Wednesday, December 23, 2009

The Dream Isaiah Saw

I heard this song live yesterday: The Dream Isaiah Saw by Glenn Rudolph, text by Thomas Troeger. I can't find a great version online, but this one is decent.

In the 6 or so minutes the song lasted, it brought me out of Advent longing and straight into Christmas. The low, steady, military beat of the snare drums marched through the song gaining speed as the chorus, singing of Isaiah's dream of peace, gained momentum too. There was such motion and then in the end, a glorious breakthrough of pure singing. Peace descends.

As I sit here writing my sermon for tomorrow, I'm nearly undone by this song and the way it captures the miracle. In the midst of the powerful forces of this world: armies and marching orders and all the violence that's woven into our lives, God came to us as a baby to bring us peace.
Lions and oxen will sleep in the hay,
Leopards will join with the lambs as they play,
Wolves will be pastured with cows in the glade,
Blood will darken the Earth that God made.

Little child whose bed is straw,
Take new lodgings in my heart.
Bring the dream Isaiah saw:
Life redeemed from fang and claw.

Peace will pervade more than forest and field:
God will transfigure the Violence concealed
Deep in the heart of systems gain,
Ripe for the judgment the Lord will ordain.

Little Child whose bed is straw,
Take new lodgings in my heart.
Bring the dream Isaiah saw:
Justice purifying law.

Nature reordered to match God’s intent,
Nations obeying the call to repent,
All of creation completely restored,
Filled with the knowledge and love of the Lord.

Little child whose bed is straw,
Take new lodgings in my heart.
Bring the dream Isaiah saw:
Knowledge, wisdom, worship awe.

—Thomas Troeger

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Holiday Rage got you down? Check out these tips.

Hi - A friend with whom I've been exploring the underbelly of anger dropped off a book the other day: "Healing Rage" by Ruth King. I haven't started it yet but Alice Walker likes it and that's enough for me.

Anger might seem like an odd pre-Christmas theme, but it's certainly in scripture. I preached on God's anger last week. The prophets preparing the way for the Messiah were full of anger. The big difference between them and most of us is that theirs was righteous anger, not misguided, frightened, bullying anger.

Their anger also didn't descend into rage. Ruth King makes a distinction between anger and rage. Rage has deep roots. It's blind, historical, irrational and overblown. I suspect that as I read more I'll learn that one reason Christmas is such a time for this overblown anger is that families are thrown out of their routines and triggers into past hurts are pulled. Hard to be worshipful when you're steaming at the sibling two seats down. Part of having a peaceful Christmas is learning how to manage the complexity of families and history at a time when emotions are in high gear.

If holiday rage keeps you from settling into the peace of Christmas, check out Ruth King's list of the top 10 ways to heal holiday rage. Helpful hints we can probably all use.
Peace and joy - Sarah

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Trust, anger, courage, hope.

Last month I wrote an article on Trust in Relationships for Cafe - the online magazine of the women of the ELCA. Read it here.

Someone thought I'd stolen the idea for the article from Max Lucado. I didn't. I've never read Max Lucado. But yesterday I chanced past a Christian Bookstore and saw a book of his with a cover picture of a boy jumping into water. I wrote about jumping into the water. I can see why someone would think I'd stolen his idea.

I don't plagiarize, but I am influenced by what people write. My sermons these next two weeks will probably draw on the Augustine quote used at the beginning of this month's article in Cafe, a piece called "Hope's Daughters" by Erik Christensen. His article calls us to consider anew just what it is we're angry about in this time of hope.

“Hope has two beautiful daughters,” writes Augustine of Hippo. “Their names are Anger and Courage; anger at the way things are, and courage to see that they do not remain the way they are.”

The quote speaks to me at a time in life where I sense the world is boiling over with anger but lacking in courage. I was together with 3 friends the other day and we all confessed to feelings of deep anger that sometimes took us by surprise.

I'd never thought of anger and courage as related to one another, and certainly not to hope. Something to think about...

Peace - Pr Sarah

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Advent bulbs

A month ago, my housemate Elizabeth and I planted over 200 bulbs in our front yard. If you've been to our house, you are probably asking yourself, "where?"

With only about 10 square feet of planting space in the yard, it's pretty dense down there.

I was planning to put in just 50 or so. But the kind people at Glen Echo Hardware gave me extra bags of tulips, crocuses, daffodils and hyacinths. It was so late in the season they figured no one was still planting.

After a month of unseasonably warm weather and constant rain, the bulbs think it's April. They're coming up. I was tickled to see green sprouts in the mulch.
But I'm worried. What happens to bulbs that come up prematurely? Will winter, if it ever comes, ruin these plants? Will they flower in the springtime? We'll see in a few months. At least we know we didn't plant them upside down.

Bulbs are an obvious metaphor for faith. You put a dead looking thing into the ground with hope and trust that the weather and seasons will work their miracles.

Hope is gestated in times when it seems like nothing good is happening. In the bleak midwinter, the Christmas hymn goes. As the weather is getting darker and darker, God's getting ready to be born into this world.

So what's it mean when the bulbs come up early? For me, it's a reminder to always be on the look-out for surprise. God, life and love appear in unlikely places at at unlikely times.
Happy Advent.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

I'm thinking about Space

I'm thinking about space. No, no. Not outer space. Inner space. Sanctuary space. Church space. Home space. Sacred space.

A few months ago I went out to Kansas City to visit some innovative churches. I was struck by how much their space spoke to their mission. In one church, St. Andrews, the mission included creating a place for people to be at home and reaching to God. Their space was home-y, complete with living room furniture in the narthex, and transcendent. The high ceiling peaked at skylights that drew your eyes to the sky.

By contrast The Church of the Resurrection, was set-up on a large scale. The sanctuary felt like an auditorium. Their mission was focused on unchurched and nominally churched people. A traditional church setting wouldn't do.

I'm thinking about our space at Prince of Peace because we've got a great sanctuary, flexible seating, and a world of possibilities. I want to do something different for the Thanksgiving Service we're holding tomorrow night in order to mirror the theme of gratitude and community, but can't figure out what. I'm hoping it will come to me tonight in a dream.

In Divinity School my friend Ian cajoled a little crew of people to spend hours moving pews into the round. It was backbreaking work. We did it multiple times partly because we liked Ian. But more we did it because when we worshipped facing one another, a different sense of God's presence came through.

I just heard about St Paul's chapel next to the site of the World Trade Towers. They moved out the pews, which were charred and scarred by the relief workers who slept on them after 9/11. These pews were a beloved and sacred part of the church's history, but the future of the chapel as a "welcoming, dynamic space" required flexible seating. Watch this 10 min video for more.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Friday Afternoon and still writing

Someone recently mentioned to me that it would be interesting to get an inside look at the sermon writing process. So here you go.

I'm sitting at a coffee shop working through my sermon notes for this weekend trying to see what's emerging as the sermon. I've been reading and studying the texts and now have a full plate of ideas.

I've got many thoughts, most of which won't make it in there. I'm pulled in two directions.

One half of me wants to pick up on the theme of faith from the passage from Hebrews: "Let us hold fast to the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who has promised is faithful." As this is confirmation Sunday and our confirmation students have prepared their faith statements, it seems a good time to talk about faith - especially maturing in faith and being faithful in the midst of a community.

The other half of me is drawn to the image of the temple's destruction foretold in the gospel, Mark 13. In this gospel lesson, Jesus sits with some of his disciples and tells them about some events that will accompany the destruction of the temple. Jesus indicates that not only will the temple be destroyed but the whole world will start to end...The beginning of the birth pangs. The disciples are instructed to stay faithful.

