presence. This Advent, I've been struck again by my own inconsistencies. I'm content one day, restless the next. My moods depend more than I'd like on food, sleep, exercise, people, and time to play outside. I'm no better than a child.

The daily ups and downs I can handle and my loved ones can forgive. Worse are the vagaries of my dreams. Prayers are hopes and dreams entrusted to God. A quick scan of my prayer journal reveals that even my prayers shift. Sometimes week from week they directly contradict each other.

A task for me this advent is to trust that my confusion can't cloud God's vision. 1 Thessalonians 5:24, a text from this week's readings, says it clearly. "The one who calls us is faithful."

So, back to the song my sister sent. It reminds me that all my attempts at faithfulness - to God, the church, my personal relationships, myself - are only sucessful through the power of God's faithfulness. That "even before we call your name...you hear our prayer."

Breathe in God's faithfulness and in the words of my dear sister, listen to this song if you have (or need) a few moments of peace.

http://www.stephenpaulus.com/ChoralWorkPilgrimsHymn.htm

Even before we call on Your name
To ask You, O God,
When we seek for the words to glorify You,
You hear our prayer;
Unceasing love, O unceasing love,
Surpassing all we know.
Glory to the Father,
And to the Son,
And to the Holy Spirit.
Even with darkness sealing us in,
We breathe Your name,
And through all the days that follow so fast,
We trust in You; Endless Your grace, O endless Your grace,
Beyond all mortal dream.
Both now and for ever, And unto ages and ages, Amen.
- Michael Dennis Browne

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Welcome.

I was ordained as a pastor on Nov. 10, 2007. Throughout most of the service, I wore shoes. But shortly before the rite of ordination I slipped them off. I knelt at the altar with the soles of my feet exposed, earning me the nickname The Barefoot Pastor.

I'd decided to go barefoot well before the actual day of the ordination, but I didn’t really know why. It had something to do with God's command that Moses take off his sandals in the presence of the Holy. It also had something to do with my tendency to be barefoot whenever possible (a trait I clearly inherited from my mother). Beyond that, I can only say that at that time it made perfect sense. Being barefoot helped expose me to God. I felt the Spirit fill me from the hands pressing in on my head to the soles of my feet.

Going barefoot felt like a personal little decision – between me and God. I assumed that since for the short time when my feet were bare I was basically hidden from sight by a line of pews and a crowd of pastors, no one would notice.

I was wrong. It seemed as if everyone noticed and questioned my bare feet. Quite a few people guessed reasons far better than the ones I could come up with for why I'd do such a thing:
Did I do it out of solidarity with the shoeless poor around the world? Because bare feet symbolize the road to Emmaus and the journey of faith (from Luke 24 - the gospel for the day)? As a reminder of the servant leadership that got Jesus on his knees washing the disciples' bare feet?

I wish I had such good reasons. But the truth is I hadn't made the decision in any kind of rational way. I just decided it and dressed accordingly.

Like many little choices, the decision to be barefoot at my ordination continues to take on meaning and I keep thinking about it. How does a barefoot attitude affect the life of a pastor and the church?

Think about it. Bare feet are tough but vulnerable. They're gnarled, calloused, bunion-y, smelly, and a bit ugly (at least mine are). They're usually made respectable and kept safe in shoes or boots. But when exposed, barefeet are tender. They're subject to cuts and cold and pebbles and broken glass but also subject to pampering with a foot massage, a pedicure, or a good old fashioned foot washing. You can tell a lot about a person by tending to their feet.

Welcome to my blog, the Barefoot Pastor. It's written primarily as a way to introduce ideas that don't fit neatly in a Bible Study or the pulpit but that I want to explore with my congregation. I write with Prince of Peace Lutheran Church, Gaithersburg MD as my primary audience, but hope that others will join in the conversations we begin here.

Please add comments about specific topics you'd like to see addressed. This is a place for me to be barefoot from time to time and I welcome others to take off their shoes here too.