In the background for me are images of the fall of the Berlin Wall and a story of Lutheran peace vigilantes who for years gathered weekly to make their desire for a united Berlin known.

Also in the background is the shooting at Ft Hood. How I wished that the shooter wasn't Muslim. I wished his name was something like Erik Johnson. Would have made it no less tragic, but a bit less complicated. Now, again, Islam is the easy excuse for all that is wrong with the United States. It seems like a good time to remind ourselves that Christianity too, throughout human history, bears its share of war crimes and senseless violence.

I have sympathy for those many Muslims for whom this even puts them in an even worse national light than before. This has to be a hard time to be Muslim in America.

What does this event say about the way this war has stressed so many veterans and soldiers. Is there some responsibility we have as Christians and as Americans to be good stewards of our own people? Clearly this shooting indicates a major breach. A military stretched too thin.

How do I speak to this set of sympathies with a strong faith and honor those who died and those who serve in the military. How are we as Christians called to be compassionate to all who have suffered (including our Muslim brothers and sisters) as a result of this shooting?

These are some of my thoughts as I face the writing process. PoP members reading this, expect some of this to show up tomorrow and Sun morn at 8:30; but if I were you, I'd hold out for the 11:00 service where 5 confirmation students will deliver their faith statements.

Peace - Pr Sarah

In peace - Pr Sarah

Thursday, November 12, 2009

It's not exactly writer's's reception block

People have been pointing out to me that it's been a month since I last wrote on my blog. Why is that? It's not for lack of material. If all it took was something to write about, I could blog every day.

I've been professionally, personally, and physically exhausted. When I'm exhausted, I can do no more. I guess that's the meaning of the word exhausted. You are spent and have nothing else to give.

Rest wasn't my problem. I was sleeping the usual amount. But I was sapped, tapped and drained. No one thing is to blame, but lots of little things added up. I was working just enough too much that I let exercise go. I was overcommitted to friends and social events. There are too many calls I didn't return; too many birthdays I missed. Too many days I didn't pray. My balance tipped, and I was in survival mode.

Clarity came in a near disaster, as it often does. I crashed my bike a week ago. I think I lost control of my bike because I was so spent. I'm totally fine now, but it was that proverbial wake-up call.

As I sat there lying on Rock Creek parkway trying to get my bearings, I could do nothing. My biking partner had been through this kind of thing herself and was the perfect person to have on the scene.

I was in the position of being able to do nothing but receive. And receive I did. Water, an orange starburst for energy, a ride, a housemate to see me to the doctor.

The crash wounds have healed, but I am still in reception mode.

Yesterday was my birthday. From yoga at 6:00 am, a reminder that I've received a body that still works (praise god!), to coming home from a great Bob Dylan concert at 11 pm to a full and happy household, I did nothing but receive love all day long.

And all day long, as the joy in my heart grew, I realized: I am back! I woke up this am wanting to say thank you to the world and to God. I'm ready to give again.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Discovering Richard Rohr

A few weeks ago a colleague emailed me the name Richard Rohr and asked "Have you heard of him? I think you'd like him."

Monday I was in my retreat center's library. Couldn't find the book I was looking for, but stumbled upon Richard Rohr instead. Remembering my colleague's email, I picked up The Art of Simplicity. I passed a delightful hour reading him and feeling something deep in me resonate.

At the common meal, the director of the retreat center mentioned that he's going to a men's spirituality retreat. That's right, run by Richard Rohr.

Then today, I got an agenda for an upcoming leadership seminar. One of the speakers is a pastor named Tim Keel. Checked out his blog who he's been reading? Yep, Richard Rohr.

Who is this man? He's a Franciscan priest who believes deeply that the communal life requires letting other people's pain into your own life. He runs "The center for action and reflection" and he's also well known for his work with the Enneagram and men's spirituality.

In my brief introduction to him, I'm drawn to the message that vulnerability is required for transformation. It feels like a call to get out of my head and into my heart. A call away from contemplation for it's own good (I spend an awful lot of time just thinking) and into an active life engaged with others toward a common purpose.

A few quotes from Simplicity, by Richard Rohr

"By community I mean first of all living in such a way that others can get through to me and influence my life and I can get out of myself and serve their life." pg 65

"The act of our faith consists in donating and giving away what we don't yet have - that's why it's faith. That's so hard for us to understand: How can I give away something that I don't yet even have? Nevertheless I go out and heal others, even though I myself am not yet healed. I heal them through my brokenness, not through my power. Every church community that doesn't include an outwardly directed service for others, a service extending beyond itself, is simply not a Church, it's not Christ." pg 67

Thursday, October 8, 2009

My blog post on the DC Young Adults website

A rotation of writers posts on a website designed for DC young adults who are interested in spirituality and religion but find traditional church doesn't work for them.

I posted yesterday about baseball. That's right, baseball. Seems I've come down with a surprising case of playoff fever. Check it out: dcyoungadults

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Recycling in Montgomery County

Just got this from a parishioner: "Got a post card in the mail yesterday. Some new stuff is recyclable! Pizza boxes included. All wax coated containers and boxes including milk containers and drink boxes! Hardback books! Nonhazardous aerosol cans and Tupperware! Foil products!"

Reduce and reuse are the best, but if you have something to toss, our county is great for recycling. They've just added more to the list of recyclables. Click here to find out what's recyclable in Montgomery County. I know lots of readers don't live here - hopefully you have good recycling programs too.

If you need inspiration, think about the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. Do you know about this? Read more here. It's a patch of ocean the size of Texas full of floating garbage. The image, not to mentions seagulls with stomachs full of bits of plastic is haunting and ugly.

Creation Care at the Synod Assembly

Our Metro DC Synod recently had an assembly where we put emphasis on Creation Care. Click here for a slide show of the great things our congregations are doing. Also I've written alternative lyrics for "Joyful Joyful We Adore Thee" based on local congregations' eco-stewardship (please be ready to smile and remember that my rhyming skills are not exactly a spiritual gift...).

The biggest thing the assembly did to go green was hold the meetings locally. Using rough estimates, we probably cut down our travel costs (including environmental costs) by 70%. Plugging the numbers into a fairly standard carbon calculator we found that it took 10 trees a year to cover the carbon used per person for last year's assembly down in Roanoke, VA.(That assumes carpooling of 2 pple per car and a start from downtown DC) . For the local assemblies it was more like 3 trees (also assuming 2 pple per car and averaging starting mileage across the synod).

These calculations shouldn't be quoted in any way but real approximations, but they do indicate that holding the assembly locally was a big environmental savings.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

U2 - take me to another place

I went to the U2 concert Tuesday night. My Jr year of high school, our choir was on tour in Decorah, Iowa so I couldn't go to their concert in Minneapolis. Been waiting to see them ever since. Wish I hadn't waited so long.

If I could, I'd cancel my meetings for tonight night and trek down to Charlottesville to see them again. I've now pledged to never miss another tour. Two days later, the concert is still playing in my head. The music, the visuals, the lights - it was all amazing.

But the best part was being there with other people. It was thrilling to be part of the echo for Bono's "oh-oh-ohs" and hear the sound rise up from the tens of thousands of people all singing together. There was a point when Bono led the crowd in a fast clap and even the most rhythmically challenged had no problem clapping along.

A high point was during one of my favorites, "Beautiful Day." Bono had us shouting "soul" over and over again. When he sang out "Touch me, take me to that other place. Teach me, I know I'm not a hopeless case," most people stretched our arms up to the open skies. I realized afterward that I was praying.

During the U2 hymn "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For" the audience took over the singing. It morphed into "Stand by Me." Delightful. See it on Youtube.

I sang through the whole concert at the top of my lungs, grooving away - totally lost in the music. I contrasted that with my timidity at singing the hymns in worship last week (I helped pick them out - not blaming anyone here). We all sang those with luke-warm enthusiasm.

Music can pull people together like little else. But it's sometimes very hard in our worship services to generate that sense of oneness in music where you transcend your own little voice. U2 are masters at involving the audience. One woman in our church who went said she felt connected to the whole world during the concert.

Would love to be able to foster that sense more and more in church. Maybe we should start by all sitting next to each other, rather than all spread out?

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Insights from the prodigal son for the ELCA.

I was recently talking with a group of clergy about the ELCA's recent votes on sexuality and how it's affected our churches . Pastor Dave Sonnenberg of our neighboring church, shared a sermon I found moved me to a different perspective.

He based his sermon on the parable of the prodigal son found in Luke 15. It's about a son who squanders his father's inheritance and still the father welcomes him with open arms. It's a goldmine for understanding God's abundant love and can be interpreted for a variety of situations.

Pastor Sonnenberg interpreted it n light of his thoughts on the ELCA sexuality vote and the way many have felt no longer at home in the church.
He talks about what it is like to be that begrudging older son. That son did everything right and is angry when the father accepts this child into the household who he doesn't think belongs. For more, read Pastor Sonnenberg's sermon, especially if you or someone you know is hurting about this decision. Thanks Dave for sharing.
For more on the prodigal son, check out Henri Nowen's book The Return of the Prodigal Son: A Story of Homecoming and if you too are drawn to this parable, you might like the book "and Grace shall lead me home" a collection of art about the Prodigal Son.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Evangelicals know how to communicate. That might mean everything.

Last week I had breakfast at the Tastee Diner with an old friend from Grad School. He's Evangelical in the common sense (that is, not like I am Evangelical). Ordained Baptist, he walks in Evangelical circles. ("the evangelical cabal, is I think how he put it.)
He was in DC to speak at an evangelical conference called reform. (Made me wonder if anyone who doesn't know 16th century history would accuse Lutherans of being reformers anymore.)

Evangelicals are reforming, especially in light of poverty. Jim Wallis and others of Sojourners are one of the drivers of this growing, good trend in evangelicalism. There's been a shift away from focus on personal moral issues (gender, sex) and toward public moral issues (poverty, peace-making etc.)

As my friend described his recent work on peace-making and how the Church can become a leader in not only tending the wounds of war, but also intelligently engaging the powers that be to work for creative peace, I had one response. It's the same response I not so respectfully have when I hear Jim Wallis (who I do respect) talk about putting ending poverty at the center of religious moral life:

My breakfast partner is a good enough friend that I could say that: Duh, followed up with something like:

"This is all great stuff, but there's nothing new about it. The mainline protestants, heck, the Catholics, have been working on this for centuries. The Lutherans have people around the world engaged in creative peace-making. What about the Quakers? They know this stuff cold. What makes you late-comer evangelicals think you are so on the edge of some new discovery about the gospel???"

He agreed that the theological work, the biblical work, and the community work to put poverty and peace-making at the heart of our active christian lives has already been done well, for centuries, by a number of traditions. Lutherans are among them.

But then he came back at me with a good, no a great point. I'm paraphrasing:

"You have all this great stuff, but how do you communicate it? Have you read the Pope's encyclical on the economy? It's basically unreadable. You might have tradition and a canon of literature behind you, but without communication, it's pointless. We evangelicals, we know how to communicate. People listen to us because we know how to talk"

Point well-taken.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

She Leads me Beside Still Waters

Monday is my sabbath day and again, I was reminded yesterday of what a gift this particular commandment is. I woke up full of work-related thoughts and tried as hard as I could to set them aside. Got moving and went to my retreat at Rolling Ridge. I go there once a month for a pastors day away.
I was the only retreatant, but no matter. The host still lead a session on prayer of the heart and it awakened something heart-felt in me. I sat in the sun for an hour trying to pray right - not with my head or with a list, but to sense God's presence. Then took my walk, which always includes a visit to a little waterfall. This water restores my soul. Ate a simple meal. Talked about dreams. Came home full of energy for cleaning and being creative (Monday is also my pottery day, and that's restorative as well). And I woke up this morning with the same to-do-list in my head, but it felt much much more manageable.

The song in my head re: sabbath is the 23rd psalm by Bobby McFerrin. (This is a YouTube link - couldn't find a good listen anywhere else.) The Vintage Sacramental Winers sang it at my ordination. This song puts me in a sabbath place.

I harp on the Sabbath; I mention it all the time. I know so many in my congregation who don't have the time for re-creation. Work, family, pressures all around keep them hopping. But the wisdom of taking a whole day to re-create is undeniable. And it's commanded. And it works.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Who is my neighbor?

I've got Fred Rogers little ditty: "won't you be my neighbor?" in my head.

I celebrated labor day with a new housemate and new neighbors. Elizabeth, (a minister in training) now occupies the manse at Casey Lane. We had our neighbors over for dinner last night. I'm embarrassed to say that in 22 months of living in my townhouse, this is the first time I've had my neighbors over.

Matt and Megan, on one side of us, moved here a year ago and immediately had me over for dinner and a memorable night of Wii bowling. They extended the hand, and what difference it made. Besides them being kind and caring people, it's just nice to know someone I can call to water the plants.

Yong and Jean are new on the other side. They'll become parents in a few weeks and want to settle in before the baby comes. They needed to know where the mailbox is and when the trash is picked up. All it took was them to bring over a chocolate cake for me to feel committed to them forever.

Some Christians (me among them) have spent enormous mental energy analysing that great question in Luke "who is my neighbor." That's the question that sparks Jesus to tell the tale of the Good Samaritan.

On labor day, the answer was pretty straightforward. Who are my neighbors? Well, if we share a wall, you count. Of course Jesus wanted us to extend that sense of neighborliness to all people, but if I don't even have it with the people I live next to, how can I be expected to share it widely?

I grew up embedded in a neighborhood, but I can't believe how bad I've been at neighborliness. I've heard that if you have children or a dog it's easier to know your neighbors. But without those automatic entrees, it can be hard to reach out.

Glad I finally got my act together to do it. Thanks for a great labor day, neighbor!

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Blog worth checking out below

Hi all - below is a link to a blog by a non-denominational pastor, Greg Boyd, about the tornado that hit Minneapolis during the ELCA's deliberations about human sexuality.

People interpreted that tornado in every way possible, from 'God was angry' to... 'the Holy Spirit descended in a powerful way.'

I appreciated Pastor Boyd's perspective and thought I'd pass it along. Let me know what you think.

Peace, Pr Sarah

Sunday, August 23, 2009

From Bishop Hanson re: the assembly

Hi - as promised in church, I'm posting the link to Bishop Hanson's address to the church at the end of the conversations and decisions about how our church understands human sexuality, esp as it influences fitness for leadership in the church.

I found Bishop Hanson's presence throughout the assembly remarkably pastoral and caring. (I watched much of the gathering online at

I encourage you to watch his message.

Also, a member of our congregation was a delegate at the assembly and she blogged about it. Her blog, as her vote, represents her views and opinions and is not meant to represent of our congregation which is varied on this issue. I found her blog to be wise and faithful reading that helped me understand what went on for our church last week. I encourage you to read that as well by clicking here.

Peace and joy

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

thankfully, we don't have ballots with chads

Just a quick report: the Sexuality Statement passed by the narrowest of margins. Literally. One vote. This statement required a 2/3 majority. The numbers were 338 against, 676 for.

I heard from Katie, the member of Prince of Peace who is at the assembly. She said that it was emotional all the way around.

This was not a policy vote, those come tomorrow as a series of resolutions based on the statement. There will be updates and more extensive commentary online by tomorrow, as well as portions of the plenary session that led up to the vote there too:

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

elca lgbt...lmi?

Hi - I just tuned into the ELCA livestream of the Churchwide gathering and my ears are glad to hear us not talking about sexuality or who we will and won't ordain and who we will or will not have full communion with...but about the Lutheran Malaria Initiative.

Not that those other issues aren't important, they are. They even got us mention on the front web page of the Post (We Lutherans don't make it there too often.)

But boy, is it nice to see that we're putting some focus on helping people outside of our church. How I WISH that the thing that got us front page notice was what we've done to stop Malaria or other forms of poverty.

While we have these careful conversations about justice and community within our congregations and denominations, we are still at work to herald peace, healing and wholeness to this world. Hopefully some of the resolutions that come out of this assembly will help us refocus on those in need and help us move past what has been a necessary issue of justice, but is most certainly not our focus.

Follow the assembly at

Friday, August 14, 2009

First Fruits

Our Fruitful Field is living up to its name!

Peg just picked up our recent harvest to take to Gaithersburg Help. It's great to imagine that along with the boxes and cans of pre-packaged food, a G-burg Help client might be able to enjoy a nice salad or make salsa with fresh tomatos tonight. Thanks Peg.

We gave 3 different kinds of tomatoes, peppers, beans and carrots. More tomatoes and beans await harvest in the next few weeks, maybe a final round of lettuce and spinach, and the potatoes being grown off-site.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Just do something

I've recently been in a "get things done" mode. My collection of open loops had become a tangled knot; with the Sr Pastor of our church on sabbatical, I just have to be more efficient; and in a recent conference on leadership, I was struck by how efficient good pastors need to be.

To reorganize my whole life (hah!) I've gotten the classic "Getting Things Done" (David Allen) and I love the ideas. Even if I can't quite get the book done - I'm on pg 67, it's already changed the way I work and I have high hopes.

I was in this get things done mode, when, browsing around Barnes and Noble's religion section, I was drawn to a book called "Just Do Something." It's a little book by reformed pastor Kevin DeYoung about "how to make a decision without dreams, visions, fleeces, impressions, open doors, random bible verses, casting lots, liver shivers, writing in the sky, etc."

A lifetime waffler, I was hooked by the title. I've spent my share of energy asking that God's will be revealed in a way I can read clearly like a burning bush. I believe I might finally be figuring out that if I do chance to see a burning bush I should probably just call the fire department.

I read the book in one day.

Please note; I don't exactly recommend this book. It made me roll my eyes and pull out my theological filter. God's a "he"; people are "men"; and the Christian discipleship is a bit homogeneous and cleancut in a way that isn't true to my form.
He nearly lost me altogether when, in a section on marriage, he assumes that women pursue careers because they haven't gotten married. As a woman who broke off an engagement at the same time she chose to pursue a call to ministry, lines like "young women are going along with their career path because marriage doesn't seem imminent" are just a bit, uh, behind the times.

But the book's premise - that we in the "tinker generation" (thank you Robert Wuthnow) spend too much time looking for THE path to our happiness, tinkering around with decisions, careers, relationships, locations, looking for God's will, strikes a chord. Instead, DeYoung says, we should commit. Make it your life goal to love God and then "just do something." This, he says, is the faithful life.

DeYoung criticises those of us who "overspiritualize" decisions - even life-changing decisions like work and marriage. I do think these are spiritual decisions and I have high regard for the practices of Christian discernment, patience, prayer, and waiting.
But I agree that some of us who search for the spirit to work before we get our feet dirty should remember Jesus isn't looking for clean feet to wash.
From DeYoung:

"Passivity is a plague among Christians. It's not just that we don't do anything; it's that we feel spiritual for not doing anything. We imagine that our inactivity is patience and sensitivity to God's leading. At times it may be; but it's also quite possible we are just lazy...No doubt, selfish ambition is a danger for Christians, but so is complacency, listless wandering, and passivity that pawns itself off as spirituality. Perhaps our passivity is not so much waiting on God as it is an expression of the fear of man (sic); the love of the praise of man (sic), and disbelief in God's providence.
So, I've been making decisions. Starting small. When I get stuck in the inevitable rut of what to do next, I hear a little voice say "just do something." Make the bed, take the dog for a walk, write a letter, wash the dishes, send that email, buy that book, throw it out. Just do Something. And I've been amazed at the energy that flows from these decisions. And now, I've decided to just publish this with no more tinkering. Check "update blog" off my list.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Come home.

Hi - In the last 6 weeks I've been gone more than here. Workcamp took me to NY with the youth, then to South Carolina for a family reunion (read more below). A week at church and I was off to Minnesota and Wisconsin for a friend's wedding and to soak in the lake country at my parents' cabin. Wrapped it up with a conference on young clergy leadership. I'm back now, and back to blogging.

At the leadership conference, an ice-breaker was "what would be the title of your autobiography." Mine would be something about home. Coming home, being at home, feels like home. I love the prodigal son, coming home.

When I was in the Peace Corps, my father sent me a tape of his barbershop quartet singing "Softly and Tenderly Jesus is who are weary come home." I wanted to come home often, but home came to me.

I wrestle with the theme of home because I've had lots of them, and in having lots of them, I've risked having none.

It used to be that when I was home in MN, I felt restless and torn between wanting to be there and wanting to flee. I think it's because I didn't have a home of my own. But God gave me a home, or at least a sense of place in the world. That helps me be at home everywhere, even at home:

4425 in Robbinsdale, where my folks have lived since I was 9 mos old; their cabin in the lake country of MN; skipping rocks with my nephew; meeting up with the sibs for happy hour; joy at celebrating a best friend's wedding; fireworks on an old neighbor's lawn; welcoming an old friend's new daughter into the world; church at Peace Lutheran, Mo synod. This life is rich. And I know home.

As I biked around on my last day before getting back to the office, reacquainting myself with my home in Maryland, I was overcome with gratitude for all of these homes.

The first day back at church, someone in need of help paying the rent came to my office. In that week 3 different people contacted our church in need of housing help. People in our midst are in the swing of such difficult transitions that home feels far away.

There's a bumper sticker that advocates for the homeless often sport that reads "Jesus was homeless." There's a contrasting sentiment that Jesus had homes everywhere. Probably what he had was a sense of home, of place, of family, of belonging, that followed him everywhere and allowed him to make a home wherever he was.

People need homes. Physical, spiritual, emotional. Homes.

Softly and Tenderly Jesus is calling. Calling oh sinner, come home.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

The Shack - is it ok that I like it?

I'm preparing for a discussion on William Young's book, The Shack. I first read it a year ago and, much to my dismay, I liked it.

I didn't want to like it. I opened it up ready to critique it. In fact its exactly the kind of book I take some odd pride in not liking.

As far as I can tell, Christian fantasy novels fall into two categories: Great (the Chronicles of Narnia) and Awful (just about everything else).

The Shack is no Chronicles of Narnia. It's a bit too obvious, too overstated, too cheesy, and too theologically laborious for that (there are paragraphs that could be straight out of theological textbooks).

But it's not awful. Not at all. The story is gripping and it teaches smartly about complex topics like the Trinity, the nature of evil, free will, and the love at the heart of God.

I've just finished rereading it to prepared for Saturday's discussion and I remember clearly what I liked about it the first time: It makes me feel loved.

Come to our discussion on Saturday after the 5:00 service. We'll eat a good meal prepared by the women's book group and talk about The Shack till about 8.
If you want to explore its themes further, I recommend a new book called Finding God in The Shack. It's a defense of The Shack from evangelical theologian Randal Rauser. I've only read a third of it so far (the whole thing is available online), but I look forward to reading the rest. I've been looking for a Lutheran take on it, but can't find one. Pass one along if you have one.
And please, let me know what you thought of The Shack.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Out of rocks - Pastor John Rutsindintwarane and hope in Rwanda

Hi - Last night I got together with a group of people I'd traveled to Rwanda with 3 yrs ago. We were there to hear Rwanda Pastor John Rutsindintwarane give updates on the Lutheran Church in Rwanda and their community organizing efforts.

This is a photo we took 3 yrs ago of the rocks that the community was just starting to crush to make a foundation for a health clinic. Now it is built.

It's impressive in any community with zero financial resources to have built a health clinic. But more impressive is that it took place in a village with no road, no prior access to governmental power, very little education, in a time when their nation was still reeling from a brutal genocide.

It would have been easy to look at that community and write them off as having nothing. Instead, Pastor John identified what they did have. Hope, courage, relationships, common good, and abiding faith in God. They also had an amazing organizer and pastor.
John Rutsindintwarane said he came to give them his mind and his heart. It's his generousity of spirit, faith in God, and belief that people are good more than bad that pulled this clinic together.

Hearing John speak last night, I felt some glimmer that this might have been what it felt like to hear the first disciples talk. They were ordinary people, much like the citizens of Mumeya, pulled into something greater than themselves. They were given hope and love and faith and a person to make them belive it. John shines with God's light and love. You can't help but feel hopeful and faithful in his presence.

The evening ended with us all holding hands. One by one, we praying our blessings on Pastor John, his wife Robin, and their amazing ministry in Rwanda.

I felt my own faith stir. This morning, I feel it rising up as I am deeply aware of a kind of love in the world that is unending.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Vacation...from God?

Two weeks ago I was NY with the high school youth group. It was all about Jesus, faith in action, and Christian love. Faith was explicit and intentional. It was great, but I was exhausted by the end.

Last week, I took off on a much needed vacation. I spent it on the beach in South Carolina for a big family reunion.

If the week in NY was all about explicit faith, the week with my family was the opposite. My extended family runs the spectrum of church-i-ness. We occasionally prayed before we ate, but most talk of God or faith was cousin-ly checking-in about my profession and daily life.

On vacation with 40 of my family members, I took a bit of a vacation from God.

I brought my daily devotional book, my Bible, and a heavy stack of articles and books to read. But I read pure beach pulp. Didn't crack open my Bible, and missed a whole week of daily devotionals. I'm not sure I ever prayed, except in the way that playing in the water or appreciating the beauty of moonlight on the ocean is prayer.

I came back Sat afternoon, but I was still on vacation from work. I thought it would be a perfect opportunity to check out another church - maybe the McLean Bible Church or to pop in on worship at a former congregation. But when Sunday morning rolled around, I did something I haven't done for a long time: I skipped church.

Went to brunch with one of my best friends instead. And I have to say, it was pleasant - I understand why people do that. In fact it was so pleasant, that I began to wonder if I could slip into a life where faith and my church community were in the background or, perhaps, not present at all.

The question on my mind that morning wasn't "why don't people go to church." Rather, it was "why do they go at all?"

By Sunday afternoon, hanging out with other friends, the conversation had turned to community, living for something larger than yourself, a meaningful life, music and the elevation of the soul. For me, God is present in that mix.

It was pleasant to skip church, and pleasant to take a bit of a vacation from the daily routine which includes the daily routine of prayer and scripture.

But the time away is still time spent with God in laughter and appreciation and love. God is present, just less explicit. I know that I will always be drawn back into Christian community. Without it, my life would feel hollow. I would start to hunger and thirst for it. For God.

I woke up this morning eager to pray and to put my life explicitly back in the context of God, church, and faith. I'm grateful for a great vacation, but even more grateful for the life I return to.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Gone gone workcamp

Been racing around lately - I've been missing blogging, but am afraid I won't get to it anytime soon - will be on a mission trip to rural New York State with our high school youth. Follow our trip. Peace and joy - Pr Sarah

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

There's a big difference between dying for a cause and killing for a cause

Last week, an abortion doctor was killed while passing out bulletins in his Lutheran church when an anti-abortion activist shot him.

Today, a security guard at the Holocaust museum was killed on duty when a white supremacist shot him.

I find both murders appalling. They are different events, of course, but they seem related. According to Washington Post press coverage, a reporter also linked these two events, asking the White House if they are concerned about "political violence or domestic terrorism."

I was curious to see if anyone would pick up on the word terrorism to describe these murders. It's a loaded term, for sure, but I'm glad it isn't only reserved for Muslim foreigners or people of Middle-Eastern descent. Here's terrorism, as defined by that reliable source, wikipedia,

Terrorism is a policy or ideology of violence intended to intimidate or cause terror for the purpose of "exerting pressure on decision making by state bodies." The term "terror" is largely used to indicate clandestine, low-intensity violence that targets civilians and generates public fear.

Here's a different definition of a terrorist: a person willing to kill for a social or political ideal. This is decidedly anti-christian, because we are, by definition, people who claim a willingness to DIE for our beliefs, not kill for them. (If you're wondering when we do this, we do this when we pledge to follow Jesus, knowing that means we follow him to the cross.)

Of course, the waters muddy. One of our Lutheran heroes, Detrich Bonhoeffer, made a tortured decision to try to kill Hitler in order to stop him. He failed and he was killed in a concentration camp.

Ethics classes around the world analyze Bonhoeffer's decision and most (at least the ones I've been in) find him to be a saint and justify his actions as the best possible choice to stop the murders. Those communities also acknowledge that the holocaust was a real, evil, and horrendous chapter in history. I'm betting those folks in the world who deny the holocaust aren't making Bonhoeffer a hero.

I can't imagine the white supremacist can come up with any good way to convince any but the most hateful people that his murder was justified. But I can see the abortionist murderer using Bonhoeffer-esque logic to justify his actions. and if we all agreed that abortion was as horrendous as the Holocaust (and some people feel this way), would his action be justified? I don't think we can put abortion on par with the Holocaust, I'm just trying to point out that anytime you are called to kill for a cause, it gets thorny fast.

When my head starts to hurt about things like this, I look for simple answers. Do you think it would work to just get rid of all the guns????

Friday, June 5, 2009

West Bank Story - the anti-crusade - at Wootton tonight

Last night I went to see West Bank Story at Wootton High school. It's the first stage adaptation of the movie based on West Side Story, based on Romeo and Juliet. You can guess the plot...a Jewish boy falls in love with a Palestinian girl but their families, owners of competing falafel stands, would never approve.
The actual musical was maybe 20 mins long. The students just gave a flavor, but it was enough. Left you wanting more.

The students augmented the production with an Israeli storyteller and a moving slide show with live music.

The best thing about the evening, besides the fact that these kids are ridiculously talented, was that it was completely student run. If you need a little bit of hope about the future, these kids will give it. Many of them are seniors, which means they graduated on Wed and then put on this production the next day. It also means they didn't do it to build a resume for college or to better their chances of getting into the next musical. They did it just because they care about peace in the Middle East.

It's just one more night, tonight, Friday June 5th, at Wootton High School at 7:30. 5$. You won't be disappointed.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Go Crusa.....I just can't get behind the cheer

My college mascot was the Crusaders. When a few of us complained once that we were ashamed to be associated with such a violent and shamefully un-Christian slice of history, the administration answered - oh, but we're not the Crusaders...we're the Crusaders for Christ.

Somehow that was supposed to make a difference.

I never felt good yelling that cheer. If being a Christian meant taking on some kind of violent mantle for the good of the cause, I want nothing to do with it.

Though we don't call them crusades, many people argue that we're in the middle of a crusader-like culture, where a certain brand of Christianity and the world-view that accompanies it blesses violence in order to get the point across. The violence is as large as a war with anti-Islamic overtones; as complex and lamentable as an abortion doctor being shot in his Lutheran church; and as subtle as someone assuming the Jewish students in her class are rich.

Crusades bless violence. Jesus did not.

Last night I met with some of the college students from our church. We're going to meet every Wed night at 9:00 pm throughout the summer.

Among other things we'll explore what it means to be Christian in a world where people you live with, your best friends and in some cases, some of your family members, aren't.

This question comes up all the time around here. Adults and kids are asking it in various forms It came up in President Obama's speech about US relations with the Muslim world yesterday. It will come up tonight when high school students from our church, working with an inter-faith group of kids,will put on a production about Peace in the Mid East called West Bank Story. It just came up in a casual pastoral conversation with one of our church leaders. And it came up yesterday in an inter-faith conversation about the environment.

I can't imagine we'll get to the bottom of anything in the Wed night discussions, but I hope we will be able to grow in our own faiths while also growing in our ability to love and respect others.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Confessions of an online introvert.

I haven't blogged for over a week. Not that there haven't been topics - from the church's yard sale, to the musings of my head and heart, to the events of the world. But I haven't felt an ounce of inspiration to write on this blog and I think I know why.

Last week, whenever I was in my office, there were other people around working on the Yard Sale. If I were going to connect with people, I wanted to be with the live church and not the online church.

I'm a fairly strong introvert - I like lots of alone time (just ask the best friend who just moved in with me, or any of the people who work with me).

But I also love people. Given the choice between sitting in front of my computer connecting with people versus talking with living people outside my door, and I'll generally (though not always) choose the live ones.

This blog, I love writing it, but I'm beginning to realize that I might not ever be someone who finds online community totally fulfilling. For instance, I appreciate facebook and know it is an amazing way for people to connect, but I find it mostly exhausting.

I think I like online community only when it enables or connects with a live community. I used facebook the most the few weeks after my family got back from vacation. We all relived our time together on facebook. And then as the memories faded, so did our facebooking.

It's made me wonder how personalities in live communities translate to personalities in on-line communities. Do people who twitter the most also connect face-to-face people the most? Do people with the most facebook friends also have the most friends in real life? Are bloggers extroverts in a way traditional writers usually aren't? Or don't these categories translate online?

Just a few thoughts...Will write more in the next few days, I hope...and hey, I'd love to hear your thoughts.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Anna Quindlan's Last Word

As I prepare for an Ascension Day sermon, when Jesus stepped out of this world leaving a massive space for his disciples to fill, I'm reminded of the last column by Anna Quindlen in Newsweek.

She is stepping aside in order to make room for younger writers with more diversity, technological savvy, and energy. I loved her article in part because she acknowledges openly one downside of the way that her generation hangs onto youth. It doesn't allow the next generation freedom to claim their adulthood. Our institutions and our world suffer when 15-30 yr olds don't have real responsibility.

From our use of technology to rethinking the whole way we do church, young people's voices are vital to the future of the church, yet they are largely absent from power or decision-making. (By the way, in the category "Young Adult" I don't include me. I technically fit the bill, but I no longer consider myself a young adult - certainly not of the generation raised on the web or cell phones)

I think Quindlen is making a great move in stepping aside. But it also gives me pause. I hope she will keep writing in some form, because even as America and the world need the fresh insights of youth, we also need the wisdom of age and experience. We especially need power brokers who understand that youth is a precious and fleeting commodity to be valued.

There is real wisdom in the gathering of the generations. I'd never want a church where, once you hit 30, you became an irrelevant relic. As we think about how young people have real power in shaping the church, there is a challenge before us to be a church that is truly inter generational.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Testifying at the EPA (not your typical Bond girl)

Monday, I along with other people of faith testified at the EPA's public hearings on their findings that Greenhouse gas pollutants are human health hazards. The EPA is empowered to make stricter rules and regulations on greenhouse gasses as part of the Clean Air Act whether or not congress passes another bill on the matter. We were there to talk about why our faith communities are called to creation care. In addition to many many laypeople, an Imam, Rabbi, Catholic Priest, and Unitarian Universalist Minister also spoke. (As my brother said, I've already heard that joke).

I made sure to wear my best clergy clothes for credibility as a leader. I had on my collar and my clergy black. The rabbi, rabbi Fred of Adat Shalom, was dressed far more casually. Of course he was, because he biked there. As I watched him walk up to testify - with a neon green band to keep his pant leg from catching in his bike still strapped around his ankle - I thought: that's a far better collar to be wearing on a day like this.

At the end of the day, Pierce Brosnan and his wife Keely Shay-Smith showed up to give their celebrity support. I'm as shameless as anyone around celebrity - above is a photo of me with them and Allison Fisher, the talented and dedicated organizer for the Greater Washington Interfaith Power and Light. My testimony will be posted on their site soon, along with the other testimonies (check out Imam Johari's - not up yet, but it will be - it's amazing!) and photos.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Overdue report on the Creation Care Carnival

Just realized I never updated about the Creation Care Carnival. It was great! Thanks Mark for all your work setting it up.

We kicked off with a garden blessing and first planting with gardener Tim. Larry set up a "Take a Worm for a Walk" station and the squeals of kids trying not to drop their squirmy worms made us all laugh. (As a prize for taking a worm to the garden, they got gummy worms). Gordon had a station on what's recyclable where I discovered that even in green Montgomery County, there's a long way to go. Sherri had some alarming stats on plastic bags; Joyce taught us about rain barrels. Laura helped us identify plant odds and ends; April had a bean bag toss and Aaron made signs with creation-y Bible passages.

During the worship services we had a blessing of seeds, soil (a baggie full of compost!), tools, plants, and people. It was right before the offering song. I've always loved its words. Now, every time we sing it, I think of our garden. Our little plants are popping up and growing. Let the vineyards be fruitful!

Let the vineyards be fruitful Lord, and fill to the brim our cup of blessing. Gather a harvest from the seeds that were sown, that we may be fed with the bread of life. Gather the hopes and dreams of all, unite them with the prayers we offer now. Grace our table with your presence and give us a foretaste of the feast to come. (1978 Lutheran Book of Worship)

Saturday, May 9, 2009

from the Synod Assembly

Hi - I'm sitting with Steve S., Lauren G. and Pastor Steve at the Synod Assembly. That's our church's annual business meeting. We're listening to Rev. Phil Hirsch our new director of evangelical mission tell us in frank terms about the decline of Christianity in America. He just said:

"Evangelism and mission are the same thing. The good news that you say has to match the good news that you do."

The great thing, as he's talking, I feel like he's not in despair about the church. He is talking about the importance of listening, hearing, and trusting God. It makes me excited. God works in such odd and amazing ways in people's lives. The church might be in transition, but God's still the same. Doesn't mean we don't need to get our act in gear and be the church we want to see, but hope, not despair, needs to drive us.

Last night, two of our members, Megan and Laura danced in the worship service. They were breathtaking. They even got an amen. I hope they'll do a repeat at our church sometime very soon. Better stop writing and start paying a bit closer attention. Peace.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Worried about the mainline? Try the a la carte line...

Hi - I've been away from this blog for a couple of weeks - feels like so much longer. I was out of the office all of last week. Part of the time I was at a conference put on by Yale Divinity School on "The Future of the Congregation."

The conference was organized "at a time when membership in mainline Protestant churches [are] in steep decline in the United States."

The mainline are traditionally Methodists, Presbyterians, Congregationalists, Episcopalians and yes, Lutherans.

These denominations hold much in common. They're rooted in different national immigrant cultures. They all, in their own unique ways, helped new Americans find a foothold in the unknown territory of the developing American culture.

They tend to be pitted against various Evangelical denominations (or non-denominations) as the other main Protestant group.

Every one of these mainline denominations is shrinking in the US, and it's the subject of much hand wringing. An article a few months ago in USA Today about the American Religious Identification Survey put some new stats to the scare (mainline down by nearly 6% in the past 18 yrs).

The Lutherans are scared too. We are shrinking. Many of our congregations are struggling. Some of our leaders are in a bit of a panic.

I care about the Lutheran church. I love it. But the fear about our future death has got to be examined a bit more closely.

We talk generically about "the Future of the Congregation" as if one of the options is that there is no future. That's not exactly putting a whole lotta faith in God. It makes me wonder: What exactly are we worried about?

Are we worried that bad theology (fundamentalists!) will win the day? Are we worried that Bach won't get played in church? Is it that people won't know God? Will miss out on real Christian community?

We have to name the fears. Otherwise it sounds like we're just worried about the institution. That's not going to fly.

Many people in my generation, and definitely those younger than me, don't have the kind of institutional loyalty that feeds the decline-of-the-mainline fear.

A label like "Lutheran" isn't enough for us. We require that churches prove their authenticity. And we also don't limit our church involvement to just one congregation or community.

Many of us go a la carte - finding pastoral care from a blog; uplifting worship in a CD of praise songs; spiritual community in an AA group.

I sometimes worship at an Episcopal church on Sunday nights when I'm free; I dig some aspects of mega-church evangelical worship and don't mind an altar call now and again; I'd love to be the pastor of a church where the word "Lutheran" didn't find it's way into the title.

And, true confession here, I'd look around at non-Lutheran churches as well as Lutheran were I in the position of church-shopping. The one year I had free from church commitments, I went Presbyterian as often as Lutheran. And I'm a Lutheran Pastor.

I can already hear the critiques of such an approach (too selfish, too demanding, too non-committal, too lazy, spiritually shallow). Behind the critiques is grief and lament. The church that many people love is changing, and that is sad.

But it's not only sad, or even mostly sad. It reflects that we are in a different time in America.
A hunch I have? Many of us no longer need our denominations to help us forge community as our foreparents did. That means church can be something different than a cultural religious island in the scary storm of a new country. That's a good thing.

Perhaps one reason the Lutherans are shrinking because Germans are not only cool with worshipping with Swedes and Norwegians, but also with Italians, even Mexicans, maybe even Iranians (!) and the culture of the mainlines just hasn't gotten the word.

If this is the case, I'd call off the hand wringing and start thinking about a) how to grieve and b) how to change (aka reform).

ps - For those who don't recognize the picture, it's a lego Luther reforming the church.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Cassette Tapes, Part 2

So I just wrote the blog below about cassette tapes and was thinking there's a lesson in there for churches. What's nostalgic to some is completely arcane to others, and new-fangled to still others. For some, a blog is a new technology to even consider and for some, it may not ever be a comfortable way to get information. A pastor can have the best blog in the world, there's still nothing like the column in the monthly church newsletter.

To others, a blog is already outdated communication - especially mine, which is fairly tech simple.

I blog, but I don't tweet. And frankly, even though I know it's the wave of communication future, I don't want to.

Same goes for the website, the liturgy, the music - for some the classic hymns hold a place in their heart that no new hymn can ever match. The new stuff sounds awful. Irreverent. Badly written. For others the old hymns just sound, well, old. Boring. Outdated. There are these huge cultural and generational gaps that we have to learn how to bridge. I realize this is an old old problem (the song from Fiddler on the Roof just popped into my head. "Tradition! Tradition....tradition!). It's certainly alive in our church.

Do I sound like Andy Rooney?

I'm working with a couple of dancers from our church on a liturgical dance at our big Synod-wide worship on May 8th. So we could choreograph, the organist gave us tapes of the music. That's right. Tapes.

I wanted to give the dancers their own copies so they get the music in their heads. I went to Best Buy to buy cassette tapes only to discover that they no longer carry them. The guy in yellow at the door actually laughed at me. "Do you mean CDs?"

I was advised to find tapes for sale online (ahh the irony!)

I'm not that far behind new technology that this comes as a surprise. But it made me feel, well, a bit old. I work with the Senior High Youth and the phrase "When I was your age" slips out of my mouth every once in a while. I try to shove it back in.
I realize it's a slippery slope to becoming Andy Rooney-esque, complaining about every new thing. Certainly mp3 dowloads are handier than bulky tapes. But I can't let them go completely. I have a stack of particularly sentimental ones squirreled away. I could become that person who forces her bored children to listen as she recounts tales of her youth. Oh, that time we skipped school to go see Trip Shakespeare (I've still got that tape, signed by the band) and oh, how much I loved driving listening to Purple Rain (I think I still have that one too, not signed by Prince). The thing is, I also have these in CD form and can download them in a second. But there's something about those tapes.
Don't even get me started on the mixes. A friend's "Sweet and Sour Bob," introduced me to the best of Bob Dylan. "I'll Always Look Up to You" got me through many long nights in the Peace Corps (thanks Freya). I can't get rid of these things. I can replicate the music, but it's more than the music. It's the homemade covers. The cracked cases. I love these tapes.
I guess I'd better hang onto my tape player. Bet you can't find one of those at Best Buy either.

Friday, April 17, 2009

A garden: "gift and accomplishment"

"Gardening is not only making the world around us beautiful once more but letting beauty transform us. Gardening grows from our deep longing for salvation, so that beauty fills our lives." - Guroian

Sunday I was almost late for church (not good for a pastor on Easter) because I was so captivated by Armenian Orthodox priest Vigen Guroian talking about Easter and gardening on the radio program Speaking of Faith. I could relate to his statement,
"The garden has taught me that beauty is both gift and accomplishment."
Our garden is an accomplishment. It took hard work and long hours to get to this point. The tilled soil is rich and dark; the beds are built; the compost bin is up; and the kids' seedlings are watered and growing. That all took effort.

So much about this garden, however, has been gift.

For instance, we were troubling over wood for the raised beds. Didn't want it to be chemically treated but also didn't have the budget for nice new cedar boards. Tim found a mill that gave us beautiful pieces of wood for free. Because they're the first cuts of trees they're not straight, useful boards. But they're useful to us! When those start to decay in a few years (adding nutrients to our soil), they'll give us more. Free.

We were concerned about soil conditions. I happened to call someone who happened to tell me about leaf mold, free from Takoma Park. They suck up leaves from the streets in the fall and mulch them to give away in the spring. We got a truckful and the soil is beautifully rich and dark. Ready for planting. Gift.

Easter morning, I'd only been in church for a few minutes when I was handed a bagful of seed potatoes to give to Another member who'd offered to take them home to plant because our garden isn't big enough. Thanks to both of them, we'll have rows of potatoes to give away. Gift, gift.

This weekend we'll do more than celebrate our garden. We'll have a whole Creation Care Carnival with activities, special music and a blessing of the garden.
I'm looking forward to that, but not as much as I'm looking forward to the beauty of that first tomato off the vine. There's still lots of work to be done to get to that point, but that means there will also be plenty of gifts along the way.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

A few photos from the Easter Vigil

The Easter Vigil went off without a hitch (unless you call someone's paper candle wax protector lighting on fire during a reading a hitch). There were some unexpected moments and I don't think anyone could accuse us of being slick, but it was worshipful and fun.

Highlights: a whole room lit by tea lights in the shape of a cross, gathering at dusk in the Memorial Garden; the variety of readers, and the moment the lights came on to represent the resurrection. Also, I liked the wine and cheese party afterward.

The whole weekend was wonderful, but there's no time to be lost in nostalgia. This weekend is another big worship service. It's our creation care celebration this Sunday. More on that tomorrow...

Ndatelela at Easter - I am still expecting

As I wrote before, I was a bit nervous about leaving Lent. Wasn't sure I was ready for rejoicing and celebration. But I was surprised. Easter was great, from the sweep of church services (photos to come) to an afternoon feast with friends and family.

Easter is becoming a time to assess the progress in my life. Two years ago, I was in rural Namibia at my friend Liberty's grandma's house. She named me "Ndatelela" which means "I am expecting." I was full of expectation back then - about to leave Namibia and in doing so, laying to rest a dream of living overseas and working in international development. I was embracing a different dream, but I had no idea what awaited me. My biggest expectations didn't come to pass in any way I would have predicted.

Last year, I put this picture on my front door as I hosted an Easter feast in my townhouse for relatives, old and new friends. It represented such a change from the year before.

Last year during Easter I posed big questions to God and focused on them specifically at the beginning of this Lent. Now it's a new Easter and they don't exactly feel resolved. But I'm not frustrated, and that's new. I'm starting to learn that I am someone who is full of expectation - big hopes and dreams. The problem is that my hopes and dreams rarely come to pass in any way (or in the timing) I can predict. I get disappointed.
But disappointment is never the final word. I always get to peace. God always brings me there. And that's happening in this season too. Though some big questions remain open from Lent, I am surprised at how renewed I feel. Blessed. Beloved. There is more good in this life than I can possibly appreciate. I am still expecting, but my heart is open and it's a wonderful way to be. Happy Easter. Ndatelela.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Keeping worship real

It's Good Friday. Yesterday, Larry - one of our gardeners - and I were out in the garden when we decided to make a cross from some fallen trees in our woods. It was a perfect weather day and we enjoyed it. We wondered if we should be a bit more somber, given the task at hand, but we chatted and bonded as we worked. When Larry hammered the first nail, we talked about who may have made Jesus' cross. What was that person thinking? The cross is draped in black in the sanctuary now.

I'm busy working on the last minute details for our Easter Vigil - the Sat night before Easter. This is the first time we've done such a service at this church and I'm excited. It's the same thrill I got before acting in plays in high school. We even have a stage director, spot lights, special effects and a lighting artist. There's a definite performance aspect to worship, especially this week.

Last night some people at worship washed each other's feet. It's an awkward thing. No one quite knows how to do it and everyone feels a bit uncomfortable. Do my feet smell? Am I washing yours correctly? It's the awkwardness for both the washer and the washee that creates a great moment. This is real vulnerability on both sides.
I'm fighting the urge to make sure everything is slickly planned for tomorrow night. Yes, I want it to go well, but some awkwardness is inevitable and the awkwardness is actually good. Worship can be a lot like theatre, but if the only performers are the pastors, the congregation has no part but to watch.
That's not worship, it's entertainment. These awkward (beautiful? fun?) moments happen in worship because we're all taking part in something we don't usually do. We form ourselves into a community as we go.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Lenten discipline and Living Biblically

Lent is almost over and Easter is coming. That means that next Monday, I can drink a whole pot of coffee, wash my clothes in very hot water, and dry 'em in the dryer all day long just for fun.

The Lenten disciplines will be done and I should be getting ready to shout Ha****jah. (Another part of Lent, we don't say that word until Easter).

But I'm a bit sad to see Lent go. I am terrible at New Year's resolutions, but I'm surprisingly good at Lenten disciplines. There's wisdom in the 40 day timeframe - long enough to make you realize it is possible to function without a gallon of coffee every morning, but not so long you're afraid to try.

But it's deeper for me. I have a pious, desert father-esque spiritual side that enjoys fasting and a bit of spiritual extremism. I was that way even as a kid. One year I went from Good Friday to Easter Sunday without speaking, by choice.

I just read a hilarious and smart book called "The Year of Living Biblically." The author, AJ Jacobs, (pictured above) is a culturally Jewish New Yorker who decides to try to follow all the Biblical laws for a year. It was a great book to be reading during Lent.

I figured he would do it in order to poke fun of religious people who take things to an extreme. (It didn't occur to me - even as I was reading it on the bus because I'd declared a car fast - that I might just be an extremist he'd poke fun at.)

I was mistaken. Not about me being an extremist, but about him being irreverent. He was remarkably reverent, even as he pointed out the ridiculousness of a stance that says you can follow the Bible literally 100% of the time. This video is a bit long, but worth it to introduce him.
His biggest lesson was that practices influence disposition. That makes sense to me. I am disposed to prayer, but I also pray daily because once I took it on as a Lenten discipline and it stuck. I'm disposed to going to church, but now that my work puts me in worship 3 times a week, I find I love it more.
Religion has a very different role for AJ Jacobs than it does for me, but I agreed with him throughout his book and especially on that major point: Practices are important for cultivating faith.
Question to think about: what practice (religious or otherwise) has changed your life?

Thursday, April 2, 2009

The end of the carfast.

Hi - I'm sorry I didn't write about the end of the car fast till now. Might have been the ride in the rain last week, but I got sacked with a sinus thing and haven't felt up to writing again till now.

I think I last wrote on Thursday. That evening I again had an offer of a ride home. I refused that time because I was on my bike and it was a pleasant night. But as requested, I called the people when I arrived just so they wouldn't worry. It's nice to think that people worry.

Friday, I bussed to church no problem. I planned to bus back home but the bus just didn't seem to come. I waited for what felt like hours (probably more like 35 mins) and was giving up hope when a beige mini-van pulled over. It was one of the church members taking her kid home from soccer practice. They gave me a ride. Thank you!

The fast ended on uneventfully on Saturday. I bussed to church, rode with a friend out to dinner and to a student musical afterward, and then walked the 20 mins home along a well-lit road lined with yellow forsythia on a cool night. It was a great walk to end the fast.

What lessons did I take from the car fast?

1) I can do better in my everyday life to drive less. Using a bike, bus or metro takes more planning and it doesn't work all the time, but it isn't hard to do.

2) People are generous. I got many offers for rides and apologies from people who didn't offer rides because they didn't know I was carless. Taking rides was, if you remember, originally against the rules of the car fast. But I changed it and am glad I did. It's nice to be able to take people up on offers of generosity. And I surely appreciated the rides. It's environmentally best not to drive at all and only use public transportation, but carpooling is still better than individual riders.

3) I didn't talk on the phone as much . I didn't realize until I did this car fast just how much I talk on the phone when I drive. When I'm at church or at home I'm usually busy with something and don't take the time just to talk. Think what you want about the safety of cell phone use while driving (I know, I know. I swear I'm safe - but everyone does, right?), but that time in my car is valuable for keeping up my friendships.

4) It's not cheap to go carless. The metro and bus systems cost me more than gas would have that week. Granted, the wear, tear and cost of upkeep on a car still makes the car more expensive, but public transportation isn't cheap. I spent almost exactly 20$ during the week and I would have spent more but for all those rides.
The car fast is over now, but I'm hoping I'll keep some of the habits. Biked on my trusty Red Raleigh this morning. Thanks to all who followed and who helped me by giving rides. I'll do it again next year - who wants to join me in Lent, 2010???

Ten for Ten. Ten reasons it's great to be a pastor, in celebration of my 10 year anniversary of ordination.

I'm in there somewhere. I was ordained at Luther Place Memorial Church in Washington DC on November 10, 2007, ten years ago today. ...